Saturday, October 31, 2009


In THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE the James Stewart newspaperman character states if there is a difference between the truth and the legend, print the legend. So having noted this and in case there is such a conflict difference, I herewith print one of my favorite Hollywood legends. Edmund Gwenn, the beloved Santa Claus of THE MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, spent his final time in the Motion Picture Home. George Seaton, who had written and directed Gwenn in THE MIRACLE, often visited him. One day as they sat chatting, Mr. Gwenn suddenly looked up and quietly said, “George,... dying’s hard...” Long, long pause. Then with a twinkle in his eye he added, “...but comedy’s harder.” To which I add, but it is more fun.

I didn’t get back to DR. KILDARE until the beginning of their fourth season. And wonder of wonders the script they presented me was a charming comedy written by Boris Sobelman, MAYBE LOVE WILL SAVE MY APARTMENT HOUSE. I don’t think David Victor thought of me as a comedy director. His favorite name for me was ‘boy storm cloud’. Maybe Norman Felton remembered those rave theatre reviews, all comedies. However it came to be, I was delighted.

And remember what I recently said about hooking your audience as soon as possible.

“Thanks for the bone.” Those were the words of Paul Bryar when he arrived on the set to play the taxi driver in the opening sequence of this comedy. Paul was one of my closest friends. In the fifties he and his talented wife, Claudia Bryar, had starred in my stage productions of MY THREE ANGELS and DEATH OF A SALESMAN. And the previous year he had appeared in a very substantial role in the television production AGE OF CONSENT, an episode on EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE, which was filmed in New York. This role may only have had two lines of dialog, but it’s amazing how a few well-played close-ups can turn a bone into a cameo.

My first choice to play Mr. Pappinax had been Al Lewis. He too had appeared for me in a New York production, an episode of NAKED CITY entitled NO NAKED LADIES IN FRONT OF GIOVANNI’S HOUSE. And no, it wasn’t because I wanted to use Al in any production with “House” in the title. It was because I thought he was a very funny man and a fine actor. Imagine Jane Murray (casting director) and my surprise when we received word from NBC that we couldn’t cast him. They gave no reason, just that he was not acceptable. This was 1964, but obviously the blacklisting days of the fifties were still with us. But not at CBS. Al was cast later that same year in their long-running series, THE MUNSTERS. Jules Munshin proved to be a marvelous next choice.

The usual format for this series was that Dr. Kildare would get involved with a patient with the ‘Disease of the Week’, and his mentor, Dr. Gillespie would supply wisdom and support. Not this week! Now it was Dr. Gillespie seeking wisdom and support from his younger colleague. Incidentally, take notice of the fact that you are able to chuckle, even laugh out loud, in spite of the fact that there is no laugh track.

So Dr. Wiley Lansing, the Wolf of Blair Hospital, is sent to take care of Tommy’s foot -- and hopefully Dr. Gilleslpie’s concerns about his niece.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but (according to the Internet Movie Data Base) this was little Lisa Loring’s first television show. I told Lisa (as Suzy’s daughter, Cindy) that she didn’t like Dr. Wiley. That she should glare at him. Watch what she did.

To explain to you civilians: back in the old days when a scene took place in a moving car, it was filmed without ever leaving the studio. It was filmed in process. On a (usualy empty) sound stage behind the car a big screen was set onto which, via rear projection, a traveling shot would be projected. The filming camera and the rear projection camera were interlocked. On the day we filmed the scene of Serena and Wiley on their drive, while the crew was setting up and lighting the scene, I perched up on a high ladder between the camera and the car but off to the side and out of the shot. A set of ear phones rested on my lap. I was prepared, so I would be able to hear the dialog when the filming took place. Occasionally I would raise the ear phones to check on the crew's progression. One time when I did, I heard Suzy telling Barry about the PLAYHOUSE 90 she had appeared in, THE DEATH OF MANOLETE.

I have to interject here that THE DEATH OF MANOLETE was the opening show of PLAYHOUSE 90’s second season. The smash hit and big Emmy winner of the first season had been Rod Serling’s REQUIEM FOR A HEAVY WEIGHT starring Jack Palance. This was a reunion of the two of them, this time directed by John Frankenheimer instead of Ralph Nelson, who had directed REQUIEM. The show was an unmitigated disaster. All those bull heads mounted on little dollies being pushed around to simulate battle in the bull ring didn’t quite do it. And Suzy’s performance was generally panned.

To return to our process set as I raised the earphones to my ear, I heard Suzy telling Barry about THE DEATH OF MANOLETE. I impulsively called out across the vast, empty stage, “Suzy, I was on staff for that production.”

Suzy responded, “You were? Then how come you hired me for this show?”

“I forgot.”

One day as we were preparing another scene that included Barry and little Lisa, since he saw I was preoccupied, Greger (Suzy’s son, Tommy) took it upon himself to remind Lisa, “Remember what Ralph told you. You should glare at Wiley, because you don’t like him.”

To which Lisa replied, “Oh that’s all right, I really don’t.”

I overheard and couldn’t resist sharing this humorous moment with Barry. Big mistake. From then on he tried and tried to ingratiate himself with Lisa, but she would have none of it. Boy, did she stay in character.

I didn’t tell Lisa what I wanted her to do when Wiley choked until I filmed her close-up. So when we shot Barry’s choking reaction first, with Lisa off camera, her response was totally spontaneous. It was a most evil, gleeful chortling that could have emanated from the little girl in THE EXORCIST. It was too evil to use! Lisa went from this show into the long-running series THE ADDAMS FAMILY.

