Monday, March 15, 2010

FUNNY MAN WITH A MONKEY - November 1963 (Arrest and Trial)

October, 1963, I returned to New York for the fifth time that year (three times for NAKED CITY and once for a double header of THE NURSES and EAST SIDE WEST SIDE). That trip was for another double header with THE NURSES again being the lead-off show. I completed THE NURSES on October 21 and was notified that EAST SIDE WEST SIDE, which had been booked to start immediately upon my completion of THE NURSES, was behind schedule and I should not report for another week. A return to the west coast for that short period of time was a little daunting (factor in the travel involved in the two episodes of ROUTE 66 I had filmed in Texas) and frankly I coudn’t afford financially to stay on in New York for that period. I asked my agent to get me out of the commitment; I also asked them to have me released from the two future commitments which so far had not be scheduled. At that point I just wanted to go home and get my life out of the suitcase. All of this was arranged and I returned to the west coast. There was no work on the horizon, but I was ready for a rest. I had filmed twelve shows in nine months, eight of them on location in Texas or New York. I wasn’t home very long before I had a call from my agent. Director Jack Smight had just had to bow out of a commitment to direct an ARREST AND TRIAL because he had been booked to direct a feature film. Did I want the assignment? I said absoutely. It was to direct an episode titled FUNNY MAN WITH A MONKEY and Mickey Rooney was already in place to guest star.


Six years earlier in 1957 I had met Rachel Ames when I cast her in a stage production of THE IMMORALIST at a small Hollywood theatre. Her stage name at that time was Judith Ames. Actually she was Rachel Foulger, the daughter of Dorothy Adams and Byron Foulger, two legendary character actors of the silver screen.

How did Rachel Foulger (a lovely name) become Judith Ames? Paramount Studios renamed her when she was one of a dozen young performers signed by the studio in the very early fifties for their Golden Circle, a group being groomed for stardom. After we did THE IMMORALIST, Rachel compromised; she kept the Ames but went back to the Rachel. We did three more plays together, but this was to be our only film collaboration. The following year Rachel joined the cast of GENERAL HOSPITAL, where she played Audrey and has the distinction of being the longest-running performer on that show. As a warm-up for that gig, meet her here playing a doctor’s wife.

The Rembrandt Motel exterior set was on the Universal backlot, but it had been renamed. It was originally the Bates Motel, the infamous setting for PSYCHO. And just up a hill to the left of the motel was the Bates house. Don’t think it wasn’t eerie having that gloomy structure hovering over us. And to complete the picture, my director of photography was John Russell, the man who had photographed that Hitchcock classic.

When Robert Osborne interviewed Mickey Rooney on TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES, he told him that Cary Grant, when asked once who was the best actor in Hollywood, responded without hesitation -- Mickey Rooney. It would be difficult, no impossible for me to refute this. The man could do everything. One of his entourage took me aside at the beginning of this venture and explained the best way to work with Mickey. Before each scene it was suggested I sketch in for Mickey what had come before and what we were about to do. I did this. Then Mickey would glance at the script, move into the set and proceed to bring those words on the page to life. To this day I still don’t know whether Mickey had prepared before or whether he was literally photographing the script as he scanned it.

The script by Jerome Ross was excellent -- scrupulously researched and beautifully dramatized. He had obviosly visited some narcotics division.

I in turn visited Synanon, an establishment at the beach, which at the time was a “half way house” for drug addicts. Those who came there could stay, but they had to be “clean” and they had to work to maintain the home. They cooked, they cleaned, they repaired. The rule of law was “tough love”. I was emotionally moved with the feeling of family I got from the residents. They were truly all there to help each other. I was even more impressed with the fact that if I had met, outside of Synanon, any one of the addicts with whom I came in contact, I would not have known they were addicts. I was determined to try to bring that sympathetic but documentary feel to the project ahead, in the casting and in the performances.

Ben Gazarra’s character, Nick Anderson, was a different kind of detective -- more intellectual, more sympathetic. Jerome Ross cleverly used the difference between Nick and Gregson, the head of the Narcotics division, to delineate the law’s approach to the problem of drug addicts.

Although this was a case where I very much respected the screenwriter and the script, there were still instances where I chose to stage just a little differently. I didn't veer from the writer's intent; I didn't change any dialog. Here is the script for the following sequence.

Incidentally Harry was played by Joe Mantell. Joe in 1955 had appeared as Ernest Borgnine’s best friend in the Oscar winning MARTY.

