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Jerry Wheeler, 44; Producer for TV, Film, Stage

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jerry B. Wheeler, a film, television and theatrical producer and writer, has died of complications of AIDS. He was 44.

Wheeler died Saturday in Los Angeles.

At the time of his death, Wheeler was producing “The Front Runner,” a film based on Patricia Nell Warren’s 1974 novel about a college athletic coach’s homosexual affair with a young track star. Wheeler attributed delays in making the film during the past five years to difficulty in finding a major middle-aged male star willing to portray a homosexual.

Wheeler’s production company, On the Right Track Productions, will continue making the film under his instructions.

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Born in New York, Wheeler first worked as a child actor in daytime television shows. He also worked during his teens as an associate to a Broadway producer and as assistant stage manager for the Metropolitan Opera Company.

Moving to Los Angeles in 1968, he coordinated production for such CBS-TV variety series as “The Carol Burnett Show,” “The Red Skelton Show” and the “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.”

After heading his own personal management firm for seven years, he began producing films.

His first effort was “The Last Resort,” later retitled “Tropic of Desire,” with Eartha Kitt and Tom Ewell.

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For theater, Wheeler wrote, produced and directed the comedy “Dracula Sucks” and produced “Last Summer at Bluefish Cove.”

In 1981, Wheeler produced a controversial series of five television spots for the California Department of Mental Health promoting tolerance about homosexuality. The spots, featuring Ed Asner, Abigail Van Buren and other celebrities, were kept off the air for years by the administration of then-Gov. Jerry Brown on grounds that they were an improper use of taxpayers’ money.

Wheeler also created and co-produced the annual media awards shows for the Alliance for Gay & Lesbian Artists and was an adviser to the Los Angeles International Gay & Lesbian Film/Video Festival.

He is survived by his mother, Edna; a brother, Gene, and his longtime companion, Steve Badeau.

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The family has requested that memorial contributions be made to AIDS Project Los Angeles, 6721 Romaine St., Los Angeles 90038, or the American Foundation for AIDS Research, 5900 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles 90036.


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