Emmy-winning TV news producer William Longen dies

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Tuesday January 24, 2023
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William "Bill" Longen. Photo: Courtesy Ken Gorczyca
William "Bill" Longen. Photo: Courtesy Ken Gorczyca

William "Bill" Longen, a gay man who was an Emmy-winning TV news producer, a former manager of the Castro Theatre, and the co-founder of an early AIDS support group, died January 1, his friends recently announced.

Mr. Longen, 75, died at Coming Home Hospice in San Francisco, his friend veterinarian Dr. Ken Gorczyca wrote in an obituary he prepared.

Mr. Longen had a creative interest in film at an early age and graduated in 1966 from Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. He studied film at Temple University and the Eastman Kodak Film School.

He moved to San Francisco with his love, Stanton Schaffer, shortly before the start of the AIDS epidemic. Mr. Longen worked from 1977-1997 as a film editor at Cox Broadcasting (KTVU Channel 2) where he was supervising editor for the 10 O'clock evening news for his last three years at the station. He was an Emmy-winning editor/producer with eight additional Emmy nominations. He also was the winner of multiple gold, silver, and bronze awards from the International Film and Television Festival of New York. When his health declined, he had to take an early retirement from his beloved film career.

Mr. Longen and Schaffer then became founding members of Positives Being Positive, an early HIV/AIDS peer-to-peer support group with Pierre Ludington, for which the first meeting was in February 1998, according to an article in the old San Francisco Sentinel newspaper. Mr. Longen and Schaffer were also early pioneers of RSVP Cruises, where they found solace on the open ocean while befriending the late gay comedian Danny Williams. Schaffer died in 1995 at home surrounded by his friends and cat companions. Mr. Longen became a long-term survivor of over 40 years and remained one of only four of the 25 support group members to survive, Gorczyca wrote. With Mr. Longen's passing, now there are three. Ludington died in July 1994.

Mr. Longen eventually returned to his love of films and was manager of the Castro Theatre for almost a decade, from 2005-2011, according to his LinkedIn profile, bringing his creativity and knowledge of film to the Castro community. He also was a projectionist, film editor and owner/operator of Ironwood Cinemas. Prior to working at the theater, Mr. Longen lived for awhile in Palm Springs.

David Perry, a gay man who's in public relations, once interviewed Mr. Longen for his show "10 Percent," and expressed sadness at his passing.

"He was a ubiquitous and muscular presence when I first moved to town and dedicated to his years at the Castro Theatre," Perry wrote on Facebook. "A few months ago he reached out, wanting to know how he could support the efforts by Another Planet Entertainment to restore and revitalize the Castro Theatre. More than anyone, he understood the challenges of running a film venue. He was a mensch and a true San Francisco original."

Perry is a spokesperson for Another Planet, which is in a contentious fight over its proposal to remove the banked orchestra seating so that temporary seating or no seating can be in place for non-movie events.

In the summer of 2019, Mr. Longen moved into one of the senior apartments at the Marcy Adelman and Jeanette Gurevitch Community at 95 Laguna Street that Openhouse, a nonprofit provider of LGBTQ senior services, and Mercy Housing operate. He talked with the Bay Area Reporter in 2020 during the COVID lockdown.

"It's been OK. You always start to develop a little cabin fever after a few days in the apartment. I deal with it. I always find things to do," he said at the time about sheltering in place.

Gorczyca noted that Mr. Longen "was a true survivor and thriver — and recreated his life multiple times mirroring the nine lives of his beloved feline companions." He participated in the 1998 Gay Games in Amsterdam, where he won the gold medal for body building in the men's master's competition (age 50-60). He became a workout trainer in San Francisco and Palm Springs.

After the loss of Schaffer, his true loves were his friends and his feline companions Wheezer, Darla, and Petey (two of which are 17), Gorczyca stated.

"I first met Bill and Stanton at the San Francisco Pet Hospital where I worked, and we became quick friends — especially since all three of us were originally from Philadelphia," Gorczyca wrote in an email message. "Bill's strong bond to his felines is more anecdotal evidence of the healing power of animal companionship. One of his close friends has now adopted all three cats, honoring Bill's wishes to keep them together as a family."

Mr. Longen donated a videotape collection of raw news footage to the GLBT Historical Society in 2006. According to a description of the archive material, Mr. Longen set aside raw tapes of news segments that reported on LGBTQ topics, so that the segments would be preserved and the tapes would not be recorded over. "In doing so, he managed to collect over 20 years of footage documenting LGBTQ life in the Bay Area with the hope of educating LGBT young people about the community's past," the description stated.

Items in the William A. Longen Videotape Collection include interviews at LGBTQ marches, festivals, and parades; HIV/AIDS support groups; and the 1996 San Francisco "gay marriage" event when then-mayor Willie Brown deputized himself and presided over the ceremony for about 150 same-sex couples. (The unions had no legal status.) Most of the collection has been digitized, according to the historical society.

Mr. Longen was born on July 20, 1947, in Philadelphia.

He was hospitalized for the final two months of his life, yet his hope to survive was strong. His doctors treated him with hope and dignity. He kept his amazing humor until his last days and expected to survive this final illness once again, Gorczyca wrote.

Mr. Longen is survived by his siblings Regina, Mary, and Joe, and extended family in Philadelphia and on the East Coast. His beloved sister Susie, a Roman Catholic nun, preceded him in death. Mr. Longen will be cremated, and his ashes spread at sea at the same latitude and longitude of his life partner Schaffer off the coast of San Francisco in the Pacific. Donations in his honor can be made to Pets Are Wonderful Support/Shanti or the National AIDS Memorial Grove, both in San Francisco, or any charity of your choice.

A public memorial will be held Sunday, February 26, at 4 p.m. at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street.

Updated, 1/25/23: This article has been updated with memorial information.

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