Jonathan Dolgen, a respected longtime entertainment industry executive known for his tough dealmaking while chairman of Viacom and earlier as President of Columbia Pictures’ film unit and head of television at Twentieth Century Fox, died Monday of natural causes at UCLA Medical Center. He was 78.
Queens native and former Army reservist Dolgen was a Wall Street lawyer when he was recruited to the Columbia Pictures legal team as Assistant General Counsel. While there, he negotiated deals that would pioneer change in the cable TV industry, including the first studio deal of its kind with HBO.
In 1985, Dole moved to Twentieth Century Fox, where he became President of Television. He then worked at Sony Pictures in 1991 as President of Columbia Pictures Movie Division, which included both Columbia and Tristar.
Dolgen was elected Chairman of Viacom Entertainment in 1994 and for a decade he led the company in film, TV, amusement parks, Simon & Schuster and music publishing. He was a key part of the team responsible for Best Picture Oscar winners Titanic, Braveheart and Forrest Gump and was instrumental in the creation of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Frasier, the latter of which won a record five consecutive Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series from 1994-98.
In 2004, after an extraordinary career as a studio executive brokering some of Hollywood’s biggest and most innovative deals, Dolgen formed Wood River Ventures LLC as an advisory and investing media firm.
He received the coveted Motion Picture Pioneer of the Year Award in 2002, and other accolades included the Simon Wiesenthal Humanitarian Award and the UCLA Neurosurgery Courage Award.
A committed philanthropist, Dolgen donated to many foundations and organizations such as Pitzer College and most significantly to UCLA Neurosurgery and Cornell University, the latter of which he believed gave him the start to his illustrious career. In 2008, Cornell rededicated a longstanding building on its Ithaca campus as Dolgen Hall.
Considered to be a “walking encyclopedia and a human Google search,” his curiosity, mind and memory were sharp from childhood to his death, his family said.
Dolgen is survived by wife of 57 years and high school sweetheart, Susan; daughters Tamar and Lauren; his brother, David Dolgen; son-in-law Sergio Bicas; and three grandchildren.
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