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Jonathan Dolgen, Former Viacom Entertainment Chief, Dead at 78

Jonathan Dolgen, the former head of Viacom Entertainment and a former top 20th Century Fox executive, died Oct. 9 of natural causes in Los Angeles. He was 78.

For a decade, from 1994 until 2004, the hard-charging Dolgen led Viacom’s film, television and amusement parks, as well as Simon & Schuster and its music publishing operations, establishing a reputation for smarts, drive and relentless focus on costs and efficiency in operations. He took the reins of Viacom’s entertainment assets not long after Sumner Redstone prevailed in a long and public battle with Barry Diller to acquire Paramount Pictures in September 1993.

“You come to work in the morning,” Dolgen once told the New York Times in a profile shortly after he took the job at Viacom. “And you work 12 hours, and then you’re off 12 hours. And then you come to work again, and you push, and keep pushing, and learn, and keep learning. And you begin to accomplish what you want. . . . The trick is tenacity.”

Dolgen’s time atop the parent company of Paramount Pictures was a period of relative success under the direction of studio chief Sherry Lansing. The studio was on a roll in the 1990s with releases of “Titanic,” “Braveheart” and “Forrest Gump,” all of which won best picture, as well as hits such as “The Truman Show,” “Face/Off,” “Zoolander” and “Mission: Impossible,” which remains a top franchise to this day. He also helped oversee TV staples such as “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Fraiser.”

After leaving Viacom in a management shakeup that also saw the departure of Mel Karmazin as Viacom president and the elevation of Tom Freston and Leslie Moonves to top jobs, Dolgen formed Wood River Ventures, an advisory and investing media firm.

Dolgen started his career as a Wall Street lawyer at Fried, Frank, Haris, Shriver and Jacobsen before joining Columbia Pictures as part of its legal team. In 1985 Dolgen moved to Twentieth Century Fox where he became president of television, shortly before Rupert Murdoch acquired the studio. He then worked at Sony Pictures in 1991 as president of Columbia Pictures, overseeing its movie division and earning a reputation for keeping films on time and under budget. He was also known as a tough and skilled negotiator.

Dolgen was an active philanthropist, who supported Pitzer College, UCLA Neurosurgery and Cornell University. He was an Expedia Board of Directors Emeritus as was serving as a board member for such nonprofits including The Simon Wisenthal Center, California Institute of the Arts and Claremont Graduate University. 

Dolgen is survived by wife Susan, daughters Tamar and Lauren, son-in-law Sergio Bicas, three grandchildren and his brother David Dolgen.   

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