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Frank Barron, who served as editor of The Hollywood Reporter in the 1960s and ‘70s after writing cartoons for Hanna-Barbera and creating a TV Western, has died. He was 98.
Barron, of Sherman Oaks, died Monday of natural causes after a brief stay at the Sepulveda Veterans Administration hospice unit in North Hills, his wife, Margie, told THR. The couple were married in October 1980 at the Beverly Hills home of actors Shirley Jones and Marty Ingels.
Barron knew and interviewed show business legends and notables for more than 70 years and kept active until recently, his wife said.
The New Jersey native had memorable encounters with Walt Disney, John Wayne, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bob Hope and many, many others. “Hollywood gave me a great life, and I met wonderful people,” he said.
Barron had two stints as THR editor under owner-publisher Tichi Wilkerson, first from 1964-68 and then again in the late ‘70s. In between, he worked for a short time with writer-producer Al Burton developing show ideas for Norman Lear, then served as news director for Billboard Publications’ five magazines from 1968-72.
He also was employed by Gibson & Stromberg, a top rock ‘n’ roll PR company. “With the rock concerts, parties and wild characters I met, it was the most fun I ever had,” he said.
For Stirling Silliphant (In the Heat of the Night, Route 66) and producer Herb Meadow, Barron created The Man From Blackhawk, which starred Robert Rockwell (Our Miss Brooks) as an insurance investigator in the Old West. The Screen Gems series aired for one season (1959-60) and 37 episodes before “a six-month writers strike killed it,” Barron noted.
He also collaborated with Duke Ellington in 1959 on a revival of his famous Jump for Joy musical revue with actress-singer Barbara McNair. He wrote material for the show with Sid Kuller; they had worked together for years writing nightclub material.
Known for his sharp wit, Barron also wrote Woody Woodpecker cartoons and Hanna-Barbera storylines for his pal, Joseph Barbera.
In the early ‘60s, Barron was the publicity director at KHJ-TV and Radio (now KCAL). Longtime THR editor Don Carle Gillette noticed all the attention that tiny Channel 9 was getting and groomed Barron to take over for him when he retired.
Barron was born on Feb. 5, 1919, in Elizabeth, N.J., the second son of Sarah and Israel Goldberg. He began his writing career in junior high, selling stories to Boys Life and other magazines. In high school, he covered sports for The Newark Evening News.
“I wanted to be a sportswriter and a baseball catcher; I wanted to write about the major leagues as an insider,” he said.
Barron joined the U.S. Army in 1941 and was stationed in England in the Medical Corps. Turning down a commission, he left in 1945 as a master sergeant, then became sports editor for the Asbury Park newspaper in New Jersey.
Barron accepted a government job in Japan, running several Air Force Base newspapers in the Tokyo area for about a year, then headed to California.
“I got my foot in the Hollywood door when I met Ray Brenner, and we teamed as comedy writers,” he said. “An agent signed us, and we wrote radio shows for Red Skelton, Edgar Bergen and Martin & Lewis and [for other shows like] Duffy’s Tavern and Fibber McGee and Molly.”
In the early days of television in the ‘50s, Barron wrote for The Jerry Colonna Show and served as the head writer for The Pinky Lee Show, a groundbreaking kids program starring the burlesque comic that aired daily. He also wrote for a local NBC variety show, Komedy Kapers.
“I was set to direct it, but Jerry Lewis took over so he could get experience for his DGA card,” he recalled. “I never forgave him for that missed opportunity.”
Barron later appeared in the 1980 film The Man With Bogart’s Face, written and produced by friend Andrew J. Fenady; freelanced for publications including Emmy magazine and The Tolucan Times; and was a contributing editor for Production Update magazine.
He also was a member of the TCA who covered the press tour well into his 90s. Said THR television critic and TCA president Daniel Fienberg: “Frank Barron was a Television Critics Association fixture — a font of colorful stories, a repository of institutional and industry knowledge and a figure who was greeted with enthusiastic familiarity by actors and creators from the TCA stage. His wife Margie carries on that legacy.”
Barron also wrote many stories with Margie, a former publicist, and they did a lot of traveling together.
Survivors also include his sister-in-law Mary Lou, niece Ruth and cousins Barry and Howard.
It was Barron’s wish to donate his body to UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine for the advancement of medical education and research. A celebration of his life, to be held on his birthday in 2018, is being planned.
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