BY ANN FARMER
Photographed by Jennifer S. Altman
For most of his 50-year career, Larry Auerbach focused his passion, talent and drive on two things: directing serial television dramas, and advocating for the rights and security of Guild members.
As the director of the early CBS soap opera Love of Life—from its first episode in 1951 to its finale 28 years later—Auerbach was associated with a single television program possibly longer than any other director. And through his longstanding participation in the DGA, he tirelessly pushed for the increased stature of soap opera directors and better working conditions for the entire directing team.
Auberbach joined the Radio Directors Guild, the forerunner of the Radio and Television Directors Guild, in 1948. When the RTDG merged with the Screen Directors Guild to form the DGA in 1960, he emerged as a forceful presence. He served as the DGA’s national vice president and on the National Board, and was also on the Eastern Directors Council where he helped organize the renovation of the New York headquarters. As a trustee and three-time chairman of the DGA-Producer Pension and Health Plan, he played a major role in ensuring greater health and fiscal security for all Guild members. “I got involved,” says Auerbach, “because I was appreciative of those protections and could improve those benefits.”
Auerbach ranks the DGA’s protection of creative rights and its work on behalf of daytime directors as two of the Guild’s accomplishments closest to his heart. “In the early days, daytime people didn’t have a high profile,” he recalls. “Anytime there were negotiations involving daytime serials, it was sticky because they are a very under-appreciated and overlooked area of the business. The Guild eventually helped erode that kind of mentality on part of the networks.”
His remarkable career began in 1948 as an associate director in Chicago on the radio drama Curtain Time. With television still in its infancy, he says, “It put me in the right place at the right time.” NBC television soon hired him to stage-manage for Dan Petrie Sr. on Studs’ Place with Studs Turkel and Zoo Parade, the precursor to Wild Kingdom. From there, he jumped into the director’s chair with another pioneering program, Mr. Wizard.
When CBS network asked him to take the reins of Love of Life the black and white, 15-minute episodes were produced live using bulky cameras and a crude kinescope process with no editing capabilities. “As it became possible to edit, it meant that more people could stick their fingers in the pie,” recalls Auerbach, who sometimes felt that producers overstepped their roles, thus provoking his activism on behalf of daytime directors.
“Until we raised our voices, we were not a constituency that was paid much attention to,” he says. In particular, “the provisions in the contract regarding location pay and conditions for serial directors are a result of my having been involved in negotiations.”
“Larry stands second to no one in the history of the Guild in his defense of directors’ creative rights. I am very fortunate to have him as a mentor,” says One Life to Live director and DGA 4th Vice President, Gary Donatelli. “He definitely carved out a niche and position for daytime directors on the National Board.”
In 1991, the DGA presented him with the prestigious Robert B. Aldrich Award in recognition of his years of service. And in 2004, he was named an Honorary Life Member, one of the Guild’s highest honors, in recognition of his outstanding creative achievements and contributions to the directing profession. With that, he joined the ranks of previous honorees including Charles Chaplin, Darryl F. Zanuck and Frank Capra.
“It was incredible to me,” he says, describing how happy and humbled he felt to be associated with those icons of the industry. “It really got me.”