Leonard Goldberg, Hollywood Producer, 85

December 18, 2019

Leonard Goldberg, the Hollywood producer and executive who for more than 60 years created hits on television and the big screen, died Dec. 4 in Los Angeles from injuries he suffered in a fall at his home. He was 85.

Goldberg was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Jan. 24, 1934. His father, William, made women’s clothing, and his mother, Jean, was a homemaker who raised money for B’nai B’rith.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and initially looked to follow his father into the garment trade by enrolling in an executive training program at Bloomingdale’s. It didn’t take and, after six months, he left for a job at ABC-TV’s research department. 

His initial stint at ABC was followed by jobs at NBC and ad agency Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn. He returned to ABC in the early ’60s, and by 1966, was promoted to the network’s vice president of daytime programming, where he introduced groundbreaking shows including “The Dating Game,” “The Newlywed Game” and the gothic soap opera “Dark Shadows.” Their success led to his being named vice president of programming.

In addition to adding “The Flying Nun” and “Marcus Welby, M.D.” to ABC’s schedule, he helped develop the made-for-TV movie. 

Moving in 1969 to Screen Gems, where he was vice president of production, Goldberg made one of the most memorable TV movies in history. “Brian’s Song” was based on Chicago Bears’ running back Gale Sayers’ memoir about his teammate Brian Piccolo, who died at age 26 from an aggressive form of cancer. The movie was a massive commercial and critical hit; the highest-rated TV movie of 1971 and winner of five Emmy Awards.

In 1972, Goldberg formed a production partnership with Aaron Spelling. Spelling-Goldberg was one of the most successful TV producers in the 1970s. The shows the duo produced — including “Charlie’s Angels,” “Fantasy Island,” “Starsky & Hutch” and “S.W.A.T.” — remain pop culture touchstones. 

After 11 years, Goldberg split from Spelling to produce theatrical features, including the hit 1983 thriller “War Games.” He joined 20th Century Fox as president in 1986; successes such as “Broadcast News,” “Big” and “Die Hard” showed his knack for picking hits crossed over to movies. But he was happier as a producer, and left the job after three years.

As a solo producer, he was responsible for the ’90s  hits “Sleeping With the Enemy” and “Double Jeopardy.”

Goldberg was still making hits into the 21st century. “Blue Bloods,” the long-running drama about the lives of a New York Police Department family, still is airing on CBS. 

Admired for his calm and charming manner, Goldberg was known for developing stars on both sides of the camera. Among the stars and executives whose careers he launched are actors Richard Gere, Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Daryl Hannah, and media moguls Barry Diller and Michael Eisner.

Many of them offered tributes to him. Actor Tom Selleck, the star of “Blue Bloods,” called Goldberg “simply irreplaceable.” Actor Samuel L. Jackson told Variety that Goldberg “had that unique quality of making anyone feel comfortable and special in his presence.” Actress Jacklyn Smith, one of the stars of the original “Charlie’s Angels,” said in a statement that she has “the greatest respect for him not only professionally but more importantly as a loving family man.” Producer and studio executive David Geffen called Goldberg “a pioneer in broadcasting” and “a friend of mine for almost 50 years … he was talented, creative, inventive, warm and devoted to his family.” 

Goldberg is survived by his wife, Wendy Howard Goldberg; daughter Amanda Goldberg Raskind; stepsons Richard and John Mirisch; and five grandchildren.

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