Phillip Rock, 76; Hollywood-Born Novelist, Screenwriter Wrote ‘Passing Bells’ Saga

From a Times Staff Writer

Phillip Rock, screenwriter and novelist best known for his panoramic “Passing Bells” trilogy about an aristocratic English family and the social changes wrought by World War I, has died. He was 76.

Rock died Saturday in Los Angeles of complications related to cancer, said his son, Kevin.

Born in Hollywood to a show business family -- the son of Vitagraph silent film star, producer and director Joe Rock -- the writer first worked in motion pictures. After growing up in England and serving in the Navy toward the end of World War II, he worked as a page at CBS and a bit actor and film editor while drafting screenplays.


Rock’s first success on screen was the 1953 Civil War drama “Escape From Fort Bravo, directed by John Sturges and starring William Holden. He wrote the screenplay for the 1961 science fiction film “Most Dangerous Man Alive” before deciding to concentrate on novels.

Utilizing his Navy background, Rock published his first novel, “The Extraordinary Seaman,” in 1967, and saw it become an MGM movie directed by John Frankenheimer and starring David Niven in 1969. The result -- described by film historian Leonard Maltin as a “bomb” -- convinced Rock, his son said, “to never have another one of his books made into a movie.”

A subsequent novel, “Flickers” in 1977, was loosely based on the Hollywood life of Rock’s colorful father. He returned to the film genre tangentially by spinning post-production novels from the screenplays for “The Cheyenne Social Club,” “Dirty Harry” and “High Plains Drifter.”

Rock published the first of his memorable trilogy, “The Passing Bells,” in 1979 and followed with two more books in the saga, “Circles of Time,” and in 1985, “A Future Arrived.”

A Washington Post reviewer praised the first as “written throughout with economy and wit,” and The Times called the last “a wonderfully old-fashioned book ... full of characters who value honor, nobility, courage and commitment.”

In addition to his son, Rock is survived by two grandchildren.