Alan Landsburg, Emmy-winning producer, dies at 81

August 23

Alan Landsburg, an Emmy-winning producer whose credits included “Bill,” a TV drama featuring Mickey Rooney as a mentally disabled man struggling to adapt to life outside an institution, and “In Search Of . . . ,” a syndicated documentary series that explored phenomena such as the Bermuda Triangle and was hosted by Leonard Nimoy, died Aug. 14 at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 81.

A nephew, Dylan Otto, confirmed the death but did not cite a cause.

Mr. Landsburg, who produced 50 television movies over four decades, got his start in Hollywood working for documentary film producer David Wolper. They collaborated on the popular “Biography” series that profiled world-renowned figures and the National Geographic special “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau,” which brought the little-known French oceanographer to a mass audience.

At Wolper’s production company, Mr. Landsburg also produced, directed and wrote “A Thousand Days: A Tribute to John Fitzgerald Kennedy,” which aired the year after the president’s 1963 assassination.

Like Wolper, Mr. Landsburg often used prominent social issues as inspiration for his movies and documentaries, featuring real-life stories to highlight broader social ills.


Alan Landsburg was a longtime Hollywood producer of TV movies and documentaries. (Myung J. Chun /Los Angeles Times)

They included “The Triangle Factory Fire Scandal” (1979), starring David Dukes and Tovah Feldshuh in a story about a deadly industrial tragedy in 1911 New York, and “The Ryan White Story” (1989), starring Lukas Haas as the Indiana teenager who, as a hemophiliac, was infected with HIV through a blood transfusion, developed AIDS and experienced social stigmatization in the early years of the HIV epidemic.

Mr. Landsburg was an executive producer of the TV movie “Adam” (1983), about the 1981 abduction and murder of a Florida boy, Adam Walsh, whose father, John, later became a prominent advocate for victims rights and host of the TV show “America’s Most Wanted.” The Landsburg program publicized photos of 54 missing children, three of whom were found in the immediate aftermath of the movie when viewers contacted police with information.

In the New York Times, television critic John J. O’Connor wrote that “Adam,” which also details the strains on Walsh’s marriage as the couple battles overwhelmed and unhelpful law-enforcement authorities, “scores its points quite forcefully.” Daniel J. Travanti and JoBeth Williams played John and his wife, Revé.

The Landsburgs subsequently helped create Find the Children, a nonprofit organization that works to find missing and abducted children. Find the Children, which was initially operated from Mr. Landsburg’s production company, was one of several groups that lobbied Congress to pass legislation that created the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Mr. Landsburg executive produced “In Search Of . . . ,” which explored the gap between reality and myth. Mr. Landsburg said he was fascinated by the concept of paranormal phenomena and ancient extraterrestrials.

“If we made all the progress that we know we have made in the recorded 35,000 years of our history,” he once told the Los Angeles Times, “what did we do and what happened to us in the unrecorded 4 billion years before that?”

Alan William Landsburg was born May 10, 1933, in White Plains, N.Y. After graduating in 1953 from New York University, where he was involved in on-campus productions and events and studied radio and film, he served in the Army in Germany and wrote and directed shows to entertain troops.

Returning to New York after his discharge, he worked for an NBC radio affiliate before making the leap to television under Wolper. He started his own production company in 1970 and earned an Oscar nomination for best documentary feature with “Alaska Wilderness Lake” (1971).

Mr. Landsburg shared a prime-time Emmy for outstanding dramatic program as an executive producer of “A Storm in Summer” (1970), based on a Rod Serling story and starring Peter Ustinov as a Jewish deli owner in Upstate New York who forms an unexpected bond with a young black man (N’gai Dixon) from Harlem.

His other credits include the 1983 feature films “Porky’s II: The Next Day,” part of the series about naughty high school students, and “Jaws 3-D,” about the bloodthirsty shark.

Mr. Landsburg’s first marriage, to Sally Breit, ended in divorce. His second wife, Linda Otto, a producer on many of his TV projects, died in 2004. Survivors include three children from his first marriage; a sister; and seven grandchildren.

In addition to making television movies, Mr. Landsburg developed a strong interest in horse racing and was chairman of the California Horse Racing Board and founding director of Thoroughbred Owners of California.

He spoke of horses as another form of visual pleasure but one that could never be captured fully on the small or big screens — or on the Internet. “I have to see the whole panorama of the race,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I want to see the horses walk by on parade, warm up and get into the gate. I want to see if they are showing pride or fear, how their legs look, their ankles.

“You can’t really see all that on a computer screen.”

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