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Television writer worked on many sitcoms

Obituaries / Richard Baer, 1928 - 2008

February 26, 2008|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Richard Baer, a television writer who contributed to dozens of sitcoms over 30 years, including "Bewitched," "That Girl" and "The Munsters," has died. He was 79.

Baer died Friday at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica of complications following a heart attack suffered early last month, said a son, Matthew Baer.

When Baer started out in television in the 1950s, it was a gentler time, and "the shows reflected it," he told the Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald in 1994. "In a half-hour show we would present the problem and we would solve it."

He wrote for series including "Leave It to Beaver" in 1958, "Petticoat Junction" in 1963 and "F Troop" in 1966.

"I have written for a lot of . . . shows that will do anything for a laugh," Baer said in the Chicago Tribune in 1992.

The series for which he wrote the most scripts was "Hennesey," an early 1960s comedy-drama that brought him an Emmy nomination. He penned more than 30 episodes of the CBS show that starred Jackie Cooper as a Navy medical officer.

Baer's favorite script, according to his son, was for the ABC television movie "Playmates," a 1972 comedy that starred Alan Alda and Doug McClure as divorced fathers. The Times' review said the romantic farce was "spiced with biting wit" and packed an unexpected emotional "wallop."

Writing for CBS' "The Munsters" was enjoyable "because it was so wild," Baer said in the Sydney Morning Herald story.

Of the five scripts he wrote for the mid-1960s show, Baer said he was fondest of "Just Another Pretty Face." In the episode, Herman Munster is struck by lightning that causes his Frankenstein-like character to resemble the face of the actor who played him, Fred Gwynne, without makeup. The plot twist causes the other Munsters to be aghast at how ugly Herman has become.

In the early 1980s, Baer wrote his last sitcom script, for "Who's the Boss?" on ABC and turned to playwriting.

His play "Mixed Emotions" about the bumpy courtship of a New York City widow and widower was born of loss: Louise, his wife of 35 years, died in 1991.

He also yearned for creative control, said his son Matthew, a film producer.

"The main joy he had in writing that play was that he wasn't going to be rewritten. . . . In the theater, the writer is king -- he loved that," his son said.

The play debuted in Los Angeles and in 1993 ran on Broadway for more than six weeks. It has been performed around the world, including in Australia and Eastern Europe.

The only child of Herbert and Ede Baer, he was born in 1928 in New York City. His father was a chemist.

He earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Yale University and a master's in cinema from USC.

A maternal uncle -- radio and TV pioneer David Sarnoff, who headed RCA -- cultivated Baer's interest in television and kick-started his career. In the early 1950s, Sarnoff called an NBC vice president at 6 a.m., ordering him to find Baer "a job by 9 o'clock," according to the autobiography Baer self-published in 2005.

His first television credit was in 1953 for the William Bendix sitcom "The Life of Riley," which aired on NBC.

In addition to his son Matthew, Baer is survived by his wife, Diane, a television producer whom he married in 1994; another son, Josh; daughter Judy; stepdaughter Michele, and three grandchildren.

Memorial services are being planned.

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valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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