Irwin Allen


Director, Producer

About

Birth Place
New York City, New York, USA
Born
June 12, 1916
Died
November 02, 1991
Cause of Death
Heart Attack

Biography

Nicknamed the "Master of Disaster," producer-director Irwin Allen almost single-handedly fueled the disaster movie craze during the 1970s with such classics as "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972) and "The Towering Inferno" (1974). Allen cut his teeth on a number of adventure movies during the 1950s and 1960s, including "The Lost World" (1960), "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" (1961) and "Fi...

Photos & Videos

Family & Companions

Sheila Allen
Wife

Notes

"People chase fire engines, flock to car crashes. People thrive on tragedy. It's unfortunate, but in my case, it's fortunate. The bigger the tragedy, the bigger the audience."--Irwin Allen in a 1977 interview (quoted in the "New York Times" obituary, November 4, 1991).

He was named the NATO Producer of the Year and Fox Showman of the Year.

Biography

Nicknamed the "Master of Disaster," producer-director Irwin Allen almost single-handedly fueled the disaster movie craze during the 1970s with such classics as "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972) and "The Towering Inferno" (1974). Allen cut his teeth on a number of adventure movies during the 1950s and 1960s, including "The Lost World" (1960), "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" (1961) and "Five Weeks in a Balloon" (1962), while also creating notable television series like "Lost in Space" (CBS, 1965-68). After directing "City Beneath the Sea" (NBC, 1971) for the small screen, he donned his producer's hat for "The Poseidon Adventure," one of the biggest box office hits of 1972. Allen went on to direct the master of all disaster movies, "The Towering Inferno," which featured an all-star cast of Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway and Paul Newman, and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. But it was all downhill from there, as Allen exhausted the disaster movie genre by decade's end and retired in the mid-1980s from poor health. Despite a quiet end to his career, Allen's contributions to cinema were undeniable, while his influence on blockbuster filmmaking was felt well into the next century.

Born on June 12, 1916 in New York City, Allen went to City College and later Columbia University, where he studied advertising and journalism until being forced to leave school altogether due to the Great Depression. Looking to make his fortune, Allen traveled to Hollywood in the late 1930s, where he became the editor of Key magazine and a syndicated newspaper columnist. From there, he spent the next 11 years producing and directing a daily Hollywood-related radio program, before running his own advertising agency. In 1951, Allen turned to producing under the Windsor Productions banner and made his uncredited debut with the musical comedy "Double Dynamite," starring Groucho Marx, Jane Russell and Frank Sinatra. Teaming with Marx again, he received his first credit for the middling comedy, "A Girl in Every Port" (1952), and made his directing debut with the nature documentary, "The Sea Around Us" (1953), which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Allen went on to produce the forgettable 3D crime thriller, "Dangerous Mission" (1954), starring Piper Laurie and Victor Mature, and returned to nature documentaries by writing, directing and producing "The Animal World" (1956). He followed-up with the historical fantasy, "The Story of Mankind" (1957), which featured an all-star cast in a series of vignettes depicting various major moments in human history, with Hedy Lamarr as Joan of Arc, Virginia Mayo as Cleopatra, Vincent Price as The Devil and Dennis Hopper as Napoleon. Allen made a pair of disappointing big-budget adventures like "The Big Circus" (1959), starring Victor Mature and Red Buttons, and "The Lost World" (1960), before hitting his stride with the enjoyable sci-fi disaster film, "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" (1961), which followed a nuclear submarine that journeys into the depths of the ocean to save the world from a deadly radiation belt. Three years later, Allen turned the film into the successful television series of the same name, which ran on ABC from 1964-68. Back on the big screen, he directed the silly but fun adventure comedy, "Five Weeks in a Balloon" (1962), which followed a 19th century explorer (Cedric Hardwicke) on a balloon journey into uncharted African territory.

On the small screen, Allen created and produced the science fiction classic, "Lost in Space" (CBS, 1965-68), which depicted the futuristic Robinson family after they have crash landed on an alien planet while en route to populate Alpha Centauri. Though only on the air for three seasons, "Lost in Space" left behind an enduring pop culture legacy and was even given the blockbuster treatment in 1998. After producing the cheesy Dean Martin spy flick, "The Ambushers" (1967), Allen created the short-lived sci-fi series, "The Time Tunnel" (ABC, 1966-67) and "Land of the Giants" (ABC, 1968-1970). He next directed and produced "City Beneath the Sea" (NBC, 1971), a pseudo-follow up to "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" that depicted a group of 21st century colonists inhabiting the world's first underwater city. Allen began earning his sobriquet of "Master of Disaster" with his next producing effort, "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972), which starred Gene Hackman as an unorthodox preacher who leads a group of survivors aboard a capsized ocean liner to safety. Though earning mixed reviews at the time of release, the disaster flick was the second biggest box office hit that year.

