William Self dies at 89; 20th Century-Fox production executive
William Self, a producer and television executive who was in charge of television production at 20th Century-Fox during the 1960s and early ‘70s when its list of successful shows included “Peyton Place,” “Batman” and “ MASH,” has died. He was 89.
FOR THE RECORD:
William Self obituary: The obituary of producer and television executive William Self in Friday’s LATExtra section cited “Sarah, Plain and Tall” as one of the programs Self produced in partnership with Norman Rosemont for TV’s “Hallmark Hall of Fame.” Self and Glenn Close, the star of “Sarah, Plain and Tall,” were the executive producers. —
Self died Monday at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center after suffering a heart attack Nov. 11, said his daughter, Barbara Malone.
A former movie actor who launched his television career behind the camera in the early 1950s, Self produced the “Schlitz Playhouse of Stars” for four years.
After producing the short-lived “The Frank Sinatra Show,” which aired from 1957 to ‘58, he became director of development at CBS, where his first pilot was for Rod Serling’s landmark series “The Twilight Zone.”
In late 1959, Self was lured to 20th Century-Fox Television.
During his 15 years at Fox, he reportedly was responsible for 44 TV series, including “Daniel Boone,” “Room 222,” “Julia,” “Twelve O’Clock High,” “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” “ Lost in Space,” “Land of the Giants,” “Nanny and the Professor” and “The Ghost & Mrs. Muir.”
“He was a major influence on television programming during that period, and Fox became very successful as a major television-producing company,” said Alan Silverbach, who was senior vice president in charge of worldwide television distribution at 20th Century-Fox Television at the time.
“I credit the whole television success to Bill,” said Richard Zanuck, who was vice president in charge of production at the studio at the time. “My contribution really was appointing Bill and letting him run with the ball. I had great confidence in him.”
One of the biggest hits to come from 20th Century-Fox Television in the ‘60s was “Batman,” the campy fantasy-adventure series starring Adam West as the famous comic-book hero.
But the series pilot didn’t go over well with a test audience, Self recalled in a Starlog magazine interview with Tom Weaver in 2002.
“It was,” Self said, “a disaster.”
Enough so, he said, that ABC wanted to get out of the deal.
“But we analyzed it and thought about it, and finally decided the [test audience] didn’t know what we were trying to do,” he said. “In the original version, those animated POWs and BAMs [in the fight scenes] and other things like that, were not in the show. We decided we had to say to the audience, ‘We’re kidding all this. We’re having fun. It’s a comic strip.’ And we re-did the whole post-production on it.”
By the time Self left Fox at the end of 1974, he had risen through the ranks to become president of 20th Century-Fox Television and vice president of 20th Century-Fox Corp.
He then teamed with Mike Frankovich to form a company that would be involved in both television and feature films.
Frankovich-Self Productions produced a couple of TV pilots and two movies, both of which were released in 1976: “The Shootist,” John Wayne’s final film; and “From Noon Till Three,” starring Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland.
“I loved the movie business, but it was too slow for me,” Self said in a 2001 interview with the Archive of American Television.
In 1977, he returned to CBS as vice president/head of the West Coast; the following year, he became vice president in charge of television movies and miniseries.
Named president of CBS Theatrical Film Production in 1982, he supervised the making of 10 movies over the next three years. He then created the independent William Self Productions to develop television and feature films.
In partnership with Norman Rosemont, he produced a number of productions for television’s “Hallmark Hall of Fame,” including the high-rated “Sarah, Plain and Tall.”
The son of an advertising executive who wrote plays on the side, Self was born in Dayton, Ohio, on June 21, 1921, and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Chicago in 1943.
Exempt from the military draft during World War II for medical reasons, he worked for about a year as a copy writer at an ad agency in Chicago, where he also made his professional acting debut playing a small part in one of his father’s plays.
Self moved to Hollywood in 1944 with the intention of becoming a movie actor and landed a succession of mostly uncredited small roles in films such as “Story of “ G.I. Joe,” “Red River,” “Operation Pacific,” “Sands of Iwo Jima” and “Adam’s Rib.”
One of his credited roles was that of Air Force Cpl. Barnes in “The Thing from Another World,” the 1951 science fiction-horror classic about a flying saucer that crash-lands at the North Pole.
Although it was a decent part, Self readily acknowledged in the 2001 interview that “Not many people cared that I was an actor.”
He broke into television in 1952 when a producer friend, Bernard Tabakin, asked him to help on “China Smith,” a syndicated adventure series starring Dan Duryea.
The series was so low-budget, Self later recalled in the Television Archive interview, that they shot 13 half-hour episodes in 19 days.
But it was a start. And, as he said in the 2001 interview, “I never acted a day since then.”
Margaret, his wife of 66 years, died in 2007.
In addition to his daughter, Self is survived by his son, Edwin; his sister, Jean Bright; four grandchildren; six great grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Monday at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, 1712 S. Glendale Ave., Glendale.
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