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‘Dark Shadows’ producer Dan Curtis dies

Diagnosed with a brain tumor four months ago, he died in his home
/ Source: The Associated Press

Dan Curtis, a producer and director who brought the epic miniseries “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance” to television and created the offbeat soap opera “Dark Shadows,” died Monday. He was 78.

Curtis, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor four months ago, died at his Brentwood area home, said Jim Pierson, a spokesman for Curtis’ family and for Dan Curtis Productions.

Norma Mae Klein, Curtis’ wife of 54 years, died March 7 of heart failure, Pierson said.

Curtis’ varied, five-decade TV career included the 1960s show “Challenge Golf” featuring Gary Player and Arnold Palmer and continued through 2005 with two made-for-TV movies, “Saving Milly” and “Our Fathers.”

CBS’ “Saving Milly” was based on political pundit Mort Kondracke’s memoir detailing his late wife’s struggle with Parkinson’s disease. Showtime’s “Our Fathers” examined the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal.

Curtis, born Daniel Mayer Cherkoss in Bridgeport, Conn., graduated from Syracuse University in 1950 and became a salesman for NBC and then MCA, where he sold syndicated programs.

After creating “Challenge Golf” for ABC in 1962, the golfing enthusiast formed his own company and in 1963 started “The CBS Match Play Golf Classic,” which ran for a decade and received an Emmy for achievement in sports.

Curtis’ pitch to ABC for a Gothic-flavored soap opera led to the creation of the 1966 series “Dark Shadows,” about odd, supernatural goings-on at a family estate in Maine. The popular heroic vampire character, Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid), was added in 1967.

The show, which ended production in 1971, became a cult favorite that counted young viewers among its fans. It spawned two feature films, “House of Dark Shadows” (1970) and “Night of Dark Shadows” (1971), both directed by Curtis, and a 1991 NBC prime-time series starring Ben Cross.

Curtis reached a career high as producer, director and co-writer of 1983’s sweeping “The Winds of War,” based on Herman Wouk’s novel. The 16-hour drama for ABC, starring Robert Mitchum and Ali McGraw, remains among TV’s high-rated miniseries.

It was successfully followed by the Emmy-winning, 29-hour sequel, “War and Remembrance,” which cost about $140 million to produce, Pierson said. It aired in 1988-89 and included Jane Seymour and John Gielgud among its stars.

A prolific TV movie producer, Curtis drew heavily from mystery and horror genres and often collaborated with Richard Matheson (who wrote for the classic “Twilight Zone” series). Among their projects were “The Night Stalker” in 1972 and a 1973 sequel, “The Night Strangler.”

Curtis did not participate in “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” a short-lived 1970s series starring Darren McGavin but was a consultant-producer on the 2005 ABC remake, “Night Stalker,” Pierson said.

Curtis is survived by his daughters, Cathy and Tracy.