Eric Pleskow Dies: Ex-President Of United Artists & Orion Pictures Was 95

Eric Pleskow
Pleskow at the 2010 Vienna International Film Festival Georg Hochmuth/EPA/Shutterstock

Eric Pleskow, who ran United Artists, co-founded and led Orion Pictures and produced John Boorman’s Beyond Rangoon, died today in Westport, CT. He was 95.

The Austria native also has served as president of the Vienna International Film Festival since 1998. The Viennale announced his death but did not provide any details:

“His death is a great loss for all of us,” the Vienna fest said in a blog post.. “Eric had a fulfilled and long life and we appreciated him as a longtime friend and companion of our festival. As president and patron of the Viennale, he has always carried us with his humor and foresight.”

Born on April 24, 1924, in Vienna, Pleskow and his family fled Europe via France days before the outbreak of World War II. After training as a film editor on documentaries including Pledge to Bataan and “Kukan”: The Batle Cry of China, Pleskow was drafted into the U.S. Army and was stationed in Munich. There Gen. Robert McClure put him in charge of rebuilding and managing the Bavaria Film Studios.

After the war, worked his way up from European sales manager for United Artists to studio president from 1973-78 — becoming the first European to lead UA since its co-founder Charlie Chaplin. During his tenure, the studio put out three consecutive Best Picture Oscar winners: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Rocky (1976) and Annie Hall (1977).

After Pleskow and other UA execs left abruptly in 1978, they announced the formation of Orion Pictures, which he would lead until 1992. Under Pleskow’s leadership, Orion would release four more Best Picture Academy Award winners: Amadeus (1984), Platoon (1986), Dances with Wolves (1990) and The Silence of tjhe Lambs (1991).

He went on to produce the 1995 adventure drama Beyond Rangoon, which starred Patricia Arquette, Frances McDormand and Spalding Gray, and executive produce 2001’s The Hollywood Sign, starring Tom Berenger, Roid Steiger and Burt Reynolds.

Pleskow also appeared in several documentaries including Everything or Nothing (2012) and Shadows from My Past (2013).

In 1998, Pleskow received the Munich Film Festival’s CineMerit Award, which honors outstanding personalities in the international film community for extraordinary contributions to motion pictures as an art form. He also was pictured on a Austrian postage stamp to commemorate his 90th birthday in 2014.

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