Wednesday, February 24, 2010

OBSESSION - October 1967 (Star Trek)

Some time near the end of filming BREAD AND CIRCUSES, Herb Solow, executive in charge of production for Desilu Studios, and John Meredyth Lucas, the new producer of STAR TREK (replacing Gene Coon), came to me to check my availability to stay on and direct another STAR TREK. My preparation period would begin the day following completion of the current show. I regrettably had to decline. I never worked on the Jewish High Holy Days (Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur), and they were going to fall right in the middle of the next show’s schedule. Not to be deterred, Herb got out a calendar to see whether the conflict could be resolved. Rosh Hashannah would fall on the last two days of preparation. No problem, he said. I could have my preparation completed by then, so that it would not be necessary for me to come to the studio on those two days. The fifth day of filming would be on Friday, October 13. Yom Kippur began at sundown on that day. Again no problem he said. I could leave the studio late afternoon, and John, a director in his own right, would finish directing the day’s work. And that’s the way it worked out. And John from then on always referred to himself as my Yom Kippur director.

So let’s beam up to another of Jerry Finnerman’s colorful planets.

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I was asked by one of the followers of this blog, how could the character Jerry Ayres played in an episode of the first year (ARENA) who was killeld, show up in this episode. I have since read an interview Jerry gave in which he said there was a scene filmed that explained that, but that scene ended up on the cutting room floor. I don’t think so; at least I didn’t direct that deleted scene, and I know it wasn’t one of the Yom Kippur scenes directed by John Meredyth Lucas. Another thing, the characters played by Jerry in the two productions have different names. I find all of this an unusual happening, since I know how careful the production was NOT TO BRING BACK ACTORS unless they were playing recurring characters. I’ll have an interesting story to tell on this same topic in a later posting.

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This was the fourteenth time I directed Stephen Brooks. Our first two encounters were when he had a recurring role on the New York based THE NURSES. Two years later he was Jim Rhodes, Efrem Zimbalist’s sidekick on QM’s THE FBI. Stephen left that series after only two seasons. I never questioned why. Was it his choice to walk away because of the limited opportunities his role gave him, or did Quinn or the network want someone older? (Stephen when he started THE FBI was only twenty-three years old. The original story plan had been that Jim Rhodes was the fiance of Efrem's daughter, a character who soon disappeared from the series.) Or could it have been a request from Mr. Hoover’s FBI office in Washington? They were very careful to protect the image of their agents. Did Stephen’s youth make him too immature to fit that image? His replacement on that series was William Reynolds, an older version of Stephen, eleven years older.

I didn’t know Stephen away from the movie set. And on the set I knew Jim Rhodes (THE FBI), Ensign Garrovick (STAR TREK) or the twenty-one year old interne on THE NURSES. Why did his career end so early? There was a barber shop in Toluca Lake that many of the men on THE FBI went to. It was a barber shop, not a ladies hair salon. Its owner was Eleanor, and the barbers were all women. Beverly at the second chair cut Pat Sajak’s hair. Eleanor told me some time in the mid-seventies that Stephen was an unhappy, disturbed young man. He left Hollywood in his early forties and died of a heart attack in Seattle, Washington at the age of fifty-seven. Why do I bring this up? Because we are inundated ad nauseum with news about those in Hollywood who ‘make it’, many with a minuscule talent. There are so many more, talented like Stephen, whose star doesn’t shine, it only flickers. He was a sensitive and attractive young actor. WHY? To do a variation of the closing line of NAKED CITY, “There are eight million stories in Hollywood; the Stephen Brooks story is one of them.”

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This was my first STAR TREK without Gene Coon as producer (and of course as writer). He stated he was leaving because he was burned out. I’ve wondered if Paramount’s purchase of Desilu Studio, with the subsequent shortening of the shooting schedule (and whatever other restrictions the new regime brought) could have contributed to Gene’s burnout. I for one certainly missed him.

The following scene I think is an example of how the shorter shooting schedule affected the creation of the screenplay. Remember my telling you that the usual length for a scene in a television script was about three minutes. The following scene runs almost seven minutes. The scene starts with a strong confrontation between Dr. McCoy and Kirk, but after Spock enters, we get two and a half minutes of pure exposition. And those two and a half minutes covered the same material that had just been presented in a two minute scene between Spock and McCoy that I have not included. There is a big difference between having your characters EXPLAIN a situation or DRAMATIZING IT. With exposition just set up a closeup and let the actor talk. The advantage of talk to the money men is that it required less movement and fewer camera setups and thus could be filmed faster.

