William “Bill” Bernstein, who spent six decades in the motion picture business, died today at age 87, according to this longtime friend, Jeff Frankel.
In 1978, Bernstein, along with four other executives from United Artists, including Arthur Krim, Eric Pleskow, Mike Medavoy and Robert Benjamin, departed United Artists to found Orion Pictures. Mr. Bernstein conceived of the name of the studio. In an interview with the New York Times in 1992, Mr. Bernstein was quoted as follows: “Orion is the largest constellation; it has five stars, just like us…..”
Bernstein was an executive vice president during the time the company distributed such pictures as Amadeus”, “Platoon”, “Dances with Wolves” and “The Silence of the Lambs”, all of which won Academy Awards for Best Picture. Dances with Wolves won seven Academy Awards, and The Silence of the Lambs won all five major Academy Awards (a feat that has only occurred three times in history).
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Born in the Bronx, New York, Bernstein graduated New York University with a BA, moving on to Yale Law School. Bernstein was the only son in his family and the first member of his family to attend college. Mr. He served in the United States Army from 1954-1956 and would frequently mention how fortunate he was that his law school education was financed by the G.I. Bill.
After completing his studies at Yale, Bernstein joined United Artists in 1959 in their motion picture legal department. While at United Artists for nineteen years, Bernstein rose through the ranks, ultimately serving as Senior Executive Vice President. During his time at United Artists, Bernstein was involved in the negotiation and acquisition of the rights to the “James Bond” franchise, the financing and distribution of the “Rocky” franchise, as well as other successful and critically acclaimed films, such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, the “Pink Panther” and “Midnight Cowboy.”
Bernstein joined Paramount Pictures as EVP in 1992, and worked closely with Sherry Lansing for more than 10 years, during which time he was involved in negotiations relating to the development and production of such movies as Titanic, Braveheart, and Forest Gump.
He is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Evelyn, his son, Steven, and his daughter, Marian.