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John Conte, 90; Stage, Screen, Radio Actor Founded the NBC Affiliate in Palm Desert

September 07, 2006|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

John Conte, whose acting career took him from radio and television to Broadway and feature films before he went behind the cameras as the founder and owner of KMIR-TV in Palm Desert, died Monday. He was 90.

A longtime resident of Indian Wells, Conte died of natural causes at nearby Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, said Joe Stein, his son-in-law.

"John Conte was a dear friend and an entertainment legend," said Rep. Mary Bono, a Republican whose district includes the Palm Springs area, in a statement this week. She called Conte "a television pioneer" and commended his philanthropy.

He was a founding sponsor of the Eisenhower Medical Center and helped to create the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert along with several educational centers in the area.

Conte was born in Palmer, Mass., on Sept. 15,1915, and was a teenager when he moved to Los Angeles with his family. He graduated from Lincoln High School and got his start singing and acting on radio. In the 1940s he was a cast member on the popular "Burns and Allen" show with comedians George Burns and Gracie Allen.

In 1947 Conte appeared in "Allegro," a Broadway musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein. He was also in the cast of "Arms and the Girl," a musical scored by Morton Gould, in 1950.

He moved into television, appearing on "Your Show of Shows" with Sid Caesar in the early '50s. He was the host of the "Matinee Theatre," a daily one-hour drama series, through the late 1950s. In the 1960s he had guest roles on several popular TV dramas, including "Perry Mason" and "Bonanza."

Conte's major movie credit was as Drunky in "The Man With the Golden Arm," a 1955 film that starred Frank Sinatra.

Conte phased out his acting career in the 1960s. He and his wife, Sirpuhe Philibosian, launched KMIR, an NBC affiliate, in 1968. They built it into the third-largest station in the Coachella Valley before selling it to Journal Communications of Milwaukee in 1999.

Conte was married three times. The first two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by Sirpuhe, son Christopher Conte of Los Angeles and stepdaughters Louise Danelian of Los Angeles and Joyce Stein of Indian Wells, as well as six grandchildren.

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