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J. Mark Travis, a theater, film and television producer, and former chief of staff to pastor Dr. Gene Scott of University Cathedral, died Dec. 25 after a short illness at Glendale Adventist Medical Center, where he had served on the Foundation Board. He was 61.
Travis, who began his career as a music agent representing such composers as Don Ellis and Jack Nitzsche, turned to film producing in 1975, teaming up with impresario Bill Sargent and film producer David Permut. Together they videotaped a one-man stage production, Give ‘em Hell Harry!, starring James Whitmore as President Harry Truman, in front of a live audience. When no studio would distribute it, they released the film themselves. Whitmore was nominated for an Academy Award as best actor, and the film, produced for less than $100,000, grossed more than $11 million.
In 1979, the trio produced one of the first filmed comedy concerts, Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, which they also self-distributed. The film went on to gross $32.5 million. Travis went on to stage and film other shows, including Sammy Davis Jr. in Sammy Stops the World.
Travis and Permut formed a production company of their own, signing a deal with Columbia, where they set up the deal for Cheech & Chong to star in the films Nice Dreams and Things Are Tough All Over. Travis and Permut later moved to Lorimar Productions, where they had a nonexclusive film and television deal. They also produced the feature film Fighting Back with Dino DeLaurentiis for Paramount Pictures.
Travis moved on to work as chief of staff for Scott, pastor of the University Cathedral, a Protestant congregation in downtown Los Angeles and one of the first television ministries. Scott was the subject of the Werner Herzog documentary God’s Angry Man. Largely responsible for radio acquisition and philanthropy, Travis oversaw the salvaging and restoration of the historic Los Angeles Downtown Library.
Permut developed a script about Travis’ journey from the film industry to the ministry as a feature film with Disney’s Touchstone, and in 2008, Travis rejoined Permut to develop a one-man play The Lifeguard: Ronald Reagan and His Story, which received a workshop at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood.
Travis is survived by his mother, Patricia Travis of Woodland Hills, Ca.; sister Melinda Travis of Spokane, Wa. and La Quinta, Ca.; brother, Jon Travis of Calabasas, Ca.; sister Melissa Travis Aardema; brother-in-law, Gary Aardema; nieces Lauren and Jennifer Aardema; nephews Michael Aardema of Calabasas, Michael Travis Remington of Bellingham, Wa. and Spokane, and John David Remington of Spokane; aunt, Peggy Eaton of Bradenton Fla.; and cousins Kathleen Downey of New York City and Kelly Downey Zayas, of Englewood, N.J. His father, Sid Travis, preceded him in death.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Glendale Adventist Medical Center. Memorial services are pending.
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