Obituaries: Paul Schneider (1923-2008) and Thomas Y. Drake (1936-2008)

November 21, 2008

The prolific television writer Paul Schneider died on October 13.

Schneider’s claim to immortality may be as the author of two pretty good episodes from the first season of Star Trek, “Balance of Terror” and the goofy “The Squire of Gothos.”  A “haircut” of various fifties submarine movies, “Balance of Terror” introduced the Romulans, enduring Star Trek villains for four decades – even though, in a real “say what?” moment, the limited makeup budget necessitated that the Romulans look exactly like Mr. Spock’s race, the friendly Vulcans.

Born in Passaic, New Jersey, on August 4, 1923, Schneider did some of his earliest writing on the Mr. Magoo cartoons.  The syndicated situation comedy How to Marry a Millionaire was one of his first television credits, but for most of his career Schneider wrote for dramas and action or fantasy series.  His resume is almost a list of the most popular TV programs of the sixties and seventies: 77 Sunset Strip, Wide Country, The Lieutenant, Mr. Novak, Kraft Suspense Theatre, Bonanza, Big Valley, The FBI, Ironside, Mod Squad, The Starlost, The Six Million Dollar Man, Eight Is Enough, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, among others.

Schneider wrote his Star Trek scripts alone, but much of his work was done in collaboration with his wife, Margaret (also deceased).  Together they seemed to excel in particular at medical dramas, penning multiple Dr. Kildares and at least a dozen Marcus Welby, M.D. scripts.  One of the Schneiders’ Dr. Kildare segments, “One Clear, Bright Thursday Morning,” was a searing study of the fallout, both clinical and emotional, of the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945, and a high point of New Frontier-era television.

*

Writer Thomas Y. Drake, who had a brief but significant television career, died of cancer on August 8.  Drake worked as a rewrite man and, eventually, as the credited story editor on Then Came Bronson, earning solo or shared teleplay credits on four of the series’ twenty-six episodes.  Drake’s scripts included “The Old Motorcycle Fiasco,” with Keenan Wynn in a more or less autobiographical role as an old codger who rekindles love for riding hogs, and the memorably titled “Your Love Is Like a Demolition Derby in My Heart.” 

Drake’s passing came less than a year after the deaths of both of Then Came Bronson‘s producers, Robert Sabaroff and Robert H. Justman, and its most prolific director, Jud Taylor.  So we have probably lost the opportunity to see proper documentation of this ambitious, if not wholly successful, effort, which was mainstream television’s only really sincere effort to capture the vibe of the Easy Rider-era youth movement.

Drake’s other noteworthy television credit was as one of four credited writers on “Par For the Course,” a script for the short-lived series The Psychiatrist that won a prestigious Writers Guild Award.  The segment featured Clu Gulager as a professional golfer dying of cancer.  Herb Bermann, a songwriter for Captain Beefheart and later a writer for S.W.A.T. and Wonder Woman, explained in a 2003 interview that “Thomas Y. Drake . . . was a dear friend, and [Jerrold] Freedman was the producer, and Bo May was his friend and the four of us put together this teleplay.”

But they didn’t quite finish.  According to Roy Thinnes, the star of The Psychiatrist, the series had already been cancelled by the time “Par For the Course” went before the cameras, and the script had no usable ending.  Producer/co-writer Freedman had already accepted his next gig, and his parting advice to the performers was, “Trust Steven” – as in Steven Spielberg, the episode’s twenty-three year-old director.  With Spielberg’s encouragement, Thinnes and Gulager improvised a touching finale that was, in fact, wordless.  Thinnes recounted this anecdote during the taping session for his Invaders DVD interview, and he told me that “Par For the Course” contained one of the finest performances of his career.  It’s a shame the show remains locked away in the vaults today.

The Vancouver-born Drake may have been better known as a folk singer and songwriter – credentials which perhaps led to his recruitment for the counterculture-oriented Then Came Bronson.  Drake wrote a number of classic Kingston Trio tunes in collaboration with Bob Shane, one of the founding Trio members, as well as “Ally Ally Oxen Free” (using the pseudonym Steven Yates) with Rod McKuen.  Together with future soap opera actor Michael Storm, Drake founded the Good Time Singers, a folk group launched on The Andy Williams Show that released albums on the Capital Records label. 

I dig the Trio, but I don’t really know enough to assess Drake’s importance as a musician.  Perhaps my readers can enlighten me . . . .

Thanks to Del Reisman and Gregg Mitchell of the Writers Guild of America.

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One Response to “Obituaries: Paul Schneider (1923-2008) and Thomas Y. Drake (1936-2008)”

  1. Brian Says:

    I remember the “Par For the Course” episode of “The Psychiatrist” very well. I watched the original run of the episode in 1971 and the rerun in the same year. I haven’t seen it since then. To this day I wonder why Steven Spielberg didn’t get an Emmy nomination. I wonder if there was some politics involved. Maybe the ambitous producer Jerrold Freedman didn’t submit it. Freedman had written and directed an episode of “The Psychiatrist”, so maybe he submitted his own work and not Spielberg’s.

    I’m glad to learn the episode received a Writer Guild of America Award, which I didn’t know. It’s also interesting to learn that Roy Thinnes considers it his best work. The episode has lingered in my memory all these years, so I’m interested to learn anything I can about it.

    Spielberg talks about “Par For the Course” on a recent DVD of “Duel”. He says his friend Jerry Freedman told him to do whatever he wanted, to create a personal statement if he wanted. Speilberg clearly thrived under the freedom.

    Anybody who saw the episode knew Spielberg was a rare talent. Producer Dean Hargrove gave Spielberg the “Name of the Game” episode “Los Angeles 2017″ because of “Par For the Course”. Hargrove said he didn’t know the depth of Spielberg’s talent until he saw that episode. Peter Falk wanted the most proven directors on “Columbo” during its first season, but he gave Spielberg a chance after seeing part of “Par For the Course”. “Par For the Course” was pivotal to Spielberg’s future career.

    When people dismissed Spielberg as “that truck and shark director”, Spielberg would point to “Par For the Course” as evidence of his range and what he wanted to do in the future.

    Spielberg directed a second episode of “The Psychiatrist” called “The Private War of Martin Dalton”. Jim Hutton and Kate Woodville guest starred as the parents of a troubled 12-year old boy (Stephen Hudis). The parents are on the verge of divorce, and the boy is trying to escape into a world of fantasy. Roy Thinnes tries to make an emotional connection to the kid. A lonely child looking for a father figure would be a recurring theme for Spielberg in his films. Bo May wrote the episode. Bo May was also associate producer of “The Psychiatrist” and was apparently a friend of producer Jerrold Freedman. Bo May was also one of the four credited writers of “Par For the Course”, although he doesn’t seem to have any credits after “Par For the Course”.

    All the six epidodes of “The Psychiatrist” were worthwhile, but Spielberg’s episodes really made the show stand out.

    A still feisty Clu Gulager talks about “Par For the Course” on the recent Criterion DVD of “The Killers”. I don’t remeber what he says at this point, other than he complains about Spielberg not giving him another job in all the years since “Par For the Course”.

    Stephen, I think if you saw “Par For the Course”, it would be on your list of 100 best episodes of all time.


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