William Self, who began his entertainment career as an actor and went on to become a producer and executive who helped to shape 20th Century Fox as a leading television supplier in the 1960s and 1970s, died November 15, 2010, at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles after suffering a heart attack four days earlier. He was 89.
At Fox, where Self spent 15 years, he championed such series as Peyton Place, the first primetime soap opera; Batman, the first series based on a comic book to air in primetime; Julia, the first weekly series to star an African-American woman; and the highly rated, award-winning M*A*S*H.
Previously, in the late 1950s, Self produced the pilot for The Twilight Zone. In addition, his company produced John Wayne’s final feature film, the 1976 release The Shootist.
Born June 21, 1921, in Dayton, Ohio, acted in more than two-dozen movies from 1949-53, including I Was a Male War Bride, Operation Pacific, The Thing From Another World and Pat and Mike. During those years, he developed a friendship with Spencer Tracy.
After transitioning away from acting, Self produced more than 200 episodes of Schlitz Playhouse of Stars as well as The Frank Sinatra Show in 1957. He later joined CBS as a program executive, after which he moved to Fox.
Other notable Fox series during his tenure included Daniel Boone, Twelve O’Clock High, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, The Green Hornet, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, Land of the Giants and Room 222.
Self eventually became president of 20th Century Fox Television and then vice president of 20th Century Fox Film Corporation.
He left Fox in 1975 and formed a partnership with Mike Frankovich. The duo produced the westerns The Shootist and From Noon Till Three.
In 1977 Self returned to CBS, where he oversaw such productions as The Corn Is Green, starring Katharine Hepburn; All Quiet on the Western Front, starring Ernest Borgnine and Richard Thomas; and The Blue and the Gray, a Civil War miniseries that earned four Primetime Emmy nominations.
In the 1990s, Self partnered with Glenn Close to produce three made-for-television movies for Hallmark: Sarah, Plain and Tall; Skylark; and Sarah, Plain and Tall: Winter’s End, all starring Close and Christopher Walken. He earned a Primetime Emmy nomination for the first Sarah, Plain and Tall.
Survivors include a daughter, a son, a sister, four grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
On March 27, 2001, William Self had the distinction of being interviewed by the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television. During the three-half hour interview, conducted in Los Angeles by Jeff Abraham, Self discussed his early acting career in movies and his friendship with Spencer Tracy, which led to his extensive television producing career.
He went on to talk about his producing the series Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, The Frank Sinatra Show and the pilot of The Twilight Zone.
He then addressed his brief executive position at CBS and his executive producer position at 20th Century Fox Television. Self talked about his promotions at Fox to the eventual positions of president of 20th Century Fox Television and vice president of 20th Century Fox Film Corporation, where he oversaw such shows as The Adventures of Dobie Gillis, Batman, Daniel Boone, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Peyton Place, Lost in Space, M*A*S*H, Julia and Room 222, among others.
He ended the interview discussing his relationships with various producers and directors and his partnership with actress Glenn Close on the Sarah, Plain and Tall movies.
The entire interview is available online here.