Monday, September 14, 2009

THE BULL ROARER - July 1963 (Breaking Point)

The booking of directors in episodic television was unlike booking actors or writers, who would be booked for specific projects. Directors were booked by dates. A series would block out its full season. Episode 1 would start preparing on a certain date and start shooting 6 or 7 working days later. Episode 2 would start preparing the day episode 1 start shooting. And so on through the season. Directors were then booked into those slots. For the first time by the end of April, 1963 I was booked solidly for the entire 1963-1964 season with shows to be shot in both Hollywood and New York.

My favorite series for the season was BREAKING POINT, a series which unfortunately lasted only one season. It was a medical-psychiatric series out of Desilu Studios, the companion piece to their highly successful BEN CASEY. George Lefferts, a writer-producer based in New York, was the producer. George told me the story of his involvement. ABC had sent the Meta Rosenberg created project to him with the offer to produce it. George said that he would accept, but only on condition that he would be able to include half a dozen specified topics usually on television’s verboten list. ABC agreed. George signed onto the project.

George’s first choice for the young psychiatrist was Robert Redford. He sent Redford the script and the plans for the series. He told me that Redford said he had walked the beach for hours, pondering his decision. This was a 27-year old Robert Redford with dozens of TV guest shots, but only one independent movie in his resume. He was still six years away from his breakthrough performance in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. The financial security alone must have looked inviting. But he decided he would turn it down in favor of doing a summer stock tour of a new unproduced play. The play was Neil Simon’s BAREFOOT IN THE PARK. Paul Richards was then cast with Eduard Franz as the older, wiser psychiatrist

One of the topics on George's ‘demand’ list was homosexuality. When the story outline for that projected script was submitted to the network for approval, they turned it down. They said the topic of homosexuality was unacceptable George said, “Read my contract.” And so THE BULL ROARER, written by Ernest Kinoy, continued development into script. It was the story of a gentle, sensitive young man, Paul, dominated by his macho older brother, Murray. Because his behavior is less predatory than his older sibling, Paul has doubts about himself. He seeks psychiatric help. Is he a man -- or a homosexual?

We immediately cast Dean Stockwell as Paul, Ralph Meeker as Murray and a young 23-year old actress who had been doing a lot of theatre work in the Hollywood area, Mariette Hartley. But a couple days later we had a call from Dean Stockwell's agent. Dean wanted to come to the studio to meet with me. I agreed. Dean came to the studio, and he and I went to a little bar on Melrose Avenue. He apologetically told me that he didn't want to do the show. I sensed he was fearful of the material. So we released him from his commitment

Lynn Stalmaster, the casting director, immediately had a hot, new young actor, a ‘rising star’, he wanted us to meet. Michael Parks. So Michael came in to the production office. I remember he sat on the couch, I sat in a chair. George was also there. We spent the first few minutes in get-acquainted conversation. And then I asked Michael to read. Michael announced that he didn't read for parts. George and I were both a little startled by this announcement. Stars don’t have to read for parts. Well-established character people don’t have to read for parts. Twenty-three year old wannabes read for parts. So I thanked him for coming in and stood up; and he stood up. But instead of leaving, he kept on talking. A couple of times I broke in, trying to end it all, but he just kept talking. So finally I reached over, took his hand, shook it and said, “Thank you again Michael for coming in.” He finally left.

I was not unhappy with the way this turned out, because I had an ace up my sleeve. Just a few months before I had worked with a young actor in New York on the last NAKED CITY that I directed, Lou Antonio. We had a print of that show, COLOR SCHEMES LIKE NEVER BEFORE, sent over from Columbia Studios, and George viewed it. He approved. So we brought Lou out from New York to complete our star trio. So many New York actors at this time would come out to the west coast with their noses up in the air about doing television. Not Lou! From day one he just said, “I love it here!”

There was one line in the script that even George was sure we would have to lose. The scene was a construction site where the hills were being graded for future home construction. The workers are at work, when a very pretty young Betty Lorimer, who works in the office, walks across the grounds. The guys have a ball, teasing her, calling out suggestive remarks. One of them yells, “Honey, you want to ride on my bulldozer.” I said, “No, George. We don’t have to lose that line. You see, he’s sitting in a bulldozer when he offers the invitation.” So the line was left in. And with that explanation it survived all of the later ‘censorship’ meetings that were held.

