Hal Kanter (see photo), creator of the groundbreaking television series Julia, starring Diahann Carroll (photo) as a nurse, died Sunday, Nov. 6, of complications from pneumonia at Encino Hospital in the Los Angeles suburb of Encino. Kanter was 92.
Julia (1968-71) marked the first time a black actress had an important role in an American television series playing something other than a maid (e.g., Ethel Waters and Louise Beavers in the 1950s series Beulah). As quoted in the Los Angeles Times obit, Kanter said he didn’t want to make profound political statements with each Julia episode. But political statements were made all the same, as Kanter explained:
There is a fallout of social comment. Every week we see a black child playing with a white child with complete acceptance and without incident. One of the recurring themes in the thousands of letters we get is from people who thank us for showing them what a black child is like — he’s like any other child.
A former radio comedy writer, Kanter (born Dec. l8, 1918, in Savannah, Georgia) began working on television in 1949 as head writer for the variety program The Ed Wynn Show. Among other television shows Kanter wrote, directed, and/or produced were The George Gobel Show; The Jimmy Stewart Show; Chico and the Man, with Freddie Prinze; and All in the Family, with Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker. Additionally, Kanter contributed to the writing of numerous Academy Award ceremonies of the last five decades.
Kanter’s big-screen writing credits were few, but include several notable productions. Road to Bali (1952) marked the last pairing of Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour, and Bob Hope, in addition to being the last successful movie in the Road series. Lambasted by critics, Casanova’s Big Night (1954) may well be the only Bob Hope movie I’ve actually enjoyed, in no small measure due to the presence of Joan Fontaine. In a radical change of pace, Kanter paired up with Tennessee Williams for the highly dramatic The Rose Tattoo (1955), which earned Anna Magnani a Best Actress Academy Award. (The Rose Tattoo received a total of eight Oscar nominations, but failed to be shortlisted in the writing categories.)
Kanter’s other film credits include the Jerry Lewis-Dean Martin comedy Artists and Models (1955), directed by Frank Tashlin; Frank Capra’s poorly received (but box office friendly) last feature, Pocketful of Miracles (1961), starring Bette Davis and Glenn Ford; and the marital comedy Move Over, Darling (1963), a glossier but less humorous remake of My Favorite Wife, with Doris Day, James Garner, Polly Bergen, and Chuck Connors replacing Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Gail Patrick, and Randolph Scott. Kanter also contributed to Let’s Make Love (1960), one of Marilyn Monroe’s last movies. (Coincidentally, Monroe was to have starred in what was to become Move Over, Darling. George Cukor fired the actress during filming; the project was later started from scratch.)
Kanter directed only three features: Loving You (1957), an Elvis Presley star vehicle that turned out to be Lizabeth Scott’s last film at Paramount; I Married a Woman (1958), an unsuccessful attempt to launch bosomy British actress Diana Dors in Hollywood; and the minor comedy Once Upon a Horse… (1958), featuring Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, and Martha Hyer. Kanter’s last directorial job was the television movie For the Love of It (1980), a Cold War comedy featuring Deborah Raffin and Jeff Conaway.