Alan Landsburg, the Emmy-winning producer behind such telefilms as Mickey Rooney’s Bill and the 1980s reality shows That’s Incredible! and In Search Of …, has died. He was 81.
Landsburg, who often used real-life social issues as the basis for his telefilms — which numbered more than 50 during his four-decade career — died Thursday of natural causes at his Beverly Hills home, his family announced.
CBS’ Bill (1981), based on a true story, starred Rooney in an Emmy-winning turn as a mentally disabled man who struggles to return to society after being institutionalized.
Landsburg also executive produced The Ryan White Story (1989), the heartbreaking tale of the 13-year-old Indiana kid who contracted AIDS through a transfusion, and The Jayne Mansfield Story (1980), with Loni Anderson playing the blond bombshell and Arnold Schwarzenegger her husband, Mickey Hargitay.
Earlier, Landsburg wrote, produced and directed several episodes of the 1960s documentary series Biography, hosted by Mike Wallace, as well as National Geographic specials and The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau adventure series. He was responsible for thousands of hours of network programming.
Landsburg produced the documentary A Thousand Days: A Tribute to John Fitzgerald Kennedy, which elicited a standing ovation from the Democratic delegates at their 1964 convention in Atlantic City.
In 1970, Landsburg founded Alan Landsburg Productions. A few years after Reeves Entertainment Group acquired the company in 1978, he left and formed The Landsburg Co. Among the shows that sprung from his firms were the 1980s sitcoms Gimme a Break!, starring Nell Carter, and Kate & Allie, with Susan Saint James and Jane Curtin.
A five-time Emmy nominee, Landsburg won a trophy as an executive producer on the 1970 Hallmark Hall of Fame telefilm A Storm in Summer, written by Rod Serling. He was nominated for an Oscar in 1972 in the documentary features category for Alaska Wilderness Lake.
He produced two movies released in 1983: Porky’s II: The Next Day and Jaws 3-D.
ABC’s That’s Incredible! was hosted by John Davidson, Cathy Lee Crosby and Fran Tarkenton and spotlighted regular folks doing extraordinary feats. The syndicated In Search Of …, which investigated the paranormal, was hosted by Leonard Nimoy. (Serling was set as the original host of the series but died in 1975.)
Born on May 10, 1933, in White Plains, N.Y., Landsburg graduated from New York University and honed his broadcast skills as a writer, director and producer of special events for the American Forces Network. Following his discharge in 1956, he became one of the youngest radio directors in the country when he joined the NBC affiliate in New York at age 21. In 1961, he moved to Los Angeles to join Wolper Productions, the company behind Biography.
His wife was Linda Otto, the late producer and casting director who often worked on Landsburg Co. productions and helped cast such classic sitcoms as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda and Soap.
The couple founded the charity Find the Children, and Landsburg served as its board chairman from 2004-13. In 2011, he donated $100,000 to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts to establish a documentary production fund.
An avid horseman, Landsburg purchased his first thoroughbred in 1977 and at one time owned and raced more than 400 horses. He served as chairman of the California Horse Racing Board in 2001 and 2002.
Survivors include three children — actress Valerie Landsburg from the TV series Fame, casting director Shana Landsburg and grip Michael Landsburg — son-in-law James McVay, a composer; daughter-in-law Anne Sweeting Landsburg, a TV makeup artist; and seven grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Find the Children, 2656 29th St. Suite 203, Santa Monica, CA 90405.