McCray was born on June 7, 1928, the second son of Thomas Chapman McCray — an executive with the NBC Radio Network — and singer Dorothy Baldwin McCray. A Hartford, Conn., native, McCray found his passion for entertainment early on during his time at the Kimball Union Academy prep school in New Hampshire. While at Kimball, McCray built sets, directed, acted, and sang in several school theatrical productions.
Three years after graduating from the University of Hartford, McCray began his television career at NBC in L.A. as a production coordinator on the “All Star Revue” and “The Colgate Comedy Hour.” Other assignments followed quickly, including “The Red Skelton Show,” “The Ralph Edwards Show,” “This Is Your Life,” and “You Bet Your Life” starring Groucho Marx.
When NBC announced its shift away from live television into filmed entertainment, McCray took a crash course in film production and became an associate producer on “Philip Marlowe,” later becoming a production manager on the NBC dramas “The High Chaparral” and “Bonanza.”
While working on “Bonanza,” McCray met Michael Landon, whom he would collaborate with several times during his career. In his 2017 memoir, “Kent McCray: The Man Behind The Most Beloved Television Shows,” McCray wrote, “Because of my personal and working relationship with Michael, I had the freedom to run a production as I saw fit. I have always believed that to get the best show, you must have the very best crew and then allow them to do their job without intruding on their expertise. There’s nothing more wonderful than looking forward to going to work every day. Because of the mutual respect and love Michael and I felt for each other and our crew family, that dream came true for me.”
In 1974, McCray was associate producer of the two-hour “Little House on the Prairie” pilot based Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book series. Landon was the executive producer, director, and co-star along with Karen Grassle and 9-year-old Melissa Gilbert. When the pilot became a series, McCray served as producer for the show’s entire nine-season run. From 1981 to 1983, he expanded his collaboration with Landon to produce “Father Murphy” starring Merlin Olsen.
Dean Butler, who played Almanzo James Wilder in “Little House on the Prairie,” said McCray always managed to make him smile while they worked together.
“He was a friend, he was a gentleman, a mentor, and a gifted producer who was always two steps ahead of the curve. His desk was always clean, his boards were perfect, and everyone had fun,” Butler said in a statement. “While Kent’s career spanned more than 60 years, he told me that he never worked a day in his life. I believed him, and I will always be inspired by his memory.”
Kent is survived by Susan Sukman McCray, whom he married in 1984, as well as four children from his first marriage — Deborah Kressin, Scott McCray, Kristen McCray Trent, and Carolyn McCray Montgomery — eight grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the University of Hartford’s Hartt Theatre Division.