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Milton Merlin; Writer, Producer Was Blacklisted

November 01, 1996|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Milton S. Merlin, an award-winning producer and writer for motion pictures, radio and early television despite his dislike of Hollywood, has died. He was 91.

Merlin, who wrote "The Millionaire" television series for five years, died Tuesday in Los Angeles, his son Mark said.

Born in Whittier, Merlin studied philosophy at UC Berkeley and throughout his life cared more for literature, music and art than for the scripts he produced or wrote.

"I have nothing but contempt for Hollywood," Merlin told The Times in 1983. "I have nothing but contempt for writers. When I get together with other writers, I want to talk about ideas, about books and Shakespeare. But writers only want to talk about their work and their agents."

Merlin began his entertainment career working with child actors at Paramount, where he was associate producer of the first movie featuring Judy Garland. He was also the associate producer of "Thoroughbreds Don't Cry," the first film that teamed Garland and Mickey Rooney.

"I knew such a different Judy from the one you read about now," he said. "She was a plain, fat, very sweet girl who could sing but could not act."

After a stint at MGM, Merlin concentrated on radio during World War II. He met his wife, Barbara, in an NBC sound studio and with her formed a durable, successful producing and writing team.

One of their early joint efforts, the radio show "Halls of Ivy" starring Ronald Colman, earned them a Peabody Award.

In 1950, Merlin was put on the Hollywood blacklist when he refused to testify about colleagues before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

"I had served as president of the Radio Writers' Guild, and that was enough to mark me as a Communist," he noted wryly years later.

The next time his name appeared in credits was in 1956 for "The Millionaire," a popular show that spun tales of individuals who received $1 million from an anonymous wealthy man.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Merlin and his wife wrote for such hit television series as "Bonanza," "The Fugitive" and "I Spy."

Although in later years Merlin wrote less for Hollywood and increasingly for himself, he spluttered when asked about retirement plans at age 78: "Retire? Impossible. I don't know how you can talk about such a thing. If your brain and your interests are working, how can you retire? Retire to what? To a resort? I hate resorts."

Merlin co-authored the book "May You Live to Be 200," and completed his first novel when he was 83. He also wrote book reviews for The Times for more than 25 years.

In addition to his wife and son Mark, Merlin is survived by two other children, Sally and Chris, four grandchildren and one great-grandson.

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