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Herbert Leonard, 84; Produced TV Classics

October 20, 2006|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Herbert B. Leonard, a film and television producer who brought "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin" and the classic TV dramatic series "Naked City" and "Route 66" to television in the 1950s and '60s, has died. He was 84.

Leonard died of cancer Saturday at his home in the Hollywood Hills, said his daughter Gina Leonard.

A former unit production manager at Columbia Pictures, Leonard launched his career as a producer in the 1950s, developing adventure TV series for Screen Gems, Columbia's television subsidiary.

Leonard created and was executive producer of "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin," the 1954-59 western series set on a cavalry post and featuring a heroic German shepherd and his boy companion, Rusty (played by Lee Aaker).

Then came "Naked City," the gritty police detective drama that ran on ABC from 1958 to 1963 and initially starred John McIntire and James Franciscus.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 28, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
"Naked City": In the Oct. 20 California section, an article summary referring to the obituary for Herbert B. Leonard said Leonard had created the TV show "Naked City." Leonard brought the show to television, but it had previously been a movie written by Malvin Wald.

"There are 8 million stories in the Naked City ..." the announcer intoned each week on the series, which executive producer Leonard insisted be shot on location in New York.

But for many, Leonard's most memorable series is "Route 66," which ran on CBS from 1960 to 1964.

The show starred Martin Milner as the Yale-educated Tod Stiles and George Maharis as streetwise Buz Murdock: two young men meandering across America in an iconic Corvette. (Maharis was replaced by Glenn Corbett as Linc Case in the final season.)

Like "Naked City," "Route 66" was shot on location -- in about 40 states -- and frequently featured the writing of co-creator Stirling Silliphant.

"Herbert B. Leonard was a key producer, creating unique entertainment on film starting in the late '50s," said Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Museum of Television & Radio in New York. "Unlike other producers, he worked to explore contemporary America.

"His 'Naked City' reflected the grittiness and realism of 1960s New York. And 'Route 66' in many ways brought the spirit of Jack Kerouac's 'On the Road' to a television audience."

Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, said Leonard's "greatest legacy was to extend the golden age of television into the 1960s through 'Naked City' and 'Route 66,' which carried the idea of the anthology drama into the era of the modern television series."

Speaking of "Route 66," Leonard told The Times in 1993: "The stories were about something. They had a theme. They had a point. They had a human spirit. The guys were really testing their values against the people they met on the road."

Chris Canaan, a screenwriter who worked with Leonard on several TV projects, called him a "visionary."

"He was a man who, when he had a vision, he would do anything to make that vision happen, including putting up his own money, which he did on 'Naked City' and 'Route 66,' " Canaan said.

Leonard, he added, "had a gift for collaboration like no producer I've ever worked with in this business. He ... was there to facilitate and work with the writer on a collective vision."

Leonard was born in New York City on Oct. 8, 1922. He attended New York University, where he played football, before becoming a Navy pilot and instructor during World War II.

Among Leonard's movie credits as a producer are "Popi," a 1969 comedy-drama directed by Arthur Hiller and starring Alan Arkin. Leonard also produced and co-directed "The Perils of Pauline," a 1967 comedy starring Pat Boone; and he produced and directed "Going Home," a 1971 drama starring Robert Mitchum.

In addition to his daughter Gina, Leonard is survived by daughters Michelle, Swan, Victoria, Sophie and Annie, and three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 10:15 a.m. today at the Old North Church, Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.

dennis.mclellan@latimes.com

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