Joel Freeman died peacefully on January 21, 2018, at his Sherman Oaks home after a long illness. He was 95.
The producer of Love at First Bite, The Octagon and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter had over 100 feature films to his credit including Camelot. He received the NAACP Image Award for the breakthrough film Shaft as Producer of the Year.
He was also a member of the Directors Guild and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and he was an officer and/or board member of the Producers Guild of America for 30 years, from whom he received a Lifetime Membership Award.
He was born in Newark, NJ, in 1922 to Louis Freeman and Frances Schary Freeman. Sadly, his mother died of Hodgkins lymphoma before Joel was four years old. He was embraced by his entire family, becoming close to all the Schary uncles and aunts, and was raised, in large part, by his paternal grandparents. He briefly attended Upsala University, where he was at track athlete, but Hollywood was calling to him and he headed west to Los Angeles.
Freeman began his career at MGM at 19 as a messenger. After just six weeks, he was promoted to the Short Subjects department, and then moved to the Production Planning Office. His budding career took a turn when he was drafted during World War II. He spent three years in the Air Force – two with the First Motion Picture Unit (AAF) where he was script supervisor and assistant director on some 30 training films.
That experience enabled him to start work as an assistant director at RKO, then at Selznick International Pictures, contributing to such features as The Farmers Daughter, The Paradine Case, The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer, and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.
Meanwhile, his uncle, Dore Schary, had become chief of production (but not yet president) at MGM. Schary brought his nephew into the fold, and Freeman worked on Madame Bovary, Battleground, Bad Day at Black Rock, Blackboard Jungle, The Tender Trap, Tea & Sympathy, and Something of Value, eventually becoming an associate producer.
As production supervisor, he worked on Lonelyhearts, and several TV series including The Californians and Highway Patrol. With Schary, he helped make Sunrise at Campobello and Act One.
Jack Warner had noticed his work on several more features for the studio including The Music Man and asked him to help run the production of Camelot, subsequently giving Freeman one of the top three executive positions at the studio, where he stayed until Warner sold the company to Seven Arts.
Subsequently, Freeman worked with Francis Ford Coppola on Finian’s Rainbow and then executive-produced the Oscar-nominated classic The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.
Now a fully credited producer, his films included the groundbreaking Shaft, the smash hit Love at First Bite, and Chuck Norris’s The Octagon among many others.
In his last several years, Freeman battled Alzheimers disease and lung cancer. He was survived by his beloved wife Betty (an actress and singer); his sons Josh (who heads a branding agency) and Jeff (editor of the hit comedy TED), and his stepson and stepdaughter for the past 50 years, Daniel Martin Bresler and Kurina Rose Hale. He and Betty have 18 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren.
Funeral services were held at Hillside Memorial Park on Monday, January 29, 2018, at 1:00 P.M.
The family encourages donations in Joel Freeman’s memory to the Motion Picture and Television Fund (mptf.com), to whom they are deeply grateful, and to The Entertainment Industry Foundation (eifoundation.org), which he worked actively to support for many years.