Hollywood producer who worked on Bill Clinton campaigns dies at 86

 December 12, 2023

Mort Engelberg, the producer of the Smokey and the Bandit movies who also worked on political campaigns for former President Bill Clinton and other politicians, died of natural causes in Los Angeles on Saturday at age 86. 

“He was a wonderful person, a wonderful husband. He loved the movie business, and he loved his work with President Clinton,” his wife, Helaine Blatt, told The Hollywood Reporter. “He told the best stories of anyone I ever met, the best jokes.”

Engelberg worked as a journalist and for then-President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty in the early 1960s.

He left politics after the Vietnam war pulled funding away from poverty programs and ended up with MGM Studios in New York in 1967.

Working his way up

After assisting on several James Bond films and working as an assistant to the studio's production director, Engelberg began producing his own movies, including the Smokey series and The Big Easy.

After producing a string of films through most of the 70s and early 80s, he turned back to politics in 1984.

He cut his teeth as an advance man — handling publicity, scouting locations for campaign stops, generating big crowds and making sure events go off without a hitch — for Walter Mondale’s presidential run in 1984 and again for Michael Dukakis’ presidential bid in 1988.

Both campaigns were losers, but he then did the same for Clinton's campaign in 1992.

“He traveled a lot with Clinton; he loved that man,” Blatt said, pointing out that he never took any money for his work on the campaigns. “He always volunteered. He always said, ‘They can’t fire me.'”

"Awful lot of fun"

When asked why he switched from producing movies to running campaigns, Engelberg told The Los Angeles Times in 1992 that he found the work “therapeutic” and a “wonderful relief” from the entertainment industry.

“For one thing, it’s not entirely altruistic,” he 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?’ You have one constituent in the movie business and that’s yourself. Whereas in politics — and I know this sounds pretentious — but politics is about something. Picking the next president, that’s a pretty important thing.”

Engelberg truly enjoyed the political work. “It’s a big responsibility, but it’s an awful lot of fun,”  Engelberg told The New York Times in 2016. “It’s something I have really come to love over the years.”

Even well into his 80s, Engelberg would never call himself retired.

He didn't have children and married Blatt in 2016 at age 79 after dating for 26 years.

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