Watch CBSN Live

TV Legend Dead At Age 90

Fred de Cordova, a longtime producer of 'The Tonight Show' when it was hosted by Johnny Carson, has died.

De Cordova, who was 90 years old, died Saturday at the Motion Picture and Television Fund Hospital in Woodland Hills, California.

While many producers - even many who are wildly successful - work with little public awareness of their role, that was far from the case for de Cordova.

Carson in particular enjoyed lobbing on stage comments to off stage 'Fred,' sometimes ribbing de Cordova about his role as the director of the famous Ronald Regan B-movie, "Bedtime for Bonzo," about a college professor and a chimp.

Many in the audience didn't need to be told who de Cordova was, as Jack Benny earlier had done the same thing, using the always nearby de Cordova as a handy target for random quips.

De Cordova began his career in New York, where he directed the
"Ziegfield Follies" of 1943 with Milton Berle.

His producing and directing credits include T-V's "Burns and Allen," "The Jack Benny Show," "My Three Sons," "The Farmer's Daughter," and numerous specials for Bing Crosby, Claudette Colbert, Noel Coward, Lauren Bacall and

He also directed about 50 movies before switching to television, including "Bonzo Goes To College" and "Frankie and Johnny," with Elvis Presley.

De Cordova joined the "Tonight Show" in the early 1970's and quit along with Carson, when Carson retired in 1992.

De Cordova at first had planned to be a lawyer, graduating from Harvard Law School in 1933, during the Great Depression.

He landed a job nonetheless, as a "gofer" - an errand boy - at the theatrical offices of Lee and J.J. Shubert in New York.

It wasn't long before the show biz bug bit good and hard and he worked his way up to stage manager and then director.

De Cordova was always appreciative of his good fortune and in an 1988 autobiography, "Johnny Came Lately," said he "managed to involve myself with people who are extremely pleasant to work with and who are extremely talented, and that includes Johnny Carson. Carson makes me happy to go to work and my wife makes me happy to go home."

© MMI, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report

View CBS News In