Helmed 'I Love Lucy,' 'Bewitched,' beach films

William Asher, who helped birth TV sitcom “Bewitched,” co-created “The Patty Duke Show” and directed hundreds of episodes of series including “I Love Lucy,” has died in Palm Desert, Calif., according to the Desert Sun. He was 90.

“Bewitched,” which starred his then-wife Elizabeth Montgomery, was a staple of ABC’s primetime sked from 1964-1972 and has been an evergreen in syndication.

Beyond TV, Asher also wrote and directed a series of popular beach-party movies starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon: “Beach Party,” “Muscle Beach Party,” “Beach Blanket Bingo” and “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.” While working on these pics, he developed the pilot of the beach-set comedy “Gidget” for Sally Field and directed a number of episodes.

He won an Emmy in 1966 for directing an episode of “Bewitched” and was thereafter nominated three more times for his work on the show.

The creation of “Bewitched” was spurred by his desire to see Montgomery keep working as an actress after their marriage in 1963. “She didn’t want to do anything, she wanted to have babies,” Asher said in a 1999 interview with the Bewitched.net fan website. Asher suggested that they do a TV series together, and he wrote a pilot that was “very close” to ‘Bewitched’ for Columbia Pictures’ Screen Gems unit. But the studio had a similar script on hand from sitcom vet Sol Saks, “The Witch of Westport,” featuring more of the Halloween-like trappings of “The Addams Family,” while Asher’s cast the lead character as the “girl next door.” Asher blended the disparate visions, emphasizing comedy over cobwebs and boiling cauldrons. Saks, Asher acknowledged, “hated it.”

William Milton Asher was born in New York. His mother was the actress Lillian Bonner; his father, Ephraim M. Asher, was an associate producer on the 1931 horror classics “Dracula” and “Frankenstein.” The family moved to Los Angeles when he was 10.

Asher began his career in the mailroom at Universal Studios, co-directed the film “Leather Gloves” in 1948 before beginning work in television in the medium’s earliest days, directing episodes of “The Danny Thomas Show” and “The Colgate Comedy Hour,” among many others.

A job helming the pilot of the classic sitcom “Our Miss Brooks,” adapted from radio, led to his work on “I Love Lucy,” for which he directed 100 episodes. He also produced and directed episodes of “Fibber McGee and Molly.”

He continued work as a director into the 1970s and beyond, helming episodes of “The Paul Lynde Show,” “Operation Petticoat,” “Alice” and the TV adaptations of “The Bad News Bears” and “Private Benjamin.” He helmed the reunion telepics “I Dream of Jeannie… Fifteen Years Later” in 1985 and “Return to Green Acres” in 1990.

Besides the “Beach Party” films, Asher also directed a number of crime dramas for the bigscreen: “Mobs, Inc.,” “The Shadow on the Window” and “Johnny Cool,” as well as sci-fier “The 27th Day.” He took Avalon and Funicello onto the race track for the action comedy “Fireball 500″ and returned to the bigscreen in 1985 with the Walter Matthau-Charles Grodin comedy “Movers and Shakers.”

Asher was married four times, first to actress Dani Sue Nolan. His second marriage, to Montomery, ended in 1973. His third wife was actress Joyce Bulifant.

His survivors include his fourth wife, Meredith; a son and a daughter from his first marriage, Liane and Brian; two sons, William Asher Jr. and Robert Asher, and a daughter, Rebecca Asher, from his marriage to Montgomery; four stepchildren; nine grandchildren; and eight step-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held Sept. 29 at Desert Springs Church in Palm Desert.

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