Widener, Don(ald) 1930-2003

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WIDENER, Don(ald) 1930-2003

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born March 13, 1930, in Holdenville, OK; died of lung cancer April 22, 2003, in Henderson, NV. Journalist, filmmaker, and author. Widener was best known for his sometimes controversial documentaries about environmental and nuclear-power issues. After earning an associate's degree from Compton Junior College in 1950, he joined the U.S. Air Force and fought in Korea. Returning to the United States, he worked as a reporter and editor for Herald Publishing in Los Angeles for four years, then as a proposal writer for the aerospace company Bendix. He then moved to Arizona, where he was an assistant to the president of Mesa-based Rocket Power, Inc., before returning to Los Angeles. He joined the staff of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) as a press relations officer and producer-writer, and it was here that he began writing television documentaries. He left NBC in 1970, but continued making documentaries that were produced there through the mid-1970s. The most controversial of these was Powers That Be (1971), for which he was sued by the utility company Pacific Gas & Electric, which accused him of dubbing over an interview conducted with an engineer at the Humboldt Bay Nuclear Power Plant. When the case went to court Widener initially won a $7.75 million decision; however the decision was overturned in appeal and he ended up with a settlement of $475,000. Some of Widener's other documentaries include Timetable for Disaster (1970), Who's There? (1972), and Plutonium: Element of Risk (1977). He went on to write a 1975 biography of his friend, actor Jack Lemmon, a novel titled N.U.K.E.E. (1974), which he also adapted as a 1982 movie, and the screenplays Night of the 'Possum (1978), Perks (1983), The Ballad of Bigfoot (1984), The Search for Sunny Skies (1985), and Scuttle (1985). Although not an opponent of nuclear energy, he was very aware of its possible hazards, and toward this end invented a nuclear warning system for which he held a patent.



Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2003, p. B13.