William Sackheim, 84; TV Writer, Producer Won 2 Emmy Awards

Times Staff Writer

William Sackheim, a veteran film and television producer and writer who produced television’s “Gidget” and “The Flying Nun,” dramatic series such as “Delvecchio” and “The Senator” and numerous TV movies, has died. He was 84.

Sackheim died of a degenerative brain disease Wednesday at his home in Beverly Hills, his family said.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Dec. 22, 2004 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday December 22, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
“Delvecchio” producers -- The obituary of writer-producer William Sackheim in the Dec. 7 California section referred to Steven Bochco as the producer of the TV series “Delvecchio.” The series was also produced by Michael Rhodes.

A two-time Emmy Award winner whose television career spanned the 1950s through the ‘90s, Sackheim won Emmys for producing an episode of “The Alcoa/Goodyear Theatre” (1959) and the TV movie “The Law” (1975).


Sackheim produced numerous early TV movies, including “The Impatient Heart,” starring Carrie Snodgress; “The Neon Ceiling,” starring Gig Young and Lee Grant; “A Clear and Present Danger,” starring Hal Holbrook; and “The Harness,” starring Lorne Greene.

His film credits include co-producing “The In-Laws,” “Pacific Heights” and “The Hard Way”; co-writing the first Rambo movie, “First Blood”; and producing and co-writing the story for “The Competition.”

As a television producer, Sackheim had a keen eye for spotting talent. In the mid-1960s, he gambled on a young Sally Field to star in the “Gidget” series.

“Sally was brought into my office by [actor] Eddie Foy Jr., who found her outside the Columbia Studio gates and asked if she was an actress,” he told United Press International in 1984. “Then he brought her to me, and I saw a spark in her that I hadn’t found in 350 girls I’d interviewed.”

Sackheim recalled that while producing the 1974 TV movie “The Law,” which he co-wrote and which served as the pilot for a 1975 miniseries, he was looking for a specific character for a heavy dramatic role when “Judd Hirsch ambled into my office, a rumpled apparition.”

“But the minute he read for me I got goose bumps,” Sackheim said. “I gave him the part, his first major break in Hollywood.”

Hirsch went on to star in the series “Delvecchio,” a 1976-77 police drama, which Sackheim executive-produced.

While producing “Night Gallery,” the 1969 pilot for the Rod Serling TV series, Sackheim saw a short film titled “Amblin” and hired its young maker, Steven Spielberg, to direct Joan Crawford in one of the pilot’s three stories.

“The first rushes screamed off the screen,” Sackheim recalled in the 1984 interview. “It was immediately apparent that here was a major talent.”

Sackheim also plucked future director-producer John Badham out of the casting department at Universal in 1968 and made him a personal assistant. As executive producer of “The Senator,” the 1970-71 political drama starring Holbrook, Sackheim gave Badham his first assignment as a director.

Badham and Sackheim went on to work on a number of other projects together, including the Emmy-winning, movie-length pilot episode of “The Law.”

“In many ways,” Badham told The Times, “he was just an extremely generous man -- generous with his talent and with his mentoring, so that people such as [writer-producer] Steven Bochco and Spielberg and many others were so fortunate to have had his support.

“In my case, for him to just turn to me one day and say, ‘Yes, you can direct an episode of “The Senator,” ’ with no big drama ... Otherwise, I might still be sitting down in the casting department.”

He added: “Somebody, Jack Webb I think, quipped one day that being in the room with Bill Sackheim in a story conference was like being in a room with a man passing a kidney stone.... He agonized so much over stories and scripts and cared so very deeply that it was almost like he was in pain. But he wouldn’t let a story or script go until he had something that made it special.”

Bochco, who worked with Sackheim as the producer of “Delvecchio,” said that although the current generation in Hollywood may not know Sackheim, he was a television icon from the 1960s into the ‘80s. “Everybody knew him,” Bochco said. “He had produced or written just brilliant movies of the week. He was one of the earliest writer-producers working in that form. Bill made some of the most powerful movies for television that have ever been made. And his series work is wonderful.”

Bochco said he first met Sackheim as “a kid writer on the lot at Universal. Billy was such a wonderful, open, generous guy. He was a fixture there, so young writers like myself would always sort of gravitate toward Bill. His door was always open.”

In fundamental ways, Bochco said, “he not only taught me about writing, but he also taught me about working and how to work. He was very special to me.”

Born in Gloversville, N.Y., Sackheim moved to Beverly Hills with his family as a child. A Beverly Hills High School graduate, he served in the Army in New Guinea during World War II.

While in the service, he freelanced as a writer for “Batman” comic books. After the war, he got a job working in the music department at Republic Pictures. He launched his screenwriting career in the B-unit at Columbia Pictures.

In 1995, the Museum of Television and Radio held a tribute to Sackheim in Los Angeles.

Sackheim is survived by his wife of 54 years, JoAnne; two sons, Daniel, a producer and Emmy-winning TV director, and Drew, a fashion photographer; and two grandchildren. A memorial service is pending.