Friends will gather in Minneapolis on Friday to remember film executive and St. Paul native Steven Bickel, whose big ideas and drive to make it in show business propelled him to a 40-year career in Hollywood.
Bickel collapsed during a hike in Portugal this fall and died at age 64.
He held executive positions with Warner Bros. International, the Independent Film and Television Alliance, and Samuel Goldwyn Co., and produced the 1980 romantic drama “Somewhere in Time,” starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. More recently, as president of Aura Entertainment, Bickel produced “The Big Empty,” “Blind Dating” and “Love Comes to the Executioner” — films that gained lesser acclaim but featured stars such as Jeremy Renner, Chris Pine and Daryl Hannah.
Bickel’s films explored complex love stories — from a man’s use of hypnosis to cling to romance to a conflicted woman’s fear of losing a blind man once he gained his sight. His filmography in many ways reflected Bickel’s compassion for friends and their daily challenges.
Mark Rosen, the WCCO-TV sports anchor and a longtime friend, said many people felt Bickel was deeply engaged in their lives.
“He just took such joy in people and their career moves or whatever it was. It didn’t have to be someone like Jane Seymour. He took delight in everyone and had a passion for whatever they did.”
The son of Holocaust survivors, Bickel led fundraisers in Los Angeles for the construction of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
He also advocated for the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance, which provided support to his nephew, David, who suffered cognitive deficits after a car accident in California. The nephew had moved with his wife to Minneapolis in 2011.
After assisting in fundraising and appearing at annual Walk for Thought events, Bickel was named this summer to the alliance’s board of directors. “He had a passion and energy to help people with brain injury,” said Pat Marciniak, a spokeswoman for the organization.
Bickel graduated from St. Paul’s Highland Park High School in 1968 and the University of Minnesota in 1972 before studying cinema arts at the University of Southern California. His career included a turn as president of Virgin Vision, the U.S.-based entertainment division of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. He most recently directed Orpheum Communications, a California-based sales and marketing consulting firm.
Bickel was driven as a “little Jewish boy from Warwick Street” to make it in the film industry, but he resisted the excesses of Hollywood, said Alice Woog, a friend since grade school. At the Cannes Film Festival, he would mingle with the elite, “but when it was 11 or 11:30, when they started to party, he went to bed and got up the next morning prepared to sell films, because that’s what he did.”
Bickel was a “relentless problem-solver” who could be viewed as bossy for the way he expressed ideas and solutions, she added. “He would say to me, ‘I’m not bossy, I just have better ideas!’ ” That epitaph was embroidered on a decorative pillow he gave to Woog.
Bickel’s travels included holding pandas in China and joining a Russian expedition to the North Pole. Fellow travelers in Portugal hadn’t noticed problems when they hiked with Bickel on Sept. 4, but then he collapsed — and apparently died from a heart attack, friends said.
A funeral and burial took place Sept. 24 in California. Friends are gathering at the Eitel Building City Apartments near Loring Park in Minneapolis at 6 p.m. Friday to celebrate Bickel’s life. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for details.