Fred Coe (December 13, 1914 – April 29, 1979), nicknamed Pappy, was a television producer and director most famous for The Goodyear Television Playhouse/The Philco Television Playhouse in 1948-1955 and Playhouse 90 from 1957 to 1959. Among the live TV dramas he produced were Marty and The Trip to Bountiful for 'Goodyear/Philco', Peter Pan for Producers' Showcase, and Days of Wine and Roses for Playhouse 90.
Born in Alligator, Mississippi, Coe attended high school in Nashville, Tennessee, and college in Nashville at Peabody College, now part of Vanderbilt University, before studying at the Yale Drama School.
Coe made his mark in the early years of network television when Lights Out moved from radio to TV on July 3, 1946. Variety reviewed:
- Credit for the show's all-around excellence belongs jointly to scripter Wyllis Cooper and producer Fred Coe. Cooper was the last writer of the radio version with an eight-week series on the NBC net last summer. (Show returns for eight weeks Sat. (6) as replacement for Judy Canova). He followed Arch Oboler at the task and has made the switch from radio to tele without a single letdown in the program's eerie quality. Coe, whose light on NBC television has been partly hidden in the past by Ed Sobol and Ernie Colling, both of whom won ATS awards this last year, has come into his own with this show and should now rank right at the top of the heap. Story, titled First Person Singular, concerned a psychopathic killer whose wife's constant nagging, extreme sloppiness, etc., led him to strangle her in their apartment on one of those blistering summer evenings. Killer was never seen, with the camera following the action and taking in just what the eyes of the murderer would see. Thoughts in the killer's subconscious, meanwhile, told what might go on in the mind of such a person as he contemplates his crime, is convicted in court and then hanged. Coe achieved some admirable effects with the camera, drawing the viewer both into the killer's mind and into the action. Use of a spiral montage effect bridged the gap between scenes very well and the integration of film to point up the killer's dream of a cool, placid existence and to heighten the shock effect as the hangman ended his life was excellent. Technical director Bill States was on the beam with the controls in following Coe's direction.
Coe was known as a patron saint of writers, discovering or advancing the careers of Paddy Chayefsky, Horton Foote, Tad Mosel, JP Miller, David Swift, N. Richard Nash, A.E. Hotchner, Herb Gardner, David Shaw, and many others. Numerous important actors appeared on Coe's shows, which were directed by, among others, Delbert Mann and Arthur Penn.
Coe also was a significant producer on Broadway. His plays include The Trip to Bountiful, The Miracle Worker, Two for the Seesaw, All the Way Home, A Thousand Clowns, and Wait Until Dark. He also produced the film versions of The Miracle Worker and A Thousand Clowns, the latter of which he directed.
Coe is buried in Green River Cemetery in Springs, New York. His biography, The Man in the Shadows: Fred Coe and the Golden Age of Television by Jon Krampner, was published by Rutgers University Press in 1997. The UCLA Film and Television Archive has kinescopes of many Fred Coe productions and has made some digital transfers. The Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research also has kinescopes.