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Disney’s Roth Expected to Quit

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Joe Roth, one of Hollywood’s most prominent executives, is expected to resign this week as chairman of Walt Disney Studios with plans to form his own independently financed movie company, according to sources.

Roth’s expected departure is regarded as a serious loss for Disney, where he heads all studio operations, including movies, television, home video, music and animation. It is yet another sharp blow to Walt Disney Co. chief Michael Eisner, who has seen a hemorrhaging of senior executive talent over the past five years.

Sources said Eisner plans to appoint Disney animation veteran Peter Schneider as Roth’s successor. Schneider, who has been an architect of Disney’s animated film success, was promoted last year to president of the studio with expanded responsibilities for live-action family fare.

Schneider, however, has no experience in other live-action movies, where Roth has had years of success both at Disney and previously at 20th Century Fox and the independent companies he ran, Morgan Creek Productions and Caravan Productions.

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Roth, who has been at Disney for 5 1/2 years, could not be reached late Tuesday night.

Roth’s impending resignation comes on the heels of another record box office year for Disney, which racked up $2.6 billion in worldwide revenues in 1999, making the studio first in market share among its competitors for five of the last six years.

Roth is perhaps best known for his strong relationships with top stars, including Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis and Adam Sandler, and successful producers like Jerry Bruckheimer.

With last year’s blockbuster hits “Toy Story 2" and “The Sixth Sense,” Disney became the first studio ever to have two films in the same year that grossed more than $200 million domestically.

Roth was also responsible over the years for such $100-million-plus hits as “The Waterboy,” “Armageddon,” “Enemy of the State” and “Ransom.”

It’s no secret that the independent-minded Roth has been unhappy at the studio for some time, chafing under Eisner’s sometimes harsh management style.

Eisner, who has been under intense fire over the past year for Disney’s faltering stock price, has also been criticized for the defections of such key executives as Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief financial officer Steve Bollenbach, television station chief Steve Burke and retail executive Richard Nanula, among others.

Sources said Roth has been considering leaving Disney for more than a year because of a desire to once again be his own boss.

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Roth reportedly had been wrestling since last year over whether to resign or renew his contract. Although Disney exercised its two-year option on his contract last summer, he delayed having to renegotiate a new deal until the beginning of the new year.

Sources close to Roth know there is a part of him that clearly enjoys the power, perks and limelight that go along with being one of Hollywood’s handful of studio bosses.

This is not the first time Roth has left a lofty executive post for hands-on production. In 1992, he quit as movie chairman at 20th Century Fox to start his own production company, Caravan Pictures, at Disney. Two years later, when Katzenberg left as Disney studio chief after being passed over for the presidency, Eisner asked Roth to step in and succeed him.

Roth was irked last year when Eisner publicly bashed the generally poor performance of Disney’s live-action movies during fiscal 1998, spelling out his displeasure in a letter to shareholders. Roth took it as a slap in the face and was said to be furious with Eisner for publicly humiliating him.

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