Mort Engelberg, a producer of the films Smokey And The Bandit and The Big Easy, has passed away. Engelberg was 86, and he died in Los Angeles in the company of his wife, Helaine Blatt, a success herself as a high-end jewelry broker.
Engelberg was producing films when he took time away from his day job and organized a famous bus tour taken by Arkansas governor and presidential aspirant Bill Clinton and his running mate Al Gore through numerous states the summer after the Democratic Convention in 1992. Engelberg served a similar role previously for candidates Walter F. Mondale in 1984 and Michael Dukakis in 1988. For Clinton, the bus tour was a rousing success. It bonded Clinton, Gore and their wives, and presenting the amiable presidential candidate as an everymen who thrived mixing with real people in cities across the country. It would become a trademark for Clinton’s successful two presidential runs.
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Engelberg tossed away any praise for his efforts. “Advance work is really like plumbing, and I’m just one tiny cog in this big, big operation,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “The important thing is the candidate and what he’s saying.” It is worth noting that Engelberg was not involved in putting Dukakis in a helmet inside an M-1 tank, to make him look tough.
On the movie front, aside from the 1977 Burt Reynolds-Jackie Gleason pic Smokey and The Bandit and two sequels, his producing credits also included The Big Easy, the Steve McQueen-starrer The Hunter, Maid to Order, Three For The Road and many other films. Smokey and the Bandit was the big moneymaker, but again, Engelberg was self deprecating in his assessment. “It’s certainly not Citizen Kane,” he told LAT, “but I guess it struck a chord.”
Engelberg began as a journalist before coming to Washington in 1961 to work for Bobby Kennedy in the War on Poverty campaign, and then joined Sargent Shriver when he formed the Peace Corps.
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