Barry Nelson was a consummate professional, possiblly the best actor of comedy I ever worked with.

Richard Chamberlain was amazing. He had a class scheduled for every night of the week, which of course he would attend only if he finished the day’s filming in time. One night an acting class, another dancing, singing, etc. Because this story focused on Gillelslpie and his niece, Richard finished early many days and was able to attend class. I was back on the MGM lot in the fall when this episode aired. The day after its showing I asked Richard what he thought of it. He said he liked it... but he wasn’t in it very much.

As to our plot all turns out well. The couple get married. Mr. Pappinax gets his apartment house back. And as I said, comedy is hard, but comedy is fun!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

HASTINGS' FAREWELL - September 1962 (Dr. Kildare)

My second production for the 1962-1963 season was another DR. KILDARE. I was no longer on staff as Assistant to the Producer, having left early in 1962 to free lance. This Kildare script by Peggy and Lou Shaw was powerful stuff -- the story of a man, brain injured in an automobile accident, who is now a complete aphasiac.

Harkness Smith, the cinematographer for the series was going to be absent for half the shooting schedule. Ted Voigtlander was brought in to replace him for those three days. Ted too was a brilliant cameraman, and I was priveleged to work with him three years later when he photographed THE WILD WILD WEST series.

Directing episodic television had its limitations. But it also had its disciplines. One of these was “hook your audience early.” Television did not have a captive audience like a movie theatre, where the attendee having coughed up the price of admission was unlikely to depart. Television viewers were free to leave the room, pick up a book or even just change the channel. Some shows (THE WALTONS in its early seasons) would select a pivotal dramatic scene from the drama and show it as a prolog. DR. KILDARE started their stories with the prolog. As a director you hoped that the script created by the screenwriter would give you a strong scene to start with. But strong or weak the director’s task is to get the drama and the conflict of the story into view as clearly and quickly as possible. On DR. KILDARE a freeze frame motif was used to heighten and enhance the drama. Believe it or not but the use of the freeze frame dramatically in 1961 when the show debuted was a major innovation.

Beverly Garland was a gutsy actress. She needed all of her talents for the complex role of Susan Hastings, the wife of the aphasiac.

And Harry Guardino was a terrific actor. (We would work together again a half a year later on an episode of NAKED CITY.) I had seen Harry perform several years earlier in the national company of A HATFUL OF RAIN. In the role of the drug addict’s brother he stole the show. Noted actor Malcolm Atterbury told me he too had seen the show and been very impressed with Guardino’s work. Later when Malcolm had acted in a television production with Harry, he told Harry how much he had admired his work. He said he had wanted to come backstage and compliment him at the time, but since he didn’t know him, he felt he might be intruding. Harry’s answer was he would have been very welcomed backstage. There was a paucity of visitors.

The EASY thing about Harry’s role was HE HAD NO LINES TO LEARN. Well, eventually -- one word.

I want to say something here about the music of Harry Sukman. He had composed the background score for all of the DR KILARE episodes I had directed. As a basis for his score there was the DR. KILDARE theme that Jerry Goldsmith, another veteran of PLAYHOUSE 90, had composed. Then Harry would also create another theme (in other words another melody) for the current story’s protagonist, in the case of this show a plaintive Jerry Hastings theme. Earlier when Harry had been signed to compose the score for Arena Productions’ new series, THE ELEVENTH HOUR, he had agonized with me over not being able to come up with a theme. It was as if he had used up all of the melodies in his head. When I was still on staff I had been very impressed with the theme he had created for an episode OH, MY DAUGHTER, a story involving Dr. Gillespie and his daughter. I suggested using that theme. After all it was a secondary melody in that show. It was not as if it was identifiable like a series theme. And I thought it was too good not to use. Harry agreed with me. And that’s how the ELEVENTH HOUR theme music was born.

Even dramas, maybe especially dramas need to have a lighter moment. I thought the Shaws had provided a delightful one that Ken Berry, a fellow interne at Blair, performed quite deliciously. Ken, incidentally was a sensational dancer.

HASTINGS’ FAREWELL provided another first for me. It was the first time I would go to an institution for research. In this case Peggy and Lou Shaw and I went to the Long Beach Naval Hospital to visit their Aphasia Unit. The Shaws then wrote the sequence where Kildare, now very involved in Jerry Hastings’ plight, goes to visit an Aphasia Unit. I consulted with my casting director, Jane Murray, and told her I wanted to cast our speech pathologist just like the one I had met. She was more like a fraternity house mother than a scientist. Jane loved the idea and that’s what we did.

Our speech pathologist was Betty Bronson, Peter Pan in the 1924 silent film, PETER PAN.

There was one unfortunate incident that occurred. The day before Betty was to work, it was thought our script might be short, and so the Shaws wrote an addition to the sequence. It was a page and a half of fairly complex medical dialog. Betty had the scene from the original material down cold. But the sheer volume of medical verbiage in the new material sent to her the night before filming caused problems. She had most of it, but there was one bit she kept stumbling over. We finally solved it by having her READ her lines from a cue card while I filmed a close-up of Mike with her hands on his head.

And HASTINGS’ FAREWELL provided another first for me -- my first location shooting.

