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PASSINGS / Robert E.A. Lee

Former Lutheran film executive

March 10, 2009|Times Staff and Wire Reports

Robert E. A. Lee, 87, the former executive secretary of Lutheran Film Associates, died Feb. 27 of cancer at his home in Long Island, N.Y., according to an announcement from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Lee was perhaps best known for his role as executive producer of "A Time for Burning," a civil rights film that was ultimately nominated for an Academy Award in the documentary category.

Fred Friendly, the former president of CBS News, called it the "best civil rights film ever made."

The film recounted an Omaha pastor's efforts to have 10 couples from his church reach out to 10 African American couples from all-black churches in the area. But the program created substantial divisions within the pastor's church and ultimately led him to resign.

The film was shown on PBS in 1966, and a New York Times critic called it "the most accomplished and sensitive hour of television this season."

Lee was also publicist for "Martin Luther," a biographical drama made in 1953 that was also nominated for Academy Awards for art direction and cinematography. But several areas with large Catholic populations, including the predominantly Catholic province of Quebec, banned the public screening of the film.

Born in Spring Grove, Minn., Lee earned a bachelor's degree in music from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. He served as a Navy pilot in the Pacific during World War II and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

He directed the Lutheran Film Associates, a pan-Lutheran organization, from 1954 until his retirement in 1988 at which time he opened his own communication firm.

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