Producer Al Burton

I interviewed Producer Al Burton at his light and airy French/English style Beverly Hills mansion June 11, 2002.

Ben is a spry elfish man in his seventies. He stands about 5'3" tall.

Ben Stein writes about Al and Sally Burton in his book Dreemz: "Sometimes when I think of my friend Al and his wife, Sally, tears come to my eyes. I met them when I was in Aspen, Colorado, at a conference about television. Al is a creative boss at my studio. All the other participants were academics and journalists, sneering at Al and drooling at how much money he made. Their envy became truly ugly. It was a vivid and frightening scene of those who teach venting their jealousy on those who do.

"I tried to be supportive to Al, even though I dislike most of his TV shows. I admire people who get things done. Sally, Al's wife, is perhaps the most intense woman I have ever met, but she was perfectly nice to me.

"By encouraging me about finding work here, they made it possible for me to move here. I do not think that there are better friends anywhere. Where, I wonder, have friends like them been all my life? They are almost completely unfrustrated people. If they want to do something, they simply do it. No agonizing, no whimpering, no brooding - they just do it." (pg. 97)

Luke: "Tell me about Ben Stein."

Al: "I worked for Norman Lear for ten years. I started as director of development and I became a close friend of Norman and an executive vice-president. During this time, he would call on me to go to events he couldn't make. In 1974, he asked me to make a speech for him at a conference in Aspen, Colorado. I was not welcomed warmly by some of the people.

"I did not know then that Ben [a Wall Street Journal TV critic] had written a bad review of the Jeffersons. And Norman wanted to know what this guy was like.

"The first day that Ben and I started talking to each other, it was clear that we were going to be close friends. I'd brought my wife with me to Aspen, Colorado. I invited Ben to lunch. He walks in and my wife had half-a-dozen anti-Nixon books. She was reading All The President's Men, The Final Days, etc. And Ben says, 'I'm sorry. I think you should know that I wrote speeches for Richard Nixon.'

"And we were knocked out by Ben. He was funny. And he was diametrically opposed to everything my wife stood for. I'm not much of an ideologue. But the severest word you could give against George W. Bush, my wife would probably subscribe to.

"I had a tape of the Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman pilot with me. And I asked Ben if he'd like to see a show that had not sold. It'd been turned down by ABC and CBS. He said yes and we played it for him. Then he asked if Norman would mind him reviewing it.

"My guess was that Norman would welcome a review. I called Norman and he said of course he can review. So Ben wrote a five-column wide review atop the Wall Street Journal under the headline, 'A Dandy Show You Might Never See.' And we blew that up as a poster and that's how we sold the show.

"We invited 25 TV executives from around the country to dinner at Norman's home in Brentwood. And that's how we started syndicating the show. And it was a smash hit from the beginning.

"It turned out that Ben had only criticized The Jeffersons for one thing, and I agreed with him. That the show was the Amos & Andy of its time. It's black people being black people.

"I got a chance to put him on as a consultant to a show called All's Fair (1976). Richard Crenna plays a right-wing conservative and Bernadette Peters plays a left-wing liberal. And Ben contributed the far-right thought. He claims that he was hated by everybody [at Norman Lear's production company]. It's not true. They thought he was funny. But they hated his politics. They were 1935-style communists."

From Imdb.com: "This sitcom set in Washington, D.C. detailed the relationship between 49-year-old conservative political writer Richard Barrington and his liberal photographer girlfriend Charley. Despite frequent arguments concerning current events, topical concerns and the generation gap, Richard and Charley stayed together, much to the amusement of their friends and coworkers."

Al: "Ben's book Dreemz is about his move to California. I greeted him at the airport with a limo and five adorable cheerleaders [in short shorts] with T-shirts that read, 'I'm Benjy's.' And he had come from a cubicle at the Wall Street Journal. It was a terrific beginning for his stay in Hollywood.

"Ben was not an actor. He did appear in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. He delivered an ad-lib drone in the background. And when he finished doing it, everybody laughed so hard that they aimed the camera at him. He was not supposed to be in the shot. I then put him as an actor in Charles in Charge. I made Ben the villain. He was Mr. Willard. He never had a steady job. He was the nemesis of Charles. He was the loan officer and the psychologist. Then he got Wonder Years. Win Ben Stein's Money catapulted him to the top.

