Yale Udoff, 'Bad Timing' Screenwriter and 'Batman' TV Booster, Dies at 83

Courtesy of Karen Scourby D'Arc
Yale Udoff

He had a "habit of recording observations, keeping journals on his friends' behavior and attitudes," which he used in his work.

Yale Udoff, the screenwriter and playwright who wrote the script for Nicolas Roeg's Bad Timing/A Sensual Obsession, a 1980 psychological thriller starring Art Garfunkel, Theresa Russell and Harvey Keitel, has died. He was 83.

Udoff died July 19 of cardiac arrest as a result of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, his friend Karen Scourby D’Arc reported.

Udoff began his career at ABC in New York working with producers-executives Douglas Cramer, Edgar Scherick and Roone Arledge, and he is credited by some for coming up with the idea to transform the Batman comic books into a TV series in the 1960s.

"Udoff came in and said we ought to do Batman," Scherick told author Bob Garcia in the 2016 book Batman: A Celebration of the Classic TV Series. "We threw him out of the office, but he persisted and we decided to look into it."

Udoff wrote up a formal proposal for Scherick, who then took it to higher-ups at the network. "Suddenly, all these executives were flying back to New York from L.A. reading Batman comic books hidden in their Fortune magazines so that they could get an idea of what was happening," Udoff says in the book. "Eventually it got on the air."

Udoff also co-wrote the 1991 feature Eve of Destruction, a sci-fi thriller starring Gregory Hines, and penned episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (in 1967); Tales From the Crypt (in 1992); and a 1974 ABC movie of the week, Hitchhike!, starring Cloris Leachman. 

His work for the theater included A Gun Play, which centered on violence in everyday life and premiered in 1971 at the Hartford Stage Co. It then moved to the Cherry Lane Theatre for an off-Broadway production starring Tony Musante, and Clive Barnes of The New York Times wrote in his review that "Mr. Udoff appears to have a happily natural affinity for the significantly absurd."

Two earlier plays, The Little Gentleman and The Club, won Stanley Drama Awards in 1969.

In a 2005 Criterion Collection interview, Udoff recalled that he and Roeg engaged in deep conversations as they developed the Bad Timing screenplay: "We just talked about men, women, women and men together, battles, our own personal lives," he said. 

Writes author Richard Combs: "Udoff was well qualified to contribute personal material to these discussions on relations between the sexes since he had always been in the habit of recording observations, keeping journals on his friends' behavior and attitudes.

"This, he says, had earned him the reputation of being 'the Allen Dulles of the literary world.' And this turned out to be another qualification, since the activity of spying, especially as carried out here, by two professionals — a psychoanalyst and a policeman — is essential to the erotic imbroglio."

An only child born and raised in Brooklyn, Udoff graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in history. He attended Georgetown Law School for a year and served as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army before he decided to pursue work in the entertainment industry.

He quit ABC to write plays and then moved to Los Angeles to write movies.

"Yale's entrance into a room was always dramatic," said Nevin Schreiner, his friend of 40 years. "His presence at a party, or at a cafe, or for a drink, always made the event larger and more fun than it would have been without him. His care for us was a source of strength."

His wife of 32 years, Sally Shulamit Udoff, died in December 2010 at 72 after a 10-year battle with myeloma. They had no children.

A memorial is set for Sept. 23.