Won Emmys for 'Dick Van Dyke Show'

Television writer-producer and composer Samuel Denoff died July 8 in Brentwood, Calif. He was 83 and suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

Born in Brooklyn, Denoff grew up studying piano. He attended Adelphi College in Garden City, Long Island, but had a burning desire to begin a songwriter career and left before graduation. He wrote a lot of songs, but they didn’t sell.

Denoff began in the entertainment industry as a page at NBC in 1951. Three years later he got a job in the continuity department at radio station WNEW, where he met Bill Persky. They wrote jingles,jokes and comedy routines for DJ William B. Williams. Denoff’s partnership with Persky lasted more than 20 years.

In 1957 they co-authored “Let’s Keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn” (the only work on which Denoff’s name preceded Persky’s in billing), which Phil Foster memorably recorded.

Persky and Denoff remained at WNEW for seven years and moved to California in 1961 for their first network television job as junior writers on ABC’s “The Steve Allen Show.” They also wrote a special for the Marineland amusement park featuring Lloyd Bridges. Their next stop was NBC’s “The Andy Williams Show” in the 1962-63 season. They then decided to write situation comedy and wrote for shows including McHale’s Navy and “The Joey Bishop Show.”

In 1963 they sold their first script to “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” They went on to write a majority of the scripts for the last three years of that classic show, where they served as writers, story editors and eventually producers. They received two Emmys for writing on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” including one for the episode “Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth,” in which Laura Petrie lets slip that Alan Brady wears a toupee.

Denoff and Persky then created and were exec producers of “That Girl,” starring Marlo Thomas, and also wrote the lyrics for the show’s opening credits. In 1966 they also created and produced “Good Morning World,” one of whose stars was the then unknown Goldie Hawn. In 1967 they co-wrote “The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special,” which earned them another Emmy. In 1968 they wrote and produced the first “Bill Cosby Special,” which won still another Emmy. They also wrote and produced specials including “The Julie Andrews Special With Gene Kelly”; “The First Nine Months Are the Hardest”; “Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman,” with Mary Tyler Moore; and “Pure Goldie,” with Goldie Hawn.

During the early 1970s they created and produced several series: “The Funny Side,” a variety show starring Gene Kelly and featuring five couples addressing weekly topics like sex, sports and money; “Big Eddie,” starring Denoff mentor Sheldon Leonard; “The Montefuscos”; and “Lotsa Luck,” starring Dom DeLuise.

The team broke up in the mid-’70s. Denoff subsequently produced “The Practice,” starring Danny Thomas; created and produced “The Don Rickles Show”; produced “On Our Own” and “Turnabout,” the latter starring Sharon Gless; and created and produced “The Lucie Arnaz Show.” He was executive supervising producer of “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and was a consulting producer on “Harry and the Hendersons.”

Beginning in 1995 Denoff was a writer for “The American Comedy Awards,” and since 1973 Sam served as a creative consultant on Jerry Lewis’ annual MDA Labor Day Telethon.

In 2004 he served as a consultant on “Life With Bonnie,” starring Bonnie Hunt.

In 1977 Denoff collaborated on doctoring the book for the troubled Broadway musical “Hellzapoppin,” which starred Lewis, but it closed out of town.

He also acted and can be seen fleetingly in Garry Marshall features such as “Nothing in Common,” “Beaches,” “Exit to Eden,” “The Other Sister” and “Princess Diaries.”

Denoff was a member of WGA, DGA, SAG, AFTRA, NATAS, ASCAP, NARAS, the Songwriter’s Guild and the Caucus for Producers, Writers and Directors.

His first marriage to Bernice Levey ended in divorce. He is survived by his second wife, Sharon Shore Denoff, a painter and dancer on Broadway, television and in the ballet; two sons, Douglas, a Tony-nominated Broadway producer and entrepreneur living in Manhattan, and Matthew; and two daughters, Leslie and Melissa.

Services will be held Monday, July 11, at 11 a.m. at the Groman Mortuary at Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills, Calif.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more