Aaron Ruben, TV producer for ‘Andy Griffith’

By William Grimes
New York Times / February 4, 2010

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NEW YORK - Aaron Ruben, a producer, writer, and director for some of the most popular television comedies of the 1960s and ‘70s, died of complications of pneumonia Saturday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 95.

Among his notable work were “The Andy Griffith Show,’’ “Gomer Pyle, USMC,’’ and “Sanford and Son.’’

Mr. Ruben - who cut his teeth as a comedy writer on radio for George Burns, Gracie Allen, and Milton Berle - tapped a rich vein of TV gold when, in 1960, he shifted location to the mythical small town of Mayberry, N.C.

As the producer and sometime writer and director of “The Andy Griffith Show’’ for its first five seasons, he helped create one of the most revered series in television history, a gentle family comedy whose troupe of genial actors included Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, Jim Nabors, Frances Bavier, and Ron Howard.

Spotting the appeal of Nabors, whose guest appearance as gas-station attendant Gomer Pyle had become a regular role, Mr. Ruben created the series “Gomer Pyle, USMC.’’

Mr. Ruben was later hired by Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin to produce “Sanford and Son,’’ a US version of the British hit “Steptoe and Son,’’ with the comedian Redd Foxx in the lead role as an ill-tempered junk dealer. That series, a runaway success from the outset, ran from 1972 to 1977.

Aaron J. Ruben was born in Chicago. He was drafted into the Army in 1941 and stationed in Southern California.

In the early 1950s he started writing for various television shows, including “Caesar’s Hour’’ and “The Phil Silvers Show,’’ where he was also the director for two years.

In 1960 he was offered his choice of three pilot shows to produce. One, created by Sheldon Leonard, was “The Andy Griffith Show,’’ which Mr. Ruben chose without hesitation.

“You’d have to be brain-dead to pick anything except the Griffith show,’’ he told the Archive of American Television in 1999. Its innocent, conflict-free version of small-town American life, he said, offered viewers “the grown-up’s Oz.’’