Remembering Annenberg alumnus George Custen (1950-2003)


The Annenberg community mourns the passing of George Custen (Ph.D. 1980) who died suddenly of a massive brain aneurism, May 9, in Los Angeles. He was 53. Professor Custen was treasured by colleagues and students as a warm, witty, and engaging friend, and will be remembered as a valued member of the extended Annenberg School family.

As a student at the Annenberg School, Dr. Custen worked first with Sol Worth in visual communications and film. After Sol Worth’s death, he continued his work with Larry Gross, completing his Ph.D.--a study of how viewers discuss film.

He went on to become Chair of the Communications Department at Muhlenberg College (managing to also teach the Film Lab course at the Annenberg School for two years in the mid-1980s). In 1992, Dr. Custen moved to New York to become Chair of the Communication Arts department at the College of Staten Island-CUNY (later the Department of Media Culture), where he also taught film and American Studies at the CUNY-Graduate Center. His first book, Bio/Pics: How Hollywood Constructed Public History, was published in 1992 by Rutgers University Press, for whom he also edited a book series: Communications, Media & Culture. He came back to the School in April 1994 to deliver the annual George Gerbner Lecture on “Hollywood and the Construction of History.” In 1997, based on research for which he was awarded a 1995-96 Guggenheim Fellowship, Dr. Custen published the critically acclaimed Twentieth Century's Fox: Darryl F. Zanuck and the Culture of Hollywood (Basic Books).

He was spending the 2002-03 academic year in Los Angeles teaching at UCLA and working on a new book on the film action genre.

Commenting on George Custen’s contributions, Dr. Gross writes: “In his books George was able to illuminate the process and the products of the Hollywood dream factory through insightful and theoretically sophisticated use of original documentary resources. I have been consistently impressed with George’s skill at combining the insights and perspectives of mass communications, cultural and film studies approaches in a rich intellectual and empirical synthesis. George was able to combine the roles of administrator, teacher, and scholar with great skill, and without sacrifice of any one dimension.”