Mort Engelberg, ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ Producer, Dies at 85

He also organized Bill Clinton and Al Gore’s bus tour during the 1992 presidential race

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Mort Engelberg, a producer for “Smokey and the Bandit” and “The Big Easy,” has died at age 85, according to media reports. Engelberg was also known as the person who organized Bill Clinton and Al Gore’s bus tour during the 1992 presidential race, a feat that took the pair through a number of states ahead of the Democratic National Convention.

Deadline first reported Engelberg’s death and noted that his wife, Helaine Blatt, was by his side.

His additional producing credits included the two sequels for “Smokey and the Bandit” as well as “The Big Easy,” “The Hunter,” “Maid to Order” and “Three for the Road.”

In 1992, he spoke about “Smokey and the Bandit” to the Washington Post. Engelberg said, “We made the movie in 35 days. I just wanted to make a movie I wouldn’t be embarrassed by. It went on to become the ninth or the 11th highest-grossing movie of all time.”

Engelberg had previously organized a similar bus trip for Walter Mondale in 1984 and Michael Dukakis in 1988. Clinton repeated the bus trip approach when he ran for reelection in 1996.

Of the duo’s stop in Centralia, Illinois, Engelberg told the Washington Post that Clinton and Gore were special. He said, “These guys have some sort of quality. It’s magic, it really is.” The paper described Engelberg as “a guy who seemed different from everyone else. He was so marvelously tan! His fashionably longish gray hair swooshed back off his high, noble forehead. His glasses always seemed to be resting on top of his head, never his nose.”

Engelberg volunteered for the campaign for at least a year, a fact that those he worked with attempted to keep under the radar for fear that it would take away from the campaign itself. He told the Los Angeles Times that the work was “therapeutic” and said, “L.A. is a one-industry town, and everything here is ‘how did your picture do’ or ‘how did your friend’s picture do’ or ‘are you gonna make this deal or that deal?’”

Jim King, who worked as an advance man for Clinton, told the outlet of the producer, “Mort has an extraordinary eye. He saw the chance to put the candidate with real people in real places and it worked.”

Mickey Kantor, Clinton’s campaign chairman who grew up with Engelberg in Tennessee, said of his friend, “Mort is an extremely creative person. Unlike most of us, he can conceptualize an event — see it and feel it — and figure out how to make it look right.”

Engelberg was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, and graduated from the University of Illinois before he obtained his Master’s from the University of Missouri. He worked was a journalist for several years before he moved to Washington to work for the director of the Peace Corps, Sargent Shriver. He eventually worked with Shriver at the Office of Economic Opportunity.

He left the political sphere during the Vietnam War and headed to MGM, where he began working in 1967.

Engelberg is survived by his wife Helaine Blatt, who he married in 2016 after at 26-year relationship. She once said, “On my 75th birthday, I convinced him to marry me. He said, ‘OK, we’ll get married, but no wedding.’ It was a tiny little thing, a party with all my girlfriends.”

He is also survived by his brother Steve Engelberg; a niece, Liza Pahlberg; and a nephew, Danny Engelberg.

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