Irving Fein, a television and film producer and the longtime manager of entertainers Jack Benny and George Burns, died Aug. 10 in West Hollywood. He was 101.
Fein first worked in the business in Warner Bros.’ publicity and advertising department in New York City. He attended Brooklyn Law School in the evening and eventually earned his law degree. He turned down an offer to work in Warner’s legal department and instead moved to California, where he began in the studio’s mailroom. He soon joined the publicity department, then moved to the publicity department at Columbia Pictures. During his career as a publicist he also worked for Samuel Goldwyn and MGM.
In 1947, Fein began his 28-year association with Jack Benny when he was hired as Benny’s publicity and advertising director. Over the next nine years, Fein became Benny’s manager and producer, while handling all of the PR work involved.
In 1956, William S. Paley hired Fein as a vice president at CBS, moving him and his family to New York City. In less than a year, however, Fein was back in Hollywood as president of Benny’s company J&M Prods., which produced the comedian’s television shows as well as other series. Fein also exec produced Benny’s weekly series until it ended in 1965 and his yearly NBC specials until Benny’s death in 1974.
Fein also became manager and producer for George Burns, who had struggled as a single act after the death of Gracie Allen. Fein was instrumental in securing Burns’ role in 1975’s “The Sunshine Boys,” which earned him an Academy Award. This long personal and business relationship lasted until Burns died in 1996; Fein produced the comedian’s television specials (he was Emmy nominated for “The George Burns One-Man Show”) and was exec producer on his movies “Oh God! You Devil” and “18 Again!”
Fein was born in Brooklyn and attended the U. of Baltimore, then transferred to the Alexander Meiklejohn Experimental College at the U. of Wisconsin. He first became interested in dramatics and writing during the summers in which he attended children’s camps. One of his camp counselors was renowned novelist and playwright Irving Shaw, who encouraged Fein after taking notice of his writing skills.
He also authored several books, including the bestseller “Jack Benny: An Intimate Biography.”
Fein is survived by his wife of 43 years, Marion; two children from a previous marriage, Dr. Michael Fein and television producer Tisha Fein; stepson Dan Schechter; three granddaughters; and four great-granddaughters.
A celebration of his life is being planned.