Tuesday, April 27, 2010

AN APPLE A DAY - July 1965 (The Fugitive)

AN APPLE A DAY was my third flight with THE FUGITIVE. But when I did my last posting, I chose to skip over it and go onto the fourth and final show I directed of that series. Quite frankly my intentions were that I would not be returning to report on the APPLE. But I’ve been thinking; just because i don’t remember the show too fondly, just because I consider it something of a misfire doesn’t mean it can’t provide some added insights into that early period in television production.


THE FUGITIVE was the only Quinn Martin series that used a climactic scene from the film as its teaser. There was a reason for doing that. All programs started on the hour or the half hour. It was considered imperative to grab the audience’s attention early and completely to discourage people changing channels. And most THE FUGITIVE scripts had quiet openings; no exciting committing of crimes like those that began episodes on THE FBI. So without further ado and before you decide to change channels, let’s get on with it.


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Oddly, this was that rare episode that had an opening sequence that would have been strong enough to start the show.


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THE FUGITIVE and THE FBI (which I would start directing later that season) both benefited by being produced in Southern California. The scripts for both series called for locations all over the United States. Southern California could supply the coast (east or west), the desert, the mountains, the flat plains of the midwest or any area of any city, large or small. And all within short driving distance from the studio. This episode was set in Colorado; we filmed it in the west end of the Valley -- I think it was Topanga Canyon. We had two and a half days of filming at the Hope Ranch and this opening sequence was shot in the hills near that location.


I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, David’s fall down the steep hill was done by his stunt double.


The farm lady (Mrs. Crandall) who comes to Kimble’s aid was one of my closest friends, Amzie Strickland. She and I arrived in Los Angeles at almost the same time -- the fall of 1954. I met Amzie in January, 1955 when I was in rehearsal for MY THREE ANGELS. She and Claudia Bryar had been schoolmates in Oklahoma, and she came to the Players Ring to audition for their following production of PICNIC (she got the part). She, the Bryars and I lunched at famous Barney’s Beanery just down the street from the theatre. I have to tell you my favorite story about Amzie. She came from New York where she had a very successful career acting in radio. Being a New Yorker, she didn’t know how to drive, and we all know you cannot survive in Los Angeles without being able to drive. So a friend, and I’m positive it was the writer Richard Breen, graciously agreed to teach her. And he did. Amzie bought a car and came the day when she took her test for her driver’s license. When she finished the test, she hopped in her car and sped over to Breen’s house, where she crashed through the fence on his property. He came rushing out of his house to hear Amzie proudly proclaim, “Dick, I PASSED THE TEST.”


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My first contact with Arthur O’Connell was thirteen years prior to this in 1952 when I had my first professional job as assistant director at the Chevy Chase Summer Theatre in Wheeling, Illinois. The very first production was CHARLEY’S AUNT starring Robert Q. Lewis. Now if you ask, “Who is Robert Q. Lewis?” I will understand. But I don’t think you are going to ask that about some of the supporting cast. Arthur O’Connell. Tom Poston. Tom Bosley.


I hope by now you’re asking, “Why was he complaining about the quality of this show? I don’t think it’s that bad.” And that’s why I’m glad I’m putting it out. I don’t think it comes as a surprise that I am a big fan of actors . And I was continually amazed at their ability to flesh out not necessarily bad material, but script writing that was --let’s put it kindly -- bland!


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Sheree North was such a good actress, an underrated actress. She was under contract to 20th Century Fox in the fifties, mainly as a backup for the studio for their recalcitrant Marilyn Monroe. Later in television she was given the chance to reveal the breadth of her talent. I remember that at the time we did this film, she had a slight quivering reminiscent of Katharine Hepburn’s Parkinson disease affliction. I don’t remember whether she and I discussed it; I’m not sure where the information came from. But I do remember I was very careful in checking to be sure that no take was infected by it. There were takes where the shaking would appear and I would look at her knowingly and say, “Let’s do it again, Sheree.” And she did. What a pro. I shudder to think how this role would have been acted in an Aaron Spelling production. As written I considered it the standard cliche film femme fatale. Shereee avoided playing just the sexuality of Marianne; she implied it with a fine sense of teasing humor.

As I stated earlier, we filmed the exterior of Josephus Adams’ residence at Nine Pines, the Bob Hope Ranch. Guess why they called it Nine Pines. Because there were nine tall pine tress on the property. And it was conveniently a honey producing establishment, which of course is why we chose it as our location.

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The intent of this script was commendable. It purported to deal with the conflict between natural medicine and the medical profession. My own feelings were (and are) that those dealings tended to be superficial. It was a subject worthy of being explored in a social drama. The format for THE FUGITIVE prevented it from being no more than the background for the coming melodrama.

NIne Pines was a real honey producing operation. And our actors, clothed in the wardrobe of the workers at such an establishment, were dealing with REAL BEES.


