Jay Sommers, a prolific radio and television writer whose credits ranged from “Lum and Abner” to the TV cult favorite “Green Acres,” has died of a lingering heart ailment.
Sommers was 68 when he died Wednesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
He was a budding chemist at City College of New York who turned to writing when a girlfriend’s father became enamored of his sense of humor.
Sommers had been courting the woman via mail, and her father, who was reading their correspondence, was an executive with the Bristol-Myers Co., then a sponsor of many favored radio programs.
Sommers got a job (but not the girl) and began as one of the writers on “The Milton Berle Show.” From there, he worked for such various radio stars as Jimmy Durante, Garry Moore, Alan Young, Victor Borge, Eddie Cantor, Spike Jones, Jack Paar and in the late 1940s, the airwaves perennial champion, “Lum and Abner.”
The writer-producer had been raised on a farm in New York and in 1950 created a radio show based on rural humor. He called it “Granby’s Green Acres” and it became the forerunner to “Green Acres,” a rustic situation comedy he produced and wrote for television.
It was one of CBS’ brightest offerings of the mid-1960s and starred Eddie Albert, Eva Gabor, Pat Buttram and Arnold the Pig.
Sommers was honored by the USC Cinema and Television School last April at a retrospective of the shows, which featured Albert as a successful New York lawyer battling with his socialite wife (Gabor) over their move to the verdant back country of a mythical “Hooterville.”
Hooterville later became the setting for television’s “Petticoat Junction,” for which Sommers also wrote.
Sommers’ wife, Barbara, said the USC tribute was the first time the university had singled out a television series for recognition. A turn-away crowd of more than 1,000 attended, she said.
Sommers’ other TV credits included “The Peter Lind Hayes Show;” “Grindl,” the Imogene Coca short-lived series in which she played a domestic, and “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” one of the longest-running (1952-66) family comedies ever aired.
In addition to his wife, Sommers is survived by five sons and a granddaughter.
A funeral service will be held Sunday at Westwood Village Mortuary at 11 a.m.