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HomeMovie'Benji' Author, Director, Producer Was 84

‘Benji’ Author, Director, Producer Was 84

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Joe Camp, the author, director and producer who taught that previous canine Hollywood new tips about animal films because the artistic power behind the 1974 franchise-spawning Benji, has died. He was 84.

Camp died Friday morning at his dwelling in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, following an extended sickness, his son, filmmaker Brandon Camp, informed The Hollywood Reporter.

Camp additionally directed and co-wrote the comedies Hawmps! (1976), in regards to the U.S. Cavalry changing horses with camels within the 1850s, and The Double McGuffin (1979), which revolved round children making an attempt to thwart a terrorist (Ernest Borgnine) and featured a lot of in-jokes about Hitchcock films.

Apart from serving as an additional on the Robert Mitchum-starring Residence From the Hill (1960), Camp had no Hollywood expertise when he raised about $500,000 to make Benji, a narrative a few stray blended breed — not a flowery pure breed like Lassie! — who helps rescue two kids from kidnappers.

Essential to the film’s success, he managed to get Higgins, who had appeared for years hanging across the Shady Relaxation Lodge on the CBS comedy Petticoat Junction, to return out of retirement to play the title character.

Camp accomplished his movie, then confirmed it to each studio in Hollywood, and each single one wished nothing to do with it. “I used to be actually within the dumps, I used to be down low,” he recalled in a 2023 interview. “What are we going to do? We are able to throw it within the trash, or we will determine it out.”

He shaped Dallas-based Mulberry Sq. Releasing to distribute the characteristic independently in October 1974, and it wound up grossing almost $40 million ($250 million in at present’s {dollars}), delighting audiences properly into the following summer season.

Joe Camp with Higgins, star of 1974’s Benji

Courtesy Everett Assortment

Benji was adopted by films that includes the scruffy canine in 1977, 1980 — counting Oh! Heavenly Canine, starring Chevy Chase as a detective reincarnated as a pooch — 1987 and 2004; two telefilms that aired in 1978 and others that aired in 1980 and 1981; and the 1983 CBS children collection Benji, Zax & the Alien Prince. (More often than not, Benji was performed by Higgins’ daughter, Benjean.)

By one estimation, the movies have grossed about $600 million if adjusted for inflation, making Camp one of the vital profitable indie filmmakers of all time.

He then contributed to the 2018 Benji reboot at Netflix that was directed by his son Brandon Camp and produced by Jason Blum.

Joseph Shelton Camp Jr. was born in St. Louis on April 20, 1939. His dad’s job took him and his household to dwell in locations together with Little Rock, Arkansas; El Segundo; Jackson, Mississippi; and Memphis, Tennessee, the place he and his associates made films whereas attending East Excessive College.

On the College of Mississippi, Camp received to be an additional when MGM got here to Oxford to movie components of Residence From the Hill, directed by Vincente Minnelli. Nevertheless, his scenes — all with Yvette Mimieux — had been minimize. She’s not within the film, both.

Camp wished to switch to UCLA movie college after his sophomore 12 months however was rejected, so he completed up at Mississippi, graduating in 1961 with a level in promoting and advertising. He then took a job with McCann Erickson, first in Houston after which Dallas.

When Camp and his first spouse, Carolyn, noticed a clip from the animated Disney traditional Woman and the Tramp (1955) on TV, he requested her, “Do you suppose it might be doable to do this sort of a film with an actual canine? We got here to the conclusion that it wouldn’t be doable, as a result of the right way to you inform a narrative with out phrases?”

However after she retired for the night time, Camp stayed up with Benji, their Yorkshire terrier, and “received intrigued with watching his expressions on issues … I received down on the ground in a nook all huddled up and acted afraid, and the canine’s taking a look at me like, ‘Have you ever misplaced your thoughts?’ You can learn that in his face. I went to mattress figuring out canines do discuss.”

The subsequent morning, Camp wrote your entire remedy for Benji and mentioned it made his spouse cry when he learn it to her. “We received it by depicting what the animal was feeling, not what the animal was doing,” he defined.

Camp then found that one in every of his school classmates, Tom Lester, was starring on CBS’ Inexperienced Acres, and the actor helped him discover contacts in Hollywood.

Benji’s theme, “I Really feel Love,” recorded by Charlie Wealthy, obtained an Academy Award nomination for greatest authentic music however misplaced out on Oscar night time to “We Might By no means Love Like This Once more,” sung by Maureen McGovern for The Towering Inferno.

Higgins additionally was nominated — for a PATSY Award for greatest animal efficiency of the 12 months in a characteristic. Alas, he misplaced as properly, to the cat from Harry and Tonto.

Camp did win an Emmy for excellent youngsters’s program for Benji at Work. He additionally wrote a number of Benji-related books and different books about horses, together with the well-regarded The Soul of a Horse: Life Classes From the Herd, first printed in 2008.

Survivors additionally embody his second spouse, Kathleen, an legal professional, photographer and instructor (they married in 2001), and son Joe Camp III, an assistant director. He was married to Carolyn from 1960 till her demise from a coronary heart dysfunction in 1997 at age 58.

Joe Camp with Benjean on the set of 1987’s Benji the Hunted

Walt Disney Co. / Courtesy Everett Assortment

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