Born in 1921 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Halpern was the fourth and youngest child of Jewish immigrants from Tarnopol, central Europe. As a small child, he enjoyed exploring the city on his own, collecting film scraps from projectionists to make slide shows for his siblings. He also loved going g to all of the theaters in his neighborhood with his parents.
This growing interest in cinema led Halpern to New York University’s nascent film school, where he left shortly after to enlist in the Army Air Corps. He was a sergeant in the Photographic Unit that trained soldiers how to shoot and develop film for aerial reconnaissance. He was also a recipient of a sharpshooter medal during his time as a publications editor. In 1945, Halpern graduated from New York University Film School as part of their first class.
From 1946-1949, Halpern launched a career in film as a journalist and Associate Editor for the daily Independent Film Journal. He was then a publicist in the New York office of Paramount from 1949-1952. He created campaigns for feature films such as “The Greatest Show On Earth,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “A Place In The Sun” and “Samson And Delilah.”
Halpern met and married Lois, the love of his life, Lois Jule Gordon, in 1950. They traveled throughout post-war Europe together before starting a family. In 1952, he began to work for United Artists Television in New York as the Director of Publicity and Advertising. Halpern, his wife and their two young children relocated to Paris in 1955, where United Artists hired him as Director of Motion Picture Publicity and Advertising for Europe and the Middle East. Halpern and his wife frequently hosted visiting film people. As a representative for United Artists at film festivals, Halpern developed advertising campaigns with major stars, including Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich.
Halpern and his family returned to New York City in the fall of 1957, where he worked for United Artists, Jim Mahoney & Associates, Filmways and ultimately MCA Universal. He and Lois raised their four children on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Halpern was known in his neighborhood as an iconoclast who rode his extra-large English postman’s bicycle in all four seasons to his office in midtown.
Though he remained a passionate New Yorker at heart, he relocated to California with his family in 1973 after Universal promoted him to Vice President of Publicity and Advertising for Television in Los Angeles. During his time as Vice President of Special Projects at Universal, Halpern was very involved with television series such as “Columbo,” “Miami Vice,” “Murder She Wrote,” “The Rockford Files,” “Magnum P.I.,” “Iron Sides,” “Kojak” and the movie-of-the-week “Duel,” among many others. He also served as a governor of the Television Academy and a founding board member of I.C.A.N. Associates. He retired in 1988.
Some of Halpern’s most noteworthy achievements emerged when he became inspired to take a special interest in the films and projects that touched his ethical core and had unique value beyond the general viewing public. For instance, he arranged for the film “Farewell To Manzanar” to be shown to the U.S. Congress in 1976, which brought attention to the abuses that happened inside American Japanese internment camps. 12 years later, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 that granted reparations to Japanese Americans that were interned by the U.S. government during World War II. Halpern was also an instrumental player in helping the Blacklist Project put up a monument dedicated to Black-listed filmmakers and writers on the campus of the University of Southern California.
Ben Halpern had two everlasting passions in life: love of family and love of film and theater. Renowned for his sense of humor and skills as a storyteller, Halpern had a tremendous memory of all things related to film history and production. Until the end of his life, he would often share stories and anecdotes from his time working in the industry.
He is survived by his wife of 71 years, Lois Jule Halpern, his children Amy Halpern-Lebrun (David Lebrun), Nancy Halpern Ibrahim (Mahmood Ibrahim), Andrew James Halpern (Rebecca Lobl) and Nora Halpern Brougher (Kerry Brougher), by six loving grandchildren (Arwa Sara and Adnan Mandela Ibrahim; Emily Clara and Julia Gordon Brougher; and Cooper Jay and Grace Annabelle Halpern; and by his nephew Alfred Tauber of New York City.
Due to the pandemic, there will be a private burial. The family will be toasting him and celebrating his memory on February 5, which would have been his 100th birthday. He was widely admired and respected for his intelligence, wit, honesty, compassion and abiding commitment to social justice. His beautiful presence will be missed.