William Asher

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William Asher
Asher-liz2.jpg
Asher with second wife Elizabeth Montgomery in 1964
Born William Milton Asher
(1921-08-08)August 8, 1921
New York City, New York, USA
Died July 16, 2012(2012-07-16) (aged 90)
Palm Desert, California, USA
Occupation director, producer, screenwriter
Years active 1948-1990
Spouse(s) Danny Sue Nolan (m. 1951–61)
Elizabeth Montgomery (m. 1963–73)
Joyce Bulifant (m. 1976–93)
Meredith Asher (m. 1998–2012)(his death)
Children William Allen Asher (with Montgomery)
Robert Asher (with Montgomery)
Rebecca Elizabeth Asher (with Montgomery)
Liane Sears (with Bulifant)
Brian Asher (with Bulifant)
Parents Ephraim M. Asher
Lillian Bonner

William Milton Asher (August 8, 1921–July 16, 2012) was an American television and film producer, film director, and screenwriter. He was one of the most prolific early television directors, producing or directing over two dozen series.[1]

With television in its infancy, Asher introduced the sitcom Our Miss Brooks, which was adapted from a radio show. He began directing I Love Lucy by 1952. In 1964, he produced and directed Bewitched, which starred his then-wife Elizabeth Montgomery. As a result of his early success, Asher was considered an "early wunderkind of TV-land," and was hyperbolically credited in one magazine article with "inventing" the sitcom.[2]

Asher was nominated for an Emmy four times, winning once for directing Bewitched in 1966. He was also nominated for the DGA award in 1951 for I Love Lucy.[3]

Early life[edit]

Asher was born in New York City to stage actress Lillian Bonner and producer Ephraim M. Asher (1887-1937), whose movie credits were mostly as an associate producer. His sister Betty Asher was an MGM publicist for Judy Garland.[4] His father was Jewish, his mother Catholic.[2] Asher's family moved to Los Angeles when he was 10, where he often accompanied his father to the movie studio.[5]

Asher's parents divorced when he was 11, resulting in his returning to New York with his mother. He later recalled that this period was filled with turmoil, as his mother was abusive and an alcoholic.[5] As a result of having to live in New York with his mother, he dropped out of school and served in the Army Signal Corps during World War II.[2]

Career[edit]

Asher returned to California in 1948 to direct Leather Gloves, a low-budget film. He eventually gravitated to television (then a new medium),[6] and got a job writing short story "fillers" for various programs, which evolved into a series called Little Theatre. This resulted in his receiving a contract with Columbia Pictures to work on a musical film for Harry Cohn.[5]

Asher received an offer from CBS Studios to direct Our Miss Brooks starring Eve Arden, a television version of the popular radio show. In 1952, Desi Arnaz asked Asher to direct an episode of his series I Love Lucy; by that show's end in 1957, Asher had directed 110 of the series' 179 episodes,[2] Asher later commented that even though the creators knew the show was good, they did not believe it would become an American icon. "When we did the show, we thought, 'That's it, we're done with it.' We never dreamed it would last this long. Lucille Ball, obviously, was one of TV's true pioneers."[7]

Asher was considered an "early wunderkind of TV-land, blazing a path in the new medium" of television.[2] Writer and producer William Froug described Asher as a "hyphenate of a different stripe, a director-producer", commenting that he was one of many "restless Hollywood professionals who, like nomads, drifted from job to job, always delivering competent, if not inspired work".[8]

In addition to Our Miss Brooks and I Love Lucy, Asher directed episodes of The Colgate Comedy Hour, Make Room for Daddy, The Twilight Zone (1959 TV series), The Patty Duke Show, Gidget, The Dukes of Hazzard, and Alice. Asher had also befriended President John F. Kennedy, and together with Frank Sinatra, planned Kennedy's 1961 Inaugural.[2]

Asher's best known work was Bewitched, which he produced for its entire eight-year run. At that time, he was married to the show's star Elizabeth Montgomery. They divorced soon after the series' cancellation in 1972.[2][9][10]

