Although originally a journalist by trade, Irwin Allen began working in the film medium. He became one of the biggest names in show business during the 1970s, producing and directing some of its most popular films. After working in magazines and advertising, he produced the documentary The Sea Around Us. This excellent film won an Academy Award for Best Documentary, and he decided to branch out into commercial film. His spoof of history The Story of Mankind was a critical and commercial disaster, but he scored box office success with The Big Circus, The Lost World, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
As the 1960s emerged, he became interested in science fiction and he created four popular television series. The TV takeoff of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea became popular with TV audiences, and so did Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants.
It was during the 1970s that Allen became a household name. Noting the massive box office success of Airport, he immediately branched out into disaster movies and was able to obtain star-studded casts. The Poseidon Adventure, about passengers abroad a capsized cruise liner, was one of the biggest box office hits of the year, and its theme song, "The Morning After" by Maureen McGovern won an Academy Award for Best Song. He followed up that triumph by producing and co-directing the smash The Towering Inferno, about a group of people trapped in a burning skyscraper, which also drew huge audiences and profits. In his personal life, at that time he fell in love with actress Sheila Matthews, whom he married in 1974. He returned briefly to television with the series Swiss Family Robinson. It was then that his popularity was at its peak, and he had become known as "The Master of Disaster." He then produced and directed the killer bee film The Swarm. In spite of a big budget and star-studded cast, the poor special effects and dialog made it a complete flop. The following year, he made produced and co-directed Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, which audiences found dull and implausible. In 1980, he attempted a comeback with When Time Ran Out... about tourists and natives struggling to escape a volcano eruption. The film drew attention when Mount St. Helens in Washington state erupted during its release, but the lavishly financed film was a box office disaster.
After three expensive films lost vast sums of money, Allen was never able again to make films on such a grand scale. He remained active in the entertainment industry during the 1980s, however. He designed a special effects ride at the Universal Studios Theme Park, and also produced some TV mini-series. He passed away in 1991.