Thursday, September 21

UCLA screenwriting professor Dee Caruso passes away

Dee Caruso

Dee Caruso

Antonio Gonzalez / Daily Bruin

Dee Caruso, a screenwriting professor, Emmy-nominated television writer, storyteller and mentor, died of pneumonia in his Brentwood home on May 27. He was 83.

Caruso was a professor at UCLA for about 30 years. He began teaching a course on comedy with his wife at UCLA Extension. He later taught screenwriting at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and retired as an adjunct assistant professor in 2009.

Caruso donated all of his salary to the film school during his time as a professor at UCLA, said Richard Walter, a professor of screenwriting and Caruso’s colleague.

A memorial service was held Sunday at the Westwood Village Memorial Park, where about 100 friends, family members, former students and colleagues came to show their respect.

Hubert Wiegand, Caruso’s former student, spoke at the memorial and said he was on track for a business career until Caruso “completely derailed” him by inspiring him to go into the entertainment industry.

“A quote that (Caruso) would share with us was “˜I never worked a day of my life’ because he did what he loved and it was never work for him,” Wiegand said.

Caruso would meet with his students for hours, going through scripts line by line and helping them with writing, said Sandra Caruso, his wife.

“He would sit and talk with students about their lives,” Sandra Caruso said.

“A lot of the time these students will pour their hearts out to him, and he would say, “˜That’s what you should be writing about.’”

Sharon Mae, a former student, described Dee Caruso as a professor who truly cared about his students ““ he constantly nurtured and supported his students in their aspirations.

“(The Carusos) both became real mentors for me, and helped me gather the courage and determination to pursue the life of an artist,” said Mae, who is now an actress.

Caruso began his career writing for stand-up comedians in New York. He became a head writer for the original television series “Get Smart” and “The Monkees.” He also co-wrote movies such as “The World’s Greatest Athlete.” Caruso was also nominated for a primetime Emmy for the comedy program “That Was the Week That Was.”

Caruso was a natural storyteller, Walter said. Clad in his trademark quilted jackets and fisherman’s hat, Caruso’s voice would fill the room when he told a well-known story about the time he met Frank Sinatra in a steam room.

Caruso is survived by his wife of 47 years Sandra Caruso and their pets, Pinochle and Shadow.

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