Jack Atlas; Publicist Who Developed Movie ‘Trailers’


Jack Atlas, Hollywood publicist and developer of motion picture “trailers” or “previews” to tout upcoming films, has died. He was 81.

Atlas, who worked for MGM and Columbia before starting his own firm, died Friday at his home in West Los Angeles.

A 1939 graduate of Tufts University, he first worked in MGM’s publicity department, but began making trailers after serving in the Navy during World War II.


Atlas became a key figure in creating trailers during 40 years of their evolution and was an authority on their history. When he started, only a dozen companies in the world, most of them in Hollywood, were making the theatrical sales pitch footage that could last several minutes. Now more than 100 companies compete to do the trailers, which average about 90 seconds.

Movie trailers date back to the early 20th century, when they were little more than the title and one or two scenes from a future silent movie. But after the advent of “talkies,” the promotion footage became a small production in its own right. Alfred Hitchcock’s classic tour of the Bates Motel for his 1960 film “Psycho” lasted eight minutes.

“In those days trailers ran no less than three minutes. A big picture like ‘Quo Vadis’ would have one that was five or six minutes long,” Atlas recalled in 1988.

“You picked all the best elements of a movie and included them--unless you were working for Sam Goldwyn, who wanted everything shortened; he didn’t want to give the movie away. The cuts were slower, and you could build a beginning, middle and end. Nowadays everything is quick cuts. Which is justified in view of today’s target audiences.”

Atlas said trailers began changing dramatically in 1960 when Federico Fellini created a trailer for his film “La Dolce Vita.”

“He took a bunch of stills and stop-frames from the movie, added some arresting music and created a composition that was weird and enormously effective,” Atlas said. “Producers began saying, ‘Give me a ‘La Dolce Vita’ trailer.’ ”


MGM was the first and one of the few studios to have its own trailer production section. That changed, and Atlas changed with the times.

He moved from MGM to Columbia in 1960 as vice president of promotion, producing that studio’s trailers until it left the trailer business in 1973.

At that time, he established his own company, the Atlas Organization, to make trailers for films and for Ted Turner’s television enterprises. He retired in 1983.

Atlas is survived by his wife, Myrtle; three children, Richard, William and Roberta Atlas Marantz; six granddaughters; and two great-grandchildren.

The family has asked that memorial donations be made to Jewish Family Services, 5700 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, Calif. 90036.