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Overview for Robert Halmi
Robert Halmi

Robert Halmi


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Also Known As: Died: July 30, 2014
Born: January 22, 1924 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Budapest, HU Profession: Producer ... producer executive author photojournalist balloonist


A larger-than-life showman who assembled nearly 200 film and TV productions in his first two decades in the business. Robert Halmi Sr is renowned for producing tasteful "prestige" productions for the small screen, including numerous acclaimed telefilms and landmark miniseries featuring some of Hollywood's most respected players. In the 1980s alone, he produced projects that teamed such famous names as Peter O'Toole and Jodie Foster ("Svengali," CBS 1983), James Cagney and Art Carney ("Terrible Joe Moran," CBS 1984), Kirk Douglas and Brock Peters ("The Secret," CBS 1992), George C Scott and Ali MacGraw ("China Rose," CBS 1983), and Scott, Don Ameche and Sylvia Sidney ("Pals," CBS 1987). His RHI Entertainment built relationships with many of the industry's leading writers, producers, agents, managers, advertisers, agencies and TV networks and when he sold the company to Hallmark in 1994, Halmi assumed the position of chair of Hallmark Entertainment.

The driving force behind many popular miniseries including "Lonesome Dove" (CBS, 1989), "Return to Lonesome Dove" (CBS, 1993) and "Scarlett" (CBS, 1994), Halmi has been hailed as one of the reigning kings of longform TV. Like many sovereigns concerned with succession, he groomed his son, Robert Jr., to take over the family business. At Hallmark, Senior headed operations while junior served as president and CEO.

Having joined the Hungarian Resistance in 1944 to fight the Nazis in his native land, Halmi was captured in Poland and sentenced to death. He was liberated by the invading Russians and subsequently became an agent for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), in battle against Communist oppression. These activities eventually led to another arrest and death sentence which he again cheated when he was smuggled out of prison and into Austria. There he took up photography like his father (who had been official photographer to the Vatican as well as to Austria's Hapsburg family). After graduating from Budapest University, Halmi worked as a magazine photographer from 1946 to 1952 when he emigrated to the USA with little in his pockets.

Halmi landed on his feet in the New World where he became a leading writer-photographer for Life magazine from 1952 to 1962, specializing in exotic locales and dangerous assignments. He survived for three days alone on an Alaskan glacier before being rescued, and lived three months with a tribe of African pygmies. Halmi also spent three years driving race cars semi-professionally, flew balloons professionally, climbed various mountains and generally wandered the globe looking for adventure. He also established himself as an author, publishing 11 books on subjects ranging from African wildlife and world zoos to sportscars and "Photographing Women Simplified."

In 1962, Halmi began producing documentaries, specializing in outdoor subjects. He produced several episodes of "American Sportsman," the weekly series "Outdoors with Liberty Mutual" (which ran for 13 seasons until ending in 1979) and numerous specials. Nearing 50, Halmi segued into feature production in the 1970s, adapting a novel he wrote into the 1974 feature "Visit to a Chief's Son," a tale of Westerners on an African safari whose civilized hang-ups come into perspective in the wilds of the jungle. His next outing was the animated feature "Hugo the Hippo" (1975) and then a Carl Reiner-directed comedy "The One and Only" (1978). Feeling that TV allowed him greater control, Halmi shifted his focus to telefilms but also executive produced other theatrical features including Merchant Ivory's "Mr. & Mrs. Bridge" (1990) and "Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe" (1998).

On the small screen, Halmi has averaged two or more projects a season since the late 70s, producing some of the small screen's more memorable evenings. He oversaw such classy TV adaptations as the acclaimed medical drama "Nurse" (CBS, 1980), starring Michael Learned and Robert Reed, which was spun off into a short-lived series the following season. Halmi lured Walter Matthau to TV to play lawyer Harmon Cobb in a trio of popular TV-movies beginning with the Emmy-winning "The Incident" (CBS, 1990). He has displayed a penchant for biopics of other mythic personalities with such projects as "Barnum" (CBS, 1986) starring Burt Lancaster and "The Josephine Baker Story" (HBO, 1991). Halmi's subsequent high-profile TV work included an acclaimed production of "Gypsy" (CBS, 1993), starring Bette Midler, "Kidnapped" (The Family Channel, 1995), the Emmy-winning "Gulliver's Travels" (NBC, 1996), starring Ted Danson, several adaptation of Neil Simon plays ("Jake's Women," CBS 1996; "The Sunshine Boys," CBS 1997), "Moby Dick" (USA Network, 1998) and "Merlin" (NBC, 1998). As he achieved more success, the budgets climbed higher, the casts became more stellar and the special effects became more spectacular. Both "Noah's Ark" (NBC, 1999) and "Cleopatra" (ABC, 1999) each reportedly cost $30 million with much of the money going to creating their impressive on-screen look. Halmi continued to raise the bar in terms of cost and quality with such projects as "The 10th Kingdom" (NBC, 2000), "Don Quixote" (TNT, 2000) and the Emmy-nominated "Arabian Knights" (ABC, 2000).

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