Dale Spina, a former VP Ceative Advertising at Warner Bros. and an award-winning copywriter for the studio, died August 4 after a brief illness. He was 66. As co-head of the Idea Place, Warner’s in-house ad agency formed in the early 1980s, Spina worked on dozens of Warner titles, including Batman, Beetlejuice, Best Picture winner Chariots of Fire and the Lethal Weapon series.
Spina joined Warner Bros. in 1970 as assistant to West Coast Publicity Director Diana Widom and two years later became assistant to Charlotte Kandel (Widom’s twin sister), who was then a publicity project director. Kandel, who eventually headed Warner worldwide publicity, said: “Dale had such a joy for life and such a generous spirit. On top of that was a cheekiness and irreverence like nobody else’s.”
Later, Spina worked as assistant to Advertising Director Nancy Goliger. But in 1980, Spina began to work with ad guru Joel Wayne, previously the top creative executive at Grey Advertising in New York, who had just joined Warner in a similar post as the studio’s new VP and Creative Director.
“Dale was a genius writer. In my nearly half-century in the business, there was nobody better,” said his old boss Wayne. “At that time, executives sent out hard copies of written notes, a function often taken on by the assistant. I noticed something immediately in Dale’s ability to turn a witty, inventive and personable phrase. So I decided to trust my instincts to see what he could do with poster copy for Chariots of Fire. He didn’t disappoint.” Wayne said that Spina wrote: “This is a story of two men who run…not to run…but to prove something to the world. They will sacrifice anything to achieve their goals.”
Spina once professed to his colleagues and family that his favorite tagline was for the Michael Keaton-starring 1988 comedy Beetlejuice. It was: “The Name in Laughter from the Hereafter.”
By the end of that year, Spina had joined Warner’s first attempt at an in-house ad group, a four-person team known as Creative Conspiracy. A year or two later, the group expanded and evolved into The Idea Place with much more responsibility for ad creation and production.
Spina continued through nearly the entire length of Co-Chairmen and CEOs Robert Daly and Terry Semel’s two-decade administration, which Spina called “the Camelot years.” Those years are known for the studio’s string of successful films and a wonderful collaboration of all departments.
Spina also worked closely with the late worldwide marketing chief Sandy Reisenbach and, subsequently, Rob Friedman. He retired from Warner in 1998 and spent the next three years as a freelance writer.
Many of the projects he worked on won Key Art Awards, the annual honors that recognize the best in motion picture creative advertising and marketing.
Dale Michael Spina was born on Nov. 9, 1950, in North Hollywood. He was raised by a widowed mother and learned the values of self-reliance and independence. He attended Kittridge Elementary School and Notre Dame High, both in the San Fernando Valley. He earned a degree at Valley College, majoring in journalism.
Spina is survived by his husband of four years and life partner of 40 years, Guy Apollo. A memorial service has been scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 23, 12:30 pm, at the Church of the Hills, Forest Lawn Cemetery, in Los Angeles.