As we neared our opening shooting date, there was the necessary meeting with the censorship department of ABC. Dorothy Brown, who was the head of that department, came over with a couple of underlings and all of her notes for changes she was going to request. George, Richard Collins (associate producer) and I listened to her requests, most of them inane. Many times I suggested cutting lines she was finding objectionable rather than using her suggested substitution. But then we arrived at a place in the script where Dorothy was insistent that somebody call Paul a sissy. I’m afraid I went ballistic. George finally invited me to leave the room with him. We went out into the outer office and he said, “I think you'd better go if we’re to get through this.” And so I went home, and they got through it, And nobody called Paul a sissy. But I had my own little private moment of revenge. I’m sure nobody besides me ever recognized it. I’m not sure it even means anything except to me. But in a sequence where Paul and Murray have driven Betty home, Murray is berating Paul because he has not been forward enough in ‘nailing’ the gal. Paul nervously tries to light a cigarette with the car lighter. And when he goes to put the phallic-like lighter back in its dashboard receptacle, he has trouble inserting it. Like I said, it probably doesn’t mean anything to anybody else, but to me it’s “UP YOURS, DOROTHY BROWN!”

An interesting sidebar: Richard Collins the associate producer, was a very talented writer. He would by the time I returned for more assignments later in the year have moved up to producing the show. We also worked together a dozen years later on another favorite series, THE FAMILY HOLVAK. Anyway, I remember during the prep time for THE BULL ROARER, Richard was being bombarded with telephone interviews. He, a decade or so earlier had been one of the people called to testify before the McCarthy hearings. And he was one of the people called who had named names. I don’t think I had ever before met a real dyed-in-the-red member of the Communist Party. I thought he was great -- just like all the other true-blue Americans I knew!

Finally, the first day of shooting arrived. We started naturally at the construction site. In seeing the film today, you would think we had gone to some distant place away from the city. But we were shooting in the heart of Los Angeles, in the hills off Mullholland Drive just west of Laurel Canyon. Today it is a totally built up populated community. The tours on ROUTE 66 and NAKED CITY had prepared me for the task ahead.

Robert Hauser was the director of photography and again, like Jack Marta on ROUTE 66, wonderfully cooperative. There was a sequence in the opening of the episode where Paul, emotionally distraught, runs out of a room, stops for a beat at the top of the stairs and then runs down them. I asked Bob if rather than shooting Paul running down the stairs, could we do his point of view of the descent. Now today, with the the Steadicam, there would be no problem with such a shot. But we’re talking about close to half a century ago, B.S., before steadicam. Bob got so excited about the shot that he ended up operating himself. He strapped an Arriflex camera to his forehead with his eye looking through the lens and ran down the stairs. He could have broken his neck. Instead he got what I think is a terrific shot, even though it lasts only about 3 or 4 seconds. I really loved and appreciated the professionalism and enthusiasm of those guys.

There were shows that were produced a decade later where homosexual relationships were more fully explored. That is not the case in THE BULL ROARER, . Homosexuality is not explored, it is actually feared. But just the fact that the character of Paul said the word, “homosexual” for its time was a major breakthrough. The real lesson Paul faces is “What is a man?”

Unfortunately BREAKING POINT is one of the greater achievements of early sixties television that is no longer available to the public. But I have a copy. If you want to see it, I guess you just have to come visit Carmel.


  1. As a longtime fan of Mariette Hartley, I was thrilled to see your thoughts on this episode, not to mention the rare footage. Wow! What a cast. Love the cigarette lighter business!

    It's so wonderful reading your memories of these great television episodes! Thanks again!

  2. Somebody does seem to be offering a set of "Breaking Point" on DVD, obviously unofficial but great to see out there!

  3. Ralph Meeker was very good (as usual) as the merciless, twisted brother. The beginning of the story was sick as he gloats over the man he's beaten up. Without spelling it out for the viewer, this was a gay bashing after the man had invited the brothers to his place for a drink. Breaking Point was an excellent show and the kind of human drama that's disappeared from contemporary TV. I didn't know what a bull roarer was until I saw this show. A unique instrument spanning many cultures.