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H. Wesley Kenney, an Emmy Award-winning producer and director of soap operas who helmed every episode of the tumultuous 1974-75 season of All in the Family, has died. He was 89.
Kenney, who worked on the daytime serials Days of Our Lives, The Young and the Restless and General Hospital, died Tuesday at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, family friend Jodie Mann told The Hollywood Reporter. The longtime Studio City resident had suffered a heart attack on Christmas Eve after a visit to his daughter’s home.
Survivors include his wife, actress Heather North, who for many years provided the voice of the danger-prone Daphne Black on the Scooby-Doo cartoons. She met Kenney on the set of Days of Our Lives, and they were married in 1971.
Kenney replaced the retiring John Rich and called the shots for all 24 episodes of the fifth season of CBS’ legendary All in the Family, including the 17th installment that year, “The Jeffersons Move on Up,” which served as the pilot for the long-running spinoff that starred Sherman Hemsley.
That season also included two episodes without Carroll O’Connor as Archie (the actor had refused to work out of sympathy with striking electricians, Kenney recalled in a 2008 interview with the Archive of American Television, and also wanted more time off). Producer Norman Lear threatened to kill off Archie if O’Connor didn’t return; meanwhile, All in the Family‘s writers put the finishing touches on what would have been a shocking storyline.
“As Archie, he was marvelous,” Kenney said of O’Connor in the TV Archive interview. “The only problem I felt about Carroll was, Carroll made Archie Bunker, right? What Carroll never would admit was, Archie Bunker made Carroll. Up to then, Carroll was a competent and very talented character man. And that was all. Had All in the Family not come along, he would not have been the star that he was.”
Only Paul Bogart (96 episodes), Rich (81) and Bob LaHendro (34) directed more episodes of the acclaimed sitcom than Kenney.
Born Harry Wesley Kenney Jr. on Jan. 3, 1926, in Dayton, Ohio, he studied drama and played football at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh and served in the Navy. He landed at the DuMont network in New York for $75 a week as a director in the era of live television, working on religious shows, cooking shows and the popular series Rocky King, Detective, starring Roscoe Karns.
Kenney won seven Daytime Emmy Awards, including three in 1974 alone for directing NBC’s Days of Our Lives and an episode of The ABC Afternoon Playbreak that starred Patty Duke. He captured outstanding daytime drama series Emmys in 1978 for producing Days of Our Lives and in 1983, 1985 and 1986 for producing CBS’ Young and the Restless. And he received noms in that top category in 1988 and 1989 for producing ABC’s General Hospital.
In all, he received 19 career Emmy nominations.
Kenney also directed episodes of My Favorite Martian, Flo and Big John, Little John and served as a professor for several semesters at UCLA.
In addition to his wife, Kenney’s survivors include children Nina, Wesley, Kara and Kevin, seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. A memorial service held at First Christian Church in North Hollywood is pending.
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