GREENWICH, CONN. -- Joseph E. Levine, 81, a pioneer independent producer who often was called one of the last movie moguls, died July 31 at Greenwich Hospital after a short illness. The cause of death was not reported.

Among the films he produced were "The Graduate," "Carnal Knowledge," "The Lion in Winter," "A Bridge Too Far" and "The Producers."

A self-made millionaire, Mr. Levine was credited with inventing "saturation booking," the practice of releasing a movie across the country with tremendous promotion.

He began as a small-time exhibitor and distributor in New England until the late 1950s when he began buying foreign films, mostly Italian pictures, and releasing them in the United States.

He made his first big break in 1959 when he bought and distributed the movie "Hercules." After that he distributed through his company, Embassy Pictures, such Italian movies as "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow," directed by Vittorio DeSica, and early movies by Federico Fellini such as "8 1/2."

In 1960, Mr. Levine staged one of his first big publicity stunts. He "rented" $1 million from a bank to display at a luncheon in New York to promote the British film "Jack the Ripper."

"I actually held up the cash . . . and thumped it on the table in front of me," he said. "I said, 'You know what this is? It's $1 million, and the next time you see it, it will be working for you.' It brought the house down."

He also brought over from Italy the 1960 film "Two Women" starring Sophia Loren. Her performance won her an Academy Award, the first to be given to an actress for a foreign film.

In 1967, Mr. Levine backed "The Graduate" with the unknown actor Dustin Hoffman and director Mike Nichols.

"When Mike gave me the book, 'The Graduate,' I told him, 'It's the worst {book} I ever read in my life,' " Mr. Levine said in a recent interview. "Mike persisted and although he never made a movie, I signed him because I could tell he was a genius."

The film grossed more than $100 million worldwide.

"I have a knack for betting on unknown directors and actors and getting my money's worth," said Mr. Levine, who worked on 497 films in his career either as producer, distributor, backer or in other capacities.

He has said his favorite movie was "The Lion in Winter," made in 1968, starring Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn.

Mr. Levine, who lived in Greenwich, is survived by his wife, Rosalie Harrison; one son, Richard; one daughter, Tricia, and two grandchildren.