William O. Harbach

William Otto Harbach (October 12, 1919 – December 18, 2017) was an American television producer, director and author. He won four Emmy Awards [1] and a Peabody Award [2] Harbach also produced and directed special events, including eight ASCAP celebrations for renowned composers, lyricists and librettists. He was the son of American lyricist, librettist and ASCAP co-founder Otto Abels Harbach.

Wiliam O. Harbach
Bill and Barbara Harbach.jpg
Harbach and wife Barbara, Winter 1998
photograph by Lucian Capehart
William Otto Harbach

October 12, 1919
DiedDecember 18, 2017 (aged 98)
Alma materChoate Rosemary Hall
Hun School of Princeton
Brown University
The Neighborhood Playhouse
OccupationTelevision Producer, Director, Author
Known forProducer of the original The Tonight Show
The Hollywood Palace and other award-winning series and specials
Spouse(s)Laurie "Dougie" Douglas (1948-1951)
Fay Caulkins Palmer (1954-1973)
Barbara Schmid Vought (1981-2016; her death)

Early life and educationEdit

Otto Abels Harbach
Father of William O. Harbach

Born on October 12, 1919 to Otto Abels Harbach and Ella Smith Dougal Harbach, William Otto Harbach began life in New York City. His brother Robert (Bob) was born in February, 1921. The family moved to Mamaroneck, New York when he was six years old. His father was known as the "Dean of American Librettists," and penned tunes including Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.[3]

Harbach attended the Horace Mann School's kindergarten and Pelham Day School. He spent five years at the Choate School (now Choate Rosemary Hall)[4] where he met John F. Kennedy and Alan Jay Lerner. Harbach spent one year preparing for college at the Hun School of Princeton,[5] after which he was accepted at Brown University. He spent one year at Brown before enlisting in the Coast Guard.[6] In the spring 1946, after his military service, he was a student at The Neighborhood Playhouse.[citation needed]

Film careerEdit

MGM signed Harbach as a stock player during 1945–1947. He appeared in Good News with June Allyson and Peter Lawford; Killer McCoy > with Mickey Rooney; On an Island with You with Jimmy Durante, Esther Williams and Peter Lawford; and Song of the Thin Man with Jayne Meadows. A strike causing the studios to cut costs led to the elimination of stock players at MGM in 1947.

Television careerEdit

After a brief stint managing the nightclub acts Kay Thompson and the Williams Brothers, Harbach got an entry-level job in 1948 as editor at the NBC New York Studio. He spliced 35 mm film to add commercials and station breaks.[citation needed] Three years later he was offered the position of producer for a new show, the "Knickerbocker Beer Show".[7] The show starred Steve Allen, who did not like the producer that had been assigned to the show. Harbach replaced him and the two became an award-winning team and followed their work on The Tonight Show with The Steve Allen Show, a variety series. During this time, he developed a partnership with Nick Vanoff, with whom he continued a personal and professional relationship and friendship until Vanoff's death in 1991.[8] Harbach and Vanoff produced the acclaimed variety show The Hollywood Palace from 1964 to 1970,[9] as well as multiple specials.

Harbach's other producing credits include:

  • Milton Berle Special (1962) with Lena Horne, Jack Benny, Laurence Harvey, Charlton Heston, and Kirk Douglas
  • Two Bing Crosby Special productions (produced and directed) [10]
  • Last Steve Allen Laugh-Back Series
  • 1978 Multiple Sclerosis Telethon (Los Angeles)
  • Bob Hope Two-Hour Special (for President Gerald Ford at the opening of the Presidential Library and Museum) in 1981[11]
  • Bob Hope's Pink Panther Thanksgiving Gala (1982)[12]
  • Shirley MacLaine Special Gypsy in My Soul (1976)

Working with Vanoff, Harbach also served as co-executive producer for:

  • Bing Crosby and Carol Burnett: Together Again for the First Time (December, 1969)
  • Two Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Specials, including The Brass are Comin' (October 1969) [13]
  • John Wayne Special, Sing Out Sweet Land (1970)
  • Bing Crosby and Bob Hope Special, Making Movies
  • The Don Adams Special: Hooray for Hollywood (1970) with Don Rickles
  • The Milton Berle Show [14]
  • The Don Knotts Show (1970–1971)

Harbach also served as co-producer with Vanoff on:

  • The Big Show (1980) - first of a series
  • Democratic Fund Raising Telethon
  • The Julie Andrews Hour (1972–1973) [15]

With George Stevens, Jr. and Vanoff, Harbach also co-produced the first two Kennedy Center Honors shows (1978 and 1979), as well as the Kennedy Center Tribute to the Premier of China (1979).[citation needed]


Harbach produced and directed ASCAP Celecrations for Johnny Mercer, Ira Gershwin, Arthur Schwartz, Howard Dietz, Harold Arlen Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe, and Jimmy Van Heusen.[citation needed] He also staged and directed the Mary Martin Tribute ad the Schubert Theater. He produced and directed the first New York International Festival of the Arts (an ASCAP show) in 1988 and, in the following year, The 75th Anniversary of ASCAP in Los Angeles. That same year he produced An Evening with Alan Jay Lerner at Lincoln Center for the Memorial Sloan-Kittering Cancer Center,[16] and produced and directed the Irving Berlin Tribute at the Music Box Theater on February 6, 1990.

