Kent McCray, producer of the classic Little House on the Prairie series, died of natural causes on June 3 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 89 years old.
As native Hartford, Conn., McCray’s career spanned more than 50 years. He was born on June 7, 1928, and is the second son of Thomas Chapman McCray, who was an executive with the NBC Radio Network as well as Dorothy Baldwin McCray who was a singer and a musician.
After graduating from Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire — where his love of storytelling grew — he studied theater arts at the University of Hartford under Dr. Elemer Nagy. After receiving his diploma in 1948 he worked for the Central City Opera Association in Colorado and then went on to build his television career in Los Angeles.
He was a production coordinator on the All-Star Revue and The Colgate Comedy Hour at NBC and then worked for various shows of the time including the Red Skelton Show, The Ralph Edwards Show, This Is Your Life, and You Bet Your Life starring Groucho Marx.
McCray worked as the unit manager on The Buick-Berle Show starring Milton Berle in 1953 which sparked a working relationship with the iconic comedian Bob Hope. He worked with him on The Bob Hope Show as well as his legendary USO Christmas Specials.
McCray would go on to work in film as an associate producer on Philip Marlowe and Outlaws, but still kept his television credits coming, working as a production manager on NBC’s dramas, The High Chaparral and Bonanza.
While working on Bonanza, McCray and Michael Landon became close friends and collaborators. This would lead to McCray’s position as associate producer of the pilot Little House on the Prairie in 1974. Based on the books by Laura Ingalls, the show had Landon as executive producer, director, and star. Joining him were Karen Grassle and Melissa Gilbert. When the pilot went to series, McCray would stay on as producer for the show’s nine-season run.
McCray and Landon would team up again as partners in Michael Landon Productions, The duo produced Highway to Heaven which ran on NBC from 1984 to 1989.
McCray’s other credits include The Loneliest Runner, Killing Stone, Where Pigeons Go to Die, Us, Pistol Pete as well as The Miracle Worker which won an Emmy for Outstanding Drama or Comedy Special. When Landon died in 1991, he produced the NBC special Michael Landon: Memories with Laughter and Love.
McCray is survived by his wife Susan Sukman McCray and his four children from his first marriage: Deborah Kressin, Scott McCray, Kristen McCray Trent and Carolyn McCray Montgomery.