Dick Cook leaves Disney

6:08 PM PST 09/18/2009 by Gregg Kilday, AP

Stepping down as chairman after serving 38 years

In a surprise announcement, Dick Cook said Friday that he is stepping down as chairman of the Walt Disney Studios, effectively immediately.

No successor was announced.

Cook, a genial and well-liked executive who just last week presided over the first edition of D23 Expo, a Disney fan convention in Anaheim, said, "I have loved every minute of my 38 years that I have worked at Disney ... from the beginning as a ride operator on Disneyland's steam train and monorail to my position as chairman of The Walt Disney Studios. To wrap up my Disney experience in a neatly bundled statement is close to impossible. But what I will say is, during my time at the studio, we have achieved many industry and company milestones."

Disney president and CEO Robert Iger hailed Cook, who rose through the studio's distribution ranks before taking on the top job at the studio, saying, "Throughout his distinguished 38-year Disney career, Dick Cook's outstanding creative instincts and incomparable showmanship have truly enriched this company and significantly impacted Disney's great legacy. We thank Dick for his tremendous passion for Disney, and his many accomplishments and contributions to the Walt Disney Studios, including a very promising upcoming film slate. On behalf of everyone at Disney, we wish him the best with all the future has to offer."

In May, Iger blamed the film studio for the fact that Disney's operating income plunged 97% during the company's second quarter, said that quarter's film returns were disappointing and vowed that measures were being taken to cut costs related to production, output, marketing and global infrastructure."

Since then, Disney's boxoffice fortunes improved with the animated blockbuster "Up," the third-best-grossing movie of 2009 domestically.

Within the past year, and even the past month, the studio's game plan moving forward has changed significantly.

In February, the studio struck an agreement with Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks to distribute films for DreamWorks. And last month Disney bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion, a move that will eventually see Marvel films move through the Disney pipeline.

Disney's 2006 acquisition of Pixar had already revived the company's animation fortunes.

Cook has served as chairman of the studio since 2002, when then chairman Michael Eisner named him to replace outgoing exec Peter Schneider.

In that role, he has overseen all of the company's development, production, distribution and marketing for its live action films under the Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone, Hollywood and Miramax labels. He's also been responsible for Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment as well as the Disney Music Group, Disney Theatrical Productions, Disney-ABC Domestic Television, Disney-ABC International Television, the studio's business and legal affairs and new technology.

Cook began his career as a ride operator at Disneyland in 1970. In 1977, he moved to the Burbank studio as manager of pay TV and non-theatrical releases and was involved with Disney's entry into cable TV and the development of the Disney Channel.

He moved to motion pictures in 1980 as domestic sales manager for the Buena Vista Distribution Co. and was named president of the unit in 1988. He added marketing responsibilities to his portfolio in 1994 and two years later became chairman of the Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Group before moving on to the chairmanship of the entire studio.

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