I’m afraid that I was a pain in the you know where a lot of the time, asking for script changes. But there were a few times when I fought to avoid changes, to protect the script. Just before I was to shoot the Act III scene finale, a colored page came down from the story editor adding an additional line. I stormed into David Victor’s office and pleaded to leave the script alone. The added line diluted the power of the moment. David saw it my way, and the added line was eliminated.

Does Kildare give up? If you ask that, you obviously have not seen any Dr. Kildare episodes!

And remember the words about Irving Thalberg: “He didn’t make movies for people to see. He made movies for people to feel.” I guess I still believed those same words.

Fourteen years later I would return to the subject of aphasia. I was priveleged to direct the episode GRANDMA COMES HOME on THE WALTONS. Ellen Corby had had a stroke that kept her off the show for a year. This episode was her return to the series. Ellen had gone through intense therapy during that year. She was able to comprehend and with intense concentration speak a little. It was the reverse of the situation with Harry Guardino. He had to portray a person who couldn’t comprehend, who couldn’t speak. Ellen, who really couldn’t speak had to portray Grandma, who although limited in her speech, could speak. Stick around. I’ll be dealing with that episode in detail down the line.

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.

Monday, October 19, 2009

JOHNNY TEMPLE - October 1961 (Dr. Kildare)


That was the opening sequence of the first television show I directed, an episode of DR. KILDARE titled JOHNNY TEMPLE. I remember the day I scouted the New York Street locations on one of the back lots of MGM. Charles Hagedon, the art director for the series, was guiding me around. At one point he said to me, "Remember the words of John Ford: 'Move the actors, not the camera.'"

As I think back to the last leg of my journey to this moment, it seems almost surreal. To take that journey let's dissolve (just like in the movies) back six months to December, 1960. I was completing my fifth year of employment at CBS. PLAYHOUSE 90, on which I had served as a Production Supervisor was long dead. My six months as an Assistant Producer on FULL CIRCLE, a daytime soap opera, was a thing of the past. CBS Television had almost no in-house productions, so I was assigned to service a pair of outside package game shows using CBS facilities. Nothing to do with the production of the show itself (thank God!). My main function was to be sure the required commercials were received at the studio, and to oversee with the film editors their mounting on reels in the proper sequence for airing. BORING!

Outside of the studio, I had had an extremely successful year directing theatre. This of course was done evening and weekends. I had directed a production of MORNING'S AT SEVEN for Equity Library Theatre West of which James Powers wrote in his review in the Hollywood Reporter, "If one production were needed to justify Equity Library Theatre's existence here, its presentation of Paul Osborne's "Morning's At Seven" would do it. Ralph Senensky, who directed the charming comedy, has seen in the gentle fable all its shining gold and extracted it so carefully that it glistens with a healthy sheen and cannot be mistaken for the more customary comedy brass. Senensky…tries for, and achieves, a gentler technique that gives the lines their genuine value, and appreciates the real situations, proceeding naturally from natural sources, not built backward from a laugh to a setup. Senensky achieves a rhythm and flow that is the greatest trick in such comedy." Next came a production of Somerset Maugham's THE CIRCLE starring Estelle Winwood on the Pasadena Playhouse main stage, followed by another production on the Pasadena Playhouse main stage of GOLDEN FLEECING. They too received rave reviews. I might add the total financial payment for these three productions came to a scanty two hundred dollars. But advancement to my career? Zilch! To put it as civilly as possible, I was frustrated and discouraged.

A very close friend at CBS, Louise Paulk, secretary to one of the executives, had been a long time supporter of my aspirations. She told me of a woman in Santa Barbara, whom she frequently went to see. This lady, I've forgotten her name, so because of her location let's call her Barbara. Louise told me Barbara gave horoscope readings -- wonderful readings. She thought it would help if I went to see her. I figured why not! I contacted Barbara, gave her the necessary information regarding my birth date and birth place and made an appointment to see her the following month. On a Saturday morning in January I motored up to Santa Barbara, met with Barbara and sat down with her for my session. Before she told me what the future foretold, she did a personality analysis of me that frankly amazed me. She seemed to know me better than my immediate family and closest friends. And then she said, "I know what you want, but it can't happen now. You must be patient. It can't happen until October." I returned to Los Angeles and CBS only slightly encouraged.

Soon after that Allen Parr, the head of Personnel for television, summoned me to his office. This was sort of a replay of a similar scene two years earlier. At that time I had just been promoted from secretary to Russell Stoneham, an Assistant Producer on PLAYHOUSE 90, to the position of Production Supervisor on the same show. (Russell had been elevated to Associate Producer so I was taking over his previous duties.) At this point I was earning a miniscule $150 a week. Bill Larson, with whom I shared an office, was the alternating Production Supervisor on PLAYHOUSE 90 and was earning three times that. I told Russell I thought I should have a raise. He agreed and set up a meeting with Allen Parr. The offer Allen presented me was an insulting ten dollar raise, and I would also be signing a five-year contract. Now I had no intention of signing any contract. I still had dreams of making it as a director. So I said I'm sorry but I won't sign any contract. Allen shrugged, indicating no contract, no raise and said, "You're the one who asked for the raise." My answer to that was, "I asked for a raise, not a tip."

The $150 salary was still my wage when I was summoned to see Allen after my Santa Barbara trip. He told me they were restructuring the Table of Organization for the department. My position and my salary would have to conform. In other words I would be gaining a considerable increase in earnings, but I also would be required to sign a five year contract. I still had no intention of signing any contract, besides which at this point I thought how can I sign a five-year contract. That would make me ineligible for what Barbara told me about October. I again refused to sign a contract. Allen said I had to sign it, at which point I gave him my two weeks notice. Two weeks later I left CBS after five years. No job. No prospects. I wasn't even eligible for unemployment insurance for six weeks because I had quit.

