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James Douglass West, who worked as a child actor alongside Roddy McDowall and Natalie Wood and spent a decade as a writer on Lassie, has died. He was 93.
West died Sunday of natural causes at his home in Studio City, his son, Daniel West, told The Hollywood Reporter.
For the big screen, West penned the original screenplay for the musical Hey Boy! Hey Girl! (1959), starring married couple Keely Smith and Louis Prima, and wrote California (1963), a Western starring Jock Mahoney.
West served for about a year as a story editor for writer-producer Charles Marquis Warren on NBC’s The Virginian, then joined the writing staff of CBS’ Lassie in 1963.
He was on the job during the 1964-65 season when the collie’s family (played by June Lockhart, Hugh Reilly and Jon Provost) move to Australia and Lassie gets paired with a Forest Service Ranger portrayed by Robert Bray.
Campbell Soup, the show’s longtime sponsor, insisted that the storyline be changed, West told his son. He remained with the series through 1973, which included two final seasons in syndication.
West was born on July 17, 1929, in Redwood City, California. After appearing onstage in Paul Osborn’s On Borrowed Time, he was signed to a contract at MGM and came to Hollywood with his mother, Hazel, when he was 8.
The youngster appeared in such movies as The Way of All Flesh (1940), playing the violin as the son of Akim Tamiroff’s character; On the Sunny Side (1942), starring McDowall; and Happy Land (1943), which marked one of Wood’s first film appearances.
West enrolled at Los Angeles City College when he was just 14 and eventually went to work for screenwriter Jack DeWitt at Monogram Pictures. After a two-stint with the U.S. Army in Korea, he briefly returned to acting, playing a DJ in Our Very Own (1950), also starring Wood.
West wrote the script for Battles of Chief Pontiac (1952), starring Lex Barker and Lon Chaney Jr., though it was DeWitt who got the credit, he said.
In 1974, he co-wrote a popular two-part episode of NBC’s The Wonderful World of Disney titled “Two Against the Arctic,” about a pair of stranded kids fighting to survive.
West was done with TV writing in 1980 and launched his own medical transmission business, working into his 80s. His wife of 47 years, Geri, died in 2007.
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