Michael A. Gray, Veteran Hollywood Marketing Executive, Dies at 87

Michael Gray obit - Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Madeleine Gray

He created electronic press kits for films like 'Back to School' and 'Moonstruck' and gave director Jonathan Demme an early break.

Michael A. Gray, a former Hollywood marketing executive who produced electronic press kits for such movies as Moonstruck, The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, has died. He was 87.

Gray died Monday in Baltimore, his friend and former Universal Studios Hollywood marketing exec Neal Lemlein told The Hollywood Reporter.

Commissioned by Universal Pictures in 1984 to design a brochure for a new television publicity concept, Gray dubbed it "the electronic press kit," Lemlein noted, and the term would become part of the industry's lexicon.

Two years later, Gray produced his first EPK, for the Rodney Dangerfield comedy Back to School (1986), and he followed with other promotional packages for Moonstruck (1987), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), The Addams Family (1991), Philadelphia (1993) and many more films.

Jonathan Demme, the Oscar-winning director behind Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, received an early career boost from Gray when the marketing executive hired him as the unit publicist on the Roger Corman-directed Von Richtoffen and Brown (1971). Corman would give Demme his first directing opportunity, picking him to helm Caged Heat (1974).

A graduate of New York University, Gray was a newspaperman before he became a publicity manager at Columbia Pictures' TV subsidiary Screen Gems, where he helped launch such series as Naked CityRoute 66 and The Flintstones

He moved to Rogers & Cowan as director of its New York television department and in the early 1960s publicized series and specials ranging from The DuPont Show of the Week and the Miss Universe Pageant to The Jack Benny Program and The Dick Van Dyke Show.

In 1967, Gray was named worldwide publicity director of United Artists, heading a staff that included Demme and future Smokey and the Bandit producer Mort Engelberg. "Virtually everyone in the department knew more about what we were doing than I did," he once said. "Fortunately, I was a fast study."

Under his direction, the studio's celebrity-hosted screenings of eventual best picture Oscar winner Midnight Cowboy (1969) became a template for how to position films for awards season.

In 1969, Gray headed to London to serve as UA's European production marketing division and worked on features including On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) and Norman Jewison's Fiddler on the Roof (1971).

When UA cut back on its overseas operations, Gray remained in London as managing director of Network Cinema Ltd., the European arm of an American theater circuit. He helped build the first automated cinema in Paris (Le PLM Jerry Lewis) in partnership with French producer Paul Claudon and developed several multiplexes in England.

After Network Cinema's British holdings were sold to Walker Restaurants (creating the Brent-Walker circuit), Gray moved to Santa Monica, launched MAGI (Michael A. Gray Incorporated) and created press and promotional kits for hundreds of films, among them Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Chariots of Fire (1981), Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi (1983), Ghostbusters (1984), Platoon (1986) and A Fish Called Wanda (1988). 

MAGI's other video projects ranged from the "biography" of Bugs Bunny that launched the cartoon character's 50th birthday celebration.

Gray worked as a public relations vice president at Universal Studios Hollywood from 1995-97, then relocated to Baltimore, having purchased the century-old home in which Barry Levinson filmed much of Avalon (1990). 

Survivors include his wife, Adele; his daughter, opera singer Madeleine Gray; and his granddaughter, Aisling.