Norman Felton was an executive at CBS. I had been in and out of his office almost daily during my tenure as Production Supervisor. Whenever a request from a show in production for additional money came to my desk, I would take it to him for approval. One morning when I went in with such a request, Norman (or Mr. Felton as I knew him at that time) was reading the Hollywood Reporter. In fact he was reading James Powers' review of my production of MORNING'S AT SEVEN. Holding up the newspaper he asked, "Is this you?" I said it was. He questioned me about my theatre background, the Pasadena Playhouse, my four years in community theatre in Iowa. He told me he too had started in community theatre. He had directed live television in New York and had produced ROBERT MONTGOMERY PRESENTS, a weekly live television show. He didn't come to see my MORNING'S AT SEVEN production. And in the following five months he didn't come to see my productions of THE CIRCLE and GOLDEN FLEECING. But he did acknowledge both of them and commented on the favorable reviews.

In the spring of 1961 Norman Felton left CBS to go to MGM, where he formed his own production company, Arena Productions. Their first project was to adapt the old Lew Ayres-Lionel Barrymore medical show, DR. KILDARE, into a television series. And I ended up going with him. He told me the table of organization for his production (oh those tables!) didn't have a job for me. There was only a producer and an associate producer; so he created a job of assistant to the producer. He apologized that the salary would not be all that great; in fact it would be the same $150 I was making at CBS. And that's how I got to the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio. I started there on my birthday, May 1.

MGM was my film school. I went to dailies each day at 1. (Dailies for you civilians reading this are the printed takes of the previous day's work.) I spent as much time on the set observing as I could. I spent a lot of time in the film editing rooms with our three film editors. Eventually I even got to direct some insert shots on an insert stage. I went to the music spotting sessions with Herb and Harry Sukman, my favorite music composer. Then I went to the music recording sessions, and finally the dubbing sessions when the original sound track, the background music track, and the special effect tracks were all blended together into one master sound track. I did whatever Herb Hirschman, my producer, requested. Herb incidentally was a lovely man. I had known him before, when he had come from New York as the associate producer for Herb Brodkin on the episodes of PLAYHOUSE 90 that Brodkin produced. Hirschman had also directed a couple of PLAYHOUSE 90's.

One day in August Herb invited me to go with him to a screening. He was going to view an independent film directed by a new director on the East Coast. We saw the film, Herb liked it and hired the director to direct a DR. KILDARE. The director, who shall remain nameless, having come from the independent film world proved to be far less disciplined than the previous lineup of directors. In fact he drove the camera and sound crews crazy. One day after his film was completed, I confronted Norman as we walked from the production office to the sound stage. I said, "Norman, you know that I want to be a director, and I've been very patient. I haven't bugged you about it because of the experienced directors that you've been hiring. I know you're aware of what happened on the sound stages last week. Well I think if you're going to start handing out charity, charity should start at home." Norman listened to me, then said that he would see what he could do. A couple days later he called me into his office. He said the people at the network, where he would have to get the approval to assign me to a film, were a little nervous at this time. We were still a few weeks away from our opening air date, and the network people were not totally happy with a show directed by our producer, Herb Hirschman. They were being extra cautious about whom they would approve. Norman said just be a little patient until we get on the air, when he would then be able to make an assignment without seeking approval.

The show debuted September 28, 1961 to positive reviews and ratings.

And on Friday, OCTOBER 6, I was handed the script of JOHNNY TEMPLE, my first television film assignment.


JOHNNY TEMPLE wasn’t a bad script. But it wasn’t a great script. It is the story of a seventeen year old who is supposedly attacked by a street gang and knifed. Although that sequence was an exterior day scene to be filmed on MGM’s back lot, and exterior scenes are usually shot first, we also had night scenes in our story. Night exteriors were usually scheduled for Fridays. That was to accommodate the turnaround clauses in guild contracts. Actors had to have twelve hours between the end of a filming day and their return to the set the next day; crew members had to have ten. (Incidentally Directors had no such protection.) By scheduling night work for Friday, the weekend provided the buffer that allowed the following Monday’s crew call to start at the regular 7:30am.

The first sequence scheduled to be shot involved Johnny’s parents and Dr. Gillespie. Johnny had been brought by the police to Blair Hospital, and his parents had been notified. This being the first scene I had ever filmed, I wanted to be overly well-prepared. I had started my six day prep on Friday. By the following Thursday I had the action of this first scene blocked and camera angles planned. I took my marked-up script to Jack Kampschroer, the film editor assigned to this episode. (Jack had already, like Charles Hagedon, given me some pointers. The most important one was the instruction to always have characters enter or leave setups.) Jack checked it and gave it his okay. Friday morning I was back in his editing room. I had replanned the whole thing and wanted his okay. Again he gave it. Saturday morning I called his home. I had redone the scene again. Could I bring it out to his house for his approval? He graciously said I could. I did; he checked my planned work and again gave it his seal of approval. Monday morning we started filming. Raymond Massey, Virginia Gregg and Peter Whitney plus Richard Chamberlain and Karl Weber as non-speaking observers in the scene. It all went off without a hitch. By noon I had shot twenty setups and felt like a veteran Hollywood director. By the end of the day I had shot 39 setups and was right on schedule. (A solid day’s work is 25.) The next day at 1pm we watched the rushes of the first day’s work. After the screening Jack, with a big grin on his face said, “What happened?” You guessed it. Sunday I had redone the scene for the fourth time, and that was the version I filmed.

