Herb Sargent, the “Saturday Night Live” writer-producer who has served as president of the WGA East for the past 14 years, died Friday in New York City following a heart attack. He was 81.
Sargent, who won six Emmys and six WGA Awards, began his career in radio in the 1940s. He moved to TV with stints at “Colgate Comedy Hour,” “The Victor Borge Show,” “The Tonight Show With Steve Allen,” “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson,” “The Perry Como Show” and “The Week That Was.”
One of the original writers on “Saturday Night Live” when it launched in 1975, Sargent spent more than two decades with the show. He coined cast name the Not Ready for Prime Time Players and joined forces with Chevy Chase to create the show’s first signature piece, “Weekend Update.”
“Herb took ‘Update’ under his wing and always made sure it was really current,” “SNL” producer Lorne Michaels told Daily Variety.
Michaels said Sargent’s background as a veteran writer-producer made him invaluable, particularly in the show’s early days. “He was a very calming presence to us, partly because he had actually worked on many of the shows we had grown up on,” Michaels added. “He was always very encouraging.”
Sargent wrote the screenplay of “Bye Bye Braverman” and worked on TV specials for Bing Crosby, Milton Berle, Perry Como, Sammy Davis Jr., Alan King, Paul McCartney, Lily Tomlin and Burt Bacharach.
Other credits also include “The Best of ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ” “The 40th Annual Emmy Awards,” “The 43rd Annual Emmy Awards,” “The ‘Saturday Night Live’ Mothers Day Special” and “NBC’s 75th Anniversary.”
Sargent won the WGA East’s Richard B. Jablow Award for service. He was a member of the Dramatists Guild and the Songwriters Guild of America and a former member of the board of governors of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
“Herb Sargent was a great man. He did more to help writers than anyone I’ve ever known,” said WGA East veep Warren Leight.
“Herb was exceptionally generous to all writers and brought an unfailing sense of decency and good will to everything he did for the guild,” said WGAE exec director Mona Mangan.
Sargent won a seventh consecutive two-year term as president of the 4,000-member WGA East in September 2003. In recent months, he had been the spokesman for the branch in its financial dispute with the WGA West.
WGAW president Daniel Petrie Jr. said, “Writers everywhere admired the legendary Herb Sargent, both for his body of work and for his unmatched record of service. The WGA West joins with our sister union in mourning the loss of this great man.”
Sargent was raised in Upper Darby, Pa., and joined the Army during WWII. He was stationed in New Guinea, served in the Air Transport Command and was stationed in Osaka following the surrender of Japan.
After the war, Sargent graduated from UCLA and worked in production at the Circle Theater before moving to New York.
He is survived by his wife, LeGrand Council Mellon, and his brother, screenwriter Alvin Sargent.
Leight becomes the WGA East president and the WGA East Council will select a new VP.
The family has requested that contributions be sent to the WGA East Foundation.