Fred Freiberger, 88; Film Producer, Writer for Early Dramatic TV Series

Times Staff Writer

Fred Freiberger, a veteran film and television writer who also produced the motion picture cult classic “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms,” has died. He was 88.

Freiberger died Sunday at his Bel-Air home, said his son, Ben. No cause of death was given.

The writer was among those featured in the 1998 documentary “Funny Old Guys,” made by David Zeiger, who filmed a group of veteran scriptwriters holding their weekly lunch discussion at the Mulholland Tennis Club.

The movie was shown last year as part of the documentary film festival Doctober Fest in Santa Monica.

Born in New York City, Freiberger studied at the Pace Institute of Films. Later, he earned a Purple Heart during World War II when he was shot down over Germany and spent 22 months as a prisoner of war.


At war’s end, Freiberger came to Hollywood and began working as a movie publicist. But when a strike left him with few new films to promote, he decided to try writing.

After working on motion picture screenplays for a while, he became one of the key writers for early television on such dramatic anthology series as “Zane Grey” and “Fireside Theatre” and western series including “Have Gun, Will Travel,” “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” “Bonanza,” “Rawhide” and Barbara Stanwyck’s “Big Valley.”

Without abandoning his typewriter, Freiberger also tried producing. Among his early efforts was the 1953 science fiction film “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.”

It told the tale of a prehistoric rhedosaurus harassing civilization after the frozen animal is thawed by a nuclear bomb blast. Based on a Ray Bradbury story, and enhanced by Ray Harryhausen’s special effects, the movie remains a cult favorite.

Other films produced by Freiberger include “The Weapon” in 1956 and 1958’s “Crash Landing,” starring Gary Merrill and Nancy Davis, the future First Lady Nancy Reagan.

In television, Freiberger began producing in 1959 for the medical series “Ben Casey,” for which he had also written scripts.

Freiberger produced as well as wrote numerous episodes of “The Wild, Wild West,” which ran from 1965 to 1970, and produced the 1968-69 season of the hit series “Star Trek” and some episodes of “The Six Million Dollar Man.”

Active into the 1980s, Freiberger wrote for “Starsky and Hutch” in the mid-1970s and “The Dukes of Hazzard” in 1979, and was executive story editor on such series as “Cagney and Lacey,” which began in 1982.

Freiberger is survived by his wife of nearly 50 years, Shirley; two children; and two grandchildren.

The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the New Israel Fund, P.O. Box 91588, Washington, DC 20090.