Don Ettlinger, a screenwriter whose credits ranged from features such as “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” to the popular TV soap opera “Love of Life,” died Aug. 7 after being hospitalized in Nyack, N.Y., from complications following chemotherapy. He was 86.
Ettlinger, a native of Detroit, attended Stanford U. and the U. of Chicago. Hired by 20th Century Fox on the strength of a play that he wrote, he became one of the youngest contract writers on the Fox lot at $50 a week.
A colleague urged him to submit an original script to Darryl Zanuck, who liked it and gave him his first film assignment, “The Lady Escapes” (1937).
Ettlinger subsequently penned (with Karl Tunberg) the script to the 1938 Shirley Temple starrer “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” and “My Lucky Star” (1938). He collaborated with Tunberg for three pics in 1940 — “Shipyard Sally,” “I Was an Adventuress” and another Shirley Temple pic, “Young People.”
He served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II and, while stationed in Astoria, Queens, made Army training and propaganda films. His unit companions included fellow writers John Cheever, Irwin Shaw and Leonard Spigelgass, all of whom remained lifelong friends. “I went to war on a subway,” he later noted.
In 1945, Ettlinger and Spigelgass — who later wrote “I Was a Male War Bride” (1949) and “Gypsy” (1962) — went to the Japanese-held island of Kiska in the Aleutians to film an invasion force of American troops. They recorded many of the soldiers dying by “friendly” fire, and their film was later confiscated by an embarrassed Army brass in Washington.
Ettlinger moved to television during the early 1950s and pitched a show called “Our Miss Booth,” about a schoolteacher, to CBS, who turned him down. Shortly thereafter, the network produced “Our Miss Brooks,” starring Eve Arden, which became a huge hit. Ettlinger sued, and the network settled for $50,000.
He later became the head writer for the CBS soap “Love of Life,” which was a ratings winner during his helm.
Additional TV work included “Studio One,” “Kraft Television Theatre” and “The Secret Storm.”
He is survived by his wife, Katrina Ettlinger, two daughters, a son and four grandchildren.