"It was complicated to get him to do the show. At the time, it sounded like I wanted him to be a gameshow host, which was much lower than it would sound today. But I knew that it would make him. I knew he would get press. He's a journalist's star. And I knew that he's so smart that he can answer those questions. I devised a game that nobody else could play. He's now a sought-after speaker on college campuses. He's probably given more commencement addresses in the past three weeks than anybody but the president. In an airport, he's mobbed.

"On the Craig Kilbourn Show, he did 'The Steins' as a takeoff on the Osbournes. We taped his wife, son and dog. Ben did the father. Ben would even speak like Ozzy Osbourn. The plot was that his show didn't sell. He said, 'MTV loused me up. They f----- me, they f----- me... Each one got bleeped like Ozzy on MTV.

"I claim that I have just celebrated my 56th birthday. And I've celebrated it for a number of years already. I was born in Chicago but grew up in 14 different states because my father managed a dime store (Neisner Brothers out of Rochester, NY) like Woolworths. As I grew up, he became the supervisor who opened new stores. He had three kids and he moved every six months to open a new store.

"I went to Northwestern University in Illinois. I met Edgar Bergen, father of Candice Bergen. He's a ventriloquist. I knew Candice Bergen when she was three years old. Edgar got me a scholarship. He liked that I was commercially minded while most kids at Northwestern were in their ivory towers.

"At age 19, I graduated with a degree in Speech. I came to Hollywood. I sold a teenage television show (Tele-teen Report) on which I appeared. I was the editor of a mythical newspaper that covered 72 schools in the LA area. That led to other shows. At one point, I was doing five teenage television shows a week.

"That background gave me the impetus to invent the Miss Teenage America pageant in the early 1950s. I did not continue with it. I went to pick it up again in 1962 when MCA called me to say they're doing their own Miss Teenage America pageant. They offered to help me promote my pageant if I changed the name. So I did to Miss Teen USA. It became Miss Teen International. I ran these pageants until 1973.

"The first Miss Teen International was Ewa Aulin who baby-sat my daughter. Ewa starred in the [1968] movie Candy, based on the Terry Southern novel. It was a dirty movie. It embarrassed the hell out of me because I was going on with my clean wholesome teenage image. But she was adorable. Norman Lear put her in Start the Revolution Without Me, playing a Marie Antionette duplicate.

"After Candy, she moved to Italy and married Roberto Rosselini Jr, the love child of Ingrid Bergman conceived on the island of Scromboli. Ingrid had an affair with Roberto Rosselini, who she later married and divorced. Ewa Aulin was a superstar in Italy. She divorced Roberto and married John Sperrow. She starred in some big Italian movies.

"The girls in the pageant were aged 15-19. That age is adorable. A reviewer once wrote, 'The problem is that at this age they are all Juliets. And the became Lady MacBeths.' A telling line. If you stop to think, it is more true than it should be. All I dealt with ever were Juliets. I loved these young ladies.

"I met my wife in the middle of this career. When we went out socially and people asked her what her husband did for a living, she said, 'He exploits teenagers.' She put up with me somehow. She had to walk in all the time to see me with bikini-clad beauties."

Luke: "Did you ever date any of them?"

Al: "Oh sure, that's why I got into the business I'm in. Why does anyone become a producer?

"When I was at Northwestern, I was a little short guy. But I put on a show on [TV station] WEAW in Evanston, Illinois. And I dated beautiful blond girls and they liked me. They were all highschool girls.

"When I came to Los Angeles, I was going to housewarming parties that lasted 20 days. I had a nice life. I've always claimed that I was a wholesome person. I didn't do drugs. I barely drank liquor."

Luke: "Did you date any contestants from the Miss Teen USA?"

Al: "No. By that time, I was grown up. I married when I was 27 years old. My wife is also short. My daughter is tiny.

"One time we were driving in the car and listening to the radio. And a report said that dwarfs are 4'10 or less. And my daughter said, 'Oh my God, I'm a dwarf.' But at that time she was 12. We did take her to a doctor to check on her height. And he took one look at Sally and me and said, 'What do you expect?'

