June 23, 1914|
Chicago, Illinois, United States
|Died||December 7, 1968
Los Angeles, California
|Occupation||Writer, producer, director|
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Hiken worked for Warner Bros. as a screenwriter beginning in 1940 for the studio's short-subject films. Hiken is best known for a number of popular TV series during the 1950s and 1960s, including Car 54, Where Are You? and The Phil Silvers Show, a situation comedy set on a US Army post in which Silvers played Sergeant Ernest G. "Ernie" Bilko; the show was also often referred to as Sgt. Bilko (Hiken had originally titled it You'll Never Get Rich).
Hiken was one of TV's first writer-producers, and he had begun originally in radio by writing for Fred Allen's hit radio show and as the head writer for NBC's Four Star Revue. He moved from radio to TV as a writer for Milton Berle's radio show, which preceded his legendary TV variety show Texaco Star Theater. As a writer for Car 54, Where Are You? and the The Phil Silvers Show, he exhibited a comic flair, and his capacity for spoofing such entities as the United States Army, the U.S. government, and police forces was exceptional. TV historians attest to Hiken's talent to create zany but lovable characters and also to his ability to draw strong comedic performances from such unlikely celebrities as boxer Rocky Graziano on NBC's The Martha Raye Show.
As a producer, Hiken also had an eye for spotting new talent. He is credited with discovering, and advancing the TV careers of, such future stars as Fred Gwynne (1955), Alan Alda (1958)—both made their TV debuts on The Phil Silvers Show—and Dick Van Dyke (1958). A television pioneer, Hiken worked with Mel Brooks and Woody Allen throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. Hiken won eight Emmy Awards and wrote material for Milton Berle, Bette Davis, Carol Burnett, and Lucille Ball. Larry David, in DVD extras to season 1 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, has spoken about his love of the Bilko series.
Hiken also displayed his musical talent by working with composers George Bassman and Gordon Jenkins on music and theme songs for TV series, and among the songs Hiken himself wrote and composed are "Close to Me", "Irving", and "Fugitive from Fifth Avenue". He also wrote and composed the theme song and music for the TV series, Car 54, Where Are You?
Hiken's career, talents, and contributions to the early years of commercial radio and TV are documented in the book King of the Half Hour: Nat Hiken and the Golden Age of TV Comedy, written by David Everitt and published by Syracuse University Press in 2001.
Hiken's career was cut short when he died of a heart attack on December 7, 1968 in Brentwood, California at the age of 54. His last project was the Don Knotts comedy The Love God?, released the year following Hiken's death.
- Nat Hiken at the Internet Movie Database
- Nat Hiken Papers at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research