'Battle of the Bulge' Director Annakin Dies at 94

LOS ANGELES – Ken Annakin, the British-born director whose credits included the World War II epics "Battle of the Bulge" and "The Longest Day" and the family classic "Swiss Family Robinson," has died. He was 94.

Annakin died Wednesday night at his Beverly Hills home, said his daughter, Deborah Peters. His health had been failing since he had a heart attack and stroke within a day of each other in February, she said.

Before he was stricken, Annakin had been in good health and always talked about making more movies, even though he had not directed since the early 1990s, his daughter said.

"He was absolutely fine, other than old age," Peters said. "He was walking and mobile, chatting and working, still trying to get films made. I don't think anybody like that ever really stops."

Annakin dabbled in many genres, from action comedies and family fare to crime drama and swashbuckling romance. He was best-known for his war sagas, 1965's "Battle of the Bulge" with Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Robert Shaw and Telly Savalas and 1962's "The Longest Day," which he co-directed with Andrew Marton and Bernhard Wicki.

Adapted from Cornelius Ryan's D-Day best-seller, "The Longest Day" featured an all-star cast led by Fonda, John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Rod Steiger, Sean Connery and Peter Lawford.

Annakin's other films include "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines," whose screenplay earned him an Academy Award nomination, and the similarly titled action comedy "Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies." He also directed "Call of the Wild," a 1972 adaptation of Jack London's adventure starring Charlton Heston; the 1957 crime thriller "Across the Bridge" with Steiger; and the 1982 musical romance "The Pirate Movie" with Kristy McNichol.

Probably his most-beloved film was 1960's "Swiss Family Robinson," one of a series of family adventures Annakin made for Walt Disney Pictures starting in the 1950s. The film starred John Mills and Dorothy McGuire as parents of a family battling pirates and struggling to survive after they are shipwrecked on an island.

"Ken was an important part of the Disney legacy and made several memorable films for my Uncle Walt," said Roy Disney. "'Swiss Family Robinson' remains one of the greatest family adventure films of all time, and a favorite for generations of moviegoers."

Co-star James MacArthur recalled screening "Swiss Family Robinson" with Annakin for a family crowd at a film festival last year.

"We had 900 kids in the program. It was a read-the-book, see-the-film thing. Ken and I came down and we were here with 900 kids having the time of their lives watching 'Swiss Family,'" said MacArthur, who also worked with Annakin in "Battle of the Bulge" and an earlier Disney flick, "Third Man on the Mountain."

MacArthur, who went on to co-star as detective Danny "Book 'em, Danno" Williams in TV's "Hawaii Five-O," said he remained good friends with Annakin and had been visiting the director every week or two since he was stricken. Annakin and his wife were godparents for MacArthur's daughter.

"He was a wonderful storyteller and one of those people you just, the minute you get to know him, you like him. He had that wonderful outgoing personality, but he was very much the general on the set, as the director has to be," MacArthur said.

Born Aug. 10, 1914, in Beverley, Yorkshire, England, Annakin traveled in his youth to Australia, New Zealand and the United States, then sold insurance, cars and advertising back in England.

During World War II, he joined the Royal Air Force as a flight mechanic but was injured during the London Blitz. He worked as a camera operator for a company making RAF training films and documentaries, later directing war propaganda films himself.

Annakin got his start as a feature filmmaker with 1947's "Holiday Camp," about the working-class Huggett family, whom he also featured in three other films over the next few years.

In 2002, Annakin was honored with the Order of the British Empire.

Besides his daughter, Deborah, Annakin is survived by his wife, Pauline, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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