John D. Hess

Obituary
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HESS-John D., a pioneering writer for television and a 50 year resident of Bucks County, PA., died peacefully at his home on Thursday, April 15, 2004, two days short of his 86th birthday. Mr. Hess was the husband of Mary Ann Van Hess and the late Jane Vosper Hess who died in 1996. Mr. Hess was born in Chicago. His father Carl died when John was three years old. He was raised by his mother, Ollie, and stepfather, Dr. J.P. Greenhill. He graduated from the University of Chicago Lab School in 1935, and-with distinction-from Dartmouth in 1939, where he pursued his lifelong ambition to be a writer. After a post-graduate year at Yale Drama School, he began his professional career as a staff writer for WGN radio in Chicago. His work was interrupted when he enlisted in the army in July 1942. Mr. Hess trained at the army's Advanced Tank Officers School, and joined his unit, the 743rd Armored Battalion, in Europe as a second lieutenant in September 1944. He served as the 743rd's transportation officer, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge and other major engagements in Belgium, Holland and Germany. After the defeat of Germany, he assisted victims of concentration camps and helped relocate refugees throughout Europe. Prior to his repatriation to the U.S., in September 1945, he authored Move Out, Verify The Combat Story of the 743rd Tank Battalion, a history of tank combat in WWII. He was honorably discharged as a captain in January 1946. After the war, he returned to Chicago, resuming his position at WGN as a contributing writer for the station's nationally broadcast radio programs. He also authored short stories for magazines such as Esquire, The Saturday Evening Post and Colliers. In 1950, Mr. Hess originated and wrote a live-broadcast television soap opera called ``Love of Life'', which ran for thirty years. He also wrote other leading daytime soaps, including ``Secret Storm'' and ``General Hospital''. He supplemented this with concurrent work in the theatre, his first love. In 1953, his controversial play, ``The Gray Eyed People'' was produced on Broadway, starring Walter Matthau, with direction by Morton Da Costa. He also was deeply involved with Mike Ellis' Bucks County Playhouse in the 1950's and 1960's where his plays ``The Facts of Life'', ``The Better Mousetrap,'' and ``A Perfect Frenzy'' premiered. In 1959, his original feature-length television mystery ``The Wicked Scheme of Jebal Deeks'' was broadcast by Ford Startime to critical acclaim. Starring Alec Guiness in his American television debut, it was directed by Franklin Schaffner. In 1961, he wrote and produced a feature movie thriller `` Matter of Morals'' starring Patrick O'Neal and Maj-Britt Nillson. Directed by Hollywood veteran John Cromwell, the film was released by Twentieth Century Fox. Over the next two and a half decades, Mr. Hess wrote for a virtual who's who of major nighttime television series. His work included episodes of comedies, ``MASH'', ``Alice'' and ``One Day At A Time'', and dramas, ``Streets of San Francisco'', ``The Rockford Files'', and ``Ben Casey''. Mr. Hess' principal home was New Hope, PA, where he was active in community affairs. Following the death of his first wife, he married Mary Ann Van. They lived together in Bucks County from 1997 to his death. In addition to his wife, Mr. Hess is survived by sons Anthony G. Hess of New Hope and Oliver G. Hess of Ojai, CA, his brother Carl B. Hess of New York, and grandsons John T. and Carl T. Hess of Ojai. Services private. Memorial donations in Mr. Hess's name may be made to the John D. Hess 1939 Fund at Dartmouth College (c/o Elizabeth Spencer, Hanover, NH 03755-3525), to The Nature Conservancy or to charities of one's choice.
Published in The New York Times from Apr. 28 to Apr. 29, 2004