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Obituaries

George Kirgo, 78; Led '88 Writers Strike Against Studios

August 26, 2004|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

George Kirgo, scriptwriter and novelist who was president of the Writers Guild of America, west, during its tumultuous five-month strike against the studios in 1988, has died. He was 78.

Kirgo died of kidney failure Sunday at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica.

The 1988 strike by 9,000 writers was one of the longest in Hollywood history and among the first nationally to pit creative artists against the new conglomerate owners of studios.

Kirgo, a veteran of several strikes over his long career, took a conciliatory stance after guiding his union through the bitter standoff.

"We get together every three or four years and we scream at each other.... There's something wrong about that," he said at a news conference Aug. 5, 1988. "We should have labor relations and negotiations every year, a kind of summitry where the producers and the unions get together and talk about what's happening in the industry."

Kirgo's honors included a president's award in 1988 from P.E.N. Center West and the Morgan Cox Award for outstanding service to the Writers Guild in 2001. But perhaps his greatest accolade came with the guild election after the strike. Although critics tried to unseat him, he was reelected with 65% of the vote.

Guild president from 1987 to 1991, Kirgo also served on the board of directors and the blacklist credits committee to correct omissions made during the anti-communist era, and was vice president of the Writers Guild Foundation. Kirgo helped script the guild's annual awards show from 1979 to 1998 and was the show's producer from 1999 to 2001. "George led us through a difficult era, with vision and humor," said Del Reisman, who served as guild president immediately after Kirgo.

Kirgo's well-known wit not only defused tensions at guild meetings and negotiations , but also earned him a living.

Born in Hartford, Conn., and educated at Wesleyan University, he served in the Army Air Forces in the Pacific during World War II. Then he moved to New York and began to write -- a novel first and then for the developing medium of television.

His novel, a satirical tale called "Hercules: The Big Greek Story," was published in 1958. It sold poorly but did get Kirgo a slot on "The Jack Paar Show," where his humorous and intelligent banter earned him several repeat visits.

In 1960, Kirgo published another book; its title alone might constitute a Hollywood treatment: "How to Write Ten Different Best Sellers Now in Your Spare Time and Become the First Author on Your Block Unless There's an Author Already Living on Your Block in Which Case You'll Become the Second Author on Your Block and That's Okay Too and Other Stories."

After moving to Hollywood in 1962, Kirgo devoted himself to writing for film and television. His big screen credits include "Red Line 7000" in 1965, co-written with director Howard Hawks and starring James Caan; "Spinout" in 1966, co-written with Theodore Flicker and starring Elvis Presley; and "Don't Make Waves" in 1967, considered one of Tony Curtis' better comedies.

In addition to scripts for such popular television series as "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Room 222," "Love, American Style," "Adam's Rib," "My Mother the Car" and "Get Christie Love!" Kirgo wrote some 15 movies for television. Among them were "Angel on My Shoulder" in 1980, "The Kid With the Broken Halo" in 1981 and "My Palikari" in 1982.

Kirgo's wife of 38 years, Terry Newell, died in 1986. He is survived by his second wife, Angela Wales, whom he married in 1989; three children, Julie, Dinah and Nick; a stepson, Alec Perrin; a sister, Rita Lapp; and four grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held Sept. 10 at 6:30 p.m. at the Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to the Writers Guild Foundation.

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