Obituaries: Bob Fisher; Roland Wolpert; Juarez Roberts

April 14, 2009

Comedy writer Bob Fisher‘s death on September 19, 2008, has been confirmed by the WGA.  Fisher died two days before his eighty-sixth birthday.

One of the most prolific of sitcom writers, Fisher began in television the fifties by pairing up with a veteran radio writer twenty-five years his senior named Alan Lipscott.  Lipscott and Fisher wrote the first episode of Make Room For Daddy in 1953, and went on to craft teleplays for The Donna Reed Show, Bachelor Father, Bronco, How to Marry a Millionaire, and others.  Following Lipscott’s death in 1961, Fisher began writing with Arthur Marx, and that partnership (which lasted for over twenty-five years) produced episodes of McHale’s Navy, My Three Sons, The Mothers-in-Law, The Paul Lynde Show, and Life With Lucy.  Fisher and Marx were also story editors and frequent writers on Alice from 1977-1981. 

Fisher also wrote occasionally with Arthur Alsberg (on I Dream of Jeannie and Mona McCluskey) and had three plays produced on Broadway: the hit The Impossible Years (with Marx), Minnie’s Boys (with Marx), and Happiness Is Just a Little Thing Called a Rolls Royce (with Alsberg), which closed after one performance.

I had tried unsuccessfully over the past few years to arrange an interview with Fisher, and had heard from other writers that he led a peripatetic lifestyle.  So I wasn’t surprised when word of his death surfaced only last month via Mark Evanier’s blog

*

Roland Wolpert, a television writer adept at both drama and comedy, died on March 25.  Wolpert was another writer who was too ill to be interviewed by the time I contacted him two years ago, so most of what I know about him comes from the death notice in the Los Angeles Times

Wolpert was born in New York City on December 30, 1923, went to City College, and was a correspondent during World War II.  His television career began with a move to Los Angeles in 1961, and he amassed credits on Naked City, Mr. Novak, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, Lancer, My Living Doll, Gilligan’s Island, Bewitched, Family Affair, Room 222, Dan August, Emergency!, Good Times, and others.  Wolpert did not write for The Bold Ones, but had a shared creator credit on the series because the Leslie Nielsen “Protectors” segments were spun off Deadlock, a TV movie that Wolpert co-wrote.

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Eventually I’ll publish my interview with writer Juarez Roberts, who died of cancer on February 21.  In the meantime, all I will write here is that he was a long-distance friend and a truly larger-than-life character.  Certainly, he took up more room than Hollywood was ready to make for him.

Juarez was one of the last writers to break into television by throwing a script over the transom of one of the live television anthologies.  In his case, it was a U.S. Steel Hour called “The Little Bullfighter,” which was inspired by stories told to him by a Mexican friend and co-worker at the Los Angeles foundry where Juarez was a foreman.  A second Steel Hour script drew upon memories of his Dust Bowl childhood (he was born in Oklahoma in 1923).

After the anthologies folded, he created scripts for popular Hollywood shows like Hawaiian Eye, Adventures in Paradise, and Checkmate.  He wrote the teleplay for a pilot based on The African Queen, with James Coburn and Glynis Johns in the Bogart and Hepburn roles.  It didn’t sell as a series but the pilot film landed on The Dick Powell Show in 1962. 

Six feet tall, with an Okie drawl that led many to mistake him for a rube, Juarez intimidated some producers and baffled others.  He fought for his ideas even on escapist work, and often lost; he used a pseudonym (George Stackalee) on Bonanza and took his name off a Route 66 altogether.  Forty years after the fact, Juarez was still annoyed that they changed the title of his Channing episode (about boxing) from something provocative (“Blood’s Not Very Red on TV”) to something generic (“Beyond His Reach”).

Juarez’s character was very much formed by his World War II service – he spoke of it often – and I once asked if he’d ever submitted any ideas to the TV series Combat.  “Come on, Stephen, you should know better than that,” he replied with disgust.  Combat met a lot of television critics’ standards for battlefront verisimilitude, but not Juarez’s.

