South Bend Tribune

December 18, 2000

Longtime local TV creator dies

Laughlin advised hundreds of teens in 'Beyond Our Control'

Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND -- Former WNDU-TV art director and "Beyond Our Control" adviser Dennis E. Laughlin died of cancer Saturday at Hospice House. He was 66.

Laughlin helped to invent local television during his 44-year career with the NBC affiliate.

"He was in the room when Fr. Hesburgh turned the key on July 15, 1955, to turn the station on for the first time," WNDU audience development and television programming director Lou Pierce said.

"He was pretty much the person we had gone to for decades to create or oversee how we would look, from television sets to logos, some of our photography, most kinds of promotional materials," Pierce said.
Denny Laughlin


Laughlin's last major project for the station was overseeing the art direction for the station's May 1999 "Our House" project, a restoration of a house that was sold to a family as part of an effort to revitalize the Cushing Street neighborhood.

"He came up with a way to wrap the entire house in a big red ribbon," Pierce said. "He retired the day before our big party, and he showed up (at 5:30 a.m.) that day to make sure it looked good. He no longer worked for us; he just wanted to make sure it looked good."

Pierce said Laughlin brought "goodness" to local television.

"He wasn't doing TV just to do TV or because it was a job," he said. "He really loved it and thought it could do good for the community."

Laughlin's most significant contribution to local television was his role as an adviser on "Beyond Our Control," the Junior Achievement-sponsored sketch comedy program that ran on WNDU from 1968 to 1986, Pierce said.

Laughlin served as a consultant for the program's creator, Dave Williams, during the 1969 and 1970 seasons and became an assistant adviser in 1972. After Williams' death in 1977, he and WNDU sales executive Joe Dundon became the principal advisers for the program. Laughlin continued with "Beyond Our Control" until its cancellation in 1986, when Junior Achievement restructured its national program and withdrew support for projects such as "Beyond Our Control."

"I resisted it," Laughlin said of "Beyond Our Control" in an August interview with The Tribune for a story on the program's history and influence. "I saw these kids and thought it would drive me crazy. Once I started, I was sorry I hadn't been with it since '68. It just dominated my life, because I found these kids to be so bright and creative."

About 350 area high school students participated in the program during its 18-year run.

"I think he was a really good cheerleader for us, and Dave could be too, but he was in charge of keeping the show on track," Diane Werts said Sunday from her home in Princeton, N.J.

Werts, the television critic for Newsday, was a member of "Beyond Our Control" from 1971 to 1974.

"Denny was the one who could not worry so much about the nuts and bolts and just encourage creativity and spot unused talents in kids," she said.

Laughlin is survived by his three children, Erin Randolph of South Bend; Kelly Laughlin-Parker of Waukesha, Wis.; and Michael of Indianapolis. Visitation will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Welsheimer Funeral Home North, 17033 Cleveland Road. A funeral Mass will be conducted at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the University of Notre Dame campus.

Staff writer Andrew S. Hughes: (219) 235-6377

News coverage and editorial content from
the South Bend Tribune unless otherwise specified.

Return to Top