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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Friday, April 23, 2010

WHEN THE WIND BLOWS - August 1965 (The Fugitive)

In the olden days of early sixties television (and I’m positive at this late date that’s what they should be called) the producer and story editor of a dramatic series were the ones responsible for producing scripts. There were no large writing staffs such as I believe exist today. They interviewed free lance writers who came in to pitch story ideas. The rules of the Writers Guild were that the pitch should be no more than a long sentence. (I was not a member of the Writers Guild, so this is what I learned from writer friends and what I remember today of what I gleaned then.) If the pitch seemed potential, the writer would be given the go ahead to develop the idea into a full story. If the story proved satisfactory the writer would be given the go ahead to write the script. I bring all of this up because I think that is one of the reasons that a series like THE FUGITIVE could veer off into so many interesting and different directions. Sure there would be many of the usual variations on Les Miserables; but then occasionally someone would show up with an idea for an unusual relationship for Richard Kimble. I think that’s what happened to produce the story I’m presenting on this posting. So let’s go back to Piru, the location where I filmed part of my last posting, THE FAMILY NOBODY WANTED. But this is Piru nine years before that; this is Piru the first time I filmed there.


I consider film directing to be more complex than just putting the actors in their positions, shooting a wide angle master to establish where everyone is and then covering each actor with his close-up. My theatre training taught me to at least give the star an “entrance”. Plays in the past were written to do just that. I will never forget Katharine Cornell’s entrance in THAT LADY about sixty years ago. There was a large archway up center stage and after the exposition had been established in the first part of Act I, Miss Cornell swept into the archway opening, stopped and turned upstage to look over the balcony, then turned back to come into the archway, begowned to the hilt and with a black patch over one eye. THAT was an entrance! I couldn’t quite do that with David in this piece. But I didn’t want him to be seen as just a part of the establishing master shot. So he was conveniently seated hidden behind the cash register. The second shot in the sequence was from behind him to the cook. Finally his “entrance” into the story was the next shot -- a closeup of Richard Kimble.


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Did you notice that cash register? And eggs, toast and coffee only cost sixty-one cents!


After my blog published the first two THE FUGITIVES, I received the following e-mail:


Mr. Senensky,

Looking forward to your 1965 episodes.

Passed thru Piru today with my wife.

Thought you'd like this photo comparison. Funny to note that a small film crew was toiling around the same intersection as you put Janssen thru his paces almost 45 years ago.

The suspension bridge from the episode is still there but is now blocked off and detoured around.


Then



For you THE FUGITIVE fans (and anyone else interested in Classic Television) I recommend you visit

THE DAVID JANSSEN ARCHIVE at http://www.davidjanssen.net


There were two requirements for Richard Kimble each week in order for the story to commence: a new name and a job.

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And now we meet the reason this was an unusual episode.


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And it was different in another way; my first two episodes had both been very dark -- in character and in the look of the films. This one was definitely lighter -- at least for now.


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And now we have the final element in our story. In the absence of Barry Morse’s Lieutenant Gerard in pursuit of Kimble (and I never did get a chance to do an episode that involved Gerard), we have this story’s arm of the law in pursuit of him, this week's version of the original Javert from Les Miserables.


Those who have followed these postings astutely should recognize the cook, Don Hanmer. He was the dog trainer in SHADOW OF A STARLESS NIGHT on BREAKING POINT. The deputy is Harry Townes, another fine actor whose resume is almost a history of Classic Television -- live and film. Watching these two veterans can be a lesson in screen acting; notice their interplay BETWEEN the lines of dialogue.


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According to the Internet Movie Data Base this was only Johnny Jensen’s fourth or fifth screen appearance. He worked as a child actor for a few more years and then disappeared from the profession. There is a Johnny Jensen on that data base listed as a current director of photography, but a little research showed they are different Johnny Jensens.


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David deserves a lot of the credit for the believability in Johnny’s performance. When dealing with child actors, the goal is to keep them from acting. Just be yourself. Just say the words like you would say them. And LISTEN to the other actor. David’s overpowering charisma in a scene I think reenforced the youngster’s listening.


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When working with child actors I did the same thing I often did with adult performers. In filming a closeup if the actor’s performance didn’t come alive emotionally until midway through the scene, rather than calling “cut” at the end and doing the next take, I would keep the camera rolling and have the actor start at the beginning. It worked for adults and it worked with the kids. One time on another production I did that while filming the closeup of the young boy. The adult man in the scene (who was playing off camera) questioned the necessity. He didn't like the extended take. I told him I wasn’t doing it to accommodate him, I was doing it for the boy. David never questioned that procedure.


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The next plot requirement was when the law started closing in, someone had to justifiably help him.


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And now the lighter look, both thematic and visual, starts to darken. Kenny’s cave was the conduit to make the transition.


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The fourth day of filming started at the Highway Bus Stop sequence (it’s coming up) where we filmed two and an eighth pages. We moved back to Lois’ living room at the Goldwyn studio for two and seven eighths pages. There was an additional short scene of deputy Russ on the phone that didn’t get filmed that day. We ran out of time. The next day was a heavy scheduled shoot -- nine pages, which ended with a short night sequence off the lot. I remember I had Fred Ahern, the wonderful production manager, totally perplexed. The final sequence on stage was the following scene (the part in Kenny's cave), which was the longest scene of the day. The problem was we finished too early. There was too long a gap before it got dark, and Quinn refused to shoot day for night. I wrote before that I thought David, like Mickey Rooney, had a photographic memory. I remember before we started this sequence, David took the script and quickly looked it over. Then he and Georgann Johnson proceded to do the master and the two closeups in one take each. Fred’s perplexity came from the fact the day before we couldn’t finish six and a half pages in a full twelve hours and this day we finished almost nine pages in about seven hours.


