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Robert M. Fresco, Documentarian and Horror Pic Writer, Dies at 83

Robert M. Fresco, a writer of horror films who went on to win a 1969 Oscar for his documentary short “Czechoslovakia 1968,” died in Manhattan of cancer on Feb. 14. He was 83.

The docu short, produced, written and directed by Fresco and Denis Sanders, traced Czech history from WWI to the Prague Spring uprising of 1968. Much of the archival footage in the film had been smuggled out of then-Communist Czechoslovakia.

For public television in 1970, Fresco and Sanders produced the six-hour documentary “Trial: The City and County of Denver vs. Lauren R. Watson,” about the criminal case against a Black Panther Party member. At the time, only a few states including Colorado allowed cameras in the courtroom, and the docu is considered, as the New York Times described it, “the first complete account of a trial to be shown on American television.”

Robert Maurice Fresco was born in Burbank, Calif., to a family of Sephardic Jews who had emigrated from Turkey, and he served in the Army.

He began his show business career writing B movies such as “Tarantula” (1955), “The Monolith Monsters” (1957) and “The Alligator People” (1959). He also penned episodes of series including “Wagon Train,” “Bonanza” and “Science Fiction Theater.”

Also for television, he produced a 1972 adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’s “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” starring Ruby Dee and Blythe Danner.

Fresco taught courses in film, television and communications at Columbia University and Hofstra University, among other places.

He is survived by his wife, Judith Dawidoff Fresco; two sons; and three grandchildren.

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