Friday, October 23, 2009

THE MASK MAKERS - June 1962 (Dr. Kildare)

Carolyn Jones was a true movie star. You knew it the moment she walked into a room. Or at least I knew it when she arrived at our production office. We had cast her in an episode of DR. KILDARE, and she had come in for a fitting. No, not a wardrobe fitting, a nose fitting. She was going to play Evy in Jerry McNeely’s drama about plastic surgery, THE MASK MAKERS. Jerry incidentally was a long distance screenwriter. He was a university professor in Michigan. His teleplay focused on Evy, a girl with a very large nose, who undergoes plastic surgery, and her emotional traumatic after effects. It was a teleplay that a few years earlier would have been written for STUDIO ONE or PHILCO PLAYHOUSE.

I don’t remember if we knew when we cast Carolyn that she had many years earlier undergone the same surgery. But she very conveniently and graciously brought photos of herself before her surgery to our meeting. We took her and the photos to the MGM make-up department, where they proceeded to construct a prosthetic to turn movie star Carolyn into plain, unattractive Evy. And I remember very vividly how Carolyn changed in the make-up chair. With the application of the new nose the movie star dimmed, as the woman who would soon enter our camera appeared.

It’s unfortunate this episode wasn’t in color. Charles Hagedon, our art director, designed a set for Evy’s apartment that was worthy of a top MGM feature production. The walls were painted charcoal gray with an accent wall of tomato red. He had two occasional chairs reupholstered in a gray and white wide-striped pillow ticking type material. And he brought from the MGM prop department a beautiful credenza that he had been wanting to use in a set for ages. He apologized for the fact that the colors of the credenza clashed with his gray and red color scheme. But he said since we were filming in black and white, it wouldn’t matter. But it did matter to Steve Potter, the set decorator. Charles very graciously conceded, and the credenza was replaced by another credenza of Steve ‘s choosing. This one blended into the set beautifully, and incidentally was equally magnificent. Oh that prop department!

Kildare’s hospital assignment determined the weekly episode’s story line. In THE MASK MAKERS he is assigned, against his wishes, to plastic surgery. And it just so happened that his close personal friend, Evy, was (conveniently) a candidate for that surgery.

And more interested than he had suspected. I wanted to show how serious she really was. Thus the drawing!

Evy visits the hospital and meets the plastic surgeon. Her lead-up to the surgery was a little less painful than my lead-up to the filming. You see I endured a documentary of a nose surgery. Filmed in EXTREME close-up! Thankfully not in color.

During lunch the day that Carolyn came to the studio for the nose fitting, she told me that her surgeon had told her that when she awakened after the surgery, she should not look in a mirror. So of course she did. I couldn’t wait to get back to the office to ask producer David Victor to add that scene to our story.

And here is where Jerry’s script took a darker turn. No ‘and the beautiful princess lived happily ever after.’

I’m sure it’s my theatre training, but I love entrances. On the stage (at least back in the old theatrical days) stars didn’t just appear. They MADE AN ENTRANCE! I remember Katharine Cornell’s first appearance in THAT LADY. There was a large archway up center looking out on a balcony. Miss Cornell swept into view from up left, looked upstage over the balcony wall, then turned into view to thunderous applause. I try to deliver my leading characters’ first appearance as an entrance whenever possible. I thought I gave Evy with a nose an entrance at the opening of the show. I considered Evy’s first appearance after the surgery to be a NEW character, worthy of an ‘entrance.’

Jerry’s script was more than the story of a nose job. With Kildare’s aversion to his assignment to plastic surgery turning into an appreciation of its benefits, he showed the field to be more important than a cosmetic process for the vain. And with his detailed step by step revealing of Evy’s emotional after-effects, he showed the inherent possible perils. And I was and am totally enamored of Carolyn’s performance.

And the possible depths to which the patient might fall.

I loved shooting scenes in the hospital corridors. Interesting angles. But being very new to the game, from my first show I arranged to have a pass into the studio on the weekend. I then spent time right on the sets planning my shots. I did this whenever possible for several years.

Harkie lit the corridors differently for day scenes and night scenes. I especially liked shooting night scenes there. Just as a couple decades earlier Judge Hardy had his man-to-man talks with young Andy, DR. KILDARE usually had a similar scene between our older and younger doctors.

But being a weekly happy series, naturally Kildare finally brings the lovers together for a happy (if not quite convincing) ending. For me my ending was more convincingly happy. This was my second DR. KILDARE assignment. I was booked to return in the fall for another assignment. And unbeknownst to me there was a visitor on the set who seven and a half years later would have a very strong effect on my career.

1 comment:

  1. I remember watching this when I was 12. It made a big impression on me, and I love Carolyn Jones.