Screen Writer Burt Kennedy Dies

Friday, February 16th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Burt Kennedy, a screenwriter and director of films including the Western epic ``The War Wagon,'' has died. He was 78.

Kennedy died Thursday of cancer at his suburban Sherman Oaks home, said the family's spokesman, film critic Leonard Maltin.

During his long career in radio, film and television, Kennedy earned a reputation as an accomplished director who injected humor into the traditionally straight-laced Western film.

In the 1960s, when the movie Western was declining in public favor, he enlivened the genre with gag-filled films such as ``Support Your Local Sheriff'' and ``Support Your Local Gunfighter,'' both starring James Garner in his ``Maverick'' mode.

He also directed ``Dirty Dingus McGee,'' a spoof with Frank Sinatra as a two-bit gunfighter. Kennedy wrote the script with Joseph Heller of ``Catch-22'' fame.

He was born in Muskegon, Mich., on Sept. 3, 1922, the son of vaudevillians who toured as The Dancing Kennedys. He joined the act when he was 4 years old.

After high school he joined the Army, fighting in the Pacific theater in World War II, and was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

Settling in Hollywood, he became a successful radio writer. John Wayne recognized his talent for humor and hired him to write screenplays.

After his directorial debut flopped, Kennedy directed episodes of ``The Lawman,'' ``The Virginian'' and other TV series before returning to film.

His most ambitious directorial project was ``The War Wagon'' in 1967, starring Wayne and Kirk Douglas.