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Robert W. Selig, 93; Film Distributor Co-Founded the ShoWest Convention

Times Staff Writer

Robert William Selig, a motion picture distribution executive who helped create and then headed the annual ShoWest convention, which touts mainstream movies to theater owners, has died. He was 93.

Selig, who retired only eight years ago, died Dec. 31 in Los Angeles of complications from a fall.

Now staged in Las Vegas, the ShoWest film festival and convention attracts about 12,000 theater owners and other professionals from 40 nations. Such major motion picture stars as Sean Connery, Meg Ryan, Adam Sandler and Will Smith have attended to accept awards and interact with the people who have sold their big-screen images to theatergoers.

In 1974, Selig, along with Pacific Theatres head Jerome Forman and B.V. Sturdivant, huddled at Los Angeles International Airport to create a trade show where the people who made movies could discuss their wares with those who marketed them.

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The first gathering, in San Diego in 1975, attracted only 200 people.

The event, for which Selig was chairman in its early years, has become the world’s largest and most prominent exhibition trade convention. It is now co-sponsored by the National Assn. of Theatre Owners, which Selig helped found and on whose board he long served.

When ShoWest presented Selig with the Sherrill C. Corwin Award for outstanding efforts in motion picture exhibition in 1989, Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, lauded him as “a man who cares more about the well-being of our industry than he does for his own personal advancement.”

Selig also was president of the Theatre Assn. of California.

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Born in Cripple Creek, Colo., Selig graduated from the University of Denver, where he later was chairman of the board of trustees for 11 years. He began his career in Denver working with 20th Century Fox Inter-Mountain Theatres and moved to Los Angeles in 1961 as executive vice president and general manager of National General Corp., then the third-largest theater chain.

Selig’s six-decade career spanned major changes, from single-screen movie palaces to drive-in theaters and giant multiplexes designed to compete with the onslaught of home video and DVD technology.

“No longer can movie theaters be comprised of a cracker box,” he warned in 1981 in a speech to the Motion Picture and Television Controllers Assn. at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. “The missing ingredients have been glamour, illusion and patron services. We have to create multidimensional experiences that make moviegoing an event.”

Both in Denver and Los Angeles, Selig coupled his motion picture industry work with public service. He was chairman of Denver’s Community Chest (United Way) and a director of its Red Cross, Crusade for Freedom, March of Dimes and Central City Opera Assn.

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In Los Angeles, he was on the boards of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, the Hollywood Redevelopment Committee, the Will Rogers Foundation and the Foundation of Motion Picture Pioneers. He was chairman of the United Way Campaign for the motion picture industry and in the 1970s co-founded and was chairman of USC’s School of Theatre Management.

Widowed in 2000 by the death of his wife of 65 years, Olive, Selig is survived by his son, Robert Jr., of Woodside, Calif.; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.


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