James Komack, the writer-producer of such successful TV series as “My Favorite Martian,” “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” “Welcome Back, Kotter” and “Chico and the Man,” died Dec. 24 of heart failure. The former actor and director was 67.
Born and raised in New York City, Komack worked as a musician and standup comic prior to landing acting roles onstage and in television in the 1950s. He originated the role of Rocky in the Broadway production of “Damn Yankees” and reprised the part for the 1958 film version.
Komack relocated to Hollywood and appeared as an actor in such films as “A Hole in the Head” and “The Bellboy.” He was also a regular — playing a wealthy dentist — in the “Hennessey” TV series starring Jackie Cooper. During the skein’s three seasons, he shifted to writing and directing, and with subsequent work behind the camera on such shows as “My Favorite Martian” and “Get Smart,” put his acting career on the back burner.
“The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” in 1969 ushered in a series of hit television creations that would establish him as a leading writer and producer of popular sitcoms. He was also credited with having a keen eye for new talent, particularly his “Kotter” sweathog John Travolta and “Chico” star Freddie Prinze. In the 1977-78 season he had four series on the air.
Komack shifted his emphasis to motion pictures in the late 1970s and struck a deal with Warner Bros. to write and direct for the bigscreen. The pact generated one series, but his theatrical projects failed to get greenlit. He was stymied in his attempts toward a film career, eventually making his sole foray into cinemas with “Porky’s Revenge” in 1985.
He continued to be a controversial figure in television, periodically going back as a “fixer” of troubled shows. In 1983, he was given the task of reviving the failing “9 to 5,” based on the hit film, and promptly fired exec producer Jane Fonda and its principal cast save for Rita Moreno.
In recent years, he had been working on a book about the television business.
He is survived by his wife, Cluny, daughter Maxx Komack Walske and granddaughter Tyler. The family has asked that donations be made to the UCLA Hospital heart unit.
Funeral and memorial services were pending at press time.
— Leonard Klady