Back in the director's chair, Allen helmed the disaster movie to end all disaster movies, "The Towering Inferno" (1974), which featured an all-star cast that included William Holden, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire and Jennifer Jones trapped in the world's tallest building as a fire rages on the upper floors. Certainly the most popular of the 1970s disaster movie craze, "The Towering Inferno" was lauded by critics and became another box office hit for Allen, while even earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. But Allen's career crested at this point, as he went on to direct a series of schlocky disaster flicks that failed to hold a candle to his best work. He created another famous, but short-lived series, "The Swiss Family Robinson" (ABC, 1975-76), and returned to the water with the made-for-TV disaster movie "Flood!" (NBC, 1976), which depicted the destruction of a small town after a faulty damn bursts. Some months later, the companion movie "Fire!" (NBC, 1977) aired, which showed a mountain community ravaged by a road gang that starts a fire to cover their escape from the law.

Returning to film, Allen directed the rather silly disaster movie, "The Swarm" (1978), which focused on poisonous African bees that overtake the United States and starred Michael Caine, Katherine Ross, Olivia de Havilland and Henry Fonda. The movie was blasted by critics and marked a decided end to Allen's string of box office hits. He followed up by directing "Beyond the Poseidon Adventure" (1979), a completely misguided sequel that picked up where its predecessor left off by following salvagers Michael Caine, Sally Field and an evil-minded Telly Savalas back into the capsized vessel. By the end of the decade and beyond, Allen had all but exhausted the disaster genre with B-level efforts like the miniseries "Hanging by a Thread" (NBC, 1979), "Cave-In!" (NBC, 1983) and "The Night the Bridge Fell Down" (NBC, 1983). Meanwhile, he created his sixth and final series, "Code Red" (ABC, 1981-82), which starred Lorne Greene as a Battalion Chief in the Los Angeles Fire Department. Allen attempted to break the mold by producing a lavish musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" (CBS, 1985) and the revenge thriller, "Outrage!" (CBS, 1986), but he was forced into retirement due to ill health. Allen later died from a heart attack on Nov. 2, 1991 in Santa Monica, CA. He was 75 years old.

By Shawn Dwyer

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979)
Director
The Swarm (1978)
Director
The Towering Inferno (1974)
Director
The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
Co-Director of action seq
City Beneath The Sea (1971)
Director
Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962)
Director
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)
Director
The Lost World (1960)
Director
The Story of Mankind (1957)
Director
The Animal World (1956)
Director
The Sea Around Us (1953)
Director

Writer (Feature Film)

Adventures of the Queen (1975)
From Story
City Beneath The Sea (1971)
From Story
Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962)
Screenwriter
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)
Screenwriter
The Lost World (1960)
Screenwriter
The Big Circus (1959)
Screenwriter
The Big Circus (1959)
Based on a Story by
The Story of Mankind (1957)
Screenwriter
The Animal World (1956)
Writer
The Sea Around Us (1953)
Cont and commentary wrt

Producer (Feature Film)

Outrage! (1986)
Producer
Cave-In! (1983)
Producer
The Night the Bridge Fell Down (1983)
Producer
Code Red (1981)
Producer
Memory Of Eva Ryker (1980)
Producer
When Time Ran Out (1980)
Producer
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979)
Producer
The Swarm (1978)
Producer
Fire! (1977)
Producer
Flood! (1976)
Producer
Time Travelers (1976)
Producer
Adventures of the Queen (1975)
Producer
The Swiss Family Robinson (1975)
Producer
The Towering Inferno (1974)
Producer
The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
Producer
City Beneath The Sea (1971)
Producer
Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962)
Producer
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)
Producer
The Lost World (1960)
Producer
The Big Circus (1959)
Producer
The Story of Mankind (1957)
Producer
The Animal World (1956)
Producer
Safari (1956)
Producer
Dangerous Mission (1954)
Producer
The Sea Around Us (1953)
Producer
A Girl in Every Port (1952)
Producer
Where Danger Lives (1950)
Presented By
Where Danger Lives (1950)
Associate Producer

Production Companies (Feature Film)

Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962)
Company
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)
Company

Director (Special)

The Return of Captain Nemo (1978)
Creator

Producer (Special)

The Return of Captain Nemo (1978)
Producer

Producer (TV Mini-Series)

Alice in Wonderland (1985)
Producer
Hanging by a Thread (1979)
Producer

Life Events

1938

Went to Hollywood as editor of "Key" magazine

1939

Produced and directed a daily radio program at KLAC for 11 years

1953

Made his (uncredited) directorial debut with the nature documentary "The Sea Around Us"; also produced and wrote

1956

Wrote, produced and directed the nature documentary "The Animal World"

1960

Directed the fantasy epic "The Lost World"

1961

Directed the sci-fi adventure feature "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea"

1964

Created the series version of "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea"

1965

Created and wrote episodes of the sci-fi series "Lost in Space"

1968

Created the sci-fi series "Land of the Giants"

1972

Directed his final feature, "Beyond the Poseidon Adventure"

1972

Produced "The Poseidon Adventure"

1975

Produced "The Swiss Family Robinson" feature and TV series

1981

Produced the series "Code Red"

