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Edgar Scherick, 78; Movie, TV, Documentary Producer

Times Staff Writer

Edgar J. Scherick, a movie and television producer whose credits include Woody Allen’s first feature film, “Take the Money and Run,” and being instrumental in bringing “Peyton Place” to ABC-TV, died Monday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 78.

Scherick died of complications of leukemia, but had suffered a stroke in 1998 and was mostly bedridden after that. He continued, however, to put together film and TV projects, including “Path to War” for HBO this year.

In recent years, his projects also included “The Wall,” a trio of short films focusing on the story behind personal belongings left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, which aired on Showtime on Memorial Day 1998.

Scherick’s interests as a producer were wide and varied. He once said he was “interested in the human psyche, soul, morality” and that he wanted to be remembered “for honesty, good taste and courage.”

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“I never made the traditional movie,” he told a journalist. “I always asked a question of a piece of material: Is it touched by singularity? If you try to sell the same old rot, it’s not going to work. I looked for subjects that would touch inside me.”

Among his feature films are “For Love of Ivy” with Sidney Poitier; “The Stepford Wives”; “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” with Jane Fonda; “Sleuth” with Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine; “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” with Walter Matthau; “Shoot the Moon” with Albert Finney and Diane Keaton; and “Mrs. Soffel,” also with Keaton and Mel Gibson.

Scherick also was executive producer for “Rambling Rose” (1991), which brought Oscar nominations to mother and daughter actors Diane Ladd and Laura Dern. Several of his films, including “Sleuth” and “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” also received Academy Awards nominations.

Scott Rudin (“Wonder Boys,” “The Truman Show,” “Sister Act”), who was also a producer on “Mrs. Soffel,” was among many in the business who got their starts with Scherick; at the time of Scherick’s death, Rudin was working with him on a remake of “The Stepford Wives.”

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Scherick’s television programs and mini-series, many of which were nominated for Emmys, are numerous: “The Kennedys of Massachusetts,” based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book; “On Wings of Eagles”; “Little Gloria ... Happy at Last,” and “Ruby Ridge: An American Tragedy,” among others. A documentary, “He Makes Me Feel Like Dancing,” won both an Oscar and an Emmy in 1983.

Scherick was born in New York City and grew up in Long Beach, on the south shore of Long Island, N.Y. After graduating from high school, Scherick got a job as an office boy at an advertising agency in New York City and went to City College of New York at night. He entered the Army in 1943, serving most of his three-year stint running a weather station in Iceland. When he got out of the service, he studied economics and English at Harvard.

Scherick, a lifelong sports fan who especially loved fishing and baseball, claimed to have viewed the first baseball game ever televised on a TV set in a Long Beach radio store.

He later went to New York City to work in advertising, and was soon lining up Falstaff beer as the sponsor of broadcasts of the Chicago White Sox, the New York Giants and other teams. Falstaff also sponsored “Game of the Week,” thought to be the first regular weekly national telecast of a major league game.

In 1956, Scherick took a job at CBS as a sports specialist but left the next year to form Sports Programs Inc., which was on the ground floor of the first great growth of sports on television and which introduced the iconic “Wide World of Sports” to TV viewers.

Scherick told the New York Times last year that “Wide World” was created because at that time baseball telecasts had to be blacked out in major league markets.

“We needed something to go national with,” he said. “We needed sports events that weren’t being shown, which were interesting viewing, which could be taped, and we could put on the air the next day.”

At the head of the firm was a highly creative and volatile triumvirate composed of Scherick, Chet Simmons, who would later run NBC Sports and ESPN, and Jack Lubell, a producer-director for Sports Programs.

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“One day, I went into Ed’s office, and Jack had Ed pinned against the wall, and Ed’s feet were off the ground,” Simmons told a reporter. “Ed looked over Jack’s shoulder and said to me, ‘Everything’s OK.’ They went to war every day.”

Scherick’s friend Larry Auerbach, a former agent who is now associate dean of USC’s School of Cinema and Television, said Tuesday, “We all knew and loved him for his talent and his kindness, but he could get excited. But we all knew that, so we took it with a little grain of salt.”

In 1961, Sports Programs was merged with ABC-TV and became its sports division.

Two years later, Scherick became vice president in charge of ABC’s programming, where he brought to the network “Batman,” “The FBI,” “Bewitched,” “F-Troop,” “The Hollywood Palace” and “Peyton Place,” the first prime-time soap opera. But he occasionally missed: He once turned down “Get Smart,” which went on to be a huge hit.

“Nobody’s infallible,” he said of that decision.

Eventually, he formed Palomar Pictures and turned to producing.

Scherick also took credit for giving Tommy Lee Jones, another Harvard grad, his first crack at a film acting role, and he later produced a cable movie that Jones directed and co-wrote, “The Good Old Boys.”

Scherick, who was divorced twice, is survived by three sons, Gregory, Jay and Bradford, all of Los Angeles; a daughter, Christine O’Brien of Walnut Creek, Calif.; and seven grandchildren.

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