Harold Livingston, Hollywood pilot and screenwriter who helped Israel get back on its feet, dies at 97

He wrote the screenplay for “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” episodes of “Mission Impossible” by a handful, and novels that explored the changing world in the aftermath of World War II.

But Harold Livingston had his own starring role in a real-life adventure in 1948 as a risk-taking pilot, funneling weapons and aircraft into still-young Israel as Egypt and other Arab nations beat Tel Aviv at will. For many who had survived the Holocaust, the bombings of their neighbors felt like history was already repeating itself.

As part of a small group of American pilots – many returning from the war – Livingston’s heroism helped Israel repel its attackers and gave birth to the Israeli Air Force.

“Honestly, they were all we had,” Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin would say years later of the foreign volunteers.

As a young Jewish man, Livingston understood the irony that the war-torn German fighter jets he flew in Israel had been used by the Nazis.

“Egyptian pilots got the shock of their lives the first time the Messerschmitts rode out to meet them,” Livingston told The Times in 1994.

A prolific writer in Hollywood, Livingston died Thursday morning at his home in Westlake Village, his nephew Bobby said. Livingston was 97 years old. The cause of death was old age.

Livingston had served overseas in World War II and worked briefly for Trans World Airlines before settling on a mundane job selling advertisements in Boston, an uninspiring job that sometimes missed the drama of war. One morning a letter arrived from a former airline colleague, asking if Livingston was interested in flying ammunition to Israel.

“Look, I wanted to fly again,” he told The Times in 2015. “This afternoon I was in New York and didn’t come home for a year.”

Along with a handful of others, Livingston flew from an airstrip in Czechoslovakia, ferrying weapons and wartime fighter jets to Israel. The new country’s air resources had been limited until shipments poured in, giving rise to what became the Israeli Air Force, now considered one of the most powerful in the world. powerful combat air forces.

Fighting continued for months before the United Nations brokered an armistice agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Livingston returned home and moved west to pursue writing. His 1954 novel “The Shores of the Earth” was a fictionalized account of his service in Israel and won the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship Award.

He went on to write six more books as well as the screenplay for “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” which included the original cast of the acclaimed TV show, and a slew of episodes for prime-time TV shows. .

His story might have been lost in the mists of time if producer Nancy Spielberg hadn’t spotted an obituary in The Times of Al Schwimmer, the fighter pilot who gathered the volunteer force in 1948.

“I said, ‘That’s crazy!’ Israel has one of the best air forces in the world,” Spielberg told The Times in 2015. “What started when an American called his buddies?

Spielberg said the mission’s full-throttle adventure and resulting good reminded him of his brother Steven’s TV miniseries “Band of Brothers,” or even his movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

“Above and Beyond,” a Nancy Spielberg-produced documentary, featured Livingston, among others, and refocused the long-ago mission.

Livingston is survived by his daughters Leah Hopkins and Eve Livingston; son David; granddaughters Elizabeth and Ariel; and his nephew.

Los Angeles Times

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