Six-time Emmy winner Gene Reynolds, known for his writing, directing and producing for the lauded socially conscious 1970s TV shows â€œMASHâ€ and â€œLou Grant,â€ died Monday in Burbank, Calif. He was 96.
Starting in 1993, Reynolds served four years as president of the Directors Guild of America, which confirmed his death.
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Asked to produce a TV version of the 1970 antiwar black comedy â€œMASH,â€ about a team of surgeons in the Korean War, Reynolds sought out the creative like-mind of writer Larry Gelbart. Together, they created a funny yet socially astute series that was massively successful, running for 11 years and garnering many awards, including a Peabody in 1975 and Emmys for outstanding series (1974) and for an assortment of individual writing, acting and directing accomplishments.
In addition to producing, Reynolds himself directed and wrote numerous episodes for the series.
Directors Guild of America President Thomas Schlamme and former National Executive Director Jay D. Roth said in a statement,Â â€œGeneâ€™s influence on the modern Directors Guild of America was significant and lasting,â€Â said Schlamme. â€œDuring his two terms as President, he dedicated himself to making the Guild more inclusive â€“ broadening the leadership base, encouraging younger members to take leadership positions, strengthening ties between feature directors, pushing the industry to do better on diversity and working to modify DGA agreements so that filmmakers with low budgets could benefit from DGA membership.Â Â Geneâ€™s commitment to the Guild lasted long after his presidency ended, regularly attending Board and Western Directors Council meetings, and never hesitating to share his thoughts. He was passionate about this Guild, spirited in his beliefs and dedicated until the end.â€
Â â€œGene was President when I became National Executive Director,â€Â said Roth.Â â€œHe was absolutely committed to revitalizing and modernizing the Guild and laying the groundwork for its growth into the future. He cared deeply about diversity and growing the leadership base of the Guild, and his passion for the DGA never wavered.â€
Over the course of his career, Reynolds drew 24 Primetime Emmy nominations, winning six times, including for outstanding series for â€œMASHâ€ and, twice, for â€œLou Grant.â€ He won his first Primetime Emmy in 1970 as a producer for â€œRoom 222.â€
He also won a Humanitas Prize for â€œLou Grantâ€ and DGA awards for direction of a comedy series for â€œMASHâ€ twice and for direction of a drama series for â€œLou Grantâ€ once.
Reynolds was always drawn to the human aspects of storytelling. Quoting Faulkner, he declared a preference for stories that featured â€œthe human heart in conflict with itself.â€ â€œOne great judge of work: Does it have an aftertaste? Does it leave you with something?â€ he once said.
Nowhere was this approach more apparent than in his work on the acclaimed, innovative series â€œMASHâ€ and â€œLou Grant.â€
On â€œMASH,â€ the line between acting and writing was fluid â€” a dynamic created and encouraged by Reynolds. Alan Alda, who played â€œHawkeyeâ€ Pierce, the showâ€™s conscience and editorial voice, noted that on â€œMASH,â€ â€œWe constantly scrambled over (the barrier between a showâ€™s writers and actors) from both sides.â€
The result, Alda said, was the actorsâ€™ â€œowning it, in some way,â€ creating â€œmuch more believable behavior.â€
â€œMASHâ€ used this flow of collaboration and improvisation to create innovative episodes, including â€œThe Interview,â€ which aired in 1976. Shot in black and white, styled as an Edward R. Murrow documentary about Korea and written by Gelbart, the episode incorporated scripted questions for the charactersâ€™ â€œinterviews,â€ as well as unscripted ones that forced the actors to improvise in character.
The series remained in the top 10 for its entire run, and its final episode was at the time the most-watched program in history, with more than 50 million families tuning in.
Gelbart left after two seasons. Reynolds eventually became exec producer, leaving himself in 1977. He continued to consult with the show.
After â€œMASH,â€ Reynolds teamed with James L. Brooks, along with Alan Burns, to create â€œLou Grant.â€ A spinoff of the â€œMary Tyler Moore Show,â€ â€œLou Grantâ€ reimagined the crusty character as a Los Angeles newspaper editor and explored the behind-the-scenes drama of news coverage.
The show avoided formulas and easy endings, exploring social issues of the day in ways that didnâ€™t always tie up neatly at the end of an episode. Reynolds wrote a significant number of episodes, in addition to directing and exec producing.
The critically acclaimed â€œLou Grantâ€ won numerous awards, including a Peabody in 1978 and the Emmy for drama series in 1979 and 1980. It ran from 1977-82.
Born in Cleveland as Eugene Reynolds Blumenthal, Reynolds began as a child actor, making his bigscreen debut in a 1934 â€œOur Gangâ€ short. As a kid, however, Reynolds aspired to be a director, and he followed early roles in films such as â€œLove Finds Andy Hardyâ€ (1938) and â€œAndy Hardyâ€™s Private Secretaryâ€ (1941) and TV series including â€œThe Lone Ranger,â€ â€œDragnetâ€ and â€œI Love Lucyâ€ with work behind the scenes.
Reynoldsâ€™ first significant non-acting work came in 1957 for the TV series â€œTales of Wells Fargo,â€ which he created with Brooks and Frank Gruber. Over the seriesâ€™ multiseason run, Reynolds wrote and directed several episodes.
He had a solid run as a director on â€œMy Three Sonsâ€ and stints on â€œAlfred Hitchcock Presents,â€ â€œLeave It to Beaver,â€ â€œThe Andy Griffith Show,â€ â€œThe Donna Reed Show,â€ â€œGidget,â€ â€œThe Munstersâ€ and â€œF Troop.â€
His creative approach met its first match when he worked with show creator Brooks as a producer and director for the TV series â€œRoom 222,â€ which debuted in 1969. The show explored contemporary social issues from the perspective of high school students, teachers and administrators, addressing weighty issues such as racial tolerance and drugs, but in what would become Reynoldsâ€™ hallmark, the approach to these themes was tempered by humor.
Reynolds described his later career as â€œfreelance directing.â€ He directed TV movies, including â€œIn Defense of Kidsâ€ (1983), starring Blythe Danner, as well episodes of TV series, including â€œLife Goes On,â€ â€œLois and Clark: The New Adventures of Supermanâ€ and â€œTouched by an Angel.â€ His last directing effort was the 1999 telepic â€œHow to Get There.â€
In the 2000s, he appeared as himself in several documentaries and video shorts, including â€œImaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaustâ€ (2004).
In 1993 Reynolds received the DGAâ€™s Robert B. Aldrich Achievement Award for extraordinary service to the guild.
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