2018

His series "Lost in Space" was remade for Netflix

Photo Collections

Beyond the Poseidon Adventure - Movie Poster
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure - Movie Poster
The Poseidon Adventure - Movie Posters
The Poseidon Adventure - Movie Posters

Videos

Movie Clip

Where Danger Lives (1950) - Tell Yourself A Bedtime Story From the credits, looks like San Francisco, Dr. Cameron (Robert Mitchum) displaying compassion and good surgical mask hygiene for the kids in the ward, in Where Danger Lives, 1950, co-starring Faith Domergue in her debut for Howard Hughes' RKO.
Where Danger Lives - Appealing, Isn't She? Inebriated Dr. Cameron (Robert Mitchum) was just leaving after discovering Margo (Faith Domergue) forgot to tell him she was married to Lannington (Claude Rains) in John Farrow's Where Danger Lives, 1950.
Where Danger Lives (1950) - Before I Pass Out Presuming one could tell the difference, en route to the Mexican border, Dr. Cameron (Robert Mitchum) explains to fellow fugitive lover Margo (Faith Domergue) that he'll soon be unconscious, in Where Danger Lives, 1950.
Where Danger Lives (1950) - Whiskers Week Absurdity from sometime-Hitchcock screenwriter Charles Bennett, as fugitive murder suspects Jeff (Robert Mitchum) and Margo (Faith Domergue), headed for the Mexican border, get busted in Arizona for insufficient facial hair, in Where Danger Lives, 1950.
Poseidon Adventure, The (1972) - Six Hundred Pound Swordfish Priest Gene Hackman leads survivors toward the hull of the flipped ocean liner, Roddy McDowall the injured waiter, Shelley Winters and Jack Albertson the retirees, Pamela Sue Martin a frightened teen, Carol Lynley the lounge singer, Ernest Borgnine the surly cop, Stella Stevens his increasingly disrobed wife, in The Poseidon Adventure, 1972.
Beyond The Poseidon Adventure (1979) - I Hope You're A Religious Man On his tug in the Mediterranean the morning after the first movie, Captain Turner (Michael Caine) with mate Wilbur (Karl Malden) and semi-stowaway Celeste (Sally Field) find the liner, planning salvage, when Telly Savalas arrives, playing a Greek doctor, in Beyond The Poseidon Adventure, 1979.
Beyond The Poseidon Adventure (1979) - Did You Come By Canoe? A quick roll call as Michael Caine and his improvised salvage crew (Sally Field, Karl Malden), with Telly Savalas heading a Greek medical team, discover survivors not seen in the original, Veronica Hamel, Peter Boyle and Shirley Jones with back-stories, in Beyond The Poseidon Adventure, 1979.
Beyond The Poseidon Adventure (1979) - I've Had Smoother Crossings Michael Caine and his crew (Sally Field, Karl Malden) revel in their salvage from the capsized liner when a new survivor (Slim Pickens as Tex) appears, then two more, Angela Cartwright who’s the daughter of Peter Boyle, and Mark Harmon her rescuer, Shirley Jones and Veronica Hamel also among the band, in Beyond The Poseidon Adventure, 1979.
Poseidon Adventure, The (1972) - An Enormous Wall Of Water New Year’s eve, Leslie Nielsen at the helm as the wave hits, Shelley Winters, Jack Albertson, young Eric Shea, Carol Lynley, hip priest Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Stella Stevens among the revelers, plus director Ronald Neame’s famous skylight shot, in writer-producer Irwin Allen’s disaster hit, The Poseidon Adventure, 1972.
Poseidon Adventure, The (1972) - Get Off Your Knees! Introducing cruisers, Ernest Borgnine is loud cop Rogo, Stella Stevens his seasick wife, bachelor Martin (Red Buttons) greeted by retirees Manny and Belle (Shelley Winters, Jack Albertson), top-billed Gene Hackman the collar-free priest, Arthur O’Connell his colleague, in The Poseidon Adventure. 1972.
Beyond The Poseidon Adventure (1979) - Hell Of A Way To Spend New Year's Beginning with the New Year’s tsunami from The Poseidon Adventure, 1973, which began the drama for Gene Hackman and company, we find Michael Caine, Karl Malden and Sally Field, on a tugboat not far away, in Irwin Allen’s sequel Beyond The Poseidon Adventure, 1979.
Story Of Mankind, The (1957) - Cleopatra "Spirit Of Man" (Ronald Colman) yields to the devil "Mr. Scratch" (Vincent Price), who introduces a brunette Virginia Mayo, playing a gleeful Cleopatra, with her brother and Julius Caesar (Bart Mattson, Reginald Sheffield), before the universal court in Irwin Allen's The Story Of Mankind, 1957.

Trailer

Companions

Sheila Allen
Wife

Bibliography

Notes

"People chase fire engines, flock to car crashes. People thrive on tragedy. It's unfortunate, but in my case, it's fortunate. The bigger the tragedy, the bigger the audience."--Irwin Allen in a 1977 interview (quoted in the "New York Times" obituary, November 4, 1991).

He was named the NATO Producer of the Year and Fox Showman of the Year.