The University of Hartford community mourns the loss of television industry pioneer Kent McCray ’51, Hon.‘07, who passed away early Sunday morning four days shy of his 90th birthday. He was a member of the University of Hartford Board of Regents from 1995–2005, an honorary regent from 2005–11, and was elected a life regent in 2011.
McCray’s name is attached to two campus spaces that are creating future generations of performing artists—the Kent McCray Television Studio in the lower level of the Harry Jack Gray Center and the 100-seat Kent McCray Theater, located in the Mort and Irma Handel Performing Arts Center.
McCray, a graduate of The Hartt School six years before it became a founding school of the University of Hartford, began his storied career as a producer during the early days of television in the 1950s, working on such legendary programs as the "Colgate Comedy Hour," "The Red Skelton Show," "The Ralph Edwards Show," and "This is Your Life." He also worked as an associate producer with Bob Hope, accompanying the comedian on many of his overseas USO trips to entertain the troops.
In the early 1960s, McCray began a 30-year partnership with actor Michael Landon, and together they produced some of the most popular shows in television history, including "Bonanza," "Little House on the Prairie," and "Highway to Heaven." McCray and his wife, Susan, also a life regent and ardent supporter of the University, developed a very close friendship with Landon and his family. Landon died of cancer in 1991.
In his memoir released last September, Kent McCray: The Man Behind The Most Beloved Television Shows, McCray wrote, “Because of my personal and working relationship with Michael, I had the freedom to run a production as I saw fit. I have always believed that to get the best show, you must have the very best crew and then allow them to do their job without intruding on their expertise. There’s nothing more wonderful than looking forward to going to work every day. Because of the mutual respect and love Michael and I felt for each other and our crew family, that dream came true for me.”
President Emeritus Walter Harrison counts McCray as among the most modest people he has ever known. “He would acknowledge what he had accomplished, what he had created,” Harrison says, “but did it in a way that seemed always to concentrate on ‘we’ rather than ‘I.’ We met each other in the very early months of my presidency, and I always tried to model myself after him. I accomplished far less than he, but I tried to model my style on his—to concentrate on what the whole University had accomplished together.
“What I will most remember about Kent, however, is his absolute and complete joy in living,” Harrison adds.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the University of Hartford’s Hartt Theatre Division in care of Institutional Advancement, University of Hartford, 200 Bloomfield Avenue, West Hartford, CT 06117; or online at https://www.anchoronline.org/harttschool/honormccray.