Jerome Coopersmith, who received a Tony nomination for writing a 1965 Sherlock Holmes musical and penned more than two dozen episodes of the original Hawaii Five-O during the series’ first nine seasons, has died. He was 97.
Coopersmith died peacefully Friday in Rochester, New York, his family announced.
After earning a Purple Heart for his service during World War II, Coopersmith broke into television writing for quiz shows and historical programs. In the early 1950s, he and Horton Foote worked on the kids-focused Gabby Hayes Show and Johnny Jupiter, and the future Pulitzer Prize and Oscar winner behind To Kill a Mockingbird would become his mentor.
Coopersmith wrote 30 regular installments and two feature-length episodes of CBS’ Hawaii Five-O from 1968-76. Among those was the notable 1975 eighth-season installment Retire in Sunny Hawaii … Forever, which featured Helen Hayes in an Emmy-nominated guest-starring stint as the aunt of her real-life nephew, James MacArthur.
He then created the CBS midseason series The Andros Targets, a New York newspaper drama that starred James Sutorius but lasted just 13 episodes — he wrote them all — in 1977.
The dramatist adapted stories from Arthur Conan Doyle to write the book for 1965’s Baker Street, which was directed by Hal Prince and featured lyrics and music from Hal Bock and Sheldon Harnick. Starring Fritz Weaver as Sherlock Holmes and Peter Sallis as Dr. Watson, it ran for more than 300 performances on Broadway.
He then created the first act for the 1966-67 Broadway hit The Apple Tree, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Barbara Harris, Alan Alda and Larry Blyden.
Born in New York on Aug. 11, 1925, Coopersmith worked as an office boy for the Shubert Theatrical Company. He entered the U.S. Army in 1943 and in January 1945 took a bullet to the chest during the Battle of the Bulge.
“At a military hospital, Jerry would read about the dawn of the age of television and decide it would be his career,” his grandson, Politico reporter Kyle Cheney, wrote on Twitter.
In addition to the Purple Heart — which his father had also earned during World War I — Coopersmith received a Combat Infantryman Badge; a Bronze Star Medal; a European Theater of Operations Medal with three battle stars; and, in 2019, the highest distinction of Chevalier, or Knight, in the National Order of the French Legion of Honor in recognition of his service to France.
He left the Army in 1945 and began his TV writing career in ’47.
Producer David Susskind put him in charge of NBC’s Armstrong Circle Theater in 1955, and he wrote and produced the anthology show through 1963. He also contributed to other programs including Appointment With Adventure, The Alcoa Hour, Decoy, Deadline and The United States Steel Hour.
In 1973, he penned ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas for Rankin/Bass that would become a holiday perennial, and his TV résumé also included episodes of Combat!, The Streets of San Francisco, Medical Center, Spencer for Hire and A Man Called Hawk.
Coopersmith’s first theatrical effort was a play he authored in the 1960s about a young Eleanor Roosevelt when she worked as a volunteer teacher. He then wrote plays about Mata Hari and the relationship between Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, among many others.
He wrote a 1969 book, the Syd Hoff-illustrated A Chanukah Fable for Christmas, for Jewish kids who felt left out at Christmastime, and taught for decades at Hunter College and Brooklyn College in New York.
In addition to his grandson, survivors include his daughters, Amy and Jill; sons-in-law Ken and Robert; another grandchild, Kim; step-grandchildren Stephanie, Kevin, Michelle and Daniel; great-grandchildren Clara, Beatrice, Ashton and Gavin; and niece Gretchen.
Donations in his memory may be sent to Rochester Regional Health, Unity Hospital.