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This was Kim Darby’s first role after she turned eighteen and no longer had to go to school on the set and no longer had to be accompanied by an adult. Four years later she appeared with John Wayne in his Oscar-winning TRUE GRIT. And as I said, those were real bees on the combs in that scene. Between takes once, when Kim had taken off her gloves, a bee landed on her finger. She got slightly excited, but the bee was encouraged to depart before doing any damage.


The breakup in the film in the next clip is not your problem. It’s the fault of the old tape I’m using. We’re lucky it is limited to just that one instance.


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The season before when I worked on TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH, I was very impressed with the sets designed for the productions. I was to learn that high quality would be a part of all Quinn’s productions. That was what he demanded. The interior of the ground floor of the Adams’ house was an example. At any other studio I’m sure there would have been a set for the living room with an entrance hall and a separate set for Josephus’ medical office. The set provided for me was one large connected set -- the entrance area with a large stairway to the second floor, then the large living room with a fireplace and connected to that was the outer and inner rooms where patients were seen. That set gave me the opportunity to stage Kimble’s exit as you will witness in the next clip.


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I realize now that a key scene was missing from this script. At this point in the shooting script, KImble first has a conversation near the bus stop with a patient of Josephus; then he visits the county coroner who was a real medical doctor who had not been able to compete with Josephus' practice of natural medicine. Two talky scenes of exposition. How much more effective if these scenes could have been curtailed, and a scene included of the funeral service where Sharon breaks down emotionally as described by Marianne in the next clip.


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The next clip is the complete sequence from which the teaser was extracted.


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I wrote earlier of Quinn’s insistence on using process photography for cars in transit. I wanted a shot in the next sequence shooting across KImble at the wheel of his speeding truck as the police car catches up to him. The only way I could get that shot was to do it live. And since I was doing that live, I filmed the whole sequence live. I don’t remember any objections from the front office when the film was viewed.


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And now a quiet ending for what has basically been a quiet show..

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5 comments:

  1. Wow - this is an absolutely amazing blog; thanks so much for sharing all of your stories!

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  2. Ralph, yes a quiet episode, but I thought it lovely, thanks to your approach and amazing cast. One gentle correction: Katharine Heburn did not have Parkinson's, I should know as we became close friends while I produced her last three television movies including her final appearance on screen in "One Christmas". Kate wasn't sensitive about much, people could say what they liked, she was however sensitive to the Parkinson's rumor. What she had was an Essential Tremor, an inherited Familial Essential Tremor. Her paternal grandfather, Sewell Snowden Hepburn had it. What I found fascinating was that Kate, when completely at ease and comfortable with her surroundings, shook very little, sometimes none. When we were shooting, I could always tell Kate was uneasy about the scene, or something on set when her head began to shake, and (as you with Sherre) we would take a breath and do it again. One of the funniest things Kate ever said was, "If you're worried about my head shaking - don't - it ain't gonna' fall off you know!"

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  3. The rare usage of actual car-to-car photography on a QM show was refreshing. The process work in most of the other episodes was a distraction in what was otherwise a crisp realism surround.

    I'd love to hear you comment about your couple of usages of the snap zoom. This was not typical of the filmic vocabulary on this show. I'm wondering if you used it experimentally. Was it a fad at the time? In retrospect I wonder if it holds up as effective storytelling, primarily because technically they were not done with aplomb.

    The gas station/county coroner's office was shot on a part of now crazily-developed 1000 Oaks Blvd that looks nothing like it did in 1965. I hope to snap a then-and-now comparison shot for you.

    The old roadside cafe was on the corner of Mulholland Hway and Las Virgenes Rd. (very near the Hope Ranch you reference). It has returned to an empty lot state.

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  4. I just saw this episode in its entirety last night on ME-TV. I found it one of the better episodes in the series showing Kimble's struggle with his medical ethics vs. his survival as a fugitive.

    As usual, I am caught thinking how much more interesting and how much more actors then seemed to bring to a story--with O'Connell's gentle wrong-headedness, the lack of guile of Walter Baldwin's patient,the stubborn naivete of Kim Darby, Bill Quinn's disgust with the embrace of ignorance, and Janssen's thoughtful performance enhancing the script considerably. The only character who seemed out of place was Sheree North, an actress whose work I enjoy (esp. her comic turns on The Mary Tyler Moore Show). Her cynical nurse turned "queen bee" of homeopathic medicine and unlikely consort to poor drone Arthur seemed really out of her place. I think her antsy wife would have blown town long ago, despite the easy money rolling in. I also wondered if there was something about O'Connell that led the likable actor to be cast here and in PICNIC as a man at the mercy of frustrated women?!

    Excellent job on this quietly memorable episode, Ralph. Seeing it in full made re-reading your account more enlightening. Thanks again for posting these accounts here.

    Moira

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  5. Moira, you must come visit my website where I have expanded and continued my delving into the past. The website is RALPH'S CINEMA TREK: A Journey In Film at http://senensky.com/
    We are currently in the process of renovating the site, and it should be up in its new finery within the next couple of weeks.

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