Nicolas Noxon, Emmy-Winning Documentarian, Dies at 79

Courtesy of Noxon Family
Nicolas Noxon

He wrote and produced the 1986 National Geographic film 'Secrets of the Titanic,' which inspired James Cameron. His daughter is TV writer-producer Marti Noxon.

Nicolas Noxon, an Emmy- and Peabody Award-winning documentary filmmaker for National Geographic specials and the father of Buffy the Vampire Slayer writer-producer Marti Noxon, has died. He was 79.

A pioneer in nonfiction television, Noxon died Tuesday surrounded by family at his home in Westlake Village, Calif., family spokesman Steven Reich said. The cause was pancreatic cancer.

In 1985, Noxon joined Dr. Robert Ballard’s expedition in the North Atlantic to explore the wreck of the Titanic. The resulting National Geographic film, Secrets of the Titanic (1986), included the first images of the doomed ocean liner and became the most popular project of his career. The 51-minute documentary also served as the inspiration for James Cameron’s 1997 feature.

During his long association with the National Geographic, Noxon and his team won 58 Emmys. He also wrote and produced projects in association with ABC, David Wolper, Columbia Pictures Television, Metromedia and MGM, among other companies.

In 2009, he was the recipient of the International Documentary Association's Pioneer Award.

   

Born in London, Noxon grew up in Canada and on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. His mother, Betty Lane, was an accomplished American painter, and his father, Gerald Noxon, was a writer who in 1948 founded the film school at Boston University.

He attended Putney High School in Vermont and after graduation studied filmmaking at Antioch College in Ohio and served as an editor and writer for an educational film company in Washington.

In 1960, after hearing that Wolper was planning to produce documentary television for national syndication, Noxon moved to Los Angeles and joined Wolper Productions.

He became a producer and writer for the original Biography series hosted by Mike Wallace. His installments included those on Winston Churchill, Amelia Earhart, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Clarence Darrow, John Barrymore, Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Noxon also wrote and produced segments for Hollywood and the Stars, Hollywood Goes to War and The Great Director series.

  

He gained his first opportunity to work with National Geographic when execs approached Wolper, who in turn brought in Noxon, who wrote and produced the first three National Geographic Specials when they premiered on CBS in the early 1960s.

After Wolper sold his company in 1966, Noxon and partner Irwin Rosten organized the documentary department at MGM, the first such organization at a major studio. There he produced and supervised numerous natural history documentaries that were released theatrically as well as films on such diverse subjects as archaeology, forest fires and early child development.

Noxon then returned to National Geographic as a writer-producer for a run of documentary specials including 1978's The Great Whales, for which he won an Emmy, and 1982's The Sharks, one of the highest-rated programs to air on PBS.

In 1982, he joined ABC’s Ripley's Believe It or Not as a writer and producer. Later, Noxon became executive producer of National Geographic Specials and head of the company's West Coast production facility.

He also authored a book about his mother, Betty Lane: A Painter’s Life, taken from her memoirs.

Marti Noxon is executive producing and writing for the Bravo series Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce and Lifetime's UnREAL and is an executive producer on CBS' Code Black.

Survivors also include his wife Nicky, children Christopher, Carlton, Traci and Megan and 11 grandchildren.

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