"But I used the plot for the Gary Coleman character in Diff'rent Strokes. I think I was helpful to Gary because I was a short guy who had obviously achieved something. And it gave him some confidence.

"My daughter (Jennifer Burton Worthy) is adorable. She stands about 5' high. She's successful. She's married with two kids and lives in Hillsborough in the San Francisco Bay Area. She's been a designer of upscale hotels. If you've been to Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida, she designed the beach resort. She designed Paris Disney. She designed the biggest hotel in San Francisco, the Hilton. Now she's the head of the architecture review board of Hillsborough.

"In 1962, I created the world's first exposition for teenagers, the Teenage World Fair. Tom Wolfe from Esquire magazine came to that fair and wrote about a car at the fair. His essay was called 'The Kandy-Colored Tangerine-Flaked Streamlined Baby.'

"We did the Teen Fair at the Hollywood Palladium. It went on to play at 50 cities around the US as well as Toronto and Tokyo.

"But during that time, I also met Norman [Lear] because I was doing a TV show called Hollywood A-Go-Go, which was syndicated worldwide. I had the Rolling Stones on, and Jan & Dean, the Beach Boys, Sonny & Cher, and the Beatles... The Beatles were in love with Ewa Aulin so they came down to the fair when it was in Detroit. Dominick Dunne worked on the show.

"We did five television shows out of the ten-day Teen Fair. We produced the Miss Teen USA and Miss Teen International pageants. We did television fashion shows. It was the pinnacle of the babyboom and they were just the hottest thing in the world."

Luke: "Did the messes of the 1960s spill over to your Teen Fair, with the drugs and riots and crime."

Al: "Yes it did. And it may have been why I was ready to go join Norman Lear in 1972. In 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated. Until that moment, the Teenage Fair was totally out of knowing anything about Vietnam and drugs. Of, if it were, it never crossed my threshold of knowledge. Then King was killed and LA turned bad and negative."

Luke: "When were the Watts riots?"

Al: "The first one was in 1965 but it never affected us. The Teenage Fair was like Orange County. It was just out of the mainstream of anything that was really hip. We never had gangs. The joke about me was that I was chickenhip [a play on 'chickensh-t']. It meant that I did a namby pamby bland event. In Detroit, we had a riot. Then in 1971, there was a murder and I stopped letting my kid go to the event."

Luke: "Did you ever have black contestants for your beauty pageants?"

Al: "Yes. But it was Orange County. They didn't have a following of anybody who would be racially profiled. It was a 'clean' event.

"Norman came to me in 1966. He asked to have lunch with me. His opening question was: 'Where do you get the girls for Hollywood A-Go-Go?' I said that I got them from Gazzarris [hip nightclub on the Sunset strip]. Gazzarris had the greatest looking girls. By then I was a total expert on great looking girls. When they are out on the floor dancing, I, or one of my associates, pick them and ask if they want to come on the show.

"I would send one of them, whose taste I could trust, to a place called Hole-in-the-Wall. I'd tell her to pick out outfits she liked that the girls could dance in. Norman thought they were just great. He said, 'I'm doing a special called Where It's At for ABC and I'd like you to be the casting director.' That was Dick Cavett's first hosting job.

"I took Bud Yorkin [Norman Lear's assistant] to meet a group in my office - the Mommas and the Poppas. They had never been on any show before. And he turned them down.

"Because Norman and I were friendly, I came in to see him in 1972. He said he wanted to do a soap opera that played on two levels. I want people who like soap operas to get addicted to it. But I want people to call their friends after they see it and say there's something here you've got to see. And out of that conversation came Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.

"I brought back a Life magazine about a couple bored to death on the job. It was about blue collar assembly-line workers. I said we should do this story but with good looking people. Gail Perrin wrote 27-pages but I rewrote her 27-pages and that was the beginning of the series. And it was a smash. And that got me out of the teenage business. And I developed [such TV shows as] Diff'rent Strokes, Facts of Life, Square Pegs, Silver Spoons..."

Luke: "Tell me about Fernwood2Nite (1977)."

