Hal Cooper, a director and executive producer for television who helmed shows including “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “I Dream of Jeannie,” “Maude” and “Gimme a Break” and was a pioneer during the golden age of the medium, died of heart failure at his home in Beverly Hills on April 11. He was 91.
As TV was in its early days, Cooper wrote, produced and acted in a show for the Dumont Television Network called “Your Television Babysitter,” co-written and hosted by his wife, Pat Meikle. The show aired on the network’s first day of all-day television programming on Nov. 1, 1947. The show, aimed at preschoolers, taught the alphabet with the help of animal cartoon drawings. The show’s success was parlayed into the daytime series “The Magic Cottage,” aimed at teaching slightly older children, and aired from 1949-52.
Cooper also directed and produced many daytime shows from 1950 to 1957, including “Search for Tomorrow,” the first successful soap opera, and “Kitty Foyle.”
Cooper moved to Los Angeles when the television industry shifted over to the West Coast and started to work as a director in nighttime television, considered more prestigious, starting with “The Dick Van Dyke Show” (1962) and “Death Valley Days” (1965-67). He became one of the regular directors for “I Dream of Jeannie” (1965-69) and spent the rest of his career as a director and producer of television comedy.
Cooper was a director and executive producer of “Maude” (1972-78), “Love Sydney (1982-83) and “Gimme a Break” (1983-87). He was involved in the development of numerous pilots in the 1970s and 1980s, and he directed episodes of many other successful shows including “Gilligan’s Island,” “That Girl,” “The Brady Bunch” and “All in the Family.”
His last screen credit was for directing “Something So Right” (1996).
Starting as an actor in radio at age 9, Cooper was performing in the show “Rainbow House” in 1936. When he wasn’t on microphone, he was always in the control room watching and learning about directing from Bob Emery, the producer and director. One day, two hours before the show was to air live, coast to coast, Emery became ill and unable to direct. But, before being taken to the hospital, Emery said, “Let Hal direct it.” So at 13 years old, Hal directed his first live broadcast.
Cooper attended the U. of Michigan in 1940 while also pursuing his career in radio, working at WXYZ in Detroit doing episodes of “The Lone Ranger.” Military service in WWII — he was a lieutenant (junior grade) in the U.S. Naval Reserve, Pacific Theatre of Operations — interrupted his education from 1943-46. He returned to the U. of Michigan and graduated with a B.A. in 1946.
While at Michigan he met his first wife, Pat Meikle. They were married in 1944, and after graduating, they worked together at the Dock St. Theatre Company in Charleston, S.C., where he was the assistant director.
He is survived by two daughters, a son and a grandson.