Roy Huggins

Active - 1947 - 1998  |   Born - Jul 18, 1914   |   Died - Apr 3, 2002   |   Genres - Western, Thriller, Drama, Crime, Mystery

Share on

Biography by Bruce Eder

Roy Huggins was one of the most influential writer-producers in television, from the 1950's through the 1980's, but his career in films (and fiction) actually dates from a decade earlier. Born in Littell, Washington in 1914, he later lived in Portland, Oregon, and attended the University of California in Los Angeles. In the 1930's, Huggins was a member of the Communist Party, but he resigned his membership following the signing of the 1939 Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact -- many years later, he testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and did name fellow members, but confined his accusations to people who had already been named in prior testimony by other ex-party members. During the early 1940's, Huggins was a employed by the U.S. Civil Service Commission, and later worked as an industrial engineer. Already, however, he had begun writing fiction, and in 1946 he published the detective novel The Double Take, which introduced the character of private investigator Stuart Bailey. The film rights to the book were later sold to Columbia Pictures, and Huggins -- who owned the copyright in the book -- was able to negotiate a deal allowing him to author the screenplay. The resulting movie, directed by S. Sylvan Simon, starred Franchot Tone (playing detective Stuart Bailey), Janet Blair, and Janis Carter. For the next seven years, he worked as a screenwriter, mostly on low- to medium-budget genre films at Columbia and RKO, and among the films he worked on were the Red Skelton vehicles The Fuller Brush Man and The Good Humor Man, and the western Gun Fury, starring Rock Hudson and Donna Reed (and shot in 3-D). Perhaps his most important credit from this period was the Randolph Scott western Hangman's Knot -- which Huggins also directed, his only credit in that capacity on a feature film; the movie, about a Confederate gold raid that goes wrong in just about every way possible, plays more like a crime film than a western or a Civil War story, with some strong elements of film noir woven into its plot and characters.

He remained with Columbia until 1955, when Huggins was lured to the small-screen -- that year, he was hired by Warner Bros.' newly organized television division, and became part of the production team behind Warner Bros. Presents, the vehicle for TV series adaptations of such classic movies as Kings Row. Huggins first tried to exert his creative energies with the series Cheyenne, starring Clint Walker, which he attempted to do as a totally unconventional adventure/western series. He subsequently created the series Maverick, which became one of the most offbeat and popular western series of the 1950s. And it was out a film adaptation of his story -- built around his detective creation, Stuart Bailey -- that the movie Girl On The Run was built, which became the basis for the series 77 Sunset Strip, which starred Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as Stuart Bailey. Although the feature-length production was, in effect, the pilot for the series, Jack L. Warner, the head of the studio, pulled a legal maneuver with the pilot film that ended up depriving Huggins of much of the revenue to which he should have been entitled from the series, which ran for five seasons. Huggins left Warner Brothers to become the head of 20th Century-Fox's television division in 1960. Among the series' whose creation or production he participated in directly were Bus Stop, based on William Inge's play, and Adventures In Paradise.

In 1963, Huggins, in conjunction with producer Quinn Martin and United Artists Television, delivered what was perhaps the most enduring creation of his career, in the form of the series The Fugitive. Inspired in part by the Sam Shepard murder case, the series told of a doctor, played by David Janssen, who is wrongfully convicted of the murder of his wife but manages to escape, and spends the next few years on the run, hoping to stay free and prove his innocence. The program ran only four seasons, but it became a signature series on television, and served as the inspiration for such subsequent man-on-the-run series as Run For Your Life (for which Huggins was executive producer and wrote several episodes, using one of his pseudonyms, John Thomas James) (a composite of the names of his three sons from his second marriage, to actress Adele Mara), and the comedy Run Buddy, Run.

He joined Universal's television division as a vice president in 1963, and wrote episodes of The Virginian and The Bold Ones, among numerous other series, including the off-beat comedy western Alias Smith And Jones. Amid his voluminous writing output, Huggins occasionally used the James pseudonyms and such pen-names as John Francis O'Mara and Thomas Fitzroy. He was still working away in the 1970s, when he created The Rockford Files, another highly successful series -- starring James Garner -- this time back in the detective genre, but with a lot of unconventional twists in its plots and characters. Huggins had retired by the 1980s, but was persuaded to resume working in the industry by Steven J. Cannell, his one-time protege, who brought him in as the executive producer of Hunter, an unconventional police show. He was also behind the series City of Angels, starring Wayne Rogers, and worked on the series Toma and Baretta. Huggins lived long enough to see several of his television creations make the leap to becoming successful feature films. In the case of The Fugitive, he had held onto most of the rights not involving television, and the movie version and its spin-off, U.S. Marshals, were massively lucrative for Huggins, who also won legal actions in the 1990s (as did James Garner) against Universal involving revenues from The Rockford Files. Ever since the incident in which Jack L. Warner had contrived to yank much of the money he could have seen from 77 Sunset Strip away from him, Huggins had taken pains to protect his participation in revenues and profits from series that he created, whether he was working on the show or not, devising what became known in the business as "the Huggins contract." The latter became the gold standard for writers and producers in television for the next 50 years, and remains so in 2009. Huggins passed away in 2002, at the age of 87.

Movie Highlights

See Full Filmography