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Marty Pasetta ’54, a veteran director of live TV extravaganzas, including 17 Academy Awards shows and inaugural galas for Presidents Carter and Reagan, has died. He was 82.
Pasetta died May 21, 2015, from injuries sustained in a car accident in La Quinta, where he lived. During four decades in television, Pasetta directed and produced specials for many of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, and oversaw star-studded tributes to Elizabeth Taylor, Fred Astaire and Alfred Hitchcock. He was credited with convincing Elvis Presley to suspend his drug use and lose weight for the 1973 special "Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii," which has been described as the first satellite broadcast of a live concert.
The Elvis special was Pasetta’s proudest achievement, according to his son, Marty Pasetta Jr. According to some estimates, more than 1 billion people worldwide saw the concert.
The show he was best known for, however, was the Academy Awards. He directed every Oscars telecast from 1972 to 1988 and was responsible for introducing split screens, instant replays and musical numbers involving large numbers of background dancers, lasers and pyrotechnics.
His years with the Oscars show were also memorable for unscripted drama, on and off stage. In 1973, for example, tempers flared backstage when Sacheen Littlefeather accepted Marlon Brando’s best actor award for "The Godfather" with an overtly political speech decrying the depiction of Native Americans in film. John Wayne was in the wings "and was so angry he wanted to go out and pull her off stage," Pasetta recalled in an interview with United Press International in 1984.
Then there was the time that presenter Charlton Heston’s car blew a tire on the freeway. As a last-minute replacement for the actor known for playing Moses in the "The Ten Commandments" Pasetta yanked Clint Eastwood from his seat in the audience.
"That was the year the writers had got very clever," Pasetta recalled in the Chicago Tribune years later. "It was all written in Biblicalese — ‘thou’ this, ‘thou’ that — and poor Clint couldn’t paraphrase it…. It totally freaked him out."
Pasetta also presided over the 1974 program disrupted by a naked man who "streaked" across the stage behind Elizabeth Taylor and David Niven. "We have been accused over the years of planning that one," Pasetta told the Chicago Tribune, "but it’s not true."
The prank prompted a witty comeback from Niven, who said: "The man is showing off his shortcomings."
Martin Allen Pasetta was born June 16, 1932, in San Jose. He attended Santa Clara University, but dropped out to work at San Francisco’s KGO-TV, where he rose to stage manager and producer. He later moved to Los Angeles, landing his first major directing job on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" in 1967. He also helped launch and direct the long-running game shows "Wheel of Fortune" and "Love Connection."
In 1971, Fr. Schmidt asked Marty to take responsibility for securing the talent and staging the show at the Golden Circle Theatre Party, one of Silicon Valley’s most spectacular and successful fundraisers. Pasetta said, "Who could say no to Father Schmidt?" For the next 15 years, he flew in from Hollywood with entertainers, musicians, and a skeleton stage crew, all of whom donated their services to the University and made for an unforgettable legacy.
In addition to his son Marty, Pasetta is survived by his wife, Elise, daughter, Debbie Palacio ’84, son Gregory and five grandchildren.