Earlier in the story (but later in the filming schedule) Johnny is brought to Blair Hospital, where Kildare dresses his wound, and a police officer questions him.

Johnny is admitted into Blair Hospital as a patient, and we soon see a darker side of the boy. He shares a room with an older man. When the older man ignores Dr. Kildare’s instruction not to eat some soup his sister has brought him, Johnny takes action. The original script said he poured the cigarette ashes in an ashtray into the soup. But one of our sponsors was a cigarette company. Guess what! It got changed.

I met Anthony Hopkins a few years earlier at a party. He was at the time playing Bruno Hauptmann in a television drama about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. Hopkins said he was in awe of American actors. People extol the brilliance of English actors, but he felt American actors were superior. When he arrived the company was already several days into shooting, and he visited the set to watch the filming. He said he was constantly amazed and impressed at the actors he observed They would have a short runthrough rehearsal; then after the scene was lit, the camera rolled, and they immediately gave terrific truthful performances.

I too am in awe of actors. And I am fascinated by what I consider to be the (I think unacknowledged) film actors’ contribution to the development of realism in acting. In the early thirties a group of successful Broadway actors on the east coast united to form the Group Theatre. Their goal was to bring to the theatre a realism in acting that at that time did not exist. In pursuit of that goal several of the group went to Russia to observe the Moscow Art Theatre under the direction of Konstantin Stanislavsky. Upon their return the Group Theatre did bring a new kind of realism to Broadway acting. In the forties many of these actors became our leading acting teachers. Eventually this led to the formation of the Actors Studio, and we know what that has given us.

But I have a theory that an uncredited parallel movement was taking place on the west coast. With the advent of sound into film, the broad style of silent film acting no longer would suffice. (Although even back in the silents there were those few performers who were working in a more realistic mode: Lillian Gish, Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Richard Barthelmess) But the realism in acting that the Group Theatre strived for was also being developed in the early years of sound because the CAMERA DEMANDED IT. Some of our great stars achieved it very quickly: Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck James Cagney, Beulah Bondi. Others had to learn and adapt: Norma Shearer, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Jean Arthur.

And being honest and truthful in acting is especially needed when the dialog being spoken is not totally honest and truthful. In plain words, when the scene is not well written. As a case in point look at the following scene where, because Johnny has shown some erratic violent behavior, Kildare intervenes.

Because of the ‘knife’ theme in the plot, ( Johnny is knifed in the streets, and later in the hospital he surreptitiously steals a knife from his food tray) I wanted a definitive shocker to show that this boy is potentiallyy dangerous. I think I had it in the scene where Johnny comes home from the hospital. I must have had it. Herb Hirschman, the producer, managed to repeat the slamming door shot a second time later in the show.

I have to take some time to talk about my cameraman, Harkness Smith. He, like art director Charles Hagedon and film editor Jack Kampschroer, wasn’t going to let me make any mistakes that he could avert. After all I had been a member of the company as assistant to the producer for five months. I was part of the family. From the first day Harkie insisted that I stage the entire scene with the actors for him to see before I broke it down into film setups. That was to prevent me from doing something that would create a film editing problem later. Do you know that twenty-six years later when I directed my last film, I was still doing it Harkie’s way.

In my early years, cameras still had the parallex viewer attached to their left side. The view through the parallex was different from the view through the lens. This was because when the camera racked over for shooting, the view through the lens was covered up. The operator looked through the parallex during the filming, making the adjustment for the difference of the two views. Well from day one when I would check a shot before shooting, Harkie drilled into me, “Look through the lens.” And on a more amusing level MGM at that time used an electronic marker instead of the more visible clapper. Camera would roll, the sound mixer would call out “Speed”, and there would be a loud electronic ‘beep’ as a mark was put on both film and sound tracks for later synchronization. All of this took several seconds. Many was the time I would be seated on the front of the crab dolley, and my mind was already thinking about the next shot. Sound called out “speed”, the electronic beeper beeped, and when nothing came from me, Harkie, standing next to me would quietly whisper, “Say action.”

Then came time to shoot a very stange scene showing just how dangerous Johnny was. The shot I had planned required a long lens (I think it was a 100m). We started filming, and take after take was spoiled because the focus puller kept missing. It wasn’t his fault. It was an extremely difficult shot. I was concerned with the time it was taking to complete the scene. I finally suggesed to Harkie that we simplify it, shoot it with a wider angle lens. Harkie very calmly said, “No. We’ll get it.” And we did.

In the original script Johnny’s father gets a phone call from the police that makes him realize Johnny may be mentally ill. He confronts Johnny, and Johnny shoots him. This I didn’t like. In our story Johnny had been supposedly knifed; in the hospital there had been the incident involving a knife; Johnny’s room was filled with knives; and Johnny had envisioned himself as a surgeon holding a scalpel. Why in a scene in his bedroom surrounded by knives -- a GUN! I wanted to do the scene with a knife as the weapon. I pointed this out to Herb Hirschman. He was concerned the network would object to Johnny stabbing his father. (BUT IT WAS OKAY TO SHOOT HIM?) I asked, “What if I make the knifing accidental -- not deliberate?” Herb agreed to that. But at the end of our sixth and final day when we shot the scene, Herb was on the set, checking. But it went off without a hitch.

