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GARRY CHALMERS SIMPSON

Obituary
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GARRY CHALMERS SIMPSON MIDDLEBURY - Writer, director and producer, Garry Chalmers Simpson, 97, died at his home in Middlebury on Nov. 19, 2011. A pioneer of American television for NBC in New York, he leaves a prolific legacy of captivating performances, scripts, and award-winning TV programs and films from 1938 to 1979. He was a threetime recipient of the prestigious Emmy Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, a member of the Director's Guild of America and the Actor's Equity Association. Simpson came to Charlotte in 1966 to spearhead the formation of Vermont Educational Television (now Vermont Public Television) as one of the founding fathers and Director of Programing until 1980. While in this position he independently wrote, produced, and directed eight award-winning films presented at the International Film and TV Festival in New York, among other venues, "Portrait of America: The Art of Currier & Ives" 1978, "Land of Promise" 1974, "A River of Milk" 1973, "The Art of Luigi Lucioni" 1971, "Talisman Barra" 1970, "Odyssey of a Tree" 1968, "The First Step" 1969, and "The 14th Star" 1977 (Emmy Award). Fondly known as "the Opera House guy," Simpson spent his retirement years requesting city officials to organize a campaign for the then rundown Vergennes Opera House. Undaunted by repeated denials, in 1993 he created and initiated the Friends of the Vergennes Opera House to rally the community behind restoration efforts. The Opera House was brought back to its former glory, proudly reopening in 1997 with a performance by the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. The restored Opera House has served as a catalyst for the revitalization of the entire Vergennes community. The youngest son of Edna (Hall) and Dr. Robert Simpson (an optometrist), Garry was born Feb. 16, 1914, in Pickens, Miss., then moved with his mother and three brothers, Vernon, Sidney and Edwin, to Denver, Colo., and later to San Jose, Calif. where he completed high school. He served as a corporal in the National Guard from 19321935, and graduated with honors from Stanford University in 1938, earning a B.A. in English/Drama. During his college years he played football, ran track, and was the dominating actor in Stanford's dramatic productions. Summers were spent as a park ranger at Yosemite National Park, living in primitive conditions with little more than a horse and a rifle to fulfill his daily responsibilities. Initially headed to West Point Academy, Simpson wanted to pursue his passion of acting and writing. A screen test with Warner Brothers and radio work in San Francisco, led him to performing in summer stock with John Fontane and Olivia de Havilland. He was offered a scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York, which he accepted - to the embarrassment of his family, refusing his appointment at West Point. Havilland gave him $500 the night he left. In 1939, Simpson was hired as an actor and director's assistant for the Globe Shakespearean Company at the New York World's Fair. It was here he met and fell in love with American Jubilee actress/dancer, Kathleen McLean. They were married on Nov. 23, 1940. After the fair closed, Simpson was hired by NBC as an announcer and model for closed-circuit experimental TV programs. He learned that RCA (who owned NBC) was hiring a promotional unit to demonstrate home TV receivers, a new phenomenon, in department stores across the country. Fascinated with this new technology, his job was to educate the public by creating and directing short entertainment presentations, staged and filmed on location. While auditioning local talent for demonstrations at Marshall Fields toy department in Chicago, he discovered puppeteer Burr Tillstrom, later leading to the TV show Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, which aired on NBC. When the Federal Communications Commission finally granted permission for TV stations to broadcast, NBC promoted Simpson to Studio Stage Manager and Director of mobile-unit Special Events. He worked every show that was produced in the studio. He also directed sporting events and was assigned to supervise the film operations. Films comprised one-third of broadcast time and he was to select all feature films shown and edit them to fit the schedule. His career as a director took off. Simpson went on to direct hundreds of television programs, sporting events and broadcasts, most notably, Wide Wide World, Armstrong Circle Theatre, Campbell's Soundstage, Ford Festival, Eye-Witness, the Danny Thomas Show, Chevrolet on Broadway, and the Mary Kay and Johnny Show, the first sitcom broadcast on network television in the U.S. It was also the first time a couple was shown sharing a bed and a pregnancy on TV. He directed the first-ever broadcast of heavyweight boxing, baseball and horseracing. Other credits include such televised spectaculars from the Ringling Brothers Circus at Madison Square Garden, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Heisman Trophy Awards, President Truman delivering his NAACP Speech at the Lincoln Memorial, and the infamous day at the United Nations when Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev banged his shoe on his desk to make a point. In addition he wrote and produced many commercials for ad agencies; Lucky Stripe, Bell Telephone, Aqua-Velva, and Jell-O. In 1951, Simpson moved with his wife, Kathleen, and their two children, Carolyn and Brian, to Greenwich, Conn. Later two more children, John and Robin were born. Greenwich was home for the next 15 years where he meticulously renovated their bucolic home while raising children. Simpson wore many hats spanning his 41-year career. In addition to his positions for NBC, he was a producer of Programs for Scophony Television, Television Director for RCA, Stage Manager for many offBroadway productions and the Globe Theatre. He was director of films for the U.S. Signal Corps and the atomic Energy Commission, director of Industrial Shows for Depicto Films, General Motors, and Armstrong Cork. He served as director of the Saratoga Summer Theatre, was a guest instructor at the American Theatre Wing, produced and directed documentary programs, musical variety series, quiz and panel shows, and produced Educational Television Programs on the Regents TV Project for the state of New York. Simpson had the great pleasure to work with and direct such talent as Jimmy Durante, Grace Kelly, Jackie Gleason, Cloris Leachman, James Dean, Ralph Bellamy, Rex Harrison, and Lorne Greene. In 1979, Simpson retired from ETV and teaching at the University of Vermont, but he never rested. A new home was built in Ferrisburgh, near Lake Champlain. For the next 22 years he was active in the Charlotte and Ferrisburgh Grange, Vergennes Rotary, gardening, and grand- children. In 1997, the Vergennes American Legion Post 14 honored him for his instrumental community service to the Bixby Library, and the man behind the Vergennes Rotary Club's rubber ducky race - yet another effort to raise money for the restoration of the Vergennes Opera House. Due to his wife's health complications, a move was made to The Lodge at Shelburne Bay in Shelburne, and then The Lodge at Otter Creek in Middlebury, where for over a decade he lovingly caring for her. Longtime friend and Opera House President, Gerianne Smart, says of Simpson, "He's a consummate director<$>his strength of character, his tenacity and his belief in the community<$>we're extremely fortunate to have him living here." Simpson is survived by his wife of 71 years, Kathleen; four children and three inlaws, Carly Jolivet of Salyer, Calif., Brian and Karen Simpson of Lawndale, N.C., John Simpson and Suzanne Cross of San Francisco, Calif., and Robin Simpson Troy and Gordon Troy of Charlotte; nine grand- children, Christopher and Robert Koier, Nathan, Colin, Devin, and Sean Simpson, Shannon Nagel, Bryan and Caitlin LaBarge; three greatgrandchildren, Aida Koier, Anthony Nagel, and one on the way. A celebration of his life will be held at the Vergennes Opera House on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012, at 2 p.m. All are welcome. An interview can be found on the website of the Archive of American Television at: http:// www.emmytvlegends.org/ interviews/people/garrysimpson. Donations in his memory can be made to the Vergennes Opera House, P.O. Box 88, Vergennes, VT 05491.

Published in The Burlington Free Press on Jan. 1, 2012
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