Life Notes

“My grandmother always told me ‘the chicken eats his meal grain by grain,’ so I believe it’s not a good use of time worrying if I deserve all the things that have happened to me. I don’t add them up, I am grateful for all of the experiences and move on…one grain at a time.”


*Partially excerpted from US Naval Academy magazine, and other sources.

Ted Hartley was born and raised an Iowa farm boy, but his dreams were far from the farm. At age 14, he entered and won an essay contest sponsored by Warner Brothers. His prize-winning, 50-word essay, “Why I Would Like to Fly,” earned him flying lessons.

Hartley attended Shattuck Military School in Minnesota, and at age 16, was appointed to the Naval Academy, hoping to pursue his love of aviation. While at Annapolis, he was involved with a variety of activities ranging from being editor-in-chief of The Log, a member of the Class Policy Committee, co-designer of the Academy Christmas card and commander of the Academy yawl Alert. He was on the wrestling team and was a U.S. Olympic finalist in that sport.

As a commissioned officer, Hartley had tours as a congressional liaison for the Pentagon, as a Presidential aide, and as a carrier-based pilot. But in May 1964, Ted Hartley’s promising Navy career ended when his F9F8 fighter jet crashed from a carrier landing accident. Thrown from the plane, Hartley suffered a broken back and was medically retired from the Navy.

Ted Hartley took what most people would consider a big disappointment and turned it into an opportunity. He attended Harvard Business School and pursued a career in investment banking. He worked his way up to vice president in First Western Financial Corporation, but was fired over his strong objection to a program his boss was promoting.

Once again, Hartley bounced back, seeing this “transition” as an opportunity to pursue another of his boyhood dreams, acting. He appeared on the successful television show, Peyton Place, playing the character of the Reverend Jerry Bedford. He also had roles in several movies with Cary Grant, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood and others before landing his own TV series in the late 1970s called Chopper One. The show eventually was cancelled and he again found new opportunities.

He left Hollywood for Aspen, Colorado, where he became the managing artistic director of a local theatre. He was involved with all aspects of operations and enjoyed a successful winter season. But when the snow leaves, so do the crowds, so Hartley returned to investment banking.

Hartley was a partner in Pavilion Communications Inc. – a company that bought out or re-financed smaller entertainment companies. When RKO came to his attention in 1990, Hartley looked for a way to re-build the company. A former giant in the industry, RKO had been in decline since Howard Hughes took over in 1948, slowing production and gradually changing the emphasis from film to television and radio programming. By 1991, he had merged Pavilion with RKO Pictures Corporation, recapitalized and restructured the company, which has led to the current re-emergence of RKO Pictures, LLC as an important independent studio.

As chairman and chief executive office of RKO Pictures, Hartley has led RKO’s worldwide development and production activities in movies and television as well as the expansion of the RKO brand to the stage and other entertainment and distribution venues.

Bringing his experiences from the world of finance together with his knowledge of the film business from both sides of the camera, Hartley provides RKO Pictures with a dynamic and diverse vision. He presides over a varied slate of RKO films from development through post-production until they reach the audience. In addition to his corporate responsibilities, Hartley produced the 1998 RKO classic film Mighty Joe Young with Disney (1998), Ritual with Miramax (2000), Magnificent Ambersons (2002), Shade, starring Sylvester Stallone (2003) and the Broadway musical Never Gonna Dance (2003).

Hartley belongs to a number of motion picture and television guilds and associations, including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and Screen Actors Guild. He is a board member of the Steadman-Hawkins Sports Medicine Foundation and serves as director of the Harvard Business School Association of Southern California. Hartley is also a frequent lecturer and is published periodically in business journals. He is also a published poet as well as a creator of stories for the screen.

Hartley and his wife, Dina Merrill, are the founders of The Story Project and the Hartley-Merrill International Screenwriting Award. Ted Hartley is the father of one son and lives in Southern California.


Film Journal International
Dan’s Papers 12-24-04
People Magazine
L.A. Life
Hampton’s Country
US Naval Academy
Brentwood Magazine
Producer’s Guild POV
Beverly Hills 213 – 1994
Beverly Hills 213 – 1998
Beverly Hills 213 – 1990