Mr. Movie When It Comes to Pushing Films in St. Louis, Bob Johnson Directs Most of the Action

Article excerpt

BOB JOHNSON'S life has been spent at the movies, not in them.

Still, he's a leading man: as head of KSJ Entertainment he has been promoting, publicizing and marketing motion pictures here for 39 years. The movie ads you see in the papers and hear on radio and TV - he puts them there.

Free movie screenings, T-shirt giveaways, celebrity visits - he organizes them. What movies get shown here and at which theaters - his information helps studios make those decisions.

Johnson, 80, has been involved in the movie biz for 65 years, since his early days as an usher and manager at theaters such as the Granada, Shenandoah, Tindell, Orpheum and Tivoli.

In a business where lawyers' fees add millions to the cost of a film, Johnson's handshake is his bond. He believes that luck comes from preparation and taking advantage of opportunity. That translates into a belief in hard work and a willingness to take a well-calculated risk.

And he expects nothing less from those who work for him.

When his son, Art, went to work at his dad's firm in 1973, he was late for his first day on the job.

"I was kind of being the boss' son," Art Johnson recalls. "I thought I'd sleep in a little. I didn't think it mattered.

"When I got to work, my dad pulled me into his office. He was as serious as could be and he never raised his voice. He said, `I don't have to have you working here. I am a big believer in providing good customer service. That means being at work on time.'

"I was never late for work again."

Kelly Hoskins, senior vice president of KSJ, has worked with "Mr. J." for almost 20 years. She describes him as someone who has to be told to get mad, who pays his employees' bonuses out of his own paycheck and who gives them the credit for a job - any job - well done.

"I don't think I would have accomplished anything, if I have accomplished anything, without the people I work with," Johnson says.

The harshest thing Hoskins could say about her boss is that he carries a "wicked red pencil."

"He's a perfectionist, and he goes through our reports at the end of the day," she says. "It looks like your second-grade teacher went through them. He marks up everything in red."

In a business rife with ruthlessness, Johnson seems to have attracted no major detractors. With a client roster that includes every major film studio in Hollywood, Johnson has met just about every movie star imaginable. But he's more at home at the University City Walk of Fame than on Hollywood's.

"He is just an incredible man," says Phil Shaps, an advertising director at Universal Pictures. "He is humble and well-respected in the industry. He's sort of the flagship of what we do. I think the secret of his success is that he delivers. Bob Johnson listens and responds, but he also delivers."

Hy Levine at Walt Disney Studios agrees.

"He's a great guy. He's so cooperative and friendly and solves all your problems. He does anything you want him to. He makes our job easier," says Levine, director of print advertising for Disney. What Levine says Johnson makes easier is the tricky business of "co-op" advertising, in which the studio and the theater owner share the costs of advertising.

Sometimes, apparently, the theater owner wants the rich, all-powerful studio to share a bigger part of the advertising costs. Johnson manages to resolve such differences without raising rancor, Levine says.

To Johnson, the client is his top priority. …