A decade earlier when I was still in Mason City, Iowa, the younger son, Andy, of close friends was mentally retarded. A beautiful boy of twelve, he had the mind of a five year old. Andy would get occasional but very severe headaches. I observed him at such times when he would bang his head against a wall, trying to get rid of the pain. Johnny Temple wasn’t retarded, but because of his headaches, I wanted to use this. On the back lot of MGM at the site I selected, I had some padding attached to the building. It worked wonderfully, but because of the dedication and ferocity of his acting, I’m afraid Doug ended up WITH a headache.

It was said of Irving Thalberg: He didn’t make movies for people to see. He made movies for people to feel. Boy, do I believe in that!

Monday, October 12, 2009


My last booking for the 1963-64 season proved to be my last BREAKING POINT. The script, NEVER TROUBLE TROUBLE TILL TROUBLE TROUBLES YOU was written by Lorenzo Semple Jr. Three and a half years earlier I had directed a production of GOLDEN FLEECING, also by Lorenzo Semple Jr., on the main stage at the Pasadena Playhouse. I've never met Lorenzo, but then I’ve never met most of the authors whose screenplalys I’ve directed.

NEVER TROUBLE TROUBLE TILL TROUBLE TROUBLES YOU was the most conventional of the three scripts that I directed for BREAKING POINT. It was the story of an up-and-coming boxer, Rosie Palmer, who in the initial scene loses an important bout under suspicious circumstances. He is accused of throwing the fight, of taking a dive. He pleads his innocence, insisting he was hit, knocked out. Film of the fight shows otherwise. He is suspended by the Boxing Commission. His fiancee returns her engagement ring. He seeks psychiatric help. He swears he was hit; he felt the punch. And if he felt a punch that wasn’t thrown, does that mean he’s going crazy. What made this an unusual show was that it was cast with negro actors, although it was not a negro-themed story. (This was before ‘black’ and ‘African-American’ became the accepted terms of reference.) It could just as easily have been a story about a white boxer.

I don’t have a copy of NEVER TROUBLE TROUBLE..., so I don't remember very much about the shooting of the show, but there were two incidents in preproduction that are worth relating. Because Rosie in his sessions with the psychiatrist speaks of his past, there were flashbacks in the story. We needed an adult Rosie and a seven year old Rosie. Now under ordinary circumstances the adult Rosie would be cast, then a child Rosie would be matched to him. But this was episodic television. Everything is worked on at the same time. So while the search for the adult Rosie went on, Lynn Stalmaster, the casting director, brought in three seven year old negro boys. Our plan was that we would see the children, but hold off making any decision until we had our boxing Rosie, when we would cast the young boy who most closely resembled him. One of the boys who came in was the son of LA Councilman Melvin Dymally. The fact that he was a Councilman’s son didn’t mean anything to us. The fact that the child was beautiful and absolutely enchanting did. He was light-skinned with light brown wavy hair. His whole demeanor was angelic and sensitive. He had the qualities we were looking for in the youngster’s scenes. We decided not to wait; we cast him on the spot. We hoped our adult Rosie would match him, but if he didn’t, make-up would solve the problem. We then cast a New York actor, Terry Carter, as Rosie. Terry was a dark-skinned Sydney Poitier look-alike. There was going to be a problem, but we knew it was solveable.

The day young Dymally was to shoot arrived. He reported to make-up where I had given instructions on what I wanted. I could not stay in the make-up room to oversee, as I had to continue filming. When his make-up was completed, the make-up man brought him to the set for my approval. I took one look and said, “No. He needs to be darker.” They returned to the make-up room, and a short while later returned. “No,” I said again. “He needs to be darker.” Again back to the make-up room, and again a return to the set. He was still too light. I took the boy and the make-up man over to where Terry Carter was seated. “He is still too light,” I said. “He needs to be darker. He is playing Terry as a child. His skin needs to be the same color.” The make-up man looked at me quizzically, as if I had lost all my marbles. “Well don’t they get darker as they grow older?” he asked. Now that was a funny line, but it was also shocking to me. A hundred and nine years after the end of the Civil War it was inconceivable to me that anybody with any intelligence could ask that question. I later related the incident to Diana Sands, who was cast as Sarah, Rosie’s fiancee. And this is why people who one day might want to write a blog should keep journals. Diana, laughing, responded, “He probably thinks ...” and I don’t remember the rest of her statement. I just remember that we had a good laugh.

There were two older characters in the script: Rosie’s father and Sarah’s father. We immediately cast Joel Fluellen as Rosie’s father. I had worked with Joel when he was in the cast of one of my stage productions. For the role of Sarah’s father we wanted Rex Ingram, a black actor with a very distinguished resume. He had played the role of De Lawd in the Broadway production of Marc Connolly’s THE GREEN PASTURES and repeated it in the Warner Brothers’ filming of the play. He had portrayed Lucifer, the Devil, in CABIN IN THE SKY with Ethel Waters and Lena Horne. He was Jim, the runaway slave, in THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN with Mickey Rooney. So our casting director had Rex come into our office. We had a nice chat, after which I handed him a script. “You mean, I got the job?” he said. I responded, “You had the job when you came in. We just wanted to meet you.” I never get over bemoaning the cruelty of this profession, that older performers who should be revered for their talent and experience are so casually shunted aside. And all of this compounded in Rex’s case by the color of his skin.