Al: "Norman invented that. He walked in one morning and said, 'Why don't we do a latenight talkshow in Fernwood?' So we concocted a show that had fictional guests who took themselves seriously. It was an ad-libbed show."

Mike writes on Imdb.com: "Barth Gimble and Jerry Hubbard are the host of a talk show produced in the fictitious town of Fernwood, Ohio (also the setting of "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman"). The show featured parodies of guests that might appear on real talk shows, only with the twisted small-town mentality of Fernwood. Music was provide by the sad-faced Happy Kyne and his Mirthmakers; Happy was also the proprietor of a fast-food restaurant called Bun 'n' Run."

Barahona writes on Imdb.com: "This hilarious spinoff of that show (a local talk show from the 'MH, MH' setting of Fernwood, Ohio) featured Martin Mull as smug host Barth Gimble and Fred Willard as his empty headed sidekick.The show rather mercilessly skewered small town America, its prejudices and foibles. One show for example featured a Jewish man whose car broke down in Fernwood and was featured as a guest in a segment called "Talk to a Jew".(One old lady: "Barth, I can't believe someone as sweet as this young man murdered Our Lord").It only lasted one season and for some bizarre reason the next year, the show moved its setting to Hollywood and became 'Hollywood 2Night" but without the small town setting the show's point was lost."

Al: "Fernwood is from my Ohio upbringing. I patterned Fernwood after Toledo, Ohio. We originally called it Lordstown until someone from Standards and Practices called. It was a tough show to do and we were busy at the time. So we dropped Mary Hartman and Fernwood2Nite. We could've kept them on for more years but we were making eight other shows a week and they were all better moneymakers (because they were network shows).

"Norman Lear is still lively to this day. We're putting together a comedy show. And it is with Martin Mull and Fred Willard."

Luke: "To what do you attribute your success?"

Al: "My serious answer is that I am an inveterate optimist. I can't get pessimistic or cynical. I can write cynical humor but I am not a cynic. I think the world is great.

"My others answers are that you should eat at Pinks a lot [hot dog stand on La Brea Blvd] and always stand to the right when they take your picture so your name will show up first in the caption. And write your own theme song for the shows you do.

"Alan Thicke introduced me to that thought. He and I wrote the themes to Diff'rent Strokes, Facts of Life. Then I did Charles in Charge and Hollywood A-Go-Go. My original ambition was to be a songwriter but then the world left me. In 1954, rock came in. Rock just killed the kind of songs that I wanted to write.

"I've developed a show called White People. Do you know the group called The Waitresses? They do the theme. They talk-sing. The theme goes, 'White people, white people. Pasty faced and pasty brained, should've had their gene pools drained. Scared your kid might date a Jew? Say hello to Abdul Abu.'

"The show is about three families in a cul-de-sac - Middle Eastern Arab, WASP and Jewish. And their kids intermix.

"The show Facts of Life (1979-86) was based on my girl's private school - the Westlake School for Girls. It was a spinoff... Do you want all this?"

Luke: "Yes."

Al: "I still can't figure out what the point of your book will be."

Luke: "I figure it out as I go along."

Al: "I apologize for interfering with your journalism.

"We did Diff'rent Strokes. It was a shocking instant hit. Within the cast we had the wonderful character actress Charlotte Ray. I went to school with her. Charlotte was so well received by the audience that NBC, in desperate need of programming, get us a show with Charlotte quick.

"I got to Charlotte and handed to Norman and two writers the idea for a show about a private girls school with uniformed girls, well to do, or charity cases... I changed the name of the school to Westland. And then Standards and Practices changed it to Eastland.

"We scouted the school. I take Charlotte to lunch with the girls. And in the hall of Westlake, they're all beauties like my teenage beauty pageant... They're all gorgeous. And Charlotte spots this stout little girl Mindy Cohn off to the side who was getting laughs at the table. We pull her over to our table. And Charlotte pitches her to be on the show.

"I met with her mother and of course she wanted her to do it. But I didn't want to louse the kid up and make her a Hollywood kid. I didn't want her to get a Hollywood education. I wanted her to get a Westlake education. So we got permission from the school board to make one exception for Mindy. We cut her hours down so she could continue to go to Westlake and get a decent education.

"Hollywood kids don't get a decent education. There aren't enough strictures."

