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Marian Rees, the two-time Emmy-winning producer and television pioneer who was known for tackling socially relevant issues in her telefilms, has died. She was 90.
Rees died Aug. 26 on Bainbridge Island in Washington, publicist Richard Hoffman announced.
In a career spanning more than 50 years, Rees started out at Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin’s Tandem Productions, where she was an associate producer on the pilots of All in the Family and Sanford & Son. In 1981, she formed her own independent production company, a move that was rare for a woman at that time. She was a mentor to many in the business.
Rees served as a vice president of the TV Academy and the Producers Guild of America — which honored her with the prestigious Charles B. FitzSimons Award — and was a two-time president of Women in Film.
Rees received her Emmys for producing the 1985 NBC special Love Is Never Silent (1985), starring Mare Winningham, Cloris Leachman and Sid Caesar, and the 1992 NBC telefilm Miss Rose White, starring Kyra Sedgwick.
After 17 years with Tandem, Rees was told that she would be happier elsewhere and fired in the early 1970s. She joined Tomorrow Entertainment, where she was involved in numerous productions including the TV movie Tell Me Where It Hurts, and then the NRW Company as a vice president. There, Rees executive produced 1981’s The Marva Collins Story, a Hallmark Hall of Fame Presentation starring Cicely Tyson.
She went out of her own in 1981 with Marian Rees Associates. “It was so much more important to me not only to tell the stories I wanted to tell, but also to own those movies,” she said in a 2002 interview. “I knew enough to know that that’s where the real security was.”
Anne Hopkins, who had worked with Rees at Tandem, also joined the company.
To fund her productions, Rees mortgaged her home and persevered when CBS agreed to produce her company’s first television film, 1982’s Miss All-American Beauty, starring Diane Lane. She then produced 1983’s Between Friends, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Carol Burnett, for HBO.
In 1984, Rees rekindled her partnership with Hallmark and produced the landmark Emmy-winning Love Is Never Silent. The film was originally for CBS, but Rees had promised to hire deaf actors to portray the parents in the telepic, so Hallmark and Rees moved it to NBC, and it won the Emmy for outstanding drama/comedy special.
In the following years, Marian Rees Associates films garnered 11 Emmys and 38 nominations, two Golden Globes, a Humanitas Prize and the Peabody Award.
Rees and Hopkins produced 40 films — nine of which were Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations — before they closed Marian Rees Associates and moved to Bainbridge Island.
Born Marian Jean Rees on Oct. 31, 1927, in Le Mars, Iowa, she attended the University of Iowa and majored in sociology. After graduation in 1952, she moved to Los Angeles and landed a job as a receptionist at NBC.
In 1955, she was hired by Tandem and was an associate producer on legendary TV tributes to Frank Sinatra and Ethel Barrymore as well as the Emmy-winning 1958 special An Evening With Fred Astaire.
In addition to her longtime companion Hopkins, survivors include her sister Natalie.
A service will be held at 2 p.m. on Oct. 20 at Eagle Harbor Congregational Church on Bainbridge Island.
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