Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bewitched Producer William Asher R.I.P.

William Asher, who produced Bewitched, directed I Love Lucy, and created The Patty Duke Show with Sidney Sheldon, died Tuesday, 18 July 2012, at the age of 90. The cause was complications from Alzheimer's disease.

William Asher was born 8 August 1921 in New York City. His father E. M. Asher would be an associate producer on several films, including such classics as Frankenstein (1931), The Old Dark House (1932), The Black Cat (1934), and Dracula's Daughter (1936). The family moved to Los Angeles when William Asher was 10 so that his father could work in the movie industry. His parents divorced when he was eleven and young Mr. Asher returned to New York City with his mother. He would return to Los Angeles, where he got a job in the mail room at Universal Studios. During World War II he served in the Signal Corps of the U. S. Army. It was at that time he began selling short stories to magazines.

It was following the war, in 1948, that he began his career in Hollywood by producing the low budget boxing film Leather Gloves with Richard Quine for Columbia Pictures. The film also marked his directorial debut. It was in 1951 that he moved into television, directing an episode of Racket Squad. Over the next few years he would direct episodes of such shows as Big Town, Where's Raymond?, Make Room for Daddy, The Lineup, General Electric Theatre, and December Bride. It would be in 1952 that he would begin directing the show for which he is best known besides Bewitched: I Love Lucy.  It was Desi Arnaz who initially asked Mr. Asher to direct an episode of the show. In the end, Mr. Asher directed 100 episodes of I Love Lucy, remaining with the show until its end. Following I Love Lucy he directed episodes of The Thin ManFibber McGee & Molly, and  The Twilight Zone. The short lived adaptation of Fibber McGee & Molly would also be the first series that he regularly produced. It was in the Fifties that William Asher also broke into writing for television, writing episodes of The Big Town and Sally. In the Fifties he would also direct three feature films: Mobs Inc. (1956), The Shadow in the Window (1957), and The 27th Day (1957).

The Sixties would prove to be a golden era for William Asher, a period during which he directed, produced, or wrote some of his most famous works. It was in 1963 that Mr. Asher directed Beach Party, the first of American-International's "Beach Party" movies. During the Sixties he would also direct the films Johnny Cool (1963)  and Fireball 500 (1966). While the "Beach Party" movies were highly successful, arguably his biggest achievements would be in television. He co-created The Patty Duke Show with Sidney Sheldon. He also directed and produced episodes of the series. What may be his best claim to fame may be as producer of Bewitched. He remained the show's producer for the entirety of its eight year run and directed a lion's share of its episodes. While Sol Saks is often credited as the creator of Bewitched, there can be no doubt that William Asher (who was also married to star Elizabeth Montgomery) shaped the show into what we know today. He also directed episodes of the short lived series Gidget.

In the Seventies William Asher produced The Paul Lynde Show and Temperatures Rising. He directed episodes of The Paul Lynde Show, The New Temperatures Rising, Lucas Tanner, Marcus Welby M.D., Operation: Petticoat, Tabitha (a spin off from Bewitched), Alice, and The Bad News Bears. He developed the series The New Temperatures Rising. In the Eighties he directed episodes of Private Benjamin, Harper Valley P.T.A., and Crazy Like a Fox. He directed the films Night Warning (1982) and Movers & Shakers (1985). Mr. Asher's last work was directing the television reunion movies I Dream of Jeannie... Fifteen Years Later (1985) and Return to Green Acres (1990).

One does not often hear the word auteur with regards to those who work in television, but it could easily be applied to William Asher. While he only wrote one episode of Bewitched, he produced the entire run of the series and directed a lion's share of its episodes. There can be no doubt he had a large role in shaping the show. It is not enough to say that Bewitched could have been a very different show without William Asher, it seems possible that it might never have come to exist.

Of course, William Asher's career went well beyond Bewitched. In fact, he had a far larger impact on American pop culture than many television directors and producers probably do. He directed around 100 I Love Lucy episodes--his very first was the classic "Job Switching," in which Lucy and Ethel go to work in a chocolate factory. With Sidney Sheldon he was co-creator of The Patty Duke Show and directed some of that show's episodes. Beyond television, he was largely responsible for American International Pictures' "Beach Party" movies. He directed the first film, while he directed and wrote stories for the rest. Mr. Asher also directed a wide array of television shows, from The Twilight Zone to Gidget. While many television producers have had an impact on pop culture, few have had the impact that William Asher did.

No comments: