Karl Genus

Television production pioneer

Emmy-nommed Karl Genus, a pioneer in television production and active in the reorganization that formed the Directors Guild of America, died May 29 of a heart attack at his Asheville, N.C., home. He was 84.

Born Genus Carl Benson to Swedish-American parents in Bridgeport, Conn., he was raised in Detroit, where he developed a theatrical bent. After attending Albion College and graduating from the Pasadena Playhouse (where he took the stage name Karl Genus), he worked with the National Catholic Dramatic Movement in Milwaukee and directed at the Michiana Shores Summer Theater (with Richard Kiley and Steve Allen as apprentices).

WWII intervened, during which he served in the Army Air Corps, running the “Chinese Detachment” that taught 10,000 Nationalist Chinese enough English to take flight training from American instructors.

After the war, he became principal director at the Kalamazoo Civic Theater and the Harrisburg Civic Theater. With his wife Muriel and children, he founded and for three summers ran the Totem Pole Playhouse (now in its 53rd year) in Fayetteville, Penn., before coming to New York in 1952 and joining CBS during the movement of theatrical directors and stage managers into the new medium of television.

He subsequently directed hundreds of programs during the “golden age” of early television, including soap operas, “Studio One,” “Playhouse 90” and “Westinghouse Summer Theater.”

Credited as the first to take early videotape recorders out of the studio for major productions, he shot on remote the drama “A Sleep of Prisoners” with John Voight 1965 for National Educational Television, a full-length dance (“Carmina Burana,” 1964, also for NET) and music documentary (“New Orleans Jazz,” 1962 for WYES and NET). In 1966 he directed Maxwell Anderson’s “The Star Wagon” with Dustin Hoffman, Orson Bean and Eileen Brennan.

A lifelong organizer (including his student days), he was a shop steward at CBS and later president of the Radio and Television Directors Guild. In the early 1960s, he was the lead Eastern director in the merger of Eastern and Western directors into the Directors Guild of America and served as a vice president of the DGA for 26 years.

During his career, he received six Emmy noms, 19 Clios, a Finlandia Award for “Sibelius, A Symphony for Finland,” and an Intl. Golden Eagle.

The last 20 years of his life were devoted to developing spiritual film projects, a quest which took him to India, England, Florida and Black Mountain, N.C.

He is survived by his partner, Beverly Jones; his former wife, Muriel Benson; two children, Terry Benson, a stage manager in New York City, and Tiane C. Benson of Washington; and two grandchildren.

Donations may be made to the Caledonia Theater Co. (the foundation at the Totem Pole Playhouse) P.O. Box 603, Fayetteville, PA 17222-0603.

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