Exec oversaw distribution of classic pics


Wayne Lewellen, a longtime distribution executive and philanthropist, died Thursday after a brief battle with cancer. He was 65.

Lewellen had a 40-year career in film distribution, starting with Warner Bros. in Dallas. He retired in 2005 after 33 years at Paramount, the last 12 as president of distribution.

At Paramount, Lewellen supervised the release of such Hollywood classics as "Titanic," "Forrest Gump," "Top Gun," "Beverly Hills Cop," "Star Trek" and three of the four Indiana Jones films.

A native Texan with a fondness for cowboy boots, Lewellen is remembered for his straightforward approach to business and generous devotion to philanthropy. He served as board chairman of the Will Rogers Memorial Fund, vp of the Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation and ambassador to the board of Variety Clubs International.

In 1986, Variety — The Children's Charity of Southern California honored Lewellen with a lifetime achievement award, and in 1998 he was awarded the prestigious Show E Award at the ShowEast industry trade show for commitment to the betterment of the motion picture industry.

"In my entire experience in the motion picture industry, no one did as good a job as Wayne Lewellen," Viacom chief Sumner Redstone said Thursday. "Not only was Wayne a good executive, he was a great and loyal friend. I will miss him sorely."

Lewellen's first job with Warners involved booking cartoons to accompany features. He worked at Columbia Pictures from 1969-73 then joined Paramount as branch manager of the studio's Dallas-Oklahoma office.

He rose to president of motion picture distribution at Paramount in 1993.

"I always felt protected by Wayne," former Paramount chief Sherry Lansing said Thursday. "He was like a big brother to me — he had my back. Wayne was a unique individual who was both strong and kind. The industry has lost an icon, and I have lost a dear friend."

Said Rob Friedman, CEO of Summit Entertainment and former vice chairman of Paramount: "He was the consummate professional and team player. With Wayne at your shoulder, you felt invincible. He will be missed but forever remembered."

Lewellen is survived by his wife, Rosemary; sons Wayne Jr., Gregory and Jeffrey; six grandchildren; and a sister, Betty Hill. A memorial and funeral service will take place in Dallas. (partialdiff)