Teleprompter Inventor Hubert J. 'Hub' Schlafly Jr. Dies at 91

He created the machine after a Broadway actor asked for help remembering his lines in the 1940s.

Hubert J. 'Hub' Schlafly Jr., who invented the teleprompter, died late last week at 91 of an undisclosed illness at a Connecticut hospital.

The idea for the teleprompter came from Broadway actor Fred Barton in the late 1940s, who wanted help remembering his lines. He approached Irving Kahn, then vice president for radio and television at 20th Century Fox, about creating it. Kahn assigned Schlafly, then the director of television research at Fox, to build it.

“I said it was a piece of cake,” Schlafly told the Stamford Advocate newspaper in 2008.

The first iteration was a motorized scroll of paper inside a suitcase with actors' lines printed on half-inch letters and controlled manually by a stagehand.

“We tried at one time to have the speaker control the speed,” Schlafly told the Advocate. “It was like patting your head and rubbing your stomach.”

Barton, Kahn and Schlafly quit their jobs to start a new company, TelePrompTer Corp, and introduced their device on CBS soap opera The First Hundred Years in 1950. It went on to be used in The Tonight Show and The Ed Sullivan Show, but became mainstream in 1952 when former president Herbert Hoover used it to deliver a speech at the Republican National Convention.

“We must have gotten 10,000 newspaper clippings from around the world about Hoover using the prompter,” Schlafly said. “That got us into the public- speaking business.”

Schlafly was born in St. Louis on Aug. 14, 1919.

He went on to win two Emmy Awards for his technical achievements, in 1992 for developing cable systems, and in 1999 for developing the teleprompter.

He was inducted into the Cable Television Hall of Fame in 2008.