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October 23, 2009

Writer-Producer George Eckstein Dies at 81

Wrote final episode of classic series The Fugitive.

George Eckstein, a television writer and producer who co-wrote the historic final episode of the television series The Fugitive and produced the acclaimed television movie Duel, died September 12, 2009, at his Los Angeles home. He was 81, and succumbed lung cancer.

Eckstein began his television career in the early 1960s, and amassed dozens of credits over more than 25 years.

He was born in Los Angeles on May 3, 1928, and graduated from Beverly Hills High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in theater arts from Stanford University and a master’s in theater arts from UCLA. He also earned a law degree from USC before serving in the Army from 1953 to 1955.

After producing the 1959 Broadway production The Billy Barnes Revue, he worked as a casting director with Lynn Stalmaster and as a business manager before writing his first television script, an episode of The Untouchables, in the early 1960s. He added episodes of Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, Felony Squad and The Invaders.

Over the ensuing years he was a producer on The Name of the Game, executive producer of Banacek and Love, Sidney, a producer of the TV movies Amelia Earhart and Tail Gunner Joe. He was also an executive producer of the miniseries Masada and 79 Park Avenue.

Eckstein earned a place in television history for his work on The Fugitive, the popular ABC drama that ran from 1963 to 1967 and starred David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, a physician wrongly accused of murdering his wife. He wrote 10 episodes of the series, including a co-writing credit on the final installment, which aired on August 29, 1967, and drew 72% of the viewing audience. It was a record for a single episode of a series that was not broken until 1980, when the “Who Shot J.R.?” episode of Dallas drew 76% of the audience in its time period.

He also achieved note as producer of Duel, the 1971 made-for-television thriller that starred Dennis Weaver as a motorist terrorized by the unseen driver of a tanker truck. The director of the film was a 24-year-old Steven Spielberg, who cited Eckstein as an important early mentor.

Eckstein was a former board member of the Writers Guild of America. He also was a founding member and a former chairman of the Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors, for which he served on its steering committee for 20 years.

Eckstein is survived by his wife, three daughters and two granddaughters.

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