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Aaron Ruben, TV Producer, Dies at 95

Published: February 3, 2010

Aaron Ruben, who was a producer, writer and director for some of the most popular television comedies of the 1960s and ’70s, notably “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” and “Sanford and Son,” died Saturday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 95.

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Aaron Ruben, center, in the early 1960s with two of the stars of “The Andy Griffith Show,” Don Knotts, left, and Andy Griffith.

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The cause was complications of pneumonia, his son Tom said.

Mr. Ruben, who cut his teeth as a comedy writer on radio for George Burns and Gracie Allen, and Milton Berle and on television for Phil Silvers and Sid Caesar, tapped a rich vein of television gold when, in 1960, he shifted location to the mythical small town of Mayberry, N.C.

As the producer and sometime writer and director of “The Andy Griffith Show” for its first five seasons, he helped create one of the most revered series in television history, a gentle family comedy whose troupe of genial actors included Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, Jim Nabors Frances Bavier and Ron Howard.

Spotting the appeal of Mr. Nabors, whose guest appearance as the gas-station attendant Gomer Pyle had become a regular role, Mr. Ruben created the series “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” with Mr. Nabors transposing his lovable but clueless character to the hostile environment of the Marine Corps. The series became an enormous hit, coming in second only to “Bonanza” in the 1965-66 season. It ran until 1969.

Mr. Ruben was later hired by Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin to produce “Sanford and Son,” an American version of the British hit “Steptoe and Son,” with the comedian Redd Foxx in the lead role as an ill-tempered junk dealer. That series, a runaway success from the outset, ran from 1972 to 1977.

Aaron J. Ruben — he told an interviewer that he never knew what his middle initial stood for — was born on March 1, 1914, in Chicago. He went to college at Lewis Institute there, but after dropping out to find work he was drafted into the Army in 1941 and stationed in Southern California.

After being discharged from the Army in 1943, Mr. Ruben, who had done some acting and writing in the theater in Chicago, stayed in Los Angeles and began writing comedy sketches for Wally Brown, a comedian on Dinah Shore’s radio show. After nine weeks he was offered the chance to write for Burns and Allen, a breakthrough opportunity that led to jobs writing for Fred Allen, Henry Morgan and Milton Berle in New York.

In the early 1950s he started writing for various television shows, including “Caesar’s Hour” and “The Phil Silvers Show,” where he was also the director for two years.

In 1960 he was offered his choice of three pilot shows to produce. One, created by the prolific producer Sheldon Leonard, was “The Andy Griffith Show,” which Mr. Ruben chose without hesitation. “You’d have to be brain-dead to pick anything except the Griffith show,” he told an interviewer for the Archive of American Television in 1999. Its innocent, conflict-free version of small-town American life, he said, offered viewers “the grown-up’s Oz.”

After “Sanford and Son,” which he left after three years, Mr. Ruben was a producer or executive producer of “The Headmaster,” “C.P.O. Sharkey,” “Teachers Only,” “Too Close for Comfort” and “The Stockard Channing Show.”

With Carl Reiner, a regular on “Caesar’s Hour,” he wrote and produced the 1969 film “The Comic,” with Dick Van Dyke in the starring role.

In his later years, Mr. Ruben was a court-appointed special advocate for abused and abandoned children.

His first marriage ended in divorce. In addition to his son Tom, of Van Nuys, Calif., Mr. Ruben is survived by his wife, the actress Maureen Arthur; another son, Andy, of San Francisco; two grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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