Celebrated most for his work producing dramatic anthology programs, Movies of the Week, and long-form television series, Dick Berg died Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles after a brief illness. He was 87. This respected television and motion picture writer and producer played an integral role in the generational changes of especially the TV business coming out of the Roy Rogers B movies/”Playhouse 90”/last days of the Big Studios/Revue-Universal/Movies of the Week era. And inspiring four sons to enter showbiz decades later. Dick Berg will be remembered as a mentor to a generation of directors and writers, but the real mentoring was going on at home with ICM chief Jeff Berg, bestselling Sam Goldwyn/Charles Lindbergh/Katharine Hepburn biographer A Scott Berg, Geffen and Virgin music exec and now album producer Tony Berg, and Code Entertainment manager/producer Rick Berg.
Scott emails me, “My father was for fifty years one of the most beloved figures in television; people really loved to work with him because he was a great producer — smart, funny, thoroughly scrupulous, and he knew how to draw the best out of people. He really did help launch big careers. He had a strong commercial sense but he never compromised quality. (Oh, that isn’t completely true, as I just remembered one Movie of the Week when he worked like hell for weeks to get Orson Welles to star, and Welles finally agreed. And, at the last minute, the network said they’d prefer William Conrad!)” I had the privilege to meet him and his wife of 63 years Barbara, and he was indeed a great guy and an even better raconteur of his many showbiz memories.
Here is the biography provided me by the family: Richard J. Berg was born in New York City on February 16, 1922 and grew up in New Rochelle, New York. After graduating from Lehigh University in 1942, he ventured to Hollywood, where he hoped to start a career either acting or producing; he found work as a dialogue coach for Roy Rogers and other cowboys at Republic Pictures. After several years without much more success than that, he returned to the east coast, where he ran Poor Richard’s Art Gallery and The Paint Bucket, an art supply store in Westport, Connecticut. At night and on weekends, he began writing scripts on speculation for live television during the final seasons of its Golden Age. More than a dozen of his original dramas appeared on such programs as Kraft Theater, Robert Montgomery Presents, Studio One, and Playhouse 90; one of them, “The Drop of a Hat,” was adapted for the stage and caught the attention of Hecht-Hill-Lancaster Studios, which brought Berg to Hollywood as a screenwriter in 1957.
Over the next few years, Berg worked on numerous scripts at MGM and Twentieth Century-Fox, before Universal Studios put him under a long-term contract. He began by creating the television series “Staccato,” starring John Cassavetes. While always keeping his hand in the writing of scripts, he spent most of the 1960’s producing television at Universal, starting with the detective program “Checkmate.” With the demise of live television in New York, Berg tried to recreate the excitement of the early days of the medium by producing Alcoa Premiere and The Bob Hope Chrysler Theatre, dramatic anthology shows for which he was able to hire such writers as William Inge, Rod Serling, and J. P. Miller to write original teleplays for such actors as Robert Redford, Simone Signoret, Anne Bancroft, Rod Steiger, Cliff Robertson, Jason Robards, Jr., and Lee. J. Cobb. Those programs won numerous Emmy Awards and helped launch a generation of young directors, including Sydney Pollack, Mark Rydell, Robert Ellis Miller, and Stuart Rosenberg.
At the end of that decade Berg produced a few motion pictures, including “House of Cards,” with George Peppard and Orson Welles, and “Counterpoint,” starring Charlton Heston and Maximilian Schell. But television was his passion, because of its faster pace and larger audiences.
For the next thirty years, Berg’s Stonehenge Productions produced dozens of Movies of the Week and miniseries for commercial and cable television. Most had some historical nature or social relevance, and many were adapted from bestselling books; among them were “Wallenberg,” starring Richard Chamberlain, James Michener’s “Space,” Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles,” Irving Wallace’s “The Word,” Philip Caputo’s “A Rumor of War,” and Elmore Leonard’s “Pronto.”
Berg served two terms as President of the Hollywood Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Services will be private. Memorial donations may be made to the Writers Guild Foundation.