Saturday, July 10, 2010

THEY'RE EITHER TOO YOUNG OR TOO OLD, THE MOD COUPLE - August 1969 (The Courtship of Eddie's Father)

This outing has also been posted on my website at www.senensky.com

Between August (when I completed filming GENTLEMAN FRIEND) and November, I was very busy. I directed three more episodes of THE BILL COSBY SHOW and made a return to the hour-long format, an episode of THEN CAME BRONSON which I filmed in Phoenix, Arizona for producer Robert Justman, formerly associated with STAR TREK. An amusing story at this time. Remember what I wrote about Tony Spinner’s formula for creating a new series -- do the same thing just a little differently. David Victor, former producer of DR. KILDARE (for whom I had directed four episodes) was now producing a NEW series which he had created for Universal Studio. It was a doctor series, a DR. KILDLARE lookalike, but the main character was the OLDER doctor. Dr. Gillespie was finally getting his chance to take center stage, only his name would be MARCUS WELBY. One of my agents tried to book me for the series; David said no; his reason: “But he’s directing comedy now.”

The romantic triangle had been a staple of fiction for eons. In film Joan Crawford made a career of deciding between Clark Gable or Robert Montgomery in FORSAKING ALL OTHERS; between Melvyn Douglas and Robert Young in THE SHINING HOUR; between Robert Young and Franchot Tone in THE BRIDE WORE RED. Claudette Colbert had a similar problem: Fred MacMurray or Ray Milland in THE GILDED LILY; Ray Milland or Brian Aherne in SKYLARK. And Ingrid Bergman in that classic of classics -- CASABLANCA -- had to choose between Humphrey Bogart and Paul Henreid. Of course there was the variation on that plot -- the one where Man A wants Woman who wants Man B. That of course was the formula in the greatest romance of them all -- GONE WITH THE WIND where Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler chased Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara who pined for Leslie Howard’s Ashley Wilkes. Why do I bring this up? Well believe it or not, that was the basic plot of my next COURTSHIP. On the way to getting to that, this episode had a new billboard with credits after the opening vignette.

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Now that you’ve met two corners of the developing romantic triangle, it’s obvious Glori is our Scarlett O’Hara. But can it be? Is Eddie going to be our Rhett Butler?

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There's the third corner of our triangle -- Tom is our Ashley Wilkes. I remember Peggy Chantler Dick being especially excited by this sequence after we viewed it in dailies. And in the original script the prologue did not end here; it continued withl Glori dashing into the living room and picking up the newspaper as Tom entered. I guess this was too good a moment not to end on. Although Peggy did not have any writer credit on this episode, I felt her fingerprints were all over this script.

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According to the IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base) this was (surprisingly) Sherry Lynn Diamant’s first film role. She made two more screen appearances and then disappeared from the profession for nineteen years, when she made one more film.

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Scarlett had her Mammy to confide in. Guess who our Mammy is!

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Now for the crucial Rhett Butler moment. Fortunately our Scarlett didn't require a green velvet gown made out of the draperies. Carol Burnett's television budget could include it; ours couldn't

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It seems our Scarlett is just as devious as the original one was. Now let’s watch our Mammy enter the picture.

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I particularly like this next sequence with the inscrutable Miyoshi. As I stated before, in her quiet unassuming way she was an amazing performer.

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Again I had no proof, but I really felt Peggy had made a major contribution to the next sequence -- a beautifully written scene about helping a confused young girl.

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For a later assignment on COURTSHIP I did a location day in Century City. Because the required scenes to be filmed did not make up a full day’s work, I shot some Peanuts-style Tom and Eddie sequences to be used in the opening and closing vignettes. The closing for this episode includes some of that footage.

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I think its pretty obvious, that was an easy, pleasant shoot. I liked the script; I liked the cast; my only complaint was that I didn’t have anything to complain about.

Miyoshi Umeki began her career as a singer in Japan. She moved to the states in 1955, where she appeared for one season as a regular on the ARTHUR GODFREY AND HIS FRIENDS television show. This catapulted her into being cast in the Marlon Brando starrer, SAYONARA, where, playing opposite Red Buttons, she became the first Asian to win an Academy Award for her performance. She then conquered Broadway in her Tony nominated performance in the musical, FLOWER DRUM SONG, a performance she repeated in the film version which followed. The following sequence was the only time I was to put this musical talent on film.

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Finally I got to direct a script written by the fabulous Peggy Chantler Dick, for which she received screen credit.

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Now are you ready for a shocker? That was the opening for the funniest script for this series I was ever handed. The show was titled THE MOD COUPLE, COURTSHIP’s borrowing from the furiously funny Broadway play, THE ODD COUPLE. The easy way to have done this would have been to have Tom do the neurotically neat Felix with Eddie as the little slob version of Oscar. But that was not the road taken. Beautifully groomed Bill Bixby, with never a hair out of place, always clothed as if he had stepped out of the pages of the men’s fashion magazine GQ, Bill, as Eddie’s father, was to be the slob. The script (scene 6) of the following morning sets the scene with its description of the setting and the reason for the disarray. You can see by the note in parenthesis from P.C.D. that Bill Bixby was concerned with explaining this switch in his character.



But I was faced with what I thought was an even bigger problem. The opener had been a real tearjerker. I felt I needed something bold and startling to change course radically into a comedic mode. I used all of Peggy's words. I just changed the visuals that accompanied those words.

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I have refrained from commenting on Brandon’s enormous growth as an actor in a mere year. Directors can create performances if they have to by filming everything in closeups. But comedy plays best in two-shots. For that the actors have to play the comedy timing at the time of filming. Watch this seven year old matching Bixby’s performance at every turn.

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I always wondered how much Jimmy, who was a very fine comedy writer, contributed to those scenes he was scheduled to perform. And incidentally Peggy solved the problem of how to transform impeccably garbed Tom into an Oscar-like slob -- she made it a weekend when he could dress less formally.

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Surprisingly many actors have trouble doing business with props -- making it seem real. Fortunately young Mr. Cruz was not one of them.

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The following bachelor lesson that Norman delivers in the kitchen was one and three quarter pages. My usual average of a minute a page would have had this scene come in at a minute and forty-five seconds. In my preshooting preparation I had planned a master and three closeups. But once I started filming, I cut the closeups (my preference to play comedy in masters) and concentrated on getting a good master. I don’t remember exactly how many takes we filmed, but I know it was over twenty-five. But the final scene that I printed was one minute and thirteen seconds. There certainly aren’t any actors’ pauses slowing things down.

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As we near the end, I’m sure the next clip will not come as a surprise.

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These were the first two of a foursome that I directed in November. Again I filmed them back to back with no prep periods between. I just went on the sound stage and stayed for over three weeks. And again no problems, no complaints. If this kept up I was facing the possibility of having to give up the name David Victor had bestowed on me -- ‘boy storm cloud’.

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