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I cannot speak for the other directors and the other productions, but I can definitely say that there was a drop in quality from THIS SIDE OF PARADISE, METAMORPHOSIS and BREAD AND CIRCUSES to the other two episodes I directed the second season. And I ascribe the reason for this drop to be partly caused by the lack of Gene Coon’s stewardship of the scripts and the rest to the impossible expectation that the episodes in this series could be filmed in five and a half days.

Now, have you finally realized you are watching Captain Ahab and Moby Dick battling it out in space?

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As I bemoan the loss of Gene Coon, I don’t mean to dismiss John Meredyth Lucas. His was a formidable task. In one of my early postings I described what it felt like as a director coming to direct a long running series for the first time. It was like a Captain taking new command of a ship in battle. For John, taking over as producer of STAR TREK, I felt, it was like an Admiral being reassigned to command of an entire fleet. And to do it midseason -- a monstrous assignment. Filling Gene Coon’s shoes ... use your imagination.

John came from Hollywood royalty. His mother was Bess Meredyth, noted screenplay writer dating back to the silents. She wrote the screenplays for many of Garbo’s films and was twice nominated for an Academy Award. When John was ten, his mother married Michael Curtiz, who I think is one of the great underrated directors in filmdom. A total studio director who has never achieved an auteur status, but what a resume! What a range! CASABLANCA, CAPTAIN BLOOD, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, MILDRED PIERCE, ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, THE SEA WOLF, WHITE CHRISTMAS and on and on. He directed his first film (in Europe) in 1912, his last in 1961.

Now back to our story; and finally we’re past most of the exposition and into some drama.

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And into the final battle between Captain Kirk and his white whale. Will he become lashed to the whale as Ahab was? That could promote Spock to Captain of the Enterprise and Leonard Nimoy to top star of the series. Wanna bet?

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8 comments:

  1. Very nice, Ralph! I'm glad someone is out there to give credit where credit is due (Stephen Brooks). More on him and the FBI show at:
    http://1965fbishow.com/lead_actors/brooks/index.php

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  2. Mr. Senensky,

    I have just added your blog to my list of links at "My Star Trek Scrapbook." I am so glad that you are taking the time and interest in writing down your memories and sharing them with us who are interested in knowing more about Trek's production. I know I speak for all fans when I say that we look forward to reading more here in the future!

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  3. I've always been drawn to this tale of the deserving ensign in whom Kirk sees himself--and upon whom he projects the same impossible standards of performance he expected of himself years before. However hampered RS may have felt himself to be by the reduced shooting time, OBSESSION ranks among my favorites. We are seldom treated to a more intensely driven Kirk, and I for one enjoy the high drama of episodes like this in which the captain's authority is legally challenged. One could draw parallels to the competency hearing held for him in THE DEADLY YEARS or to McCoy's threatened attack on his judgment in THE CORBOMITE MANEUVER when Kirk relieves yet another young officer from duty.

    I hope Mr Senensky will find time to continue these postings. We are privileged indeed to hear the first hand accounts of one of Trek's master craftsmen. I sincerely thank him for his willingness to share.

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  4. Frederick: So you're the guy behind "My Star Trek Scrapbook". It's a very great site. Congratulations!

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  5. So insightful, as always. "Obsession" is a favorite episode of mine.

    I'd always wondered why Star Trek's second- and third-season shows feel "rushed" compared to the first-season shows. It's nothing short of miraculous you were able to do this in five-and-a-half days.

    Speaking of the other directors: Did you ever interact with any of them while you were doing your episodes? (specifically, Marc Daniels or Joe Pevney). I imagine the hectic demands of the show (and the industry) made it impossible for directors to have time to watch their colleagues' episodes, if they even wanted to. Just wondering.

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  6. I knew Marc better than Joe. Marc I knew from before. My favorite story about Marc: If I would be out socially and would want to introduce him to my companion for the evening, I would introduce them and then say to the person I was with, "Do you want to see a grown man cry? Ask him how much he earned in residuals for the first year of I LOVE LUCY all of which he directed." Of course the answer was nothing. There were NO RESIDUALS until 1960 and Lucy started in the fifties.

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  7. Marc Daniels was a delightful man. He left "I Love Lucy" after he and Lucy had a tiff over a piece of staging - Bill Asher took the directing reins. Marc and Lucy reconciled and Marc went on to direct her in "Life With Lucy" in the late-80's. Marc told me he learned his lesson, whatever Lucy dictated was honored, and she was usually right. Marc passed on Sunday April 23, 1989. Ironically, Lucy passed the following Wednesday April 26. Both Marc and Lucy's obits were published in the same issue of Daily Variety. Guess whose Obit made the front page? Mark's wife Emily said to me, "Lucy's done it again!"

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  8. As a star trek fan, I was sad to have discovered that one of the finest cinematographers in the history of film and television had recently passed away.

    Gerald Perry Finnerman (17 December 1931 – 6 April 2011; age 79).

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