Robert Bendick, 91, Early Producer of ‘Today Show’

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Robert Bendick, who died June 22 at 91 at his home in Guilford, Conn., was an early producer of NBC’s “Today Show” who went on to create sports shows and documentaries, and also teamed with “King Kong” director Merian Cooper to develop Cinerama, a super-wide film format.

In the 1970s, he produced Emmy-winning episodes of the PBS series “The Great American Dream Machine,” and also “The Fight for Food,” a public TV series focusing on global hunger problems.

Born February 8, 1917, in Manhattan, Bendick attended New York University and the C.H. White School of Photography. In the late 1930s, he shot assignments for National Geographic and Time. A chance encounter with a technician led to his hiring in 1941 as one of the first CBS cameramen at a time when television was more a curiosity than a mass medium. He worked on a wide variety of programs at CBS, including a sports special in which he filmed Gypsy Rose Lee on a fishing expedition.

During World War II, Bendick served in the United States Air Corps in the China-Burma-India theater, leaving in 1946 as a decorated captain.

In 1952, Bendick was hired by a former CBS newsman, Lowell Thomas, who, together with Louis B. Mayer, Mike Todd, and Cooper, was developing Cinerama as the next big thing in the movies. “This is Cinerama” which opened in the fall of 1952 on Broadway, featured a gut-wrenching roller-coaster ride at the start as well as scenes from Florida’s Cypress Gardens contributed by Bendick. He went on to be the sole producer of a follow-up, “Cinerama Holiday” (1955), another dizzying spectacle that included downhill skiing at St. Moritz and yodeling.

Bendick served as producer of the “Today Show” between 1953 and 1955 and again between 1958 and 1960, all with the founding host of the program, David Garroway. During the 1960s, he worked as an independent producer of documentaries and specials, including “U.S. Steel Opening of the 1964 World’s Fair” and a Latin-American production of the 1968 Olympics.

Bendick collaborated with his wife, Jeanne, on several children’s books, including “Television Works Like This” (1949) and “Markets: From Barter to Bar Codes” (1997). They also worked together on educational filmstrips about the Loch Ness Monster and other quasi-scientific subjects.

An avid sailor, Bendick inadvertently made news in 1960 when he rescued two children from a capsized boat in Long Island Sound. Their parents were lost at sea.

He is survived by his wife and a son and a daughter.

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