Nicolas Noxon, Maker of Nature Films, Dies at 79


Photo

Nicolas Noxon, an Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, in an undated photo.

Nicolas Noxon, an Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker whose subjects included wild animals, the remains of humanity’s ancestors and the undersea wreck of the Titanic, died on Tuesday at his home in Westlake Village, Calif. He was 79.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, his friend and colleague Steven Reich said.

Mr. Noxon cut his teeth in the early 1960s as a writer and producer for the television series “Biography,” produced by David L. Wolper and hosted by Mike Wallace. He worked on more than 40 episodes, about notable figures like Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller, Eva Peron and Mao Zedong.

In 1966 Mr. Noxon wrote, directed and produced “Dr. Leakey and the Dawn of Man,” a National Geographic special that traced the search conducted by the anthropologist and archaeologist Louis Leakey and his wife, the anthropologist Mary Leakey, for fossils of prehistoric hominids in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.

Mr. Noxon went on to write, direct and produce or help produce many more films for National Geographic, including “The Great Whales” (1978) and “Tigers of the Snow” (1997), both of which won Emmys.

His most successful work was “Secrets of the Titanic,” released on video in 1986 and shown on television the next year. It followed Robert Ballard’s successful quest to locate the lost ocean liner miles beneath the surface of the North Atlantic in 1985. Mr. Noxon directed the film with Dr. Ballard and Graham Hurley and wrote the voice-over narration, which was delivered by the actor Martin Sheen.

Dr. Ballard and his research team at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts were the first to locate and photograph the wreckage.

Reviewing the film in The New York Times in 1987, Glenn Collins wrote: “Viewers may find themselves sharing the emotions of Mr. Ballard’s crew: so ecstatic at the moment when they finally located the ship, then suddenly stunned into silence at the realization of the enormity of the tragedy.”

The film became National Geographic’s highest-selling video release at the time.

Nicolas Lane Noxon was born in London on July 29, 1936, to Gerald Noxon, a writer and film scholar, and Betty Lane, a painter. The family fled to the United States during World War II, and Mr. Noxon attended high school in Putney, Vt., before studying filmmaking at Antioch College in Ohio.

He worked at an educational film company in Washington for a time, then moved to Los Angeles and joined Wolper Productions.

His other documentaries include “Voyage of the Brigantine Yankee” (1966), which was narrated by Orson Welles; “The Sharks” (1982), which featured the renowned ichthyologist Eugenie Clark; and “The Dragons of Galapagos” (1998), which he wrote with the British naturalist David Attenborough.

In 1978 he married Nicky Nicholass, who survives him. He is also survived by three daughters, Traci Norris, Megan Weaver and Marti Noxon, a television writer, director and producer best known for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”; two sons, Carlton Doddand Christopher Noxon, a writer and journalist; and 11 grandchildren.

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