Laven, Arnold: Director Career; Filmography

Arnold Laven, February 3, 1922 – September 13, 2009

He was one of the founders of the American film and television production company Levy-Gardner-Laven.

Laven was a producer of he long-running western television series “The Rifleman and The Big Valley.

Among the movies he directed were: Without Warning!, The Rack, The Monster That Challenged the World, Geronimo, Rough Night in Jericho, and Sam Whiskey.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Laven directed dozens of episodes of TV series, including episodes of Mannix, The A-Team, Hill Street Blues, The Six Million Dollar Man, Fantasy Island, The Rockford Files and CHiPs.

Laven was born in Chicago, Illinois, and moved to Los Angeles with his family in the late 1930s. He got his start in entertainment working as a mail room messenger at Warner.

During World War II, Laven was assigned to the U.S. Army Air Forces’ First Motion Picture Unit, the first unit of the United States military to be made up entirely of motion picture personnel. The unit made training films from 1942–1945 at the old Hal Roach motion picture lot.

Laven said that the films they made were not “phony” Hollywood war films: “They had to be approved by the higher-ups in the Air Force. They had to be technically accurate in every possible way.”

The unit included actors George Montgomery, Arthur Kennedy, Alan Ladd, William Holden, and DeForest Kelley. Army Capt. Ronald Reagan was the unit’s personnel officer.

Laven described the First Motion Picture Unit as “the best film school in the world,” as participants learned all aspects of the movie industry. He worked briefly in front of the camera as an extra in the pilot training short, “Live and Learn.”

After the war, Laven held jobs as a script supervisor, dialogue director, and press agent.  He worked on William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives and Fred Zinnemann’s Teresa.

In September 1951, Laven formed a production company with Jules V. Levy and Arthur Gardner, both of whom he had met in the First Motion Picture Unit. The company, which eventually became Levy-Gardner-Laven, was initially called “Allart Pictures, Inc.”

Laven helmed their first feature, Without Warning!, a thriller about a psychopathic killer on the loose. Adam Williams was cast as a gardener who murdered women with his garden shears. Made on a small budget, the film was shot on the streets of Los Angeles—on the Hollywood Freeway, in Chavez Ravine, at the Produce Terminal, and plant nurseries, cocktail bars, and taxi offices.

Though it cost less than $100,000, Sol Lesser saw Three Fellows and was so impressed that he bought an interest in it and arranged for its release. He put the trio under contract to make two pictures annually for three years.

The trio then made Vice Squad, a 1953 detective drama directed by Laven and starring Edward G. Robinson and Adam Williams.

The third feature, Down Three Dark Streets, was another semi-documentary-film noir starring Broderick Crawford as an FBI agent. The film’s climax took place around the Hollywood Sign.

In 1956, Laven went out on his own to direct The Rack, a drama starring Paul Newman and Lee Marvin about a soldier who is court-martialed for collaborating with the enemy after spending two years in a North Korean prison camp. The film was based on a United States Steel Hour program written by Rod Serling.

In 1957, Levy-Gardner-Laven shifted their interest to the sci-fi and horror genres. Laven directed The Monster That Challenged the World, a chilling bout an army of giant mollusks that emerge from the Salton Sea in California’s Imperial Valley.

The Vampire concerns a small town doctor who mistakenly ingests an experimental drug made from the blood of vampire bats.

It was followed by The Return of Dracula, a 1958 feature about a vampire who murders a Czech artist, assumes his identity, and moves to the United States.
In the late 1950s,

Laven also directed Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, a crime drama set on the docks starring Richard Egan and Walter Matthau,[16] and Anna Lucasta (1958), a feature starring an all-African American cast that included Eartha Kitt and Sammy Davis, Jr.

Laven and partners collaborated with young screenwriter, Sam Peckinpah, on an episode of Zane Grey Theater when Laven came up with the concept for The Rifleman.  Laven suggested that they focus on the relationship between the rifle-toting settler and his son.

The Rifleman, with former professional baseball and basketball player Chuck Connors in the lead role, proved to be Laven’s biggest success. The series ran from 1958 through 1963 and became one of the most successful television series of the 1960s.

During the 1959–1960 TV season, they produced Law of the Plainsman, a western series starring Michael Ansara as an Apache Indian who attends Harvard University and then returns west as a Deputy Marshal in New Mexico.

In 1962, Laven cast Connors in the title role of the biopic, Geronimo, which he directed and produced.

After The Rifleman left the air, Laven returned to the western as exec-producer of the TV series, The Big Valley, starring Barbara Stanwyck, which was broadcast by ABC from 1965 to 1969. Laven cast Lee Majors as Stanwyck’s son.

He then directed the features The Glory Guys, written by Sam Peckinpah about George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry Regiment, Rough Night in Jericho, starring Dean Martin, George Peppard, and Jean Simmons.

In 1968, Laven helmed Sam Whiskey, a western starring Burt Reynolds and Angie Dickinson as characters trying to recover $250,000 in gold bars from a steamboat wreck. The film as submitted by Laven to the MPAA included “a bare-from-the-waist-up shot” of Dickinson. faced with an “R” rating, Laven substituted a tighter shot of Dickinson to avoid that rating.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Levy-Gardner-Laven team remained active as producers on such films as Clambake, a 1967 Elvis Presley musical co-starring Shelley Fabares, The Scalphunters, a 1968 western directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Burt Lancaster, Ossie Davis and Telly Savalas, and Kansas City Bomber, a 1972 drama starring Raquel Welch as a roller derby athlete.

Laven was also active for more than 30 years as a director of episodic television. His television directing credits included episodes of such series as The Rifleman (21 episodes), Mannix (8 episodes), The Greatest American Hero (7 episodes), The A-Team (6 episodes), The Big Valley (6 episodes)

On September 13, 2009, Laven died from complications of pneumonia at the Tarzana Medical Center in the San Fernando Valley.

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