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Leonard Katzman; Prolific Director Produced 'Dallas'

September 08, 1996|From Times staff and wire reports

Leonard Katzman, longtime executive producer of the landmark CBS series "Dallas" and a prolific television director whose credits date to the medium's golden age in the 1950s, died Thursday. He was 69.

The apparent cause of death was a heart attack, Associated Press reported.

It is "Dallas," and its Texas-sized intrigues of oil, money, power and sex, for which Katzman is best known.

But, well before "Dallas" burst onto the scene in 1978, Katzman had established himself on the small screen, having produced and otherwise participated in classic series such as "Route 66," "Gunsmoke," "Hawaii Five-O," and "The Wild, Wild West."

In 1989, with "Dallas" a prime-time institution, Katzman confided to an interviewer that his favorite production was "Route 66," the 1960s drama of two young men traveling across the country in search of adventure and themselves.

"So many trails were blazed by that show," Katzman said, calling "Route 66" the first show to go on the road and be shot totally on location. "A lot of the people that I worked with on the show are still my fast friends."

In fact, Katzman's television pedigree dates to the 1950s, when he worked with his uncle, Sam Katzman--a well-known producer of B-grade movies--on the still-admired series "Playhouse 90" and "Alcoa Goodyear," staples of TV's golden age.

It was Katzman's previous experience working with his uncle as an assistant director on movie serials such as "Batman," "Superman" and "Brenda Starr" that helped give rise to one of Dallas' trademark touches: the season-ending cliffhanger.

"The audience seemed to be thrilled with the idea of a continuing story line at night," Katzman told The Times in a 1988 interview.

The series' best-remembered touch, of course, was the 1980 mystery, "Who Shot J.R.?" referring to the attempt on the life of J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman), the show's swaggering, larger-than-life central character. The question became a ratings-boosting international sensation.

Audiences also ate up the critically panned return of J.R.'s brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy) from the dead at the end of the 1985-86 season. The supposedly deceased Bobby famously stepped out of the shower and greeted his wife, Pamela (Victoria Principal)--who, it was later explained, had "dreamed" the entire previous season, thus allowing her husband's posthumous reentry into TV orbit.

"I will go to my grave believing that was the only way to bring Bobby back," Katzman said in a 1991 interview, noting that the ploy served various purposes: It got people talking about the show and clobbered NBC's competing series, "Miami Vice."

The native New Yorker and graduate of Fairfax High School in Los Angeles produced, directed and wrote hundreds of episodes of Dallas, which premiered in 1978 and ran its final episode in May 1991. Though he did not create "Dallas"--that credit went to David Jacobs, who later created and produced CBS' "Knotts Landing"--Katzman was unabashed about his hands-on role in shaping "Dallas" and molding the concept into a huge success.

"In all of television production there is creation and there is execution," Katzman told The Times in 1988. "Creation is what gets the show on the air; execution is what keeps it on the air. I think I've executed the show."

After "Dallas," Katzman went on to produce the television series "Walker, Texas Ranger," starring Chuck Norris.

Katzman is survived by his wife, LaRue, sons Frank and Mitchell, and six grandchildren.

Funeral services are scheduled for today at 10 a.m. at Mt. Sinai Mortuary.

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