Phil Isaacs, Pay TV Pioneer, Exhibition and Distribution Veteran, Dies at 89

The executive helped develop a coin-operated pay television station in 1960.

Phil Isaacs, a motion picture industry film distribution and theater chain executive and a pioneer in the development of pay television, died Dec. 2 in Woodland Hills, Calif. He was 89.

“He died peacefully in his sleep,” said his daughter Karyn Isaacs, executive director at Gold Circle Films.

In 1960, as vp of International Telemeter Corp., a company operated by Paramount Pictures, Isaacs played a major role in setting up and managing a closed-circuit experimental pay television station in Etobicoke, Canada, a suburb of Toronto. He also was involved in finding programming for the new concept, signing up the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, the away games of the Toronto Maple Leaf hockey team and Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe, among a host of others. Films, of course, came from Paramount Pictures. Charges for programming on the three-channel system were collected via a coin box installed in subscribers’ homes. Although the Etobicoke operation was a commercial failure, it was considered a technological breakthrough that set the stage for cable television and for specialty channels such as HBO and Showtime.

In a varied career in the film industry that spanned more than four decades, Isaacs served as a producer’s representative for Woody Allen movies, including Hannah and Her Sisters, and as a vp in charge of West Coast operations of General Cinema Corp., the national theater chain that was acquired by AMC Theatres in 2002.

Born in the Bronx, N.Y., and a graduate of City College of New York, Philip Isaacs got his first job as a booker’s assistant at Paramount Pictures in New York shortly after service in the Navy from 1943 to 1946. He subsequently moved up to branch manager in Washington, D.C., head of the Rocky Mountain division with headquarters in Denver, and then to Eastern-Southern sales manager.

In 1967, Isaacs joined Cinema Center Films as vp domestic distribution and in 1972 was named vp marketing at Tomorrow Entertainment. Later posts included vp and general sales manager of Avco Embassy Pictures (1975); vp and general sales manager at Orion Pictures (1980); vp and general sales manager and then president of TWE Theatrical (1988); and president of Southgate Entertainment (1989), after which he retired.

Isaacs was a member of the executive branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and of the Motion Picture Pioneers.

In addition to his daughter Karyn, Isaacs is survived by his second wife, Rusty Stein Isaacs, whom he married after the death of his first wife, Jean; daughters Susan and Diane of Los Angeles; step-daughters Jill Stein of Santa Barbara and Marky Stein of San Jose; and a brother, Dave, of Aliso Viejo.

Memorial services are pending. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Isaacs’ name to the Motion Picture & Television Fund at mptvfund.org

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