Day 30 – Ashley Boone, Jr. – Movie Executive and Studio Head
I wanted to end this month by tapping into my nerdier side, and talk about Star Wars. This franchise has spawned multiple movies, spinoffs, cartoons, specials, and of course billions of dollars in merchandise licensing. And arguably, without the marketing acumen of Ashley Boone, Jr. (or A.A. Boone as he is sometimes called), the entire franchise would have ended after the first movie. And yet, the contributions of this gay Black man have largely gone unacknowledged by the movie industry and larger fan culture. Ashley Augustus Boone, Jr. was raised in Springfield, Massachusetts and attended Brandeis University, studying economics. After graduating in 1960, Boone went to work for movie distribution company, United Artists. There, he marketed successful Academy Award winning films including Lilies of the Field and West Side Story. At United Artists he would travel the world controlling the international distribution of films. From there, Boone left to work for CBS and Motown before joining 20th Century Fox in 1974. In 1976 he helped develop the tactic of midnight screenings to promote The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
In 1977, Star Wars was considered a risky investment for 20th Century Fox, and most studio executives thought the film would fail. Boone developed the strategy of opening the movie in May, over the Memorial Day weekend, one month before the traditional start of the summer blockbuster season. This would allow kids to see the movie while school was still in session, and talk of the movie would spread. This also gave the movie one month of screen time before other competitive films would be released. He also chose to release the film on a Wednesday rather than wait until the weekend. The success of this strategy gave the studio the financial assurance needed to greenlight The Empire Strikes Back (which Boone also marketed). In 1979, after a career of both being passed over for some promotions and gaining others, he was named President of Distribution at 20th Century Fox, making him the first Black studio head in Hollywood. After suspected racial discrimination by the studio board, Boone left the company after five months and started his own consulting firm. Later, he would work for Columbia Pictures, MGM, and Lorimar Television. He marketed and distributed such notable films as Ghostbusters, Thelma & Louise, and Chariots of Fire.
During his career Ashley Boone, Jr. pushed for more diversity in the studio production process. He also obtained a graduate degree from Stanford University and taught at the USC film school. From 1991-1993 he served as a governor for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In 1993, pancreatic cancer forced Boone into retirement and he died in 1994. When he died, his obituary named Mark Bua his longtime companion (a commonly used euphemism for same sex partner), and incorrectly stated that he had a wife. His name has largely been forgotten in movie history, but his influence still permeates in popular culture today.
For More Information:
Cheryl Boone Isaacs (Ashley’s sister) is just as impressive: https://www.girlboss.com/read/cheryl-boone-isaacs-interview