Bob Wynn, Producer of Landmark TV Specials, Dies at 81

He led shows starring Tennessee Ernie Ford in Moscow and Bob Hope in China and later produced the NBC reality hit “Real People.”

Bob Wynn, a veteran producer and director who shepherded landmark television specials in the 1970s featuring country singer Tennessee Ernie Ford in Moscow and Bob Hope in China, has died. He was 81.

Wynn, a three-time Emmy Award nominee who also guided shows starring Judy Garland, Danny Thomas, Debbie Reynolds and Sammy Davis Jr., died Dec. 12 in Calabasas, Calif.

Wynn produced the reality series Real People, a ratings hit for NBC that aired from 1979-84 and spotlighted regular folks with unique stories. He notably profiled the Navajo Code Talkers, unsung heroes for the U.S. during World War II, on the program.

In 1973 during the height of the Cold War, Wynn took Ford to Moscow with a troupe of singers and dancers for a tour sponsored by the U.S. State Department. The Grand Ole Opry star sang such songs as “Sixteen Tons” and delighted audiences there as seen in the special Tennessee Ernie’s Nashville-Moscow Express that was “colorcast” by NBC.

“It was fantastic,” Wynn said in a 1974 interview. “There was no language barrier -- they understood country music.”

From 1968-79, Wynn produced several specials starring Hope, including one in 1979 in which the legendary comedian became the first American entertainer to tape a TV special in China.

Wynn produced and directed a series of mystery movies on ABC in the 1970s, did the Rock Music Awards from 1975-77 and produced and directed charity telethons starring Davis for years.

He was responsible for primetime specials on U.S. presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan and produced a 1976 telecast celebrating America’s Bicentennial that was filmed on the USS Independence in New York Harbor. 

Born in St. Louis, Wynn joined the rodeo at age 13, was a champion amateur boxer and served in U.S. Navy in photo intelligence. He began his career as a radio broadcaster in the 1950s.

In 1961, after settling in Los Angeles and working for NBC, he was offered his first major TV job producing a Bing Crosby special. He co-founded Alwynn Productions with fellow producer-director Alan Handley a year later.

The Bob Wynn Library in the University of Wyoming houses his work, and he wrote an irreverent autobiography, I Used to Be Somebody, published in 2009.

Survivors include his wife of 42 years, Cecile; children Dana and Melody; sisters Colleen, Carol and Diane; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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