Hollywood writer and director Hal Kanter, who wrote for figures as varied as Bob Hope and Elvis Presley, and who created a pioneering sitcom for a black actress in the 1970s, died Nov. 6 at 92.
Kanter was known as a great and witty quipster, who ended his 1998 autobiography, “So Far, So Funny,” with this quote: "If any of my work over the past 60 years has inspired, encouraged or motivated any young person to write comedy for radio, motion pictures or television, I apologize."
Kanter wrote or co-wrote, “The Road to Bali” (1952) for Hope and Bing Crosby, “Pocketful of Miracles” (1961) for famed director Frank Capra, and wrote and directed, “Loving You,” (1957), Elvis Presley’s second movie and the first in which the singer starred.
In a lengthy interview on an Elvis Presley fan website, Kanter said how he misunderstood Presley’s appeal until he met him, and described how he once literally gave Presley a shirt, a black velour pullover given to him by his wife, off his back, but that Elvis’s appreciation didn’t last long:
I thought he was a passing fancy for young children, especially young girls. But I was very pleasantly surprised … that might be a euphemism. My socks were knocked off seeing what I saw on the screen….
Elvis admired the shirt. He said, ‘Where did you get that?’ And I said, ‘Do you like it?’ And he says, ‘Oh, I like it very much’. I said, ‘I’ll give you this one.’ So we changed shirts. I took my shirt off and gave it to him….When he showed up in Hollywood several weeks later to start rehearsing the show, he was wearing that shirt. And I said to him, ‘That’s a good looking shirt you’re wearing there, Elvis’. I said, ‘Where did you get that?’ He said, ‘Well, some fan gave it to me.’ I said, ‘Okay.’”
In 1968 Kanter created “Julia,” starring Diahann Carroll as a nurse who was raising a young son alone after her husband was killed in Vietnam. It was the first TV show to feature a black female lead and won numerous awards over the years. "We all felt we were really contributing to the mores of society," Kanter said.
Kanter was born and raised in Savannah, Ga., where his mother’s parents lived. His father developed the Classics Illustrated comic books. In an oral history interview with the TV Academy Foundation, Kanter joked, “I grew up in the Deep South and moved to the shallow North.”
Kanter studied at the Art Students League in New York, and became a comedy writer by 17. He served in the US Army during World War II and covered the Omaha Beach landings on D-Day for the Armed Forces Radio. After the war he wrote for Crosby, Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Peggy Lee, and Dinah Shore, another Jewish southerner, among others. In later years he scripted the annual Oscar ceremonies.
The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at email@example.com.