Producer Lee Rich, the co-founder of the legendary Lorimar production company — the home of classic TV dramas The Waltons and Dallas and films such as An Officer and a Gentleman — has died. He was 85.
In a entertainment career that spanned more than 30 years, Rich worked as an advertising executive, a TV programmer, a motion picture and TV producer and, for a stint in the '80s, as chairman of the board at MGM/UA.
Partnered in Lorimar from 1969-86 with Merv Adelson, Rich served as executive producer of more than 1,600 episodes of 33 Lorimar TV series, including The Waltons, Dallas, Eight Is Enough, Falcon Crest, Knots Landing, King’s Crossing and Flamingo Road.
The Lorimar series on which Rich served as executive producer received 82 Emmy nominations and 29 Emmy wins, including a best drama victory for The Waltons in 1973.
Rich also served as executive producer of 45 made-for-television movies and miniseries, including The Man with James Earl Jones; The Blue Knight, for which William Holden earned an Emmy Award in 1973; Sybil (an Emmy winner for Sally Field in 1976); and Helter Skelter in 1977.
In addition, he exec produced 1971’s The Homecoming, a two-hour Christmas TV special starring Patricia Neal that was the first of many projects in which Rich would team with Waltons creator Earl Hamner.
Lorimar also produced such films as Being There (1979), starring Peter Sellers; The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) remake with Jack Nicholson; and An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), starring Richard Gere. In 1985, Lorimar merged with Telepictures, forming Lorimar-Telepictures.
From 1986-88, Rich was the chairman and CEO of MGM/UA; there, he supervised such films as Baby Boom (1987), The Living Daylights (1987), Willow (1988) and Moonstruck (1987) and such TV series as In the Heat of the Night and thirtysomething.
Rich abruptly resigned from MGM/UA in July 1988 during a corporate restructuring and formed his own production entity. At Lee Rich Productions — which had a distribution agreement with Warner Bros. — from 1988-95, he executive produced Hard to Kill (1990), starring Steven Seagal, and produced Passenger 57 (1992), starring Wesley Snipes, among other films.
His last movie credits were Barbet Schroeder’s Desperate Measures (1998); the remake of Gloria (1999) with Sharon Stone; and The Score (2001), starring Robert De Niro and Edward Norton.
Rich was born Dec. 10, 1926, in Cleveland. After graduation from Ohio University, he joined the advertising firm of Lord and Thomas as an office boy. He served four years in the U.S. Navy, then spent a year with the American Association of Advertising Agencies before joining the Weinthraib Agency in New York.
Rich’s next stop was Benton and Bowles, where he spent 13 years, becoming senior vp and a member of the board of directors. During the 1960s, Benton & Bowles was a wellspring of network programming directors. As a representative of the advertisers, Rich would often be on the set and critiquing scripts before giving his clients’ approval.
Many future TV luminaries worked for Rich at B&B, including former NBC chairman and producer Grant Tinker, and he helped package The Danny Thomas Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Rich left Benton & Bowles in 1965 to partner with the Mirisch Co. and form Mirisch-Rich Prods. where he produced for TV The Rat Patrol, Hey, Landlord and the Saturday cartoons Super Six and Super President. He returned to advertising at the Leo Burnett Agency, but then left to found Lorimar with Adelson.
In 1971, Rich produced his first feature, the comedy The Sporting Club (1971), and his first film as executive producer was the dark comedy Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978). Among his other credits, he produced the thriller Just Cause (1995), starring Sean Connery, and the family film The Amazing Panda Adventure (1995), the first Western movie to be filmed in the Chinese Himalayas.
Other productions included the telefilms Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate (1971), starring Helen Hayes; Aesop’s Fables (1971) with Bill Cosby; Pursuit (1972), starring Ben Gazarra; and The Crooked Hearts (1972) with Rosalind Russell.