Hollywood studio executive William Bernstein, a co-founder of Orion Pictures who also worked for United Artists and Paramount Pictures, died Wednesday. He was 87.
Longtime associate Mike Medavoy confirmed Bernstein’s death, first reported by The Hollywood Reporter. “He was a brilliant guy, just very very smart,” Medavoy said.
Bernstein, Medavoy, Arthur Krim, Robert Benjamin and Eric Pleskow departed United Artists and launched Orion in 1978 as a mini-major that was the first significant new player in Hollywood in many decades. Medavoy credited Bernstein with conceiving the name of the studio. Bernstein explained the choice in a 1992 interview with the New York Times
“Orion is the largest constellation; it has five stars, just like us, and it was the brightest constellation in February, when we were forming the company,” he told the newspaper. “Besides, it was simple to spell.”
Between 1984 and 1991, Orion released four films that won the Academy Award for best picture: “Amadeus,” “Platoon,” “Dances With Wolves” and “The Silence of the Lambs.” “Silence” also accomplished the rare feat of winning Oscars in four other major categories: best actor for Anthony Hopkins, best actress for Jodie Foster, best director for Jonathan Demme and best adapted screenplay for Ted Tally.
But losses from other films forced Orion to file for bankruptcy protection in 1992. Bernstein, who was president of Orion at that point, departed early that year to become executive vice president of Paramount. He had gotten to know Paramount executives during the previous year when Orion had sold “The Addams Family” to Paramount, where it became a hit.
Bernstein worked for more than a decade at Paramount under studio chief Sherry Lansing and was involved in the development and production of “Titanic,” “Braveheart” and “Forrest Gump.”
Bernstein joined United Artists in its motion picture legal department in 1959 and was involved in the acquisition of rights to the James Bond franchise, along with working on “Rocky,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Midnight Cowboy.”
He is survived his wife, Evelyn, and children Steven and Marian.