Harry Stephen Ackerman
November 17, 1912
|Died||February 3, 1991 (aged 78)|
Burbank, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills), Los Angeles, California, U.S.|
Court of Liberty,
Gardens of Heritage,
|Spouse(s)||Mary Leone Dennis (Shipp)|
(m. 1939-div. 195?)
(m. 1962–1991; his death)
Harry Stephen Ackerman (November 17, 1912 – February 3, 1991) was a prolific producer in American television and is credited with creating or co-creating a total of twenty-one television series, seven of which were at one time being broadcast simultaneously. Some of the sitcoms in which he was involved in production during the 1950s and 1960s are also among the most popular American shows in the early history of the “small screen”, such as Father Knows Best, Dennis the Menace, Leave It to Beaver, Hazel, Bewitched, The Flying Nun, and Gidget.
Ackerman was known in the entertainment industry as the “dean of television comedy”, although he was instrumental too in developing many dramatic classics and documentaries, such as The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, The Day Lincoln Was Shot, and The 20th Century.
Early life and education
Ackerman began his career as a writer, but soon became a radio performer, appearing as the comic poet Wilbur W. Willoughby, Jr. In 1938 he went to work as an advertising executive at Young & Rubicam. In 1946 he became vice president of program operations.
Ackerman began his career in television at CBS, where he started as an executive producer in New York for the network. Later he became vice president in charge of CBS programs in Hollywood, California. While at CBS he helped create, develop, oversee, and/or approve the casting of Gunsmoke, I Love Lucy, The Jack Benny Show, Burns and Allen, Amos 'n' Andy, Our Miss Brooks, and many other shows. Ackerman was CBS-TV west coast program vice president from 1948 to 1958.
He began his own production company, Harry Ackerman Prods, where he immediately signed an exclusive deal with Paramount TV to create TV series, specials and feature films on a co-production basis. He also went to work on network development for Hanna-Barbera Prods. He then joined Screen Gems, which later became Columbia Pictures Television, where he worked for 15 years, from 1958 until 1973. He worked on many TV shows while there, including, Father Knows Best, Bachelor Father (for Universal), Leave It to Beaver (for Universal), Dennis the Menace, The Donna Reed Show, Hazel, Grindl, Gidget, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, The Flying Nun, The Monkees, and The Partridge Family.
Ackerman won two Emmy Awards for his work and was the first producer ever honored by the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters at that organization's 1974 luncheon. He was also the national president of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for two terms; and in recognition of his many contributions to the entertainment industry during his career, a star dedicated to him was installed in 1985 on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6661 Hollywood Boulevard.
Personal life and legacy
Ackerman was married twice. His second marriage, to actress Elinor Donahue, who was 25 years younger, was in 1962. He was the adoptive father of her son from her first marriage (to Richard Smith), and he and Donahue had three sons together.
Ackerman in 1991 died of “pulmonary failure” at age 78 at St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California. Three years later, as a memorial to her husband and to serve as an important resource for research on the history of American television, Elinor Donahue donated The Harry Ackerman Collection of personal papers to the Rauner Library at Dartmouth College. Ackerman was an alumnus of Dartmouth, having graduated from the school in 1935.
- Staff, Variety (February 11, 1991). "Harry Ackerman". Variety. Retrieved July 2, 2017.
- Ap (February 6, 1991). "Harry Ackerman, 78, TV Producer, Is Dead". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 2, 2017.
- "Harry Ackerman, 78; Landmark TV Producer". Los Angeles Times. February 5, 1991. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved July 2, 2017.
- "Catching Up with Elinor Donahue". Star Trek Discovery. CBS Entertainment. May 24, 2016. Retrieved December 12, 2018.
- “Harry Ackerman papers, 1928-1990”, Rauner Library, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire. Retrieved November 24, 2018.