Al Masini, the millionaire TV producer who created "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" and inspired nearly three dozen Emmy-winning shows before retiring in Honolulu, died Monday of complications from melanoma. He was 80.
Masini once said he was not motivated to be rich — just not poor. He said he was a simple person, remembered for his unassuming demeanor and deals sealed with a handshake.
"He was a very kind, generous man," said former Gov. Ben Cayetano, who met Masini not long after the producer moved here in the mid-1990s. "For all the fame he had achieved producing programs like ‘Entertainment Tonight’ and ‘Solid Gold,’ he was remarkably down to earth."
Masini made a lasting impression when he helped bring the Miss Universe Pageant to Hawaii in 1998, serving as its local producer, Cayetano said. Along with his wife at the time, April Masini, he also produced two 75-second commercials that promoted Hawaii during the internationally broadcast event.
"He did yeoman’s work on it, and he was never paid a dime," Cayetano said. "He just did it because he wanted to."
Masini was born on Jan. 5, 1930, in Jersey City, N.J. The younger of two children, he got his first job at age 10 in a Tootsie Roll factory after his father died.
After receiving a degree in communications arts from Fordham University in 1952, he served in the Air Force during the Korean War. Masini wound up in New York in 1954, flat broke. He once begged for a handout from a New York cop, he said in a 1998 interview.
But he found work with CBS as a liaison between the network and its affiliate stations. He wound up as president and CEO of TeleRep, which represents TV stations across the country. He later founded Al Masini Productions.
During his career, Masini created or produced numerous TV shows, including 32 miniseries.
"He was always a guy whose motto was to make it happen," said his wife, Charlyn Honda Masini. "Everything he did in life, he always worked hard and tried his best."
She said her husband first visited the Hawaii in the 1960s after KGMB owner Cec Heftel sought his advice on how to run the station. The visit sparked a love affair with the islands.
"Al just loved Hawaii," Charlyn Masini said. "He loved the people and he loved the beauty."
In 1999, when the popular lifeguard series "Baywatch" was looking to relocate from California to Australia, Masini engineered a deal that brought it to Hawaii.
Greg Bonnan, executive producer of "Baywatch," said he had already spent months negotiating with government officials in Australia when he was approached by Masini.
Sent by Cayetano, Masini sang the praises of Hawaii and the idea of keeping jobs in the United States, Bonnan said. But to Bonnan, Hawaii was a mystery and Australia a solid deal.
"That’s sketchy when you have to deliver a show to the world, but on the strength of Al’s handshake and the look in his eye that it would work out, I went with it," Bonnan said. "Al was the guy that Hawaii trusted, and Al was the guy I trusted."
In addition to his wife, Masini is survived by sister Melba Marvinny.