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TV director, producer Arnold Laven dies at 87

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Arnold Laven, a director and producer of movies and TV shows who represented one-third of the prolific Levy-Gardner-Laven production team, died Sept. 13 at Tarzana Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 87.

During World War II, Laven -- who got his start as an assistant to Jack Warner at Warner Bros. -- served in the First Motion Picture Unit stationed at Fort (Hal) Roach (Studios) in Culver City making training films alongside the likes of Ronald Reagan, Clark Gable and William Holden.

There, he met Jules V. Levy and Arthur Gardner. After the war and stints as script supervisors and assistant directors, the three formed Levy-Gardner-Laven Prods. in 1951. It would become one of the longest-running partnerships in Hollywood history.

Their first feature, the Laven-directed "Without Warning" (1952), about a murderous gardener in Los Angeles, was made on a shoestring for $70,000 and launched the trio's journey. During the next three decades, Levy-Gardner-Laven would produce four television series and more than 20 features.

Laven's TV directing credits (both for and outside his production company) included episodes of such popular shows as "The Big Valley," "The Rifleman," "Mannix," "Ironside," "The Six Million Dollar Man," "The Rockford Files," "Fantasy Island," "Eight Is Enough," "ChiPs," "Hill Street Blues" and "The A-Team."

He directed such films as "Down Three Dark Streets" (1954), starring Edward G. Robinson; "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" (1957), toplined by Walter Matthau; "The Rack" (1956), starring Paul Newman; "Anna Lucasta" (1959), with Sammy Davis Jr. and Eartha Kitt; "Geronimo" (1962), starring Chuck Connors; and "Sam Whiskey" (1969) starring Burt Reynolds.

In 1957, Laven and his partners were developing a Western for Dick Powell's "Zane Grey Theater" and collaborating with a new screenwriter, Sam Peckinpah. The series, about a settler particularly adept at shooting a rifle, needed something to separate it from the many Westerns then on the air and in development.

Laven looked to his own relationship with his son Larry and told Peckinpah to foster a father-son relationship. The show, "The Rifleman," starring Chuck Connors and Johnny Crawford, became one of the most successful of the 1960s.

Levy-Gardner-Laven also produced TV shows "The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor" and "The Big Valley," with Barbara Stanwyck.

Most recently, Laven helped with the launch of "The Rifleman" on Hulu to celebrate the show's 50th anniversary.

Levy died in 2003. Gardner, 99, still comes to work every day at Levy-Gardner-Laven offices in Beverly Hills, according to his son, Steven Gardner.

In addition to his son Larry, Laven's survivors include Wally, his wife of more than 58 years; daughter Barbara; and sister Rennie Skepner.

A memorial is to be scheduled. Donations in his name may be made to the Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation in New York or the Motion Picture & Television Fund in Woodland Hills.