An innovative showman, the 81-year-old Schlatter turned the comedy genre on its head with the hip, groundbreaking series "
But that's not all, folks. He also created the "American Comedy Awards," produced countless TV specials, including "A Party for Richard Pryor" and "Sinatra: 80 Years My Way," and earned more than a few honors for his work, including
He was buds with the Rat Pack. He made stars out of unknowns
He broke down color barriers. In fact, Schlatter, who was once a white greeter at an African American club in Los Angeles, insisted in the 1950s that Sammy Davis Jr. be allowed to stay at the New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas while performing there, which was unprecedented in the segregated resort town. Then in the 1960s he hired Mark Warren, who Schlatter said was one of the first African American TV directors.
Schlatter's larger-than-life in person. A bear of a man with a ready smile, Schlatter has a hearty laugh and a big booming melodic voice — he sang for two seasons as a teenager at the St. Louis Municipal Opera. His Melrose Avenue office is grander than some apartments and covered ceiling to floor with photographs from his 60-year career.
Not surprisingly, he's a treasure trove of delicious stories, such as the time he persuaded then-presidential nominee
Schlatter noted that he wanted to do something big for the first show of the new season. The show's veteran writer, Paul Keyes, who wrote most of the material for the comedy team of
"Paul said, 'How about Richard Nixon?' I said it would be great if we could get him to say 'Sock it to me.' So they went over to CBS where the Republican candidate was taping a press conference," Schlatter said. "All of Nixon's advisors were saying, 'You can't do this, it will ruin you."
But Nixon agreed. "I had to do six takes so he could say 'Sock it to me' and look happy," Schlatter said. "
Schlatter is "certainly one of the great television showman," Paley Center for Media curator Ron Simon said of Schlatter. "He can bring together great ideas and talent and put on a great show. He is always very contemporary, but he has a great feeling and understanding of what has worked in show business history."
On Tuesday, Schlatter will be sitting down with writer Kliph Nesteroff at the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre for "An Evening With George Schlatter: TV Comedy Pioneer," which will feature clips from
"Soul," Schlatter said, never made it to series because NBC was "not ready for it. It was revolutionary."
The Cinefamily program will also highlight clips from the 1968 NBC Motown special "TCB" and the 1972-73 CBS comedy-variety series "The New Bill Cosby Show,"
Schlatter paid his dues before he became an innovative TV producer. "I was born with a wooden spoon in my mouth," he said, laughing.
He got his first big break at MCA's band and musical acts department booking piano players. It was during his first week at MCA that he met Sinatra, who would become one of his closest friends and frequent collaborators.
"I was delivering mail," Schlatter recalled. "Suddenly, there was a commotion and people came from all over because Sinatra was in the building."
The Chairman of the Board showed up at MCA once a year. "Sinatra came in and they gave him his contract," Schlatter said.
"He took the contract and said to me, 'Is this OK?' He handed it to me. I said, 'yeah.' He signed the contract, and he handed it back to me and said, 'I've got ties older than this guy.' The Sinatra relationship built from that meeting to when I did the eulogy at his funeral. He was an event."