Five and a half years later in the summer of 1969 I worked with Rex once again. IMDB (the Internet Movie Data Base) includes the following in its bio of Ingram: Although in ill health, the 74-year-old Ingram took on his last role, on a Christmas episode of "The Bill Cosby Show,"* because star/co-producer Cosby, a long-time fan, personally asked him to. Shortly after filming ended, Ingram passed away on September 19, 1969. The episode was aired a little over two months later, on December 21, and earned the show some of its highest ratings to date.

*This was not THE COSBY SHOW with the Huxtable family. It was an earlier series Cosby did in 1969, when he played a gym instructor.

Friday, October 9, 2009

SHADOW OF A STARLESS NIGHT - January 1964 (Breaking Point)

The end of my 1963-1964 season saw me returning to BREAKING POINT for two more episodes. The first turned out to be a wonderfully unusual experience. Director Guild rules required that the script for an assignment be delivered three days before the director reported for preparation. That very seldom happened. Usually the script was waiting for the director when he reported to the studio (unless like the first ROUTE 66 it hadn't been completed yet). In the case of the first of these two assignments I became involved about a month before my report date. Jean Holloway, who was going to write the script, had done an enormous amount of research and found that in the United States there were six or eight practicing physicians who had been born with sight, been blinded, but returned to the practice of medicine. She interviewed all of them by telephone, then blended that material into a script about a young doctor, who in an automobile accident is blinded, and the story of his eventual return to practice medicine. The script (IN THE DARK ALL CATS ARE GRAY) was an exciting project, and I was thrilled to be involved in it so early.

Jean learned that I was going to San Francisco to visit family for the holidays, and she asked if I would contact the Guide Dogs for the Blind organization in San Rafael. Possibly I could visit them and get some information that she could include in her script. So while I was in San Francisco, I called the school, made an appointment and traveled across the Bay to this magnificent establishment set in the rolling hills east of the Bay. Bill Jones, the executive in charge, gave me a tour. I learned that they bred their own dogs. Three breeds: golden retriever, German shepherd, and black Labrador. When the puppies were six or eight weeks old, they were put out to foster homes, where they could be indoctrinated to relate socially to people. Then they were brought back to the school, where the staff of trainers turned them into Guide Dogs for the blind.

The next step in this process was the blind. A class of 12 or 14 accepted pupils would arrive to receive and be trained to use a guide dog. I was told that they were going to be starting a class of new students the following Monday. I was invited to audit those classes. I accepted the invitation and starting the following Monday I attended all of the classe for the next five days.

At this time I was very proficient in short-hand. (Why I had taken a short-hand class in high school to this day I can’t explain, but on more than one occasion it certainly came in handy.) I daily traveled across the Bay (fortunately gasoline at that time was priced more reasonably), attended all of the classes, taking voluminous notes, which I would relay to Jean Holloway each evening in extended ninety minute telephone calls. Jean was thrilled with the material I was providing, so that what originally was going to be a short interval in her story ended up being a full act -- one fourth of the script.

I returned to southern California, and in January reported to the studio, where I found a very fine script (now titled SHADOW OF A STARLESS NIGHT) by Jean awaiting me. Casting for this show was simple. Bradford Dillman was cast as our young doctor, Peter, and Dianne Foster was cast as his wife, Debbie. (I do remember that we submitted the script with an offer to Barbara Rush to play the role of the wife. Barbara turned it down, but did say she would be willing to accept if the wife could be the blind one.) The dominant psychiatrist in this script was Dr. Raymer, the Eduard Franz role. He was the Dr. Gillespie of this series. Jean’s script was very intriguing, because she presented, beside our young doctor’s dilemna in coping with his blindness, the problem faced by his older psychiatrist friend who doesn’t know how to help him. And she introduced a new character, Dr. Watkins, a young psychiatrist, a new arrival at the hospital, who had had previous experience dealing with the blind. For this role we cast a fresh new face, Charles Robinson.

I suspected at the time (and I still believe) that this casting was done with an eye to getting a renewal for the series for the following year. I’m afraid that Paul Richards, a fine actor, had not turned out to be another Vince Edwards or Richard Chamberlain (Ben Casey or Dr. Kildare).

Further casting involved the blind people in the class. These were not speaking roles, but they were obviously very important. Bill Jones offered to contact graduates of the school who lived in Southern California. He did, we cast, and that’s how our class was put together. And each one came with his own Guide Dog.

I would have loved to have been able to shoot the show at the school in San Rafael, but with a television budget, that was not possible. We ended up at a Girl Scout camp in one of the canyons of Los Angeles . It was more wooded than San Rafael, but it was very scenic, very beautiful and a location that I returned to several times for later productions. So because we couldn’t go to the school, the school came to us. Bill Jones came to southern California for the shoot, bringing several dogs and one of the staff trainers. Bill proved invaluable as an uncredited technical advisor.

Jean’s script, after an introductory birthday celebration scene followed by the fatal accident, zeroed in on the young doctor’s journey back from the depths. It began with a very powerful scene as Peter, the young doctor, wakes up after surgery and discovers his eyes are bandaged. He carefully lifts the bandage covering his left eye and then the bandage over his right eye. He realizes his sight is gone.

There was another role I found easy to cast. A young man comes in to help Peter learn to shave himself. Nine years earlier when I was connected with one of the Hollywood area theatres, I had directed as a show case the soda fountain scene in OUR TOWN. At the time I just knew the two young actors I was directing as Jimmy and Judy. One day when we arrived at the theater, we found there was no available rehearsal space. So Judy said, “We can go up to my house to rehearse.”

