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May 11, 2009

In Memoriam: John Furia, Jr.

Founding Chair of the Writing Division, Union Activist

By John Zollinger

Professor John Furia, Jr., award-winning author, union activist and founding chair of the Division of Writing for Screen & Television at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
Venerated television and film writer John Furia, Jr., who founded the school's division of Writing for Screen & Television and was an ardent activist for writers across the industry, died Friday, May 9 at the age of 79.

Furia, whose credits included some of television's landmark programs such as The Twilight Zone, Hawaii Five-O, The Waltons and Kung Fu, also served as the national chairman and past president of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and past president of the Writers Guild Foundation.

"John was the writer's writer; observing the raw essence of the human experience and infusing that into truly moving characters and stories," said Dean Elizabeth M. Daley. "What's more, he had an unsurpassed ability to excite and inspire his students to do the same, and that legacy lives on in literally thousands of film and television scripts."

In 1995, Furia served as the founding chairperson of the writing division, joining together the Filmic Writing Bachelor of Fine Arts Program with the Graduate Screenwriting Program. In doing so, the division became a powerhouse for teaching scribes in film, television, and more recently interactive and online media. Students who went through the program after the division was started include Josh Schwartz (The O.C., Gossip Girl ), James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, Basic ) and Stephen Chbosky (Jericho, Rent ).

"John has left a very rich legacy at the Writing Division and I know he has touched the lives of all of us who had the special pleasure and honor to know him," said current chair Jack Epps, Jr.  "One of our family has fallen and we will miss him greatly."

In creating the writing division, Furia said in a recent interview that both the bachelor's and master's programs sought to "stress that amateur writers write when the muse visits them, but professionals write on demand." The division intentionally structured the bulk of the writing courses to take place in small, highly collaborative workshops because, in Furia's words, "We believe you learn how to write from writing, not talking about writing."

Furia's passion for the role of the author extended beyond USC, and he played a prominent role in professional organizations that shaped the course of the industry. In addition to his guild positions, he also served as the founding vice president of the executive committee and a member of the board of trustees for the Humanitas Prize; past secretary and member of the board of governors of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences; member of the advisory board of the National Captioning Institute, and consultant to the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The guild recognized his impact with three of its most prestigious honors: in 1978 he was presented with the Morgan Cox Award for service to the organization in 1978; in 1990 he received the Valentine Davies Award for contributions to the entertainment industry and the community-at-large; and in 1994 Furia accepted the Edmund H. North Award, "presented to those members whose courageous leadership, strength of purpose and continuing selfless activity in behalf of the guild through the years, as well as professional achievement of the highest order, have served to establish the Writers Guild of America as a pillar of strength and security for writers throughout the world."

"No one cared more about the dignity of writers, and no one fought harder for it," said Professor Howard A. Rodman, who chaired the division after Furia. "Many of the gains of the 1970s were due to his leadership, his quiet strength, and, again, his dignity. In a world where many wore their baseball caps backwards, John in his crisp shirt and immaculately groomed white hair walked among us like a Renaissance prince. We won't see his like again."

During his career, Furia worked for most of the major studios and the four networks, and he had made films in Canada, France, Spain, Mexico, the former Yugoslavia and Kenya. Furia produced two mini-series, Rage of Angels and Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises in France and Spain. With Barry Oringer he wrote the pilot for the long-running television series Hotel, and the six-hour mini-series for CBS Crisis: America and Iran.

Furia served as the showrunner for the series Kung Fu, John O'Hara's Gibbsville, The Dirty Dozen, and produced and/or wrote nearly 100 dramas for the series Insight, winner of multiple Emmy nominations and the CINE Award. He wrote several feature films including The Singing Nun starring Debbie Reynolds, Diahann Carroll and Greer Garson and A Change of Habit starring Elvis Presley and Mary Tyler Moore.

As president of his own public NASDAQ-listed company, Furia wrote and/or produced the pilot Power Play (CBS) and movies for television My Mother's Secret Life (ABC), Going To The Chapel (NBC) and The Intruder Within (ABC). He produced the award-winning film about starvation in Ethiopia starring Ted Danson and Ally Sheedy, We Are The Children (ABC). Among other movies for television Furia wrote and/or produced are: The Death of Ocean View Park, Caring, The Healers and The Widow. Besides The Twilight Zone and The Waltons, anthologies and series he wrote include Chrysler Theatre, The Prudential Specials, GE Theater, Bonanza and pilots for The Blue Knight, 240-Robert and Tom Sawyer.

Information for the memorial service for John Furia Jr. is as follows:
Writers Guild Theater
135 S. Doheny Drive
Beverly Hills
90211

Wednesday
May 20, 2009
7:00 P.M.
Doors will open at 6:30 P.M.
 
The theater is located one short block south of Wilshire Boulevard, on the west side of the street.
Entrance to the theater parking structure is in the alley just south of Wilshire.
 
Speakers will include representatives of the Furia family, the Writers Guild of America, the Writers Guild Foundation, USC and Humanitas.

Contact:
Angela Wales Kirgo
Executive Director
Writers Guild Foundation
323 782 4692 (phone)
323 782 4695 (fax)