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Hall Bartlett; Wrote, Directed Offbeat Films

September 16, 1993|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hall Bartlett, whose films generally proved to be imaginative and provocative, if not commercially successful, has died.

A family spokesman said Wednesday that the writer-producer-director of such cult favorites as "Changes" and "The Children of Sanchez" was 71 when he died Sept. 8 en route to UCLA Medical Center from his home in Los Angeles.

Bartlett had undergone hip surgery and the spokesman said he may have died of complications. An autopsy is pending.

Born to a wealthy family, Bartlett was a Yale graduate and member of Phi Beta Kappa who challenged film with mystic notions. He developed a reputation for small, often experimental, pictures that transcended their low-budget formats.

His first was "Navajo" in 1952. The feature-length documentary was credited as the first sensitive scrutiny of the plight of the modern American Indian. It was nominated for an Academy Award.

He told Paris Match in 1992 that he had been influenced by films since his boyhood in Kansas City, Mo., and first fell under the spell of "Les Miserables."

His self-described "passion for pictures" ran a wide gamut; from "Crazylegs," a biographical film about football running back Elroy Hirsch, to "Unchained," an examination of life inside the California Institution for Men at Chino (the film's leitmotif, "Unchained Melody," became a popular song of the day and won new fans when it was later featured in the film "Ghost.")

Bartlett also produced the film of Arthur Haley's novel "Zero Hour," a melodrama whose theme was widely imitated; "Drango," a study of the struggle for power in a small, post-Civil War Southern town, and "All the Young Men," a Sidney Poitier vehicle about racial tension at the Korean front.

In 1966 he married actress Rhonda Fleming and two years later starred his stepson, Kent Lane, as a troubled youth undergoing a spiritual odyssey in the Big Sur area of California. "Changes" received sympathetic reviews for effort but many critics found fault with Bartlett's results.

"The Children of Sanchez," starring Anthony Quinn and Delores del Rio, was released in 1978. It was an adaptation of the award-winning study of a Mexican family by an American couple who lived with them for five years. Again, the reviews were mixed, but the picture was highly praised by such diverse viewers as former President Jimmy Carter and syndicated film critic Rex Reed.

Bartlett's adventurous spirit was more widely appreciated overseas, and he won several awards at international film festivals.

He also was a widely felt presence on the Los Angeles civic scene, where he was a supporter of the Music Center, the James Doolittle Theater, a patron of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and an organizer of support clubs for the Rams and Lakers.

In 1992, the Boy Scouts of America honored him with their Jimmy Stewart Good Turn Award.

Of his life's work, Bartlett told an interviewer: "I hope to continue to make films relatively small in cost but hopefully of some matter."

He was divorced from Fleming in 1972.

His survivors include two daughters and five grandchildren.

A funeral service is scheduled for Friday at 3 p.m. at Bel-Air Presbyterian Church. Donations in Bartlett's memory may be made to the Good Shepherd Center for Homeless Women and Children, 267 N. Belmont Ave., Los Angeles 90026.

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