For his achievements as a director and service to the Guild, Rich was given Honorary Life Membership in 2003.
On June 10, friends, family and colleagues gathered for a memorial in honor of Director John Rich, who passed away in January 2012. Held at the DGA’s Los Angeles Theater, the ceremony was a vibrant celebration of Rich’s more than half century-long career as a director of iconic television, as well as a remembrance of his equally long service to the Guild that he loved.
The memorial opened with a humorous video clip of Rich reminiscing about his very first meeting at what was then called the Screen Directors Guild, during the Biennial Convention in 1953. He recalled how impressed he was to find himself in the midst of industry giants such as DeMille, Ford and Capra as he was introduced as a new member of the Guild while the votes were being tallied for the new board of directors. “President George Sidney asked if anyone had any questions. Being a brash kid, I stood up and said, ‘I was reading in Variety this morning that 45 percent of the Guild membership are engaged in television. But looking at this slate of nominees ‑ while I have the utmost respect for all these tremendous names ‑ I don’t think any one of them has ever done a television show.’ There was a stunned silence. ‘We’ll consider that,’ said George. The next day I got a call that said, ‘You are hereby appointed as an alternate to the Board of Directors,’ and I’ve been on the Board ever since. So this is a story of me and my big mouth.”
“That’s who John was, a brash, incredibly talented director who shook things up that first meeting and never stopped shaking things up at this guild for the next six decades,” said DGA President Taylor Hackford in his welcome to the audience. “We loved John Rich. For me personally, John was a friend, a counselor and someone to admire. His unselfish service to this Guild was and is my inspiration. This morning we’re going to hear from friends, colleagues and family who knew John best. So let’s make this morning a joyous celebration. We all are richer for the wisdom and humor he shared with us.”
Hackford then introduced a video clip illustrating Rich’s skill as a master joke teller that Director Jesus Treviño had captured during the last round of contract talks where they served together on the Negotiations Committee. After the laughter, DGA National Executive Director Jay D. Roth came to the stage to share a few stories of his long history with Rich.
“John’s humor was an essential part of his service to the Guild,” said Roth, who admitted to being one of the voices laughing in the background of the video clip. “These jokes were frequently a well-timed elixir during the most difficult and intense moments in the negotiations. In addition to his great wit, he asked the most piercing questions and cut to the heart of the issue for us. A fierce defender of directors’ interests, he never overlooked the directorial teams who helped him and other members gain their recognition. While we’ll all knew John for his strong point of view, he’ll be remembered most for knowing how to rise above his self-interests and put the Guild first. And so John my friend, we will greatly miss your leadership, your friendship and your humor. You knew you’d left a strong guild, and we thank you and will always remember you for it.”
The event also featured sincere and often humorous tributes from co-workers, collaborators and friends including Director Carl Reiner and actor Dick Van Dyke who worked with Rich on the classic comedy series The Dick Van Dyke Show, Director Rob Reiner who worked with Rich as an actor on the DGA Award-winning series All in the Family. These homages were punctuated with video clips from Rich’s DGA Visual History interview and episodes of series he directed. There was also a video tribute from All in the Family producer Norman Lear; and a live tribute by Professor Philip J. Deloria of Rich’s alma mater, the University of Michigan, who spoke about the generous fellowship and scholarship the Riches established to assist students at that school.
The final tributes came from Rich’s family. Director Anthony Rich who spoke about how he followed his father’s footsteps all the way to the director’s chair on The Big Bang Theory. Robert Rich who entertained the audience with stories about growing up in the Rich household, and Rich’s widow Pat who shared the very human side of her late husband. “Once he knew you, saw that you were serious about your work, and laughed at his jokes, you became one of his own and were then forever called ‘schmuck,’ a high honor indeed.” She drew to a close with a quote written by Rich’s long time friend Al Sloat: “It is a dappled world we live in, but that dappled world would have been a meager place without John.”
The memorial concluded with a montage of video and stills from Rich’s long and storied career, produced and directed by Douglass M. Stewart, Jr. with additional editing by Jonathan Dragul.
Rich's prolific directing career began in the early 1950s on comedies such as I Married Joan and Our Miss Brooks. He went on to helm numerous television series including Gunsmoke, The Twilight Zone, The Andy Griffith Show, Gilligan's Island (pilot and series), Hogan's Heroes, The Jeffersons (pilot and series), Barney Miller (pilot and series), Newhart (pilot and series) and Murphy Brown — to name only a few. He also directed the feature films Wives and Lovers, The New Interns, Roustabout, Boeing-Boeing, and Easy Come, Easy Go, as well as the first live telecast of the Academy Awards in 1955.
A member of the Screen Directors Guild since 1953, Rich was instrumental in the 1960 merger between the Screen Directors Guild and the Radio and Television Directors Guild, which formed today’s Directors Guild of America. In 1955, he was appointed an alternate on the National Board, the start of more than 50 years of service on the board and the Western Directors Council, eventually serving as Secretary (1958-1959), Treasurer (1965-1967) and several terms as a Vice President (1959-1960, 1960-1961, 1963-1965, 1967-1973, 1996-1997). He was also involved in multiple negotiations as a member of the Negotiations Committee and served as Chairman of the Directors Guild Foundation since 2005. Rich was a founding member of the DGA-Producer Pension Plan and was Chairman of its Board of Trustees for seven terms.
In recognition of his invaluable contributions to the DGA, Rich was bestowed with two of the Guild’s highest honors, receiving the Robert B. Aldrich Award in 1993 for his extraordinary service to the Guild and its membership and the DGA Honorary Life Member Award in 2003 in recognition of outstanding creative achievement, contribution to the Guild or the profession of directing. Rich won two DGA Awards for his directing work: 1971’s DGA Award for Most Outstanding Television Director as well as a DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Comedy Series for his work on All in the Family.
Other awards include: Emmys for his direction of The Dick Van Dyke Show in 1963, and All in the Family in both 1972 and 1973; Golden Globe Awards for All in the Family in 1972 and 1973; the NAACP Image Award in 1973; and, the Christopher Award in 1974 for his direction of Henry Fonda's stage performance in the one-man play, Clarence Darrow.