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Schine Found Respect After Past Scandal

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

By the time he died in a plane crash alongside the Golden State Freeway, G. David Schine had fashioned a respected career a continent away from the Washington hearing rooms where he had been part of a scandal that eventually toppled communist-hunting Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

Schine’s resume included stints as Los Angeles hotelier, executive producer of the film “The French Connection,” record producer and chairman of a company that developed the technology to sharpen color television.

“Another page in history has turned,” said Jack Fox, 67, of Sherman Oaks, who as a reporter for the New York Post turned a tip from one of Schine’s disgruntled fellow GIs into the first story on the Schine case more than 40 years ago. “Out of the famous three [including McCarthy and Roy Cohn] at that time, he was the only one left.”

Fox said he followed Schine’s career through the newspapers after he moved out to Los Angeles.

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“I’ve watched with some interest,” said Fox. “After he got separated out of the McCarthy/Cohn mess, he handled himself with dignity. I never saw anything which connected him with extreme right-wing causes.”

Schine, 69, was also a pilot, but it was unclear whether he was at the controls of the Beechcraft Sundowner that crashed Wednesday, shortly after takeoff from Burbank Airport. Also killed in the crash were his wife, former Miss Universe Hillevi Schine, 64, and their son, Frederick Berndt Schine, 34, a former Bush Administration official.

The elder Schine once operated the Schine Inns hotel chain, and also ran the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He produced records by the pop group The DeFranco Family in the 1970s, and even in retirement continued to dabble in entertainment and production, said Hal Dash, a family spokesman. Schine was preparing an anthology of old Republic Studios newsreels and films for a series called “Saturday Matinee.”

Schine was also formerly chairman and president of High Resolution Sciences Inc., which developed the technology to correct the imperfection in color television displays known as chroma crawl, which manifests itself as dots moving constantly upward on the screen.

Schine was launched onto the national stage in 1954 as a result of allegations that as a private in the Army, he received special favors arranged by McCarthy and his right-hand man, Roy Cohn. Schine had been a staffer on McCarthy’s Investigations Subcommittee, McCarthy’s platform for his much-criticized national campaign to cleanse America of what he alleged were hidden communist influences.

The subsequent investigation into the favoritism charges helped bring McCarthy down.

Ironically, one of McCarthy’s prime targets was Hollywood, where Schine would later make his mark as a businessman and entertainer.

At the time of the scandal, Schine “was a very, very young man, immature, and there was a chance to become powerful . . . once he had seen what that caused, I can’t speak for what was in his mind, but his actions seemed to show he put that behind him and made a life,” Fox said.

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The younger Schine flew into Burbank from Riverside on Wednesday to pick up his parents for a two-day trip to the Bay Area. They planned to scout theater locations for a revival of the play, “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,” which the elder Schine intended to produce, Dash said.

The son, called Berndt by his family, was a licensed pilot who worked as chief of staff for the district office of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) and headed the California branch of GOPAC, Newt Gingrich’s fund-raising committee, Dash said. Rohrabacher’s office declined to comment.

Family members were in seclusion Thursday.

Federal air safety officials said the cause of the crash could take six months to determine and remained under investigation Thursday.

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Investigators were trying to figure out, among other things, whether engine failure was a factor, since the propeller was not turning when the plane hit the freeway embankment just north of the airport. It appeared that the plane was carrying plenty of fuel before the crash, officials said.

Thomas Wilcox, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said the aircraft had 50 gallons of fuel when it left Riverside, more than enough to reach both Burbank and then Palo Alto, the ultimate destination.

Jack Kemmerly, the California representative of the Maryland-based Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn., estimated that a small plane such as the Beechcraft Sundowner might burn about four gallons of fuel in the half-hour flight from Riverside to Burbank.

It was impossible to tell how much fuel remained at the time of the crash because the tanks were damaged by impact with utility poles just before the crash. Leaked fuel would have quickly evaporated, Wilcox said.

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Despite his hard-earned success in business, it was Schine’s youthful career as an anti-communist crusader that caused critics to label him McCarthy’s “junketeering gumshoe.”

While working for the McCarthy subcommittee, Schine, a Harvard graduate, and himself the son of a hotel chain owner, had traveled around Europe in 1952, visiting U.S.-sponsored libraries looking for subversive books.

His congressional job was no shield from the draft, and like so many young men of that Cold War era, he wound up in the Army as a private, where critics said he was given special favors. One man who served with Schine in the 47th Infantry Regiment at Ft. Dix recalled that Schine was the only private who had a limo sent to pick him up in the bivouac area at lunchtime.

After the Army charged that McCarthy and Cohn used undue influence to smooth Schine’s path, the Wisconsin senator alleged that the Army was packed with communist sympathizers.

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McCarthy’s abuse of Army Secretary Robert T. Stevens during the nationally televised hearings by his subcommittee eventually led to his condemnation by the Senate and his political downfall.

Schine’s wife, Hillevi Rombin, a native of Alfta, Sweden, who won both the Swedish heptathlon and Miss Universe contest in 1956, met her future husband in San Francisco, according to Dash.

In recent years, she worked for charitable causes and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She also designed women’s shoes, taking out a patent on several models. At the museum, she did volunteer work in the department that acquires historic clothing.

Former neighbor Mia Scott described a storybook match between Schine and the Swedish beauty queen. “He was the rich, handsome American millionaire, like a fairy tale.”

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Their son, a graduate of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, returned to Los Angeles after working in Washington, D.C. for the Reagan and Bush administrations. He was still in his early 20s when he ran the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of Energy.

At the Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollywood Division, where he was a reserve officer, Frederick Schine served in the patrol, detective and fugitive details, said his supervisor, Officer Peter Repovich. Schine was named Reserve Officer of the Year for the Hollywood Division in 1994.

“It was an easy choice,” said Repovich, whom the younger Schine talked into running, unsuccessfully, for a state Assembly seat in 1994.

Repovich called the Schine family “very nice people. Obviously they came from wealth, but they weren’t the type of people to flaunt it. Very nice, down to earth. Very close family. They were the type of people who would get together on a Sunday in Santa Monica, meet in a nice restaurant and spend some time together, then go out and lie on the beach. Not a lot of families do that today.”

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The elder Schines are survived by five children--Vidette Perry, 37; Mark, 35; Kevin, Frederick’s twin, 34; Axel, 32, and Lance, 30--and four grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Commenting about his McCarthyite past in a 1975 interview, the elder Schine said, “I didn’t think we were doing enough in this country to express our ideals and objectives. I just did it to serve my country.”

Johnson is a Times staff writer and Riccardi a correspondent. Staff writers Andrew Blankstein and Efrain Hernandez Jr. contributed to this story.


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