Martin Starger Dies: First ABC Entertainment President, Producer For ‘Nashville’ And ‘Mask’ Was 92

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Martin Starger, a producer for such films as Robert Altman’s Nashville and Peter Bogdanovich’s Mask, died Friday at 92 in his Los Angeles home of natural causes. His death was confirmed by his niece, casting director Ilene Starger.

“He was a brilliant, elegant, remarkable man,” Starger said. “He had wonderful taste in projects, and, on a highly personal level, he was like a father to me, given that his older brother, my father, died very suddenly when I was a teenager.”

As the first president of ABC Entertainment, he helped bring such projects as RootsHappy Days and Rich Man, Poor Man to television.

As an executive producer, Starger worked on films including Stanley Donen’s Movie Movie (1978), Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn SonataThe Muppet Movie (1979) and The Great Muppet Caper (1981), Mark Rydell’s On Golden Pond (1981), The Last Unicorn (1982) and Alan J. Pakula’s Sophie’s Choice (1982).

Martin Starger was born on May 8, 1932, to Rose and Isidore Starger of the Bronx, New York.  

Starger received a Bachelor of Science degree in Motion Picture Techniques from City College, and graduated with cum laude honors. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa while a student.

He was drafted into Army service in 1953, and was assigned to the Signal Corps Motion Picture Location. He was a motion picture photographer at the Signal Corps Pictorial Center (the Army’s film production studio).

He was sent to U.S. Army Headquarters in Honolulu, Hawaii and worked there in all phases of motion picture production. He wrote, directed, photographed and edited various films – documentaries and features – for television, the Dept. of Defense, and for newsreels. He did additional production work in Hawaii as a writer and director.

After the Army, he worked in New York at the advertising agency BBDO. He then spent several years at the ABC television network. He was vice president of programs from 1969-1972, and then he was the first person named as president of ABC Entertainment, a newly created position, from 1972-1975.  

Under his stewardship, ABC, a ratings underdog, found its footing with the creation of the Movie of the Week, miniseries such as Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man, and hit series such as Marcus Welby, M.D. and Happy Days. He developed a creative team which included Barry Diller and Michael Eisner.

In subsequent years, Starger expanded his career into films and theater. While at ABC, he championed Robert Altman’s project, Nashville, which he executive produced with Jerry Weintraub, who had brought the project to him.

This launched Starger’s producing career, first in partnership with Sir Lew Grade (later Lord Grade) as Marble Arch Productions, and, after that, with his own production company, Marstar Productions. He produced or executive produced many television projects, such as the Emmy award-winning Friendly Fire, Escape From Sobibor, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Merchant of Venice, and The Elephant Man.

Starger’s film credits, as producer or executive producer, include Movie Movie, Mask (for which Cher won the female acting prize at Cannes), On Golden Pond, The Muppet Movie, the Great Muppet Caper, Autumn Sonata, and Sophie’s Choice.

His Broadway credits include Sly Fox, Lend Me a Tenor, Starlight Express, and the original production of Merrily We Roll Along.

He is survived by his niece, Ilene Starger.

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