Those stories should give you some idea of how Juarez’s low tolerance for compromise made a life in television impossible for him.  As far as I know, none of Juarez’s work was produced after 1963, although he toiled on some film scripts that were never made.  Sometime in the seventies Juarez turned his back on Hollywood and drifted up the coast to Mendocino, and then to Waldport, Oregon, where he died.  About a year ago, Juarez completed his first novel, which draws upon his own experiences as a paratrooper.  His widow, Sonya, is seeking a publisher, and I hope she finds one.

UPDATE: Sonya Roberts has provided a few corrections (which I have made to the above) and the following photo of Juarez in 1945.  I had not seen it before, but I think it amply illustrates the points I have tried to make about his individualism and strength of will.  

juarez_in_507th_airborne

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8 Responses to “Obituaries: Bob Fisher; Roland Wolpert; Juarez Roberts”

  1. Doug Levene Says:

    Stephen,

    Juarez Roberts was my uncle and you are so right that he was larger than life. He had many guises: Loki, Brujo, redneck, but he was a leader of men, an original and independent thinker, and a dear and wonderful man. I miss him.

  2. Brad Roberts Says:

    Juarez was also my uncle, my father’s brother. I never got a chance to meet the man, but the stories my dad tell let me know that was a hero. A hero to him, a hero to the men he served with as well as a hero to every American that enjoys freedom.
    I hope Sonya finds a publisher for the book. I would stand in line to read it.

  3. Charles Walker Says:

    July 8, 2009

    Juarez was my uncle. Seems everyone has a Juarez story. Some you can’t tell. My dad and I went to Norman, OK in the 1970’s and met a childhood friend of my dad. This fellow said he had heard of Juarez’s exploits as a teenager, and he lived in the next county. A terrific writer, and story teller. “….Generalissimo!!!!!!!”

    Charles Walker

  4. Wendy Says:

    Thanks for writing such a nice piece on my Father, Juarez. Would love to read the interview. Always so interesting to hear what others say about my Daddy.


  5. I am Sonya Roberts. I miss him.

    • Marinell Eva Says:

      Sonya – a voice from the past – Marinell (was Redus) Eva. I just happened onto this link, and found out about Juarez. I remember him so vividly, and think of you both – and Wendy as well. Richard, his brother Marc, Ed Dye, Kit Sandidge and Eddie Burton all died in the last three years – Richard in September. I miss them all. Brenda, Charlene and I are still hanging on! I hope you are well.


      • Marinel, what a great voice from the past! I’m delighted to be back in touch. My email is sonyar@peak.org . I looked for you on Facebook but I couldn’t find you there. My love to you and Brenda and Charlene.”Cover your nose, Patricia!”

  6. J.A. McDonald Says:

    So nice to read of Juarez Roberts. In years past I heard the story of him and his family from one of his old friends here in his hometown of Shawnee OK. He graduated from SHS in 1941 and left the impression of being a good student, reflective and friendly. We have his picture in the school yearbook. His parents moved to Muskogee soon after he finished school and he joined the army, like all the other boys his age were doing, so friends lost touch. He was “discovered” later (one ran across him at OU) and with his successes as a writer. Several former friends liked to brag that they knew him and his sister Gene who changed her name to Meg Randall and was in movies and on TV some years ago. This was before the internet so former classmates were not able to get in touch. Both their names are in the Pottawatomie County Historical museum as “illustrious former residents.” The family lived in Shawnee for about 8 years. They came from Seminole, a hot bed of oil activity in the 20s and 30s, Shawnee was not and oil town even though Juarez Robert’s obit describes his upbringing as if it were. Shawnee was also not part of the Dust Bowl but a railroad, farming and banking center. We’re so proud of our “children” who’ve made good and are in the process of “fleshing” out the biographies. It’s exciting to know more about this man.


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