William G. Clotworthy, censor of "Saturday Night Live", dies at 95

William G. Clotworthy, who, as internal censor of “Saturday Night Live” from 1979 to 1990, decided whether Eddie Murphy could say “basta...


William G. Clotworthy, who, as internal censor of “Saturday Night Live” from 1979 to 1990, decided whether Eddie Murphy could say “bastard,” if Joe Piscopo could make farts jokes, and if the Romans made good. intoxicated could vomit on network television, died Aug. 19 in Salt Lake City. He was 95 years old.

His son Robert confirmed his death, in a hospice.

Mr. Clotworthy, who described himself as “a professional square”, had never seen an episode of “Saturday Night Live” when he arrived in 1979, after an almost 30-year career in advertising and research. of a mid-life career change.

His predecessors had struggled with the boundary-pushing humor of the late-night skit show and often rejected entire skits. Mr. Clotworthy was different. An actor by training, he fell in love with the series and its satire, and worked with its writers to polish questionable material.

“A writer once asked me what was the first thing I did when I read a script, and I said, ‘I’m laughing,'” he wrote in his memoir, “Saturday Night Live : Equal Opportunity Offender “(2001). “After laughing, I get to work with the scissors and the blue pencil, shouting or begging. “

Mr Clotworthy, then in his 50s, was appreciated and respected by the young anti-authoritarian actors and the show’s writing staff. He laughed when they called him “Dr. No” and got out of breath when a cast member Tim Kazurinsky started interrupting the skits as prudish “Worthington Clotman” censor.

“He was an ally,” said former US Senator Al Franken, who, as a longtime “Saturday Night Live” writer and performer, often ran into Mr Clotworthy – but who also considered him like a friend. “Sometimes I lost, sometimes I won, but he was always sophisticated in his understanding of what we were doing.”

Another writer, Kevin Kelton, recalled one of his early skits, in which Mr. Murphy, playing his recurring character Mister Robinson – a riff by Mister Rogers – finds a baby outside his apartment door. Like Mister Rogers, Mister Robinson often had a “word of the day” written on a chalkboard for his so-called juvenile audience. The word for this episode was “bastard”.

Mr Clotworthy said no they couldn’t say “bastard” on network television. But instead of shutting down the skit, he and Mr. Kelton negotiated. Eventually they found a compromise: the word would appear on the board, but Mr. Murphy would be removed by a visitor before he could say it.

“He had a job as tough as anyone else out there, but he was very nice,” Kelton said in an interview. “Even though he was the censor, he understood that his job was not to hinder the show.”

By his own admission, Mr. Clotworthy was not perfect. He regretted killing a skit in which several fraternity brothers, lighting their farts, are interrupted by a smokey bear parody, played by Mr. Piscopo, and he also regretted approving ” Vomitorium “, in which Roman men drink. and eat too much and then vomit.

“I wish I had the script so I could remember why the hell we let this one in,” he wrote in his memoir.

William Griffith Clotworthy was born January 13, 1926 in Westfield, NJ. Her father, William Rice Clotworthy, worked for AT&T and her mother, Annabelle (Griffith) Clotworthy, was a housewife. He traced his family line back to 11th-century England and his American roots to Jamestown, the first English colony in North America.

His first two marriages ended with the death of his wives. With his son Robert, he is survived by his third wife, Jo Ann Clotworthy; another son, Donald; his daughters, Lynne and Amy Clotworthy; his step-sons, Peter Bailey and Bradford Jenkins; and a grandson.

Mr. Clotworthy entered the Navy after graduating from high school and then attended Yale and Wesleyan before enrolling at Syracuse University, where he studied theater and graduated in 1948.

He traveled to New York City with the intention of embarking on an acting career and arrived at the dawn of the television age, something he was able to watch firsthand after being hired as an NBC page. The first program at the time was “Texaco Star Theater”, hosted by Milton Berle, and one of Mr. Clotworthy’s tasks was to escort Mr. Berle’s mother to Studio 8H before each performance.

He left NBC after eight months and, after a brief unsuccessful attempt at acting, took a job with the advertising agency BBDO.

First in New York then in Los Angeles, he worked as an agency representative. In the early days of television, many shows were owned by companies, some of which were clients of BBDO, and it was Mr. Clotworthy’s job to ensure that their interests were protected. On “General Electric Theater,” for example, he made sure there were no gas stoves on the kitchen sets.

He became particularly friends with the host of the General Electric Theater, Ronald Reagan, and was among those who encouraged him to enter politics in the 1950s. When Mr. Clotworthy told Reagan he should run for mayor of Los Angeles, he recalls, Reagan replied, “No, it’s president or nothing!”

Mr. Clotworthy returned to New York in 1974 and five years later returned to NBC, this time as the Standards and Practices Manager for the East Coast.

The job allowed him to oversee several programs, including soap operas, movies and, later, “Late Night With David Letterman,” where he visited comics in their dressing rooms and had them peruse their acts for a few minutes before moving on. on air.

“He wasn’t a jovial, ugh-a-minute guy,” said Carol Leifer, a former “Saturday Night Live” screenwriter who often appeared as a stand-up comedian on “Letterman.” “I would always be more relaxed when I continued because I knew my routine couldn’t go as badly as it did with Bill.”

But most of his time was spent on “Saturday Night Live”. He would attend the script’s first reading on Wednesday, raising flags and suggesting changes. He would stay in and around the studio for the duration of the broadcast, watching nervously from the control room to make sure no one was letting any obscenity escape.

That’s exactly what happened in February 1981, when one of the cast members, Charlie Rocket, uttered a four-letter banned word near the end of a skit.

“The control room went absolutely silent and then, as on the swivels, all heads turned to me,” Mr Clotworthy wrote in his memoir. “I saw it through my fingers, notice, as my hands covered my face, just before I hit my head against the console.”

The word was removed from the tape before it aired on the West Coast. With ratings for the show already dropping, Mr. Rocket was fired a month later, along with two other cast members, four writers and the producer.

Mr. Clotworthy retired in 1990, after which he became an amateur historian and wrote several books, including one in which he says he visited all the sites claiming “George Washington slept here”.

Mr. Clotworthy rarely socialized with the cast or editorial staff, and he kept his personal and political views to himself, especially when the show made fun of his old friend, President Reagan. It was, he later wrote, the delicate balance between enforcement and negotiation, between taking a hard line and letting go.

“The hardest part of the job,” he wrote, “is saying ‘No’ and making them like it. “

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Newsrust - US Top News: William G. Clotworthy, censor of "Saturday Night Live", dies at 95
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