William Self, the exec who turned 20th Century Fox into a TV powerhouse in the 1960s with such hits as “Batman,” “Peyton Place,” “Lost in Space,” “Julia” and “MASH,” died Nov. 15 in Los Angeles of a heart attack. He was 89.
Self was respected in the creative community for his strong eye for material and his skill as a producer.
During his years at Fox, he championed groundbreaking fare such as the Diahann Carroll starrer “Julia,” the first primetime skein toplined by a black actor, and “MASH,” which beat long odds to become an indelible smallscreen smash. He also shepherded the genre-busting tongue-in-cheek adaptation of “Batman,” starring Adam West and Burt Ward, that was an overnight sensation for ABC.
At his peak at Fox, Self assembled an exec team that included such future biz heavyweights as Grant Tinker, David Gerber, Douglas Cramer, Hal Kanter, Paul Monash and Tom Miller.
During his stint as a program exec at CBS in the late 1950s, Self told Rod Serling that his initial pilot script for “The Twilight Zone” was too dark, with a storyline involving euthanasia and would never appeal to advertisers. Serling left Self’s office in a huff but sent him a new script a few days later that became the anthology series’ 1959 pilot, “Where Is Everybody?” starring Earl Holliman.
Serling later offered Self the job as producer of the series, but was turned down. He left CBS for 20th Century Fox in late 1959.
Within five years, Fox had 8½ hours of primetime programming on ABC, CBS and NBC, second only to Universal TV at the time. He was upped to prexy of the TV division in 1968. Other shows Self shepherded during his years at Fox include “Daniel Boone,” “Room 222,” “Twelve O’Clock High,” “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” “Land of the Giants,” “Nanny and the Professor” and “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.”
Self attended the U. of Chicago and then followed his father into the advertising business briefly as a copywriter before moving to L.A. to work as an actor. He parlayed his skill as a tennis player into networking opportunities with Charlie Chaplin and Spencer Tracy, which helped him land small roles in such pics as “The Sands of Iwo Jima,” 1949’s “Adam’ Rib” and 1952’s “Pat and Mike.”
By the mid-1950s, he segued to producing in TV on “Schlitz Playhouse of Stars,” through the aid of his father’s advertising connections. Self also produced “The Frank Sinatra Show,” a famous 1957 flop.
After leaving Fox in 1974, he launched Frankovich-Self Prods. with Mike Frankovich. The shingle was behind 1976’s John Wayne starrer “The Shootist” and Charles Bronson’s “From Noon Till Three.”
Self returned to CBS in 1977 as a longform production exec, delivering “Hallmark Hall of Fame” telepics and 1982 miniseries “The Blue and the Gray.” He was also appointed to head a short-lived CBS theatrical films division. Later, under the William Self Prods. banner, he produced with Glenn Close the “Sarah, Plain and Tall” and “Sarah, Plain and Tall: Winter’s End” telepics.
Self’s survivors include a son, a daughter, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held 2 p.m. Monday, November 22, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.