Family & Companions
Producer-writer Harve Bennett initially made a name for himself in television, although it was his work on a beloved film franchise that earned him the gratitude of legions of fans for decades to come. Bennett began his career as a television producer for CBS and ABC networks before going into business for himself on programs such as the youth-cop drama "The Mod Squad" (ABC, 1968-1973). From there, he went on to produce a string of made-for-TV movies and genre adventure series, including "The Astronaut" (ABC, 1972) and "The Invisible Man" (NBC, 1975-76). Notably, Bennett served as executive producer on "Rich Man, Poor Man" (ABC, 1975-76), the seminal miniseries that introduced audiences to Nick Nolte. After completing his run on the pop-culture phenomenon "The Six Million Dollar Man" (ABC, 1973-78), he served in the same capacity on such TV-movies as "A Woman Called Golda" (syndicated, 1982). That same year, Bennett produced and developed the story for the hit sequel "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (1982), regarded by many as the film that saved the venerated sci-fi property. In addition to periodic returns to television, Bennett would oversee the "Star Trek" universe as a producer-writer for its next three film installments. One of film and television's unsung heroes, Bennett's contributions could be measured, in part, by the continued popularity of the original "Star Trek" films and their galaxy-hopping progeny.
Born Harve Bennett Fischman on Aug. 17, 1930 in Chicago, IL, he was the son of Kathryn, a journalist, and Yale, an attorney. Affable, inquisitive and extremely intelligent, the young Bennett joined the popular NBC radio game show "Quiz Kids" for several years in the early 1940s. Considering this early experience, combined with his mother's profession, it came as little surprise when he gravitated toward broadcasting and journalism. Upon graduating from high school, Bennett enjoyed a stint as a columnist for The Chicago Sun Times, in addition to some freelance writing, although it was the lure of the broadcast world that truly sparked his imagination. He went on to earn his degree in film from the University of California, Los Angeles, prior to joining the U.S. Army in 1953, during the Korean War. Stationed in Lompoc, CA throughout the duration of the conflict, Bennett was honorably discharged in 1955 at the rank of corporal. From there, he relocated to New York City, where he soon began a career with CBS television and within two years became the youngest producer at the network at the time.
Returning to Los Angeles in 1956, Bennett shepherded various commercial and television projects, including "The Johnny Carson Show" (CBS, 1955-56), a daytime precursor to the famed host's legendary run on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (NBC, 1962-1992). In 1962, Bennett made the jump to ABC, and after a period in charge of daytime television, he eventually rose to the position of Vice President of Programming. Seeking new challenges, he left ABC in the mid-1960s in order to write and produce "The Mod Squad" (ABC, 1968-1973), a youth-targeted crime drama developed with series creator Bud Ruskin for über-producer Aaron Spelling. Buoyed by his success on the show, Bennett joined Universal Television in 1971, where he produced a string of made-for-TV movies and miniseries, including the WWII escape-adventure "The Birdmen" (ABC, 1971), the space program conspiracy-thriller "The Astronaut" (ABC, 1972), and the wartime aerial action-adventure "Death Race" (ABC, 1973).
Bennett stuck with themes of space flight and science fiction when he produced such TV movies as "Houston, We Have a Problem" (ABC, 1974), which dealt with the near-disaster of NASA's Apollo 13, and a pair of short-lived series - "The Invisible Man" (NBC, 1975-76) and "The Gemini Man" (NBC, 1976) - both of which featured invisible heroes. Bennett found even greater success with a more reality-based story, as an executive producer for "Rich Man, Poor Man" (ABC, 1975-76), one of television's earliest and most successful miniseries. Starring Peter Strauss and Nick Nolte as two immigrant brothers on vastly divergent life paths, the groundbreaking program helped set the standard for the halcyon days of the TV miniseries that followed over the next decade. Bennett also had great success on weekly series as well, including his run as executive producer on such pop-culture classics as "The Six Million Dollar Man" (ABC, 1973-78) and its spin-off, "The Bionic Woman" (ABC, 1976-77; NBC, 1977-78).
