Friday, April 16, 2010

THE FAMILY NOBODY WANTED - December 1974

I wonder if it was a coincidence that after directing THE WALTONS in 1973, ensuing assignments included THE FAMILY KOVACK, THE FAMILY NOBODY WANTED, THE FAMILY HOLVAK and just plain FAMILY. I don’t think so.


THE FAMILY NOBODY WANTED was a 1954 memoir by Helen Doss relating the story of how she and her husband, Carl Doss, a minister, adopted twelve unadoptable children. The book was adapted into a PLAYHOUSE 90 in 1956; directed by John Frankenheimer it starred Lew Ayres and Nanette Fabray as the Doss couple. A further adventure of the Doss family was written in 1974 as a movie of the week. I was not involved with the earlier first season PLAYHOUSE 90 version; I didn’t join the company until its second season. As you are about to find out, I was very involved with the later incarnation.


We went to Piru, a quaint small community north of Los Angeles (where I had filmed portions of my last THE FUGITIVE) for the Doss family station wagon's arrival in Franklinburg. However the church they pass was in North Hollywood and the exterior of the parsonage was on the backlot of Universal studio. Finally the parsonage interior was on Stage 14.

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This was a reunion for Shirley Jones and me. We had previously worked together on the seven PARTRIDGE FAMILY episodes I directed. And it was another outing for me and Claudia Bryar. I had met Claudia and husband, Paul Bryar (of whom I have already written extensively) in 1955 when they auditioned for a production of MY THREE ANGELS at the Players Ring Theatre in Hollywood. They performed in that play and the following year we joined forces again to do DEATH OF A SALESMAN at a small theatre in Santa Monica. I had been able to cast Claudia in several television films; this time I was thrilled that the role matched her capabilities. As you will see, Claudia is a magnificent actress.


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This was the first (and unfortunately the only) time I worked with Woodrow Parfrey. His role walked such a fine line. He is the racist of the film. What must be remembered is that this story takes place in 1947, just two years after the war with Japan ended. If Elmer Franklin’s attitude to the children is difficult to condone, difficult to justify, I think it can at least be understood. What is more difficult for me is to realize that sixty-three years later, there are still so many Elmer Franklins around.


This was another reunion -- this time with Willie Ames, who played Donny. Earlier that season Willie had guest starred for me in an episode of THE WALTONS. Later we would work together again when he was one of the EIGHT IS ENOUGH.


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The exterior and interior of the church was filmed on location at a First Christian Church on Saticoy Avenue in North Hollywood.


But before going to the church, let’s look at the script. (Tap on the image twice to enlarge it; tap the return to previous arrow in the upper left hand corner after you’ve finished). You will see filmed scene 19-A ended up on the cutting room floor. And in the church, I decided something visual was needed during the singing.



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I have to take a moment here to comment on the kids in the Doss family. (I have a vague recollection that we had a last minute crisis and had to recast; I think the roles were Aram and Angela.) But those nine beautiful, young, innocent faces that so willingly and completely immersed themselves in the situations and LISTENED.


The director of photography for this production was Jack Woolf. This was the beginning of a long-running friendship; Jack and his wife, Lee, became close personal friends. Jack believed in heavy shadows in his photography. In fact he took pride that many of his closeups had half-lit faces.


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Six years before I learned a valuable lesson. I was directing an episode of THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER with six year old Jodie Foster guest starring as a tomboy. (I will discuss this eventuallly in my posting, but I have to refer to it here because of its relevance to the next sequence.) Something unexpected, but very funny, happened during the filming of a scene and I burst out laughing loudly as did the rest of the crew. Later in the editing room I realized had the take not been spoiled by the off camera laughter and my abrupt calling, “Cut,” I could have used the take if I adjusted the following activity with some changes. Now see if you can spot what I’m talking about.


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Did you spot it? It was of course little Tina’s falling when she ran over the wet wallpaper. That wasn’t supposed to happen; the kids just ran through the scene. But once she fell, I added a shot of Helen on the ladder reacting and then filmed Carl’s picking up the crying child as he comforted her. It’s those unexpected accidents that add reality and entertainment to film. There is no way I would ever try to stage that kind of a fall with a child.


I’ve discussed this before, but I think it bears repeating. Not all film has to be doled out in short takes. I for one like to do extended masters. The following is an example of two very talented professionals playing the entire scene in one continuous shot. Only when Helen sits on the bed was a reverse angle filmed to be intercut with the master shot.

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Ann Doran, the head of the orphanage, was another in that Hollywood army of performers who seemed to be in every other movie produced. During a career that spanned FIFTY-FOUR years (not counting a childhood appearance in a silent film) she acted in over five hundred films and a thousand television shows. She lived in Hollywood on the first street west of Ogden; her backyard abutted the backyard of Claudia Bryar, Mrs. Franklin in this production.


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I can just hear you all thinking, “What happened to Ralph? Was he sick? Is he sick? He hasn’t found one thing about this production to beef about.” Well fasten your seat belts; here it comes. This film was long when I turned my director’s cut over to the producer. I would not have been permitted to make major cuts in the film at that time. I was stunned when I viewed the final cut that you just viewed. It was the final answer print and it was too late to make any additional changes. What I considered an obligatory scene had been excised. Here is that scene. (Start with scene 49. Again, tap on the image to enlarge; tap on the return arrow in the upper left hand corner to return.)



I knew there was a better way to solve the over length problem. I have not included the film clips here of two long scenes between Mrs. Bittner, a social worker (you saw her sit down in the church as Carl Doss was speaking), who came to the Doss home and in two scenes with Helen questioned at length the compulsive reasons for her adopting so many children. In addition there was a very long scene on the same topic between Helen and Carl. Those scenes could have been carefully shortened to provide the two minutes needed to retain the bus station scene. The inclusion of this scene would have shown that Helen had brought home three children instead of just a baby. It still comes as a shock to me when in the following scene Rick walks in with Donny. And poor Lynette gets lost; later (as in the next clip) when she does appear, the viewer can’t be blamed for not knowing who she is.


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To be continued

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