William Witney, film and TV director credited with the idea of choreographing screen fights and remembered for helming numerous Roy Rogers films for Republic Pictures, died Sunday March 17 after a series of strokes at a nursing home in Pioneer, Calif. He was 86.
During his 40-year career, Witney worked on two dozen serials, including the popular “Lone Ranger,” “The Adventures of Captain Marvel,” “The Perils of Nyoka,” “The Adventures of Red Ryder,” “Jungle Girl,” three Dick Tracys and “Zorro’s Fighting Legion.”
He directed more than 60 feature films, many of them ’40s and ’50s B Westerns, though he also did sci-fier “Master of the World” in 1961. And he did hundreds of episodes of TV shows such as “Lassie,” “Wagon Train,” “Bonanza,” “Sky King,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Wild Wild West” and “High Chaparral.” His last movie was “Darktown Strutters” in 1975.
He also came up with the idea to choreograph screen fights after seeing Busbey Berkeley at work and noting the awkward and wasteful nature of single-take brawls.
Director Quentin Tarantino two years ago praised Witney’s filmmaking, noting: “The camera movements are elegant. You have to have made movies for 30 years to be able to move the camera so unpretentiously.”
Lawton, Okla., native broke into the movie business in 1933 as a messenger for Mascot Pictures, which shot its interiors on the Mack Sennett lot, later the home of Republic Pictures.
At age 21, his big break came while he was holding a script in hand on location for a Republic serial in Utah — and the director was fired. Witney was asked to take over for a day, but the replacement director never showed up. Witney completed the shoot and embarked on a 40-year career.
He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Beverly, and a son.