TV show director traded Hollywood hills for Chapel Hill

Emmy-award winner shaped shows like ‘All in the Family,’ ‘The Defenders’

June 4, 2012 

Paul Bogart for Life Story.

COURTESY OF PETER BOGART

  • More information BIO BOX for Paul Bogart b. November 13, 1919 1936 graduates from James Monroe High School 1941 marries Alma Jane Gitnick 1944-1946 serves in the U.S. Air Force 1950 begins his career in television at NBC 1995 directs his final piece, "The Heidi Chronicles" starring Jamie Lee Curtis 1995 moves to Chapel Hill d. April 15, 2012

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Paul Bogart, an Emmy Award-winning director of shows like “All in the Family” and “The Defenders,” spent nearly 50 years working with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars; among them Bob Hope, Burt Reynolds, Whoopi Goldberg and of course, Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton.

But for the last 17 years, Bogart resided in Chapel Hill where he lived a quiet, rather hermetic life, said his son Peter Bogart, finishing out his days on the 10 acres he purchased in the early 1990s.

Bogart died in April in his Chapel Hill home, his son by his side. He was 92, and when he passed away. Newspapers like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and London Times ran obituaries. His family did not choose to publish a local obituary, but it did not take long for word to spread that an award-winning director had been in our midst.

Bogart first came to the area in the 1980s as a patient at Duke University Hospital’s Rice Clinic.

“He’d come down every year and lose a ton of weight, then go home and put it back on,” his son Peter Bogart said with a chuckle.

When Bogart came to the area he would stay for at least two months at a time, which soon made hotel costs expensive. He eventually bought a plot of land in Chapel Hill where there were two homes – one more modern, the other a 1919 fixer-upper, which he eventually renovated and moved into. He made the permanent move to Chapel Hill in the mid-1990s, finally selling the place he had in Los Angeles and settling into retirement.

In Chapel Hill, Bogart spent more time with his children, particularly Peter, who also moved to Chapel Hill, and got to know his numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well. Until the very end he was doing the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink every day.

Bogart was born Paul Bogoff – he would change his name to sound more “American.” He was one of four children and spent his New York Depression-era childhood in places like Harlem and the Bronx. His parents divorced when he was young and his father soon left. His mother, with whom he was not close, had a boyfriend who he called “Uncle Louis.” Louis was a trombone player who took a young Bogart to burlesque houses. It was one of Bogart’s first exposures to show business.

As a kid, Bogart would scrounge up the money to take himself to shows on Broadway, his son said. Peter Bogart came across his father’s high school yearbook and recently learned Bogart was president of the drama club and editor of the school newspaper.

“The writing was sort of on the wall,” Peter Bogart said. “With his hunger for theater and movies – he always went to movies – he was a natural for it.”

When Bogart graduated from James Monroe High School in the Bronx, he was too poor to go to college and soon answered an ad in the New York Times for a job with the Berkeley Marionettes – a traveling marionette show.

Bogart would work for the Marionettes both before and after his time serving in the U.S. Air Force. He also took odd jobs, including driving a truck, to support his growing family. He had married a set decorator named Alma Gitnick and they would have three children before the couple eventually divorced.

His marionette gig would lead to his first job working in television when a friend from the puppet world helped him get a job at NBC.

His debut came about quite accidentally. The story has it that Bogart was asked to fill in without warning with network television’s first late-night comedy, “Broadway Open House,” when a stage manager had to run off to another show, handing Bogart his headset without any instructions. Bogart quickly inferred that his job was to signal the director’s instructions, which he could hear on the headset, to the actors using his hands.

He soon moved up to the position of assistant director and worked on shows like “Howdy Doody.”

His career would coincide with television’s Golden Age, and the opportunities for a director who got into the business at the dawn of TV were boundless.

“He was at the right place, at the right time, with the right tools to make it work,” said his son, who would also have a career in show business as an assistant director and producer.

Perhaps Bogart’s most notable achievement was his work directing the sitcom, “All in the Family.” He directed over 100 episodes of this edgy comedy in which America’s history of bigotry, sexism and all things ignorant were closely examined via the working class character of Archie Bunker. Bogart won one of his five Emmy Awards for his direction of the episode titled “Edith’s 50th Birthday,” in which Edith, Archie’s uber-naïve wife, was nearly raped. It was 1977, and the episode was considered one of the most provocative in television’s history.

Bogart would take his family abroad during the summer, to places like Italy for weeks at a time where Bogart had actor friends. Bogart was never one for hobnobbing with the famous because they were famous, his son said. His relationships to actors, directors and writers were all genuine.

“He liked the material – the material was everything to him. And casting it – the actors – was everything to him,” Peter Bogart said. “He did a lot of work for public television because it wasn’t about the money, it was about the material.”

And though Bogart worked long hours and was not a particularly affectionate dad, he was doing the best he could to be a better father than he’d even known.

“He wanted to give his family what he didn’t have. If he could get to Coney Island as a teenager he was lucky,” Peter Bogart said. “Whether he was conscious about it, he saw an opportunity to remove himself from that lifestyle and he did so brilliantly.”

Bogart’s work was generally well received, though he admitted to a few poor choices along the way, such as one of his final projects titled, “Cancel My Reservation” starring Bob Hope and Eva Marie Saint. His son jokingly calls the film, “Cancel my Paycheck.”

Among his other professional regrets was walking away from “The Golden Girls.” He felt stifled as a director on that project, his son said, and he could not compromise his vision.

“The show or the movie was how he could express himself. He did it through other characters, through other stories, drawing from his own experience,” Peter Bogart said. “I do believe that’s one of the things that made him an outstanding director.”

In 1991, Bogart was awarded the EuroFipa d'honneur at the Cannes Film Festival, becoming one of the few television directors to be recognized for a remarkable body of work by the festival.

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