Born May 20, 1966, Mindy got her degree in Sociology from Loyola Marymount in 1995.

Luke: "How did the Harvard school react to the show?"

Al: "They loved it. There was never a complaint."

Luke: "Tell me about Dana Plato and Diff'rent Strokes (1978-86)."

Al: "I discovered Dana Plato at a dance group. We were looking for a girl for the show Hello Larry.

"E!'s True Hollywood Story on Dana used tape from the show Diff'rent Strokes when we were all sitting together. And Dana at the time is under the influence of something and is fuzzy when she recounts her story of how I found her.

"I called Dana in and she was just fabulous. She was 13 years old. I didn't check her lineage well enough. Her mother was mentally ill.

"She was not that necessary to the show but she was adorable. When she was 16, it was clear that she was under the influence of something. We couldn't tell whether it was mother, manager or agent. We dropped her from the show in its last year because she got pregnant. She didn't know that it was wrong to get pregnant. That gives you an idea about the problems that that kid had.

"I bumped into her a few years later after she'd done a layout for Playboy. And she said, 'Can you imagine? Todd Bridges is in jail. Gary is suing his parents and I just posed for Playboy. Mr. Drummond is a terrible father.' It's a great line. It's a gag writer's line that came out of her mouth.

"I was not paying attention to her when she died. I helped Todd Bridges at one point when he was in jail. I tried to help her and she would have none of it. I said, 'Dana, come in. I'll find you something.' I got Todd a job on Lassie but she turned me down.

"Todd today is fine. He's financed by a church group. I've done some jokes with Gary Coleman. Gary gets sporadic work. He's self-destructive. Todd is not. He's just got a tough road to hoe.

"In my early days of Tele-Teen Reporter, I had a cute girl on the show who was an acrobat. She danced. And she's cartwheeling on live television and a falsie [makes breasts look bigger] falls out. And the camera goes to the falsie and just hangs there. I am so upset. I'm Mr. Clean and I don't want to upset anybody.

"The girl's name is Joy Vogelsang. I believe that she grew up to be a choreographer and a dancer. I've never talked to her since. And she's the mother of Nicholas Cage."

According to Imdb.com: "The son of comparative literature professor August Coppola (a brother of director Francis Ford Coppola) and dancer/choreographer Joy Vogelsang, Cage changed his name early in his career to make his own reputation, succeeding brilliantly with a host of classic, quirky roles by the late 1980s."

Luke: "What do you think about what Hollywood does to teenage performers?"

Al: "If it keeps them from getting an education, I'm unhappy about it. The work and the fame stops many from learning. But if you are like actresses Jodie Foster and Natalie Portman who got a good education, they'll be all right. There's a lot in Hollywood that is the same as Kansas City. If you go where eleven people congregate in the mid-West, there are drugs."

Luke: "What do you think about beauty pageants for kids five years old?"

Al: "I'm against them. My consciousness was also raised in the 1970s when I went to work for Norman Lear. And Norman Lear's consciousness was raised beyond consciousness. I didn't do anything after 1973 that would've been supposedly exploitation.

"I did an episode of Charles in Charge where I extolled the virtues of being in a beauty pageant. I thought somebody should. The truth is that young women who get into beauty pageants, their self esteem is raised, even if they don't win. I have enough personal experience to tell you that if a girl in a highschool in Oklahoma gets into the Miss Teen USA pageant, and then gets sent home because she only came in 40th, she's referred to as Miss Teen USA in her home town. Time and time again they call girls who get into the pageant as Miss Teen USA in their home town.

"There were two daughters in Charles in Charge. The younger one enters the pageant. The older one, by far the greatest beauty on the show, was so against her little sister entering the pageant because it was exploitative, a meat market, etc... Somehow we got the message across that it did the younger one a world of good to be in the pageant. She got attention. She got recognized over her older sister.

"I don't think I'd operate a pageant in the same way. I'd score Olympic style and it would have to be on not just beauty but comeliness, presentation... In the days I did it, I blatantly went for beauty. We didn't give a scholarship. We gave money and a car. I didn't know there was anything wrong with that."

Luke: "Would you have allowed your own daughter to participate in a beauty pageant?"

