Anita Laraine Wharton Addison, a pioneer African American network TV exec, died suddenly in New York on January 24. She was 51 years old.
At the time of her death, she was a producer at Paramount Television and had just finished directing the pilot for “Manhattan Valley” for KCET.
Born in Greensboro, N.C., Addison began her career as a journalist working at People, Money, Fortune and Time. She became a research analyst at Paramount before her promotion into dramatic development.
A longtime network TV executive, she was senior VP of drama development at Lorimar starting in the late ’80s, and then at Warner Bros. Television, continuing with Warner Bros. as an independent producer until 1995.
She was part of the Leslie Moonves team that revitalized CBS when Moonves moved from Warner Bros. to the Eye, where from 1995-1998 she was VP of drama development. Skeins developed during her tenure included “Sisters” and “It Had To Be You” for which she served as executive producer, as well as “Midnight Caller,” “MacGyver,” “Call to Glory,” “Early Edition” and “EZ Streets.”
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Addison resigned her CBS position to pursue producing and directing full time, and worked on such series as “Family Law” and “Judging Amy” and as executive producer of “That’s Life.” Oprah Winfrey chose her to direct “There Are No Children Here,” a television film based on Alex Kotlowitz’s best-selling book about the challenges facing poor children in the inner city. Her next television movie, “Deep In My Heart,” earned Anne Bancroft an Emmy in 1999. In 1989, Addison also received an Academy Award nomination for her short film “Savannah.”
She was also a directing member of the Playwright Directing Unit of the Actors Studio.
“Anita Addison was a gift to our industry,” said Leslie Moonves, CEO of CBS. “She was a creative force whose passion for the product infused energy and excellence into everything she did. Wherever Anita worked, and whatever projects she worked on, she inspired the creative efforts of those around her.”
She received several honors for her civic work, including the Humanitas Certificate and a Leadership Award from Girls Inc. for projecting positive role models and images for women and girls.
Addison is survived by partner David Byrd, a sister and a brother.
Contributions may be made to The Grace Lutheran Church Building Fund, 1315 East Washington St, Greensboro, NC 27401; The Best Friends Animal Society, 500 Angel Canyon Road, Kanab, Utah 84741-5000 and the Teaching Tolerance Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, 400 Washington Ave, Montgomery, AL 36104.