Asher also directed several films, including Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach, and Beach Blanket Bingo. Television historian Wheeler Dixon later suggested that the Beach Party films were not only "visions of paradise" for the audience, but also for Asher, who used them "to create a fantasy world to replace his own troubled childhood."[5]

Asher later recalled his directorial years:

When I look back at my own work, Bewitched stays with me the most, and Lucy, and the Beach Party pictures. The scripts of the Beach Party films were sheer nonsense, but they were fun and positive. . . . When kids see the films now, they can get some idea of what the '60s were like. The whole thing was a dream, of course. But it was a nice dream.[5]

Later years and death[edit]

Asher received a star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars in November 2003.

He died from complications of Alzheimer's disease at age 90 on July 16, 2012.[11] At the time of his death, Asher resided in Palm Desert, California with his fourth wife, the former Meredith Coffin McMachen [2][12]

Personal life[edit]

Asher married Bewitched star Elizabeth Montgomery in 1963. They had three children and divorced in 1973 (soon after the series' cancellation). Asher's daughter (with Montgomery) Rebecca Asher is a script supervisor, and his adopted son John Asher (from his marriage to actress Joyce Bulifant), is an actor and director. Asher was also previously married to Danny Sue Nolan from 1951-1961, with whom he had two children, and he was married to Meredith Asher when he died.[2]

In popular culture[edit]

In Mad Men season 4, episode 2 ("Christmas Comes But Once a Year"), Harry Crane tells Don Draper he has arranged a meeting for him with Bill Asher at the Brown Derby, and notes Asher will probably try to cast him. (Bill and Don's biographies share some similarities.)

Television filmography[edit]

Year series began TV Series
As director
1950 The Colgate Comedy Hour
1951 Racket Squad
1951 I Love Lucy
1951 The Dinah Shore Show
1952 Our Miss Brooks
1953 Make Room For Daddy
1953 The Ray Bolger Show
1954 Willy
1954 The Lineup
1957 The Thin Man
1958 The Donna Reed Show
1959 Fibber McGee and Molly
1959 The Twilight Zone
1963 The Patty Duke Show
1964 Bewitched
1965 Gidget
1972 Temperatures Rising
1972 The Paul Lynde Show
1976 Alice
1977 Tabitha
1979 The Dukes of Hazzard
1979 Flatbush
1979 The Bad News Bears
1984 Crazy Like a Fox
1986 Kay O'Brien
As producer
1960 The Land of Oz
1963 The Patty Duke Show
1964 Bewitched
1972 The Paul Lynde Show
1980 Here's Boomer
1986 Kay O'Brien

References[edit]

  1. ^ Obituary Los Angeles Times, July 18, 2012; page AA5.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "William Asher - The Man Who Invented the Sitcom", Palm Springs Life Dec. 1999
  3. ^ "Bill Asher, famed 'I Love Lucy' and 'Bewitched' director, dies in Palm Desert" My Desert, July 16, 2012
  4. ^ Fleming, E. J. The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling, and the MGM Publicity Machine, Mcfarland (2005) p. 193
  5. ^ a b c d e Dixon, Wheeler W. Lost in the Fifties: Recovering Phantom Hollywood, Southern Illinois Press (2005) pp. 169-176
  6. ^ Ashmont
  7. ^ Karol, Michael. The Comic DNA of Lucille Ball, iUniverse (2006) p. 4
  8. ^ Froug, William. How I Escaped from Gilligan's Island: and other Misadventures of a Hollywood Writer-Producer, Popular Press (2005) p. 230
  9. ^ Berard, Jeanette M., Corwin, Norman. Television Series and Specials Scripts, 1946-1992, McFarland (2009)
  10. ^ Bathroom Reader's Institute. Uncle John's Third Bathroom Reader, (1990) p. 145
  11. ^ Deadline, The. "R.I.P. William Asher". Deadline.com. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  12. ^ see The New York Times "William Asher, Director of Classic TV Comedies, Dies at 90", July 17, 2012.[1]

External links[edit]