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Charles S. Dubin, TV director, 92

By Douglas Martin
New York Times / September 11, 2011

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Charles S. Dubin, whose career as a daring director in television’s early years stalled after he refused to answer questions before Congress about Communist involvement, then robustly rebounded as he went on to direct more episodes of “M*A*S*H’’ than anyone else, died Monday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 92.

His daughter, Zan Dubin-Scott, announced the death.

In the early 1950s, Mr. Dubin helped shape early television by directing shows like “Tales of Tomorrow,’’ a science fiction anthology series, and “Two Girls Named Smith,’’ a comedy series starring Peggy Ann Garner.

He moved up to more highbrow shows like “Omnibus,’’ which offered programming in the arts and sciences. In early 1958 he directed some of the first programs of the New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts, conducted and moderated by Leonard Bernstein.

Then in June of that year he was subpoenaed to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which was investigating show-business figures for possible Communist ties. Mr. Dubin said he was not a Communist and 22 times refused to say whether he had ever been one, citing constitutional protections against self-incrimination.

He was also asked about a play he had directed for Stage for Action, a leftist theater group, but he refused to answer those questions. The committee did not cite him for contempt.

But NBC, which had televised two shows he directed - “Twenty One,’’ a quiz show, and its summer replacement, “The Investigator’’ - terminated his association with the network, calling his answers “unacceptable.’’ The New York Civil Liberties Union condemned the action as “an indefensible capitulation’’ to McCarthyism. Though his case went to arbitration, he was not reinstated.

After his dismissal, Mr. Dubin had trouble finding work in television and was forced to turn to directing commercials. But he returned to television in 1961 to direct “The Defenders,’’ a CBS courtroom drama starring E.G. Marshall, and “The Virginian,’’ a Western on NBC, the following year. In 1965 he was nominated for an Emmy for his direction of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Cinderella,’’ starring Lesley Ann Warren.

Over the next 25 years he directed episodes of some of prime-time television’s most popular shows, among them “Cannon,’’ “Lou Grant,’’ “Hawaii Five-0,’’ “The Rockford Files,’’ “Sanford and Son,’’ “Ironside,’’ “Matlock,’’ “Kojak,’’ “Cagney and Lacey,’’ and “Father Dowling Mysteries.’’

But he was most closely associated with “M*A*S*H,’’ the long-running, award-winning, darkly comic series about an Army medical unit in the Korean War. He directed 44 episodes of the show, which was shot on film and admired for its high production values. Three were nominated for directing Emmys.

One episode, in 1978, was experienced entirely through the eyes of a wounded soldier, whose throat wound prevented him from speaking to other characters. The episode was a favorite of fans and of Alan Alda, the show’s star.

Ken Levine, a writer of the episode, praised Mr. Dubin on his blog for persuading actors who are trained never to look directly at the camera to do exactly that. The camera, of course, was the wounded soldier’s eyes.

In 1979 Mr. Dubin directed two episodes of “Roots: The Next Generations,’’ a continuation of the Alex Haley family history. Tom Shales of The Washington Post called it “a more polished and sophisticated production’’ than the earlier series.

Mr. Dubin also won a daytime Emmy in 1990 for his work on “Square One TV,’’ a Children’s Television Workshop show that taught mathematical concepts.

Charles Samuel Dubronevski, who later changed his last name to make it shorter, was born in Brooklyn. He first aspired to be an opera singer. He graduated from Brooklyn College in 1941 and studied acting with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse.