Margaret M. Sullivan

Emmy Award-winning Mpt Producer Helped Create Shows With Celebrity Chefs And Programs Showcasing Local Talent

August 15, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Margaret Mary Sullivan, a longtime Maryland Public Television producer who produced award-winning cooking shows with such gastronomic legends as Julia Child, Pierre Franey and Jacques Pepin, died Tuesday at Good Samaritan Hospital of complications from surgery.

The Hamilton resident was 62.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Thornberry Road in Mount Washington, Miss Sullivan graduated from Maryvale Preparatory School in 1965.

"When we were kids, she loved piling into the car and going out to the Painters Mill Music Fair to watch shows under the big tent. She loved them," recalled a brother, Jerry Sullivan of Baltimore.

"She had dabbled in plays during high school and was very active in theater productions in college," he said.

After earning a bachelor's degree in 1969 from the old Mount St. Agnes College, she worked briefly in New York before returning to Baltimore, where she joined the newly founded Center Stage.

In addition to working as a stage manager, she acted in more than 24 Center Stage productions.

In 1973, Miss Sullivan began work as a camera operator and director of commercials for WBFF-TV Channel 45.

"But it was her love for the arts and culture that led her to Maryland Public Television in 1976, which was developing a variety of programming in the nascent field of public broadcasting," said Ken Day, executive producer in arts and cultural affairs at MPT.

"She immediately began contributing as an associate producer on MPT's earliest efforts covering the arts, with shows like 'Maryland Playwrights Theater,' and later as casting director on MPT's long-running comedy series 'Crabs,' " he said.

Colleagues said Miss Sullivan was the key to the success and longevity of MPT's "The Critics Place," which during its 13-year run generated hundreds of local and regional theater reviews.

"She was smart and witty, and as a professional actor and stage manager, Margaret brought complete knowledge and unique artistic sensitivity to the coverage of the performing arts in our weekly programs as well as our many award-winning drama, music and dance television productions," said Michael Styer, former senior vice president of broadcasting at MPT.

When MPT launched an ambitious national show "On Stage At Wolftrap," Miss Sullivan was named associate producer, and in that role worked with such celebrities as Tony Bennett, Dizzy Gillespie and Maureen McGovern.

"Margaret always wanted to get it right, and she had an enormous respect for actors because she had been one. She respected their space and wouldn't let them be stepped on," said Donald Thoms, a former MPT director who had directed "Crabs" and "The Critics Place."

"She was a perfectionist and trained us to be better," said Mr. Thoms, president and founder of Thoms Media Group, a Baltimore production and talent company.

"Margaret left her impact on whatever she did. She was a rock-solid producer, and you could always count on her," he said.

Doug Roberts, a well-known Baltimore actor, radio personality and voice-over artist, said, "Margaret was the most professionally loyal person I've ever worked with."

Miss Sullivan was able to use her love of cooking when she worked with Ms. Child in the late 1990s as producer of "Baking with Julia," "In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs" and "Cooking with Master Chefs," for which she won two Emmy Awards.

She also produced cooking shows with such notable chefs as Mr. Pepin, Mr. Franey and John Shields, chef-owner of Gertrude's at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Miss Sullivan's cooking shows also garnered six James Beard Foundation Awards, the highest award for television cooking shows.

"Because she had a wonderful love of the arts, she was on the same page as these people, and she had the ability to make them feel comfortable," said Mr. Day. "She could draw out performances whether she was working in the kitchen or [on] a drama. She had a knack for that."

Mr. Day attributed her "terrific organizational skills combined with very creative insights," with making her one of MPT's top producers.

At her death, Miss Sullivan was in production of the third season of "Primal Grill with Steve Raichlen," which is scheduled to be filmed this fall, Mr. Day said.

Miss Sullivan was a communicant of St. Dominic Roman Catholic Church, Harford Road and Gibbons Avenue, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. today.

Also surviving are three other brothers, Dennis Sullivan of Baltimore, James Sullivan of Virginia Beach, Va., and Edward Sullivan of Fairfax Station, Va.; a sister, Elizabeth M. "Betty" Sullivan of Washington; and 10 nieces and nephews.

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