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Charles Lippincott, the veteran film publicist who masterminded the campaign for George Lucas’ first Star Wars movie, died Tuesday night after being hospitalized last week following a heart attack. He was 80.
Lippincott had been living in Vermont, where he’d retired years ago with his wife, Bumpy, who shared the news on social media.
Lippincott worked on campaigns for a number of groundbreaking films, including Michael Crichton’s Westworld (1973); Alfred Hitchcock’s final film, Family Plot (1976); Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979); and Flash Gordon (1980). But it was his work on Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) that left the biggest mark, and he helped reshape how movies are marketed.
Lippincott joined the Star Wars galaxy in 1975 as Lucasfilm’s vp advertising, publicity, promotion and merchandising. To publicize Lucas’ then-unknown property, he went outside normal practices for the time, teaming with Marvel Comics for a series that came out ahead of the release and organizing partnerships with The Richard Pryor Show and The Donny & Marie Show. He also teamed with CBS for the infamous 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special — all to keep the property in the public’s consciousness.
In 1976, ahead of the film’s release, Lippincott brought Star Wars to San Diego Comic-Con, then a niche convention that would become the go-to arena for movie studios to show off their blockbusters.
“Prior to Star Wars, movies didn’t get announced at comic conventions, nor were comic books done in advance of a movie’s release,” Lippincott reflected in 2015. “Our first presentation had that very same Hollywood glamor that transformed Comic-Con from the tiny acorn it was into such a huge, crowd-bashing, sold-out event. A glamor, I might add, that even comic book folks are seduced by, as evidenced by the number of times comic book folk like to recount their brief touches with that Hollywood glow.”
Lippincott also pushed for 20th Century Fox to trademark each Star Wars character, which allowed the franchise to become a merchandising cash cow.
“The stuff he cemented with Star Wars revolutionized how movies were marketed, with the more grassroots approach to marketing … taking things out to the actual audience,” longtime Lippincott friend Craig Miller, who worked as a publicity assistant on Star Wars, told The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday. “It really changed the way everything happened.”
Lucas also gave credit to Lippincott for his pioneering work in a statement.
“Charley was one of the founding pillars of the Star Wars films and phenomenon,” Lucas said. “He began in earnest the concept of licensing motion pictures at a time when the only other company doing so was Disney. Charley was the one who said early on that ‘we can make this work’ and was the first person to both develop Star Wars licensing and engage with the fans. He had insights into marketing and public relations that were truly unparalleled.”
Added Star Wars star Mark Hamill, “He became a legend of marketing for a reason … He was brilliant at what he did. We traveled the world together promoting Star Wars before anyone knew what it was. He was a good friend, and I’ll always miss him.”
Reflecting on the popularity of Star Wars in 2015, Lippincott noted that part of its success lay in its scarcity between film and toy line launches.
“Instead of cajoling your mother into buying you a toy, you had to use your imagination and come up with your own toys. The more you have to use your imagination, the more vested you are in the product,” he wrote on his blog.
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