“The Hardest Thing to Direct Was Lunch”

January 7, 2009

While I’m working my way back from a vacation toward some more substantial posts, I thought I’d take a moment to draw attention to this Los Angeles Times piece on the Archive of American Television.

The Archive has done videotaped interviews with over 600 people who worked in early television in various capacities, so they’re obviously operating in the same wheelhouse as this blog.  Much of my own research in recent years has focused on oral history.  Since it began to emerge on Google Video, the Archive’s output has done a great deal to inspire me, and to validate the methodology that I’ve chosen to pursue. 

It’s obvious that the Archive is a treasure trove for historians like myself, but many of the interviews are enormously entertaining for the casual spectator too.  Often they achieve an intimacy that’s akin to the experience of attending a dinner party and listening to a veteran entertainer hold court with a lifetime of stories.  The segments with Andy Griffith, Ed Asner, the actress Maxine Stuart, the director Robert Butler, and the writer Ernest Kinoy all succeed in that way.

My own favorite is probably the interview with John Frankenheimer, who’s such a polished raconteur that I’m surprised he never enjoyed a sideline as a character actor, along the lines of his protege Sydney Pollack.  The next time you have fifteen minutes to spare, check out the long anecdote Frankenheimer tells at the beginning of Part 7 of his oral history.  It may be the ultimate live television disaster story . . . and it’s never failed to crack up anyone to whom I’ve recommended it.

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