Len Steckler, Director on the Kids TV Special 'Free to Be … You and Me,' Dies at 88

Len Steckler - P 2016
Courtesy Steckler family

An acclaimed photographer and illustrator, he also worked on a legendary Joe Namath pantyhose commercial in the 1970s.

Len Steckler, who served as a director and cinematographer on the landmark 1974 kids TV special Free to Be … You and Me, has died. He was 88.

Steckler, who in the early '70s put New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath in Beautymist pantyhose for an unforgettable TV commercial, died Thursday of cancer in Los Angeles, his son Jeremy told The Hollywood Reporter.

Steckler also was a photographer known for his beauty and fashion work for Revlon, Cover Girl and AT&T, among other major brands. He often shot designs from Bill Blass, Geoffrey Beene and Jacques Tiffeau.

On ABC's Free to Be … You and Me, which won an Emmy Award for outstanding individual achievement in children's programming, Steckler did the live-action segments of the show, working with Marlo Thomas and friends including Harry Belafonte, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Jackson, Mel Brooks, Kris Kristofferson and Rosey Grier.

The idea for the show came from a popular record album and illustrated book, spearheaded by Thomas, that saluted individuality and tolerance.

Steckler also produced and directed movies for television, working with such actors as Robert Young, Eddie Albert, Katharine Ross, Kevin Bacon, Alex Karras and Wilford Brimley.

A native of New York, Steckler attended Pratt Institute and the School of Visual Arts, then gained prominence for illustrations that appeared in the major magazines of the day. He worked on a Diet Pepsi campaign that featured supermodel Dovima in Balenciaga.

In the mid-'90s, Steckler returned to his roots in painting and photography. He appeared on the Today show in 2010, unveiling photographs of Marilyn Monroe with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carl Sandburg taken in 1961.

Much of his work is housed at The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, his son said.

Survivors also include his wife of 44 years, Enid; another son, Morgan; daughters-in-law Emily and Lisa; grandchildren Dylan and Chloe; and sister Glenda. Memorial services will be private.