Al Burton, the creator of Charles in Charge and Win Ben Stein’s Money and a key figure in the success of signature sitcom hits such as The Jeffersons, Diff’rent Strokes, Silver Spoons, Facts of Life and One Day at a Time, has died. He was 91.
Burton died Tuesday at his San Mateo home, according to Damon Schwartz, a family friend, and wire reports.
The Columbus, Ohio, native had been born as Alan Burton Goldstone in April 1928 in Columbus, Ohio, but show business beckoned to him to go west at age 20 as he finished up his studies at Northwestern University. The job opportunity that luted him to Hollywood was with ventriloquist and radio superstar Edgar Bergen, but Burton’s instincts led him toward television, then a fledgling medium.
As the director of development for Tandem Productions/T.A.T. Production and working for industry icon Norman Lear, Burton spent a hectic decade (1973-1983) working on shows such as Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, Fernwood 2Night, America 2Night, The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time, The Facts of Life, Square Pegs, and Silver Spoons.
In the mid-1980s, Burton continued his success both as an independent producer and working with Universal Television. In 1984, with Scholastic Productions and in association with Universal, Burton laughed Charles in Charge, which starred former Happy Days regular Scott Baio as college student who worked as a caretaker to young children in exchange for room and board.
Charles in Charge premiered on CBS but lasted only one season on the network’s primetime schedule before switching to a first-run syndication format. It would eventually log 126 episodes over the course of five seasons.
Burton’s long and varied broadcast career (working with talk shows, beauty pageants, concerts, etc.) also included game shows in the black-and-white era. He returned to that enduring format with two off-beat entries for Comedy Central: Win Ben Stein’s Money and Turn Ben Stein On, each built around the droll persona of Ben Stein, the former speech writer for both President Richard M. Nixon and President Gerald R. Ford.
Win Ben Stein’s Money would endure from 1997-2003 and earned Burton a daytime Emmy. The game show was an early springboard for host Jimmy Kimmel, one of the many up-and-coming talents that Burton would spot early in their careers. Burton’s list of “finds” would eventually include the likes of George Clooney, Valerie Bertinelli, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, and Ricky Schroder.
Burton became a prolific specialist in teen programming in the 1950s and an in-demand success in the 1960s as he segued into music both as a live-event promoter and on the television side. Burton was the first to put the Beach Boys on TV and booked the Rolling Stones for their first U.S. appearance.
Burton is survived by his wife, Sally, and their daughter, Jennifer.