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Goldwyn to Quit Paramount Post

The movie exec, who says he was not forced out, will remain as a producer at the studio.

November 24, 2003|Claudia Eller | Times Staff Writer

John Goldwyn is stepping down as vice chairman of Paramount Pictures' Motion Picture Group, continuing the fallout from a prolonged box-office slump at the Viacom Inc.-owned movie studio.

Goldwyn, the 45-year-old grandson of legendary movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn and son of independent producer and distributor Samuel Goldwyn Jr., has been at Paramount for 13 years and will remain there as a producer.

Goldwyn becomes the latest longtime manager at the studio to step down in the last year under a cloud of dreary performances by such films as "Beyond Borders," "The Fighting Temptations," "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star" and the summer's costly "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life."

Sources indicated that Goldwyn was not leaving voluntarily. But in a phone interview Sunday, Goldwyn insisted, "I was not forced out." The executive readily acknowledged, however, that "we've had a rough couple of years at the company, which has not been fun."

Such top-level shake-ups are particularly unusual at Paramount, considered one of Hollywood's most stable studios. But it is not at all surprising given that the last two years have been especially downbeat for the movie company.

In September, Paramount's worldwide marketing chief Arthur Cohen abruptly left his post after 14 years, ending one of the longest reigns for a top Hollywood marketing executive in recent decades.

At the beginning of the year, Eric Doctorow, a 20-year veteran of Paramount's home video unit, was replaced by Tom Lesinski, a veteran video executive at Warner Bros.

The studio's current cold streak aside, Goldwyn said that "on balance, I've been very happy with my life here and we've been very successful."

He said he had enjoyed "a great working relationship" with studio chief Sherry Lansing, for whom he served as top production lieutenant for more than a decade. Goldwyn joined Paramount in 1990 under then-studio Chairman Frank Mancuso.

Lansing, who has headed Paramount since 1992, said Sunday that she had not talked to any potential candidates to replace Goldwyn and that he had agreed to stay on until she could find a successor -- a process she planned to begin immediately.

Lansing praised her longtime colleague.

"Paramount has enjoyed remarkable success for over a decade, and I couldn't have done it without John," Lansing said. She said she expected Goldwyn to be "a tremendous asset for the studio" as a producer.

Under Goldwyn's watch, Paramount has had some huge hits over the years, not the least of which was the 1997 Oscar-winning epic "Titanic," which stands as the highest-grossing movie of all time, with more than $600 million in U.S. ticket sales alone. Also during his tenure, the company produced Oscar winners "Forrest Gump" and "Braveheart."

Paramount's few bright spots this year, for which Goldwyn certainly can take some credit, include the current comedy hit "School of Rock," starring Jack Black, "The Italian Job" and "How to Lose a Guy in 90 Days."

Still, over the last six years, Paramount has produced just one film that grossed more than $200 million domestically -- "Mission: Impossible 2," which was released in 2000. Walt Disney Co. had seven that grossed more than $200 million in the same time frame, and New Line Cinema Inc., a unit of Time Warner Inc., had five such films.

In addition, Paramount has failed to develop a movie franchise akin to New Line's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy or Warner Bros.' "Harry Potter." Those series have spawned lucrative sequels, merchandise lines and other revenue streams.

Known as the most risk-averse studio, Paramount pioneered what has become an industrywide practice of seeking financial partners on big movies, which helps minimize losses on flops but limits the upside on hits.

Though the studio has been short on blockbusters, it has had success with a number of lower-cost hits, including "Jackass: The Movie," "Save the Last Dance" and "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius."

Last year was profitable for Paramount, yet the studio had only one movie that grossed more than $100 million, "The Sum of All Fears." That was one of a few commercial hits to surface amid a number of misses, among them "Narc," "The Four Feathers" and "Hey Arnold: The Movie."

At the beginning of 2002, Goldwyn was promoted to his current vice chairman's post and was given a multiyear contract extension. Goldwyn said Sunday that he had triggered a clause in his contract for a multiyear production deal that would have elapsed if he had not exercised it by Tuesday.

His impending departure comes as the studio is poised for the Wednesday release of director Richard Donner's sci-fi action adventure "Timeline," based on a Michael Crichton novel, and the Christmas Day debut of "Paycheck," starring Ben Affleck.

The executive also leaves behind a slate of pictures next year that includes such hoped-for hits as "A Series of Unfortunate Events," starring Jim Carrey, and remakes of "The Stepford Wives," headlined by Nicole Kidman; "The Manchurian Candidate" with Denzel Washington; and "Alfie," starring Jude Law.

Goldwyn began his industry career in 1981 in the proverbial mailroom at Ladd Co., where he moved up to become vice president of creative affairs before leaving in 1985 to join MGM/UA as a top production executive.

He moved to Paramount in 1990 as executive vice president of production. A year later, Goldwyn was promoted to production president and continued to rise through the ranks.

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