Al Simon, a pioneering television producer of sitcoms such as “Mr. Ed” and “The Beverly Hillbillies,” died May 18 of Alzheimer’s disease at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He was 88.
Simon, who also produced the popular “George Burns and Gracie Allen Show” during the 1950s, was credited with helping to develop the three-camera system — a technique that uses three separate movie cameras to record action for a live audience and is used to shoot sitcoms.
Though Desi Arnaz was credited with developing the system because it was used in the filming of “I Love Lucy,” the system was created primarily by Simon, who used it in the 1940s for the radio-to-television “Truth or Consequences,” which became the first show on a regular basis to be filmed in 35mm before a live audience. Simon later wrote for the Ralph Edwards gameshow.
With continuous pressure from sponsors to move the show to television and because coast-to-coast transmission did not yet exist, Edwards was relieved when Simon suggested using 35mm film instead of a kinescope to deliver a clear, crisp picture to viewers nationwide, who would have otherwise had to watch a show constructed by pointing a movie camera at a television camera’s viewfinder.
Following his gig at “Truth or Consequences,” Simon was hired by Arnaz to adapt the three-camera system for “I Love Lucy.” With high-quality prints of each episode available for rebroadcasts, Lucille Ball and Arnaz profited greatly by selling reruns of the smash-hit sitcom to independent stations.
Simon, who first entered television during its infancy in the 1940s, later became president of Filmways Prods., where he was responsible for several mid-1960s sitcoms including “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Mr. Ed,” “Petticoat Junction” and “Green Acres.”
Simon, a New York native, earned a degree in English literature from Columbia U. in 1932 and a law degree from New York U. He then taught a radio course and was director of publicity for New York’s WHN before serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, after which he made the move to Hollywood.
Simon is survived by his wife, Caro Jones Simon; a son, a granddaughter and a niece.