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Disney film boss quits

Rich Ross resigned under pressure as chairman of Walt Disney Co's movie studio after a less than...

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Rich Ross resigned under pressure as chairman of Walt Disney Co's movie

studio after a less than three-year run that included the release of "John

Carter," one of the biggest flops in recent Hollywood history.

Ross, named to the job in October 2009, was

never able to duplicate the success he enjoyed as president of the Disney

Channel, where he was credited with creating monster franchises that included "High

School Musical" and "Hannah Montana."

"I no longer believe that the Chairman role is the right

professional fit for me," Ross told his staff in an email.

Disney will not immediately name a new head

for its studio, a source familiar with the matter said.

In a statement, Disney CEO Bob Iger said:

"For more than a decade, Rich Ross' creative instincts, business acumen

and personal integrity have driven results in key businesses for Disney. ... I

appreciate his countless contributions throughout his entire career at Disney

and expect he will have tremendous success in whatever he chooses to do

next."

Ross kept a low profile at the Disney Channel

and never adapted to Hollywood glad handing, according to a source with

knowledge of his style. At the April 11 premiere for Disney's big budget film

"The Avengers," the studio chief stood off to the side while the

movie's stars chatted up other executives.

Ross lost the confidence of Disney's big name

producers, including Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced its "Pirates of the

Caribbean" movies, said one person with knowledge of the relationship.

Last summer, Ross shut down production of Bruckheimer's big budget film

"The Lone Ranger" over budget issues and cut its $250 million (155

million pounds) budget to $215 million

The studio executive took the heat for

letting the "John Carter" budget rise to $250 million from $200

million, said one person with knowledge of Disney thinking, and for its

lacklustre marketing effort. Ross killed another big budget film, a remake of

"20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," but let "John Carter"

production begin.

Disney said in March it expected the film to

lose about $200 million and to saddle its studio with $80 million to $120

million in operating losses.

The swiftness of Ross' resignation leaves

Disney without an obvious successor for the job.

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and

Ross' lieutenant, Walt Disney Studios president Alan Bergman, are long shots to

replace Ross. Disney will likely look for a candidate outside its house.

Ross "was a superstar at the Disney

Channel, and the results at the studio have not been exceptional," said

Evercore Partners analyst Alan Gould. Still, he said Ross' exit was a surprise

given his earlier success in Disney's cable business.

Ross joined Disney Channel in 1996 as a

programming and production executive and was promoted to president of the cable

channel in 2004. His success at the Disney Channel made him a rising star in

the company and eventually led to his being hand-picked by Iger to replace

long-time chairman Dick Cook, whom Iger forced out, as head of its film

division.

Ross had few big hits during his tenure.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" was a global smash, but

part of an established franchise. He also made waves when he picked a Hollywood

outsider, M.T. Carney, to run film marketing for Disney. She left the studio

earlier this year just as "John Carter" was completed.

Ironically, Ross could have his biggest hit

when "The Avengers" is released in the United States on May 4.

The film, featuring action stars from

Disney's Marvel subsidiary, is expected to be one of the year's biggest hits.

Opening weekend sales may reach $155 million in the United States and Canada,

according to Boxoffice.com.

For investors, the departure of Ross should

have little impact, analyst Gould said. Disney's results are driven by its

much-larger theme-park and cable network businesses.

Disney shares gained 27 cents, or 0.6

percent, to close at $42.35 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Timeline

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