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Paul W. Keyes, 79; Comedy Writer and Producer for Classic TV Shows

Times Staff Writer

Paul W. Keyes, Emmy Award-winning comedy writer and producer for some of television’s classic shows, including “The Jack Paar Show,” “The Dean Martin Show” and “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” has died. He was 79.

Keyes died Friday in Woodland Hills of natural causes.

Over a long career that began in radio and the early days of television, Keyes collected 10 Emmy nominations. He won three Emmy Awards -- one in 1968 for writing “Laugh-In,” another the following year for producing the show, and a third in 1974 for producing “The American Film Institute Salute to James Cagney.” He earned a Golden Globe Award and in 1994 was inducted into the Producers Guild of America Hall of Fame.

Keyes also wrote and produced television presentations of the Emmys, the Grammy Awards and the People’s Choice Awards.

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His gift for humor endeared Keyes to several prominent entertainers and politicians -- including Frank Sinatra, John Wayne and Richard M. Nixon -- who sometimes participated in the shows he produced. Among those programs were Sinatra and Wayne specials and a notable series of “All Star Parties” for Variety Clubs International to raise funds for hospitals around the nation.

Among the celebrities honored by the televised Variety fundraising shows were Sinatra, Wayne, Lucille Ball, Elizabeth Taylor, Jimmy Stewart, Ingrid Bergman, Jack Lemmon, Carol Burnett, Clint Eastwood and Ronald Reagan.

Keyes met Nixon in 1962 when the future president appeared on Paar’s show, which Keyes was producing. They formed a fast friendship, and Nixon later asked Keyes to produce the entertainment for formal White House dinners for heads of state.

In 1968, Keyes was watching election returns with Nixon when the president’s victory was announced; he claimed to have been the first person to address Nixon as “Mr. President.”

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Keyes met Sinatra when he was a teenager hanging around nightclubs, helping band members in the hope of meeting celebrities. They formed a lifelong friendship, and Keyes wrote and produced many of the singer’s specials.

Born in Dorchester, Mass., Keyes was attracted to show business when Rudy Vallee visited his school. The youth tried reading commercials for a New England radio station, only to get fired when he mangled the word “psoriasis.”

Keyes became interested in writing while serving in Army Special Services during World War II. After the war, he worked in radio production for the Yankee Network, then Hearst Radio, where he directed “Front Page Drama.” He then moved on to television, joining the staff of “Omnibus” on CBS.

By 1955 he was a writer for NBC network, and in 1956 he wrote for “Tonight” with Steve Allen. In 1957, Keyes became head writer for “The Jack Paar Show,” eventually adding producer to his credits. After Paar departed the show in 1962, Keyes continued to write and produce programs for the entertainer until 1965.

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From 1965 to 1968, Keyes wrote and produced “The Dean Martin Show” and its summer version with various guest hosts. In 1967 he segued to the innovative “Laugh-In,” where he would remain -- except for a brief hiatus in 1970 -- for an award-winning run through 1973.

Keyes is survived by two brothers, Frank and Robert, and a sister, Helen G. O’Reilly.

A funeral Mass is scheduled for 10 a.m. today at St. Jude Catholic Church in Westlake Village, with interment at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village.


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