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Remembering Irving Ludwig (1910 - 2005)

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Remembering Irving Ludwig (1910 - 2005)

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You know, movies don't just distribute themselves.

It takes some real talent (not to mention a lot of hard work) to properly launch a motion picture. To make sure that your film gets into just the right theaters. That it's positioned properly so that the public will view this movie as something that they just have to see.

For more than a quarter of a century, Walt Disney Productions was lucky enough to have a man in its employ who could charm (as well as strong-arm) exhibitors into treating the Mouse's movies like crown jewels. And that man's name was Irving Ludwig.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Sadly, Mr. Ludwig passed away this past Saturday. But his legacy -- chiefly the Buena Vista Pictures Distribution (I.E. The arm of the Walt Disney Company that handles the distribution of all the motion pictures that Mickey produces. Which Irving helped create back in 1953) -- lives on.

Even though Irving's name is little known outside of the company, there are many at the Mouse House who genuinely loved this man. Who appreciate everything he did to help make the Walt Disney Company into the powerhouse it is today.

Don't believe me? Then check out this studio-produced obit for the late Irving Ludwig:

IRVING LUDWIG, PIONEERING DISNEY DISTRIBUTION EXECUTIVE AND FORMER PRESIDENT OF BUENA VISTA, DIES AT AGE 95;
MANAGED ROADSHOW ENGAGEMENTS FOR ORIGINAL "FANTASIA" AND BROKE RECORDS WITH "MARY POPPINS," "THE LOVE BUG," ETC.

Irving Ludwig, former president of Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, and one of the most respected and innovative executives in the area of motion picture distribution, passed away at his home in Santa Monica, California from natural causes on Saturday November 26th. He was 95 years old.

During his illustrious 40-year association with Disney and its distribution arm, Buena Vista, Ludwig was an integral force in shaping the structure, policies, and operations for all aspects of releasing Disney movies into the marketplace. He successfully guided the release of such Disney blockbusters as "The Shaggy Dog," "Mary Poppins," "101 Dalmatians," "The Parent Trap," "The Absent Minded Professor," "The Jungle Book," "The Love Bug," among others. Under his leadership, reissues of classic Disney animated features - especially "Fantasia" - also found new success and added to the Studio's reputation for quality family entertainment. Irving once summed up his success: "Don't underestimate the public. They are so smart."

Commenting on Ludwig's passing, Dick Cook, chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, said:

"Irving was a giant in our industry and an inspirational figure for all of us who had the honor of working with him. He had tremendous integrity, passion and commitment to the films he was distributing, and he encouraged his team to be creative and innovative in every way. Irving was a keen businessman, a great showman, and a major force in shaping our industry. He was also a great friend and mentor, and he helped to train many of today's top executives. I am deeply indebted to him and will miss his wisdom and guidance very much."

Roy E. Disney, director emeritus and consultant for The Walt Disney Company, added:

"Irving has been an important part of the Disney Studio family ever since I can remember. He first caught the attention of Walt and my dad with his incredible efforts in launching the original 'Fantasia' in 1940 during its groundbreaking 'Fantasound' roadshow engagement. He went on help create the Studio's own distribution company, Buena Vista, and to shape all of its exhibition policies. Irving was key to the successful release of many Disney films, and his work on such films as 'Fantasia' and 'Mary Poppins' is still worth studying and learning from. He was a caring and dynamic man who was passionately devoted to the Studio and quality family entertainment. His work here at Disney is legendary and he continues to inspire us today."


Born in Lutck, Russia on November 3rd, 1910, Ludwig immigrated to the United States with his family in 1920. He was raised in Brooklyn, and went on to study advertising and marketing at New York University. He entered the entertainment industry in 1929 as a part-time usher at New York's Rivoli Theatre, where he quickly advanced to house manager. He held that position until 1938, under both the Paramount-Publix and United Artists theatre circuits.

In 1940, Ludwig opened and operated the Greenwich Village Art Theatre, an independent exhibitor that was the first new movie house built in the United States for the express purpose of screening foreign films. Later that same year, he joined Walt Disney Productions, to manage the roadshow engagements of the landmark animated film, "Fantasia."

Ludwig recalled:

"It was hard to get theatres to play 'Fantasia' because most were controlled by chains. We wanted the film to be an event, and we even purchased old legitimate theatres to present it in. Several didn't even have projection booths. It was quite a challenge."

During the early days of World War II, Ludwig managed a theatre in the Skouras Theatre Corporation before joining Rugoff and Becker in 1942. He worked as a film buyer and supervisor of theatre operations until 1945, at which time he became a member of the sales administrative staff of Walt Disney Productions.

When Buena Vista was formed in 1953, Ludwig was an integral force on the formulating committee that gave the company its structure and launched it into active operation. As the first vice president and domestic sales manager, he significantly contributed to shaping the company's policies and success. He became president of Buena Vista in 1959 and held that post until his retirement in October, 1980.

With the 1964 launch of Walt Disney's masterpiece, "Mary Poppins," Ludwig had one of his most satisfying box office triumphs. He recalled:

"We realized that we had a wonderful, magical film, and knew the audiences would love it. And they did, to the tune of $45 million worldwide."

During his long and progressive association with the film industry, Ludwig served as a member of the Variety Club, the Cinema Lodge, the Pioneers and the Motion Picture Bookers Club of New York. In 1993, he received the "Disney Legends Award" in a ceremony at the Studio in Burbank. He was similarly honored in 1998 by the National Fantasy Fan Club.

In a 1980 interview with Boxoffice Magazine, Ludwig offered the following insights into his business philosophy:

"Although, generally speaking, distributors do not look upon exhibitors as 'friends,' I believe my relationship with them has been one of a different nature. We always treated them fairly, gave them an honest count, and were interested in their participation in our films."



Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.

The staff of JHM wishes to extend its heartfelt condolensces to Irving Ludwig's friends & family during their time of sorrow.

A memorial and graveside service will be held tomorrow at noon at Mount Sinai Hollywood Hills Memorial Park in Los Angeles. In lieu of flowers, Irving's daughters -- Arlene Ludwig & Jackie Ludwig Bragg -- ask that donations be made to the California Institute of the Arts.

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