Al Burton, who has developed and / or produced comedies such as One day at a time, The Jeffersons and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman for Norman Lear and has created other shows including Charles in charge and Earn money from Ben Stein, is dead. He was 91 years old.
Burton died Tuesday at his home in San Mateo, Calif., According to family friend Damon M. Schwartz.
Burton was also a force in the entertainment and marketing baby boomers who forged a career that spanned television’s first six decades and included concerts, beauty pageants, and other live events.
Attracted by Lear to Tandem Productions / TAT Communications (later Embassy Television) in 1972 to become its director of development, Burton worked on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (and its fallout Fernwood 2Night and America 2Night), One day at a time, The Jeffersons, Different shots, The facts of life, Silver spoons and Square pegs.
After leaving Lear in 1983, he continued to develop and produce shows independently and for Universal Television, including Charles in charge. And with a longtime friend he produced Earn money from Ben Stein – earn a Daytime Emmy in the process – and Turn on Ben Stein for Comedy Central.
Burton’s knack for spotting talent helped ignite the careers of Stein, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael J. Fox, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jimmy Kimmel, Ricky Schroder, Pamela Anderson, George Clooney, Valerie Bertinelli, Nicole Eggert, MacKenzie Phillips and others.
“His 5-foot-5 stature, whimsical smile, and unruffled demeanor have helped deal with eccentric talents of all ages,” his family noted in a statement. “When Mary hartmanrowdy Louise Lasser refused to step out of her dressing room, or when a teenage sitcom star acted, panicked, or stepped out, Burton’s gracious engagement addressed and calmed the crisis of the day, reassured Trump, got him back on set and, most importantly, rolled the cameras and the dollars.
Burton has also been the composer and thematic music editor for several of the shows he has produced, observing that “a composer receives a check every time he plays your tune!”
He was born Alan Burton Goldstone on April 9, 1928 in Columbus, Ohio. A 1948 scholarship and a job offer from ventriloquist Edgar Bergen led him to board a train to Hollywood instead of attending his graduation at Northwestern.
He sold his first idea for a show to the Los Angeles television channel KLAC and in 1949 became a screenwriter, producer and host of Teen TV reporter, a weekly half-hour showcase featuring young people from Southern California.
Burton followed up with a second show, Spotlight on youth, and by 1956, its teenage programs were broadcast on four of LA’s seven television channels. It produced 500 amazing segments over a four-year span, earning it the nickname “Teen Dean of Television”.
He also created the Miss Teen-Age America (later Miss Teen USA) pageant and opened the Al Burton Teen-Model program to find new talent for his shows.
Veteran television director in 1957, Burton was hired to work with young host Johnny Carson for the game show Do you trust your wife? (renamed Who do you trust?). The following year he helped define the celebrity talk show format, producing and directing The Oscar Levant Show.
This weekly program featured the songwriter in conversation with famous guests and a piano performance by Levant. Burton “pleasantly greeted the famous neurotic star by bringing Levant in and out of a Los Angeles mental hospital every week before and after check-in,” his family said.
In the 1960s, Burton began broadcasting outdoor summer pop music from Pacific Ocean Park in 1960, including the first live television performance of The Beach Boys. He launched his first Teen-Age Fair in 1962, which drew 256,000 people. He also booked the Rolling Stones for their first US appearance as well as other acts like The Doors, Ricky Nelson, Lesley Gore and The Four Seasons.
The fair moved to the Hollywood Palladium, then spread to a dozen US cities, Toronto and Tokyo before Filmways Corp. of Martin Ransohoff bought the franchise in 1969.
Burton retired to the Bay Area in 2006. Survivors include his wife, Sally, and their daughter, Jennifer.