Philadelphia broadcasting legend Lew Klein, 91, who helped develop American Bandstand and was the guiding force behind Captain Noah and his Magical Ark as well as the Action News format that made 6ABC a local powerhouse, died Wednesday.
Mr. Klein’s death was confirmed Thursday by Temple University, where he taught for 67 years and where his name is on the media and communications college.
Over his career, he influenced thousands of students and hundreds of broadcast professionals, including Eagles broadcaster Merrill Reese, the actor Bob Saget, the comedian David Brenner, WPVI president Bernie Prazenica, Phillies broadcasters Richie Ashburn and Tim McCarver, and Bandstand host Dick Clark.
His focus, those who knew him say, was always on helping students, a drive that kept him teaching at Temple. He was at the school as recently as last month to participate in the Klein College commencement.
“Generations down the road will be — unaware or aware — affected because of the impact Lew Klein had on all of us,” said ESPN sports anchor Kevin Negandhi, a 1997 Temple graduate. “We’re all lucky to have crossed paths with him.”
Details about where and how he died were not available Thursday. But David Boardman, dean of Temple’s media and communication school, said Mr. Klein had been recovering from heart surgery when he slipped and fell over the weekend and hit his head, an injury that led to his death.
“Over the past five years, he had several health crises, but he always came bouncing back and seemed younger than he was the previous years,” Boardman said. “It’s shocking to know, this time he’s truly gone.” Boardman is board chairman of the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, which owns The Inquirer.
News of his death saddened many in Pennsylvania’s broadcasting industry and beyond.
“A tree grows and at the very root is the man @TUKleincollege is named after. RIP Lew Klein,” tweeted 76ers announcer Marc Zumoff.
Joe Conti, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters (PAB), called him “a titan … having received every possible honor bestowed by the PAB."
A moment of silence for Mr. Klein opened a scholarship luncheon for the Police Athletic League at the Union League on Thursday afternoon, where about 100 police officers, students, and sponsors had gathered. For more than 50 years, Mr. Klein had been heavily involved in PAL, through which Philadelphia police officers offer programs for city children.
“Lew’s hand is all over everything that PAL does, and literally tens of thousands of youth have benefited from his hard work,” said Ted Qualli, PAL’s executive director. Mr. Klein helped create events such as nights for PAL kids at Sixers and Phillies games and a day at City Hall.
“Everybody he met, he somehow coerced — and I use that word in the most joyous term — to be part of PAL,” said 6ABC president Prazenica. “He thought being on the PAL board was like being on the Cabinet for the president of the United States.”
Government leaders, including Gov. Tom Wolf, former Gov. Tom Ridge, and Attorney General Josh Shapiro, also weighed in.
Shapiro said he met Mr. Klein in 2004 when he was mounting his first campaign for public office for state representative in Abington, where Mr. Klein and his wife, Janet, were longtime residents. After Shapiro was elected, Mr. Klein introduced him to contacts at local TV stations and helped advise Shapiro on how to interact with reporters.
“Lew took people under his wing and made them better," Shapiro said.
But Mr. Klein never sought to take too much credit, even when the communications college was about to be named for him. Mr. Klein did not want his name above the news ticker that runs on the side of the building, and he didn’t want his portrait painted for Annenberg Hall, saying it would cost too much money, recalled Don Heller, the college’s senior vice dean.
Instead, he gave the college an old black-and-white photo of him from a news magazine, which it spruced up by portraying him in a blue suit and coloring his tie red for Temple. “But you never owned a blue suit,” his wife said. Mr. Klein’s complaint? His shirt looked wrinkled — could they “iron” it, he wondered.
The photo, with a pressed-looking shirt, was framed for the college. His wife has one framed, too, a gift from Temple.
“I don’t think Lew was thinking about being remembered,” Heller said. “It wasn’t about him. It was about helping others.”
Through the years, students appreciated the lessons his life and lectures illustrated, frequently giving him standing ovations, said his longtime Temple teaching partner, Betsy Leebron Tutelman.
“He’s a rock star,” she said. “The students love Lew.”
They especially liked his prescription for finding success: Timing, Talent. Tenacity, and Temple (as in alumni).
“Those four T’s would open doors,” Mr. Klein would tell them, Tutelman recalled.
The Cheltenham High School grad got his start in television, then a fledgling enterprise, when he was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, helping to develop commercials for Dutch Boy paints using a marionette he made in summer camp.
In 1952, while working as a producer and director at WFIL-TV (now 6ABC), he began teaching broadcasting courses at Temple.
He served as executive producer of Bandstand and was the producer of Phillies baseball telecasts for 15 years. He also worked on The Sally Starr Show and Romper Room.
In a 2017 interview with The Inquirer, Mr. Klein recalled that W. Carter Merbreier, a Lutheran minister, all but stalked him in a bid to host a TV show.
“So we went to the Union League,” Mr. Klein said. “We had a couple cocktails. We had fried oysters, and we came away with Captain Noah.” It ran for 27 years on 6ABC.
He also remembered how Clark impressed him during a job interview. About five minutes after being given a script, Clark came back and said he was ready to go.
“We were amazed, and he got the job,” Mr. Klein recalled.
Mr. Klein also cofounded Gateway Communications, which owned four CBS television stations.
In 2000, H.F. “Gerry” and Marguerite Lenfest, Mr. Klein’s longtime friends, established the Lew Klein Alumni in the Media Awards ceremony fund. Among recipients over the years were Tina Fey, Charles Barkley, and Whoopi Goldberg. The event has brought in hundreds of thousands in scholarship money for Temple, Boardman said.
Temple named a 1,200-seat hall in its performing arts center after Mr. Klein, said Temple president Richard M. Englert.
“This is a giant who truly has shaped the region, has shaped Temple, and has shaped the people who had the honor to study under him,” Englert said.
In 2012, Mr. Klein donated his archives, all 23 boxes, to Temple. They included a photo from Clark’s 30th birthday party and photos of Mr. Klein posing with Presidents Richard M. Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald R. Ford, and John F. Kennedy.
And in 2017, the Klein College of Media and Communication was named in his honor and in recognition of a multimillion-dollar gift from Mr. Klein and his wife. That same year, he received the lifetime achievement award from the National Association of Television Program Executives, which he had cofounded.
The Kleins were married for more than six decades. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his children, Ellen and Stephen; a granddaughter, and two great-grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.
The college is planning to turn next fall’s Lew Klein Awards into a tribute, said Tutelman.