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updated 11/28/2005 10:54:35 PM ET 2005-11-29T03:54:35

Irving Ludwig, a film distribution executive who helped launch such Disney films as “Fantasia,” “Mary Poppins” and “The Love Bug,” has died. He was 95.

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Ludwig died Saturday at his home in Santa Monica from natural causes, Disney officials said.

Ludwig joined The Walt Disney Co. in 1940, just in time to manage the release of “Fantasia.” The innovative animated film, which showed characters interpreting classical music pieces, had trouble finding distribution. So Ludwig and his group bought old theaters in some cities to screen the movie.

He went on to help create Disney’s distribution arm, Buena Vista Distribution, and influenced the way Disney releases its movies. He served as a mentor to many Disney executives, including Dick Cook, chairman of Walt Disney Studios.

“Irving was key to the successful release of many Disney films, and his work on such films as ‘Fantasia’ and ‘Mary Poppins’ is still worth studying and learning from,” Roy Disney, director emeritus, said in a statement.

Ludwig was born in Lutck, Russia, and immigrated to the United States in 1920.

He entered the entertainment industry in 1929 as a part-time usher at New York’s Rivoli Theatre, where he later became manager. He held that position until 1938.

During his career at Disney, he also helped launch such movies as “The Shaggy Dog,” “The Parent Trap,” and “The Absent Minded Professor,” among others.

He became president of Buena Vista in 1959 and held that post until his retirement in October 1980.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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