Television has had a remarkable power to shape public imaginations and perceptions. For the generation of Americans who grew up watching television, this has been especially true. As television began to mature in the 1960s, many iconic shows were seen by millions of people that remained popular even decades after they aired. One of the people who helped shape some of these programs behind the scenes was a native of Little Rock, William Froug.
Froug (pronounced “Froog”) was born in New York City in May 1922. He was adopted by the Froug family in Little Rock when he was still very young. His new family was locally famous for the Froug department stores in Little Rock and Pine Bluff, where he worked occasionally during his youth. He would later recall that his parents often took him to movies when he was very young, which he attributed to his later appreciation for storytelling.
He attended schools in Little Rock. In high school he was very bright and worked on the school magazine and with the drama department. He would eventually graduate from Little Rock Senior High School in 1939 (known today as Central High School). Subsequently, he attended the University of Missouri where he majored in journalism. While attending college, America was drawn into World War II. Frug graduated in 1943 and enlisted in the Navy. He skipped his college degree to begin officer training.
Froug was assigned a “sub-fighter” to patrol the central Pacific; and in 1945 he was assigned to command his own sub-fighter. At just 22, he was one of the youngest men in the US Navy to have his own command. While at sea he passed the time by writing, gradually honing his own storytelling skills.
He continued to serve in the Navy Reserves after the war. He had his first story published in 1946. He began working as a writer for radio programs and as a publicist. Eventually, he began working as a writer, director, and producer for CBS Radio. Although television was beginning to become more mainstream, millions of people still listened to radio programs, from comedies to dramas, every night in the 1950s. In 1956, he was promoted to vice president of programs for CBS Radio.
In 1958, he moved to television, working as a producer for the popular Playhouse 90 and Alcoa Theater anthology series. As a producer, he worked as the show’s director, responsible for financing and administering everything that happened behind the scenes. His special touch for storytelling left a remarkable impact on some of the most memorable television shows of the 1960s and 1970s.
He worked with a variety of programs before becoming the producer of The Twilight Zone with Rod Serling for its final season 1963-1964. His next work was completely opposite in tone. He served as executive producer and creative consultant on Gilligan’s Island for its first season in 1964 and 1965, shifting from gripping drama to slapstick comedy. Subsequently, he was the producer of Bewitched in 1966 and 1967, earning an Emmy Award nomination for his work.
In 1968, he began working part-time as an assistant professor at the University of Southern California, passing on his experiences writing and producing television and radio shows to a new generation of young writers. He continued to write for several television series in the 1970s, including episodes of Quincy and Charlie’s Angels. Gradually he moved into teaching, eventually working at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1975, where he gained notice for changing the screenwriting curriculum and greatly improving the reputation of the television department and university cinema.
Frug officially retired from teaching in 1987, but has remained active. He traveled widely for speaking engagements and also wrote several influential books on how to write screenplays, including Screenwriting Tricks of the Trade (1993) and Zen and the Art of Screenwriting (1996-1997). While an avid writer and teacher, he was quick to point out to his students how hard it was to write a screenplay for film or TV and even harder to find studio executives. ready to adapt it into a real production.
In 2005, at the age of 83, he wrote his quirky memoir, How I Escaped Gilligan’s Island. He lived most of his later years in Florida where he died in 2013 at the age of 91.