J. Mark Travis of Calabasas, who co-produced and released the hit concert film "Richard Pryor: Live in Concert" along with many other independent projects, has died. He was 61.
Travis produced projects across theater, film and television, and was also former chief of staff to pastor Dr. Gene Scott of University Cathedral. He passed away after a short illness on December 24, a representative for the family told TheWrap.
Travis was best known for producing independent films in the 1970s, including "Richard Pryor: Live in Concert," which after being rejected by the major studios, Travis released with his partners. The film made an astounding $32 million.
After receiving a partial scholarship to Pepperdine University, Travis began his career as an agent representing a number of prominent music composers, including Don Ellis and Jack Nitzsche. His interest in music led him to convert a Mormon Church in Salt Lake City into a state of the art recording studio, where his client Jack Nitzsche recorded the Academy Award winning score for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
Travis then segued into film production in 1975, teaming up with impresario Bill Sargent and film producer David Permut. Together they video-taped a one-man stage production, “Give ‘em Hell Harry!”, in front of a live audience.
The production starred James Whitmore as President Harry Truman, and when every studio turned it down for distribution they released the film themselves, only three weeks after taping the show. Whitmore went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of the president, and the film went on to gross an astounding $11 million with a production budget of under $100,000. After the phenomenal success of “Harry”, Travis, Sargent and Permut then created a worldwide media frenzy when they offered The Beatles $50 million to reunite for a one time filmed reunion concert.
Lightning struck again for Travis, Permut and Sargent in 1979 when they produced the most successful comedy concert in history, “Richard Pryor: Live in Concert.” Filmed on two consecutive nights, and, like “Harry,” the film was turned down by every studio for distribution, and the trio released it themselves. Afterwards, Travis went on to stage and film other shows including Sammy Davis, Jr. in “Stop The World, I Want To Get Off.”
Travis and Permut eventually formed a production company of their own. After being approached by numerous studios, they landed at Columbia Pictures, who offered them a lucrative multi-picture production deal. There they produced a number of projects and set up the deal for Cheech & Chong to star in the films “Nice Dreams,” and “Things Are Tough All Over.” Travis and Permut later moved to Lorimar Productions were they had a non-exclusive deal to produce film and television. They also produced the feature film “Fighting Back” with Dino DeLaurentiis for Paramount Pictures.
Travis then took a sabbatical from the film industry that would last over 20 years and worked as chief of staff for Dr. Gene Scott Pastor of the University Cathedral, the largest Protestant congregation in downtown Los Angeles and one of the first television ministries. Dr. Scott was the subject of the Werner Herzog documentary “God’s Angry Man.” Largely responsible for radio acquisition and philanthropy, Travis oversaw the salvaging and restoration of the historic Los Angeles Downtown Library, known for its notable art and architecture.
Permut convinced Travis his unique journey from the film industry to the ministry had the makings of a feature film and developed a script based on his personal story with Touchstone at Disney.
In 2008 Travis rejoined Permut to go back to their roots, and they developed "The Lifeguard, Ronald Reagan and his Story," a one man play to be staged and filmed in front a live audience, just as they had done with “Harry” and “Pryor.”
First Lady Nancy Reagan attended a workshop of the show at the Geffen Theater in Westwood CA, and referred to the play as a gift.
Travis is survived by his mother, Patricia Travis of Woodland Hills CA; sister, Melinda Travis of Spokane WA and La Quinta CA; brother, Jon Travis of Calabasas CA; sister, Melissa Travis Aardema; brother-in-law, Gary Aardema; nieces, Lauren and Jennifer Aardema; nephews, Michael Aardema of Calabasas CA, Michael Travis Remington of Bellingham WA and Spokane WA, and John David Remington of Spokane WA; aunt, Peggy Eaton of Bradenton Florida; and cousins Kathleen Downey of New York City and Kelly Downey Zayas, MD of Englewood New Jersey. His father, Sid Travis, preceded Mark in death.
Travis passed away at Glendale Adventist Medical Center, where he served in a leadership role or on the Foundation Board for over 20 years. In lieu of flowers please send donations to Glendale Adventist Medical Center in Mark Travis' name. Memorial services are pending.