Remembering Bud Yorkin
Bud Yorkin, a renowned film and television director, producer, and writer– who made his mark as a creative force in the Golden Age of live television and as a pioneer of many socially relevant sit-coms, passed away at his home in Bel Air on August 18th of natural causes. He was 89 years old.
Yorkin directed and co-produced many of the most innovative hit sitcoms of the 1970s, shows that broke new ground by interjecting topical, real-world elements of class, race, politics and social change as well as previously unseen settings into comic situations, including “All In The Family,” “Maude,” “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons,” “Sanford and Sons,” “What’s Happening” and “Diff’rent Strokes.”
All of these sitcoms garnered 25 Emmy wins & 63 nominations, 10 Golden Globe awards and 71 nominations, while Bud was personally nominated for 3 Emmys.
His love of wit and gift for comic timing were also key in his accomplished career as a film director. His movie credits span several Hollywood eras and include Love Hurts, Twice In A Lifetime, Arthur 2: On The Rocks, The Thief Who Came To Dinner, Start The Revolution Without Me, Inspector Clouseau, Divorce American Style and Come Blow Your Horn.
He also was an executive producer of Ridley Scott’s highly influential dystopian sci-fi epic Blade Runner – and was instrumental in forging the much-anticipated sequel, as producer, which begins film production Summer 2016.
Alan “Bud” Yorkin was born in the coal mining town of Washington, Pennsylvania on February 22nd, 1926 (Washington’s Birthday) and, though he had an affinity for math and science, discovered a passion for writing comedy sketches while serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
After earning a degree in electrical engineering from Carnegie Mellon (then Carnegie Tech) on a football scholarship, he started his television career as a camera engineer for NBC. But Yorkin’s deft comedic talents quickly became apparent, and he soon switched to working as a stage manager, then a writer, for NBC’s variety showcase, “The Colgate Comedy Hour.”
Ultimately, he was chosen by comedy-duo hosts Martin & Lewis to work as a director on that show, which led to directing stints on such popular variety programs as “The Spike Jones Show” and “Light’s Diamond Jubilee.”
Yorkin went on to become a director of choice for sophisticated, comedy-rich variety, including “The Dinah Shore Show,” “The Tony Martin Show,” “The George Gobel Show” and “The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show.” In 1957, he wrote, directed, and produced one of the most captivating entertainment spectacles of the era, “An Evening With Fred Astaire,” which drew rave reviews, helped reboot Astaire’s career and garnered 9 Emmys for Best Writing, Best Direction and Best Musical Special.
He followed that with “Another Evening With Fred Astaire,” which was nominated twice for Outstanding Variety Series.
By this point, Yorkin was becoming one of television’s first legitimate directors and super-producers, with a series of event-style specials featuring such entertainers as Danny Kaye, Jack Benny, Dick Cavett, Bobby Darin, Don Rickles, Carol Channing, Andy Williams, Robert Young and Duke Ellington. All of these earlier shows he directed accumulated 14 Emmy wins and 49 nominations.
In 1959, Yorkin teamed up with writer Norman Lear, who he met while he was directing “The Colgate Comedy Hour,” to form Tandem Productions. He then made his film directorial debut with their first feature film, the stylish comedy Come Blow Your Horn, based on Neil Simon’s debut Broadway play about a swinging bachelor, starring Frank Sinatra, Lee J. Cobb, Molly Picon, Barbara Rush, Jill St. John and Tony Bill.
Yorkin then directed Never Too Late (1965), starring Maureen O’Sullivan in one her most audacious roles as a mother of grown children who discovers she’s pregnant; and the biting satire Divorce American Style (1967), starring Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds as splitting spouses. In 1970, Yorkin directed the cult classic Start the Revolution Without Me, an irreverent historical spoof starring Gene Wilder, Donald Sutherland and Orson Welles, that presaged the classic Mel Brooks’ farces to come.
Yorkin and Lear collaborated on numerous television productions throughout the 1960s – but in 1971, they changed television history forever. While in Europe directing Start the Revolution Without Me, Bud saw the English TV comedy series, Till Death Do Us Part, and sent it to Lear. Based on this show, they developed the controversial sitcom “All In The Family” for ABC, who soon passed on the series.
After they recast the roles with Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers, Bud directed the pilot and took it to CBS to pitch to Bob Wood. While screening the pilot for Bob, Fred Silverman was walking down the hall, heard the laughter and asked Bud to start the pilot over from the beginning.
Silverman picked it up for 13 episodes on the spot. “All In The Family” would become one of the most talked-about, groundbreaking, and culturally influential half-hour comedies in history, due to the show’s openly bigoted, blue-collar main character, Archie Bunker.
The success of “All In The Family” precipitated a revolution of fearlessness in the sit-com landscape that continues to this day. Tandem Productions was at the forefront, with shows that presented characters from diverse backgrounds – as well as political, sexual and cultural observations that were as funny as they were barbed -- never before seen in the family living room.
After Yorkin ended his creative partnership with Lear, he continued to push the bar with provocatively entertaining television comedy. In 1976, Yorkin teamed with Saul Turteltaub and Bernie Orenstein to create Toy Productions which produced the popular “What’s Happening,” a teen comedy set in Watts, and the critically praised “Carter Country,” a comic variation on “In The Heat of the Night.” In 1979, Toy Productions was acquired by Columbia Pictures.
Yorkin himself, known for his sensitivity and integrity, always remained independent, never joining a studio despite his success.
Throughout his wide-ranging career, Yorkin received numerous accolades -- including six Emmy Awards, a Peabody, a Sylvania and a Director’s Guild Award. In 1973, he was named “Man of the Year” by the Television Academy and in 2002, he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame for his significant contributions to the medium’s history. In 2003, he received the David Susskind Lifetime Achievement Award in Television from the Producer’s Guild of America.
Yorkin has served as a trustee on the Board of Trustees of Carnegie-Mellon University and endowed the Annual Bud Yorkin Awards for directing and playwriting students at the University. Bud Yorkin served as a Trustee of the American Film Institute from 1981-2009. He was a most respected member whose involvement was instrumental in bringing television more prominently into the life of the Institute.
He served as chair of the Honorary Degree Committee at its inception in 1989. He continued to play a leadership role as AFI became more entrepreneurial—and in 1998, he conceived and chaired the AFI Celebrity Golf Tournament at the Riviera Country Club that became an annual tradition for 11 years and raised more than $4 million in support of the AFI educational programs.
Yorkin also established a golf tournament and entertainment fundraiser, known as “The Y Classic,” which ran for 12 years in support of the Wood River Community YMCA in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Bud Yorkin is survived by wife Cynthia Sikes Yorkin, sons David and Michael, daughters Nicole and Jessica, and 4 grandchildren. A private funeral will be held.
In memory of Bud, donations can be made to:
Motion Picture Home Fund, in honor of Bud Yorkin, online at https://www.mptf.com/tributegift or mail a check to by check made payable to MPTF, or credit card mailed to: MPTF Donation, PO Box 51151, Los Angeles, CA 90051-9706.
For more on Bud Yorkin, please visit his Archive of American Television interview.