Longtime film and television journalist Ben Halpern passed away peacefully on January 16 at his home surrounded by family. He was three weeks before his 100th birthday.
Born in New York, Halpern was the fourth and youngest child of Jewish immigrants from Central Europe. As a little kid growing up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, he enjoyed wandering around all the theaters in his neighborhood, collecting bits of film from projectionists to make slideshows for his brother and sisters.
The live action led Halpern to the fledgling film school at New York University, which he left to enlist in the Army Air Corps during World War II. As a sergeant in the photographic unit, he was responsible for training soldiers to shoot and develop films for aerial reconnaissance. He was also an editor and a sniper medal winner. After the war, Halpern graduated from NYU Film School in 1945 as part of their first class.
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From 1946 to 1949, Halpern worked as a journalist and associate editor for the Independent Film Journal. From 1949 to 1952, he was a publicist in Paramount’s New York office. He created campaigns for feature films including The Greatest Show in the World, Sunset Boulevard, Samson and Delilah and A place in the sun.
In 1952, Halpern began working for United Artists Television in New York City as Director of Publicity and Publicity. In 1955, Halpern, his wife Lois Jule Gordon and their two young children moved to Paris where United Artists hired him as director of film advertising and publicity for Europe and the Middle East. He and his wife have hosted visiting film people and Halpern has represented United Artists at film festivals and developed advertising campaigns with big stars including Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich.
In September 1957, the family returned to New York, where he worked for United Artists, Jim Mahoney & Associates, Filmways, and ultimately MCA Universal. He was an iconoclast of the Upper West Side, riding his extra-large English mailman bicycle through the four seasons to his office in the city center.
Although he remained an avid New Yorker, Halpern moved to California with his family in 1973 when Universal promoted him to vice president of advertising and television advertising in Los Angeles. He was very involved in shows such as Columbo, Murder She Wrote, Magnum PI, The Rockford Files, Miami Vice, Iron Sides, Kojak, and the movie of the week Duel, among many others.
Halpern also made a stint as vice president of special projects at Universal, and served as governor of the Television Academy. He was a founding member of ICAN Associates and a member of the board of directors, retiring in 1988. He was also a founding member of TPEC.
During his career, Halpern devoted efforts to several good causes which touched him personally. Representing one of them was Goodbye Manzanar, a TV movie that has drawn general attention to the abuses in Japanese American internment camps. He arranged for the film to be shown in the US Congress in 1976. Twelve years later, Congress finally passed a reparations law, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Halpern was also instrumental in helping Project List Blacklist to erect a monument to blacklisted filmmakers and writers on the University of Southern California campus.
Halpern had two great passions in life: love of family and love of cinema and theater. Renowned for his sense of humor and storytelling skills, Halpern had a prodigious recollection of film history and production, and until the end of his life he could share stories and anecdotes from his industry experience.
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 her nephew Alfred Tauber of New York.
Due to the pandemic, there will be a private funeral. The family will toast him and celebrate his memory on February 5, which would have been his 100th birthday.