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Then we got to the part where young Johnny Jensen had to do some fairly difficult physical activity.


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Have you ever wondered when viewing a scene like this, how did that young boy know the exact moment to open the door? There was a cue light right beside him. The wire of that light ran (out of the eye of the camera) right into my hand. When the proper moment arrived, I clicked on the button at my end of the wire, the light lit up at Johnny’s end and Kenny opened the door.


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No, that wasn’t young Johnny Jensen jumping off of the moving truck. It was a stunt double.


The original script called for there to be a shack nearby that Kimble and Kenny would enter. When we scouted the location I saw the nearby abandoned gas station and saw that it was a more convenient substitution for what the script requested. The interior of course was constructed back at the studio. The interior of the abandoned station and the approaching nightfall provided the needed visual darkness for the rest of our story.


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I’m afraid my references to the producers of the shows I did were not always favorable. That may have been a built-in factor of the director-producer relationship. But let me do a little straightening out of the facts here. Producers of television series had a tremendous responsibility. They not only had to feed the scripts into the pipeline, they were responsible for seeing that the scripts met the requirements of the series’ needs. One of the needs for this series was that once the snare around Richard Kimble seemed to insure his eventual capture, a reasonable escape from that entrapment had to be provided. I don’t think anyone fulfilled his overseeing of a series’ needs better than Alan Armer.


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Ages ago I wrote: “It was said of Irving Thalberg: He didn’t make movies for people to see. He made movies for people to feel. Boy, do I believe in that!”


That was about my first television film direction in 1961. Four years later I had not changed my mind.


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Johnny Jensen, wherever you are, you are now a man in his mid-fifties. Just know you still have a very devoted fan.


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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

THE FAMILY NOBODY WANTED - Part Two

I had seen James Olsen in a production at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. He was a powerhouse onstage in contrast to the rather bland actor I had considered him to be based on the roles he was given in films -- feature and television. Working with him on this production, I realized his range was even greater than I had anticipated.


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The lesson I learned while directing A DREAM FOR CHRISTMAS certainly came in handy on this production. As I related when I did the posting on that show, there was a scene with a crying baby. The actors in the scene and I did everything short of child abuse to get the infant to cry, but all we got was giggles. The welfare worker on the set (and there always is one when children are working) took me aside and told me how to accomplish the deed. If someone quietly makes crying sounds near the baby, the infant then will start to cry. What I also discovered was that it didn’t work if I did it; it needed to be done by a woman -- I guess it was the higher pitch of her voice as compared to the male voice. So in the baby crying scenes in this film (and there were a lot of them) Shirley Jones inherited the task. She would get the baby crying, then move to her starting position to do her own emotional preparation for the scene. When she was ready, she would give me a nod and I would call action.


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I directed many productions with child actors, but never did I have as many as in this production. Not counting Andy, the baby, there were eleven of them. As a result I didn’t really get to give them individually the attention I usually would. The only two that I did connect with were Willy Ames and Ernest Esparza (Donny and Rick), but I had worked with each of them before when they did guest spots on THE WALTONS. The reason I bring this up is even without that special attention, I think the kids did some remarkable work.


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I wonder how many of you have realized the similarities between this story and A DREAM FOR CHRISTMAS, which I had filmed just a year before. The next clip is almost a replay of a scene I had directed with Hari Rhodes and Lynn Hamilton in the previous film.


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I had a dinner table scene with Carl and all twelve kids. I requested that since the family was so financially strapped, the dinner plates should be varied, not a set. I wanted them all to be different colors. I realized this would add to the chores of the script supervisor, since for editing purposes the action from take to take had to match. I don’t know why, but I took a special glee in planning this. And once again I want to call attention to the young actors. Their discipline, their concentration -- "mob" scenes like the next clip can be frustratingly difficult. This one wasn't.


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Beeson Carroll (Mr. Collins) had also guest starred for me before on THE WALTONS. In fact he was in the same episode as Willy Ames; he played Willy’s father.


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For all my carping about Universal, I admit this time there didn’t seem to be their usual reticence with the pocketbook; in fact I think we mounted a very respectable production. The setting for the bazaar was on their back lot, and I certainly couldn’t complain about the number of extras to people the festivities.


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Lindsay Workman (Judge) was another repeat performer for me. He had appeared in one of my favorite productions, THE MARATHON on THE WALTONS.


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It seemed every studio’s backlot had an exterior courthouse with tall stone columns and wide steps. The fact that the Universal courthouse was far more imposing than our small community of Franklinburg would probably have had couldn’t matter. In television as far as courthouses went, one-size-fits-all.


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Memo from Producer William Kayden





It is said that art imitates life. Wouldn't it be nice sometimes if it could be the other way around -- that life would imitate art, that everyone would live happily ever after, like in the movies. After the twelve children were grown Helen Doss and Carl Doss were divorced.