Robert James Dozier, an award-winning screen writer who began his career in the Golden Age of television, died peacefully after a long illness on Friday, January 6, at his home in Edgartown. He was 81.
Robert grew up in the creative world of Hollywood, the son of William and Katherine Dozier. His father, the producer of “Batman,” had started as a literary agent in Los Angeles. So as a youngster, Robert listened in as writers including F. Scott Fitzgerald bantered back and forth in the family’s living room.
Bill’s advice to the budding writer was, “Write what you know.” The advice lead to his first big success with the 1955 script for “Deal A Blow” that aired live on the CBS network. He wrote what he knew: the story was about the conflicted relationship between an overbearing father and his son. The script was later made into a movie “The Young Stranger.”
Rebelliousness became one of Dozier’s hallmarks. When asked by his grammar school (Beverley Hills Catholic School) for a bio for his 50th reunion in 1994, most classmates wrote out a prose essay. Robert did it his way:
1944-50: Villanova Prep, Loyola High School, Beverly High Class of ’48. Brief fling at Brown University, not much of a student.
1951-53: U.S. Army, Germany. Made documentary films for the signal corps. Honorable discharge.
1954-88: Wrote and produced motion pictures and television. Best-known film, “The Cardinal,” 1963. Best-known TV series, “Harry-O,” 1974-75. One Christopher Award, three children, all boys and thankfully all making their own living. Small favors.
1989-94: Retired. Live mostly in the Sierra Nevada, way up, where I am at last happily married to my fourth wife. Ski in the winter, fish in the summer, make things out of wood during the off-season. No regrets.
Dozier wrote on the side of the underdog. His personal favorite script, “When Legends Die,” is the story of an American Indian boy forced to adapt to the modern white man’s world of rodeo riding. He became the champion only to give it up so he could be with the horses. Another of Dozier’s characters was a young Boston-born priest in his best-known film, “The Cardinal,” produced by Otto Preminger. As the priest rises in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, he struggles against the hatred and prejudice he sees in society. In “A Real Fine Cutting Edge,” written about Dozier’s experiences in the army, the underdogs are the soldiers who have to deal with the constant bullying of a sergeant.
He wrote other screen plays for the movies, including “I Could Go On Singing” starring Judy Garland and “The Big Bounce.”
Robert was always at his typewriter, completing dozens of scripts for television shows including episodes of “Have Gun Will Travel” in the 50s, “Batman” in the 60s; “Dan August” and in the 70s. Also, episodes of the original “Hawaii Five-0” and many others.
He was producer as well as writer of several television series including “Harry O,” with David Janssen; “The Contender,” “Inspector Perez,” “Sweepstakes,” and “Devlin Connection” with Rock Hudson.
He also wrote longer scripts for TVs movies of the week including “Incident in San Francisco,” for ABC; “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” for CBS; and “Pursuit” for ABC.
Robert’s writing was lean and tight. One unpublished short story opens this way:
“It’s a long road from Detroit to Los Angeles. It’s a longer one because I’m going home, because I’m sick of ice and snow, because I’m in a hurry and there’s never anything around the next turn except the next turn. It’s longer, because I’m alone.
In Hollywood, Dozier was horrified at the black list of the 50s when many colleagues were forced out of work during the Communist witch hunt. And he helped nurture the fledgling Writers Guild to help protect writers and raise their standing.
He is survived by his wife, the actress Diana Muldaur, and three sons — Harold, Aaron and Brendan — from his first marriage; also daughters-in-law Bridget Dozier and Lisa Dozier; his sister Deborah Dozier Potter, daughter of step-mother Joan Fontaine. Also his step-mother of more than 50 years, Ann Rutherford and her daughter, Gloria May. He is also survived by 13 nephews and nieces, 11 great-nephews and nieces and one great-great nephew.
Some time ago, Robert was quoted about his childhood and working in the same business as his father:
“Growing up in a household constantly visited by writers obviously had an influence. One shortcoming is that when you work in your father’s field, you inherit his enemies as well as his friends. But on the whole, it is an advantage to be the son of a successful man.”
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to: The Dana Farber Cancer Institute for Prostate Cancer Research, care of Dr. Taplin; or Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard.