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Fred Berger, 94; Film, TV Editor for 5 Decades Won Emmy for 'MASH'

May 30, 2003|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Fred W. Berger, a film and television editor whose Hollywood career spanned nearly 60 years and earned him an Emmy Award for his work on TV's "MASH," has died. He was 94.

Berger, who was an original member of the Editors Guild and a founding member and past president of the American Cinema Editors, died of natural causes May 23 at his home in Westwood.

Beginning at Paramount in 1943, when he received his first credit as an editor -- on the Hopalong Cassidy western "False Colors" -- Berger edited about 40 movies. He earned an Academy Award nomination for editing "The Hot Rock," a 1972 caper comedy starring Robert Redford and George Segal.

Berger's final work as an editor -- at age 88 -- was the TV movie "Dallas: J.R. Returns" in 1996.

Although he continued to work in feature films over the decades, Berger devoted the majority of his career to television.

He edited several Hopalong Cassidy westerns, which starred William Boyd as the silver-haired hero who dressed in black, when Boyd moved the film series to TV in the late 1940s. Berger edited the Hoppy theatrical features to fit the time format of television, which turned Boyd into one of the infant medium's first superstars.

"Fred was one of the best," said Boyd's widow, Grace, a former actress. "He was a sweet, lovely man. I have nothing but praise for Fred."

Over the next five decades, Berger edited many of the most popular series on television. In the 1950s, he edited and supervised the first four years of "Gunsmoke" and the first two years of "Have Gun Will Travel." He spent 11 years on "Death Valley Days," seven as supervising editor.

Berger edited "MASH" from 1972 to 1976, winning his Emmy for that series in 1975. From 1978 to 1991, he edited 104 episodes of "Dallas." His work on both shows earned him Eddie Awards from the American Cinema Editors. He also edited episodes of "The Waltons," "Eight Is Enough" and "Walker, Texas Ranger."

Born in New York on July 9, 1908, Berger attended the University of Michigan before entering the brokerage business. He worked in Detroit and New York, then transferred to Los Angeles in 1930.

Following a suggestion by his brother-in-law, film director and editor Eddie Mann, that he give up the brokerage business and enter the movie industry, Berger became a $50-a-week assistant film editor at Walter Wanger Productions in 1937.

During his years as a board member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Berger joined George Amy and Leon Barsha in making a "Gunsmoke" film-editing demonstration movie that continues to be used by film students around the world.

In 1997, Berger received the Career Achievement Award from the American Cinema Editors. By then, he had mastered electronic editing.

"The computer is a lot faster," he said at the time, "but I think I got more satisfaction in the old days. I liked the feel of film in my hands."

Berger is survived by his wife of 67 years, Frances; a son, film editor Peter E. Berger of Calabasas; a daughter, Patricia Wood of Brentwood; a brother, Edward of Dayton, Ohio; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made to the Motion Picture and Television Fund Foundation, 22212 Ventura Blvd., Suite 300, Woodland Hills, CA 91364.

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