R.I.P. Gene Reynolds, who went from The Little Rascals to co-creator of M*A*S*H and Lou Grant
Image: The Everett Collection
Gene Reynolds passed away on February 3, 2020. The actor, producer, and director is partially responsible for the beloved show M*A*S*H, which he co-created in 1972 with Larry Gelbart. In 1977 he created the popular Mary Tyler Moore Show spin-off Lou Grant which would go on to run for five seasons.
Reynolds began his career in front of the camera. In 1934, he made his screen debut with the Little Rascals in the Our Gang short "Washee Ironee." He was one of the football players scrapping on the dusty field with Spanky, Stymie and the rest. By 1940, he was on posters for films such as Gallant Sons. Reynolds appeared in several other early-1940s movies such as Santa Fe Trail, Adventure in Washington and Jungle Patrol.
As television expanded, Reynolds stepped into the new medium appearing on live shows like General Electric Theater, Dragnet and Ford Theater.
Finding live television exhausting, he moved to the taped TV format we know and love today. He can be seen in shows like Annie Oakley and I Love Lucy. Fans can spot him as the husband of the couple planning on buying Lucy and Ricky's furniture and moving into their apartment in the episode "Lucy Hates to Leave."
But Reynolds is best known for his work behind the camera. His first successful series as a co-creator was Tales of Wells Fargo, the Western that ran from 1957–62. As a director, Reynolds helmed some of your favorite episodes, including "Mayberry on Record," the Andy Griffith Show episode that featured Andy singing "The Crawdad Song." He also directed episodes of Leave It to Beaver, The Munsters, My Three Sons and Hogan's Heroes. Those 34 episodes on Hogan's Heroes helped him hone his war-sitcom chops for M*A*S*H.
Based off the book by Richard Hooker, M*A*S*H was a runaway hit and lasted 11 seasons. Reynolds and Gelbart famously pushed to reduce the laugh track on the show, which was a bold move at the time. In the end, they won the battle to omit the laugh track during scenes in the operating room, saying that it would have cheapened the scenes.
In 1974, Reynolds was awarded an Emmy Award for M*A*S*H for Outstanding Comedy Series, one of the twenty-four Emmy nominations he would pick up during his time behind the camera.
Following the cancellation of The Mary Tyler Moore Show he went on to co-create Lou Grant, a spinoff starring Ed Asner's character. Reynolds would win two more Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama Series for the show.
Later on in life, he was elected President of the Director's Guild of America until 1997.
He was 96 years old when he passed.