John Rich, a director best known for his work on classic television comedies, and a key figure in the history of the Directors Guild of America, died January 29, 2012, in Los Angeles. He was 86.
According to news reports, the cause was of heart failure.
Rich began his directing career in the early 1950s on such series as I Married Joan and Our Miss Brooks. Although best known for comedy, he also directed dramas, including episodes of Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, The Twilight Zone and numerous others.
His vast credits included 43 episodes of Benson, 41 episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show, 81 episodes of All in the Family, 27 episodes of Gomer Pyle, USMC and 19 episodes of That Girl.
Rich won two Primetime Emmys — one for directing All in the Family, one for producing All in the Family and another for directing The Dick Van Dyke Show.
in addition, Rich directed five feature films: Wives and Lovers (1963), The New Interns (1964), Roustabout (1964), Boeing-Boeing (1965) and Easy Come, Easy Go (1967).
In 1972 the Directors Guild of America honored Rich with a DGA Award for directing All in the Family. The guild also bestowed its highest honor, the Robert B. Aldrich Achievement Award, in 1993, and named him an Honorary Life Member Award in 2003.
Rich first joined the DGA in 1953. Upon his passing, guild president Taylor Hackford said, “We are deeply saddened to learn today of the passing of John Rich. A legendary figure in the history of TV comedy, John tirelessly served our Guild for nearly six decades. He directed some of the most beloved classics of all time and his skills as a television director were unsurpassed, but no matter how busy and successful his career was, John always made time for the DGA.
“No one who ever sat in a meeting with John will ever forget his stories about the early days of the Guild or his lovably salty sense of humor. John began making an impact in the Guild from the very first time he attended a meeting of what was then the Screen Directors Guild. At that meeting, he had the chutzpah to point out that of the illustrious members — including Capra, Stevens, Wyler and Hitchcock — who had convened to elect a board of directors, none had ever worked in television. And the very next day — John got a call that they had appointed him — this brash young television wunderkind, as an alternate member of the new board. And once he began serving the Guild, he never stopped, with more than 50 years on the National Board and Western Directors Council, and even after his retirement continued serving as the Chairman of the Directors Guild Foundation.
“But what we’ll remember the most is his dedication to defending the economic and creative rights of our members, pushing for the merger of the Screen Directors Guild and Radio & Television Directors Guild, establishing the Pension Plan and serving on almost every Negotiations Committee since 1960. We’ll always be grateful to have had the benefit of his formidable presence, his outspoken nature and his years of experience that came from leading and supporting the Guild in some of its most important moments. Our hearts go out to his wife Pat and his family at this difficult time.”
Rich served the DGA as secretary (1958-1959), treasurer (1965-1967) and multiple terms as a vice president (1959-1960, 1960-1961, 1963-1965, 1967-1973, 1996-1997). He also was involved in multiple negotiations as a member of the Negotiations Committee and served as chairman of the Directors Guild Foundation since 2005. Rich was a founding member of the DGA-Producer Pension Plan and was chairman of its board of trustees for seven terms.
Rich is survived by his wife, three children, three stepchildren and eight grandchildren.
On August 3, 1999, John Rich had the distinction of being interviewed by the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television. During the nearly seven-hour interview, conducted in Los Angeles by Henry Colman, Rich talked about getting his start in television — as a stage manager for NBC's The Colgate Comedy Hour — and described his big break into directing on The Ezio Pinza Show.
He went on to discuss numerous shows he directed throughout his career, including I Married Joan, The Ray Bolger Show, Our Miss Brooks, Gunsmoke, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch and All In the Family, on which he also served as producer.
In addition, Rich shared his experiences directing the pilot episodes of Maude, The Jeffersons, Barney Miller and Newhart, and spoke of his role as executive producer of Benson and MacGyver.
To conclude, Rich detailed his thoughts on the state of television directing in the 1990s and offered advice to aspiring directors.
The entire interview is available online here.