Harry Essex (November 29, 1910 – February 5, 1997) was a prolific American screenwriter and director in feature films and television. Born and raised in New York City, his career spanned more than fifty years.
After graduating from St John's University in 1936, he did welfare work by day, while writing for the theatre by night. Among Essex's first jobs were stints on the New York City newspapers The Daily Mirror and The Brooklyn Eagle, short stories for Collier's and The Saturday Evening Post as well as work in a Broadway play titled Something for Nothing (which Essex later called "a resounding failure").
Writing for the movies was uppermost in Essex's mind throughout the period (and he did co-write the original story for Universal's Man Made Monster (1941)), but "the big break" never came, and World War II intervened as he was called into the draft, serving in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Five or six days after Essex's discharge in 1947, he ran into an old acquaintance whose new job was finding playwrights to turn into screenwriters for Columbia Pictures. Essex wrote or co-wrote dozens of movies and numerous TV shows during his lengthy Hollywood career.
Essex co-wrote Universal's The Fat Man (1951), which starred J. Scott Smart as the obese detective Brad Runyon, a role he had played on radio since 1946. (The series was developed especially for radio by Dashiell Hammett, creator of The Thin Man, but as he had just been jailed for refusing to co-operate with the House of Representatives' Committee on Un-American Activities, Hammett's name was conspicuous by its absence on the screen credits of The Fat Man.) Another sign of those paranoid times was that Essex and Earl Felton received screenplay credit on The Las Vegas Story (1952), but not their co-writer Paul Jarrico, who had been blacklisted.
Year Title Job Notes
1941 Man Made Monster Writer – story Feature film
1947 Dragnet Writer Feature film
Desperate Writer Feature film
1950 The Killer That Stalked New York' Writer Sci-fi/Horror film
1951 The Fat Man Co-writer, with Dashiel Hammett and Leonard Lee Feature film
1952 Kansas City Confidential Wrote screenplay Feature film
The Las Vegas Story Writer Feature film
1953 I, The Jury Writer Feature film
It Came from Outer Space Writer – screenplay Horror film
1954 Creature from the Black Lagoon Writer Sci-fi/Horror film
Dragnet Writer – screenplay Feature film
1955 Mad at the World Director Feature film
1959–1960 Bat Masterson (TV series) Writer 4 episodes
1960–1961 The Untouchables Writer (2 teleplays, 3 stories) 6 episodes total
1963 77 Sunset Strip Writer – teleplay 5 episodes
1965 The Sons of Katie Elder Writer – screenplay Western/Feature film
I Dream of Jeannie Writer 1 episode ("The Moving Finger")
1971 Octaman Writer Sci-fi film
1985 Hostage Flight Writer – story Feature film
1996 It Came From Outer Space II Writer (earlier screenplay) Sci-fi/Horror
Death and legacy
Essex died on February 5, 1997 in Los Angeles. In 2004, he was retrospectively awarded the 1954 Retro Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form for It Came from Outer Space.
He was interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.
1. "Obituary: Harry Essex". The Independent (UK). February 25, 1997.
2. "Harry Essex Biography (1910–1997)". Internet Movie Database (IMDb).