In 1979, Bennett joined with producer-executive Harris Katleman to form Bennett-Katleman Productions, in addition to securing lucrative production deals with CBS, Columbia-Screen Gems and later, Paramount Pictures. Projects from this period included the short-lived journalism adventure series "The American Girls" (CBS, 1978), and "Salvage 1" (ABC, 1979), which starred Andy Griffith as a junkman who builds a space ship and goes to the moon to retrieve valuable scrap left behind by earlier NASA missions. Bennett also oversaw the miniseries remake of "From Here to Eternity" (NBC, 1979), along with the poorly-received weekly series that briefly followed. Upon parting ways with Katleman in the early '80s, Bennett went on to produce the historical miniseries "A Woman Called Golda" (syndicated, 1982), which starred Judy Davis and Ingrid Bergman as the younger and older versions of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, respectively. The film earned Bennett an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Special, as well as one for Bergman in the Lead Actress category, in what would be her final screen appearance. As significant as the miniseries was for Bennett, another project, which he had become involved with nearly two years prior, would prove to be the defining moment in his lengthy career.
Following the lackluster performance of 1979's "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," Bennett was called in for a meeting with Charles Bluhdorn, the intimidating head of Gulf+Western Industries - owner of Paramount Pictures, at the time - to ask his opinion on the film and if he thought he could do better. Having only recently begun his working relationship with Paramount and looking to make his mark, Bennett replied that the found the movie version of "Star Trek" somewhat tedious, and that he could not only produce a superior film, but a far less expensive one, as well. There was one catch, however; Bennett had never before watched an episode of the original series. After a marathon viewing of the original "Star Trek" (NBC, 1966-69), the newly-hired executive producer found the genesis of his story idea in the episode "Space Seed," which guest-starred Ricardo Montalban as a genetically-engineered superhuman, banished at the end of the episode to a deserted planetoid by Capt. James T. Kirk (William Shatner). Reworked into a script by Jack B. Sowards and director Nicholas Meyer, Bennett's germ of an idea went on to become "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (1982), one of the most successful entries in the "Star Trek" franchise.
Bennett's first foray into feature filmmaking proved so successful, in fact, that he was once again put in charge for the next installment, "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" (1984), which he wrote and produced. His commitment to television remained strong as well, with the Olympic biopic "The Jesse Owens Story" (1984) airing that same year. In addition to his duties as producer, Bennett also co-wrote "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" (1986), yet another hugely popular adventure, which saw the crew of the Enterprise returning to 20th century Earth on a mission to save the whales. He ended his involvement with the franchise after "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" (1989), based on a story Bennett co-wrote with Shatner, who also directed. Participating as a writer only, he next scripted the based-on-fact airline disaster TV-movie "Crash Landing: The Rescue of Flight 232" (ABC, 1992). Bennett's final projects before his unofficial retirement were the time travel adventure series, "Time Trax" (syndicated, 1992-94), and the animated sci-fi thriller, "Invasion America" (The WB, 1998), produced by Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks SKG and featuring voice work from Bennett's "Star Trek" collaborator, Leonard Nimoy.
By Bryce Coleman
Cast (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Producer (TV Mini-Series)
Was producer of ABC series "The Mod Squad"
Executive produced first TV-movie, "The Birdmen" (ABC)
Served as executive producer of NBC series "Gemini Man"
Was executive producer of ABC miniseries "Rich Man, Poor Man"
Formed partnership with Harris Katleman, Bennett-Katleman Productions
First series produced under Bennett-Katleman Prodcutions, the short-lived CBS drama series "The American Girls"
Served as executive producer of short-lived ABC series "Salvage 1"
Produced first feature film, "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (also wrote story)
Executive produced syndicated miniseries, "A Woman Called Golda"
Was executive producer of "The Jesse Owens Story" for syndication
Produced "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" (also provided the voice of the flight recorder)
Wrote and produced "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home"
Produced "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier"; also appeared as Star Fleet commander