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World & Nation

$50 million donation to UCLA, USC and Michigan from Mitchell Trusts aims to diversify arts and entertainment programs

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John H. Mitchell, left, with Mary Tyler Moore and Steve Allen. To honor the life and legacy of Mitchell, who died in 1988, the Patricia W. Mitchell Trusts, named after the TV executive’s wife, were established as a philanthropic effort of the Mitchell family.
(USC School of Cinematic Arts)

John H. Mitchell was an entertainment industry giant.

He was an executive of Columbia Pictures from 1952 to 1977, serving as president of the company’s television division from 1968 to 1977. Under his leadership, more than 100 television programs and 50 TV movies were produced, including “The Flintstones,” “Bewitched” and five-time Emmy-winning movie “Brian’s Song.” Mitchell also served three terms as president of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences starting in the early 1980s.

To honor the life and legacy of Mitchell, who died in 1988, the Patricia W. Mitchell Trusts, named after the TV executive’s wife, were established as a philanthropic effort of the Mitchell family.

On Thursday, the trusts announced they will donate $50 million to UCLA, USC and the University of Michigan’s film, theater and media programs in order to “prepare current and future generations to creatively, financially and ethically lead the increasingly complex, global and disruptive creative industries that will comprise the entertainment, performing arts and media landscape.”

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The donations will target specific programs within each university. The USC School of Cinematic Arts and UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television will each receive $20 million, while the $10-million donation to Michigan will be split evenly between the film, television and media department and the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

The funds will focus on helping students from all types of financial and racial backgrounds in an effort to diversify an industry that has historically struggled with representation.

The gift will establish endowed funds that will help create internship opportunities in the entertainment industry, scholarships, lecture series, professorships and a community outreach program.

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John and Pat Mitchell at the Television Academy Hall of Fame on April 21, 1986.
(USC School of Cinematic Arts)

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But why these institutions?

According to Mitchell trustee Bill Allen, chief executive of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. and son of original “Tonight Show” host Steve Allen, UCLA and USC are “leading suppliers of talent to this critical set of creative industries and based in Los Angeles, where the industry is based.” Mitchell had also established a relationship with both Southern California schools as a frequent guest lecturer.

As a 1939 graduate of Michigan, Mitchell has a natural connection with the university.

The donation will focus on aiding students who have significant financial need, said Allen. He hopes the funds will create opportunities for those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend one of these universities.

Yeidy Rivero, chair of the University of Michigan department of film, television and media, was especially excited about the portion of the donation dedicated to establishing a visiting professorship fund. Rivero noted that, unlike the other two universities, Michigan does not have the luxury of being at the center of the entertainment world and that it can sometimes be difficult to get people in the industry to the Midwest for an extended period.

“We have a very good program, but we’re in Michigan,” said Rivero. “It takes some effort to bring people here, so with [this fund] it will be a good incentive for people to spend a semester with us.”

Even though the gift is centered on the idea of helping create future leaders in the entertainment industry, part will be spent on preserving the past through a $10-million donation dedicated to the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

While the original size of the donation was $50 million, USC and UCLA have each pledged an additional $5 million to the initial gift, bringing the total to $60 million. Allen is working to find potential gift opportunities to bring the total to $100 million.

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