Al: "Yes. Not when she was nine, but when she was 14... Yeah, because I saw the self esteem [it instilled in the girls]. It was a great confidence builder. The excellence of beauty pageants is that they have experts in extolling the virtues of being in good health, fit and looking great.

"I did a show two years ago with Norman [Lear]. It was called The Big Pitch. We sold it to 20th Century Fox. It was never aired."

Luke: "It sounds like Bob Kosberg."

Al: "I know him from so long ago. He's an operator. He's really an operator. I'm in awe of him. He was too high powered for me."

Luke: "Too intense."

Al: "Yeah. I like a calm life. I like to enjoy my life. I can't imagine his marriage situation."

Luke: "He's married."

Al: "For a long time?"

Luke: "Yes."

Al: "God love him. I may be wrong. But he was one of those who I thought was too peripatetic to have a family. I'm family oriented. And I would not let television or a deal interfere with my family. So sometimes I don't do something. I don't shoot in Vancouver, British Columbia [because Al does not want to be away from his family].

"I'm very impressed with him but I want to keep my belt fastened."

Luke: "How did working for Norman Lear change you?"

Al: "My consciousness was raised. I have a picture from a company picnic we went to with Norman. And my assistant, who was then called 'secretary,' came wearing my credit on a T-shirt on her chest. It said, 'Developed by Al Burton.' And when I show that picture today, I realize that I would not do that today.

"He made me understand that there was such a thing as sexual harassment, though we were all guilty, including Norman. In 1975, you didn't know it was wrong to pat a girl. You didn't know it was wrong to hold on to a girl in your office. And you certainly didn't know that there are some girls you don't hug and some girls you don't kiss. Because we were huggers, kissers, touchers all the time.

"Norman employed certain people who started telling us, 'I'm not comfortable with this.' In the old days, none of this touching was considered bad. Now it would be considered offensive sexual harassment."

Luke: "In many ways, you had more freedom 30 years ago."

Al: "Are you kidding? A man had more freedom. I wouldn't say a woman had more freedom."

Luke: "Why wouldn't a woman have more freedom too? She could object back then."

Al: "That's the nub of the argument. There are women who say, 'You think we could've spoken up. But if we said anything, we would've been regarded as troublemakers.' Political correctness has some basis in fact. And if you were black or Chinese... I am Jewish. Somehow Jews grow up knowing they are going to be harassed.

"Norman was an extremely civicly conscious man. I wasn't. I'm not an ideologue. But at least I understand that you're supposed to be supportive of certain causes... The one that I focus on because of Sally is animals. We're major animal-rights people. Norman was the most ethical businessman that I've ever worked with."

Luke: "Your overall experience with the television industry sounds like a positive one."

Al: "Totally positive. I'm sure I've been ripped off through the years many times. But I've lost an idea. And I can get another idea. So that's why I am not cynical. Producer Arnold Shapiro has a cartoon on his wall. One guy says, 'I see the glass half empty.' Another guy says, 'I see the glass half full.' And I'm saying, 'I see the glass overflowing all the time.'

"I've been married over 40 years. We have one kid. At the time we had our first baby, we didn't want to stop traveling. And we figured that the second baby would force Sally to stay home."

The Emmy-winning creator and Executive Producer of "Win Ben Stein's Money", Al Burton has seen his show win seven Emmys for Comedy Central. Early in his career as a producer, writer and director, Burton amassed dozens of credits for youthful entertainment, including Four Star's "Hollywood A Go Go," ABC-TV'S Annual PepsiCo Specials "Romp" and "Go!" as well as the ABC summer series "Malibu U." As Norman Lear's Director of Development, Burton co-developed the breakthrough series "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" and was Creative Supervisor throughout its 325 episodes. Also with Lear, Burton developed, and was Creative Supervisor of "Fernwood 2Night" and "America 2Night." Additionally, he was developer and Creative Supervisor of "Facts of Life," "One Day At A Time," "Diff'rent Strokes," "The Jeffersons," "Silver Spoons," and "Square Pegs." At Universal Television, he developed and was Executive Producer for the 6 1/2 years of "Charles In Charge," the nation's most successful first-run syndicated comedy. Burton is Developer-Executive Producer of "The New Lassie" first-run series. An accomplished composer and lyricist, he co-wrote and composed themes for "Diff'rent Strokes," "Facts of Life," "Together We Stand," "Nothing Is Easy," "Charles In Charge," "The New Lassie," and "Turn Ben Stein On."

