Monday, November 19, 2018

Jorn Winther Dead at 88

Jorn Winther, a former soap opera executive producer and director, was killed November 9 in an automobile accident in front of Palm Desert High School outside Palm Springs. He was on a business trip and on his way back to his Sherman Oaks home, his wife of 31 years, Claire, told The Hollywood Reporter. He was 88.

In the 1960s, Winther directed for the ABC music showcase Shindig! and worked on variety shows hosted by Jonathan Winters, Sonny & Cher and Barbara McNair.

He later spent more than five years as an executive producer and director on ABC's One Life to Live, and five years in those roles during two stints at All My Children. He directed episodes of other soap operas including NBC's Another World and Santa Barbara, and the syndicated Rituals. He also served as senior executive producer for NBC's Generations and produced Canadian drama Family Passions.

His shows collected 37 Emmy nominations and won 12.

Winther was the director on the landmark David Frost-Richard Nixon interviews that kept television and radio audiences transfixed over four consecutive nights in 1977. Winther and Frost already had collaborated on a pair of 1975 "salute" specials, about the Guinness Book of World Records and The Beatles, when the British television personality contacted the director, asking if he would help with an interview session that Frost had set up with the disgraced former president.

The interviews started in March 1977 and took place over 12 days in a span of four weeks in Monarch Beach, California, not too far from Nixon's "Western White House" in San Clemente. This was about two-and-a-half years after he had resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal and was in self-imposed exile.

The interviews, airing on independent stations, played in four 90-minute installments, from May 5 through May 8. The first one attracted 45 million viewers. Nixon famously told Frost at one point: "I let down my friends. I let down my country. I let down our system of government."

Winther edited down 24 hours' worth of material for the finished product. The sessions served as the basis for the 2006 Peter Morgan play Frost/Nixon and then the 2008 Ron Howard film adaptation that starred Frank Langella and Michael Sheen.

Born in Denmark, Winther studied speech and drama at the University of Copenhagen and continued his education at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen, where his mother had danced as a prima ballerina. He also studied at the Stratford Shakespearean Theater in Ontario, Canada, and at Stanford.

More recently, Winther directed and produced the independent film Do It or Die!, about the 1979 kidnapping of socialite Elaine Chaddick. It screened at the 2017 Palm Springs International Film Festival.

He also is survived by six children and four grandchildren.

- Taylor Miller recalls Jorn Winther telling her to learn how to act on All My Children
- Kin Shriner on working at Rituals with executive producer Jorn Winther
- Thom Racina describes Family Passions as "how not to do a soap opera"

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