Gene Reynolds (1923-2020)


Producer, director, writer, and actor Gene Reynolds passed away yesterday (February 3rd) at the age of 96. He began his acting career in 1934 at the age of 11. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he returned to acting and made his first television appearance in a 1949 episode of Your Show Time. During the 1950s, Reynolds had roles in in episodes of TV shows like Dragnet, I Led 3 Lives, Public Defender, Highway Patrol, and I Love Lucy.

In 1957, he co-created Tales of Wells Fargo with James L. Brooks and Frank Gruber. By the early 1960s, he had given up acting in favor of directing. He directed more than 70 episodes of My Three Sons between 1962 and 1964, 33 episodes of Wendy and Me between 1964 and 1965, and 34 episodes of Hogan’s Heroes between 1965 and 1967. He also directed episodes of Leave It To Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show, The Farmer’s Daughter, F Troop, and many others.

Still of Gene Reynolds in Gene Reynolds in 2002, from the "M*A*S*H 30th Anniversary Reunion Special"

When 20th Century-Fox executive William Self wanted to adapt Robert Altman’s movie MASH for television, he turned to Gene Reynolds. In need of a talented scriptwriter to pen the pilot script, Reynolds approached Larry Gelbart. The rest is history. Reynolds served as a producer on M*A*S*H from 1972 to 1976 before taking over as executive producer during Season 5 after Gelbart departed. Reynolds stepped down as executive producer after Season 6 but remained as a creative consultant until M*A*S*H ended in 1983.

(Reynolds and Gelbart created two other short-lived sitcoms together: Roll Out and Karen.)

For his work on M*A*S*H, Reynolds received 11 Emmy nominations and three wins. He received two Directors Guild of America Awards for M*A*S*H plus two Writers Guild of America nominations and one win.

After leaving M*A*S*H, Reynolds co-created Lou Grant with James L. Brooks and Allan Burns. The drama series brought Reynolds even more nominations and awards, including a Humanitas Prize in 1982. He continued returned to directing in the mid-1980s before retiring in 1999.

In 2002, Reynolds took part in the “M*A*S*H 30th Anniversary Reunion Special” retrospective on FOX. He later took part in a series of interviews about M*A*S*H that first aired on MeTV in 2015. Reynolds contributed to an oral history of M*A*S*H published by The Hollywood Reporter in 2018.

Obituaries can be found at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

(Thanks to Dan.)

Wednesday, February 5th, 2020 Update:

Alan Alda sent the following tweet earlier today:

If you can’t read it, here’s what he wrote:

My friend and mentor Gene Reynolds has died but his brain and heart lives on in MASH, the classic he helped create, and produced and directed. He changed my life and touched the lives of tens of millions of us. Goodbye, farewell and amen, Gene. Love you.

Also, scriptwriter Ken Levine posted a lengthy tribute to Gene Reynolds at his blog. “I’m glad I was able to thank him on numerous occasions for all he did for me, both privately and publicly,” Levine writes. “But I never felt it was enough. How could it be? When a man launches your career and makes you a better human being, how large does the skywriting have to be?”

Actor Jeff Maxwell left the following comment in response to Levine’s blog post:

Amen, Ken.

Without Gene Reynolds, I doubt there would be a MASH as we know it.

So grateful to have experienced his incredible skill and elegance.

Finally, additional obituaries can be found at The New York Times and Deadline Hollywood.

4 Replies to “Gene Reynolds (1923-2020)”

  1. Wow, he lived a long, productive, and fulfilling life.

    I wasn’t aware that he also did some acting, let alone appeared on I LOVE LUCY; I just checked IMDb and saw the episode he appeared in was “Lucy Hates to Leave,” which I may or may not have on an old tape somewhere, if I do, I need to check it out.

    ROLL OUT! came about when CBS approached he and Larry Gelbart to create another military sitcom for them to bank off of M*A*S*H’s newfound success, so in a sense, ROLL OUT! is M*A*S*H’s lesser-known, and un-successful sister show. There’s an episode of it on YouTube, but it’s very much in the spirit of those earliest seasons of M*A*S*H: hijinx at the front kind of thing.

    He was also briefly married to Bonnie Jones, who appeared as Barbara Bannerman in a few Season 1 episodes.

    Another sad day in M*A*S*H history. The contribution Gene made to the series that I appreciate the most is his focus on character development and allowing them to grow and evolve, especially Margaret (it was his decision to have her get engaged and eventually married to Penobscott, ending her romance with Frank) and Father Mulcahy.

    1. Oh, I just learned from that he and Ann Sweeny (who played Nurse Donovan in “Hanky Panky”) later married.

  2. Unfortunately we have reached the tipping point where there are fewer and fewer members of that brilliant creative ensemble left. Gene hired Larry Gelbart, putting everything in motion. He had a brilliant sense of story. Ken Levine has a beautiful tribute on his blog. RIP, Gene. And most of all, thank you. May his memory be for a blessing.

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