Ethel Winant became the first television network female executive in 1973. She was one of the great producer-casting directors in television history, credited for the success of series such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Twilight Zone, Playhouse 90 and Hawaii Five-0.
She grew up in the farm town of Marysville, California, the daughter of a single mother during the Depression. She enrolled at UC Berkeley, determined to study law or medicine, but fell in love with the theater. She eventually moved to New York to work with theatrical agent William Liebling and his wife, literary agent Audrey Wood. She became heavily involved in the New York theater scene, and stage managed productions of A Streetcar Named Desire in which a young Marlon Brando starred.
Winant made the transition from theater to television when a live television drama named Studio One hired her as a casting director. She cast several emerging talents for the show, including Yul Brynner, Charlton Heston and James Dean. She went on to serve as casting director for the popular series Playhouse 90, working with actors such as Paul Newman, James Dean, Steve McQueen, George Peppard and Jason Robards.
When Playhouse 90 was cancelled, Winant moved to CBS, where she became an associate director of development, assisting in the creation of series such as Lost in Space, Green Acres, Hogan's Heroes and Hawaii Five-O. She became CBS' vice-president in 1973, and was the first woman to ever hold an executive position at any television network.
Over the years, she accumulated several awards, including a special Emmy for Playhouse 90, two Peabodys, the Humanitas Prize, the Christopher Award, The Alice Award, and The Crystal Award from Women in Film. She was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Science's Hall of Fame in 1999.
"I love making shows," said Winant upon being inducted. "I love being on a set. I love working with writers. I think what actors do is magical. The talented directors can visualize. I think that I am the luckiest person in the world that I got to work in the medium I love, and with people I love."
Winant died in 2003 at the age of 81.