Benjamin B. Smith, a retired lawyer, industrialist, philanthropist and art collector who started out in business at age 8 by hawking ice cream to patrons of the opera in St. Louis, died Friday night in his Beverly Hills home, his family said. He was 82.
Smith, who put himself through college and law school on the proceeds of a bicycle factory he established in his teen years, prospered in real estate in Missouri and retired to Southern California at age 40 in 1947.
He owned movie theaters, produced an early television series, "Dangerous Assignment," arranged land development deals and put together an electronics conglomerate, Monogram Precision Industries. He retired for the second time in 1961 to devote much of his time to good works including the Watts Writers Workshop and the Interracial Business Council, which was set up after the Watts riots of 1965.
He was one of the first three volunteers for the International Executive Service Corps, a private group that was established during the Administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson as a business counterpart of the Peace Corps.
Smith, who had taken part in big and small business deals in Los Angeles, said at the time that he "became bored playing golf three or four times a week and started looking for something that I could get involved in."
He counseled businessmen in Ethiopia, Uganda, Pakistan and Israel, where he traveled with his wife, Dorothy Jane Smith. She died in 1986.
The Smiths donated large portions of their collection of modern art to the National Gallery in Washington and to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where they sponsored a gallery in the Robert L. Anderson Building.
They were early benefactors of the Music Center, the Contemporary Arts Council and Jewish, Catholic and Protestant charities. They also donated the land for a pocket park in Hollywood, which was named in their honor.
"My father always said he could see no proof of heaven or hell so he focused in on this world and tried to do the best he could," said their son, Frederick.
Death was attributed to heart failure. Other survivors include a daughter, Ellen Smith Graff; her husband, Richard Graff; a brother, Dr. Sidney Smith, and two grandsons, John Segal and Roger Segal.
Services were set for noon Monday at Hillside Cemetery in Culver City.