Norman Abbott, TV Director and Brainchild Behind Broadway's 'Sugar Babies,' Dies at 93

Courtesy Everett Collection
From left: Bobby Jordan, Norman Abbott, Gabriel Dell and Huntz Hall in 1943's 'Keep 'Em Slugging.'

A nephew of the legendary straight man Bud Abbott, he helmed episodes of such shows as 'Leave It to Beaver,' 'The Munsters' and 'Welcome Back, Kotter.'

Norman Abbott, a nephew of famed comedian Bud Abbott who directed multiple episodes of such beloved TV sitcoms as Leave It to Beaver, Welcome Back, Kotter, The Munsters and Sanford & Son, has died. He was 93.

Abbott, the brainchild behind the Broadway sensation Sugar Babies, the comeback vehicle for Mickey Rooney in the late 1970s, died Saturday in Valencia, Calif., according to Richard Lertzman, co-author of the 2015 book The Life and Times of Mickey Rooney.
 
Abbott helmed 38 episodes and produced 22 of The Jack Benny Program and directed 43 installments of Leave It to Beaver and 23 of Welcome Back, Kotter.
 
He also guided such series as The George Gobel Show, I'm Dickens, He's Fenster, Bachelor Father, Get Smart, The Brady Bunch, McHale’s Navy, Adam-12, Love, American Style and Alice.
 
Abbott directed and provided the story for the quirky film The Last of the Secret Agents? (1966), starring the comedy team of Marty Allen and Steve Rossi.
 
 
 
Born in New York, Abbott was raised by his mother Olive and her brother Bud — the straight man of the legendary comedy team Abbott & (Lou) Costello — as well as by his aunt Florence and uncle Harry Abbott (Harry worked for the Barnum and Bailey circus).
 
Norman Abbott served in World War II in the original Navy SEALs unit and began his show business career as a radio announcer on The Colgate Family Hour and as a stage manager on I Love Lucy. He first directed for television in 1956 on Stars of Jazz.
 
When Bud Abbott died in 1974, he left behind a treasure trove of burlesque material, including written gags, props, music and posters, that he left to his nephew. 
 
"Norman and his wife conceived of a modern Broadway musical combining all the elements of burlesque. He then came to the conclusion that the only person alive who could pull this off as a headliner was Mickey Rooney," Lertzman and William J. Birnes wrote in The Life and Times of Mickey Rooney. The musical, of course, would become Sugar Babies.
 
After two weeks of rehearsals, Abbott, who was directing the show, was fired when Rooney told him "this isn't going to work out." He didn't have a contract but sued producer Harry Rigby and received a six-figure settlement, he told The Life and Times of Mickey Rooney authors. 
 
Sugar Babies ran on Broadway for more than 1,200 performances, from October 1979 to August 1982. Rooney, making his Broadway debut, and co-star Ann Miller were each nominated for a Tony Award, as was the show for best musical.
 
Abbott also worked as an actor, with roles in the Abbott & Costello comedies Who Done It? (1942) and Rio Rita (1942) as well as in Keep 'Em Slugging (1943).
 
Survivors include his wife Dominique; children Christine, William, Jennifer and Norman Jr.; sister Betty A. Griffin, a script supervisor; three stepsons; and four grandchildren.
 
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