Anita Addison, a producer and director who was one of the first African American women to hold a senior producer’s position at a major television network, died Saturday in New York City, said David Byrd, her partner of more than eight years. She was 51.
Addison, who lived in Los Angeles, was working on a television series in New York City when she became ill early last week. She was admitted to New York-Presbyterian hospital, where she died. The family declined to release the cause of death.
Through the 1990s, Addison was the senior vice president of drama development at Lorimar, Warner Bros. Television and CBS Television. In 1998, she became an independent producer and director.
During her years as a studio executive, she was the executive producer for a number of television series, including “Sisters” in 1991 and “It Had to Be You” in 1993. She was the executive producer for “That’s Life” for two years starting in 2000.
Though an accomplished producer, she once said that directing was her first love. “As a director, it’s your vision that ends up on the screen,” she told Emerge Magazine in April 1994. “That’s why I wanted to do it.”
She directed episodes for a number of television series through the 1990s, including “Quantum Leap,” “ER” and “Judging Amy.” She also directed several movies made for television. One, 1993’s “There Are No Children Here,” was an Oprah Winfrey production, based on the book by author Alex Kotlowski about two brothers raised in a dangerous Chicago housing project.
She once said that she was most proud of 1990’s “Deep In My Heart,” which she directed. Set in the desegregation era, it was based on a true story of a married white woman who was raped by a black man. She bore a baby and gave the child up for adoption. Eventually the girl was adopted by a white woman.
Addison was praised for showing sensitivity to the racial problems between blacks and whites. Actress Anne Bancroft won an Emmy award for her performance.
“For an African American woman to achieve what Anita did is extraordinary,” Leslie Moonves, chief executive officer of CBS, told The Times. “She had to break through a lot of glass ceilings along the way.”
Moonves worked with Addison at Warner Bros. in the early 1990s and hired her at CBS in 1995, after he moved there. “She was versatile, extremely loyal and she had an indomitable spirit,” he said. He also recalled her as a mentor to younger people.
Addison was unusual in that her career developed entirely in mainstream commercial television. “Anita knew she had the education and the background to break down barriers, and she felt it was her responsibility to do that,” Byrd told The Times. “She overcame things so that other black men and women coming after her would have opportunities.”
Addison was born in Greensboro, N.C. Her parents were educators and civil rights activists. From her early years, she attended civil rights rallies in Greensboro and Atlanta, among other cities.
She graduated from Vassar College and earned a master’s degree in journalism at Columbia University before she began working as a researcher at Time magazine.
She took classes at New York University’s film school and got a toehold in television in Los Angeles, analyzing Neilsen ratings for a small, independent station. “It was a great foundation for understanding audiences,” Addison told Emerge.
She wrote, produced and directed a short film, “Savannah,” which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1984. It is the story of a young woman who has been raised among the Geeches, a culture rooted in African religion, who starts a new life in the big city.
In Los Angeles, she attended UCLA film school at night, where she completed a master’s degree in 1990.
She was hired in the research department at Paramount Television and from there made the leap to producer.
In addition to Byrd, Addison is survived by her sister Alveta Addison, her brother Donald Pendleton Addison, and four nieces and nephews.
At Addison’s request, there will be no funeral or memorial service. Contributions in her name can be made to the Best Friends Animal Society, 5001 Angel Canyon Road, Kanab, UT 84741, or to the Teaching Tolerance Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, 400 Washington Ave., Montgomery, AL 36104.