Don Widener, writer-producer and close associate of Jack Lemmon who made award-winning TV docs about environmental and nuclear dangers and who fought a nearly decade-long battle with PG&E over one of his programs, died of lung cancer April 22 at a hospice in Henderson, Nev.. He was 73.
He worked for KNBC-TV Channel 4 in L.A. during the 1960s and earned two local Emmys and a DuPont award for investigative broadcast journalism.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. initiated an eight-year court fight over his 1971 doc “Powers That Be.” The utility claimed Widener doctored a filmed interview with a power plant engineer. Widener countersued for libel. A jury awarded Widener $7.75 million in damages, but a judge voided that ruling, and eventually PG&E paid Widener $475,000 in 1979, but the doc was never shown after its one local airing.
Widener also had a close association with actor Lemmon, who narrated “Powers That Be” as well as his doc “Plutonium: Element of Risk,” also about nuclear problems; and two on environmental concerns, “Timetable for Disaster” and “The Slow Guillotine.”
Widener in turn wrote “Lemmon,” an authorized biography of the film star, in 1975. He also wrote the 1970 nonfiction book “Timetable for Disaster,” about global environmental problems, and 1974 seriocomic novel, “N.U.K.E.E.” He also turned that book into a screenplay and wrote another one “The Tenth Option,” for Marlon Brando. Other screenplays included “Night of the Possum,” “Scuttle” and “The Ballad of Bigfoot.”
Native of Holdenville, Okla., studied journalism at Compton College and served in the Air Force during the Korean War, after which he wrote for newspapers and aerospace companies before joining KNBC in 1964, where he remained until 1970, at which point he became an independent film producer and writer.
He was also a founding member of the advisory board of the California Museum of Science and Industry.
Widower is survived by two sons.