Lorimar co-founder and longtime President Lee Rich resigned Monday to become chairman and chief executive of United Artists, filling a vacancy created two weeks ago by the abrupt ouster of Jerry Weintraub.
Industry sources cited fundamental differences between Rich and Lorimar Chairman Merv Adelson as the primary reason that the 66-year-old Rich is willing to leave the company that he helped found 17 years ago.
When asked about those differences, Rich compared his business association to a marriage. "There were awfully good days, and there have been days when it was not good for either one of us," he said, ascribing his departure to "an opportunity to do new things and help build another company."
Rich confirmed that he was first approached last fall about taking the United Artists job before it was offered to Weintraub, but he said he turned it down because Lorimar was preparing to merge with Telepictures.
That merger took place in February and resulted in Rich sharing the presidency of the merged companies with Telepictures' four top executives.
Rich insisted Monday that he had not clashed with the Telepictures executives.
"Telepictures was the greatest thing that happened to this company," he said, alluding to its strength as a producer and distributor of TV programs for off-network consumption.
Weintraub, a successful Hollywood businessman who produced the films "Nashville," "Diner" and "The Karate Kid," was ousted earlier this month after United Artists' executive committee concluded that Weintraub, a high-powered entrepreneur, was not likely to operate comfortably within corporate guidelines, according to one source at the company.
Weintraub was initially tapped for the job last November by financier Kirk Kerkorian, who owns about 80% of UA.
United Artists became an independent company last month after it was spun off by Turner Broadcasting System, which had acquired its parent company, MGM/UA Entertainment. Kerkorian had been MGM/UA's majority shareholder and therefore was entitled to receive the controlling share of UA.
When asked about the fate of the staff assembled by Weintraub during his five-month tenure, Rich said: "I don't plan to fire anybody."
He said it would take a least a month, however, to determine the fate of projects begun under the previous regime.
In response to a question, Rich said he does not have a contract at UA.
United Artists also announced Monday that Anthony D. Thomopoulos has been promoted to president and chief operating officer of the corporation. He has been an executive vice president as well as president of the company's motion pictures and television groups.
Named to Executive Committee
Sid Sapsowitz, executive vice president and chief business operations and administrative officer, was moved up to become the company's senior executive vice president.
Rich, Thomopoulos and Sapsowitz were all named to the executive committee of the corporate board of directors.
Rich, a former advertising executive who excelled in selling TV shows such as "Dallas," "Knots Landing" and "Falcon Crest" to the major networks, reportedly was dubious about risking Lorimar's television-generated profits on motion picture production, as Adelson has mandated.
Adelson, however, on Monday labeled the alleged differences over movies as "pure Hollywood baloney," saying such a disagreement never existed. He added that he and Rich had "a hell of a lot more good days than bad ones" in their 17-year partnership.
Although Lorimar has produced 24 motion pictures, none has been a blockbuster, and its most recent release, "Power," has fared poorly at the box office.
Unlike United Artists, which owns 50% of a motion picture distribution company with MGM, Lorimar has no distribution arm and must depend entirely on other companies for that costly service.
As long ago as 1981, Rich was ready to leave Lorimar if he had been offered the top job at NBC, which went instead to TV producer Grant Tinker, two well-placed sources noted Monday.
Rich's unhappiness deepened when a divorce settlement reduced his Lorimar stake to less than Adelson's, tipping the balance of power inside the company, these same sources said. Lee Rich's stake dropped to 11.4% in December, 1985, down from the 34.6% owned jointly with his former wife Pippa Scott Rich as of January, 1984, according to proxy statements. Those statements reported Adelson's stake at about 21% before the Telepictures merger.