TV producer George Eckstein dies

Penned popular 'Fugitive' series finale

George Eckstein, a TV producer and writer who co-wrote the two-part finale of ABC series "The Fugitive" that captivated the nation in 1967, died Sept. 12 of lung cancer at his home in Los Angeles. He was 81.

In a career that spanned nearly three decades, Eckstein also produced "Duel," the 1971 ABC telefilm directed by a 24-year-old Steven Spielberg. "Duel" starred Dennis Weaver as a motorist terrorized by a mysterious, unseen truck driver.

"George hired me to direct his ABC Movie of the Week, 'Duel,' and my career was never the same," Spielberg said. "I owe so much to him for having the courage to hire a kid to do a man's job. George had passion for telling highly original stories and was a wonderful mentor to me and so many others. I will miss his quiet dignity."

Eckstein was nominated for Emmys for his work as a producer on late '60s series "The Name of the Game," the 1981 miniseries "Masada" and the 1981 comedy "Love, Sidney," starring Tony Randall.

Eckstein's first script was for a 1961 episode of "The Untouchables." That led to a staff job with Quinn Martin Prods., and Eckstein worked on TV shows "The Invaders" and "The Fugitive," on which he also served as a producer.

Seventy-two percent of the U.S. viewing audience watched "The Fugitive" finale, which aired on Aug. 29, 1967. It was a record for a single episode of a series that was not broken until 1980, when the "Who Shot J.R.?" episode of "Dallas" drew 76% of the audience in its time period. Eckstein teamed with Michael Zagor to write the two-parter.

Eckstein joined Universal in the early 1970s as a writer and producer. In addition to "Duel," other projects included the George Peppard-starring TV series "Banacek" and the miniseries "Harold Robbins' 79 Park Avenue."

He joined Warner Bros. in the early 1980s and produced "Sidney Shorr: A Girl's Best Friend," "Victims," "The Letter," "The Bad Seed," "Six Against the Rock" and "Murder With Mirrors" (pairing Bette Davis and Helen Hayes). In 1990s, he continued writing, most notably many episodes of "The New Perry Mason."

Eckstein was a WGA board member and co-founder and former chairman of the Caucus for Producers, Writers and Directors, where he served on the steering committee for 20 years.

Survivors include his wife of 41 years, actress Selette Cole; three daughters, Nora Eckstein Sekowski, Hallie Todd Withrow and Jennifer Eckstein; and two granddaughters.