The Orange County Screenwriters Association
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    Irwin Allen


    This profile was originally part of Plotpoints Podcast

    Irwin Allen might seem an odd choice to profile for this podcast. There are hundreds, thousands of writers who would be potentially more appropriate for this show including Aaron Sorkin, William Goldman, Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, etc. And I have profiled them here.

    But Allen was a true innovator. In the same way that many golden age scifi writers cut their teeth on b-movies in the 50's and 60's Allen was that writer for B-television.

    Born to poor Russia immigrants in 1916, Allen attended Columbia University majoring in journalism and advertising before being forced to drop out because of the Great Depression of the 30's.

    Moving to California, Allen found work in radio in Los Angeles at legendary station KLAC. In fact, KLAC which is AM 570 is now a great sports radio outlet. This radio gig in the late 40's led to other opportunities in print and movies.

    “Where Danger Lives” starring Robert Mitchum was Allen’s first film at RKO. His documentary “The Sea Around Us” won an Oscar in 1953 and despite this success, Allen went from RKO to Warner Brothers and made movies with such luminaries as Peter Lorre, Victor Mature, the Marx Brothers, Ronald Colman, Hedy Lamarr, Vincent Price, and Dennis Hopper.

    In the early 60's, three films by Allen, “The Lost World,” from the novel by Arthur Conan Doyle, “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” and “Five Weeks in a Balloon” became the basis of some of Allen’s TV successes.

    In the mid-60s Allen focused almost exclusively on television with 20th Century Fox Television Studio.

    His shows won Emmys for special effects and actually featured music by Oscar and Emmy winning composer John Williams.

    “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” based on Allen’s earlier film ran from 1964 to1968 and made both Allen and Fox Studios a success. By the way, VTBS, filmed during the height of the Cold War, took place in the near future world of...1972.

    To save money on production, Allen used stock footage from other movies as he did with his low-budget films. That technique would serve him well in “Lost In Space” which was basically the Swiss Family Robinson in outer space. The comedic robot said things like “Danger, danger, Will Robinson” and was a precursor for other funny robots like C3PO in Star Wars.

    The “Irwin Rock N Roll” is a techniques used in many, many TV shows including “Star Trek.” The camera is moved from side to side while the cast runs from one side of the set to the other to simulate a ship being rocked out of control.

    “The Time Tunnel” was brilliant in that it allowed hundreds of different times and places to be used as storylines. If you’ve perhaps seen the TV series “Quantum Leap” you know “The Time Tunnel.” The concept, of course, was originally explored by Jules Verne in “The Time Machine” and reprised in modern series like “Timeless” and “Travelers” - and seems to show up regularly on many production slates.

    “Land of the Giants” another TV hit for Allen featured composer John Williams’ music. This show, another castaway show like “Lost In Space” began the slide away from Allen’s early successes in TV.

    Allen re-invented himself back in movies with hits like “The Poseiden Adventure” “The Towering Inferno” and was given the sobriquet “The Master of Disaster.” Sounds like a great WWE character and I guess there were actually several.

    In all, Allen had 21 writer credits, 39 producer credits, and 16 credits as a director.

    Beside his Oscar win for his documentary in 1953, Allen’s “The Towering Inferno” film was nominated for Best Picture in 1975.

    He was also given a Razzie Award for Worst Career Achievement Award.

    Just goes to show that “nobody knows anything,” as William Goldman once stated.

    Allen died in 1991 of a heart attack leaving a solid legacy of some of the movies and shows that continue to shape our entertainment world today.


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