Tom Donovan, a director in early television and later a producer who also played a key role in the 1960 merger between the Screen Directors Guild and the Radio Television Directors Guild, leading to the formation of the DGA, died in Englewood, N.J., on Oct. 27. He was 89.
Directors Guild of America president Taylor Hackford said, “Tom’s mark upon the new DGA was indelible. He was president of the New York Local of the RTDG when discussions first began in the late 1950s about forming a new, unified organization to represent film and television directors and the teams that support them under one roof, and then in 1962, he chaired the committee that organized a restructuring of the new guild that eased regional friction and consolidated power in a National Board in which both the East Coast and the West Coast were fully represented — an organizational structure that continues today.”
Donovan first got a call about a possible merger between the respective guilds for film and TV directors from Frank Capra in 1958. Donovan was initially skeptical about the benefits of such a merger for TV directors but eventually came around.
During the 1950s and early ’60s, Donovan directed a 1954 episode of “Danger,” several episodes of “Studio One in Hollywood” and “The United States Steel Hour,” adaptations of “The Hasty Heart” for “The DuPont Show of the Month” and of “The Devil and Daniel Webster” for “Sunday Showcase” as well as telepic adaptations of “The Bells of St. Mary’s” and “Ninotchka.”
Many shows were moving to Los Angeles, but Donovan remained in New York.
Later he produced and directed episodes of the show “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing,” helmed an entry in the “Hallmark Hall of Fame” series and directed episodes of the daytime soap “Ryan’s Hope.”
In 1981 Donovan directed his single feature film, “Lovespell,” a take on the Tristan and Isolde story that starred Richard Burton and Kate Mulgrew, among others.
Most recently he helmed episodes of the daytime soap “Another World” in 1997 and produced and directed an episode of “General Hospital” in 2006.
Donovan served on the first national board of the newly formed DGA, eventually holding nearly every board position over the next 33 years including national VP. He also served five terms on the DGA’s Eastern Directors Council and as trustee of the DGA Foundation.
For his contributions to the guild, Donovan was made an Honorary Life Member in 1985 and picked up the Robert B. Aldrich Award for extraordinary service to the DGA and its membership in 2001.
Hackford called Donovan “a beloved father figure here at the guild” who “took great pride in everything he helped set in motion all those years ago — a single, unified guild that helped protect and improve working conditions, creative rights and economic benefits for all guild members.”
Donovan was also a trustee of the Actors Fund for 13 years beginning in 1993, playing key roles on the audit, human services and executive committee.
In 2006, he and his wife, Marie, retired to the Actors Fund’s Lillian Booth Actors’ Home in New Jersey. She died in August.
He is survived by a son and a daughter.