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Obituaries

Albert Dorskind, 82; MCA Executive Created Tour at Universal Studios

December 02, 2004|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Albert A. Dorskind, the former MCA executive who created the popular Universal Studios tour and spearheaded construction of Universal City, including its amphitheater and multiscreen motion picture complex, has died. He was 82.

Dorskind, who was vice president of MCA Inc. and president of MCA Development Corp., died Sunday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after a long battle with prostate cancer, said his son, Jim.

The idea for the studio tour, now one of California's top tourist attractions, was rooted in an MCA problem with the bottom line.

In 1957, Dorskind had negotiated the company's purchase of 378 acres of the old Universal Studios lot for its Revue Productions. Among the dilapidated buildings was the studio commissary, which was hemorrhaging $100,000 a year.

One Saturday, wandering around the Farmers Market in Los Angeles' Fairfax area, Dorskind came upon a solution as he watched a Gray Line bus disgorge tourists to have lunch.

Why not, he mused, invite tour buses to drive through the Universal/Revue lot and stop at the commissary during off-peak hours? A price hike of 20% for food and charging $1 a head for the privilege of glimpsing a working studio back lot could help MCA get the property out of the red, he figured.

Dorskind called Gray Line, and the modest little tour began. Certain he could reap even greater revenue, he soon persuaded MCA Chairman Lew Wasserman to invest $4 million to design trams and install restrooms, food courts and parking lots. The modern Universal Studios tour was inaugurated July 4, 1964.

At the same time he was developing the tour, Dorskind was reconfiguring the rest of the hilly parcel, particularly after MCA bought Universal Studios in 1961. He hired consultants and razed old structures to build modern office complexes, including the 14-story MCA headquarters designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. When construction began in 1962, Dorskind told The Times: "It will be one of the biggest real estate developments in the history of the San Fernando Valley."

Next came two hotels, and then entertainment facilities that included the amphitheater, movie complex and theme park, which today anchor Universal CityWalk, a favorite destination for tourists and locals.

The civic-minded Dorskind also devoted himself to helping his adopted Los Angeles community expand general tourism and development.

He served as president and chairman of the Greater Los Angeles Visitors and Convention Bureau; founding president and chairman of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.; president of the Southern California Visitors Council; and chairman of what the late Times columnist Art Seidenbaum characterized as the "municipal mouthful" -- the mayor's Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Los Angeles Image Enhancement, later renamed the Subcommittee on Promotion and Publicity.

Statewide, Dorskind served on gubernatorial councils on economic development and product design and marketing.

An avid photo collector and amateur photographer, Dorskind also helped launch the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's photography department in 1984.

Curator Robert Sobieszek said earlier this week that Dorskind initially organized Friends of Photography with the goal of establishing a photo section in a major Los Angeles museum. When LACMA was agreed upon, Dorskind, as a board member of the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, persuaded fellow photography enthusiast Parsons to provide the founding $1-million grant -- and add a second $1 million when Sobieszek arrived in 1990.

Dorskind boosted the new department's holdings by donating works from his own collection by such photographers as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edward Weston and Ansel Adams.

"Without Al Dorskind," Sobieszek said Tuesday, "there would be no photography department at LACMA."

Elsewhere in the community, the indefatigable Dorskind served over the years as president of the Permanent Charities Committee of the Entertainment Industries, and on the boards of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Boys Club of America, YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Children's Museum, the Los Angeles Urban League, Public Counsel, the Anti-Defamation League, Independent Colleges of Southern California and the Greater Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.

A New Yorker by birth, Dorskind earned bachelor's and law degrees from Cornell University and graduated from Harvard's U.S. Navy Supply Corps School. During World War II, he served in the Pacific with the 32nd Naval Construction Battalion. After completing his legal training, he began working for the FCC in Washington, D.C.

Dorskind came to Los Angeles as an attorney for Paramount Pictures and assistant manager of its television station, KTLA (now owned by Tribune Co., which also owns the Los Angeles Times).

When he began his 37-year association with MCA in 1953, he worked for its Revue Productions on such projects as the acquisition of Jack Webb's "Dragnet."

He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Sue; son, Jim; daughter, DeeDee; a brother; and three grandsons.

The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Education Project on Heart Disease in Women of the American Medical Women's Assn. Foundation, 801 N. Fairfax, Alexandria, VA 22314; or to Louis Warschaw Prostate Cancer Center, 8631 W. 3rd St., Suite 1001E, Los Angeles, CA 90048.

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