Arnold Laven dies at 87; director and producer

Arnold Laven was a partner in a firm that made horror films and western movies and TV shows.

Arnold Laven, a film and television director and producer who was a partner in the production company that produced the TV series “The Rifleman” and “The Big Valley,” has died. He was 87.

Laven died of complications of pneumonia Sept. 13 at Tarzana Medical Center, said Steven H. Gardner, a family friend.

Teamed with Jules V. Levy and Arthur Gardner, Laven and his partners launched what later became known as Levy-Gardner-Laven Productions with “Without Warning!,” a low-budget 1952 crime thriller directed by Laven.

Over the next 30 years, their company produced more than 20 movies, including “Clambake,” “The Scalphunters,” “The Hunting Party,” “Brannigan,” “McQ,” “Sam Whiskey,” “White Lightning,” “Gator” and “Kansas City Bomber.”

The company also produced the 1950s low-budget horror movies “The Vampire,” “The Return of Dracula” and “The Monster That Challenged the World.”

For television in the ‘50s and ‘60s, it produced four series: “Law of the Plainsman,” “The Rifleman,” “The Detectives, Starring Robert Taylor” and “The Big Valley”

While Laven and his partners were developing “The Rifleman,” Laven was inspired by his own relationship with his son Larry and told writer Sam Peckinpah to develop a father-son relationship.

The Emmy-nominated western series, which ran on ABC from 1958 to 1963, starred Chuck Connors as Winchester-wielding New Mexico homesteader Lucas McCain and Johnny Crawford as his motherless son, Mark.

After Connors died in 1992 at age 71, Laven told People magazine: “Chuck’s relationship with Johnny was just what we wanted, tough and straightforward, with love, but also a sense of making a boy be prepared to grow.”

Laven directed episodes of “The Rifleman” and “The Big Valley,” as well as episodes of “Mannix,” “Ironside,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “The Rockford Files,” “Fantasy Island,” “Eight Is Enough,” “CHiPs,” “Hill Street Blues,” “The A-Team” and others.

Among his feature film credits as a director are “Down Three Dark Streets,” “The Rack,” “The Monster That Challenged the World,” “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” “Anna Lucasta,” “Geronimo,” “The Glory Guys” and “Sam Whiskey.”

“The fact that he was a partner of mine, I could go on and on,” Arthur Gardner said in an interview. “Besides being a very talented guy, he was a very warm, friendly, kindly guy and made friends with everybody.”

Born Feb. 23, 1922, in Chicago, Laven moved to Los Angeles with his family in the late ‘30s and soon launched his Hollywood career as a mail room messenger at Warner Bros.

During World War II, he worked on training films as a member of the Army Air Forces’ First Motion Picture Unit at the Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, where his future production partners, Levy and Gardner, were fellow members.

After the war, Laven worked as a script supervisor before teaming up with Levy and Gardner.

Laven is survived by his wife of 58 years, Wally; his daughter, Barbara Laven; his son, Larry; and his sister, Rennie Skepner.

Funeral services will be private; a memorial service is pending.

Donations in Laven’s memory may be made to the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation or the Motion Picture & Television Fund.