Industry Veteran Herb Dorfman, Former Head of Orion Home Video, Dies at 77

Herb Dorfman, the former president of home entertainment at Orion Pictures, died Feb. 25 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease and dementia.

He was 77.

He is survived by his daughter, Alexandra Nickson (Nick Nickson), his grandchildren, Casey and Avery Nickson, his son, Eryq Dorfman, and his sister, Gail Greene (Marvin Greene).

Herb Dorfman

Nickson, SVP of TV Music at Dreamworks, says what she remembers best of her late father is “his passion and dedication to his profession, and how proud he was of me and my own personal success in music.”

Dorfman ran home entertainment at Orion Pictures from October 1987 until December 1996, on the eve of the studio’s sale to MGM. Considered a leading “mini major,” Orion during Dorfman’s tenure maintained a steady presence near the top of the home video charts at a time when success was measured by how many cassettes studios sold to video rental dealers, at up to $100 per cassette.

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Home video success during the Dorfman years came through such theatrical blockbusters as Mississippi Burning (1988), Dances with Wolves (1990) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991), the two latter films winning Best Picture Oscars.

Orion also had its share of theatrical flops, with films like the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic Great Balls of Fire and the dark comedy She-Devil, with Meryl Streep and Roseanne Barr, although they invariably wound up doing good business in rental stores as well.

Dorfman was considered a savvy and strategic marketer. Variety reported in December 1993, “Orion Home Video announced an unprecedented all-out promotional campaign for the video [release] of the beleaguered, lawsuit-prone Boxing Helena.”

Dorfman told the trade publication that the company “would embark on a megamarketing drive that would include mailing 16,000 screeners of the [film to video distributors] around the country. Helmer and scripter Jennifer Chambers Lynch and star Julian Sands also have agreed to do a promotional tour for vid distribs and dealers for the Feb. 23 homevid release — another unprecedented move for a vidcassette.”

Dorfman told Variety, “We want VCR users around the country to be able to understand more about the intricacies and the love affair you can have with a film of this caliber.”

The film, about a doctor who surgically removes the limbs of a voluptuous woman, earned only $2 million during its domestic theatrical run.

In April 1995, Supermarket News reported, “Jessica Lange’s Academy Award-winning performance in Blue Sky has greatly increased interest in the videotape, according to Orion Pictures. The PG-13 rated movie earned under $3 million at the box office, but nearly $9 million in video orders….” Dorfman told Supermarket News, “This is unprecedented at Orion.”

After Orion’s sale to MGM, Dorfman remained in the business, serving as president and CEO of his own firm, Steeplechase Entertainment Corp., from January 1997 to July 2009, and then serving as general manager of Porchlight Home Entertainment from August 2009 to January 2012.

Herbert Neil Dorfman was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Aug. 5, 1942. He spent his youth on the boardwalk in Coney Island, selling hotdogs and hanging out with friends at Steeplechase Park.

He later studied business administration at Brooklyn College, graduating in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.

He began his career in record distribution sales, a job that took him all over the East Coast. He later served as SVP at budget record label Pickwick Distribution Companies from September 1980 to November 1984 and VP of sales and marketing at The Moss Music Group Inc. from January 1985 to September 1987.

His job with Orion brought him to Los Angeles, where he lived at the time of his death.

A memorial will be led by Rabbi Jay Seigal of Temple Beth Shalom at the Nickson residence in Santa Clarita, Calif. on Sunday, March 29, at 1 p.m.

Please email his daughter, Alexandra Nickson, at for location details and other information.


Mike’s Picks: ‘Running Wild’ and ‘Great Balls of Fire!’

Running Wild

Kino Lorber, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars W.C. Fields, Marie Shotwell, Mary Brian, Barnett Raskin.
1927. Director Gregory La Cava’s silent-era crowd-pleaser is funnier than expected given that W.C. Fields is without his vocal deliveries, but he was such a physical performer, and La Cava such a deft viual director, that little is missed here.
Extras: Includes a commentary track by historian/author James L. Niebur (The W.C. Fields Films).
Read the Full Review

Great Balls of Fire!

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13.’
Stars Dennis Quaid, Winona Ryder, Alec Baldwin, Trey Wilson.
1989. Nearly two hours of sheer burlesque, this cartoonish Jerry Lee Lewis biopic is a pastiche of everything that was happening in the musical/pop culture scene in the 1950s. Curio seekers may want to be reminded that Alec Baldwin plays evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, the real-life cousin of rockdom’s self-ordained “Killer.” The high point here is probably Winona Ryder as Lewis’s 13-year-old first cousin (removed) Myra, whose marriage to him as wife No. 3 did not amount to a crackerjack career move in late 1957.
Read the Full Review