Lee Hale, 'Dean Martin Celebrity Roast' Producer, Dies at 96

Courtesy of Michael B. Schnitzer
Lee Hale

Earlier, he wrote songs for The Golddiggers when he was musical director of the entertainer's variety show.

Lee Hale, a five-time Emmy nominee who served as the musical director of The Dean Martin Show and produced the wildly popular celebrity roasts hosted by the entertainer, has died. He was 96.

Hale died May 10 at his home in Beverly Hills, Michael B. Schnitzer, editor and publisher of The Golddiggers Super Site, told The Hollywood Reporter. He had a leg amputated last year during a bout with cancer.

Recruited by director Greg Garrison, Hale joined NBC's The Dean Martin Show shortly after it debuted in September 1965 and remained with the program through its 1974 conclusion. He wrote songs, jingles and special lyrics and arranged hundreds of other tunes, drawing upon his vast knowledge of 20th Century popular music.

According to the Golddiggers website, Irving Berlin routinely gave Hale permission to use his music, "even while turning down other shows — a symbol of recognition in which Lee rightfully took enormous pride."

The Dean Martin Show featured celebrity roasts (Don Rickles, Jack Benny, Zsa Zsa Gabor, et al) in its final season. After it was canceled, Martin agreed to preside as roastmaster for a series of specials, with the first, featuring Bob Hope as the butt of the jokes, airing in October 1974.

Jackie Gleason, Telly Savalas, Angie Dickinson, Sammy Davis Jr., Muhammad Ali, Suzanne Somers, Mr. T and Martin himself would be among those grilled over the years.

Born on March 25, 1923, in Tacoma, Washington, Hale enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II and left the service as a lieutenant.

He sang in a group called The Manhattans, then worked as choral director on the CBS variety show The Entertainers, which despite featuring Carol Burnett, Bob Newhart, Dom DeLuise and Ruth Buzzi, lasted just one season (1964-65).

Hale also served as music director for five seasons of The Golddiggers — a spinoff starring the singing and dancing troupe from The Dean Martin Show — and worked on the syndicated The Wacky World of Jonathan Winters, three Bob Hope Christmas specials, a special that celebrated NBC's first 50 years and Emmy Awards telecasts.

Hale co-authored the 2000 book Backstage at The Dean Martin Show with his spouse, Richard Neely, who survives him.