THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) – Greg Garrison, who directed such stars as Dean Martin, Jack Benny, George Burns and Lucille Ball in a 40-year career, has died. He was 81.

Garrison died of pneumonia March 25 at his suburban Los Angeles home, said his wife, Judy.

Garrison directed nearly 4,000 shows in his career, but was probably best known for his work on “The Dean Martin Show” and Martin’s popular “Celebrity Roasts.”

He also directed “Your Show of Shows,” the comedy-variety program that starred Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris.

Garrison began his TV career as a “gofer” for WFIL-TV in Philadelphia shortly after World War II. He got his break when he was brought to New York by the legendary producer Max Liebman and NBC executive Sylvester “Pat” Weaver to direct “Your Show of Shows” from 1950 to 1952.

At the same time, Garrison was directing “The Kate Smith Evening Hour,” a live program that aired five times a week.

He also had stints directing “The Milton Berle Show” and “Ford Television Theatre” in the 1950s, as well as numerous TV specials over the years starring Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Jack Benny, George Burns, Lucille Ball, Phil Silvers, Bob Newhart and Jonathan Winters.

“Greg was the man who said, “Just go for it; I trust you,”‘ recalled Dom DeLuise, who appeared frequently on “The Dean Martin Show,” which Garrison directed from 1965 to 1974.

When he directed such stars as Orson Welles, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald on the “Celebrity Roasts,” DeLuise said, Garrison always had their respect. If he wanted their attention, he would whistle into a microphone and say, “One voice – mine.”

“Everybody would stop – nobody moved. You just listened as he told you what the plan was, and it was great. DeLuise recalled. “I’m sure he’s directing all the angels in heaven, saying, “One voice – mine.”‘

Garrison also directed one of television’s landmark 1960 presidential debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

Garrison was born in Brooklyn and dropped out of high school before flying combat missions with the Army Air Force during World War II. He spent time in a German prisoner-of-war camp.

One of his earliest directing jobs was the 1949 police drama “Stand by for Crime,” starring a young actor named Myron Wallace who would later become better known as “60 Minutes” correspondent Mike Wallace.

Garrison was nominated for more than a dozen Emmys, although he never won.

He modestly attributed his success to getting into television in its infancy.

“In those days,” he once wrote, “if you had two weeks’ experience in television, you were considered a genius, because nobody knew anything about it.”

He is survived by his wife and two children from a previous marriage.

AP-ES-04-02-05 1239EST

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