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A pioneering TV producer and director who helmed nearly 4,000 shows in his career and worked with such stars as Jack Benny, George Burns and Lucille Ball in a 40-year career, Greg Garrison was perhaps best known as the man who did the heavy lifting behind the charming and seemingly effortless "The Dean Martin Show" (NBC, 1965 to 1974) and Martin's popular "Celebrity Roast" specials (NBC, 1974-1979).
Garrison was born in Brooklyn and dropped out of high school before flying combat missions with the Army Air Force during World War II. He spent time in a German prisoner-of-war camp. Garrison began his TV career as a "gofer" for WFIL-TV in Philadelphia shortly after World War II in the anything-g s days of early television--Within four days he rose to assistant stage manager. three days after that, he became a cameraman, and a week later he was promoted to director. One of his earliest directing jobs was the 1949 police drama "Stand by for Crime," starring a young actor named Myron Wallace who would later become better known as "60 Minutes" correspondent Mike Wallace. He got his break when he was brought to New York by the legendary producer Max Liebman and NBC executive Sylvester "Pat" Weaver to direct "Your Show of Shows," the legendary the live, 90-minute comedy-variety program that starred Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris, from 1950 to 1952. At the same time, Garrison was directing "The Kate Smith Evening Hour," a live program that aired five afternoons a week. He also had stints directing "The Milton Berle Show," "Bachelor Father" and "Ford Television Theatre" in the 1950s, as well as numerous TV specials over the years starring Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Jack Benny, Ethel Merman, George Burns, Lucille Ball, Phil Silvers, Bob Newhart and Jonathan Winters.
Garrison also directed television coverage of the 1948 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and produced and directed one of television's landmark 1960 presidential debates, between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. He would occasionally helm the odd feature film, including the dance craze cash-in "Hey, Let's Twist" (1961) and the musical comedy "Two Tickets to Paris" (1962).
Beginning in 1965, he produced and directed "The Dean Martin Show" for nine years and performed similar duties for seven years on "The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts." Garrison oversaw the entire show throughout the week of rehearsals, often calming the jangled nerves of A-list talent who were flummoxed to realize Martin's contract only required the performer to work one day a week--the day the show taped. The combination of Garrison's smooth, workmanlike preparation and Martin's freewheeling, off-the-cuff improvisational attitude on tape day gave the show a polished feel with a vibrant spontaneity unlike any other series and made it one of the highest-rated programs of its day. Both then and later, when the showed morphed in the regular "Celebrity Roasts," Garrison directed such top stars as Orson Welles, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald and always commanded their respect. If he wanted their attention, he would whistle into a microphone and say, "One voice - mine." He would also helm such spin-offs as "The Dean Martin Summer Show" (NBC, 1967), which aired during Martin's hiatus with rotating hosts, and "Dean Martin Presents the Golddiggers" (NBC, 1968-1970) and its syndicated follow-up (1971-1972), which featured the comely singers and dancers who accompanied Martin. Garrison would remain involved with virtually every subsequent television project and special featuring Martin, directing everything from 1980's "Dean Martin Christmas Special" for NBC through to the singer's last TV outing, the Showtime concert "Dean Martin in London" (1984).
In 1966 he also produced "The Rowan & Martin Show" for NBC, a variety series that would serve as the prototype for comedians Dan Rowan and Dick Martin's hugley popular 1968 follow-up "Laugh-In," and he would later produce variety series for singer Vic Damone (1971) and comedian Marty Feldman (1972). He executive produced and helmed the special "NBC: The First Fifty Years - A Closer Look" (1976), a celebration of 50 years of NBC broadcasting in radio and television, since first going on the airwaves in 1926, and he also teamed with the Martin show regular Dom DeLuise to executive produce the comedian's four popular "Dom DeLuise & Friends" TV specials (ABC, 1983-1986) and the subsequent short-lived syndicated sit-com "The Dom DeLuise Show" (1987-1988). He was nominated for more than a dozen Emmys as producer and/or director, although he never won. In his later years, he helped revive interest in Martin's career by becoming a familiar interviewee on TV documentaries about the performer, and he heavily promoted DVD releases of their television efforts.
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