Ib Melchior dies at 97; sci-fi filmmaker reset classic tales in space

Obituary: Ib Melchior, science fiction film writer and director of the 1950s and '60s, dies at 97

Writer and director Ib Melchior, known for his work on 1950s and '60s science fiction films such as "Robinson Crusoe on Mars" and "The Angry Red Planet," died March 14 at his home in West Hollywood. He was 97.

Melchior had been in declining health and died of natural causes, said his manager, Judy Coppage.

He was the son of famed Danish opera tenor Lauritz Melchior but had no ambition to follow in the footsteps of his father. "If I had become a singer, they'd say I was not as good as my father, or that I'd gotten where I was because of my father," he said in a 1972 UPI interview.

As a filmmaker, Melchior's aim was to take classic literary tales and reset them in outer space. Among the films he proposed that didn't get made: "Gulliver's Space Travels" and "Treasure Asteroid."

But "Robinson Crusoe on Mars" (1964), which turned Daniel Defoe's 18th century character into a marooned astronaut, won favor with critics. "Turns out to be a surprisingly good idea," reviewer Eugene Archer wrote in the New York Times. "Merely placing it in space gives it a fresh and unexpected quality."

The film, written by Melchior and directed by Byron Haskin, was a disappointment at the box office, however. The only other movie in the proposed series that Melchior got to make was "The Time Travelers" (1964), a cheapie he directed based on H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine."

The budget on "Time Travelers" was so small that illusions devised by a magician served as special effects. And, when sufficiently tall actors couldn't be found to play the mutant characters, "we hired the Lakers," Melchior said in an affectionate commentary on the film for the "Trailers from Hell" video series.

"We had a lot of fun with 'The Time Travelers.'"

Melchior claimed that some of his concepts for TV shows and films were appropriated by others without fair compensation, including "Star Trek" and "Lost in Space."

He got a credit as "special advisor" on the 1998 "Lost in Space" movie, but lost a court battle over his compensation.

Melchior also wrote several fiction and nonfiction books that he said were based on his experiences in the U.S. Army counterintelligence corps during World War II.

He was born Sept. 17, 1917, in Copenhagen and worked in theater in Europe and New York before heading to Hollywood. He also directed several television shows, beginning in 1948 with a Perry Como variety series.

The biggest ownership battle of his life concerned a grand estate his father owned in Germany before World War II. The three-story manor and 340 acres of land were taken over by the Nazis in 1943 and then seized after the war by the East German government.

Upon East and West Germany's unification in 1990, Melchior pressed his case to take ownership of the estate left to him in his father's will, but he did not prevail.

He is survived by a son, Leif Melchior of New York. His wife, designer Cleo Baldon, died last year.

Twitter @davidcolker

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