Paul Junger Witt, producer of such TV comedies as “The Golden Girls,” “Benson,” and “Soap” and a principal of the prosperous Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions, died Friday in Los Angeles. He was 77.
Witt had faced a long battle with cancer, a family representative said.
With producing partner Tony Thomas, Witt in the 1970s and 80s ran Witt/Thomas Productions, which was also home to NBC’s “Empty Nest” and “Blossom” and the original “Beauty and the Beast” series. In 1983, Witt married writer-producer Susan Harris, creator of NBC’s “Golden Girls,” and the company expanded as Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions.
In addition to his TV work, Witt was a producer of such films as 1989’s “Dead Poet’s Society,” 1999’s “Three Kings,” 2002’s “Insomnia,” and 2011’s “A Better Life.”
Born in New York City, Witt graduated from the University of Virginia. He got his start in Hollywood in the mail room of Columbia Pictures. He partnered with producer Tony Thomas, son of entertainer Danny Thomas, and in 1973 the two set up shop at Danny Thomas Productions. The pair shepherded such projects as “The Partridge Family” series and the beloved 1971 TV movie “Brian’s Song,” starring James Caan and Billy Dee Williams, before launching their own banner in 1975.
Among the many series produced by Witt/Thomas and Witt/Thomas/Harris were “It’s a Living,” “Herman’s Head,” “Nurses,” “The John Larroquette Show,” the Rhea Perlman starrer “Pearl,” “Hail to the Chief,” and the short-lived “Golden Girls” spinoff “The Golden Palace.”
Witt won two Emmys when “Golden Girls” prevailed as best comedy series in 1986 and 1987. He also earned an Emmy for outstanding single program for “Brian’s Song.” “Dead Poet’s Society” also brought him an Oscar nomination for best picture.
Early in his career, Witt worked as a director on “Partridge Family” and such series as “Here Come the Brides,” “Occasional Wife,” and “The Second Hundred Years.”
Witt was also a dedicated environmentalist who served 16 years as a member of the California State Park and Recreation Commission, including stints as chairman and vice chairman. He was a board member of EcoAmerica, the Environmental Media Association, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, and the Emmett Institute on Climate Change.
Survivors include Harris and five children. The family requests that donations be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Save the Children, or an environmental organization.