Friday, November 19, 2010

TV Producer William Self Passes On

William Self, who was an executive in charge in production at 20th Century Fox when the studio produced such classic shows as Daniel Boone, Batman. and M*A*S*H, passed on November 15, 2010, at the age of 89. The cause was a heart attack.

William Self was born on June 21, 1921 in Dayton, Ohio. He was the son of an advertising executive who was also a part time playwright. In 1943 he graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in political science. Mr. Self was exempt from military service due to medical reasons. As a result, he worked as an copy writer at an advertising agency in Chicago for one year. It was while in Chicago that he made his acting debut in one of his father's plays. It was in 1944 that he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting.

William Self made his film debut in The Story of G. I. Joe in 1945 in the small role of Private Cookie Henderson. Over the next few years he appeared in such films as Decoy (1946), Monsieur Verdoux (1947), Kilroy was Here (1947), Red River (1948), I Was a Male War Bride (1949), Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), and Operation Pacific. He had a somewhat substantial role as Corporal Barnes in The Thing From Another World (1951). He would also appear in the films Pat and Mike (1952), Plymouth Adventure (1952), and Destination Gobi (1953).

In 1952 his friend Bernard Tabakin asked William Self to lend a hand on the syndicated series China Smith. Not only did this break Mr. Self into television, but it was also the end of his acting career. He went onto produce his first television series, Schlitz Playhouse. He also directed several episodes.  In 1956 he produced the movie Ride the High Iron. He then produced the short lived The Frank Sinatra Show. Not long after his stint on The Frank Sinatra Show, Mr. Self was hired as director of development at CBS. His first pilot would be for show that would become legendary--The Twilight Zone.

It was in 1959 that William Self was hired by 20th Century Fox. He served as executive producer on the series Hotel de Paree, Hong Kong, Follow the Sun, and Adventures in Paradise. As an executive in charge of production at 20th Century Fox he would work on such legendary shows as Peyton Place, Daniel Boone, 12 O'Clock High, Daniel Boone, Blue Light, Batman, and Room 222. While at 20th Century Fox he rose to become president of 20th Century Fox Television and vice president of 20th Century Fox Corporation. While there he took 20th Century Fox's television arm from near death to one of the most powerful television production companies in Hollywood, producing shows from Nanny and the Professor to M*A*S*H.

After fifteen years at 20th Century Fox, William Self left in 1974 to form Frankovich-Self Productions with Mike Frankovich. The company produced The Shootist (1976) and From Noon Till Three (1976). It was in 1977 that he returned to CBS as vice president/head of the West Coast. A year later he was made vice president in charge of television movies and miniseries. In 1982 he became president of CBS Theatrical Films and oversaw ten movies made in the next three years, among them The Corn is Green (1979), Bill (1981), and Better Off Dead (1985). He then founded William Self Productions. With Norman Rosemont he produced several Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations, including Sarah Plain and Tall, Skylark, and Sarah Plain and Tall: Winter's End.

William Self was a competent actor, often playing uncredited, small roles with conviction. As a television executive who oversaw production of TV series, however, Mr. Self would be one the greatest in the field. He took 20th Century Fox's television branch from nearly ceasing to exist to one of the powerful television production companies in the world. It was on his watch that 20th Century Fox produced such classics as Daniel Boone, Batman, The Green Hornet, and M*A*S*H. Mr. Self's success in television was perhaps due to two simple reasons. First, there can be no doubt he knew what audiences liked. Mr. Self oversaw shows that would become hits and many that would see continued success even after their first runs on network television had ended. Second, he was not afraid to stand up for a show that he knew would be a hit, even when it was something dramatically different. After disastrous screenings before test audiences, ABC was getting cold feet regarding Batman. William Self stood by the William Dozier and the starkly original series, which went onto become the smash hit of 1966 and one of the biggest hits in the history of television. Sadly, Mr. Self was rarity as a television executive in the Sixties  He would be even rarer now.


noir said...

So happy to see him honored here. He had a pivotal role in "The Thing", where his actions directly drove the plot. Since he was uncredited often as an actor, it was really wonderful to see his success as a producer, no doubt he helped many struggling actors make their mark!

Patience Wieland

Mercurie said...

Quite right, Patience! Mr. Self had a very important role in The Thing, even if it wasn't big. I find it sad he was often uncredited as an actor, as Mr. Self was certainly very good at his craft! Still, he was fantastic as a producer. He pulled off miracles at 20th Century Fox and created some very legendary television.