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Leonard Firestone, an early pioneer in television syndication, died March 4 of natural causes in Hilton Head, S.C., according to his son, Brian Firestone. He was 93.
In the mid-1950s, Firestone headed a sales force of more than 100 people for Ziv Television, which distributed now iconic first-run programming such as The Rifleman, Sea Hunt and Ensign O’Toole.
In the ’60s, Firestone ran Four Star Television Distribution, which had been founded by four stars of the era: Dick Powell, Charles Boyer, Ida Lupino and David Niven.
He later was senior vp of Filmways, where he oversaw off-network syndication for such shows as The Addams Family and Green Acres.
Later, he went out on his own with Firestone Films (later called Firestone Program Syndication Co.), with the idea to produce new shows for syndication rather than just rerun former network shows. First-run fare included two talk shows, The Pat Boone Show and The New Steve Allen Show.
He also handled syndication sales for some top producers of his era, such as Goodman-Todman Productions (To Tell the Truth, Beat the Clock), Allen Funt Productions (Candid Camera) and Chuck Barris Productions (The Gong Show, The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game).
The son of immigrant parents, Firestone was raised in Pittsburgh. He attended Duquesne University and began his career as a radio DJ. During World War II, Firestone was in the Air Force, serving as an overseas pilot in Japan.
After the war, he moved to New York City, where he met his wife, Carole (aka Honey). They were married for 59 years. She died in 2009.
Firestone’s first broadcasting job was at Unity Television in 1950, where he worked on distributing theatrical films to TV stations. He became national sales manager.
During his career, Firestone was an active advocate of the Prime Time Access Rule, which carved out an hour in early evening for syndicated shows.
Firestone retired in 1980.
He is survived by his children (and their spouses): Brian (AJ) Firestone of New York; Jack (Robin) Firestone of South Carolina; Pattie (Peter) Posner of New York; grandchildren Errol (Nicole) Firestone of New York; Brandon (Hilary) Firestone of California; Sean, Mac and Alec Posner; Jhanna Firestone; and his great-grandson, Noah Firestone, all of New York.
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