Lamont Johnson (1922-2010)

Lamont Johnson, whose acting career was vastly overshadowed by his award-winning work as a director, passed away on October 24th at the age of 88. He started his career in radio and on stage before moving to film and television in the late 1940s/early 1950s, appearing in episodes of programs like The Loretta Young Show, Climax and The Millionaire. In November of 1955, he directed an episode of NBC’s daytime anthology series Matinee Theater; he had earlier directed theatrical productions. The episode was an adaptation of Wuthering Heights that starred Richard Boone. Johnson would later direct a number of episodes of Boone’s Have Gun – Will Travel. Other programs Lamont directed in the late 1950s and early 1960s included Steve Canyon, Mr. Lucky, The Twilight Zone and Peter Gunn. He shared a Directors Guild of America Award for a 1964 episode of Profiles in Courage; over the course of his career he was nominated for ten DGA Awards and won four.

Johnson was nominated for his first Emmy Award for 1970’s My Sweet Charlie, an made-for-TV movie starring Patty Duke and Al Freeman Jr. that addressed racial tension and prejudice. In 1972, he directed That Certain Summer, an installment of ABC Movie of the Week starring Hal Holbrook and Martin Sheen. It is considered the first television production to maturely relate a homosexual relationship. Johnson later directed Sheen in The Execution of Private Slovik, a 1974 made-for-TV movie based on the true story of an army soldier executed for desertion. All three telefilms were written and produced by Richard Levinson and William Link.

Johnson received a total of 11 Emmy nominations over the course of his career and won two, the first in 1985 for Wallenberg: A Hero’s Story (another NBC made-for-TV movie) and the second in 1988 for Lincoln (an NBC miniseries starring Hal Holbrook). His feature film directing credits include The Last American Hero and Lipstick. He was interviewed in 2003 by the Archive of American Television; here’s the first portion of that interview:

Obituaries can be found at The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. Johnson’s entry in The Encyclopedia of Television (1st edition) can be found here.

2 Comments

  • DuMont says:

    Mr. Lamont Johnson certainly had a career of distinguished productions. I remember him best for his tv movies and miniseries, and commend him for the groundbreaking THAT CERTAIN SUMMER, television’s first thoughtful and sensitive exploration of gay relationships, and one that ended up being one of the more controversial telefilms to air as part of the ‘ABC Wednesday Movie of the Week’ umbrella.

    We do see broadcast controversies bubbling up every now and then (i.e. the PTC’s recent campaign against CBS’s ‘S**t My Dad Says’), but they absolutely pale in comparison to the concerted pressure that ABC faced over the summer/fall in lead up to the November 1st broadcast of THAT CERTAIN SUMMER. The controversy led to a few affiliate preemptions and sponsor defections, and to their credit, Mr. Johnson, Messrs. Levinson and Link, and Mr. Marty Starger of ABC never flinched, and the production aired to a sizeable rating (23.5HH/35%), glowing reviews, and a clutch of Emmy nominations. Although Mr. Johnson didn’t cop an Emmy, he did win a prestigous Director’s Guild Award for his direction of THAT CERTAIN SUMMER.

    Mr. Lamont Johnson, ars longa, vita brevis…Requiescat In Pace.

  • HCH says:

    MY SWEET CHARLIE had a 31.7 rating and 48 share in its initial airing, on 1/20/70. Astounding rating and the film actually garnered some theatrical showings after the initial TV airing.

    All three telefilms cited are outstanding. Leonard Maltin called the first two television landmarks. I agree. R.I.P.

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