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May 27, 2010

Emmy-winning documentarian Irwin Rosten Dies

The prolific writer, director and producer also earned two Oscar nominations and other honors and served as a Television Academy governor.

Irwin Rosten, an award-winning writer, producer and director, died May 23, 2010, in Hollywood, after a brief illness. He was 85.

The son of immigrant parents, Rosten grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He began his television career in the medium’s infancy at the DuMont Network in New York, where he wrote news.

In 1954 he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked for KNXT and KTLA, writing news and producing half-hour specials. A line he wrote for anchorman Jerry Dunphy became the veteran newsman’s signature tagline: “From the desert to the sea to all of southern California — a good evening.”

He fiercely resisted self-promotion. When he was nominated for an Emmy for the 1967 National Geographic documentary Grizzly, Rosten’s friends and business associates bought a full-page ad in the entertainment trade publication Variety, and at the bottom of the page wrote: “This space paid for by the admirers of Irwin Rosten, a modest man who cannot be trusted to blow his own horn.”

In the late 1960s Rosten and his partner Nick Noxon created the first stand-alone documentary unit at a major studio. During their partnership with MGM, Rosten wrote and produced Hollywood: The Dream Factory, the first of numerous award-winning programs made for the studio and National Geographic.

Over a lengthy and celebrated career he created hundreds of hours of television and theatrical films, and won many awards, including a Peabody, four Emmys and several WGA honors.

He also received two Oscar nominations for best documentary feature: for the 1969 production The Wolf Men and the 1975 production The Incredible Machine.

Rosten was active in various professional organizations, including the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, where he served multiple terms as a governor.

Beyond his entertainment achievements, Rosten was an avid traveler, an excellent cook and a mentor to many.

Rosten’s professional credo was simple: “I hire the best people I can — I get out of the way — and somehow I get a lot of credit for it.”

He is survived by his wife Marilyn, son Peter, and a large extended family.

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