Obituaries: Al C. Ward; Norman Jacob

December 2, 2009

Al C. Ward, an enormously prolific writer and producer of television dramas from the fifties through the seventies, died on October 9, per the Directors Guild of America’s member newsletter.  (Why the DGA, if Ward was a writer-producer?  Read on.)   According to internet sources, he was 90. 

In some circles, Ward was best known for the last of his handful of feature credits: he wrote the script for the Raymond Burr sequences added to Godzilla for its American release.  Ward viewed the assignment with such distaste that he insisted his name not appear in the film’s credits.  He regretted that decision after observing the financial success that Godzilla enjoyed.

Ward began in the industry as an executive secretary for producer Hal Wallis, learning the movie business by watching some of the top movie stars and writers at work.  After getting caught in a political maneuver between Wallis and his reluctant contractee Jerry Lewis, Ward found himself out of a job and began writing freelance to make a living.  A stint on the Brian Donlevy cheapie Dangerous Assignment led Ward to specialize in adventure and crime shows for a while; he worked his way from Big Town and The Lone Wolf to Tightrope! and Perry Mason

The producer Earle Lyon, who hired Ward to story edit Tales of Wells Fargo’s final season in 1961, felt that Ward preferred westerns to other genres.  Ward wrote for Rawhide and The Virginian but soon got side-tracked into another staff job, on the aviation drama 12 O’Clock High.  He hit it off with the show’s producer, Frank Glicksman, and they formed an enduring partnership that carried over to Fox’s troubled one-season flop The Long Hot Summer and then to Ward’s biggest hit, Medical Center, which the pair co-created.  (In between Ward produced The Monroes, a family-oriented western that he left mid-season when Fox insisted that he soften his material in order to “emulate Disney.”)

Medical Center debuted in 1969, with Glicksman handling the production side and Ward the content.  “He was the one who really put all the scripts together for that show, and hired the writers,” said Lyon.  The show was a mixed bag.  It was burdened with a generic premise (old doctor/young doctor) and an unacceptably bland leading man (Chad Everett).  But Ward attracted good writers to the show, like Andy Lewis and Anthony Lawrence, and there are some fine, hard-edged scripts among the twenty or so episodes I’ve seen.

Ward rose to be the executive producer and an occasional director (hence, the DGA’s announcement of his death) on Medical Center.  After the show left the air in 1976, Ward wrote for Baa Baa Black Sheep and continued to collaborate on spec scripts with his friend Earle Lyon. 

“Being eclectic is not really that big of a thing,” Ward told me in 2003, when I asked about the wide variety of genres in which he worked.    “People were the same, basically.  People have just layer upon layer in their character.  We all do.  It’s the people – if you love people, and if you deal with people on a level that’s deeper than just skin deep, then I think you come to a very good conclusion no matter what period in which you’re writing.”

*

Television writer Norman Jacob died on November 26.  Jacob, who was born in 1922, had been a writer in radio prior to television, and also taught screenwriting.  I know little about him beyond the smattering of television credits attributed to him on the internet: episodes of Trackdown, Bonanza, The Deputy, Bus Stop.  His career seems to have ended with a pair of middling Ben Casey episodes in 1963-64.  What, I wonder, was he writing for the last forty-five years?

About these ads

4 Responses to “Obituaries: Al C. Ward; Norman Jacob”

  1. Kathryn Jacob Pollard Says:

    Norman Jacob taught English and screenwriting part time, throughout the 80’s, until retiring. He devoted himself to playwriting, completing a noteworthy three act work about academia in the turmoil of the sixties, called Act Gratuit, which was never produced, but given a reading at the Guild a few years back. He also took up the piano again, after a 50 year hiatus,and became quite accomplished again.

  2. Stephen Bowie Says:

    Fascinating, Kathryn. Thank you.

  3. Michael Sherick Says:

    He was a teacher of mine in the mid 70’s and one of the most enthusiastic, helpful and encouraging I’ve had. Just checking up on the internet on a whim. Sorry to hear this and sorry I didn’t know he played the piano.

  4. Ray Chandos Says:

    I just searched the Internet to find out who Al C. Ward was after watching an old episode of the TV series “The Fugitive,” called “Ill Wind,” written by Ward. This was brilliantly done, an outstanding miniature masterpiece, rivaling Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath even. I have watched it four times and would recommend it to anyone. A finer piece of television screen writing by a master of the art would be difficult to find, in my opinion.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 193 other followers

%d bloggers like this: