Ruth Engelhardt: A trailblazer in TV and for femmes in the biz

Ruth_engelhardt_2Sad to learn that Ruth Engelhardt, a legend of the Morris office, died last week at the age of 86.

It would only be a bit of stretch to call WMA the house that Ruth built, because she was the one who crafted the deal points and the contracts for all of those vintage TV shows that help keep the agency’s coffers flush. Ruth spent 59 years with WMA. She was the go-to person in TV business affairs back when the business of filmed entertainment series was young, anything was possible and star client Danny Thomas and his partner Sheldon Leonard were turning out hits (“The Andy Griffith Show,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” etc.) faster than Ruth could draw up the contracts.

I got a crash course in TV biz affairs 101 some years ago when I spent about two hours with Ruth in her WMA office for a column about her remarkable career. She recalled that back in the day, she and a few other WMA folks essentially were the business and administrative affairs department for Thomas and Leonard’s bustling production company, along with a bunch of other top clients.

She was proud of her role in etching the templates for production, program licensing and, of course, agency packaging pacts that endured largely unchanged until the vertical integration boom of the late 1990s. When we met, she was giddy at the prospect of closing a greeting card licensing deal for one of the old Thomas-Leonard shows. “You wouldn’t believe what they’re going to pay us,” she said with the enthusiasm of a dealmaker on the verge of victory.