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Fred de Cordova; 'Tonight Show' Producer Was 90

September 17, 2001|From Associated Press

Fred de Cordova, a longtime producer of NBC's "Tonight Show" when it was hosted by Johnny Carson, has died. He was 90.

De Cordova died Saturday of natural causes at the Motion Picture and Television Fund Hospital in Woodland Hills, said Carla White, a hospital spokeswoman.

De Cordova in 1988 wrote "Johnny Came Lately," an autobiography that also detailed his career with Carson. The title reflected the fact that Carson came late in de Cordova's career, when the producer was already 60.

He said in the book that he and Carson worked closely on the show, discussing guests and how each night would play out. "He cares," de Cordova wrote of Carson. "He does not phone it in. He works very hard and he wants everyone else to work as hard as he does."

The book also provided an account of de Cordova's lengthy career on the stage, in films and in television.

Fresh out of Harvard Law School in 1933, de Cordova got a job as a "gofer" in the theatrical offices of Lee and J.J. Shubert in New York. He eventually became a stage manager, then a director. The last show he did was "Ziegfeld Follies" in 1943 with Milton Berle, Arthur Treacher and Ilona Massey.

He later signed with Warner Bros. and directed "Bedtime for Bonzo," starring former President Ronald Reagan and a chimpanzee. He directed about 50 pictures before moving into television.

De Cordova also was the producer or director for "Burns and Allen," "The Jack Benny Show," "My Three Sons" and specials for Bing Crosby, Claudette Colbert, Noel Coward, Lauren Bacall and many others.

De Cordova joined the "Tonight Show" in the early 1970s, and Carson hosted the show for the final time in 1992.

"I have managed to involve myself with people who are extremely pleasant to work with and who are extremely talented, and that includes Johnny Carson," de Cordova wrote in his 1988 book. "Carson makes me happy to go to work and my wife makes me happy to go home."

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