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Ronald M. Cohen; TV, Movie Scriptwriter


Ronald M. Cohen, controversial Hollywood writer who penned gritty scripts involving interracial behavior and memorable westerns such as the recent cable television movie "Last Stand at Saber River," has died. He was 58.

Cohen, longtime companion of actress Julie Adams, died Tuesday at their Los Angeles home of heart failure, said Adams' son Steve Danton.

The 1997 TNT production of "Saber River" starring Tom Selleck, for whom Cohen adapted Elmore Leonard's 1959 novel, achieved the highest rating of any cable movie. The script won Cohen a Western Heritage Wrangler award.

At the time of his death, Cohen was adapting another Leonard novel for Selleck called "Gunsights."

Always fascinated by the western genre, Cohen had written the motion pictures "Blue" starring Terence Stamp and Karl Malden in 1968 and "The Good Guys and the Bad Guys" the following year starring Robert Mitchum as an aging sheriff.

But Cohen based his career in television, beginning in the early 1960s. He abandoned his cab-driving job after selling his first script to Steve McQueen for the actor's series "Wanted: Dead or Alive."

Cohen's own memorable if short-lived series included ABC's "American Dream" in 1981, "Call to Glory" in 1984 and "Fortune Dane" in 1986.

He was nominated for an Emmy for co-writing the "American Dream" pilot, featuring a white family moving from tony suburban Chicago into the black inner city and interacting with neighbors. Viewer protests over Cohen's realistic, crisp dialogue helped put a quick end to the show.

In creating "Call to Glory," Cohen displayed another of his genres--politics and the military--featuring an Air Force family headed by Craig T. Nelson, with Keenan Wynn as his father, and set at Edwards Air Force Base during the Cold War.

Cohen returned to the interaction between blacks and whites and big city machinations in "Fortune Dane," co-producing the series with Barney Rosenzweig and the show's star, former Raiders football player and "Rocky" actor Carl Weathers. The series featured Weathers as the black trouble-shooter running the office of a white female mayor in Bay City (actually Oakland).

"I have a volatile reputation with the network," Cohen told The Times when the Weathers series went into production, adding that ABC had fired him from "American Dream" and "Call to Glory."

"They know I'm a pain in the butt," he said. "But they like the way I write."

Cohen also wrote episodes for the television series "Ohara" and "Walker, Texas Ranger."

Born in Chicago, he studied film at New York University.

In addition to Adams and Danton, Cohen is survived by Adams' other son, Mitchell Danton; his brother, Henry Cohen; and three nieces.

Memorial services are scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday in the chapel at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park.

The family has asked that any donations be made to Covenant House in Hollywood.

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