The Great Fred de Cordova
Fred joined ‘The Tonight Show’ at age 60 and left the show at age 82, but he covered a lot of ground before that! After his graduation from Harvard Law School in 1933, he worked in the Shubert Theater organization and directed stage shows for the next ten years. He was variously a performer, stage manager, stage director, and finally dialogue director, the last in ‘Ziegfeld Follies of 1943’.
He directed 23 movies. One of the better known was ‘Bedtime for Bonzo’ (1951) starring a chimpanzee and future President Ronald Reagan. He also directed Rock Hudson, Errol Flynn, Tony Curtis, Audie Murphy, Yvonne de Carlo, Bob Hope and Humphrey Bogart. Much of his career was at Universal Studios, where he was known for turning out entertaining pictures quickly, even with difficult actors, and on a low budget. His last film was ‘Frankie and Johnny’ (1966) with Elvis Presley.
His skills were perfect for TV and in 1950, his TV career began with directing ‘The Jack Benny Program’, on which he appeared several times as himself. Other programs he directed include ‘The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show’, ‘The Bob Cummings Show’, ‘The George Gobel Program’, ‘December Bride’, ‘Leave It to Beaver’, ‘My Three Sons’ (103 episodes), and ‘The Smothers Brothers Show’. He directed and/or produced more than 500 TV series or segments.
He became producer of ‘The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson’ in 1970 and executive producer in 1984. He described his job as “..chief traffic cop, talent scout, No. 1 fan and critic all rolled into one” in a 1981 interview. He was executive producer when the final Carson show signed off in 1992. He won five Emmys for his work on the show.
During tapings of the Tonight Show, de Cordova would sit in a chair just beyond the guests’ couch so that he could cue Carson directly and speak with him during commercial breaks. By the 1980s Carson would occasionally speak to de Cordova during the show, although usually the moment would pass so quickly that there would be no time to give de Cordova a microphone or catch him on camera.
In July 1991, Carson paid tribute at the end of a show to his son Ricky Carson, who had died the month before in an automobile accident. De Cordova was aware that the show was going long and gave Carson the “wrap it up sign.” This infuriated Carson, and from that point forward de Cordova was no longer permitted to manage the show from the floor of the set. For more of his credits, go here http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0208111/