'Winds of War,' 'Dark Shadows' Creator Dies
Dan Curtis was also behind 'Night Stalker' movies
Curtis, who also created the daytime soap opera "Dark Shadows" in the 1960s that became a pop culture touchstone, died Monday of brain cancer at his Brentwood home, said his daughter, Cathy.
The landmark "War" miniseries were produced in the 1980s on a scale never before attempted on television. He served as executive producer, co-writer and director.
When "The Winds of War," a 16-hour, $40-million dramatization of the beginning of World War II, aired in February 1983, it was one of the most-watched miniseries of all time. ABC estimated that 140 million people tuned in to at least part of the series, which starred Robert Mitchum as Navy Capt. Victor "Pug" Henry.
"Wherever I turned, people were talking about it," Curtis told the Los Angeles Times soon after it aired. "No matter what I do the rest of my career, I can't imagine anything coming up to the high that was."
After spending more than four years on "The Winds of War," Curtis was adamantly opposed to adapting a second Herman Wouk novel that picked up the story of the war after Pearl Harbor. He relented when ABC promised a big budget and free rein to truthfully depict the horrors of the Holocaust.
When "War and Remembrance" began airing in 1988, the 30-hour, $104-million production was the biggest, longest and most expensive project in television history. It did not garner the ratings of its predecessor, but it was watched by about 40 million viewers. Though both miniseries received Emmys, the sequel brought Curtis his own, for outstanding miniseries.
Still, Curtis openly worried that he would be remembered for "Dark Shadows," his gothic horror daytime soap that ran from 1966-71 on ABC.
The idea for the show -- about an orphaned governess who goes to work for a wealthy family -- came to him in a dream that he shared with his wife when he woke up. She urged him to run with it.
At first, the campy series struggled in the ratings.
"My sister told him, 'make it scarier,' so he brought in the vampire Barnabas Collins, and the ratings took off," Cathy Curtis recalled.
In addition to the charismatic 175-year-old vampire, played by Jonathan Frid, other supernatural elements and characters were added that drew viewers.
A rabid fan base, fueled by cable reruns and video collections, still exists. By mining popular themes found in science fiction and horror literature, Curtis pushed the boundaries of daytime storytelling.
The show also introduced a number of future stars, including Kate Jackson, John Karlen and Roger Davis. Numerous up-and-comers such as Susan Sullivan, Marsha Mason and Harvey Keitel did guest shots.
Besides his "War" work, Curtis was proudest of two recent TV movies he directed. Last year, he made "Our Fathers," a dramatized account of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal for Showtime. For CBS, he directed "Saving Milly," based on journalist Morton Kondracke's book about his wife's battle with Parkinson's disease.
In addition to his daughter Cathy and his stepbrother Myron Ballen, Curtis is survived by daughter Tracy. A daughter, Linda, died in 1975.