William N. Burch, a writer, director, producer and former VP of MCA-Universal, died in Sacramento, Calif. on Oct. 1. He was 86.
Burch was born in Evanston, Ill. and attended the U. of Illinois. While working as a copywriter at J. Walter Thompson in San Francisco, he came up with an idea for a young comedian, Victor Borge, who was a frequent guest on Bing Crosby’s Kraft Music Hall radio program.
The idea was to use sound effects — verbal clicks, whistles and snorts — to serve as “phonetic punctuation” for his jokes. Borge used the idea for the rest of his career.
At NBC in Los Angeles, he wrote radio and TV programs “Truth or Consequences,” “Queen for a Day,” and “This is Your Life.” Burch also directed and produced radio and TV programs for comedian George Gobel.
Burch worked on radio and TV shows for Gene Autry for more than a dozen years, and got a songwriting credit with Autry and Carl Cotner for Autry’s 1951recording of “Old Soldiers Never Die.” Returning to San Francisco, he produced and directed for Tennessee Ernie Ford’s daily television programs in the early 1960s.
After the death of his first wife, Burch married Yvonne King of The King Sisters, who had created the King Family Television Show on ABC. Burch eventually directed and produced many of the King Family holiday specials which aired on nationally in the late 1960s.
In 1965 Burch’s agency MCA asked him to create a corporate film division for Universal. Burch became President of Universal Commercial Industrial Films and a V.P. of Universal Studios, while he made corporate and government-sponsored films around the globe.
These included “Museum without Walls” for Sears and the National Endowment of the Arts, and “U.S. Art: The Gift of Ourselves” for Ford Motors for the U.S. bicentennial in 1976. He also produced and directed Indianapolis 500 TV coverage for many years, introducing the concept of closed-circuit broadcast into theaters and private venues.
Burch is survived by his wife Yvonne; a brother; a son, Charles, and three daughters, Tina Cole, an actress and singer; Cilla Reid and Cathy Green; six grandchildren (Casey, Volney, a producer, Jamie, Paj, Chelsea, and Sammi) and one great-grandchild.