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Ken Greengrass, a producer and longtime Friars Club member who was instrumental in putting the famed organization’s once-private and profane celebrity roasts on television, died April 10 in New York after a brief illness. He was 87.
Greengrass also worked as a personal manager during his career, with clients that included Diahann Carroll, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Florence Henderson, Art Garfunkel, jazz musician John Pizzarelli, the country music supergroup The Highwaymen and Sesame Street actor Bob McGrath.
A native of the Bronx, Greengrass was a member of the Friars Club for more than 55 years and served on its board of directors.
As chairman and producer of the club’s annual celebrity roast, he conceived the idea of broadcasting the event as a TV special. Years earlier, televised celebrity roasts hosted by Dean Martin were extremely popular, but the midtown Manhattan fraternal organization had been doing its own roasts since 1904.
In June 1998, the Friars inked a five-year licensing deal with Comedy Central, and the first roast, of comic Drew Carey, was broadcast in October 1998 to record ratings for the cable network. That was followed by roasts of Jerry Stiller, Rob Reiner, Hugh Hefner and Chevy Chase.
“We only roast the ones we love,” Greengrass often said.
Greengrass for many years was the executive producer of the Easter Seals and the Cerebral Palsy Foundation telethons.
Born June 22, 1926, Greengrass graduated from the Manhattan School of Music and later become a professional trumpet player.
He served as executive producer of the ABC Stage 67 special C’est La Vie starring Carroll and Maurice Chevalier, the 1977 NBC special How the Beatles Changed the World, and the 1984 special My Father the Circus King, also for NBC, which provided a rare behind-the-scenes look at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Greengrass also produced a pair of ABC Afterschool Specials and the Travel Channel’s The Secrets of San Simeon (2001) starring Patty Hearst.
He brought his musical background to the role of executive producer of The Florida Follies starring Henderson. It debuted in 2004 and was produced in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Survivors include his wife of 52 years, Gerry; his sons, Adam and Jonathan; his daughter-in-law, Ellen; and his grandchildren, Benjamin and Aden. The family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Friars Foundation at 57 E. 55th St., New York, NY 10022.
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