Marketing Exec Marvin Antonowsky Dies at 86

During his career, he served stints at both Columbia and Universal.

Marvin Antonowsky, an influential marketing executive who served stints at both Columbia and Universal, died April 7, his family has announced. He was 86. Services were held this morning.

Antonowsky headed marketing at Columbia Pictures in the early ‘80s, where he became a trusted lieutenant to Frank Price, then Columbia’s chairman. When Price was forced out of the studio amid a power struggle in 1983, Antonowsky left with him. A month after his departure from Columbia, Price was named chairman of the MCA Motion Picture Group, where Antonowsky joined him to oversee marketing at Universal’s film unit.

Antonowsky had a hand in releasing such Columbia movies as Stripes, Stir Crazy, Tootsie, The Big Chill and the Oscar-winning Ghandi and Universal titles like Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club and Out of Africa. But he also earned a certain notoriety for advising Price, when the two were at Columbia, to pass on Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial after conducting market research that suggested the film would only have limited appeal to kids.

Price and Antonowsky spent three years atop Universal until another executive shuffle forced their resignations. In 1990, Price returned to Columbia as chairman, and Antonowsky served beside him as executive vp and assistant to the chairman from 1990 to 1993. He then went on to work with Price at Price Entertainment.

Antonowsky received his Bachelor of Business Administration in 1949 and his Master of Business Administration in 1952 from City College School of Business and Civic Administration, which in 1968 became Baruch College. In 2004, he made a $2.5 million contribution to the school, which named its Marvin Antonowsky Performing Arts Complex in his honor. “My career has flourished because I have been able to bring good business sense to the production of culture and entertainment, and Baruch is the institution that launched me on this road,” Antonowsky said at the time.

Antonowsky began his career with the advertising agency Kenyon and Eckhardt, where he was media research director before becoming marketing vp in 1957. He then joined Norman, Craig and Kummel, where he was vp of marketing services. In 1965, Antonowsky was named vice president in charge of media research and spot buying at J. Walter Thompson, a position he held for four years before joining the ABC television network, where he was vice president in charge of research, and then NBC, where he was a vice president of programming. It was during his tenure at NBC that actress Lee Grant, during an appearance on The Tonight Show, dubbed him "the mad programmer" after he canceled a sitcom she starred in. In 1976, he joined Universal as a senior vp of television before shifting over to the movie side of the business in 1980.

A long-time opera buff, he was on the board of the L.A. Opera. He was also a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

He is survived by a niece Janice and nephews Gary, Richard and Steven.