The Associated Press

BURBANK, Calif. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the creative and cost-cutting executive who ruthlessly built Walt Disney Studios into Hollywood's most profitable film company, resigned abruptly Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear where Katzenberg was heading. He said even he didn't know.

"I haven't talked to anybody and the only plan I've made is to take my family to Disney World next week," the 43-year-old Katzenberg said in an interview. "There are lots of challenges ahead. I'm chomping at the bit."

More than anyone else, Katzenberg oversaw the creation of Disney's animated musicals the most profitable franchise in show business with such hits as "Aladdin" and "The Lion King."

His resignation as head of Walt Disney Studios leaves the company without two of its most prominent and gifted executives. In April, Frank Wells, president of parent Walt Disney Co., died in a helicopter accident.

Disney Chairman Michael Eisner underwent heart surgery last month.

Eisner said in an interview Wednesday that Katzenberg would have stayed had he gotten Wells' job, "but it was not a job that suited his talents."

"When you have a guy as talented as Jeffrey, there's a point where he gets restless. He wants to move on," Eisner said.

He added that the change might also prove beneficial to Disney. He said he has no immediate plans to fill Wells' job.

"Corporations after seven or 10 years of the same management start to get sloppy. They have to be reinvented. ... My goal is to maintain the Disney franchise," Eisner said.

Said Katzenberg: "I was ready for a new chapter here, but it was not meant to be. And I'm OK with that."

Some of Katzenberg's duties will be taken over in September by Joe Roth, the former chairman of 20th Century Fox. He will become chairman of Walt Disney Motion Pictures. Richard Frank, Katzenberg's top lieutenant at Disney Studios, will be promoted to chairman of the newly created Walt Disney Television and Telecommunications unit and will supervise TV production.

Katzenberg started in show business in the Paramount mail room in 1975. He worked his way up the studio ladder to eventually become president of production under Eisner.

When Eisner left Paramount in 1984 for Disney, he brought Katzenberg with him as head of the studio.

Under Katzenberg and Eisner, Disney flourished from a studio with $225 million in revenues in 1984 to the $4.5 billion revenue machine it is today. Many of the company's profits come from Katzenberg's division, which oversees film and television production and distribution.

During Katzenberg's tenure, the studio also branched into more adult-oriented fare. Its success in this area included "Pretty Woman," "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle," "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" and "Good Morning, Vietnam."

The animated films he shepherded to success included "The Lion King," which has just passed the $200 million earnings mark, "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Little Mermaid."

He was known as a ruthless executive when it came to holding down costs. While production budgets spiraled at other studios, he always sought the cheapest possible deal, even if it meant hiring fading box-office stars or signing over-the-hill directors.

While the strategy did not please the creative community, it helped make Disney the town's most profitable movie studio. Many of Disney's live-action films did not perform strongly at the box office but they were made so inexpensively they were ultimately profitable.

Friends said it had become clear Katzenberg felt he had accomplished all he could at Disney and was anxious to pursue other options.

"He really made the decision a year ago when he exercised an option not to extend his contract," said record mogul David Geffen, one of Katzenberg's closest friends. "He wants to move on and run his own company." Read Next Article