On July 23, 2009, Harbach delivered a eulogy[17] for his friend of half a century, Walter Cronkite.

Harbach died in December 2017 at the age of 98 following a brief illness.[18]

Awards and honorsEdit

  • 1966 Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety Series - The Hollywood Palace[1]
  • 1967 Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety Series - The Hollywood Palace[1]
  • 1973 Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety Musical Series - The Julie Andrews Hour[1]
  • 1976 Emmy Award for Outstanding Special - Comedy-variety Or Music - Gypsy in My Soul[1]
  • 1979 Directors Guild of America (DGA) Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Actuality - The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts (1978)[19]
  • 1980 Directors Guild of America (DGA) Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Actuality - The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts (1979)[19]
  • 1976 Christopher Award - Gypsy in My Soul
  • 1958 Peabody Award - The Steve Allen Show'[20]
  • 1958 Look Magazine TV Award for Best Novelty Series - The Steve Allen Show [21]
  • 1958 Look Magazine TV Award for Best Variety Series - The Steve Allen Show [21]
  • 1957 Look Magazine TV Award for Best Variety Series - The Steve Allen Show [21]
  • 1957 Sylvania TV Award for Outstanding Variety Series - The Steve Allen Show

On March 4, 1992, Harbach was inducted in the Producers Guild of America Hall of Fame.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c d e [1] Primetime Emmy Award Database. To access the information, search on William Harbach. Accessed April 7, 2010
  2. ^ [2] The Peabody Awards database. Accessed April 7, 2010
  3. ^ [3]"Otto Harbach Biography," JazzBiographies.com website. Accessed April 7, 2010.
  4. ^ [4]Choate Rosemary Hall; 2005-2006 Honor Roll of Donors, page 12. Choate website. Accessed April 7, 2010
  5. ^ [5]"The Hun School of Princeton; Alumni Recognition Ceremony," page 10. Hun School website. Accessed April 7, 2010
  6. ^ [6]William Harbach Interview description. Georgia State University Library website. Accessed April 7, 2010
  7. ^ [7]"Steve Allen & Tonight," Steve Allen Online website. Accessed April 7, 2010
  8. ^ [8] Eleanor Blau, "Nick Vanoff, 61, Former Dancer Who Became a Successful Producer," The New York Times, March 22, 1991. Accessed April 7, 2010
  9. ^ [9]"The Hollywood Palace; Show Summary," Tv.com website. Accessed April 7, 2010
  10. ^ [10]"Bing Crosby Lines Up Guests for Special," The Modesto Bee, December 25, 1960. Accessed April 7, 2010
  11. ^ [11] Robert L. Mills, "Bob Hope and Gerald Ford - A Model Friendship," Free Articles for You Website. Accessed April 7, 2010
  12. ^ [12]"Bob Hope Special: Bob Hope's Pink Panther Thanksgiving Gala," Inbaseline.com Accessed April 7, 2010
  13. ^ [13] Charles Whitbeck, "Petula Clark with 'Brass' Tonight", Toledo Blade, October 29, 1969
  14. ^ [14]"The Milton Berle Show", Museum of Broadcast Communications website. Accessed April 7, 2010
  15. ^ [15]"The Julie Andrews Hour," Film.com website. Accessed April 7, 2010
  16. ^ [16]"Evening with Alan Jay Lerner," The New York Times, Television section, November 24, 1989. Accessed April 7, 2010.
  17. ^ [17]"Harbach Reads Sea Fever", CastTv.com website. Accessed April 7, 2010.
  18. ^ Billy Harbach, First Producer of 'The Tonight Show,' Dies at 98
  19. ^ a b [18] Directors' Guild of America (DGA) awards database. Search under "Awards"/"TV". Accessed April 7, 2010.
  20. ^ [19]The Steve Allen Show 1958," Peabody Awards Database. Accessed April 7, 2010.
  21. ^ a b c [20]"Awards: The Steve Allen Show, Tvtango.com. Accessed April 7, 2020