Al Burton is one of America's most honored producers of youthful television: He shared Emmy honors for "All In The Family". He was honored by the National Conference for Christians and Jews ("Diff'rent Strokes"). California Governor's Committee for the Employment of the Handicapped ("Facts Of Life" and "Charles in Charge"). The Entertainment Industries Council honored him with special commendations for his "The New Lassie" and "Charles In Charge," and he is the recipient of the Jackie Coogan Award given by Youth In Film for Outstanding Contribution to Youth Through Entertainment. Burton is winner of The Genesis Award for his portrayal of animal issues in "The New Lassie."

As Executive Producer and developer, Al Burton has brought to television (and literally started the careers of) scores of young stars. Michael J. Fox (whom Burton cast in the Norman Lear-Alex Haley series "Palmerstown"), Valerie Bertinelli (whom Burton cast in "One Day At A Time") plus Molly Ringwald ("The Facts Of Life") and Christina Applegate ("Charles In Charge"), Sarah Jessica Parker ("Square Pegs"), Meg Ryan ("Charles In Charge"), Gary Coleman ("Diff'rent Strokes"), Mark-Paul Gosselaar ("Charles In Charge"), Tiffini-Amber Thiessen ("Charles In Charge"), Jami Gertz ("Square Pegs"), Nicole Eggert ("Charles In Charge" & "Baywatch"), Kathy Ireland ("Charles In Charge"), Erika Eleniak ("Charles In Charge" & "Baywatch"), Pamela Lee ("Charles In Charge" & "Baywatch"), Leonardo DiCaprio ("The New Lassie") and a long list of others.

Burton is a member of the Directors Guild, Writers Guild, AFTRA, NATAS and Academy of Magical Arts. He serves on the Board of Trustees of the Pilgrim Group of Mutual Funds, is a member of the Chair's Council of the Caucus for Producers, Writers and Directors and serves on the advisory board of the Institute for Mental Health Initiatives as well as the Advisory Board of the Samantha Smith Center.

Norman Lear

Norman Lear was born 7/27/22 in New Haven, Connecticut.

He produced countless TV shows in the 1960s and 1970s, and a few TV shows and movies after that.

Ben Stein writes in his 1978 book Dreemz about Norman Lear: He produces and partly writes nine television shows. He develops new television shows constantly. He gives speeches and receives awards. He is constantly producing, creating, inventing, getting things done.

He recognizes no limits on human potential.

The studio head is strong because he is flexible. He does not establish himself to dominate or to overbear. He listens and he adapts. He is a willow, adjusting to the wind and blossoming year after year, in every kind of weather.

He could not possibly be less pompous.

He is always producing, gathering up material, digesting it, rearranging it in dramatic forms. He lives to create and to produce... In the land where everything depends on what you get done, he is king, because he can do the most.

He generates a way of life that is informed, cheerful and concerned. He acts good to me. He looks good. I have never heard him raise his voice to anyone an that example is followed throughout the studio. His life is his finest creation. (pg. 118-119)

Lear turned 80 years old in July, 2002.

"I think this is the golden age of television," Lear told columnist Tim Cuprisin in August, 2002. "A, because it's the moment we're alive. And, B, if you want something great in any category, it exists. You just have to work harder for it."

"The greatest bonding experience I have with my 14-year-old son is 'South Park.' It's comedy that is doing edgy, cause-oriented, problem-oriented cultural pieces. I think those kids are brilliant and gutsy as hell," he says of "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone."

His current favorites include Martin Short's "Primetime Glick" as well as HBO's "Six Feet Under" and Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

From Newsday, 8/27/02:

Lear occasionally tunes in to his shows. "I am one of those people who will turn on the TV at 3 in the morning for 20 minutes, and it will help me get to sleep better," he says. After all these years, the sitcoms still crack him up. "It's always the performers," he says. "They were all commedia dell'arte performers, and that transcends time."