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Weinstein, Hannah (1912-1984)

Producer, Executive

Main image of Weinstein, Hannah (1912-1984)

Before she became one of the more powerful independent production forces in 1950s British television, Hannah Weinstein (b. Hannah Dorner, New York, 1912. d. New York, 1984) had had a distinguished career as a journalist, publicist and left-wing political activist. She worked for the New York Herald Tribune from 1927. Her political career started when she joined Fiorello H. La Guardia's New York mayoral campaign in 1937. She was also prominent in organizing the press side of the presidential campaigns of Franklin D. Roosevelt and later (in 1948) Henry Wallace.

In order to avoid the anti-Communist persecution and hysteria of McCarthyism sweeping the US in the early 1950s, Weinstein moved her family to Europe in 1950 and established her own production company, Sapphire Films, in London in 1952.

Under the Sapphire banner, she created the hugely popular action-adventure series The Adventures of Robin Hood (ITV, 1955-59), starring Richard Greene, which was to become her most successful production on British television as well as scoring a substantial hit in America.

Unknown at the time to everyone except her close circle, Weinstein hired American writers who had been blacklisted by the McCarthy Communist witch-hunt (Waldo Salt, Ring Lardner Jr., Ian McLellan Hunter and others) to write the Robin Hood scripts behind 'front' names. This strategy not only helped the persecuted (and otherwise unemployed) writers, but it also enhanced the sociological sub-text of what would have been simply a 'tales of the greenwood' series.

The enormous ratings success of Robin Hood, soaring on both sides of the Atlantic, encouraged Weinstein/Sapphire to embark on other period swashbucklers: The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (ITV, 1956-57), The Buccaneers (ITV, 1956-57), The Adventures of William Tell (ITV, 1958-59) and Sword of Freedom (ITV, 1958-60).

With these exciting swordplay series, Weinstein almost single-handedly created the television swashbuckler genre. Other production companies joined the field and this new TV genre was soon overrun by such blades-and-brocades series as The Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel (ITV, 1955-56), The Count of Monte Cristo (ITV, 1956), Gay Cavalier (ITV, 1957), Ivanhoe (ITV, 1958), Sir Francis Drake (ITV, 1961-62) and Richard the Lionheart (ITV, 1962-63).

Weinstein had also touched on the TV crime-mystery genre with the early pre-Sapphire series Colonel March of Scotland Yard (shown on ITV from 1955), starring Boris Karloff as an investigator of bizarre and offbeat crimes. (Weinstein served as an uncredited producer when the series was in-production by Panda Productions during 1952-1954; the first three episodes of this series featured the work of blacklisted director "Cyril Endfield" (Cy Endfield).) Weinstein returned to the genre in 1959 with the crime crusader series The Four Just Men (ITV, 1959-60), an updated version of the old Edgar Wallace thriller, featuring the international line-up of Dan Dailey, Vittorio De Sica, Richard Conte and Jack Hawkins.

In 1962 Weinstein returned to America, where she continued her political concerns. In 1971 she founded the Third World Cinema Corporation to produce films about and with members of African-American groups, starting with the all-black Claudine (US, d. John Berry, 1974). Her later association with comedian Richard Pryor produced Greased Lightning (US, d. Michael Schultz, 1977) and Stir Crazy (US, d. Sidney Poitier, 1980).

She received the Women in Film Life Achievement Award from the Hollywood-based Women in Film organisation in 1982. Shortly before her death in 1984 she was named by the eponymous philanthropic organisation for the Liberty Hill Award in honour of her artistic and political accomplishments.

Tise Vahimagi

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Thumbnail image of Adventures of Robin Hood, The (1955-59)Adventures of Robin Hood, The (1955-59)

Hugely popular series that gave a ratings boost to the early ITV

Thumbnail image of Adventures of Sir Lancelot, The (1956-57)Adventures of Sir Lancelot, The (1956-57)

Arthurian swashbuckler starring later Dr Who companion William Russell

Thumbnail image of Buccaneers, The (1956-57)Buccaneers, The (1956-57)

Pirate action-adventure starring Robert Shaw

Thumbnail image of Sword of Freedom (1958-61)Sword of Freedom (1958-61)

Artist-swordsman del Monte takes on the Medicis in Renaissance Florence

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Thumbnail image of Swashbuckling TVSwashbuckling TV

Heroism with sword, bow or pistol

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