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Edward L. Rissien, who produced the Burt Lancaster-starring war film Castle Keep and served as an executive at ABC, Bing Crosby Productions, Filmways and Playboy Productions, has died. He was 98.
Rissien died April 8 of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles, his nephew, Emmy-nominated director Michael Zinberg (The Bob Newhart Show, The Good Wife, NCIS), told The Hollywood Reporter.
“Eddie was a well-respected man who had beautiful taste in material,” Zinberg said. “He was always looking for something that would make a difference.”
An Iowa native who started out as a stage manager on Broadway, Rissien helped set up Harry Belafonte‘s HarBel Productions after acquiring the film rights for Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), the Robert Wise-directed drama that starred Belafonte, Robert Ryan and Shelley Winters.
He also produced Snow Job (1972), starring legendary French skier and Olympic champion Jean-Claude Killy as a thief in his only feature role, and showed up in a diner scene in Doug Liman’s Swingers (1996).
In 1972, Rissien joined Playboy as executive vp production. While there, he executive produced Arthur Hiller‘s The Crazy World of Julius Vrooder (1974) and Peter Bogdanovich‘s Saint Jack (1979). He would spend 16 years at Playboy, eventually overseeing telefilms, specials and pilots.
Edward Louis Rissien was born on Oct. 20, 1924, in Des Moines, Iowa. He attended Roosevelt High School in his hometown and Grinnell College and served in the U.S. Army Air Force before graduating from Stanford University in 1949.
Rissien moved to New York to pursue a career in the theater on the advice of Cloris Leachman, a high school classmate and acting partner (Class of ’42) who had recently signed with Rodgers & Hammerstein, and worked in summer stock.
On Broadway in 1953, he was hired as stage manager on Mid-Summer, starring Geraldine Page and Mark Stevens, and joined the original production of South Pacific as an assistant stage manager (Leachman had played Ensign Nellie Forbush in that).
Rissien came to Hollywood a year later and worked with Stevens by producing the actor-director-producer’s TV shows Big Town and Decision and his crime features Time Table (1956) and Gun Fever (1958).
He produced the 1960-61 NBC showbiz comedy Peter Loves Mary, starring husband and wife Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healy; worked as a program supervisor at ABC on series including Combat! and The Donna Reed Show; and served as a production vp at Bing Crosby Productions, the home of Hogan’s Heroes and Ben Casey, and Filmways (The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres).
For Filmways Pictures, he was an associate producer on Castle Keep (1969), directed by Sydney Pollack.
In addition to Zinberg, survivors include his wife, Laurie, whom he married in September 1978; his daughter, Jenna (she also was in Swingers with her dad); grandson Jake; and son-in-law Zachary.
He was married to actress-singer Joanne Gilbert from 1958 until their 1964 divorce.
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