As a writer, producer, show creator and feature director, Bruce Paltrow had been associated in one form or another with some of television's more substantive series during the 1970s and 1980s. Despite his long and varied career, however, Paltrow was best known for being the father of Oscar-winning actress, Gwyneth Paltrow, and the husband of acclaimed actress, Blythe Danner. After receiving his start as a writer for the small screen, Paltrow broke through as the writer-producer of the notable television movie, "Shirts/Skins" (ABC, 1973). Later in the decade, he was the creator and executive producer of the critically acclaimed drama, "The White Shadow" (CBS, 1978-1981), before serving as an executive producer on the Emmy-winning medical drama "St. Elsewhere" (NBC, 1982-88). During that time, he made his first feature, "A Little Sex" (1981), but would not make another for almost two decades. Meanwhile, he hit the proverbial wall with a number of failed series like "Tattinger's" (NBC, 1988) and "Home Fires" (NBC, 1992), before working for the first time with his daughter on the indie feature, "Duets" (2000). Though cancer would claim him at a relatively young age, Paltrow nonetheless made his mark on the television world.
Born on Nov. 26, 1943 in Brooklyn, NY, Paltrow was raised in a rabbinical family as the son of Arnold and Dorothy and received his higher education from Tulane University in New Orleans, where he earned a bachelor of fine arts. From there, he began working as a scenic designer and eventually produced the off-Broadway play, "Someone's Coming Hungry," which starred actress Blythe Danner. Paltrow and Danner hit it off and were married on Dec. 14, 1969. Early on, the couple was committed to share the responsibility of raising their two children, future actress and Academy Award winner Gwyneth, and future television director Jake Paltrow. The elder Paltrow switched from theater to television by writing for Screen Gems, then the small screen arm of Columbia TriStar, before breaking through with his first effort as a writer-producer on the TV movie, "Shirts/Skins" (ABC, 1973), which told the story of six businessmen who turn their weekly basketball game bet into a zany hide-and-go-seek contest.
After writing the pilot for the sitcom "You're Gonna Love It Here" (CBS, 1977), which aired as a TV special, Paltrow created the sports-themed drama series, "The White Shadow" (CBS, 1978-1981), which starred Ken Howard as a white pro basketball player who becomes the coach of a mostly African American high school team. Although never a big ratings success, "The White Shadow" was a hit with critics. The show was also the first ensemble drama to boast a predominantly black cast and reportedly had a powerful fan in William S. Paley, who was the head of the network, perhaps accounting for its two-and-a-half-season run despite low ratings. He next served as an executive producer of the critically acclaimed medical drama "St. Elsewhere" (NBC, 1982-88), which followed the ragtag staff of a decrepit South Boston hospital. Again, Paltrow was associated with a series that was adored by critics, but failed to attract a large audience. Still, the series did have a loyal fan base and was a perennial Emmy Awards nominee, winning seven statues in mainly acting categories. Prior to his involvement in "St. Elsewhere," Paltrow made his feature directing debut with "A Little Sex" (1981), a romantic comedy about a married man (Tim Matheson) struggling to stay faithful to his new wife (Kate Capshaw) in the face of irresistible temptations.
After many years on the West Coast, Paltrow shifted his base to New York in the mid-1980s, where he became creator and executive producer of the Manhattan-based series "Tattinger's" (NBC, 1988). The show was set in and around a chic eatery that mixed somber stories with more witty fare, and featured a heavyweight cast including Stephen Collins, Mary Beth Hurt, Jerry Stiller and Blythe Danner. When the show fell to poor ratings, he attempted to retool the material as the sitcom "Nick & Hillary" (NBC, 1989), which fared even worse than its predecessor. Disillusioned with the demands of network television, Paltrow took a personal hiatus before returning to the grind as co-creator and executive producer of the comedy series "Home Fires" (NBC, 1992), which focused on a modern family, the Kramers, headed by overprotective Ted (Michael Brandon) and peacemaking Anne (Kate Burton), both of whom try to deal with their teenage kids (Nicole Eggert and Jarrad Paul). Once again, Paltrow's series struggled with ratings and was quickly canceled.
Two years later, Paltrow was an executive producer and director of the pilot for "The Road Home" (CBS, 1994), which starred Karen Allen as a woman who moves her family back to rural North Carolina where they work to rebuild her parents' shrimping business. The show was canceled after six episodes. In 1997, Paltrow announced a returned to directing films and began making what became "Duets" (2000). Initially the comedy-drama set in the world of karaoke was a vehicle for daughter Gwyneth and her then-fiancé Brad Pitt. But shortly before production, however, the couple had a very public breakup and the project was put on hold. Columbia Pictures put the film into turnaround and spared the estranged couple from having to work together. Meanwhile, Paltrow and his producing partners were able to place the material with Seven Arts and commenced production. The film - which marked the first time father and daughter worked together - was met with negative reviews and was unsuccessful at the box office. It was also the last project Paltrow ever worked on. He had been suffering from oral cancer for several years, and finally succumbed to the disease accompanied by pneumonia while celebrating Gwyneth's 30th birthday in Rome, Italy. He died on Oct. 3, 2002 at 58 years old.
By Shawn Dwyer