The passing of Burt Kennedy

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(Los Angeles)Burt Kennedy, a writer-director of movie and TV westerns who worked with cowboy stars ranging from John Wayne to James Garner, died on Thursday at age 78, associates said.

Kennedy, who was born into a travelling stage act known as “The Dancing Kennedys” and was once hired by Wayne to be a script writer, died of cancer at his home in the Los Angeles suburb of Sherman Oaks, said “Entertainment Tonight” film critic Leonard Maltin, a family friend.

During a career that ran from the late 1950s to the 1990s, Kennedy directed nearly two dozen western features, including “Comanche Station” with Randolph Scott, “The War Wagon” with Wayne and Kirk Douglas, “The Rounders” with Henry Fonda and Glenn Ford, “Support Your Local Sheriff” with Garner and “Young Billy Young” with Robert Mitchum.

He also wrote and directed for numerous television shows, including Western series “Lawman” and “The Virginian,” the World War II series “Combat!” and later detective dramas “Simon and Simon” and “Magnum P.I.”

His last public appearance was last August at a Los Angeles screening of a restored version of his first produced screenplay, the 1956 film, “Seven Men From Now.” His final film, a 28-minute short titled “Comanche,” about the only cavalry horse to have survived the battle at Little Big Horn, was completed last year but has not been released, Maltin said.

A native of Muskegon, Michigan, Kennedy was the son of vaudeville performers who joined the family act at age five, remarking years later that he “was a has-been by the age of seven.” At the age of 20, he joined the Army and served in the Pacific theater of World War II, earning a Purple Heart and several other decorations for bravery.

Moving to California after the war, he studied acting under the G.I. Bill and found work writing for radio in 1948. He broke into the movie business by landing a writing contract with John Wayne’s film company, Batjac Productions, then based at Warner Bros. studios.

It was Wayne, as a producer, who brought Kennedy together with fellow cowboy star Randolph Scott and director Boetticher for “Seven Men from Now,” Kennedy’s first produced screenplay. He, Boetticher and Scott went on to collaborate on three more films — “The Tall T” (based on an Elmore Leonard story), “Ride Lonesome” and “Comanche Station.”

Kennedy made his film directorial debut with the 1961 non-western critical flop “The Canadians,” shifted his attention to TV and returned to the big screen in 1964 with “Mail Order Bride,” starring Buddy Ebsen.

In 1990, he shared screenplay credits on the Clint Eastwood-directed adventure drama “White Hunter, Black Heart,” a movie adaptation of Peter Viertel’s 1953 novel based on his experiences during the filming of “The African Queen.”

Kennedy is survived by two daughters and five grandchildren. He is to be buried with full military honours on March 2 at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C.


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