Dwight Hemion, 81; Pro­ducer Of Glam­orous TV Specials

The Washington Post - - Obituaries - By Adam Bern­stein

Dwight Hemion, 81, a di­rec­tor and pro­ducer con­sid­ered the dean of tele­vised con­cert and variety specials and who worked with stars in­clud­ing Frank Si­na­tra, Bar­bra Streisand, Elvis Pres­ley, Lu­ciano Pavarotti and Chew­bacca, died Jan. 28 at his home in Rec­tor­town, Va. He had re­nal fail­ure.

Mr. Hemion was among the most hon­ored crafts­men of his pro­fes­sion, which tried to bring elab­o­rate, Broad­way-style pro­duc­tions into Amer­ica’s liv­ing rooms. He worked closely with pro­ducer Gary Smith for much of his ca­reer.

He re­ceived 47 Emmy Award nom­i­na­tions and won 18 for such pro­grams as “Frank Si­na­tra: A Man and His Mu­sic” (1965), “Bette Mi­dler: Ol’ Red Hair Is Back” (1977), and “Barysh­nikov on Broad­way (1980), star­ring the bal­let dancer Mikhail Barysh­nikov. He also re­ceived Em­mys for di­rect­ing the Kennedy Cen­ter Hon­ors in 1989 and 1990.

“He de­fined what the net­work spec­tac­u­lar was in the 1960s and 1970s,” said Ron Si­mon, a cu­ra­tor at the Pa­ley Cen­ter for Me­dia, a New York-based mu­seum of ra­dio and television his­tory. “He was the go-to guy for any es­tab­lished per­former to cre­ate a spe­cial with.”

Si­mon said Mr. Hemion’s tal­ent was work­ing with an im­pres­sive range of en­ter­tain­ers, from pop singers to great classical artists, and cre­at­ing a spec­ta­cle to ap­peal to broad tastes.

Such mo­ments might fea­ture Barysh­nikov, wear­ing a white top hat, singing “One” from “A Cho­rus Line” and ren­der­ing a med­ley from Amer­i­can mu­si­cals with Liza Minnelli.

Mr. Hemion came to no­tice in the 1950s di­rect­ing co­me­dian Steve Allen as host of “The Tonight Show” and on his self-ti­tled com­edy-variety pro­gram.

In 1965, two of Mr. Hemion’s specials were nom­i­nated for Em­mys: “Frank Si­na­tra: A Man and His Mu­sic” and “My Name Is Bar­bra,” with Streisand mem­o­rably singing “Sec­ond Hand Rose” as she ca­vorted through the Bergdorf Good­man de­part­ment store.

“Streisand was great to light,” he told Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio in 2002. “She had great fea­tures and beau­ti­ful skin, great fin­gers. If ever you see her, look at her hands be­cause that’s what it’s all about with her.”

Of Si­na­tra, he said: “You had to be a psy­chi­a­trist to work with him in those days. But, of course, there was no­body like him. And we fin­ished the dress re­hearsal, and he said, ‘Let’s take a look at it.’ So we all sat in the con­trol room and watched it . . . and he said, ‘That’s it. I can’t do it any bet­ter.’ And so we put the dress re­hearsal on the air.”

Dwight Ar­ling­ton Hemion was born March 14, 1926, in New Haven, Conn. He grew up in Verona, N.J., where his fa­ther had a mor­tu­ary. Af­ter high school, he served in the Army Air Forces in the Pa­cific as a belly gun­ner on bombers. Upon his re­turn, a fam­ily con­nec­tion led to a job as a gofer at ABC-TV in New York. His first di­rect­ing job was a tele­vised box­ing match in Philadel­phia.

Mr. Hemion’s twin Emmy nom­i­na­tions in 1965 ce­mented his ca­reer in variety and com­edy specials. He kept win­ning Em­mys, for shows fea­tur­ing Burt Bacharach, Ben Vereen, Steve Lawrence and Ey­die Gormé, Goldie Hawn and Sheena Eas­ton. He twice won for di­rect­ing Streisand, for “Bar­bra Streisand . . . and Other Mu­si­cal In­stru­ments” (1973) and “Bar­bra Streisand: The Con­cert” (1994).

He also earned a place in television his­tory for di­rect­ing what he ac­knowl­edged was a leg­en­dar­ily aw­ful “Star Wars Hol­i­day Spe­cial” from 1978, which fea­tured Bea Arthur as an alien cantina chanteuse. Art Car­ney, Jef­fer­son Star­ship and the tow­er­ing Chew­bacca also were among the cast in a project “Star Wars” movie pro­ducer Ge­orge Lu­cas later dis­owned.

Mr. Hemion sur­vived the de­ba­cle and soon be­gan col­lab­o­rat­ing with Ge­orge Stevens Jr., found­ing pro­ducer of the Kennedy Cen­ter Hon­ors, on projects in­clud­ing the an­nual “Christ­mas in Wash­ing­ton” shows taped at the Na­tional Build­ing Mu­seum.

“It’s not Elia Kazan, wring­ing emo­tion out of the ac­tors,” said Stevens, re­fer­ring to the leg­endary Ac­tors Stu­dio co-founder and di­rec­tor. “It’s mak­ing the per­for­mance ap­peal­ing to the viewer, and Dwight was re­ally the best at that. His strength was putting things in front of the cam­era in a way that was grace­ful, stylish and taste­ful, of which there is not an over­abun­dance in com­mer­cial television.”

Mr. Hemion, who also di­rected pres­i­den­tial in­au­gu­rals of Ron­ald Rea­gan and Bill Clin­ton, set­tled in Rec­tor­town from Los An­ge­les two years ago.

His mar­riage to Joyce Hogue Hemion ended in di­vorce.

Sur­vivors in­clude his wife of 34 years, Kather­ine Mor­rissy “Kit” Hemion of Rec­tor­town; two chil­dren from his first mar­riage, Kather­ine E. Hemion of Lon­don and Dwight G. Hemion of Alma, Wis.; three stepchil­dren, Anne Brady of Far Hills, N.J., Kather­ine Vanoff of Up­perville, Va., and Peter Lusk of Pound Ridge, N.Y.; and six grand­chil­dren.


Dwight Hemion won 18 Em­mys for TV ex­trav­a­gan­zas. A “Star Wars Hol­i­day Spe­cial” was a rare dra­matic bomb.

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