'He was an inspiration ... motivator'

Emmy Award-winning television producer Bob Henry died March 18 at his Laguna Beach home after a long illness. He was 92.

Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Catherine of Siena, preceded by a rosary at 9:30 a.m.

Henry will be remembered in the entertainment industry as an innovative producer and director of variety shows and series. However, in Laguna, the longtime resident was highly regarded for his involvement in community activities.

Henry served as Festival of Arts president in 2004. He was a member of the board for six years, starting in 2001, the year after the previous board was recalled for trying to move the festival out of town.

He was also an ardent gardener and served as president of the Laguna Beach Garden Club for two years. He and his wife, Annette, were once honored as Gardeners of the Year by the Orange County district of the California Garden Clubs Inc.

Henry was also actively involved in promoting the building of a new senior center in Laguna Beach.

"Bob was with us from the very beginning when we started planning for the Laguna Beach senior center," said Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson, who was instrumental in fundraising for the center prior to her election to the council. "He was an inspiration and a motivator for all of us."

Henry also appeared with the Laguna Concert Band in its infancy and gave talks at the Assistance League and for the Friends of the Laguna Beach Library, of which he and his wife were members.

"He loved Laguna," said Annette Henry. "For years his license plate was "I ♥ Lguna."

The Henrys met on the sands between Crystal Cove and El Morro Trailer Park, where Henry had a mobile home starting in the 1960s.

"I was visiting and went for an early-morning walk, and he took a four-mile walk every day," said Annette Henry. "We met walking going in opposite directions, but he liked my smile."

For the next 30 years, they took the same path.

"He could still mouth 'I love you' on the day he died," Annette Henry said.

The Henrys bought their Laguna Beach home in 1980 and moved there full time when he retired.

Henry was born in Boston in 1919, and graduated from Tufts University in 1940. He performed as a comedian in the Catskills during the early 1940s, entertained the troops after WWII in the Pacific Theatre and served as an on-air personality for radio stations in Boston and New York in the late 1940s.

He moved from radio to television in 1950 as the associate producer in New York of "The Colgate Comedy Hour," starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. When Martin and Lewis decamped from the East Coast, Henry also moved to Los Angeles as a staff employee of NBC.

Present at the birth of the television variety show, Henry put his stamp on the genre for the next half century.

He broke new ground in television, helping African-American performers reach a broader audience.

In 1956, Henry produced, directed and wrote "The Nat King Cole Show," the first network show ever to star a black male performer. The show was so controversial that it ran without national commercials and several NBC affiliates refused to air it.

Flip Wilson was a stand-up comic when Henry directed a special starring him, a year before the series that made Wilson a household name.

"The Flip Wilson Show" was the first variety show starring an African-American performer to be No. 1 for several weeks, and it ended the 1970 and 1971 seasons as the No. 2 show in all of television. Henry received both an Emmy and a Peabody Award for his work on the show.

During his 50-plus years in television, Henry produced and/or directed many variety series and specials, including various productions about The Carpenters, "The Andy Williams Show," "Norman Rockwell's America," "The Glen Campbell Music Show," "The Captain & Tennille Special," "The Perry Como Show," "Jonathan Winters Presents 200 Years of American Humor," "Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters" and a Bob Hope special, according to a news release.

He also produced and directed annual "American Black Achievement Awards" numerous times.

Henry is survived by Annette, his wife of 30 years; his daughter, Ruth Massaro of Mill Valley; his son, Keith Henry of Studio City; two grandchildren, Robert Merithew of Dayton, Ohio, and Brendan Merithew of Pittsboro, N.C.; and four great-grandchildren: Anson, Amelia, Sarah and Abner. Henry was preceded in death by his first wife, Shirley, in 1972.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and/or the Roaring Fork Education Foundation, in memory of Bob Henry.


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