Norm Blumenthal loved puzzles.
A creative thinker, he adored the memory-testing card game, "Concentration," and found a way to bring its entertainment value to the television screen.
The West Hempstead resident served as executive producer throughout the entire run of the 1960s hit TV game show version and was one of the pioneers of the American Movie Classics channel. He died on Sept. 23, 2022, at the age of 97, from multi-organ failure.
Blumenthal was born Oct. 11, 1925, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. His passion for the arts was realized in high school after he thrived during performances in the auditorium but failed French class.
"His teacher looked at him and said that he didn't belong in that school, and he was recommended to The High School of Art and Design in Manhattan. That put him on a path to entertainment," said son Howard Blumenthal, 70, of Pennsylvania.
In 1943, Norm Blumenthal went into the Navy, with a first deployment to the Philippines and then to Japan as a signalman. During his time on the USS Oklahoma City, Blumenthal built scenery and directed shows for his fellow sailors. When the war ended, he enrolled in the Brooklyn Museum Art School, which enabled him to land his first job as a commercial artist for a small agency, eventually working his way up to assistant art director at Esquire magazine.
Blumenthal met his late wife, Sylvia — who died in 1991 — on vacation in the Catskills. The two married in Brooklyn in October 1950 and had three children: Howard, Bob, and Lori. After living for a few years in Woodhaven, Queens, Blumenthal moved his family to West Hempstead in 1965.
"He was a very nurturing, sensitive father who enjoyed watching his children grow and having an influence in their well-being," said son, Bob Blumenthal, 66, of Plainview. "He loved storytelling, writing, doing crossword puzzles, traveling, but more than anything, he enjoyed spending time with his family and friends."
The beginning of Blumenthal's television career began on "Winky Dink and You," a Saturday morning children's television series produced by Barry and Enright Productions. In 1957, during the era of big-money quiz shows, the idea of bringing "Concentration" to television was floated around Blumenthal's office. It came to fruition when, in 1958, "Concentration" and its famous rebus puzzles, premiered on NBC.
"When it first aired, the show was live and in black and white. Then it went to videotape and color, and Dad was around for all of it," said Howard. "The evolution of television was very much a part of his professional life."
Before its nearly 15-year run came to an end, Blumenthal not only created all of more than 9,000 puzzles used on the television show (without repetition), but also every puzzle utilized in all 24 annual editions of the Milton Bradley home game — which became one of the bestselling board games in the brand's history.
So what came next?
"He was asked to produce a children's television show that featured celebrities with complete creative freedom," said Bob Blumenthal.
The show was "Wonderama," which is still on television after several revitalizations. Blumenthal worked hard to include a large sampling of celebrities with different heritages and backgrounds to serve as role models for children. He met a host of celebrities including Arthur Ashe, Lauren Bacall, Johnny Carson, Michael Jackson, Jimmy Stewart, and Betty White, but his favorites were Muhammad Ali and comedian and pianist Victor Borge.
"He was very comfortable around famous people and didn't care about the accolades or awards; he cared about his work, his reputation, and being a part of a change in media, Howard Blumenthal said. "At the end of the day, he was a nice, creative, and respected guy who wanted to make a difference."
In addition to his sons, Blumenthal is survived by a daughter, Lori Blumenthal, 59, of Oregon; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Services and interment were held at Mount Ararat Cemetery in Lindenhurst.