MPTF Mourns the Loss of Our Devoted Friend and Board Member Walter Seltzer

February 18, 2011
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Producer Walter Seltzer died Friday, February 18, 2011 at the Motion Picture & Television Fund due to age related illness. Seltzer had been living at the MPTF retirement community for over 3 years.

Walter Seltzer had always been part of the entertainment community. Through the course of his life, he has had a major impact on the lives of those who enjoy movies as well as the lives of those who make movies. He dedicated himself to the work of promoting and producing films, and also to the service of caring for entertainment community members in need, by assuming a leadership role for the industry’s own charity, the Motion Picture & Television Fund.

Born into a theatrical family, Seltzer was educated in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania. His father owned and operated movie theatres in Philadelphia and his two brothers, Frank and Jules, were involved with movie advertising and later, feature film production. He worked there, with the Fox Theatre Circuit and Warner Bros., with responsibilities that included changing the marquee three times a week in Pennsylvania’s freezing winter weather.

In the spring of 1935, Seltzer moved to warmer temperatures in Hollywood and got a job with Fox West Coast Theatres. He knew publicity was his passion when he chose to move from the job of an usher, which paid $16 per week, to the job of press agent, at $15 per week – but the publicity job also came with a perk: a weekly one dollar trolley pass. An early assignment was the re-issue of the film classic, “Mutiny on the Bounty.” He went on to MGM where he worked on many films of the “golden era,” featuring Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable and many others. His publicity work continued as he shifted to Warner Bros. and then Columbia Pictures. It was during this time that Seltzer’s family ties to the entertainment industry expanded: He married Mickell “Mickey” Novak, a screenwriter, whose mother (silent screen star, Jane Novak), father and aunt were all actors; her uncles were stuntmen and cameramen. They were a perfect match.

After a three-year stint in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, Seltzer joined Hal Wallis’ independent
production company at Paramount Pictures, as Advertising and Publicity Director, with added duties in production and distribution. In this arena, he led publicity efforts for “Sorry Wrong Number,” “Come Back Little Sheeba,” and many films starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. As part of the Wallis organization, he was the first Hollywood publicist for, and became close friends with Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster and Charlton Heston. He then became a partner in the Hecht-Lancaster organization, and in 1954 he pioneered the business of campaigning for an Academy Award, with his creative efforts for “Marty.” The film gained worldwide acclaim, four Oscars, the New York Film Critic’s Award, and top honors at Cannes. His strategic effort set the stage for future studio lobbying of Academy members, which is accepted today as an integral part of any major film release up for Academy consideration.

In 1956, Seltzer transitioned from promotion to production, as he, along with partner George Glass, was named
Executive Producer of Pennebaker, Inc., Marlon Brando’s independent production company. He produced “One Eyed Jacks,” starring Brando as well as a number of other productions under the Pennebaker banner, including several in Europe, such as “Paris Blues” with Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Louis Armstrong, and Sidney Poitier, James Cagney’s “Shake Hands with the Devil,” “The Naked Edge,” Gary Cooper’s final picture, and “The Man in the Middle” starring Robert Mitchum.

Seltzer created his own production company in 1962, and, in all, made 31 films. He started an association with Charlton Heston and, as actor producer, they made several films together including “Will Penny,” “Soylent Green,” and “The Warlord,” which featured, in addition to Heston, Richard Boone, Rosemary Forsythe and the late John Alderson, “Skyjacked,” “Number One,” and “The Omega Man.”

In 1939, Seltzer became a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and later the American Film Institute. Since 1980, he has proudly served on the Board of Trustees for the Motion Picture & Television Fund, which he considers his “life’s work.” For almost 30 years, he has provided his expertise in promotion, production and leadership to the entertainment industry’s own charity. He received MPTF’s highest honor, the Silver Medallion, in 1986, and was a leader of the Capital Campaign Team, along with Edie Wasserman and Robert Blumofe, that raised over $60 million for a major expansion of the Motion Picture & Television Hospital.

In an interview, Seltzer said, “I am proud that the Motion Picture & Television Fund is still around and is still serving the industry we all love. I hope that, in the future, it will continue to be underwritten by industry companies as well as individuals and generous corporations, so we can continue to provide unique services for our unique industry.”

