Obituary: William Allyn

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The Independent Culture
THE FILM producer William Allyn left no doubt about where he stood on the hotly debated subject of screen remakes. His two biggest successes, Rich and Famous and Cousins, were remakes of earlier hit films, and at the time of his death he was preparing to make a new version of Stage Door, the story of aspiring actresses staying at a theatrical boarding house, memorably filmed by Gregory LaCava in 1937 with Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers heading a distinguished cast.

Allyn first achieved notoriety as a producer with Peyton Place, a television show based on a work which had already achieved success as both a novel and a film. The series was an enormous hit in both America and the UK, where it ran for several years on the ITV network and received high ratings.

Allyn's early ambition had been to act. Born in New York, he was educated at the University of Texas, then attended Yale Drama School. He was still a teenager when he obtained his first role on Broadway, appearing with Marlon Brando in A Flag is Born (1946), a salute to Israel in the form of a pageant written by Ben Hecht with music by Kurt Weill. (It was the third of the four Broadway shows in which Brando acted prior to achieving stardom with A Streetcar Named Desire.) Allyn also acted on Broadway in Jean Anouilh's Ring Around the Moon, toured with Julie Harris in the original production of I am a Camera and appeared on television, but his enthusiasm for acting waned and he turned to directing, staging a University of Southern California production of Brecht on Brecht.

After writing, producing and directing a short film, Some Sort of Cage, which won first prize at the Festival of Cinema Nuovo, Allyn started a long career as a television producer, during which he produced around 350 episodes of Peyton Place. First broadcast in September 1964, and based on the novel by Grace Metalious, the continuing romantic drama set in a New England town was the first soap opera to become a major hit in prime evening time, airing three times a week for five years and breaking down barriers by featuring subjects hitherto taboo on television.

The veteran star Dorothy Malone received top billing as a bookshop owner, Constance Mackenzie, but the show is best remembered now for launching the careers of Mia Farrow, who played her daughter Alison for the first two seasons, and Ryan O'Neal, who played wealthy young Rodney Harrington. Dan Duryea, Barbara Rush, Gena Rowlands, George Macready, Leslie Nielsen and Lee Grant are others who had regular roles.

Among the television movies produced by Allyn was Van Heflin's final film, The Last Child (1971), an exciting drama set in a future (1994) where the US government permits couples to have only one child, and The Story of Princess Grace, the latter written by Allyn's wife, the writer- producer Sandra Smith.

Rich and Famous (1981) was Allyn's first important theatrical film, and its director George Cukor, who was 81 years old at the time ("the only octogenarian who is spending his time on a soundstage instead of writing his memoirs," reported Variety) recalled later that Allyn was "nervous as a sparrow" about his frail condition. When he nervously approached the director, who was dozing, on the first day of filming and cautiously whispered, "We're ready to shoot", Cukor looked up at him and asked playfully, "Did you think I was dead?"

The film was a critically derided, but popular, reworking of the John Van Druten play Old Acquaintance, with Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen in the roles of writer friends whose stormy lifelong friendship weathers professional and romantic rivalries. In the classic 1943 version, the roles had been played by Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins.

Cousins (1989), directed by Joel Schumacher, starred Ten Danson and Isabella Rossellini and successfully captured some of the charm of the French original, Cousin Cousine (1975), humorously telling of cousins by marriage who become romantically involved during family wedding festivities.

"I believe wholeheartedly that motion pictures will be enjoyed and venerated down through the years by generations of people," said Allyn in 1988. "For that reason alone, I think it is worthwhile to remake some of those classic films."

Tom Vallance

William Allyn, film and television producer: born New York 1927; married Sandra Smith; died Los Angeles 10 January 1999.

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