TV director-producer Bill Carruthers, who began his career in the 1950s as helmer of the pie-throwing “Soupy Sales” show, died March 2 in L.A. of heart failure, after being sidelined by a stroke six years before. He was 72.
Raised in Detroit, he spent four years in the Air Force and afterward took a job at Detroit ABC affiliate WXYZ as a junior stage manager. In true Cinderella fashion, he showed up to work one day on the local “Soupy Sales Show” and after being told at the last minute the director was unable to do the program, volunteered to fill in — and became the show’s new director.
He moved his family to Hollywood in 1959 when the show went national. A year later, he began working with other skeins including “The Steve Allen Show” and “The Ernie Kovaks Show.”
In the mid ’60’s he produced and directed Chuck Barris’ original “Dating Game” and “Newlywed Game” shows.
He started the William Carruthers Co. in 1968 and had success straight away with the “Johnny Cash Show” on ABC. Lensed in Nashville at the old Grand Ole Opry, it featured early TV appearances by Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Kris Kristofferson and others. Carruthers is credited with championing Kristofferson and landing him his first gig at the Troubadour in L.A., launched the singer-songwriter-actor’s larger career.
During the ’70s, his credits grew to include several primetime event specials including “The Emmy Awards” (for 14 years) “A Tribute to Mr. Television,” Norman Lear’s “I Love Liberty” and “Frank Sinatra: The Main Event.”
He was one of the first five clients approached by Mike Ovitz when CAA opened its doors, and he remained with the agency throughout his career.
During the ’70s and ’80s, he served four White House administrations, consulting on television matters for the Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush (senior) presidencies, including campaigns, debates, conventions and more. He was offered, but declined, the job of director of communications in the Reagan White House.
Beyond that he and his company continued to work on gameshows, including the original pilot for “Wheel of Fortune.” He also created, produced, and directed “Press Your Luck” (he even voiced the show’s Whammy character).
He remained active into the 1990s working on specials and series including “You Bet your Life” with Bill Cosby and “EXTRA!”. He was in his 40th year of directing when he suffered a stroke on set in 1996, forcing him into retirement.
He is survived by his wives from his three marriages and by five children.