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9 Responses to MPTF Mourns the Loss of Our Devoted Friend and Board Member Walter Seltzer

  1. Richard Stellar on February 19, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    He was a mensch, and appreciated by all who remain in the Long Term Care unit:

    ” 2 years ago, at a December board meeting about the fate of the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s (MPTF) long-term care facility and hospital, only one trustee objected to the controversial decision to shutter the services, according to the minutes of that meeting obtained by TheWrap.

    In standing alone that day, Walter Seltzer said that the board had an obligation to keep the facility open as part of the fund’s organizational mission.

    “There were many, many different approaches that would have been better than the decision we took,” Seltzer told TheWrap this week.

    But Seltzer’s protests were overpowered by the arguments of Dr. David Tillman, then CEO of the MPTF, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, the MPTF’s chief fundraiser. Tillman said the over 70-year-old service must end, because of the fund’s $20 million budget shortfall and a worsening economy, the minutes say.

  2. Seth Ellis on February 21, 2011 at 11:49 am

    I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to develop deep and long lasting relationships with industry members on this campus and throughout the communities we serve. With each encounter my knowledge of the entertainment industry is increased so we can continue to provide services that are impactful to entertainment industry members,of all ages and their families. My ten year relationship with Walter was a never ending journey learning about the industry, about the challenges of aging and was a profound example of how one man’s focus and commitment to a charity makes great things happen. The Motion Picture & Television Fund is the most fortunate beneficiary of Walter’s commitment to the industry he loved and is his legacy. I am privileged in having known him. His memory is our blessing.

  3. Ken Scherer on February 21, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    MPTF has existed for 90 years because of the men and women of the entertainment industry like Walter who gave generously and with great humility of service to those friends and colleagues in need. I am grateful to the MPTF staff and caregivers for being there for both he and Mickey to the very end. His positive spirit and his grace will continue to be felt on the campus as MPTF continues to serve future generations!

  4. Nancy Ramirez on February 21, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    The nursing staff on Acute Care at MPTF has had the privilege of taking care of Walter numerous times in his final years. He was always a gentleman, no matter how poorly he may have been feeling – he treated everyone with unparalleled courtesy and respect.
    We appreciate everything Walter has done for our organization through his decades of service, he was the heart and soul of Motion Picture and Television Fund…..we will miss him immensely.

  5. Joe Eckhardt on February 22, 2011 at 11:40 am

    I met Walter Seltzer back in the early 1990s when I contacted him to tell him that a silent film made by his older brother, Frank, had been rediscovered. As a child, Walter had watched the film being made and was full of interesting stories about cast and crew. He was also very generous in his support of the restoration of Breaking Home Ties (1922) and when the restored film enjoyed it’s second premiere at Montgomery County Community College in 1994, he flew to Pennsylvania to attend in person, along with his wife and daughter. It was wonderful experience for all concerned and especially poignant to watch Walter seeing again his brother’s film which had been thought lost. We have never forgotten his support for, and encouragement, of this project. Our condolences to his family and colleagues.

  6. Rabbi Arthur Rosenberg on February 23, 2011 at 11:48 am

    Michael Josephson reminds us that the mark of a person is his or her character. Walter Seltzer – a man of character – devoted his time, his contacts, his talent and his funds to help those who needed a helping hand. In a world where much is said, he was a doer. Walter changed peoples lives thru the films he worked on and by impact of the Motion Picture and Television Fund whose mission he embodied. I will miss his friendship and conversation. I hope and pray that his spirit of philanthropy and gentility will live on in all of us. May he rest in peace.

  7. Ellie Shaya on February 23, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    I am proud to have had the opportunity to know both Walter and Mickey Seltzer, and honored to have participated in their care at Motion Picture and Television Fund. Their commitment and love for each other was a great lesson in life. What I remember most about them is their warmth and genuine personalities. No matter how busy they were, they always had time to stop and chat with everyone. They were so sincere and caring. They were such giving individuals. Surely Motion Picture is a better place because of all the goodness that the Seltzers did for the Fund. They will be greatly missed.

  8. karina on March 5, 2011 at 1:08 am

    walter u will be always in my heart I miss u so much the place is not the the same with out U I LOVE U.

  9. SHARINA HARRISON on March 5, 2011 at 1:20 am

    WALTER IT HAS BEEN HONOR TO KNOW YOU. AND PLEASURE TO ASSIST YOU AT THE STARK VILLA. THE MEMORIES WILL ALWAYS REMAIN IN MY HEART FOREVER. YOU WILL BE MISSED.

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