Bob Banner dies at 89; Emmy-winning producer

Bob Banner, an Emmy Award-winning television producer and director whose credits included “The Garry Moore Show,” “Candid Camera” and “Solid Gold” and who gave a career boost to a young Carol Burnett years before becoming executive producer of her popular comedy variety show, has died. He was 89.

Banner died Wednesday of end-stage Parkinson’s disease at his home at the Motion Picture & Television Fund retirement community in Woodland Hills, said family spokeswoman Lauren Cottrell.

A television pioneer, Banner launched his career in Chicago in 1948 as a production assistant on the children’s puppet show “Kukla, Fran & Ollie.” But he quickly rose through the ranks and became the director of “Garroway at Large.”


After moving to New York, he produced and directed “The Fred Waring Show” and went on to be a director on “Omnibus,” the acclaimed cultural series hosted by Alistair Cooke. He also directed “The Dave Garroway Show” and produced and directed special shows for “Wide, Wide World” and “Producers’ Showcase.”

As the producer-director of “The Dinah Shore Chevy Show,” Banner won an Emmy for directing in 1958.

The same year, he formed Bob Banner Associates and took over production of “The Garry Moore Show,” a variety program whose cast of regulars came to include Carol Burnett.

Burnett has Banner to thank for that.

Her first appearance on the Moore show was in early 1959 as a replacement for an ailing guest, comedian Martha Raye.

“I had worked for Bob in California in 1958 when he was doing ‘The Dinah Shore Show.’ I was a guest, so he knew my work,” Burnett told The Times on Wednesday. “So Bob, whom I always call Bubba, called me to come over and replace [Raye] on Garry’s show.”

Burnett was starring in the off-Broadway production of “Once Upon a Mattress” at the time. And that fall, after “Once Upon a Mattress” had moved to Broadway, “Bubba called and said, ‘We’d like you to be a regular on our show, and that was a huge break for me.”

Banner went on to produce Burnett TV specials, including “Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall” and “Carol Plus Two,” before he became executive producer of “The Carol Burnett Show.”

“It was he who talked me into opening the show myself with questions and answers,” Burnett recalled. “He said, ‘Carol, you can’t just go out and do sketches. The audience has to get to know you first as a person.’ I said, ‘I can’t do that. I’d be terrified that, A, the audience wouldn’t ask anything and, B, that they would.’

“But he talked me into it, and it became one of my favorite things to do. And it was a good opening for the show.”

Recalling the soft-spoken Banner as “a very gentle man” with a good sense of humor, Burnett said that “he could always talk to me about certain things that I wasn’t cottoning to so much, but whatever road he wanted us to take was terrific. He had great taste and great instincts.”

Among Banner’s numerous credits as an executive producer are “The Jimmy Dean Show,” “Solid Gold,” “Star Search,” “It’s Showtime at the Apollo,” numerous specials with Perry Como, the TV special “Peggy Fleming Visits the Soviet Union” — as well as the TV movies “My Sweet Charlie” and “Bud and Lou.”

He also executive-produced “That’s What Friends Are For,” a 1988 AIDS benefit concert at the Kennedy Center hosted by Dionne Warwick.

Born Aug. 15, 1921, in Ennis, Texas, Banner graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1943 before serving three years in the Navy during World War II.

At Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., after the war, he received a master’s degree from the school’s theater arts department in 1948 and was an instructor in speech and drama there when he got his first taste of television.

He didn’t initially have a high opinion of the new medium.

“Oh, horrors,” he recalled thinking of working on “Kukla, Fran & Ollie” in a 2000 interview with the Dallas Morning News.

“I didn’t want to tell the people at Northwestern that I had been assigned to do a puppet show.... A puppet show didn’t seem quite like theater at Northwestern,” he said.

But Banner changed his tune after the show became a hit.

“I went around Northwestern saying I was on ‘The Kukla, Fran & Ollie’ show,” he recalled. “This show I didn’t want to admit I was involved with changed my life.”

Banner is survived by his wife, Alice; his sons Baird, Robert and Chuck; and two grandchildren.

Services are pending.