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Overview for Irwin Allen
Irwin Allen

Irwin Allen



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Also Known As: Died: November 2, 1991
Born: June 12, 1916 Cause of Death: heart attack
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA Profession: Producer ... producer director screenwriter radio news commentator TV quiz show host magazine editor advertising executive syndicated newspaper columnist


Nicknamed the "Master of Disaster," producer-director Irwin Allen almost single-handedly fueled the disaster movie craze during the 1970s with such classics as "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972) and "The Towering Inferno" (1974). Allen cut his teeth on a number of adventure movies during the 1950s and 1960s, including "The Lost World" (1960), "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" (1961) and "Five Weeks in a Balloon" (1962), while also creating notable television series like "Lost in Space" (CBS, 1965-68). After directing "City Beneath the Sea" (NBC, 1971) for the small screen, he donned his producer's hat for "The Poseidon Adventure," one of the biggest box office hits of 1972. Allen went on to direct the master of all disaster movies, "The Towering Inferno," which featured an all-star cast of Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway and Paul Newman, and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. But it was all downhill from there, as Allen exhausted the disaster movie genre by decade's end and retired in the mid-1980s from poor health. Despite a quiet end to his career, Allen's contributions to cinema were undeniable, while his influence on blockbuster filmmaking was felt well into the next century.

Born on June 12, 1916 in New York City, Allen went to City College and later Columbia University, where he studied advertising and journalism until being forced to leave school altogether due to the Great Depression. Looking to make his fortune, Allen traveled to Hollywood in the late 1930s, where he became the editor of Key magazine and a syndicated newspaper columnist. From there, he spent the next 11 years producing and directing a daily Hollywood-related radio program, before running his own advertising agency. In 1951, Allen turned to producing under the Windsor Productions banner and made his uncredited debut with the musical comedy "Double Dynamite," starring Groucho Marx, Jane Russell and Frank Sinatra. Teaming with Marx again, he received his first credit for the middling comedy, "A Girl in Every Port" (1952), and made his directing debut with the nature documentary, "The Sea Around Us" (1953), which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Allen went on to produce the forgettable 3D crime thriller, "Dangerous Mission" (1954), starring Piper Laurie and Victor Mature, and returned to nature documentaries by writing, directing and producing "The Animal World" (1956). He followed-up with the historical fantasy, "The Story of Mankind" (1957), which featured an all-star cast in a series of vignettes depicting various major moments in human history, with Hedy Lamarr as Joan of Arc, Virginia Mayo as Cleopatra, Vincent Price as The Devil and Dennis Hopper as Napoleon. Allen made a pair of disappointing big-budget adventures like "The Big Circus" (1959), starring Victor Mature and Red Buttons, and "The Lost World" (1960), before hitting his stride with the enjoyable sci-fi disaster film, "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" (1961), which followed a nuclear submarine that journeys into the depths of the ocean to save the world from a deadly radiation belt. Three years later, Allen turned the film into the successful television series of the same name, which ran on ABC from 1964-68. Back on the big screen, he directed the silly but fun adventure comedy, "Five Weeks in a Balloon" (1962), which followed a 19th century explorer (Cedric Hardwicke) on a balloon journey into uncharted African territory.

On the small screen, Allen created and produced the science fiction classic, "Lost in Space" (CBS, 1965-68), which depicted the futuristic Robinson family after they have crash landed on an alien planet while en route to populate Alpha Centauri. Though only on the air for three seasons, "Lost in Space" left behind an enduring pop culture legacy and was even given the blockbuster treatment in 1998. After producing the cheesy Dean Martin spy flick, "The Ambushers" (1967), Allen created the short-lived sci-fi series, "The Time Tunnel" (ABC, 1966-67) and "Land of the Giants" (ABC, 1968-1970). He next directed and produced "City Beneath the Sea" (NBC, 1971), a pseudo-follow up to "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" that depicted a group of 21st century colonists inhabiting the world's first underwater city. Allen began earning his sobriquet of "Master of Disaster" with his next producing effort, "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972), which starred Gene Hackman as an unorthodox preacher who leads a group of survivors aboard a capsized ocean liner to safety. Though earning mixed reviews at the time of release, the disaster flick was the second biggest box office hit that year.

Back in the director's chair, Allen helmed the disaster movie to end all disaster movies, "The Towering Inferno" (1974), which featured an all-star cast that included William Holden, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire and Jennifer Jones trapped in the world's tallest building as a fire rages on the upper floors. Certainly the most popular of the 1970s disaster movie craze, "The Towering Inferno" was lauded by critics and became another box office hit for Allen, while even earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. But Allen's career crested at this point, as he went on to direct a series of schlocky disaster flicks that failed to hold a candle to his best work. He created another famous, but short-lived series, "The Swiss Family Robinson" (ABC, 1975-76), and returned to the water with the made-for-TV disaster movie "Flood!" (NBC, 1976), which depicted the destruction of a small town after a faulty damn bursts. Some months later, the companion movie "Fire!" (NBC, 1977) aired, which showed a mountain community ravaged by a road gang that starts a fire to cover their escape from the law.

Returning to film, Allen directed the rather silly disaster movie, "The Swarm" (1978), which focused on poisonous African bees that overtake the United States and starred Michael Caine, Katherine Ross, Olivia de Havilland and Henry Fonda. The movie was blasted by critics and marked a decided end to Allen's string of box office hits. He followed up by directing "Beyond the Poseidon Adventure" (1979), a completely misguided sequel that picked up where its predecessor left off by following salvagers Michael Caine, Sally Field and an evil-minded Telly Savalas back into the capsized vessel. By the end of the decade and beyond, Allen had all but exhausted the disaster genre with B-level efforts like the miniseries "Hanging by a Thread" (NBC, 1979), "Cave-In!" (NBC, 1983) and "The Night the Bridge Fell Down" (NBC, 1983). Meanwhile, he created his sixth and final series, "Code Red" (ABC, 1981-82), which starred Lorne Greene as a Battalion Chief in the Los Angeles Fire Department. Allen attempted to break the mold by producing a lavish musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" (CBS, 1985) and the revenge thriller, "Outrage!" (CBS, 1986), but he was forced into retirement due to ill health. Allen later died from a heart attack on Nov. 2, 1991 in Santa Monica, CA. He was 75 years old.

By Shawn Dwyer

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