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Austin “Rocky” Kalish, the sitcom writer and producer who partnered with his wife Irma on hundreds of television episodes, including memorable installments of Maude and All in the Family, has died. He was 95.
Kalish died peacefully on Wednesday at the Motion Picture and Television retirement home in Woodland Hills, his wife told The Hollywood Reporter. They were married in 1948.
The couple pitched the story for “Maude’s Dilemma,” the polarizing two-part episode of the CBS sitcom that first aired in November 1972 in which Bea Arthur’s title character discovers that she’s pregnant at age 47 and decides to have an abortion.
For CBS’ All in the Family, like Maude a show produced by Norman Lear, they wrote the episode “Gloria the Victim” — in which Sally Struthers‘ character survives a rape attempt and wrestles with whether to testify against her attacker — and received story credit on “Edith’s Christmas Story,” where Jean Stapleton’s character finds a lump in her breast. Both episodes first aired in 1973.
The couple also executive produced and wrote for Lear’s Good Times, a spinoff of Maude. “Lear was a great supporter of women writers,” Irma, 92, said.
Earlier, Rocky wrote the pilot with Elroy Schwartz (show creator Sherwood Schwartz’s brother) for the CBS comedy Gilligan’s Island and conceived the show’s characters, including giving each of them (and the boat, the S.S. Minnow) his and her name.
Years after the show ended, Kalish said documents were uncovered that indicated he should have been entitled to one-quarter ownership of the series, worth about $10 million, but he received nothing, he noted in a 2012 interview with the Archive of American Television.
“We were wounded,” he said.
The couple also penned 22 episodes of CBS’ Family Affair, starring Brian Keith; produced and wrote for ABC’s Too Close for Comfort, toplined by Ted Knight; and co-wrote the 1975 film Keep Off My Grass, directed by Shelley Berman and starring Micky Dolenz of The Monkees.
“There were some comedy writers who did comedy shows, that’s all they did,” Kalish said in the TV Archive interview. “We were able to move from a musical, a variety show, a soft show or a broad comedy show like F Troop to something as heavy as a cancer show.”
A native of the Bronx, Rocky met Irma when he was 13 and she was 10 and a friend of his sister. This was in 1934.
He thought about becoming a boxer (that’s where he got his nickname as a teenager), attended New York University and developed his writing skills while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. He reconnected with Irma while she was attending Syracuse University and he was in the service.
Later, he did some stand-up work, decided against trying to become an actor and made money writing for other comedians.
In 1950, Kalish and his wife moved to Los Angeles, and he contributed to radio scripts for The Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Show and then for the comedy duo’s NBC TV show, The Colgate Comedy Hour.
The couple went on work on such series as Johnny Staccato, The Bob Cummings Show, My Favorite Martian, My Three Sons, I Dream of Jeannie, Carl Reiner’s Good Heavens, The Bob Newhart Show and The Facts of Life.
Survivors also include their son, TV writer-producer Bruce Kalish (The Fall Guy, Aaron Stone); daughter Nancy; two grandchildren; and a great-grandchild on the way.
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