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Ervin M. Milner, founded production house

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Ervin M. Milner, who founded Milner Productions in the basement of his Northwest Baltimore home and turned it into one of the nation's largest producers of educational audiovisuals for physicians and hospitals, died Aug. 17 of complications from diabetes and kidney failure at the Springhouse in Pikesville assisted-living facility.

He was 94.

Mr. Milner was born in Baltimore and raised on Braddish Avenue. He attended city public schools at night and later the Baltimore College of Commerce.

From 1942 to 1945, he served in the Army on Saipan and Guam, where he developed an interest in photography. After the war, he returned to Baltimore and established Milner Productions in the basement of his Forest Park Avenue home.

"He did weddings, bar mitzvahs, portraits, and had a franchise in local department stores for photographing children with Santa Claus at Christmastime," said a son, Richard Milner, who is a co-owner and CEO of the business, which is now Milner-Fenwick Inc.

"Ervin built his business out of his love for filmmaking and foremost as a way to support and nurture his family," said Dolores McKee, who began working 35 years ago for Milner-Fenwick Inc. as a receptionist and is now advertising director.

"In the beginning, Milner-Fenwick was a production house that produced hundreds of motion pictures, commercials and training films," said Ms. McKee. "Old-fashioned ethics and Depression-era memory made him fiscally responsible and hardworking."

Mr. Milner later relocated the business to the 3800 block of Liberty Heights Ave. and then to its present home in Hunt Valley.

Mr. Milner was joined in the business by Robert Fenwick, a Pittsburgh animator and producer, who left the company in the late 1960s.

The partners' film "Beyond Silence," which documented the world of the deaf at Gallaudet University in Washington and was produced for the United States Information Agency, was nominated for an Oscar in 1960 in the short-subject category.

It also earned honors at the Venice Film Festival, the South African Film Festival, Edinburgh Film Festival and the Wiesbaden Filmbwergsstelle in Germany.

" 'Beyond Silence' depicts the warm and human aspects of training and daily living of a girl student at Gallaudet," Mr. Milner told The Evening Sun in an interview at the time.

"Mr. Milner has produced vaults of Navy training pictures and is now at work on foundation documentaries about highways, heredity and higher education," reported the newspaper.

In 1966, Mr. Milner produced "Portrait of a Team," an hourlong program for ABC Sports that depicted the Baltimore Colts' try for the 1965 NFL championship.

The company produced the official biographical film of then-Vice President Spiro T. Agnew for the United States Information Agency, which was narrated by actor John Wayne and distributed to about 100 overseas posts, The Baltimore Sun reported at the time.

"As his business became more successful, Ervin began marketing and producing educational and medical films," said Ms. McKee.

Some of the medically oriented films that Mr. Milner produced included "The Emergency Treatment of Head Injuries" with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the U.S. Public Health Service; "Crisis in the Estuary," about the ecology of Delaware Bay; and "The Human Genetics Series," sponsored by what was then called National Foundation-March of Dimes.

"My Friend Edi," an animated film for children suffering from diabetes, "helped establish Milner-Fenwick as a producer of high-quality medical film for educating patients," said Ms. McKee.

Other patient care work included an obstetrics-gynecology series that covered different methods of childbirth, prenatal care, postpartum care, and gynecological conditions and procedures. Their medical product lines also included films about heart disease, adult diabetes, otolaryngology and wellness.

"The Milner-Fenwick crews are quite willing to go to some unusual lengths to make visualization of medical matters easily understood," said a 1982 article in The Sun.

"In a recent film on low-sodium diets, the main character opens a kitchen cabinet during a dream sequence and 25 pounds of salt pour out, inundating him," reported the newspaper. "The company's animation department then takes over and the man sees salt-laden food items dancing about the kitchen."

"Eighty percent of what our patients learn comes from our visuals," Mr. Milner told the newspaper. "The company's films and tapes motivate as well as teach, showing patients how to maintain their health and recognize early symptoms of possible illness."

As film technology changed, Milner-Fenwick adapted, said Ms. McKee. The company transitioned from 16 mm and Super 8 mm movies to videocassettes, slide and tape programs, filmstrip series with taped commentary and eventually to today's digital video.

Mr. Milner brought his sons into the business and continued coming to the office every day until 2010.

"He was tough but fair. He gave people he hired the benefit of the doubt. He had high expectations of them but gave them the opportunity," Ms. McKee said. "He treated employees like extended family."

Mr. Milner, who lived in the Ranchleigh neighborhood of Northwest Baltimore, was an avid vegetable gardener. He generously shared the tomatoes, peppers, zucchinis and squash he grew in his yard.

He was a longtime active member of Beth Tfiloh Congregation.

His first wife, the former Phyllis Cohen, whom he married in 1943, died in 1957. His second wife of 49 years, the former Frances Kronberg, died in 2008.

Services were Aug. 20.

Mr. Milner is survived by another son, David Milner of Pikesville; a daughter, Emily Lessner of Manchester, Conn.; a stepson, Michael Quitt of Pikesville; a stepdaughter, Heni Quitt Pollara of Pikesville; nine grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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