Emmy winning director Robert Butler, who directed Star Trek’s pilot “The Cage,” which was later re-edited into “The Menagerie,” has died at the age of 95. He passed away on November 3, 2023 in Los Angeles, California, of natural causes.
Butler is credited with directing two episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series, “The Cage,” and “The Menagerie, Part One.” Marc Daniels directed “The Menagerie Part Two.” His other TV directing jobs ranged from Playhouse 90 to The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, to The Rifleman, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Ironside, and many others in a wide variety of genres.
He is known for directing six episodes of the live-action Batman TV show, including the pilot. In addition, Butler directed the Disney movie The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) and co-created the popular mystery show Remington Steele. He also directed several episodes of Remington Steele and served as executive consultant on the series. Notably, he directed the pilot episodes for several TV shows, including Hogan’s Heroes (for which he was co-creator), Shane, Star Trek, Moonlighting, Hill Street Blues, The Blue Knight, and Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. For his exceptional directing skills, he received five Emmy Awards nominations, including nominations for the pilot episodes of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman in 1994 and Moonlighting in 1985. Notably, he won the Emmy for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series in 1981 for his work on the premiere episode of Hill Street Blues.
Studios hired Butler to direct numerous pilots, and he established the look and feel of seminal television series including Hogan’s Heroes (1965), Star Trek (1966), Batman (1966), The Blue Knight (1973, TV’s first mini-series), Hill Street Blues (1978), Moonlighting (1985), Sisters (1991) and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993). Butler won Emmy Awards for The Blue Knight and Hill Street Blues, for which he is widely credited with changing the face of police procedural shows, innovating a hand held camera style that offered a grittier look to the dramatic narratives. He was also honored with Emmy nominations for Lois & Clark, Hill Street Blues and the pilot episodes of Sirens, Moonlighting, and Remington Steele, which he co-created.
My esteemed colleague, fellow SciFi.Radio writer Dr. David Raiklen actually met Robert Butler and had this to say about him:
“Robert Butler was the ‘Pilot King.’ The director everyone wanted to helm their pilot thanks to his extremely high rate of pilots going to series. A great guy, he was always friendly and charming in a down-to-earth way, yet no-nonsense when it came to his art/craft. I watched some of his episodes with him, and his commentary was very insightful. It shined new light on the show and the challenges of making it.”
Butler directed several movies, both made-for-TV films and theatrical feature films. These included Turbulence (1997), Mayday at 40,000 Feet! (1976), Night of the Juggler (1980), and Long Time Gone (1986)
In addition to science fiction and crime shows, Robert Butler directed several westerns: the Disney comedy Hot Lead and Cold Feet (1978) and such TV shows as Kung Fu, The Rifleman, Bonanza, Have Gun, Will Travel, The Outcasts, Cimarron Strip, Gunsmoke, The Virginian, Lancer, Nichols, and Stoney Burke. He directed Lacey and the Mississippi Queen (1978) and Black Bart (1975).
Movies for Disney
Although he directed Turbulence, Night of the Juggler, and other R-rated movies, Butler was hired to direct several Disney movies Hot Lead and Cold Feet, Guns in the Heather(1969), The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969), The Barefoot Executive (1971), and Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972).
Disney Studios had several comedies set at Medfield College, which has the wackiest, weirdest science department of any institution of higher learning in this hemisphere, two in the 1960s, with Fred MacMurray as Professor Ned Brainaird, and three in the ’70s with Kurt Russell as student Dexter Riley. Kurt Russell would eventually grow up to become Ego, the Living Planet in the MCU.
Robert Butler directed two of the three Dexter Riley movies, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and Now You See Him, Now You Don’t. The third Dexter Riley movie, The Strongest Man in the World (1975) was directed by Vincent McEveety. The World’s Greatest Athlete (1973) took place at Merrivale College and was directed by Scheerer. The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964) and The Monkey’s Uncle (1965) both take place at Midvale College, an entirely separate school from Medfield or Merrivale.
SciFi and Fantasy
- Death Takes a Holiday (1971)
- Out of Time (1988)
- Strange New World (1975)
- Star Trek “The Cage”
- Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman the pilot and nineteen other episodes
- Batman six episodes, including the pilot
- The Invaders “Panic” “The Enemy,” and “The Trial,” all three in 1967
- Twilight Zone “Caesar and Me” and “The Encounter,” both in 1964
Awards and Honors
Robert Butler was a craftsman who refused to limit himself to one genre. From raunchy comedies like Up The Creek (1984) to ,westerns like Gunsmoke and Bonanza, from science fiction classics like the pilot of Star Trek to disaster thrillers like Mayday at 40,000 Feet!, Butler was willing to tackle any project, TV show or feature film. He excelled in police dramas, but did not limit himself to them. Butler graduated from UCLA with a degree in English.
Robert Stanton Butler was born November 16, 1927 in Los Angeles, California. Butler is survived by his wife of 66 years, the former Adrienne Hepburn, who was a script girl at Playhouse 90 when they first met, their son and daughter, and their grandsons, Liam and Rainer.
Mark Quigley, manager of the UCLA archive’s Research and Study Center, said,
“Given his numerous contributions to pop culture, he [Butler] should be a household name. There really is no parallel when it comes to the breadth of iconic TV programs he worked on and the number of TV pilots he directed. A director like Butler was able to come in and help establish motifs that allowed these series to be embraced by audiences. If you look at the scope and scale, from Hogan’s Heroes to Moonlighting, it shows a real ease across genres.”
If you’re not a credits watcher, you may never have known Robert Butler’s name, but you almost certainly knew his work.
Ave atque vale, Mr. Butler. Thank you for the marvelous entertainment over the years. Our condolences to your family.
Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as 26 short stories, mostly fantasy in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, Swords &Sorceries Vols. 1, 2, & 5, “Cat Tails” “Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions, Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.