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Ernest Kinoy, a prolific and award-winning writer in radio and television for more than five decades, died on Nov. 10 at age 89.

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Ernest Kinoy, Emmy-winning writer, dies at 89

Longtime Williamsville resident wrote more than 500 scripts for radio, TV, Broadway, and the big screen

Material provided by Daniel Kinoy, Tom Bedell, Thaddeus Gibson of the Vermont Arts Council, and the Museum of Broadcast Communications was used in this report. For a series of interviews done with Kinoy for the Archive of American Television, visit bit.ly/1wGFSA2.

WILLIAMSVILLE—Ernest Kinoy, 89, a prolific and award-winning screenwriter and playwright whose radio and television career spanned more than five decades, died at Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend on Nov. 10 of complications from pneumonia.

Kinoy won two Emmy Awards for his work. The first came in 1963 for an episode from the CBS drama “The Defenders,” starring E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed as a father and son team of idealistic lawyers who took on difficult cases that would invariably involve controversial issues and deep moral dilemmas.

In “Blacklist,” which yielded Kinoy’s first Emmy, Jack Klugman portrayed an actor who was blacklisted during the anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s and finally landed a serious part after 10 years in the cold, only to be harrassed by right-wing activists. It was the first television drama to take on the suffering of blacklisted artists in the McCarthy era.

He won his second Emmy in 1977 for the second segment of the ABC miniseries “Roots.” He received an Emmy nomination the following year for his work on the sequel, “Roots: The Next Generations.”

Kinoy was also nominated for Emmys for two TV docudramas — in 1976, for “Victory at Entebbe,” made soon after the Israeli hostage rescue at Entebbe International Airport in Uganda in 1976; and in 1981, for “Skokie,” based on an attempted march by neo-Nazis in a Chicago suburb that was home to many survivors of the Holocaust.

All told, he authored more than 500 scripts over his lengthy career.

Tempered by war

Born in New York City on April 1, 1925, the son of two high school teachers, he attended the Ethical Culture schools in New York City and went on to Columbia University.

His college years were interrupted by World War II, when he was drafted into the Army and assigned to the 106th Infantry Division. He was sent to Germany just in time to be captured during the Battle of the Bulge, Germany’s last ditch offensive on the western front in December 1944.

Kinoy was first sent to Stalag IX-B prison camp in Germany and then, in an event he later dramatized in the 1957 NBC drama, “A Walk Down the Hill,” he was separated from the other soldiers in his unit. Along with other Jewish soldiers from the 106th, he was sent to Berga, a slave labor camp and offshoot of the Buchenwald concentration camp.

The Germans were attempting to build an artificial fuel manufacturing plant and set the prisoners, American GIs, and European camp survivors, to tunneling into a nearby mountain.

But a literal lucky break saved Kinoy’s life.

As Kinoy told the story, while drilling into a tunnel wall, he was injured in a fall from high scaffolding and was unable to walk. He was left behind when the camp commandant marched the prisoners deeper into Germany to prevent them from being liberated by the approaching American forces. Many of the GIs perished on this brutal, unnecessary march.

After the war, Kinoy returned to Columbia and married the love of his life, Barbara Nettie Powers, on June 19, 1948, at the Chestnut Street home of Mr. and Mrs. Guy W. Powers of Brattleboro. She died in 2007.

Present at the creation

In 1948, Kinoy graduated from Columbia and joined NBC as a staff writer in 1948. His work there straddled two eras in broadcasting: the gradual decline of radio drama and the rise of television drama. He would excel in both media.

In radio in the 1950s, he was a contributor to two well-regarded science fiction anthology series, “Dimension X” (1950 and 1951) and “X Minus One (1955-1958),” writing original scripts as well as adapting the work of sci-fi luminaries such as Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Philip K. Dick.

He also was one of the primary script writers for the radio drama “Rocky Fortune,” which had Frank Sinatra in the lead, in 1953 and 1954, and adapted various stage plays for the anthology series “NBC Presents” in 1952 and 1953.

But television was where the action was in the 1950s, and Kinoy would be in the thick of it.

