Alan Rafkin; Emmy Winner Directed Numerous Sitcoms
Alan Rafkin, who directed some of television’s most innovative, endearing and enduring sitcoms, ranging from “The Andy Griffith Show” to “M*A*S*H” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” to “Suddenly Susan,” has died at age 73.
Rafkin died Monday at UCLA Medical Center of heart disease, said Andrew E. Freedman, a former publicist and longtime friend.
He earned an Emmy in 1982 for directing in a comedy series for an episode of “One Day at a Time” and was nominated in 1988 for “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.” He also won a cable ACE Award for directing the Shandling series for Showtime.
The self-avowed curmudgeon summed up his years in his 1998 memoir, “Cue the Bunny on the Rainbow: Tales from TV’s Most Prolific Sitcom Director.” Rafkin coined the unusual title from one of his more unusual duties--to cue the puppeteer handling a bunny on a prop rainbow--in an early job as stage manager for the children’s television program “Captain Kangaroo.”
According to Freedman, Rafkin would grouse at the time, “Here I am, an Army veteran just back from the Korean War and my big job orders are, ‘Cue the bunny on the rainbow’!”
The book, which Rafkin gleefully discussed on talk shows, dished about the stars he had worked with. He rated the “Laverne & Shirley” series “one of the most unpleasant series I have ever directed” and called its young stars, Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, “undisciplined and bratty.”
Rafkin was far more charitable to the cast of “Andy Griffith,” one of his first network directing jobs, calling Griffith “one of the most decent people I’ve known,” and commenting, “To this day, Ron Howard at the age of 6 is no different than Ron Howard is at whatever he is today. He is a delightful, gracious human being. Don Knotts is still the funniest man I ever met.”
Rafkin also rated Shandling, from one of his favorite directing stints, “always the same decent, open and honest person. He can whine until your teeth crack, but he’s always ready to work, no matter what.”
As for Brooke Shields, star of his final series, “Suddenly Susan,” Rafkin said, “She’s the most gracious, funny, respectful young lady. It’s like working with my daughter.”
The book also discussed Rafkin’s dexterity in surviving more than four decades as director of episodes of more than 80 prime-time sitcom series. It was his “personality,” he said, “and the fact that basically . . . I wanted to work.”
And work he did.
Born in New York City and educated at Syracuse University, Rafkin worked as a nightclub comic before moving into television. In addition to directing and producing, he occasionally acted--on “The Robert Q. Lewis Show” in 1955, in a few soap operas, as an ancient man on “Coach.” In later years, he was interviewed on many programs about favorite shows or sitcoms in general, including last year’s “TV Guide’s Truth Behind the Sitcoms” and “Andy of Mayberry: The E! True Hollywood Story.”
Over the years, other shows under Rafkin’s direction included episodes of “The Dick Van Dyke Show”; “I Dream of Jeannie”; “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father”; “Love, American Style”; “Sanford and Son”; “The Bob Newhart Show”; “The Love Boat”; “Murphy Brown”; “The Jeff Foxworthy Show”; and “Veronica’s Closet.”
He also directed a handful of motion pictures, often starring Knotts, as in “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.”
Rafkin is survived by two daughters, Leigh Stillman and Drew Rafkin-Jackman, of San Anselmo, Calif.; a brother, David; a sister, Clare Feldstein; and two grandchildren.
A public memorial service is scheduled at noon Sept. 9 at the Directors Guild of America in Hollywood.