Variety show writer-producer Paul W. Keyes died Friday in Woodland Hills, Calif., of natural causes. He was 79.
Keyes was a head writer and producer for several seminal talkshows and comedies, including “The Tonight Show” with both Jack Paar and Steve Allen, “The Dean Martin Show” and “Laugh-In.”
Born in Dorchester, Mass., Keyes served in World War II, during which he wrote radio dramas for the Armed Forces Network, and then worked in radio in Boston. He directed radio programs and managed talent for the Yankee radio network before becoming a television writer under contract to NBC in the mid-1950s.
After working with Paar and “The Tonight Show” for several years, he moved to Los Angeles to become head writer for “The Dean Martin Show,” for which he received an Emmy nom. Keyes won an Emmy for his writing on the first season of the groundbreaking comedy sketch show “Laugh-In” and another as producer on the second season.
However, Keyes began to feel that “Laugh-In’s” suggestive humor was pushing the bounds of taste, so he left to start a production company to make tribute specials and awards shows. He produced the first edition of the “People’s Choice Awards”; American Film Institute salutes to James Cagney, Orson Welles and William Wyler, and “All Star Tributes” to Jimmy Stewart, Ingrid Bergman and Elizabeth Taylor.
He also did specials during the ’70s and ’80s that paid tribute to John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Ronald Reagan and Clint Eastwood, among others.
Keyes consulted for Richard Nixon, producing dinners for heads of state, including a dinner for the president of Italy, for which Sinatra came out of retirement to perform.
Keyes was inducted into the Producers Guild of America Hall of Fame in 1994 and was active producing shows for the Variety Clubs.
He is survived by two brothers and a sister.
Services will be held Thursday at 10 a.m. at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village.
Contributions may be made to the Motion Picture & Television Fund.