I asked, “Where is that?” and she answered, “Just up the street.”

So up the street we traipsed to a large house on the corner of Fountain. When I entered, I felt as if I were entering the set of an MGM movie. Marble floors, tall white columns. I had never seen anything like this in Mason City, Iowa. And then I saw an Academy award statuette up on a shelf.

“Whose is that?”, I asked.

Judy replied, “My mother’s.”

“Who’s your mother?”

“Loretta Young.”

And I don’t know why, but I blurted out, “But you don’t look like her.” (Although actually she does.)

And Judy said, “I’m adopted.”

After the rehearsal I returned to the theatre, eager in my naivete to tell anyone who would listen about this exciting occurrence. And that was when I learned that Judy was really Miss Young’s daughter, the child of a liaison between Loretta Young and Clark Gable. Many years later when I read Judy Lewis’ wonderful book, UNNATURAL AFFECTION, I realized that I knew the facts of her parenthood before she did.

We cast Jimmy Hayes as the young man in the shaving sequence.

One of the joys of Jean’s script was that, unlike too much television, her scenes weren’t filled with static dialog to be spoken by ‘talking heads’. Peter’s return home from the hospital is a perfect example. And as you will see, I paid attention when Charles Hagedon told me John Ford's advice to "move the actors, not the camera."

Our filming began of course at the camp location. There we did the exteriors and the interior of a very large glassed-in room we used for indoctrination and dining scenes. We aimed to reproduce as accurately as possible what I had seen the month before in San Rafael. There was the first class devoted to getting the blind to move more freely, not fearfully. The trainer in this scene was played by a fine actor, Don Hanmer. Don was a member of the famed Actors’ Studio. He told me of an incident years before in one of his classes. The assignment was to perform an activity using sense memory. Don chose to eat a banana. Seated in his chair in the classroom he pantomimed picking up a banana and slowly starting to peel it. At this moment Cloris Leachman arrived late. She quietly slipped in and took a seat directly behind Don and took a banana out of a sack for her late lunch. Don, engrossed in his pantomime suddenly looked up and said to Lee Strasberg, “I’m so into this, I can actually smell the banana.”

At one point I checked with Bill Jones to make sure Don’s performance as the trainer was technically authentic. Bill smiled as he replied that the performance was fine, but the trainer who accompanied him from San Rafael had noted that if Don’s trainer walked as much as he did in San Rafael, he would be a lot slimmer.

When I moved to Carmel, I discovered Don and his wife, Susie, lived in Monterey. We reestablished contact and remained close friends until their deaths.

When we did the first dining sequence I asked the actors to remember the first time they had a meal in San Rafael and to eat and talk just as they had then. If you listen carefully, you willl hear one of the blind actors say, “I see we have carrots; I understand carrots are good for the eyes.” Jean didn’t write that line. It was an incredible ad lib.

One other role in the cast was a young blind girl. One of the executives in the production company knew a young actress who was blind. So Marcia Blakesley became our Nancy.

Before they received their dogs, the class had to learn how to handle the leash and commands. The trainer became their two-footed dog. I guess this was part of the walking that kept the trainer’s weight off.

And finally each class member received his Guide Dog. These dogs incidentally were not just randomly assigned. I was told the staff tried to match up dog and future master based on their personalities. And then came long days of walking on public streets


One day I sat talking to Bill Jones about the climatic scene in the script when Peter returns home from the Guide Dog School to find his wife has left him. I was excited about the potential power of the scene. Bill just smiled as he told me of an instance when a graduate of the school returned home to find, not only his wife had left, she had taken all of their furniture. Like in the comic strips and Superman on film, a light went on over my head. That was the way I was going to stage the scene. Now use your imagination. The shot starts close on the door to the apartment as Peter enters the foyer with his dog. As he moves to the archway into the living room he calls out, “Debbie, Debbie I’m home.” The camera slowly pulls back and up to a high wide shot of the bare living room. No answer. As Peter leans over to release the leash on his dog, he calls out again, “Debbie.” No answer. The camera pans him as he slowly crosses into the living room, tilting down to see him bump into something in the center of the floor. It is a reel to reel tape recorder. He kneels and turns it on. The camera moves in to a close shot of the winding reels as Debbie’s voice tells him she has left him. Well I hope you have gotten a good look at that scene, because it wasn’t and isn’t in the picture. Richard Collins, who was now producing the show (George Leffers having left for New York, although he still was listed as executive producer) was on the set when we shot the scene. He asked me to shoot an alternate version of the scene WITH the furniture. So we did. And it was the alternate version that made it into the film. Several months later when I was working with Suzy Parker, Brad’s wife, she told me that when Brad saw that scene the night the show aired, he almost threw something through the television screen. I wonder, if George Lefferts had still been producing, which version would have ended up in the final print; in fact I wonder if George had still been producing if there would have been an alternate version.

Here’s the aired scene.

Our acting dog was a guide dog, not an actor. We got him to knock Brad over, but we had trouble getting him to lick Brad’s face. That is until we put chocolate syrup on it.

Lke THE BULL ROARER, SHADOW OF A STARLESS NIGHT has gone into television oblivion. There are no commercial copies available. I have a copy, so if you want to see how the show ends, I guess you have to come visit Carmel.

One of life’s final ironies. I learned years later that Bill Jones, who was in charge of the school, in his later years lost his eyesight.