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Ground-Breaking Female TV Exec Dies in Kona

Posted April 22, 2013, 12:58 PM HST Updated April 22, 2013, 04:39 PM HST
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Pioneering female television executive Deanne Barkley. Courtesy photo.

Deanne Barkley, a one-time newspaper reporter who became an influential television executive, died April 2 in her adopted home of Kailua-Kona. She was 82.

Born in New Orleans, Barkley became the first female network programming executive when she was named vice president in charge of movies for ABC in 1972.

She later moved to a similar position at NBC where she developed hit miniseries “Shogun” and “Centennial.”

In 1974, the Los Angeles Times described Barkley as having “more economic clout than probably any other woman in television.”

The trade journal Variety took it one step further, calling her “the most powerful woman in Hollywood.”

While at NBC she also gave Ron Howard, the child star from the “The Andy Griffith Show,” his first directing role on the 1978 movie Cotton Candy.

“She believed in the idea of actors directing … and allowed me to direct without having to appear in the films,” Howard said in an interview for the 2002 book “The Directors: Take One.,” the Times noted.

She also helped launch the careers of producer Howard Rosenman and Howard’s fellow directors, Joel Schumacher and John Badham.

“She was beyond influential in starting careers,” Rosenman told the Times.

Barkley studied journalism at Northwestern University and worked briefly at the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper as a reporter.

She later moved to New York where she wrote for “I’ve Got a Secret,” on which she also appeared, and for other game shows produced by the Goodson-Todman company. She also wrote for talk shows hosted by Helen Gurley Brown, Virginia Graham and Dick Cavette.

Later in her career she served as executive producer for Osmond Television and worked as an independent television producer.  In 1978 she published the novel “Freeway” which was later made into a movie.

According to the Times, Barkley liked to joke that she was married “more than twice but less than Elizabeth Taylor” when referring to her five marriages and divorces.

Margaret “Maggie” Grenier of Kailua-Kona, one of Barkley’s five children, said her mother first came to be attracted to the Big Island after staying at the Kona Village Resort in the 1970s, and moved to the Big Island after her retirement in 1988.

“My mom absolutely loved living on the Big Island in Kona,” Grenier said. “She loved the people, the culture, and the sense of quiet and aloha, very different from her very active lifestyle on the mainland during her career years.”

Grenier said her activities included spending time with children and grandchildren, and playing with the Kona Bridge Club. She also made weekly snorkeling trips to Kahaluu Beach Park.

Private services were held.

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