Thursday, July 14, 2011
Sherwood Schwartz, R.I.P.
From SFGate --
Sherwood Schwartz, who created "Gilligan's Island" and "The Brady Bunch," two of the most affectionately ridiculed and enduring television sitcoms of the 1960s and '70s, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 94.
His death was announced by the Archive of American Television.
Mr. Schwartz weathered dismissive reviews to see his shows prosper and live on for decades in syndication. Many critics suggested that they were successful because they ran counter to the tumultuous times in which they appeared: the era of the Vietnam War and sweeping social change.
Give or take a month or so, the original network run of "The Brady Bunch" coincided with two major upheavals in U.S. society. The show, about a squeaky-clean blended family in California, began in 1969, shortly after Woodstock, and ended in 1974, soon after President Richard Nixon's resignation following the Watergate scandal.
Mr. Schwartz's work may have been seen as lighthearted entertainment, but some scholars of popular culture took it very seriously. David Marc and Robert J. Thompson, authors of "Prime Time, Prime Movers," in which they advance an auteur theory of television, considered Schwartz an innovator who made a "surgical strike into the national psyche."
Describing the advent of "Gilligan's Island," which told the story of seven very different castaways stranded on a desert island, they wrote, "Schwartz was pioneering a dramatic matrix built upon the emerging cultural concept of the 'support group': a collection of demographically diverse characters thrown together by circumstance and forced to become an ersatz 'family' in order to survive."
In a 1996 interview, Mr. Schwartz said he had always planned the series as a social statement, the message being, "It's one world, and we all have to learn to live with each other."
Once or twice a year, he added, he received word of an academic paper whose author claimed to have uncovered the "real meaning" of the series, also stating that its creator probably had no idea what he was really saying.
Not so. Mr. Schwartz remembered describing the idea of "Gilligan's Island" to William S. Paley, then chairman of CBS, as a microcosm. Paley, he recalled, blanched and replied, "Oh, God, I thought it was a comedy show," to which Schwartz quickly answered, "But it's a funny microcosm!"
Sherwood Charles Schwartz was born in Passaic, N.J., on Nov. 4, 1916. He grew up in Brooklyn and was a premed student at New York University. After receiving his bachelor's degree, he moved to Los Angeles to attend graduate school at the University of Southern California, but the master's he earned in biological sciences was never put to use.
After World War II, during which Mr. Schwartz wrote for Armed Forces Radio, he became a writer for "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," which was then on the radio. He made the transition to television in the 1950s with the sitcom "I Married Joan" and "The Red Skelton Show," for which he became head writer. In 1961 he shared an Emmy Award with his brother, Skelton and two other writers for the show.
Mr. Schwartz's survivors include his wife, Mildred; three sons, Donald, Lloyd and Ross Schwartz; and a daughter, Hope Juber.