Director, producer Jack Haley Jr. dies

His TV specials documented the biz

Director, producer, writer and executive Jack Haley Jr., who documented the brightest stars and shows of Hollywood for more than 40 years and created the landmark “That’s Entertainment!,” died Saturday at UCLA-Santa Monica Hospital. He was 67.

Haley was absorbed in the world of entertainment and motion pictures from his early childhood, which was spent in New York City and Hollywood, and he eventually would produce three Academy Awards telecasts.

By the time he was 26, Haley had earned his first award for an Air Force training film, “Operation Zero-Zero,” made under “extremely hazardous conditions … which contributed immeasurably to aviation progress.”

Haley had a knack for thinking big in the best Hollywood tradition. He was the first to see the lucrative potential in made-for-TV specials. As a producer and director at David L. Wolper Productions from 1959 to 1970, he was responsible for a number of award-winning documentaries: “The Race for Space,” “Hollywood: The Golden Years,” “Hollywood: The Fabulous Era” and “Hollywood: The Great Stars.” In 1962 he won his first Peabody Award as writer-director in charge of production for 29 shows in the “Biography” series.

Born in Los Angeles, Haley was son of Jack Haley, who played the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz,” and Florence McFadden, a former Ziegfeld Girl. He attended Loyola University and, after graduating, studied filmmaking at USC and UCLA.

He co-wrote, directed and produced “Hollywood and the Stars,” which had stellar ratings for NBC in 1963-64. He was awarded the Venice Film Festival’s Silver Lion in 1964 and 1965 for two segments, “In Search of Kim Novak” and “How to Succeed as a Gangster.” The following season, his credits included “The Legend of Marilyn Monroe,” one of the highest-rated documentaries in television history.

In 1967 Haley was named senior vice president at Wolper and the kudos continued.

For “The Hidden World,” a National Geographic special, he earned the Grand Prix as best world-wide television program at the International Television Festival in Monte Carlo, a second Peabody and a third Venice Silver Lion. The same year, Haley won the Emmy for best direction in a musical or variety show for “Movin’ with Nancy,” a special starting Nancy Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra. The following year, his activities included a one-hour musical tour of Monaco with Princess Grace, “Monte Carlo, C’est La Rose.”

From TV to movies

In 1970 he moved into motion pictures and by 1973 was named MGM’s director of creative affairs, where he was second-in-charge of all ongoing production.

In 1974 he created a blockbuster cinematic celebration of the most dazzling movie musicals produced by MGM. “That’s Entertainment!” included memorable scenes from nearly 100 films released between 1929 and 1958 and was narrated by 11 major stars: Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly, Peter Lawford, Liza Minnelli, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Mickey Rooney, Frank Sinatra, James Stewart and Elizabeth Taylor. The hugely successful format was repeated in 1985 with an ambitious feature compilation of the finest performances by the greatest dancers captured on film called “That’s Dancing!”

Haley, as writer, producer and director, teamed up with David Niven Jr. as co-producer and Gene Kelly as executive producer.

Haley directed the Academy Awards show in 1970, 1974 and 1979. The 1974 Oscars were remembered for a streaker who dashed across the stage while Elizabeth Taylor and David Niven were presenting.

Niven quipped, “Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings.” Taylor responded, “That’s a tough act to follow.”

In 1982 he wrote, produced and directed the multi-Emmy nominated three-hour ABC special “Hollywood: The Gift of Laughter.” The all-star extravaganza was hosted by Carol Burnett, Dom DeLuise, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Richard Pryor and Burt Reynolds.

Haley did a PBS retrospective on Vincente Minnelli, “Minnelli on Minnelli,” which garnered four Emmy nominations. Liza Minnelli and Haley were married from 1974 to 1979.

“Happy Birthday Hollywood!,” celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the movies, raised more than $500,000 for the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital.

Helping out

Haley’s commitment to the movie industry led him to develop important educational programs. He was responsible for rewriting and re-recording the Acoustiguide for the traveling exhibition “Hollywood: Legend and Reality,” sponsored by Time-Life and the Smithsonian Institution. More recently, he served as co-chairman with Sherry Lansing of the Concept Development Advisory Commission overseeing the $75 million Hollywood Entertainment Museum. He frequently donated his talents as producer to the American Film Institute, the Princess Grace Foundation and other charities.

In the 1990s his most memorable production was “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic,” a CBS special celebrating the 50th anniversary of the making of the film.

When Liza Minnelli was informed of Haley’s passing, she said, “Jack was the first one to remind the general public of our heritage. America’s royalty is our entertainers, who have given so much to the world.

“I fell in love with him the first time I met him, and I have loved him with all of my heart ever since,” Minnelli said.

The date of the service had not been set. He will be buried at Holy Cross Cemetery, where his father is interred.

Haley is survived by his sister, Gloria Parnasses, a niece and nephew.