Remembering Perry Miller Adato

September 19, 2018

A pioneer and innovator in the film biography genre, Perry Miller Adato was an award-winning producer-director and writer of documentary films for more than 50 years, collaborating frequently with WNET and PBS. Born in Yonkers, New York, she died on September 16, 2018.

Ms. Adato joined NET (a predecessor of THIRTEEN) in 1964 as a researcher and later as an Associate Producer on the multi-part “History of the Negro People.” She then began a long collaboration with Jac Venza, the longtime head of arts and cultural programming at WNET.

She was the first woman director to receive a Directors Guild of America Award, for her groundbreaking documentary, Georgia O’Keeffe (1977) which later aired on WNET’s American Masters series. She also won DGA honors for Picasso – A Painter’s Diary (1980), Eugene O’Neill – A Glory of Ghosts (1986), an American Masters production, and Carl Sandburg – Echoes and Silences (1982). Adato’s award for Georgia O’Keeffe put her in the Book of Women’s Firsts. Much of her work, whether for films or television series, brought women artists, women directors, and young independent filmmakers to national network television.

Her first directorial effort in 1968, Dylan Thomas – The World I Breathe, won Ms. Adato an Emmy. She subsequently received Emmy nominations for Best Director and Best Film including those for Gertrude Stein – When This You See, Remember Me (1970) and Picasso – A Painter’s Diary (1980).  The New York Times called her film biography of Eugene O’Neill “the best documentary of the year.”  Alfred Steiglitz – The Eloquent Eye (2001), produced for American Masters, premiered at the Museum of Modern Art, gained distinguished awards at festivals and wide distribution on home video in the era before streaming content.

She was creator and executive producer of The Originals – Women in Art (1975-78), the first national television series to celebrate women artists, producing and directing three of the seven films, including Mary Cassatt – Impressionist from Philadelphia (1975) and Frankenhaler – Toward a New Climate (1978)She conceived and executive produced Art of the Western World (1989-90), an international co-production of nine one-hour programs on the history of Western Art, which aired on PBS.  She also produced, directed and wrote A White Garment of Churches for this series.

In a special homage, four evenings were devoted to Adato’s films at the International Festival of Films on Art in Montreal, Canada.  Later, in 2002 she received the Festival’s highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement award. Ms. Adato was also honored with a film retrospective at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.  In 2007, she was recognized for her accomplishments by The Paley Center for Media.

In 2010, Adato completed the film she had wanted to make for more than 30 years:  Paris The Luminous Years, a two-hour film for WNET that uncovered for the first time the vital role played by the city of Paris itself in the creation of the modern arts from 1905 to 1930.

She is predeceased by her husband Neil Mony Adato, and is survived by her daughters Lauren and Michelle and her grandchildren.

Perry Miller Adato in 2010. Photo: Joe Sinnott/WNET.

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