Mort Abrahams

d. May 28, 2009

Mort Abrahams, the third producer of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. who went on to work on such films as “Planet of the Apes,” died May 28 at his home in Studio City, Calif. He was 93.

He was born in New York and graduated from Columbia University with a master’s degree in economics. He entered the film industry producing shorts and documentaries, which led to a job at Columbia Pictures with then studio treasurer Leo Jaffe.

Abrahams got into the infant television business in 1950 as producer of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, a live, three-a-week kids adventure that managed to appear on CBS, ABC and NBC during its two years in prime time. The series, loosely based on Robert Heinlein’s Space Cadet novel, continued on Saturday mornings on DuMont. Abrahams moved to Tales of Tomorrow, a 1951-53 ABC series presenting science fiction for adults, including live broadcast adaptations of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Frankenstein, as well as original scripts by Theodore Sturgeon and Arthur C. Clarke. He later produced Treasury Men in Action, another live series dramatizing U.S. Treasury Department cases.

Abrahams spent the remainder of the decade at MCA’s television production arm Revue, where he started out in charge of east coast production. After moving to Los Angeles, he produced such Revue series as General Electric Theatre, the long-running anthology hosted by Ronald Reagan, and Suspicion, a 1957 NBC mystery hour that aired both live and filmed plays. Half the filmed episodes were produced by Alfred Hitchcock’s TV company; Abrahams was among the Revue producers who handled the rest.

Abrahams then worked on The Third Man, the 1960 syndicated adventure series starring Michael Rennie and Jonathan Harris, in which the reprehensible Harry Lime of novel and film was reborn as a globetrotting businessman who encountered crooks and spies everywhere he went. In an unusual co-production deal, half the episodes were produced in England by the BBC, the remainder in Hollywood by syndication giant NTA. Abrahams was executive producer of the Hollywood episodes, filmed at 20th Century-Fox.

Also at NTA he produced the Sea Hunt knockoff Assignment: Underwater, then had short producing stints on Route 66 and Kraft Suspense Theatre before joining The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in 1965. U.N.C.L.E.’s original producer Sam Rolfe left the series at the end of its first season. The second season began with David Victor as the new producer and Abrahams as production executive. When Victor moved up to supervising producer after 10 episodes, Abrahams became producer for a further nine episodes before he left the series in early 1966 to join film producer Arthur P. Jacobs at 20th Century-Fox.

At Jacobs’ APJAC Productions, Abrahams was associate producer of “Dr. Dolittle,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” and producer of “The Chairman,” the 1969 spy film starring Gregory Peck. He and Paul Dehn were credited with the screen story for the first Apes sequel, “Beneath the Planet of the Apes.” In 1972, he joined the American Film Theatre Company, a project that filmed great plays such as “The Iceman Cometh,” “The Homecoming” and “The Man in the Glass Booth.”

Beginning in 1978, he produced made-for-TV movies, including “The Greek Tycoon,” “The House on Garabaldi Street” and a remake of “Arch of Triumph” with Anthony Hopkins. A 1983 production of Terence Rattigan’s play “Separate Tables,” starring Julie Christie and Alan Bates, was taped in England and seen in the United States on HBO.

Abrahams returned to feature film production with 1985’s “The Holcroft Covenant,” a Robert Ludlum thriller starring Michael Caine, and 1988’s “Seven Hours to Judgment,” his last credit. Following his retirement from active production he served as producer-in-residence for the Center for Advanced Film and Television at the American Film Institute from 1989 to 1994.


Mort Abrahams, left, with “Planet of the Apes” star Charlton Heston, actor Edward G. Robinson and “Apes” producer Arthur P. Jacobs. Robinson appeared in 1966 screen tests for the first attempt at ape makeup, playing the Dr. Zaius role that eventually went to Maurice Evans.