William Becker, Who Transformed Janus Films, Died at 88

  Dead Famous

William John Becker III, born on May 23, 1927 in St. Louis and died on September 13, 2015 from a kidney failure.

He was a theater critic and financier who acquired Janus Films with a partner in 1965, expanded its catalog of art-house and Hollywood classics and broadened their distribution to university audiences and home viewers on DVD.

Janus’s founders said that the company’s two-faced logo symbolized art and commerce, and nobody embodied that duality more than Mr. Becker, a culturally minded businessman, Rhodes scholar and intimate of auteurs and writers who was driven as much by a passion for film as an art form as by making money.

Founded in the mid-1950s by two former Harvard students, Janus originally prospered by exposing American filmgoers to the avant-garde work of groundbreaking but largely unfamiliar post-World War II European and Japanese directors, including Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni, François Truffaut, Luis Buñuel, Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, Robert Bresson and Kenji Mizoguchi.

After acquiring the company, Mr. Becker and Saul J. Turell, a documentary producer and television pioneer, secured the rights to a vast trove of international films, including Jean Renoir’s “Grand Illusion” and Sergei Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin,” as well as vanguard American works like Orson Welles’s “Citizen Kane” and the original “King Kong.”

William Becker died at age 88 on September 13.