Aaron Otto

[ Age 91 ] The Baltimore resident produced television and radio programs for the Baltimore-Washington region.

December 24, 2006|By John-John Williams IV Sun reporter

Aaron "Henry" Otto, a local television producer and syndicator for more than 30 years, died of melanoma Thursday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. The longtime Baltimore resident was 91.

Born in Hegins, Pa., to vegetable farmers, Mr. Otto graduated from Hegins Township High School in 1933 and became the first member of his family to graduate from college when he received a bachelor's degree in political science and history in 1939.

While attending Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa., Mr. Otto was a varsity wrestler and football player, and sang in a quartet and trio. He also waited tables.

Mr. Otto met his wife, the former Elizabeth Marie Trautman, on a blind date shortly after graduating from college. She died in 1988.

Mr. Otto served in the Army from 1943 to 1946 and 1950 to 1952. During World War II, Mr. Otto was athletic director at the Medical Replacement Training Center at Camp Pickett, Va., and chief of the Medical Rehabilitation Service at Northington General Hospital in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He also served as a public relations officer for the Eastern Pennsylvania Military District. In 1950, he was recalled to active duty and served as executive officer of the Armed Forces Radio Network in Korea.

"He always enjoyed radio as a boy," said son Greg Otto of Baltimore. "That was his love. That is how he learned about the world. Radio led to television."

In 1952, Mr. Otto took a job in Baltimore as an associate producer with a company owned by an Army buddy, Brent Gunts Productions in Baltimore. Otto and Gunts went on to collaborate on successful local TV variety and game shows, including Shadow Stumpers, Reward for Talent, You Said It and The Brent Gunts Show.

Mr. Otto had an affinity for game shows. "He would take hours and hours working on questions," his son said. "He would try [the questions] out on us. He loved the challenge."

In 1958, Mr. Otto formed his own company, Henry Otto Enterprises. The company produced live television and radio programming for the Baltimore-Washington market and for syndication.

Popular shows included What's New With the Lewans, Science Detective, Mr. Holiday, Hollywood Beat, the One O'Clock Show and What Do You Think?, which was eventually adapted as Match Game for network television.

Mr. Otto's company also worked with VanSant Dugdale, a Baltimore-based advertising company. The two collaborated on commercials for The Today Show, The Tonight Show and The Merv Griffin Show.

"He was a great negotiator," recalled, Phil Scharper, who worked with Mr. Otto for 10 years at VanSant Dugdale. "[He was] very strong and upstanding and a good leader," Mr. Scharper said.

Mr. Otto's most famous work came with his involvement in the production and syndication of the documentary television series American Lifestyle. The award-winning show, which aired during the 1970s, was filmed on location and portrayed the lives of such figures as Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, Louis Armstrong and Henry Ford. During the show's 10-year run, it was hosted by E.G. Marshall, Hugh Downs and Cliff Robertson.

Mr. Otto retired in the early 1980s and traveled around the United States and to China, Greece, Turkey and Russia.

Mr. Otto was also an amateur drummer who loved to sing barbershop-style. He was a member of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America. He also enjoyed Dixieland jazz and swing music.

Other interests included history, geography, politics, gardening, and writing and collecting limericks.

Private services will be held at the Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Pennsylvania.

In addition to his son, Mr. Otto is survived by one daughter, Patricia Ann Hooker, of Endicott, N.Y.; two grandsons; and a longtime companion, Harriet M. Little.

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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