DAA 2018: John Rappaport, '62
Since 1968, John Rappaport has brought laughter, fun and drama into the lives of the American public as a writer and producer of such all-time television classics as Laugh-In, All in the Family and M*A*S*H.
Born in Chicago and raised in Highland Park, Illinois, Rappaport enrolled at IU in fall 1958. He began as a business major, but switched to radio and television/psychology midway through his sophomore year after joining the Indiana Memorial Union Radio Club and hosting a Sunday night jazz record show on WTTS-AM.
As a junior, Rappaport continued his jazzy ways on the powerful WFIU-FM from IU’s Radio-TV Quonset hut. There, he hosted a daily afternoon show of jazz albums and improvised chatter. Rappaport also dabbled in standup comedy, performing at the “Freshman Tyrolean” dance and “Spring Fling” and serving as emcee during the two-day IU Sing competition at the IU Auditorium.
Rappaport had a pattern of making spontaneous life-altering decisions. After leaving IU in January 1963, he moved back to the Chicago area, where he worked as a pop — but not rock — DJ. Nine months later, at 3 a.m. after a New Year’s Eve party during a major snowstorm, he blew a tire on Chicago’s tri-state tollway and had to change it in a suit and no coat.
The next day, he quit his job and moved to California, hoping to be a DJ in a more agreeable climate.
Initially, only the climate was agreeable. After stints as an ad agency copywriter, radio station promotion manager, DJ’s comedy sidekick and syndicated radio comedy writer, Rappaport launched his new career in 1969 when his spec material landed him a staff writing gig on the No. 1 TV show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. He wrote for the show until its cancellation in 1973. During his four years there, he penned 100 episodes and also wrote two comedy specials, including the Emmy-nominated first Lily Tomlin Special.
Itching to break out of the sketch comedy mold, he landed a pitch meeting and then a script assignment at another No. 1-rated show, All in the Family. The script was a hit, and he was hired by Norman Lear as a staff story editor, splitting time between All in the Family and its sizzling spinoff, Maude.
He next moved to The Odd Couple and eventually the legendary war dramedy, M*A*S*H, where he served as head writer and supervising producer for its final four years, topped off with the two-and-a-half hour finale, which was the most viewed episode in television history.
Rappaport also wrote and produced seven pilots for his company, Leeway Productions (named after his wife, Lee) and worked on films featuring screen legends Jane Fonda, Richard Dreyfuss and Burt Reynolds, and The Godfather producer Al Ruddy. He also spent a season on Night Court and was the executive producer of Gung Ho.
Along the way, Rappaport garnered eight primetime Emmy nominations, four People’s Choice Awards, five Writers Guild Best Script award nominations, three Humanitas Prizes and a Golden Globe. He also served on the Producers Guild of America Board of Directors for 14 years and is in the National Association of Broadcasters and the Producers Guild of America halls of fame.
To top it all off, two of his three L.A.-born and -raised children are graduates and devoted lovers of IU.