Obituary: William Asher / 'I Love Lucy,' 'Bewitched' director

Aug. 8, 1921 - July 16, 2012

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William Asher, a producer, director and screenwriter in the early days of television who directed some two dozen shows -- most notably "Bewitched," which starred his wife, Elizabeth Montgomery, and more than 100 episodes of "I Love Lucy" -- died July 16 in Palm Desert, Calif. He was 90 and lived in Indian Wells, Calif.

The cause was complications of Alzheimer's disease, his wife, Meredith Asher, said.

Mr. Asher won an Emmy for "Bewitched" in 1966. He also directed episodes of "Our Miss Brooks," "The Danny Thomas Show," "The Thin Man," "The Twilight Zone," "The Donna Reed Show," "Gidget" and "The Patty Duke Show."

In the 1960s he wrote and directed a string of girls-in-bikinis movies with Frankie Avalon and the former "Mickey Mouse Club" star Annette Funicello -- "Beach Party," "Muscle Beach Party," "Bikini Beach," "Beach Blanket Bingo" and "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini" -- all of which were hits with teenagers despite being scorned by reviewers. Each was shot in about 15 days. Along with the nubile young bodies, Mr. Asher tossed in oddball cameos with his old-time actor friends, including Buster Keaton, Boris Karloff and Mickey Rooney. "Muscle Beach Party" was the screen debut of a singer then known as Little Stevie Wonder.

Mr. Asher loved making those movies, he told interviewers. Silly as they were, they were happy fantasies, what he wished his own youth had been like, instead of what it was: a grim existence with an alcoholic and abusive mother.

William Milton Asher was born in New York City on Aug. 8, 1921. His mother, Lillian Bonner, was an actress, and his father, Ephraim M. Asher, was a movie producer. His sister, Betty, became a publicist for Judy Garland.

The family moved to Los Angeles when he was about 10 so that his father could work in the studios, and as a boy he became fascinated with the movie business. But his parents soon divorced, and he moved back to New York with his mother. Miserable at home, he lost interest in school and dropped out; he never finished high school or attended college. He joined the Army in 1941 and served in the Signal Corps for four years, stationed in New York as a unit photographer.

He loved literature and had always wanted to be a writer, and began writing short stories while he was in the Army, his son Bill said. After being discharged, Mr. Asher went to California and landed work, at first in the mailroom at Universal Studios. But he was soon adapting his own short stories for a television series, "Invitation Playhouse," and directing them. In 1952, he was directing "Our Miss Brooks." Desi Arnaz knew of his work and asked him to try directing "I Love Lucy," which became one of the most successful sitcoms of all time. The show was shot before a live audience and was the first to be filmed using three cameras.

Mr. Asher met Montgomery in the late 1950s, and they married in 1963. His first marriage had ended in divorce. He and Montgomery, who died of cancer in 1995 at age 62, had three children. She wanted to stop working to take care of them, but Mr. Asher persuaded her to keep acting by creating a project they could work on together: "Bewitched," a sitcom about a suburban housewife who is actually a witch.

The show made its debut in 1964 and lasted for eight years. The nose twitch -- one of the show's hallmarks -- that signaled that Montgomery's character, Samantha, was about to perform a feat of witchcraft was something Montgomery did naturally, without being fully aware of it. Mr. Asher, charmed by it, pointed it out to her and urged her to put it to good use.

When "Bewitched" ended, in 1972, Montgomery again wanted to stop working to spend time with her children, and she wanted Mr. Asher to take some time off, too. His ambition would not allow it, his son said, and their differences led to divorce.

Mr. Asher's third marriage, to the actress Joyce Bulifant, also ended in divorce. He married Meredith Coffin McMachen in 1996.

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