Mark Canton's father was a movie publicity and marketing executive who worked on films like "Lawrence of Arabia."
As a teenager, Mark visited the office of that film's producer, Sam Spiegel, and was amazed by the line of more than a dozen Oscars on his mantel and by a huge picture of Mr. Spiegel standing on the deck of his yacht at the Cannes Film Festival, surrounded by beautiful women. Canton knew then he wanted to be in the biz.
Born and raised in New York, Mark graduated from UCLA. He worked in the mailroom at 20th Century Fox before moving to director Franklin J. Schaffner and the producer Jon Peters, an early mentor.
With the help of Michael Ovitz, Canton joined Warner Brothers in 1980 as vice president of production.
Write Nancy Griffin and Kim Masters in their 1996 book Hit & Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber Took Sony for a Ride in Hollywood: "Unlike [Mark] Roseneberg, Canton wasn't wracked with doubt about wasting his intellectual talents as a studio executive. He adored working for Warner Brothers. A sign on his office door announced that the "Friend of Comedy" dwelled therein. The diminutive Canton championed many o fthe studio's light summer movies. His ambition and lowbrow taste made him a target of ridicule: His detractors called him "Friend of Comedy; Enemy of Intelligence."
"Canton wanted Rosenberg's job and Jon [Peters] and Peter [Guber] wanted him to have it. Jon knew that Mark Canton would remain his loyal slave if he rose in the studio hierarchy - Canton was easily dominated." (pg. 122)
In 1985, he was president of production. His successes included "National Lampoon's Vacation" (1983) and its sequels as well as the "Batman" and "Lethal Weapon" series.
In 1991, Canton became chairman of Columbia Pictures, which was owned by Columbia. He released such high-profile failures as "Geronimo" (1993) and "I'll Do Anything" (1994). The studio appeared a mess as detailed in Kim Masters and Nancy Griffin's 1996 book Hit & Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber Took Sony for a Ride in Hollywood.
"Mark has lowest common-denominator movie-goer's taste," says a former colleague at Columbia. "He wanted very simple, very clear, very straightforward emotions." (pg. 349)
Canton aggressively promoted himself as a family man. In interviews, he repeatedly mentioned his wife, producer Wendy Finerman, and their two small kids. In Vanity Fair, he called their home "the Leave It to Beaver Hotel."
Writes Hit & Run: "Yes it is difficult to imagine Ward Cleaver disporting himself, as Columbia's chairman did, at the very special dinner party that Jon Peters threw at his Beverly Park home in 1991. The host had invited Canton and two other male friends to dine that night and hired two young women to serve the meal. The girls were fetchingly turned out as French maids with crisp white aprons. When a guest rose from the table to go to the bathroom, one of the girls would follow and ask if he might like some, umm, desert. Peters had hired these hard workers not from a local catering outfit but from Heidi Fleiss." (pg. 390)
In his book American Rhapsody, Joe Eszterhas says Mark's wife Wendy Finerman walked in on him at Columbia having sex on his desk with his secretary.
After Canton was fired by Columbia in 1996 and replaced by Amy Pascal, Mark's final movies hit bigtime. "Men in Black," "Air Force One," "My Best Friend's Wedding" and others made Sony $1.3 billion at the box office in 1997, a one-year record for any studio.
In 2002, Canton went to work as chief executive of Artists Production Group, the moviemaking offshoot of Michael Ovitz's Artists Management Group.
Sources: New York Times, 2/20/02