Jack H. Harris, Producer of Cult Horror Classic 'The Blob,' Dies at 98

Jack Harris - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of The Wonderful Co.

The Philadelphia native and former vaudevillian also produced 'Eyes of Laura Mars' and the first film directed by John Landis.

Jack H. Harris, who produced the low-budget 1958 horror classic The Blob, died Tuesday. He was 98.

Harris died of natural causes at his home in Beverly Hills, his daughter, Lynda Resnick, announced.

Paramount's The Blob, directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr., starred Steve McQueen in his big-screen debut. In the film, an oozing, amoeba-like alien crashes on Earth in a meteorite, then expands as it sucks up people and menaces a small town in Pennsylvania.

The movie, made for just $110,000, caught on with audiences and grossed more than $3 million. It also spawned a 1972 sequel — directed by Larry Hagman — and a 1988 remake. Another reboot of The Blob is in development.

In a review of the 1988 version, The New York Times wrote about Harris' film: "The original's very amateurishness had a lot to do with making it memorable. The utter ingenuousness of its small-town Americana remains astounding, and the inadvertent humor generated by the Blob itself — surely the silliest of all sci-fi creations in an era when silliness was king — is another major plus.

"Filmed on a very low budget in Pennsylvania, the first Blob is entirely without Hollywood polish. It's a funny, revealing, often dull and never frightening souvenir of the era in which it was made."

After The Blob, Harris produced 4D Man (1959), starring Robert Lansing and Lee Meriwether, and Dinosaurus! (1960), two more films helmed by Yeaworth.

His more recent efforts included Equinox (1970), Schlock (1973) — written and directed by John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) in his feature debut — and Faye Dunaway's Eyes of Laura Mars (1978), helmed by Irvin Kershner of The Empire Strikes Back fame.

Born in Philadelphia on Nov. 28, 1918 — Thanksgiving Day that year — Harris began in show business as a vaudeville performer at age 7. After graduating from high school, he became an usher for a theater circuit in his hometown; within five years, he was managing 16 movie houses. He also won a national exhibitors' contest that included a trip to Hollywood and a set visit to Little Nellie Kelly (1940), starring Judy Garland.   

In 1942, Harris enlisted in the U.S. Army and served four and a half years, then spent another two years as an executive in Army intelligence.

Harris returned home and spent five years as a publicity rep, then opened his own distribution office with branches in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington. In 1954, he acquired the rights to Jamboree, a feature film from the Boy Scouts of America, and learned the art of distribution.

He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in February 2014.

In addition to his daughter Lynda — owner of The Wonderful Co., behind such brands as Teleflora, POM Wonderful and FIJI Water — survivors include his wife Judith, son Anthony, son-in-law Stewart, daughter-in-law Alizon, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for Monday at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles.