“I wish I were here today to nominate Simon for an Oscar,” said Steve Clements at a memorial service for his friend Simon Kornblit, Sunday afternoon, July 11, at Temple Sinai. Kornblit, former Executive Vice President and Head of Worldwide Marketing for Universal Pictures, died on July 2, after a brave battle with leukemia. In a sense, Clements and the other 8 speakers at this Celebration of Life, attended by about 200 people, gave Kornblit an Oscar for his real life performance that influenced so many.
Kornblit was born in Antwerp, Belgium, August 1, 1933, to Polish father Nathan Kornblit, a diamond cutter, and Russian mother, Sonia. In 1940, a few months before Belgium capitulated to the Germans, the young Kornblit, his sister Dora and parents fled to America in a freighter, dodging water mines along the way. The ship was sunk on the way back to Europe.
In 1951, Kornblit graduated from Stuyvesant High School in New York. He was hired for a summer job in the mailroom at Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) where he later worked for 35 years, an unusually long tenure for the advertising industry. Ultimately, he became Executive Vice-President, General Manager of the LA branch. While at DDB, Kornblit attended the School of Commerce and Management at NYU. He took a break from work to serve in the US Army during the Korean War.
Early days at DDB in New York, Kornblit was recognized for supervising such famous ads as “The Gorilla with the Suitcase,” a commercial for American Tourister. In an interview, his wife said that although her husband was gentle in nature, he was “an original ‘Madman from Madison Avenue.’”
While marketing motion picture accounts at DDB’s New York office, he decided to move to Los Angeles to be closer to his clients: 20th Century Fox and later Universal Pictures. Eventually, he joined Universal and from 1987-1993 marketed over 100 films. These box-office hits include Jurassic Park, Field of Dreams, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Back to the Future.
In 1994, after the Northridge earthquake in California, Kornblit and his wife retired to Atlanta to be near family. In the interview, Mrs.Kornblit said that her husband felt at home wherever he lived, “whether on the East Coast, the West Coast, and then the Capital of the South.”
Kornblit kept connected to the arts and entertainment industry and continued his volunteer work in Atlanta. He helped establish a film institute for Continuing Education at Kennesaw State University and served as its director from 2001-2003. He lectured on Movie Marketing to students at the Goizueta School of Business at Emory University, Georgia State, and other colleges; served on the Board of Governors for the Atlanta Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences as well as the Georgia Film, Video & Music Advisory Commission; Co-Chaired the Photo Forum at the Atlanta High Museum of Art; and was a member of the Executive Committee of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.
At the service, Kenny Blank, Executive Director of the Atlanta Jewish Festival, shared that Kornblit helped promote the festival through targeted, humorous campaigns. “He remained an active member to the end,” he said.
Kornblit’s daughter Brenda Kennell from Charlotte, North Carolina, spoke lovingly of her father and his connection to Judaism. “My father never forgot his roots,” she said. Known as “Pop- Pop” by his grandchildren, a role he loved, he was honored to hold a baby at his bris or lift up the Torah at a Bar Mitzvah.
In Atlanta, he continued his 3-decade involvement with the March of Dimes. Jane Massey, Executive Vice President, of the March of Dimes National Headquarters, said that Kornblit was passionate about their mission to bring healthy babies into the world. She quoted him as saying, “If you can create a healthy baby, you minimize things going wrong later on.”
Everyone who spoke at the service mentioned his kindness and respect for others. “He had warmth and was real,” said Steve Coulter, an actor, writer and director, who gave lessons to Kornblit in 2006 when the former film marketing executive decided to pursue an acting career after years of retirement. “Simon was good,” he added. “People asked to work with him.”
The speakers at this Celebration of Life said that Kornblit was good at a lot of things because as Clements, who considered him a brother, said, “He loved life, loved looking forward.”
He traveled, shot photos, took classes and enjoyed many evenings socializing, playing a card game called Kaluki with his wife and Steve and Claudia Clements. At the service, a cousin Ron Slotin noted that Kornblit “always remembered the kids.” He read an acrostic of the name ‘Simon’ that Slotin’s children had composed. Standing next to him, cousin Steve Slotin described Kornblit with a “can-do attitude – no barriers in life.”
Even when facing death, he accepted choosing that his memorial should be a Celebration of Life. Marc Pickard, a reporter for WXIA TV who had interviewed Kornblit when he was selected as a 1996 Olympic Torch Bearer, and later became his friend, said, “He never asked ‘Why me?’ nor was he Pollyanna or delusional. He was teaching his best lesson by the way he died.”
Present at the service were his survivors including his loving wife, Bobbi, his children Dee Grannan, Brenda Kennell and her husband Rich, grandchildren, great grandchildren and other beloved family members and friends. All were there to celebrate a man, who in the words of Temple Sinai’s Rabbi Ronald M. Segal, “inspired countless people.”
R.M. Grossblat is a seasoned journalist, is active in Atlanta's Jewish Community, and newest contributing writer for AtlantaJewishNews.com.