Writers Guild of America, West Mourns the Passing of Hal Kanter
LOS ANGELES -- Hal Kanter, an Emmy-winning writer, director, producer and one of the great wits of our era, died Sunday, November 6th at the age of 92. A writer and emcee of our own Writers Guild Awards, an emcee of the DGA Awards, and for decades a writer of the Academy Awards, he brought wit, intelligence, timing, and charm to everything he did, and made us laugh, and laugh.
Kanter joined the Guild in 1950 and eventually served as a board member and a trustee of the Writers Guild Foundation. He was a recipient of the Morgan Cox and Valentine Davies Awards for Guild and community service. In 1989, and in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the literature of television, Hal received the WGAW's Paddy Chayefsky Television Laurel Award.
“If there was a funnier writer than Hal I never knew him,” said legendary writer, producer, and director Norman Lear. “The irony is laughing at him added time to my life.”
Kanter broke into the business as a gag writer for top radio and nightclub comedians, contributing material to radio programs like The Danny Kaye Show and The Bing Crosby Show. He flourished in TV's Golden Age, making his mark co-creating and writing the innovative Ed Wynn Show in 1950. Making the leap to film the following year, Kanter co-wrote Two Tickets to Broadway for RKO. He landed a contract with Paramount Pictures soon after, where Kanter's assignments included several Bob Hope hit comedies, including My Favorite Spy (1951) and Casanova's Big Night (1953). In 1952, he co-wrote The Road to Bali for Hope and Crosby. During this period, Kanter also wrote several screenplays that helped launch another comedy team, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, including Money from Home (1953) and Artists and Models (1955). Flexing his dramatic skills, Kanter adapted the 1954 screen version of Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo. In 1955, Kanter co-wrote and made his TV directorial debut with the award-winning George Gobel Show (for which Kanter shared a Best Written Comedy Material Emmy in 1955). The following year, Kanter made his film directorial debut with I Married A Woman, starring Gobel. Kanter also directed pop icon Elvis Presley in his hit movie Loving You (1957), and Rowan & Martin in their western spoof Once Upon A Horse (1957). Over the next decade, Kanter wrote or co-wrote numerous screenplays, including Mardi Gras (1958), Let's Make Love (which earned a shared 1960 WGA nomination), Pocketful of Miracles (1961), and Blue Hawaii, which earned a 1962 WGA nomination.
Returning to television in the mid-'60s, Kanter created Julia, starring Diahann Carrroll, the first network television show with a female African-American lead to shatter stereotypes in its portrayal of a professional, working woman of color and, in 1969, earned Kanter an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series. In 1976, Kanter was hired as Bob Hope's head writer. That same year, he was named Executive Producer of the seminal sitcom All in the Family (for which Kanter shared a 1976 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series). He contributed material (some alone and some in collaboration) for 32 Academy Award shows and twice received the Emmy Award, for the 63rd and 64th Oscar telecasts. In 1999, at the age of 80, Kanter published his candid autobiography, So Far, So Funny: My Life in Show Business.
A frequent emcee at industry functions, Kanter could often be seen in a natty tux, and sporting a walking stick. With age his step became frail, but his wit was never brittle, and his timing remained impeccable. Kanter's writing and delivery became, over the decades, the gold standard for how these things should be done.
He is survived by his wife of 70 years, the writer Doris Kanter; his daughters Donna Kanter, Lisa Kanter Shafer, and Abigail Kanter Jaye; his sister, Saralea Emerson; and a granddaughter.