Robert Stevenson, 81, who directed some of the most popular and appealingly innocent films ever made, including "Mary Poppins," "Old Yeller" and "The Love Bug," died April 30 at his home in Santa Barbara. The cause of death was not reported.
Although he was best known for his work for young audiences, Mr. Stevenson also made such adventures and dramas as the original "King Solomon's Mines" in 1937 and "Jane Eyre" in 1943.
In 1977, the entertainment publication Variety called him "the most commercially successful director in the history of films." He had 19 features on a list of all-time top-grossing movies that was published in 1978 by American Film Magazine.
Mr. Stevenson joined Walt Disney Productions in 1956 and remained there until retiring in 1978. Among the 19 films he made for the company was "Mary Poppins." It was nominated for 13 Academy Awards, second only to the record 14 nominations received by the classic "All About Eve." It won three awards, including the best actress Oscar for Julie Andrews. Mr. Stevenson lost in the best director category to George Cukor, who won for "My Fair Lady."
"When I'm directing a picture," Mr. Stevenson said in an interview, "what I have in mind is a happy audience, enjoying it in a movie house."
In all, he directed more than 40 features. His last, "The Shaggy D.A.," appeared in 1977. Other credits at Disney included "Kidnapped," "In Search of the Castaways," "Son of Flubber," "The Misadventures of Merlin Jones," "The Monkey's Uncle," "That Darn Cat," "The Gnome-Mobile," "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" and "Herbie Rides Again."
Born in Buxton, England, Mr. Stevenson saw his first motion picture at age 22 and decided to become a moviemaker. He studied in Germany under Erich Pommer.
His first movie as director was "Nine Days a Queen," which he made in 1934 from his own screenplay. The next year, producer David O. Selznick invited him to America.
Selznick kept lending him as a director to other projects, meaning that Mr. Stevenson never made a film for Selznick during the eight years he was under contract to him. During that period, Mr. Stevenson directed "Jane Eyre," "Back Street" and "To the Ends of the Earth."
During World War II, he worked with director Frank Capra to make films for the old U.S. War Department. After the war Howard Hughes bought the remainder of his contract with Selznick, and Mr. Stevenson directed three films for the studio head -- "Walk Softly Stranger," "My Forbidden Past," and "The Las Vegas Story."
In the 1950s he moved into television, directing nearly 100 episodes of such programs as "Gunsmoke," "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and "General Electric Theater."
Dean Jones, who starred in the Disney hit "The Love Bug" in 1969, said, "I think history will probably judge him as having been a very significant director if we just look in terms of the number of people who paid their bucks at the box office."
Beyond that, Jones said, Mr. Stevenson was "meticulous. He'd say, 'Give me one more just like that.' And I'd say, 'Why don't you print the one you got?' And he would always say with a sly smile, 'There was a technical problem.' "
Mr. Stevenson's survivors include his wife, Ursula, and two children.