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John Rich, a prolific television comedy director and a key figure in the history of the Directors Guild of America, died of heart failure Sunday morning in Los Angeles. He was 86.
Rich, who began his career directing early 1950s sitcoms like I Married Joan, starring Joan Davis, and Our Miss Brooks, starring Eve Arden, went on to helm 81 episodes of All in the Family in the 1970s. He won two Emmys, one for directing and one for producing, on that series, plus a third Emmy for directing The Dick Van Dyke Show.
In addition to presenting him with a DGA Award for directing Family, the guild also honored him with its highest honor, the Robert B. Aldrich Achievement Award, in 1993 and recognized his contributions with an Honorary Life Member Award in 2003.
Calling Rich “a legendary figure in the history of TV comedy,” DGA president Taylor Hackford said, “He directed some of the most beloved classics of all time and his skills as a television director were unsurpased, but no matter how busy and successful his career was, John always made time for the DGA.”
A member of the Screen Directors Guild since 1953, Rich was instrumental in the 1960 merger between the Screen Directors Guild and the Radio and Television Directors Guild, which formed today’s DGA. Taylor recounted how, at the first meeting of the Screen Directors Guild that he attended, Rich “had the chutzpah to point out that of the illustrious members — including Capra, Stevens, Wyler and Hitchcock — who had convened to elect a board of directors, none had ever worked in television.” The next day he was appointed an alternate member of the National Board, beginning his lifelong involvement in the affairs of the guild.
Rich served the DGA as secretary (1958-1959), treasurer (1965-1967) and several terms as a vice president (1959-1960, 1960-1961, 1963-1965, 1967-1973, 1996-1997). He also was involved in multiple negotiations as a member of the Negotiations Committee and served as chairman of the Directors Guild Foundation since 2005. Rich was a founding member of the DGA-Producer Pension Plan and was chairman of its board of trustees for seven terms.
At the same time, he amassed an extensive resume as a TV director, handling shows that ranged from Westerns like Bat Masterson and Bonanza to a whole array of sitcoms, including Gilligan’s Island, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., The Brady Bunch, That Girl, Benson and Dear John. From 1985 to 1992, he served as executive producer on MacGyver and last worked as exec producer of the 2003 TV movie Young MacGyver.
“No one who ever sat in a meeting with John will ever forget his stories about the early days of the Guildor his lovably salty sense of humor,” Hackford said. “But what we’ll remember the most is his dedication to defending the economic and creative rights of our members.”
Rich is survived by Patty, his wife of 22 years; three children, Catherine Rich, Anthony Rich, and Robert Rich; three stepchildren, Megan Lewis, Kimberly Beres and Dana Benton; and eight grandchildren.
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