Charlie Hauck, Writer for 'Maude,' 'Frasier' and 'Home Improvement,' Dies at 79

Charlie Hauck
Courtesy of John Collazos/Hauck family

Charlie Hauck

The two-time Emmy nominee also created several sitcoms and gave Michael Keaton an early career break.

Charlie Hauck, the "deep and deeply funny" Emmy-nominated writer and producer who went from studying for the priesthood to working on such popular sitcoms as Maude, Frasier and Home Improvement, has died. He was 79.

Hauck died Saturday of complications from pancreatic cancer at his home in the Westchester neighborhood of Los Angeles, his daughter, Flannery Cogan Hauck, said.

During his 35-plus years in Hollywood, the Cleveland native also created or co-created other comedies including Valerie, starring Valerie Harper, and The Associates, featuring Wilfrid Hyde-White, Martin Short and Joe Regalbuto, and gave Michael Keaton a break that altered the course of his career.

While working in Pittsburgh, Hauck penned jokes for Phyllis Diller to consider when her stand-up tour brought her to the city, and the legendary comedienne encouraged him to pursue show business. He moved to Los Angeles in 1974 and wrote for a Flip Wilson special that year.

A spec script he had penned for CBS' The Bob Newhart Show ended up in the hands of Maude writer Elliot Shoenman and writer-producer Bob Schiller, who hired Hauck to join the staff of the CBS comedy at the urging of series creator Norman Lear.

"I have some good news and some bad news," Schiller told Hauck over the telephone in a story that Hauck loved to repeat. "The good news is that Norman Lear read your script, and he loved it. The bad news is he wants to hire you."

Starting in 1975, Hauck worked on Maude, starring Bea Arthur, Bill Macy, Adrienne Barbeau, Rue McClanahan and Esther Rolle, for three seasons as a producer and wrote 18 episodes as well.

"Nobody made me laugh harder, or more often, than Charlie Hauck," Lear said in a statement. "He defined 'funny' and was a glorious man and friend."

Hauck reteamed with Shoenman as an executive producer and writer on Home Improvement, starring Tim Allen and Patricia Richardson, working on the ABC show for two seasons starting in 1996. He then joined the staff of NBC's Frasier, starring Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce, in 1999, and earned an Emmy nom for producing.

Hauck also wrote episodes of the comedies CBS' One Day at a Time, ABC's That's My Mama, ABC's Hot l Baltimore and CBS' M*A*S*H, the last one in 1976 under the pseudonym of Richard Cogan and as favor to Larry Gelbart.

The son of a steelworker, Hauck was born in Cleveland on Oct. 26, 1941, and raised on the city's west side. He considered life as a priest and studied at Borromeo Seminary before graduating from John Carroll University, Cleveland's Jesuit university, in 1963.

He moved to Pittsburgh and was bureau chief of BusinessWeek magazine before beginning his TV career as a reporter and anchor at Pittsburgh's WQED, home of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. He also worked on productions including Drink, Drank, Drunk, a 1974 PBS special about alcoholism that featured Carol Burnett, Joe Bologna, Renée Taylor and Morgan Freeman.

At WQED, Hauck first met Keaton, then a local theater actor and member of the production crew. They collaborated in a comedy troupe known as The Flying Zookeni Brothers Daredevil Circus, and Keaton said he sold Hauck "three mediocre jokes" for about $75 for another project.

After Hauck started getting work in Hollywood, he "was one of the first people who opened the door for me," Keaton said in a statement.

"I was about a month away from moving to New York, and Charlie said, 'I think you ought to think about Los Angeles,'" he recalled. "And I'll never forget the expression he used. He said, 'It's wide open out here.' I thought, 'Yeah, I'll come out,' and I never thought I'd stay. And I just never left."

Hauck introduced Keaton to writers and producers and cast him in guest roles on Maude and The Two of Us, a 1981-82 CBS sitcom starring Peter Cook and Mimi Kennedy that he created.

"If it wasn't for Charlie, I am not sure I would have had the opportunities or career that I have had," Keaton said. "People inside and outside the comedy world are really going to miss Charlie. He was gracious, obviously generous, charming and funny as hell. He was a legitimate, honest-to-goodness wit."

In 1978, Hauck produced ABC's Apple Pie, a Depression-era comedy starring McClanahan, Dabney Coleman and Jack Gilford, then co-created ABC's The Associates a year later. The show lasted only one season, but Hauck was nominated for a writing Emmy. Hauck also co-created the short-lived 1984 CBS sitcom Suzanne Pleshette Is Maggie Briggs before creating NBC's Valerie in 1986. (He left after working on the pilot episode.)

Hauck was well known for the elaborate parodies of year-end Christmas letters he wrote for more than 20 years. "Every year, I send out a holiday letter that no one could take seriously. And every year, some people take it seriously," he told NPR in 2008.

"If you're one of those people, allow me to set you straight on a few things. I do not have a daughter named Amber Marie who got married at the Bel-Air Hotel to Subcomandante Chumo of Chiapas, Mexico. There were no groomsmen who wore black ski masks with their tuxedos. A Mr. Arthur L. Gottlieb was not accidentally mown down in a hail of bullets in his yard behind the hotel during a firefight between the groomsmen and the Bel-Air patrol at the rehearsal dinner. I have never been married to the actress Robin Givens."

Said Barbeau: "Christmas will never be the same. The cards he sent kept me laughing for the rest of the year."

Added Kennedy: "Charlie was deep and deeply funny. I loved that he'd gone to Catholic seminary and worked in Pittsburgh public TV before coming to Hollywood. He loved rapid-fire repartee and screwball physical comedy and could leave us howling at his dry observations about some absurdity of daily life."

Hauck also wrote the 1993 novel Artistic Differences, a look at a comedy writer's struggles with a gorgeous, egocentric sitcom star. The New York Times called it a "caustically funny account of star temperament within the world of network television," and it was said to be a favorite of President Bill Clinton.

Hauck worked closely with Fr. Ellwood "Bud" Kieser, the creator of the Humanitas Prize, which encourages writers to focus on the best of human values. He emceed the organization's annual award ceremony for years.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his partner, Logan Dalla Betta; sons Maurice (and his wife, Claudia), Seth and Perry; sister Maryanne; and grandchildren Natasha and Oliver. A donation in his memory may be made to Humanitas.

In 1993, Hauck talked about how tough it was to write for television in an interview with The Washington Post.

"I think it is fair to look at something and say, 'I could do that,'" he said. "The tricky thing about television is it is sort of like marksmanship: You say, 'I could do that,' but not everybody can. As self-referential and formulaic and sappy as a lot of TV seems, even on the lower levels it is kind of difficult to do. On the higher levels — a good show on a good night — television can be quite exquisite and very difficult."