The legendary late show producer Fred De Cordova, who produced The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson for 22 years, died Saturday of natural causes at the Motion Picture and Television Fund Hospital in Woodland Hills. He was 90.
He started his career as a director in the 1940s, directing B-movies including Here Come the Nelsons, with Ozzie, Harriet and sons, and Bedtime for Bonzo, with Ronald Reagan. But during the television boom in the '50s and '60s, he began directing and producing television programs, including My Three Sons and variety shows with Jack Benny, George Gobel, Burns and Allen, and the Smothers Brothers.
Mr. De Cordova began producing The Tonight Show in 1970, eight years after Carson became the show's star, and became executive producer in 1984. The always-present Mr. De Cordova proved to be the perfect orchestrator for Carson and his crew, able to make split decisions to keep the show moving.
In Mr. De Cordova's words, "I can't think of anything else that would be interesting and as much fun as this. It's the best job in television."
He was a stage fixture, stationed next to a video monitor just off stage, and was often seen on camera, answering Carson's questions or serving as a butt of a joke. Rip Torn's character Artie parodied Mr. De Cordova on the HBO hit show The Larry Sanders Show. When Carson retired in 1992, Mr. De Cordova remained as an executive consultant for Jay Leno.
Mr. De Cordova is survived by his wife, Jane.