Fri, 03/06/2015

Remembering Harve Bennett

Harve Bennett

We're sad to learn that producer Harve Bennett passed away on February 25, 2015 at the age of 84. Bennett got his start in show business as one of the contestants on radio's "Quiz Kids." He wrote for The Chicago Sun-Times as a teenager, attended college at UCLA, and served in the Korean War. He got work at CBS, eventually becoming a producer (the youngest at the time), and then transitioned to ABC, where he ultimately served as Vice President in charge of programming under Leonard Goldberg. Bennett left ABC to produce The Mod Squad with Aaron Spelling. He also produced The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, and voiced the narration, "Steve Austin. Astronaut. A man barely alive…" Bennett produced the landmark miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man, worked on From Here to Eternity (miniseries and series), A Woman Named Golda, and The Jesse Owens Story. He also watched every episode of Star Trek to prepare himself to produce the feature films (II through V).

Below are some selections from his 2008 Archive interview:

On appearing on the radio program, "Quiz Kids":

I’ve been in show business for 65 years, and that, in point of fact, is true. When I was 10, at my grammar school, one of the kids had become a cover on Life magazine because he was on “Quiz Kids.” My principal came to me and he said, “You should be on this program!” I had a wonderful academic record, so he sent my name in. Through an audition and question process, they selected me. I was first on the radio show in June of 1941, and subsequently, not consecutively, 212 times after that. At one time, I was the record-holder for being on the competitive show. It was a remarkable experience.

On producing The Mod Squad:

I probably spent more time on The Mod Squad than any other single pilot in my time at ABC, because I liked it and because Aaron Spelling and I had a wonderful friendship. When it sold, Aaron called me. He said, “Buddy, you’ve had enough time at the network. Take off your suit and come on work with me.”  “You bet.” So I became the producer of Mod Squad. Three wonderful years, which began with a screening of the pilot for writers and directors. Big screening. “Here’s our show. Come help us.” One of the people in that room, whom I respected and who had asked to be invited, a director, stood up at the end of the show and said the immortal words, “Excrement!” With him was another famous name, an actor-turned-director later, who said, “Me too.” They left. There was a stir, all the writers, and I needed to know why they felt that way. After some conversations, I realized that in the pilot, The Mod Squad is dealing with kids of their own age. A-ha. Out of that, I had a meeting with Aaron. I said, “Aaron, we cannot have villains who are kids. We have to be the kids who are turning in the people over 30” – to coin the phrase of the time - "We can’t do stories in which they fink on their own kind, because they’ll be considered traitors and copperheads." “OK,” he said. “That’s fine.” And we did that.  

On the voiceover narration in the introduction of The Six Million Dollar Man:

Richard Anderson does most of the narration, but he was unavailable for a retake on the day we wanted to mix the main title. So there is a voice that says, “Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive.” That’s me. Never received a residual. Never sought one. But once at a wedding of a friend, I was asked to make a little speech, and I used the friend’s name – “John Smith, astronaut. A man barely alive” – and got a rather large round of applause. It’s iconic. It’s part of people’s childhood and teenhood.

On casting Leonard Nimoy in A Woman Named Golda:

I cast Leonard Nimoy because I wanted him to be in "Star Trek II" and he didn’t want to be in "Star Trek II", so I sweetened the pot.  I said, “I want you to play Morris Meyerson, Golda’s husband.” He played it marvelously. He won an Emmy.  

On his research to produce the second "Star Trek" movie:

My task was clear. I had to become a Trekkie. How do you do that? Well, you run 76 episodes on faded 16 millimeter prints in the back projection rooms of Paramount that had dust everywhere. Did that for three months. I found that one-third of the episodes were brilliant. One-third were OK. And one-third were uh-uh. That’s a pretty good average for someone who has done series television, believe me. I also found out that there was a name on the third I loved most, and some of the second third. The name was Gene L. Coon. I had known Gene very briefly at Universal. Gene epitomized what we now call the show-runner. Roddenberry’s genius is unquestioned, but Roddenberry didn’t do Star Trek day-to-day. It was Gene Coon. Every time his name appeared on the screen, the story was essential and the characters came to life.  

On his favorite of the "Star Trek" movies:

Well, “Star Trek II” would always be my favorite because it was the achievement that turned things around. Janet Maslin of The New York Times, who was then an active film critic – the first time I’ve heard a review was, “Now that’s more like it.”  Which is a tribute to all of us who tried to do that. I think “Star Trek IV” was the most satisfying in many ways, and the reason for that was it was a time travel story that takes place in contemporary society, not in the 23rd century. Because of that, it was our largest audience. People who didn’t know anything about Star Trek could enjoy the movie, and we even ran it in Moscow with Cyrillic subtitles. They loved it.  

On advice to an aspiring producer:

I think the advice I would give is get on the freeway. Take any opportunity that takes you into where you want to go, even if it’s peripheral. Begin collecting experiences and more importantly, connections. Networking. People who are today’s mailroom boys are tomorrow’s studio heads. You get a base of friendship and of working together, and you pursue your dream. Sooner or later, these things all kind of come together, I hope. It had for me.

On how he'd like to be remembered:

I guess Hal Kanter said it. I’d like to be remembered as an honest man.

Watch Harve Bennett's full Archive interview and read his obituary in The Hollywood Reporter.