August 11, 2012

Mel Stuart, Primetime Emmy-Winning Director-Producer

Stuart began his career making documentaries and continued to work in the nonfiction arena even after he achieved success with scripted feature films and TV productions.

Mel Stuart, a Primetime Emmy-winning director and producer whose career spanned more than 40 years, died August 9, 2011, at his Los Angeles home. He was 83.

According to news reports, the cause was cancer.

Stuart, who is perhaps best known for directing the feature film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, began his career in documentaries. A longtime associate of nonfiction icon David Wolper, he earned an Academy Award nomination for the 1964 documentary Four Days in November, about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Other acclaimed documentaries included the 1968 production George Plimpton and the New York Philharmonic, in which the renowned journalist rehearsed with the orchestra, and the 1973 production Wattstax, about the Wattstax music festival in the Watts district of Los Angeles.

Even after he had moved on to a successful career directing scripted feature films and television programs, Stuart kept a hand in his nonfiction roots. In the 1980s he was an independent producer and director, and contributed profiles of artist Man Ray, filmmaker Billy Wilder to the PBS series American Masters.

Born in New York City on September 2, 1928, Stuart graduated from New York University, after which he went to work for NBC News as an editor and a researcher for the CBS News program the 20th Century, before joining the Wolper Organization.

In addition to Willy Wonka, his feature film credits included If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium, I Love My Wife and Two Is a Happy Number.

With Wolper, he was involved in numerous television documentaries. Other TV credits included episodes of the series Here We Go Again and Welcome Back, Kotter; the miniseries The Chisholms; and several made-for-television movies, including Brenda Starr, Ruby and Oswald and the Emmy-winning 1981 production Bill, starring Mickey Rooney as a mentally disabled man seeking to live on his own. He also served as executive producer of the nonfiction series Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

Stuart won his Emmy for 1964’s The Making of the President 1960. In addition, he received four other Emmy nominations.

He is survived by a daughter and two sons.

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