Born June 13, 1948, Joe Roth grew up on Long Island.
In his 1998 book Work in Progress, Disney CEO Michael Eisner writes about executive Joe Roth: "Joe was raised in Roslyn Heights on Long Island. His father made a modest living running a plastics manufacturing business, but his passion was social activism. In 1958, when New York State began requiring children to recite the Regent's Prayer at school each day, Joe's father viewed it as a violation of the separation of church and state and recruited an ACLU lawyer to file a lawsuit. Joe, then ten, and his thirteen-year-old brother became two of the plaintiffs in the case. In 1962, the Supreme Court finally ruled that enforced prayer in schools was unconstitutional. Joe and his brother became pariahs at aschool. The family's house was picketed by the American Nazi Party and a cross made of kerosene-soaked rags was set on fire in their driveway. By his own description, the experience fueled his self-image as an outsider." (pg. 304)
Joe Roth seems an unlikely corporate soldier, Peter Bart writes in a December 1997 GQ profile. Joe typically wears jeans and a T-shirt and likes to spend his weekends and evenings with his wife and kids.
The first movie Joe produced was the 1976 low budget TV spoof Tunnelvision, which developed out of his friendship with a San Francisco improvisational comedy troupe which included such future stars as Chevy Chase, Laraine Newman and Howard Hesseman.
While president of Lorimar Films, Bart oversaw Joe's 1979 low budget comedy Americathon - about a national telethon to save financially bankrupt America.
Joe really wanted to direct. Larry Brezner produced his 1990 release - Coupe DeVille.
Larry told me 2/12/02: "Joe was running Morgan Creek [with Baltimore automobile wholesaler James Robinson], a small production company. I sent the film over to him and he said, 'I love this. I want to direct.' It's a sweet film done for no money. Joe and I became close friends on the film, which can happen. Either you become gigantic enemies or close friends. I remained with Joe for a lot of years after that. When he was at Fox, I took a producing deal at Fox. When he went to Disney, I took a producing deal at Disney. Joe now runs his own little studio Revolution which produced Black Hawk Down .
"Coupe de Ville never got much of a release. Two days after he finished the movie, he announced he was taking over Fox. That made the people at Universal, which was distributing the movie, unhappy. They had our movie. At one point, they agreed to sell us the movie. Then they changed their mind. One of the wives of the executives had seen it and said it was a good movie. They decided to not give it back and angry at Joe, they didn't give it much of a release.
"Mike Binder wrote the film. He was a standup comic who I encouraged to write. Coupe de Ville was a story about his family. I know his family and the story hit close to home. It was a father with three sons who didn't get along. And his little trick to try to get them to like each other."
Bart notes that the man who would prove so astute selecting hit screenplays for studios was unable to find a winner for himself. And after Coupe, Roth gave up directing.
At Morgan Creek, Roth oversaw such movies as Young Guns, Dead Rings and Enemies, A Love Story. In 1989, Rupert Murdoch chose Roth become chairman of the movie unit of 20th Century Fox. His boss was the ferocious Barry Diller.
Larry Brezner says: "I had some run-ins with Barry Diller over the [1990 TV series] Good Grief, which took place in a funeral home. Barry Diller can be the most intimidating individual on the planet. Joe Roth, who was one of my closest friends, I produced the  film Coupe de Ville that Joe directed, Joe was head of Fox at the time. And Diller was above him. Joe would say, 'Diller can be a tough guy. Don't let him intimidate you. He'll say some really vicious things to you. If you allow it to happen, he'll just continue and you'll just be a lackey.'
"We'd got into this dispute about the television show Good Grief, which he wanted desperately. We had a hilarious pilot script. We wanted to do it as a movie and he said no, I'll give you 13 shows. Well, he never gave us the 13 shows, so I took the show away from him and he got furious.
"I get a message that Diller wants to see me immediately. I'm thinking about the warning from Joe. How do I protect myself? Peter Chernin is sitting in Diller's office. And Diller starts in a soft spoken way. 'I hear you pulled the show from us?' And I said, 'Yes, because you did not live up to some of the agreements we made.'
"Diller says, 'So you're an expert in television now? So you're an expert in comedy now?' And slowly he starts to build [in ferocity]. And he says, 'Let me tell you something about you.' And then he starts to insult me in a way you can't believe. 'You don't know anything about comedy. You know fuck-all about the television business. You don't know what you're doing. Who the fuck do you think you are?' He just went on and on. He started getting really out of hand.
"Even though in my stomach, I was getting tied up in knots, for some reason, I got up and walked up to one inch from his nose. And I said to him, 'I've got to tell you something.' He said, 'What?' I said, 'In this light, your eyes are just fabulous.' He just looked at me. There was a long pause. He started smiling and he said, 'Get out of here.' And he threw me out of his office. I could hear him laughing as I was leaving. It was just one of those situations where you had to protect yourself by going in another direction."
Bart notes that Diller and Roth seemed mismatched. Diller liked to dress in suit-and-ties and argue. Roth was casual. But Roth thrived under Diller, and other such tough bosses Michael Eisner and Rupert Murdoch.
In 40 months at Fox, Roth oversaw such successful movies as Home Alone, Sleeping with the Enemy, The Last of the Mohicans and Edward Scissorhands. Joe expected to be financially rewarded for his work but Murdoch ignored his demands. So Joe quit and formed an independent production company Caravan Pictures, based at Disney, with his friend Roger Birnbaum. In 18 months, Caravan churned out 11 movies. The results were mediocre.
In late 1994, Michael Eisner had a heart attack. Recovering, he fired his number two man Jeffrey Katzenberg. Roth took over until he was fired by Disney in 2000. This was the third putative successor (after Katzenberg and Michael Ovitz) that Eisner has fired.
NY Times Flatters Joe Roth
A few thoughts on Laura Holson's profile of Joe Roth, head of the mini-studio Revolution.
* Joe Roth must be the most over-rated studio executive. What's he ever done to justify the hype? Revolution's record of films is not impressive commercially or critically.
* Roth's reputation comes largely through the media, who Roth courts. He returns reporters' phone calls and give relatively straight answers. Journalists want to stay on his good side, have him keep returning their calls, therefore they write gently about him.
* He's a lousy director but he can't resist repeatedly trying and failing.
Laura Holson writes 10/27/02: Mr. Roth had the notion three years ago that there was a better way to make films that were both inexpensive and entertaining. But after Revolution's first releases, many critics said that Mr. Roth, a former chairman of the Walt Disney Studios and 20th Century Fox, had forgotten the entertaining part.
One thing that Mr. Roth has always had going for him is his well-known relationships with actors and directors.
"If you call Michael Eisner I will never talk to you again," Mr. Roth growled at a reporter during lunch in New York, referring to his old boss, the chief executive of Disney.