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Veteran Publicist Maria LaMagra Dies

8 Aug, 2011 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Special memorial service to be held Sept. 11

Maria LaMagra, the veteran home entertainment publicist who spent 11 years as head of publicity for what now is Universal Studios Home Entertainment, died Aug. 7, 2011, at her home in Sherman Oaks, Calif. She had been battling cancer and was under hospice care. She was 66.

LaMagra, who since her 2002 departure from Universal had been working as an independent public relations consultant, was a key force in the Entertainment AIDS Alliance, or EAA, most recently serving as secretary. Her last public appearance was at the EAA's "Wine and Wisdom" event in late June at the Skirball Cultural Center.

A native of Plainfield, N.J., LaMagra grew up in the Bronx and moved to Los Angeles with her family when she was a teenager. She was a 1973 graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles, with twin bachelor's degrees in journalism and political science.

LaMagra had been in the video industry since 1984, when she joined Embassy Home Entertainment as director of public relations. She supervised publicity campaigns for such titles as The Cotton Club, The Graduate, The Princess Bride, The Last Emperor and the Samuel Goldwyn and Janus Film libraries. She left Embassy two years later to join Daniel J. Edelman Public Relations' consumer products division, handling Pepsi and Hunt Wesson Foods. In 1989 she joined Trimark Pictures as director and then served as VP of theatrical and home video publicity.

LaMagra was recruited to head the publicity department at what then was MCA Home Video in May 1991. She was hired as director and a year later was promoted to VP. She quickly won acclaim for the strategic and effective publicity events she staged and was a key player in the launch of such popular franchises as The Land Before Time and Jurassic Park, as well as Universal's entry into DVD.

She dealt with tragedy early on: On Oct. 31, 1992, then-MCA Home Video president Rob Blattner died in plane crash. Louis Feola, who had been EVP of the unit's domestic arm, MCA/Universal Home Video, was appointed to succeed Blattner.

One of her most memorable publicity successes was persuading Burbank city officials to declare "Babe Day in Burbank," with a farm in a downtown parking lot to mark the Oscar nominee's home video debut just a week prior to the awards telecast in April 1996. The mobbed event garnered tremendous national and international press coverage.

Journalists might also recall that for the launch luncheon for Fried Green Tomatoes, the menu included fried green tomatoes as well as mint juleps.

As an independent public relations consultant LaMagra represented clients ranging from indies such as S'more Entertainment, headed by ex-Rhino executive Arny Schorr, to Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. She also worked with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Paramount Home Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

In addition, LaMagra represented her close friends, Dee Wallace and the late Dixie Carter, among others, as an independent publicist.

LaMagra is survived by her brother, Jeff LaMagra; daughters Robin Cloward and Alexandra Chamberlain, from her previous marriage to the late Rob Maynor, and their spouses; and four grandchildren. The Center for Spiritual Living will hold a Celebration of Maria LaMagra’s Life on Sept. 11 at noon at the Harmony Gold Theater in Hollywood, Calif. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in her name to the Entertainment AIDS Alliance.

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