As a freelancer, he was among the group of television pioneers writing original drama for live television two premier showcases: “Studio One” and “Playhouse 90.” Later, he wrote for other hit dramas, such as “Dr. Kildare,” “Naked City,” “Route 66,” and “The Untouchables.”

In one of his greatest in-jokes in any of his scripts, he managed to set a 1963 episode of “Route 66,” entitled “I Wouldn’t Start From Here,” in Vermont, with scenes shot in and around Newfane. He couldn’t resist having the city slickers ask the Vermonter, “Have you lived here all your life?” The farmer, of course, replies, “Not yet...”

Kinoy loved Vermont and spent as much time as possible from the mid-1950s onward at his home in Williamsville with his many grandchildren. He grew vegetables, grapes, and cucumbers for what some called the best garlic dill pickles in New England. He and wife Barbara moved to Vermont full-time in 1984. For many years he was part of a monthly Shakespeare reading group in Williamsville.

The 1970s saw Kinoy switch to scripting TV movies and mini-series, and he stayed active throughout the decade and into the 1980s with “Skokie” (1981), “Murrow” (1986), and “Lincoln” (1988), and the 1990s with “Chernobyl: The Final Warning” (1991).

Kinoy is probably best known for his role in the creation of “Roots” and “Roots, the Next Generations.” Working with head writer William Blinn, he wrote several of the episodes for the first series and then was head writer for its sequel.

His work on “Roots” and “Skokie” was a natural expression of his commitment to the civil rights movement as well as the fight against anti-semitism, a commitment he shared with his brother, Arthur Kinoy, the prominent constitutional lawyer and civil rights activist.

That commitment earned Kinoy two Christopher Awards, an honor given for works in various media that inspire audiences to change the world for the better, for two of his TV films — “The Rivalry” (1975), which depicted the complex relationship between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, and “The Rescuers” (1997), which portrayed individuals who risked their lives to save European Jews during the Holocaust.

Other passions

As much as he was renowned as a writer for some of the most important programs in the history of television, he also made a name for himself on Broadway and on the big screen.

His fondest experiences were on the Broadway stage, breaking in with the Reginald Rose-produced, “Something about a Soldier” in 1962, based on the 1957 novel by Mark Harris.

He next teamed with composer and lyricist Walter Marks on the musical “Bajour,” a show about Gypsies in New York, based on Joseph Mitchell’s New Yorker stories.

His third show was a successful vehicle for Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme based on Budd Schulberg’s “A Hole in the Head,” which featured the hit song “I Gotta be Me.” The song has had a long life — an exercise in irony for those knowing the song’s origin as a compulsive gambler’s justification for betting and losing the rent money.

Kinoy’s professional relationship with Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte resulted in a 1972 film set in the reconstruction era, “Buck and the Preacher,” starring Poitier as a straight-arrow ex-military man and Harry Belafonte as a con-man in preacher’s clothing.

Poitier and Kinoy also collaborated on the 1971 metaphysical drama “Brother John,” featuring Poitier as a mysterious figure, perhaps a man, but just maybe the angel Gabriel returned to judge humanity.

Kinoy also scripted the 1976 musical bio-drama “Leadbelly,” starring Roger Mosely as the legendary folk singer.

He was a devoted member of the Writers Guild of America, serving as the East Coast president from 1969-71, and winning its two highest awards, the Hunter Award for lifetime achievement, and the Jablow Award, for his service to the union.

In 2000, Kinoy was awarded the Vermont Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.

Kinoy is survived by his son, Daniel Kinoy, and his wife, Sallyanne, and daughter Judith Kinoy, and her husband, Rick, as well as by grandchildren Brenda, Tommy and wife Sarah, Robert, Carter, Zach, Cara, and Sarah; and great-grandchildren Kaya, Ajna, Ava, Mira, Jack, Audrey, Rylan, Max, and Emmaline.

A memorial service will be held at the West Village Meeting House in Brattleboro on Saturday, Nov. 29, at 3 p.m. The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations go to the Ernest & Barbara Powers Kinoy Memorial Williamsville Hall Fund, in care of People’s United Bank in Newfane.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #281 (Wednesday, November 19, 2014). This story appeared on page D1.

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