Ethel Winant, first major female TV executive, died Saturday, Nov. 29, of complications from a heart attack and stroke in Los Angeles. She was 81.
Winant became senior VP of talent, casting and special projects at CBS after working in television since the early 1950s.
Born in Marysville, Calif., she graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was active in theater. Winant then tried a variety of backstage jobs at the Pasadena Playhouse. During World War II, she worked as a riveter at Lockheed on the graveyard shift and formed a theatrical club, producing plays at theaters in downtown L.A. in the afternoons.
After the war, Winant moved to New York, where she worked for theatrical agents and for Tennessee Williams, stage managing productions of “A Streetcar Named Desire” starring Marlon Brando. During this time, she visited a set of the early television show “Studio One,” where she became fascinated by the nascent industry. She became casting director of that show and others such as “Mr. Peepers” and “Armstrong Circle Theater.”
In 1958, she moved to Hollywood to work on the live drama “Playhouse 90,” where she cast actors including Paul Newman, James Dean and Steve McQueen.
She married actor H.M. Wynant and landed at CBS, where her first assignment was casting “The Twilight Zone,” followed by 1960s staples such as “Lost in Space,” “Green Acres,” “Hogan’s Heroes” and “Hawaii Five-O.”
She was made VP of the Eye net in 1973. Although the post came with only a token raise, she never complained of sexism except for noting that the executive restroom didn’t have a lock and was expected to be used by men only.
Winant has said one of her favorite projects was “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which gave roles to several actors she felt deserved more recognition. She also worked on “The Waltons” and “The Bob Newhart Show.”
She later joined the Children’s Television Workshop as VP of program development and NBC as senior VP in charge of miniseries and novels for television. Most recently, she produced the Emmy-winning “George Wallace” for HBO and was associate producer of “Ronin,” starring Robert De Niro.
Winant was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1999.
She spent the last few years fund-raising for and living at the Motion Picture & Television Fund Country Home.
Donations may be made to the Motion Picture & Television Fund.
She is survived by sons William, a musician; Scott, a producer and director; and Bruce, an actor and singer.