Henry Denker, a writer who worked in many mediums — he was a novelist who also wrote for Broadway, radio, TV and film — died of lung cancer on May 15 in Manhattan. He was 99.
Denker had been a lawyer, and legal themes were among the many running through his work.
Seven Denker plays had Broadway runs, including two that he adapted for the bigscreen. “Time Limit,” co-penned with Ralph Berkey, concerned a U.S. Army officer who stands trial for possibly treasonous activity while he was imprisoned in North Korea; the 1957 film version was directed by actor Karl Malden and starred Richard Widmark and Richard Basehart. “A Case of Libel” (1963) adapted famed trial lawyer Louis Nizer’s memoir about a notorious case, and Van Heflin starred both on the Rialto and in the 1968 telepic version, while Edward Asner starred in a 1983 TV adaptation. Denker also penned legal dramas for television: “Material Witness,” starring Milton Berle, for NBC’s “Kraft Theatre” and “Two Counts of Murder” for CBS’ “Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse,” both in the late 1950s. He scripted the 1963 courtroom drama “Twilight of Honor,” starring Richard Chamberlain, for the bigscreen; later he wrote the 1975 ABC telepic “Judgment: The Court Martial of Lieutenant William Calley,” and he turned his 1982 courtroom-drama novel “Outrage!” into a play and TV movie.
Denker’s play “A Far Country,” about Sigmund Freud and his most famous patient, drew critical acclaim in 1961, but the playwright sparred over the accuracy of his work with a Freud nephew in the pages of Variety. Steven Hill and Kim Stanley starred on Broadway in the play, which was also adapted for television in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Denker, born in Manhattan to a furrier father who lost his fortune, planned to be a rabbi, and though he abandoned this path, he explored religious themes in his writing. Working in radio in the 1940s, he penned the long-running series “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” based on Bible stories. George Stevens’ 1965 film of the same name, with Max von Sydow portraying Jesus, drew on Denker’s work. He was also the writer and producer of 1958 film “The Power of the Resurrection,” starring Richard Kiley, and penned the Bible-based “Hallmark Hall of Fame” dramas “Give Us Barabbas!” in 1961 and “Neither Are We Enemies” in 1970.
Denker also penned the screenplay for 1963 war drama “The Hook,” starring Kirk Douglas, and TV movies including “The Choice,” “The Man Who Wanted to Live Forever” (which he also exec produced), “A Time for Miracles” and “Love Leads the Way: A True Story.”
Denker wrote 30-plus novels, including the Hollywood-set 1971 satire “The Director.”
He earned a Bachelor’s and law degree from NYU. Denker’s wife died in 2005.