Producer, writer and director Leonard Stern, who created, with Jackie Gleason, the iconic TV series “The Honeymooners” as well as almost two dozen other series and 12 films and was also a leader of the Producers Guild of America, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 88.
Stern became a creative force in television, writing a season of “The Phil Silvers Show” (aka “Sergeant Bilko”) and drawing a shared Emmy in the process, followed by 150 episodes as head writer of “The Steve Allen Show,” for which he was also Emmy nommed. He also produced “Get Smart” for five years, earning an Emmy nom for best comedy series and winning one, together with Buck Henry, for comedy writing.
Stern, who also partnered with Roger Price and Larry Sloan in the Price/Stern/Sloan novelty publishing company, penned several books, including “Dear Attila the Hun” and “A Martian Wouldn’t Say That!” Jay Leno has regularly dipped into the latter, a collection of memos from TV executives that they wish they hadn’t written, on “The Tonight Show.” The firm was launched with Mad Libs, the word game created by Stern and Price and published since 1958.
Stern created “I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster”; “He and She,” drawing another shared Emmy nom; and “The Governor and J.J.”
But he didn’t always work in comedy, spending time in the detective genre as well. Stern wrote, directed and produced seven years of NBC’s “McMillan and Wife,” starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, and also worked on the net’s “The Snoop Sisters,” with Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick, and “Lanigan’s Rabbi,” with Art Carney.
A native of New York City, Stern received a degree from the NYU School of Journalism and started out writing jokes for Milton Berle.
His first screenplays were for 1950’s “Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion” and the Abbott and Costello vehicle “Lost in Alaska.” Other movie credits include the screenplays for “Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town”; “The Jazz Singer,” starring Danny Thomas; and “Three for the Money,” starring Jack Lemmon and Betty Grable. He co-wrote and directed 1979’s “Just You and Me, Kid,” starring George Burns, and 1992’s “Missing Pieces,” with Eric Idle and Robert Wuhl. For 20th Century Fox, he wrote the original script for “Target” (1985), starring Gene Hackman and Matt Dillon.
Stern’s work in TV also won him three Writers Guild of America Awards and a Peabody Award.
In l996, after Price/Stern/Sloan was sold to Putnam, Stern formed Tallfellow Inc., which aimed to be a virtual alternative story department for producers, directors, studios and independent filmmakers. His first project for Tallfellow was “Pledge of Allegiance” with Paramount.
In recent years, Stern served as president and chairman of the Producers Guild of America and member of the steering committee and chair of the Caucus for Producers, Writers and Directors. In 1993, the caucus named him member of the year, and he received the Distinguished Service Award for outstanding lifetime achievement. In 1992, he received the Charles FitzSimons Honorary Lifetime Member Award from the Producers Guild.
Stern is survived by his wife, actress Gloria Stroock; a son and a daughter; two grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.
Funeral services and interment will be Friday at 2 p.m. at Mt. Sinai, 5950 Forest Lawn Drive, Hollywood Hills.
Donations may be made to the Writers Guild of America Foundation.