Lew Klein, a legend of broadcast media who helped bring American Bandstand to the airwaves and taught at Temple University for 67 years, died on June 12. He was 91.
Klein began teaching TV courses at Temple in 1952 in the School of Media and Communication (a school that would later be rededicated as the Lew Klein College of Media and Communication). While teaching, he was also working as an executive at WFIL-TV (now WPVI) in Philadelphia. When he became program director in 1970, he created the Action News format that made the channel what it is today.
Klein helped launch the careers of hundreds of media luminaries — like actor and comedian Bob Saget, and CBS News Executive Editor Steve Capus — but none of them was as famous as Dick Clark. Klein was an executive producer on American Bandstand, one of the seminal television shows in American broadcast history, originally developed and produced in Philadelphia. He also produced the Philadelphia Phillies telecasts for 15 years, recruiting beloved fan favorites like Richie Ashburn and Tim McCarver into sportscasting.
Klein was also, at one point, president of Gateway Communications, which owned four TV stations on the East Coast.
In addition to renaming a school in his honor, Temple created the Lew Klein Alumni in the Media Awards in 1997, honoring alumni like former Electric Factory head Larry Magid, musician John Oates and others.
“I want to extend my sincere condolences to Janet and the entire Klein family, who are in our thoughts and prayers. Lew was a caring and thoughtful member of the Temple family, and we all mourn his loss,” university president Richard Englert said in a statement.
David Boardman, former editor-in-chief of The Seattle Times and the dean of the Klein College, first met Klein during the hiring process in the spring of 2013. Seated next to him at a dinner, they “hit it off,” Boardman said, and found that they had much in common.
“He struck me as an incredible person,” Boardman said, who was “obviously deeply committed to education and to the community and to quality journalism.”
Because Klein was not particularly well known for his efforts and effect on American media, Boardman was pleased with the Temple school renaming while he was still alive. Sitting across from him at lunch one day, Boardman told him: “There’s only one person for whom the school should be named, and I’m looking at him.”
Klein’s impact was perhaps most deeply felt, he said, by those who saw his passion for “helping others do their best work.”
“Over his 67 years at Temple, Lew had a profound impact on thousands of careers, including my own. I could not be more proud to have our college graced with the name of this creative, generous and honorable man. We will miss him deeply,” Boardman said in a separate statement.
Melissa Greenberg, chief development officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, worked at Temple for eight years as the associate vice president for campaign programs, as well the chief of staff of the office of the president. During that time, she worked closely with Klein, and came to see his impact as a “beloved and respected” mentor to his students.
“He was just such an extraordinary person in every way,” she said. “An all-around great guy.”
Bryan Leib, a former Republican congressional candidate and a cousin of Klein’s, said Klein was a “remarkable man who accomplished so much and helped so many.”
“Lew will be missed,” Leib added, “but his legacy will never fade.”
Of his father, Stephen Klein said that he will miss more than anything, perhaps, is his wisdom, and his ability to translate it into sage counsel.
“If you had any kind of a question of what was right and was wrong to do, you could ask him, and he could give you the answer,” Klein said. His father believed in “treating people honestly” above all else.
He and his wife, Janet, filled their lives with friends, attracted to them for Janet’s smile, according to Stephen Klein, and to Lew’s stories. He was full of stories, his son said, “and he never repeated … well, some of the favorite ones, I heard a few times.”
Lew Klein is survived by his wife, Janet; his children, Ellen and Stephen; granddaughter Anna and her husband John; and great-grandchildren Oscar and Miriam.
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