William Preston Wood II was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father was a prominent Philadelphia banker. Wood's parents divorced shortly after his birth. His mother, a vaudeville and silent film performer, took him and moved to St. Petersburg, Florida. There he completed high school and a stint at the local community college, followed by admission to the University of Florida.
In college, Wood found his passion for writing as he crafted commercial scripts and public service announcements for the university radio station, WRUF. Just a semester short of completion of requirements for an undergraduate degree in English literature, World War II interrupted his (and many, many others') academic plans for three years. He joined the United States Army Air Force as a cryptographer. He was stationed in the Solomon Islands in the Pacific where he served until war's end.
After his discharge, Wood completed his course of study and received his bachelor's degree from the University of Florida in the summer of 1946.
He sought his fortune in New York. He arrived in Gotham armed with his GI benefits, a few introductions to show business notables supplied by his actress mother, and dreams of a postwar world that his generation would create.
In one of his first professional efforts, he rewrote a musical comedy for show business legend J.J. Shubert. He also wrote comedy for the Kraft Music Hall and for radio personalities such as Goodman Ace, Robert Q. Lewis and Paul Winchell.
One dream had already become the reality of a new communications medium - television. In TV's early days, commercial sponsors controlled the shows they paid for. The "mad men" were the network moguls. So it was that Wood's entry into television was through his new employer, advertising titan Young & Rubicam.
Back in those early days, television directing was a craft to be learned and invented simultaneously. Wood worked with his mentor and fellow trailblazer Frank Telford. Between 1948 and 1950, Wood directed: The Bigelow Show, a variety show featuring Winchell and friends; Holiday Hotel, showcasing the varied talents of the irrepressible Oscar Levant; and We, The People, a current events and history program presciently adopting a magazine format. A viewer of We, The People could watch segments featuring anyone from Cole Porter to Mickey Mantle, or even (then) President Truman.
Meanwhile, in September 1949 he met Brooklynite model Eleanor Auby at a bar on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Love at first sight turned into marriage in July 1950, and then into family beginning in 1951 with the birth of William Preston III. Two years later, second son Mark was born. Eleanor and Preston remained together until her death in 2008.
Wood moved out of live television directing at the beginning of the 1950's, concentrating on the nitty-gritty work of a Madison Avenue advertising man. It was only at this time, after years of work in the medium, that he finally bought his first television set in December 1953. In those days, there was little occasion to buy a TV. Everything was live.
The family moved to the Connecticut suburbs. In 1958, his boss at Y & R, David Levy, persuaded Wood to join him on a new team being put together at NBC to develop new programs. At NBC, Wood was involved in the creation of Klondike, an hour dramatic series set during the Yukon Gold Rush, and Portofino, an adventure series starring Bobby Van.
In 1961, the Woods moved to Los Angeles as Preston assumed the duties of story editor for the second season of the western series Outlaws.
The following year he took the plunge into freelance script writing, changing his life forever. It was this decision that yielded the extensive filmography accumulated over two decades of steady script work.
The output is diverse, startlingly so. There were contemporary dramas - Mr. Novak, Slattery's People, the latter one of his favorite shows, although it had but a brief run. There was comedy -- The Addams Family, the creation of his NBC/Y & R boss David Levy. One episode featured a sidesplitting turn for Uncle Fester, played by Jackie Coogan, who would always remember it as one of his favorite efforts. Wood's work for shows such as Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Big Valley, and The Virginian earned him a lifetime membership in the Western Writers of America. A 1968 episode of Gunsmoke garnered guest star Jack Albertson an Emmy award for his portrayal of the title character in "Danny".
In late 1966, Wood was recruited by Jack Webb to write for a revival of his popular 1950's television program Dragnet. His first script for Dragnet 1967 aired in January 1967, and he would freelance for the show throughout its run. Wood went on to write for the similarly popular Webb spinoff, Adam-12.
To gain insight into the life of police officers, Wood even joined the Los Angeles Police Department Reserve, serving as a sworn patrol officer. When not reading criminal suspects their rights, he worked crowd control for parades and would have to bark orders to the same TV stars he wrote for!
He was always especially proud of his extensive work on another Jack Webb series, Emergency!, starting with the first season in 1972. His 25 stories for this show inspired local communities everywhere to develop paramedic programs. Emergency! saved lives.
The 1970's also saw work on Grizzly Adams, The Smith Family, Little House on the Prairie, and Hawaii 5-0. Working with his son William (Bill), he wrote for Kaz and Quincy. A brief biography can only furnish a partial list of his freelance writing. His last script was for the short-lived Jessica Novak in the early 1980's.
In retirement, Wood remained active with the Writers Guild. He also focused on novel writing. He published Weatherbee's Gold in 2010. He died January 13, 2011.
Wood's career provides a core sample of American popular culture in the second half of the twentieth century.
|Eleanor Auby||(10 July 1950 - 27 June 2008) (her death) 2 children|
Generally detested the use of violence as a plot device. He especially respected shows such as Dragnet and Adam-12 for their attempts to portray the real work of police officers, which rarely involved gunplay. His westerns tried to avoid the all too frequent final act shootout, instead preferring character development and less violent approaches to conflict resolution.
At the beginning of his career as a freelance script writer, he worked in a Hollywood hotel bathroom. Later, he used a small work area in the garage of the family home. All scripts were pounded out on a circa 1920 Royal Standard typewriter. By the end of his active career, the machine's letter "E" was almost gone, and the space bar was dented from decades of being hit by Wood's thumbs.
Was valedictorian of his graduating class from the Los Angeles Police Department Academy in March 1969, when he became a sworn officer in the LAPD Reserve. He was assigned to the LAPD's Hollywood Division, performing the duties of an LAPD officer, which included making arrests and responding to calls. He typically worked the "PM" shift, between 4 PM and midnight.
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