John Hamlin, who contributed to 45 Academy Awards telecasts at NBC and ABC as an executive or consultant and produced many other TV specials during his long career, has died. He was 92.
Hamlin died Monday at a family home in Pacific Palisades after he was hospitalized for severe dehydration from stomach flu, his family announced.
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Hamlin worked with everyone from Bob Hope and Elvis Presley to Michael Jackson and said the highlight of his career was meeting Charlie Chaplin at the 1972 Academy Awards when the legend emerged from exile to receive an honorary Oscar.
He also had the truth about the streaker Robert Opel, who flashed across the stage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the 1974 Academy Awards, saying the whole thing was planned and that co-host David Niven’s impromptu response about the naked man’s “shortcomings” was prewritten.
When anyone was new to working on the Oscars, they often were told to talk to Hamlin for advice. He didn’t have a smartphone, computer or email, but he did have “decades worth of insight and experience,” his family noted.
“There is no network executive ever in the history of television that I feel was as good and as passionate as he was,” longtime friend and colleague Jeff Margolis, who directed the Oscars and other shows that Hamlin worked on, said in a statement provided by the family. “He loved television.”
Added Gary Pudney, a former ABC senior vp special projects and senior executive in charge of specials and talent: “He was extremely unique as a television executive because he was also a full-fledged producer. He knew more about producing than the producers did.”
John Frederick Hamlin Jr. was born in Manhattan on March 23, 1931. His father was president of the Douglas Elliman real estate company.
In one of his first jobs, Hamlin was one-half of a couple who gave dancing lessons on a cruise ship in Nassau, Bahamas, then directed revues for producer Jerome H. Cargill across the U.S. starting when he was 22.
Hamlin moved to California in the mid-1960s to work for the TV department at the renowned advertising agency Benton & Bowles, which helped develop The Andy Griffith Show and other series.
Later, he oversaw specials and variety programming at NBC and then ABC, rising to senior vp variety and event specials and serving as a consultant into his 80s.
“A lot of the success I had at ABC was due to him,” said Pudney. “He was unbelievable with his dedication to the project, and his work ethic was extreme. I don’t think he ever got the credit he deserved.”
In addition to the Oscars, Hamlin also contributed to the Emmys; the American Music Awards; specials hosted by Hope and Presley; programs honoring Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Muhammad Ali and U.S. presidents; the Silver Jubilee Royal Variety Gala for Queen Elizabeth II; and David Bowie, 9/11, Live Aid and Motown music specials.
Hamlin told stories about playing catch with Ron Howard between takes at The Andy Griffith Show, meeting Goldie Hawn before she starred on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, taking his first trip to Las Vegas with James Caan and driving through Florida with Jack Palance.
“One of the things I admired about him was he was a wonderful dancer,” Pudney said. “One day at … a big [business] party, I noticed his dancing and said the only other person I saw dance that well on a ballroom floor was Fred Astaire. I said, ‘You are the best dancer, teach me,’ so he took me in his arms and waltzed me around the room to a lot of applause.”
12:10 p.m. An earlier version of this obituary had the wrong John Hamlin pictured.
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