Stanley Robertson, Trailblazing TV and Film Executive, Dies at 85
Stanley Robertson, a pioneering African-American television and film executive in the 1970s and ’80s, died Nov. 16 at his home in Bel-Air. He was 85.
Believed to be the first African-American to hold the position of vice president at both a major TV network and a motion picture studio, Robertson developed and produced Harris and Company, a short-lived 1979 NBC show that starred Bernie Casey and was the first weekly dramatic series to depict a black family.
Later, he executive produced the Bill Cosby comedy Ghost Dad (1990) and Men of Honor (2000), which starred Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr. in the story of the first African-American, and the first amputee, to become a U.S. Navy diver.
Robertson was named a vp for motion pictures at NBC in 1971, launched a production company, Jilcris Inc., that had a deal at Universal Pictures and served as a production vp at Columbia Pictures, where he created the first creative access program at a major studio to develop minority writers and directors.
Speaking about Robertson’s drive to make minority inclusion in show business possible, Cosby said, “Even in death, I feel Stan still fighting.”
After receiving a degree from Los Angeles City College in 1949, Robertson worked for two years as a general assignment reporter for The Los Angeles Sentinel, then the largest-circulated black newspaper in the West. He rose to become managing editor, then departed for an associate editor position at Ebony magazine.
Determined to learn and work in the entertainment business, Robert left Ebony and went back to school in 1954 to study telecommunications at USC. He became a page at NBC in 1957, then joined the network’s music clearance department before eventually landing the vp job at the network, where he was responsible for programming produced on NBC’s primetime schedule.
Robertson thrived despite the fact that he was handicapped by limited vision; by the time he was 20, he had undergone 14 major eye operations and attended a school for the blind.
“His wonderful, encyclopedic knowledge of film was what set Stanley Robertson apart,” said Dennis Greene, a former Columbia executive and now a law professor at the University of Dayton. “He appreciated the art and the history of film. He loved the medium. He understood what made a story work.”
Survivors include his wife of 58 years, Ruby, and children Jill and Christopher. A memorial will take place at 11 a.m. Dec. 19 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Culver City.