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October 11, 1940 – april 17, 2023
Neva Friedenn, Producer-Screenwriter and Theatrical Distributor, Dies
Independent theatrical distributor, film producer and script doctor, Neva Frieden died at home.
By Paul Maslak & Rod Hewitt
LARCHMONT, CA – Neva Friedenn, an indie producer known for HBO world premiere movies “The Right Temptation” (2001) with Kiefer Sutherland and “Red Sun Rising” (1994) with Don ‘the Dragon’ Wilson, as well as theatrical distributor throughout the 1980s of imported action and arthouse films, passed away in her sleep at home in Los Angeles on April 17. She was 82.
Since 1993, Friedenn served as a partner in the development and production company Festival Pictures, Inc. (d/b/a Maslak Friedenn Films) where she also produced “Primary Suspect” (2000) with William Baldwin, “Kiss Toledo Goodbye” (1999) with Christopher Walken, “Just Sue Me” (1999), “Sworn to Justice” (1997), and “The Weirdo” (1989). She further oversaw script development and shared story credits for cable-TV movies “Out for Blood” (1993) and “Blackbelt” (1992).
Born Neva Jean Ferguson and raised outside of Cincinnati in Hamilton, Ohio, she initially worked as an English instructor for Muskingum College and at Miami University of Ohio, her alma mater. Relocating to Hollywood, she entered the entertainment industry as a literary agent and director of the literary department for the William Schuller Agency (later The Agency). She then served as the director of project development for the powerhouse independent distributor Bryanston Pictures during which time she co-scripted “Supervan” (1973), “Sweater Girls” (1978), and “The Toolbox Murders” (1978), the latter becoming an early video cult classic.
Friedenn next trained as a theatrical booker and quickly rose to theatrical sales manager for indie distributor Condor Films. Subsequently, with Hong Kong backers, she founded her own Hollywood-based theatrical distribution company, Unfilm International Company (UIC Releasing). For nearly a decade, UIC imported and distributed throughout the US more than 200 feature films. Within distribution circles, she was dubbed the ‘Kung Fu Queen of the West.’
Meanwhile, she freelanced as a stringer covering the jazz music scene for “Playboy” magazine. In 1980, she landed the first English-language interview with Jackie Chan for Warner Brothers’s “The Big Brawl.” The interview ran in six parts for “Inside Kung-Fu,” “KICK Illustrated,” and “Martial Arts Movies” newsstand magazines. She further freelanced as a production executive for Ng See Yuen, one of Jackie Chan’s producers, on “No Retreat, Surrender” (1993), during which she helped give screen entrée to marquee idol Jean-Claude Van Damme, soap star Kurt McKinney, and ‘Lady Dragon’ Cynthia Rothrock.
Friedenn lost her second husband, screenwriter Robert Easter, a Vietnam veteran, in 2002 after a years-long battle with melanoma cancer. Afterward, she returned briefly to the college classroom as a professor at Pasadena City College, Glendale Community College, and others. Her classes were often voted both the most difficult as well as the most popular. Her students understood her personal devotion to making them better and her dedication to helping them succeed.
Friedenn spent her last years dealing with her own cancer recovery and confronting its return with remarkable dignity.
She is survived by her sister Diane Mugrage of Ohio, niece Abigail, nephews Eugene II, Randal and Monte, best-friend-forever Ann Kindberg, ex-first husband Marvin Friedenn, producing partner Paul Maslak, and longtime close friends Rod Hewitt, James Ortiz, and Richard Malott.
“I just found out that Neva passed in April of this year. I was a good friend of her second husband, Robert Easter from 1968 to the time of his passing in 2002. I met Neva in 1970 and when Robert died in 2002, I had moved to Palo Alto, CA and she wrote me of Robert’s death. I guess that is when I lost contact of Neva until I read her obituary today. I miss her very much — she was an amazing person to know and her life was so interesting. I met Neva’s friend, Ann Kindberg only once when Neva had an apartment in Hollywood. I am so saddened to learn that she is no longer with us.”