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October 19, 2009

TV Veteran Richard Berg Dies at 87

Writer-producer left impressive legacy in Hollywood

Richard Berg, a prominent television writer and producer whose career ranged from live television to movies of the week and longform programming, died September 1, 2009, at his home in Los Angeles. Berg, who reportedly had experienced a brief illness, was 87.

In addition to his own impressive accomplishments, Berg, along with his wife of 63 years, Barbara, parented several entertainment industry achievers in their own right. Their sons are ICM chairman and CEO Jeff Berg, author A. Scott Berg, music producer and executive Tony Berg and producer and manager Rick Berg.

Born in New York City on February 16, 1922, Berg grew up in New Rochelle, New York. He arrived in California in 1942, after graduating from Lehigh University, hoping to break into the movie business. After working for several years as a dialogue coach for Roy Rogers and other cowboys at Republic Pictures, he returned to the East Coast, where he ran Poor Richard’s Art Gallery and the Paint Bucket, an art supply store in Westport, Connecticut.

During this time he began writing television scripts, which he submitted to various series. In the era of live television, more than a dozen of his original dramas appeared on such programs as Kraft Theater, Robert Montgomery Presents, Studio One and Playhouse 90.

When one of his television scripts was produced as a stage play, Berg’s work was noticed by actor Burt Lancaster’s production company, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, and he was summoned back to Los Angeles in 1957 to work as a screenwriter.

Under an eventual contract with Universal, he created the series Staccato, and became a producer with the detective series Checkmate, starring Doug McClure and Sebastian Cabot.

He went on to become a prolific producer, working on such programs as the anthologies Alcoa Premiere and Chrysler Theater. During this time he hired numerous performers who went on to become well known, including Robert Redford, Simone Signoret, Anne Bancroft, Rod Steiger, Cliff Robertson, Jason Robards and Lee. J. Cobb and directors such as Sydney Pollack, Mark Rydell and Stuart Rosenberg.

Berg’s own company, Stonehenge Productions, produced dozens of movies of the week and miniseries. In 1985, he was nominated for two Primetime Emmys for producing Wallenberg: A Hero’s Story, starring Richard Chamberlain, and Space, based on the James Michener novel of the same name. Other productions included The Martian Chronicles, The Word, A Rumor of War and Pronto.

In addition to his television work, Berg produced feature films, including House of Cards and Counterpoint.

Berg served two terms as president of the Hollywood Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

He is survived by his wife, four sons and seven grandchildren.

Richard Berg had the distinction of being interviewed by the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television. His Archive interview was conducted by his son, biographer A. Scott Berg, on December 10, 2008.

During the two-hour conversation, Berg spoke about his early interest in athletics, dramatics and music — as a young man, he was part of a three-piece jazz band. He related his arrival in Hollywood in 1943 and becoming a third assistant director in westerns at Republic Studios. He talked about his return to the East Coast, where he ran an art gallery while honing his craft as a writer. His initial efforts included an unrealized pilot for a series to star Claude Rains, whom he got to meet. He further talked about some of his early writing for television, becoming a hot property when he began writing for the live anthology Studio One, establishing himself with the original teleplay The Drop of a Hat.

He also discussed moving back to Los Angeles, where he began to work on such television series as Playhouse 90. He described the genesis of the series Johnny Staccato, starring John Cassavetes, for which Berg wrote the pilot under the aegis of Universal executive Jennings Lang. He addressed his transition to producing for television, beginning with the detective series Checkmate, in which he revealed that he delivered each show in just five production days.

He described the presentation he filmed in order to get Universal’s bid for a new anthology series picked up by NBC. The network ended up making two anthologies — one of which became Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, with Berg as producer. He commented on the writers, directors and stars that worked on Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre and related some production stories. He also elaborated on the acclaimed miniseries he produced, including The Martian Chronicles and Space. Other television projects he spoke about included: anthology series Alcoa Premiere, two-part television movie Wallenberg: A Hero’s Story and the unrealized miniseries of Norman Mailer’s The Deer Park. He also acknowledged his tenure as the President of the Hollywood Chapter of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

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