Robert Halmi Sr., the Hungarian-born producer who battled the Nazi and Soviet occupations in his youth before becoming a top magazine photographer and telepic mogul, died Wednesday of a brain aneurysm at his home in New York City. He was 90.
With his son, Robert Halmi Jr., Halmi produced more than 200 TV productions, including hit 1990s miniseries including “Gulliver’s Travels,” “The Odyssey,” “Arabian Nights” and “Dinotopia.”
The dozens of telepics and miniseries produced by the Halmis, many in the fantasy genre, won more than 100 Emmys. Halmi Sr. shared the Emmy for outstanding miniseries for NBC’s “Gulliver’s Travels” in 1996.
The Halmis were riding high during the 1990s, a period in which virtually all the networks programmed spectacular, big-budget miniseries, which drew spectacular ratings.
Halmi Sr. picked up his first Emmy nomination, for outstanding children’s program, in 1985 for ABC’s “The Night They Saved Christmas.” He was also nominated for “Hallmark Hall of Fame” entry “Pack of Lies” in 1987; for the CBS adaptation of the musical “Gypsy” in 1994; in 1997 both for NBC’s “The Odyssey” and for the CBS adaptation of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”; for USA’s “Moby Dick” and for NBC’s “Merlin” in 1998; for ABC’s “Arabian Nights” in 2000; for ABC’s “Dinotopia” in 2002; for Showtime remake “The Lion in Winter” in 2004; and, finally, in 2008 for “Wizard of Oz” reimagining “Tin Man” on the Sci Fi Channel.
Francis Ford Coppola was also an exec producer on some of the Halmi TV efforts, including “The Odyssey” and “Moby Dick.”
Halmi was recognized with a Peabody Award for his body of work in 1998.
In 2008 TV Week quoted David Howe, then president of the Sci Fi Channel, about the irrepressible Halmi, then 84. “He never switches off. He is on 24/7. I don’t think he sleeps,” Howe said. “He lives for reading books and figuring out what his next project is, and he’s got the rights to books and comic books that I’ve never heard of. He really is a guru on some of this stuff, and he’s very passionate about the genre and very committed to telling great stories through this genre.”
Halmi began producing outdoor documentary television in the early ’60s with credits including “American Sportsman” and the weekly “Outdoors With Liberty Mutual” and tried his hand at filmmaking as a producer on 1974’s “Visit to a Chief’s Son” — adapted from a novel he penned — and the animated “Hugo the Hippo” (1975). Halmi continued to work in film sporadically the rest of his life but made his mark in television after founding Robert Halmi Inc. in 1979 with his son.
RHI Entertainment produced the Halmis’ longform fare throughout the ’80s and ’90s. Hallmark Cards acquired the company in 1994 and renamed it Hallmark Entertainment, where Halmi brought a string of classic stories to the smallscreen in the form of miniseries such as “Gulliver’s Travels,” “Moby Dick,” “Noah’s Ark,” “Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment” and “The Ten Commandments.” Halmi was also behind two different smallscreen takes on “Alice in Wonderland.”
Not all of Halmi’s efforts were grand-scale affairs. He also exec produced adaptations of the play “Harvey” and “The Yearling” for television, for example.
Halmi and his son reacquired the company in 2006 but filed for prepackaged chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 2010. Halmi left the company in 2012 to launch another production shingle, the Halmi Co.
Recent efforts have included 2010’s “Riverworld” and 2011’s “Neverland,” a reimagining of “Peter Pan,” both for Syfy, and 2012’s “Treasure Island” remake. In 2014 Syfy ordered the Greek mythology drama “Olympus,” produced by Halmi.
Born in Budapest, Halmi was twice captured and sentenced to death — once by the Nazis while fighting with the Hungarian Resistance and again by the Russians while spying for the United States’ Office of Strategic Services against the Communists.
Halmi studied economics at Budapest U., graduating in 1946. He followed his father into photography before immigrating to the U.S. in 1952 and landing a job at Life magazine, where he worked as a writer and photographer until 1962.