Was pioneering African-American exec at NBC, Columbia

Television and film executive Stanley G. Robertson, who was an African-American pioneer in show business as VP of both a major TV network, NBC, and later of Columbia Pictures, died Nov. 16 at his home in Bel Air. He was 85.

After beginning in journalism, Robertson worked his way up at NBC from page to VP of film programs, responsible for primetime programming. He also ran his own production company, Jilcris; through Universal he produced a brief but landmark 1979 series, “Harris and Company,” the first weekly TV drama centered on a black family.

Later he collaborated with Bill Cosby on the features “Ghost Dad,” starring Cosby, and “Men of Honor.” The pair exec produced the films.

Over the course of his career, Robertson worked behind the scenes to advance minority inclusion in the entertainment industry.

Born in Los Angeles with a handicap — poor vision — Robertson initially attended a school specializing in visually impaired students. He received a degree from Los Angeles City College in 1949 and then worked as a general assignment reporter for African-American newspaper the Los Angeles Sentinel for two years. He rose to managing editor, then moved over to Ebony magazine, where he became associate editor.

He left Ebony, however, to pursue a different kind of career, entering USC in 1954 to study telecommunications.

Robertson was first hired as a page at NBC in 1957, then did a stint at the network’s music clearance department. Over time he was promoted into the network’s executive ranks, first as a manager of film program operations in 1965, then as a director of motion pictures for television, VP of motion pictures for television in 1971 and later VP of film programs.

Seeking to bring minority images further into the mainstream, Robertson launched his own production company, Jilcris Inc., sealing a deal with Universal Studios as a writer, producer and executive. There he developed and produced “Harris and Company,” starring Bernie Casey as a father of five. Later, Robertson ran Bill Cosby’s production company at Universal. He subsequently left for Paramount, where he was instrumental in the production of the film “Men of Honor,” the story of the first African-American U.S. Navy diver. It starred Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert De Niro.

In 1984, Robertson was brought to Columbia Pictures by studio head Frank Price and subsequently made VP of production by Guy McElwaine.

Robertson’s efforts resulted in the creation of the first program focused on developing minority writers and directors at a major studio. He also started a program that developed new minority management personnel.

Robertson is survived by his wife of 58 years, Ruby; a daughter; and a son.

A memorial service for Robertson will be held on Monday, Dec. 19 at 11 a.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott, 6333 Bristol Park Way, Palisades Garden Room, Culver City.

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