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Dan Wilcox, Writer and Producer on ‘M*A*S*H,’ Dies at 82

Dan Wilcox, the Emmy-winning TV writer and producer whose work on the last four seasons of M*A*S*H included the acclaimed 1983 series finale that attracted a record 106 million viewers, has died. He was 82.

Wilcox died Feb. 14 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, his niece Julie Merson announced.

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A WGA member for more than 60 years and a guild board member since 2005, Wilcox won his Emmy in 1970 for Sesame Street, where he met Thad Mumford, who became his longtime writing partner. They worked together on M*A*S*H and received the 1980 WGA award for best episodic comedy.

They also wrote for What’s Happening!!, Alice, The Duck Factory, Good Times and the 1979 ABC miniseries Roots: The Next Generations.

Wilcox was a writer and/or executive story editor on 36 episodes of M*A*S*H from 1979-83 as well as a producer, starting in 1981, on the CBS show’s last two seasons.

The native New Yorker was among the writers and producers credited on the final episode, the two-hour “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen,” which aired on Feb. 28, 1983, and attracted the largest audience for a nonsports program in TV history.

Wilcox earned his first Emmy nom in 1978 for writing the Norman Lear-created talk-show parody America 2-Night, then received three more for his M*A*S*H work in 1981, ’82 and ’83.

In 2017, he received the prestigious Morgan Cox Award in recognition of his exemplary service to the WGA.

“Dan Wilcox has been, in a sustained and deeply moving way, a voice for the voiceless,” then-WGA West president Howard A. Rodman said. “His work, at once passionate and effective, has been on behalf of those who might otherwise lack the power to make themselves fully heard.”

Daniel Harris Wilcox was born in Manhattan on April 17, 1941, and raised in Greenwich Village. His father, Phillip, was an engineer and his mother, Mildred, a journalist and playwright.

“My mother had a play [Co-respondent Unknown] produced on Broadway and her brother Jed Harris was a theatrical legend,” he recalled in a 2016 chat for the TV Academy Foundation website The Interviews. “So I grew up immersed in theater and the arts. She was the only Jewish mother in New York City who would have been disappointed if I’d been a doctor.”

He graduated from Cornell University before following his obsession with puppets into children’s television.

Wilcox first had the chance to write professionally when his brother-in-law Marc Merson, then a casting director at CBS, got him an interview for the kids show Captain Kangaroo.

“I had to write spec scripts, and they weren’t very good,” he said. “My Uncle Jed was living at my mom’s, and we watched Captain Kangaroo together. He read my scripts and told me I had comedy all wrong. ‘Never let the character be aware there is a problem. He thinks it’s going perfectly and THEN it all falls apart!’ Jed gave me a crash course in how to write comedy that I’ve relied on my entire career.”

Wilcox attributed a great deal of his success to two writers who mentored him, M*A*S*H legend Burt Metcalfe and Mary Tyler Moore Show co-creator Allan Burns.

Wilcox and Burns were co-creators of the 1989-90 NBC comedy FM, starring Robert Hays. He also wrote for shows including Angie, Bay City Blues, Newhart, Growing Pains, Diagnosis Murder, Cosby, Becker and The Jeff Foxworthy Show.

And he taught screenwriting classes at Arizona State University.

Survivors include his wife, actress Leslie Easterbrook (she played the training instructor Debbie Callahan in Police Academy films); sister Nina; and nieces Julie and Wendy.

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