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September 08, 2006

Actor, Businessman John Conte Dies

Versatile Performer Was 90

Rancho Mirage, CA - John Conte, an actor in radio, theater, television and movies prior to starting a television station in the late 1960s, died September 4 in Rancho Mirage, California at Eisenhower Medical Center—a hospital his philanthropic efforts helped to build. He was 90 years old.

Conte was revered in the Palm Springs area for his commitment to various municipal causes, including the McCallum Theater and the Indian Wells Center for Educational Excellence at the California State University San Bernardino Palm Desert campus. He was also a founder of the area’s local NBC affiliate, KMIR-TV, which he and his wife, Sirpuhe Philibosian Conte, established in 1968.

Long before his civic endeavors in the desert, however, Conte became known throughout the U.S. and abroad as a performer in every show business medium.

Born in 1915 in Palmer, Massachusetts, Conte got his start in radio, and became a permanent cast member in the companies of George Burns and Gracie Allen, Edward G. Robinson, the Silver Theater and the Screen Guild Players. He was also the singing master of ceremonies on the popular Maxwell House Show, with Fanny Brice and Frank Morgan.

On stage he appeared in numerous Broadway productions, including Windy City, Carousel and The Pursuit of Happiness. He also appeared in such motion pictures as Lost in a Harem, The Man with the Golden Arm and The Carpetbaggers.

Conte was particularly prolific in television. He hosted 666 live productions of NBC’s Matinee Theater, one of the first daytime shows on network television. He appeared in such series as Studio One, The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre and Musical Comedy Time. He also appeared in landmark episodics The Untouchables, 77 Sunset Strip, Bonanza and Perry Mason.

After he settled in the Palm Springs area and launched KMIR-TV, where he served as president, general manager and owner for 30 years, Conte changed his focus to the business side of entertainment. For a time, he maintained an on-air presence as host of an afternoon show called Town Talk. In 1999, he sold the station to a Milwaukee-based company for a reported $30 million.

For his vast achievements, Conte received stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and on Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs.

In addition to his wife, Conte is survived by a son, two daughters, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

In John Conte's Own Words: Special from the Archive of American Television

The Archive of American Television conducted an exclusive four-hour interview with John Conte just a few years ago in 1999. He discusses his early professional career in radio, his theater and motion picture appearances, and his television work.

Conte describes his work as a regular on Van Camp’s Little Show, which later became known as John Conte’s Little Show. He elaborates on experiences working on Matinee Theatre, Max Liebman Presents, and his numerous television series appearances as a regular and guest actor. Conte then shares details about what it was like to found and own KMIR-TV.

You may arrange to screen this footage in its entirety at AAT's headquarters on the Television Academy campus in North Hollywood, California, by calling (818) 754-2800.

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