Film publicist

Born: April 16, 1928;

Died: January 5, 2020.

GERRY Lewis, who has died aged 91, was an influential figure in movie marketing who worked on some of the biggest films of the 1970s and 1980s, including The Godfather and Rosemary’s Baby. He also played a pivotal role in the career of Steven Spielberg, working with him from his first film, Duel in 1971, to one of his most recent, Ready Player One in 2018.

Lewis first came to prominence in the 1960s working for British Lion Films, where he was tasked with promoting the movie Dr Who and The Daleks. His idea was to send a battalion of Daleks to Cannes, accompanied by an 80-piece band - a stunt that brought him to the attention of Paramount, where he went on to promote Alfie, the film that gave Michael Caine his first starring role.

His idea for that film was to throw a party and invite The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. They came – and the movie ended up on the cover of Time magazine at the height of the Swinging Sixties.

By the early 1970s, Lewis was working for Paramount and Universal to promote their movies overseas, which included masterminding the publicity campaign for The Godfather and designing the poster featuring Marlon Brando. He was also tasked with attracting publicity for a movie about a driver menaced by a truck made by an unknown film-maker.

The movie was Duel and the film-maker was Spielberg and Lewis knew it had something and championed it in London. He organised a private screening which led to critics raving about the film and hailing Spielberg as an emerging talent. For Lewis, it was the beginning of a long association with Spielberg, who valued the marketing man’s knowledge of the business and the opinion of someone who had always loved film.

Lewis had grown up in Battersea above his father’s clothes shop and, as a young journalist on the Wandsworth Borough News, wrote a film column that got him access to press screenings and some of the greats of Hollywood including Alfred Hitchcock. This then led to a job with the public relations firm Mullally and Warner, where he looked after the careers of Vera Lynn and Frankie Laine.

Lewis then joined Rank, where he worked with some of the biggest stars of the 1950s ,such as Peter Finch and Dirk Bogarde, before his move to British Lion Films, where his first assignment was as a publicist on Laurence Olivier’s The Entertainer, one of the new breed of kitchen-sink movies of the early 1960s.

Over the following decade, he worked on some of the greatest films of the period, including The Odd Couple and Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 and The Italian Job in 1969.

After the release of Duel two years later, Lewis frequently worked with Spielberg through his growing success with Jaws (1975), ET (1982) and Schindler’s List (1993). Lewis’s son Paul said Spielberg came to trust Lewis’s knowledge of the international marketplace and what it took to make films work in different countries.

Speaking after Lewis’s death, Spielberg said Lewis had been there for him before anyone else. “Gerry was a wealth of knowledge,” he said. “He loved movies and filmmakers and his understanding and respect of culture and the diversity of cultures made him invaluable to the distribution of movies internationally.”

Lewis’s own take on marketing was that it was no big deal. “There is no great science to marketing,” he said. “It’s all down to two things - timing and zeitgeist.”

Lewis, who lived in London, was married three times and is survived by his wife Sheridan, sons Paul and Tom, his stepchildren Kevin and Jessica and his grandsons Max and Charlie.