|Born||26th March, 1916|
|Died||28th May, 2009|
| First Production: Planet of the Apes
Last Production: Beneath the Planet of the Apes
Mort Abrahams was a New York-born film and television producer who helped Planet of the Apes (1968) and Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) reach the screen. He began by producing an early TV sci-fi series, Tom Corbett, Space Cadet (1950-55). Science fiction anthology series Tales of Tomorrow (1951-53) followed, which Planet of the Apes script-writer Rod Serling called "the granddaddy of all the television science fiction" that followed - including One Step Beyond, Serling's The Twilight Zone, Way Out, The Outer Limits and Star Trek. Abrahams then produced the live anthology series General Electric Theater (1954-55), alongside the series' host Ronald Reagan, and for NBC he produced the similar Producers' Showcase (1956-57), where he worked with director Franklin J. Schaffner, who would later direct Planet of the Apes. Abrahams was among a turnover of producers on the second series of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1965-66).
During U.N.C.L.E., Abrahams re-encountered Arthur P. Jacobs, who had been in charge of publicity for General Electric Theater. The forceful Jacobs was in the process of turning producer, and invited Abrahams to join his company APJAC Productions, formed in 1964. “Arthur started to talk to me, this luncheon, and it ended up with him saying, ‘Would you like to join me because I have this development deal with MGM and I’m trying to work something with Fox?’” Abrahams became executive vice-president of APJAC and associate producer (and later producer) of APJAC’s movies. As Jacobs' right-hand man, Abrahams gave practical experience to Jacobs' vision and concentrated on script and production matters while his partner blazed ahead with stars and publicity. Although his title was associate producer, he hired writers and actors and in today's parlance he would simply have shared the producer credit with Jacobs, who might even have been labelled executive producer.
Jacobs was already working with Blake Edwards on plans for a film version of the original Pierre Boulle novel La Planète des singes (1963), in which astronauts land on a planet where apes rule and human beings are hunted for sport. But much of the legwork fell to Abrahams with script rewrites (first with Serling, then Charles Eastman, then Michael Wilson, and finally John T. Kelly), production sketches and endless meetings with executives. Richard D. Zanuck, the new young boss of Twentieth Century Fox, recalled: "Arthur was an idea man and Mort Abrahams was the production guy, because Arthur didn't know anything really about the mechanics of making a picture." Abrahams maintained that Apes was "turned down by every studio in town at least twice". He and Jacobs even tried to raise finance in Europe. According to Abrahams, Zanuck threatened to ban them from the Fox lot if they mentioned Planet of the Apes again. The success of another science-fiction film, Fantastic Voyage (1966), led to a change of heart. After test footage was made in 1966, with Edward G. Robinson as Dr Zaius, Zanuck and Twentieth Century Fox eventually agreed, once Jacobs had consented to making the big-budget musical Doctor Dolittle (1967). However, Doctor Dolittle failed at the box office – it had cost three times as much as the far more successful Apes would.
Planet of the Apes did much to question prevailing political values. Abrahams later said that he and Jacobs deliberately avoided discussing or even pointing out the political elements of the film either to star Charlton Heston or the studio. Abrahams had considered casting John Wayne as the astronaut hero Taylor, ultimately deciding he was too much identified with Westerns. He also felt Heston's self-invented "God damn you all to hell", as opposed to the script's "My God" might result in the film being classified as unsuitable for children, but was overruled. It all resulted in a timeless classic. With the experienced Paul Dehn, Abrahams co-wrote and co-produced the first sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), which introduced a third group alongside the apes and humans of the original - subterranean mutants; although it was "essentially my idea", Abrahams was dissatisfied with the result.
After the unsuccessful musical Goodbye Mr Chips (1969), and acting as sole producer on The Chairman (1969), Abrahams left APJAC in order to team up with the independent producer Ray Stark, one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, with close ties to several stars, including Barbra Streisand. Abrahams was vice-president in charge of production in the early 1970s when the company’s films included the Streisand comedy The Owl and the Pussycat (1970). Returning to adapted plays, he oversaw Pinter's The Homecoming (1973) and Osborne's Luther (1973) as well as The Man in the Glass Booth (1975). Separate Tables (1983), co-produced by HBO and HTV, with John Schlesinger directing Julie Christie and Alan Bates in Terence Rattigan's play, received some fine reviews. Abrahams’ later executive producer credits included The Greek Tycoon (1978), with Anthony Quinn, and The Holcroft Covenant (1985), with Michael Caine. Abrahams' last production was Seven Hours to Judgement (1988). A durable Hollywood figure, Mort Abrahams possessed both an instinct for mainstream success in film and television and a penchant for bringing stage plays to a wider audience.