A highly distinguished director and producer with credits mostly in theater and television, George Schaefer is best remembered for his work for TV's "Hallmark Hall of Fame", for which he directed and produced a host of renditions of classic plays. He may also be recalled for handling TV-movies that featured several of America's most renowned film stars, such as James Stewart, Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. Born in Wallingford, Connecticut, Schaefer attended high school in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, where he began his career at age 17, directing a stage production of "Leave It to Smith" for the Pastime Players, a troupe he helped to form. During WWII, he served as director of productions for the US Army special services and first met up with Maurice Evans. After the war, Schaefer directed a version of "Hamlet" also known as "G.I. Hamlet", starring Evans, that first played Off-Broadway, then at the City Center Theatre on Broadway and on tour. He became the artistic director and executive producer of the City Center Theatre from 1949-52, and directed productions at the State Fair Music Hall of Dallas, TX, from 1952-56. He and Evans reteamed for a Broadway production of Shaw's "Man and Superman" in 1947. Six years later, the pair co-produced John Patrick's "Teahouse of the August Moon" which won the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award. Schaefer staged the London production of "Teahouse" in 1954 then returned to New York to guide a 1955 revival of "Kiss Me, Kate" at City Center (1955). He also directed and produced "Write Me a Murder" in New York (1961) and London (1962). As his TV work increased, Schaefer's stage work became more sporadic after 1970, although he directed the 1980 Los Angeles production of "On Golden Pond".
The name of George Schaefer, however, is indelibly enshrined in the 'Golden Age of TV' alongside such other notables as Fred Coe, John Frankenheimer and Arthur Penn. From the 50s through the 70s, Schaefer directed numerous "Hallmark Hall of Fame" productions, often with many of the same actors, several of whom won accolades for their efforts, including Maurice Evans, Judith Anderson, Julie Harris, Christopher Plummer, Greer Garson and James Daly, to name but a few. Productions he helmed ranged from several stagings of Shakespeare (including "Hamlet" 1953; "Macbeth" 1954; "The Taming of the Shrew" 1956; "The Tempest" 1960) to musicals (e.g., "Kiss Me, Kate" 1958). Schaefer won the first of his five Emmy Awards as director of "Little Moon of Alban" (1958). Some other "Hallmark" highlights included Julie Harris in "Victoria Regina" (1961), Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in "The Magnificent Yankee" (1965), Genevieve Bujold as "St. Joan" (1967), Richard Chamberlain as "Hamlet" (1970) and Peter Ustinov in "Gideon" (1971).
In the early 70s, Schaefer began producing and directing TV-movies and miniseries like "A War of Children" (CBS, 1972) the Emmy-winning examination of 'The Troubles' in Northern Ireland. and "Sandberg's Lincoln", a series of six NBC specials starring Hal Holbrook that aired over a two-year period from 1974-76. He was executive producer and occasionally directed the anthology series "Love Story" (NBC, 1973-74) and even branched into variety shows with "The Second Barry Manilow Special" (ABC, 1978) and "Barry Manilow-One Voice" (ABC, 1980). Throughout the 70s and 80s, Schaefer helmed a number of acclaimed TV-movies that featured strong central performances. Richard Chamberlain and Blythe Danner shone as the writer and his wife Zelda in "F. Scott Fitzgerald and 'The Last of the Belles'" (ABC, 1974). Diana Rigg (as a postulant in "In This House of Brede", CBS 1975), Susan Clark (as "Amelia Earhart", NBC 1976), Mary Tyler Moore (as Betty Rollins, the victim of a double mastectomy, in "First You Cry", CBS 1978) and Ellen Burstyn (as the accused murderer in "The People vs. Jean Harris" NBC 1981) all earned Emmy nominations under his watch and Schaefer guided Anthony Hopkins to a win for his portrayal of Hitler in "The Bunker" (CBS, 1981). Additionally, he produced and directed "Blind Ambition" (CBS, 1979), based on the book by John Dean and starring Martin Sheen and guided Lucille Ball in a rare dramatic role as a bag lady in "The Stone Pillow" (CBS, 1985). Schaefer twice worked with movie queen Bette Davis ("A Piano for Mrs. Cimino", CBS 1982) and ("Right of Way", HBO 1983, which teamed Davis and James Stewart) and his three outings with Katharine Hepburn were diverting but minor efforts like "Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry" (CBS, 1986) and "The Man Upstairs" (CBS, 1992). But he was not limited to productions with star power. He co-produced and directed "Children of the Crossfire" (NBC, 1984), a sort of companion piece to "A War of Children". The telefilm portrayed the effects of a summer trip to the USA on Northern Irish youths. Before his death, Schaefer had completed a TV remake of "Harvey" starring Harry Anderson and Swoosie Kurtz.
Schaefer's feature work was limited and of less stellar quality than his myriad small screen efforts. His first feature was a 1963 version of "Macbeth"; it was essentially the 1961 TV production with additional footage. In 1969, he directed an unsuccessful whodunit, "Pendulum," and guided the sudsy Dyan Cannon vehicle "Doctor's Wives" (1971). Perhaps his best-known feature was "An Enemy of the People" (1977), which offered the Ibsen play updated by Arthur Miller and was a labor of love for star Steve McQueen that only had limited distribution.