Lela Swift, who rose from the secretarial pool at CBS to become a pioneering TV director, died Aug. 4 at her home in Santa Monica. She was 96.
Swift worked her way up the ranks from production gopher to assistant director to helmer while CBS was in its infancy as a TV network. She directed episodes of such anthology series as “Studio One,” “Suspense” and “The Web.” Later in her career she worked on “Dark Shadows” and had a 14-year run on the ABC soap “Ryan’s Hope.”
Swift was mentored by “Studio One” producer Worthington Miner and prominent helmers including Franklin Schaffner and Paul Nickell. In 1950 she was tapped to replace Schaffner as a lead director on “Studio One.” Among her notable episodes was a two-part adaptation of “Little Women” starring Nancy Marchand.
On the half-hour series “The Web,” Swift gave a young James Dean one of his first TV roles.
In the 1950s and ’60s Swift directed a range of programs, from public affairs specials to the documentary “Years Without Harvest.” She joined producer Dan Curtis on the now-legendary “Dark Shadows” soap in 1966, and worked as a director on other Curtis productions including the 1974 TV movie “Nightmare at 43 Hillcrest.”
The following year, Swift signed on as a director of the New York City-set soap “Ryan’s Hope,” which brought her three Daytime Emmy Awards.
Swift’s survivors include her sons, Russell Schwartz, senior VP of business and legal affairs at Starz; and producer Stuart Schwartz (“Unsolved Mysteries,” “Good Morning America”); and five grandchildren.