Mary Murphy made her first screen appearance in 1951 in an uncredited role in a Bob Hope film. Her last film appearance was in 1975. A decade before her appearance in this film as Mickey Rooney’s wife she had been Marlon Brando’s leading lady in THE WILD ONE. A part of another one of the eight million stories of Hollywood.

The joy for a director when working with someone like Mickey Rooney. I did as his assistant had advised; I would locate him with where we were in the script and tell him what the oncoming scene was. Then I just had to say: “Action”, ”Cut”, “Print”.

There was a very interesting story I read somewhere at this time. Mickey was doing a scene in a film television show where he had been shot. Camera rolled, action was called and Mickey proceded to emote. He stumbled about the room, struggling with his pain until after his final line of dialogue, he dropped to the floor, dead! The director called “Cut”. Then he said to Mickey, “That was wonderful. But you don’t die in this show.” Mickey’s surprised reply was, “I don’t?” I don’t know if that actually happened, but again, if there’s a difference between truth and the legend, print the legend.

The third day of filming was a Friday, and we were scheduled to shoot on location. The first location of the day was the skid row section of downtown Los Angeles. For reasons I will disclose in a moment, we never got to our second location. That location was rescheduled and filmed later. Here is that scene.

On Friday morning we arrived early on skid row so that we would be set up and ready to film as daylight broke. Mickey was immediately recognized by the homeless inhabitants of the street, and he was wonderfully accessible. He encouraged everyone who came up to him to get their act together. “You can do it,” he repeatedly assured them. He was minister, priest, rabbi rolled into one short stature. And when it came time for the camera to roll, he immediately reverted to being Hoagy Blair.

As we neared the end of the work in that area, I had planned a shot from the top of a six story building. I was up there with the camera crew, looking down at the street below. When the camera was set up, I called down to the assistant director that we were ready. But no one paid any attention to me. I called down again. Again I was ignored. Getting a little impatient I yelled, “Come on, let’s get this show on the road.” No response. “What’s the matter with you guys. Come on! Let’s do it!” One of the second assistant directors started to call something to me when I heard Eddie Dodds, the first assistant director, say, “Don’t say it.” I immediately ran down the six flights to the street. I was told President Kennedy had just been shot.

I remember sitting in the back seat of one of our cars, squeezed in between two of the crew; Mickey sat between two bodies in the front seat. And the car windows, which were open were filled with the faces of the poor souls of the street as we listened to the radio report of what had happened in Texas. I felt like I was in church.

There was just the shot from the top of the building and one additional shot of Mickey running to complete our work at this location. MIckey, devastated as he was, agreed to do them.

The rest of the day's location filming was abandoned. Mickey, having completed the final two shots went home. Universal may have been the only studio that didn’t suspend production for the day. Our company returned to the studio and spent the afternoon trying to film a sequence between Ben Gazarra and John Larch. It was a difficult afternoon.

I spent the weekend preparing my work for the following week. Sunday morning my mother phoned to ask me what I thought of the most recent event. I told her I had not had my television set on, I was too busy working on the script. She told me that Lee Oswald had just been shot. I immediately turned on my television, and spent the rest of the day dividing my time between the news on the screen and getting ready for filming on Monday. The Kennedy funeral was scheduled for Monday, but as far as I knew, I would be back at Universal rolling the camera. Ten o’clock that evening I had a call from the studio telling me the Monday filming was cancelled. They had been trying to reach me to notify me of this all day. But they didn’t realize I was a resident of Los Angeles; they thought I was a New Yorker and they said they had been calling hotels all over the area trying to find me. So Monday, like the rest of America I sat glued to my television watching the funeral, and I’m not ashamed to say I shed a great many tears.

Tuesday we returned to work. There were still six days of filming ahead of us. I always marvel at the ability of show people to bounce back. You know, the old “the show must go on” thing. And bounce back we all did.

The filming of the final sequence of THE ARREST section of our story was a wonder to behold. Again I oriented Mickey on where we were coming from and what we were about to do. He looked at the script. The taped confession part of the scene was a page and a half long. In one take Mickey did his closeup and it was more than three solid minutes of pure gold.

To be continued


  1. Fantastic work! Mickey Rooney is one of my very favorite actors. So happy I found your post, else I never may have known about this fascinating series. Thank you!

  2. Another great post! You mention John Larch at the end, I always found him a fascinating actor to watch. It was like he was going to explode at any time. I tried to contact him by mail a few times in his retirement, but he never answered back. He was an outstanding actor...