Marty Pasetta, Longtime Academy Awards Director, Killed in Bizarre Car Accident

Pioneering director and producer struck by unmanned vehicle near Palm Springs

Marty Pasetta, who directed every Academy Awards telecast from 1972 through 1988 and helped transform the way awards shows were staged and directed , has died at the age of 82.

According to the Riverside County Sheriff’s office:

“On Thursday, May 21, at 9:22 P.M. the La Quinta Police Department responded to the 49000 block of Via Conquistador, in the city of La Quinta regarding a fatal traffic collision. The driver, Keith Stewart, age 75 of La Quinta, was stopped on Via Conquistador allowing passengers to exit his vehicle. Stewart exited his vehicle, with the transmission still engaged, and collided with two passengers who had already exited the vehicle. One passenger succumbed to his injuries at the scene and the other injured passenger was transported to Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs.”

The Riverside County Coroner’s office confirmed to TheWrap that Pasetta was the passenger killed in the incident. Stewart was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence.

Pasetta’s career as a director began with episodes of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in the late 1960s, but he may be best known for the 17 consecutive Academy Awards telecasts he directed between 1972 and 1988.  “He invented stuff that had not been done in television before,” said producer Michael Seligman, who worked on many of Pasetta’s Oscar shows.

“Seat-fillers, stand-ins, picture cards, camera techniques — a lot of the ways awards shows are now done started with Marty,” longtime Oscar talent executive Danette Herman said.

Pasetta’s stint on the Oscars included Marlon Brando refusing his Oscar in 1973, the streaker in 1974, and all four of the Johnny Carson-hosted shows between 1979 and 1982.

Pasetta was known in Oscar circles for pushing technology to its limits, and also for being a vocal, larger-than-life general on his shows. “Marty was old school,” said Garry Hood, one of his stage managers. “Everything he did was big, everything was an event.”

The director was also known for being so vocal that he rarely had a voice left by the time show day arrived. His tenure on the Oscars ended in 1988 — when, in an event still talked-about in Academy and production circles, he clashed with Broadway legend Michael Kidd and Academy president Robert Wise on the staging of a production number.

In addition to the Academy Awards, Pasetta also directed the Grammy telecast six times, from 1972-1975 and again in 1977 and 1978. He also directed the groundbreaking Elvis Presley concert special “Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite” in 1973, which aired in over 40 countries. It was the first time a concert was beamed live around the world via satellite.

Three of Pasetta’s children — Martin Pasetta Jr., Debbie Pasetta Palacio and Greg Pasetta — are members of the Directors Guild and have worked in live television.