Obituary: Ira Cirker (1923-2010)

February 19, 2010

Ira Cirker, a live television director in the fifties who segued into a long career in soap operas, died on February 10 at the age of 86. 

Cirker began as a stage actor, with a role in the Broadway production of Winged Victory during World War II,  before moving behind the camera in television.  He directed broadcasts of the live anthologies Robert Montgomery Presents, the Nash Airflyte Theatre, and the Kaiser Aluminum Hour, as well as the daytime drama Search For Tomorrow.  His major claim to fame was a seventeen-year stint as the director of Another World, during which Cirker was nominated for the Emmy six times.

Cirker also directed a number of plays in New York, both on- and off-Broadway, and in Los Angeles. 

Everything I know about Cirker was taken from the paid death notice which appeared in the New York Times, and I can only add my dismay that no real obituaries have yet emerged.

*

Dealing with death has been the biggest challenge in editing this blog since the very beginning, when one astute reader pointed out that something like three-quarters of the first few months’ posts were obituaries. 

That reader’s point was that dealing so much death could make a blog rather a depressing chore to read.  I also came to feel that it could engander my mission to make classic television not an object of nostalgia, dying a slow death of attrition, but a subject of relevance to modern readers. 

So I reigned in my reporting on the morgue beat, passing up TV-related deaths that were covered adequately in the mainstream media.  Most of the obituaries I’ve catalogued in this space during the past two years have been “scoops,” stories that were reported nowhere else in the press, except possibly in a paid death notice (like Mr. Cirker’s).  For the rest, I have collated them in an annual “necrology” post . . . although the window for a 2009 roundup has all but passed, and I haven’t had the time or energy to compile one.  Those lists are useful, if only for my own future reference, but I think they may also be too morbid to sustain.

Occasionally I have broken my rule and weighed in when someone I knew personally has died (like Collin Wilcox), or when the big obits have been more indifferent or belated than usual (as in the case of Paul Wendkos).  Even in those instances, I wonder if I can add much of value.  Is it anything but trivial to report that I’d never heard of Ira Cirker until earlier this week, and that when I looked him up I learned I’d missed my shot at an interview with him by just over a week?  Especially since my life is filled with that kind of grim coincidence.  Michael Fisher, a journeyman writer who died on December 31 at the age of 69, rated a Variety obituary, but that has been uncharacteristically ignored by aggregate sites like the IMDb and the Alt.obituaries newsgroup (probably because Variety has begun, again, to restrict the amount of internet pageviews available to non-subscribers).  I thought about calling attention to Fisher’s passing here, but what could I say of substance, given that I found his writing credits (on Fantasy Island, Starsky & Hutch, and the like) less noteworthy than the fact that he was the son of Steve Fisher, the film noir scenarist who wrote I Wake Up Screaming and Lady in the Lake?

I almost posted something last month when two important comedy writers, Aaron Ruben and Barry Blitzer, died virtually in tandem.  Both of them were almosts for me: Blitzer never answered repeated requests for an interview, and Ruben gave me a “soft no” when I got him on the phone.  Meaning, in his case, that Ruben demurred after learning that I did not yet have a contract for my planned collection of oral histories, but I felt that I could have badgered him into saying yes if I’d been more persistent.  Why didn’t I give Ruben the hard sell?  Mainly because I knew that Ruben was responsible for a half-dozen or more of the funniest lines in Jeff Kisseloff’s excellent book The Box, and that no matter how much more in-depth my own conversation might have been, I’d already been scooped on Ruben’s best material. 

Still: Regular readers here know of my obsession with The Andy Griffith Show.  Would I have come up with questions about Mayberry that no one else had asked?  The ever-reliable Archive of American Television recorded a five-hour interview with Ruben, but did they think to ask about Headmaster, the forgotten flop that reteamed Ruben and Griffith only a year after The Andy Griffith Show went off the air?

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this particular tangent, except to offer some insight as to why I’ve chosen to report some deaths in this space, and to pass on some others that might have seemed obligatory.  Mortality never lets up: believe it or not, there’s still a slush pile of “archive obits” (that is, people who died a while ago, but whose deaths have never been reported) that I’m trying to figure out whether, and in what format, to run.  But for the next few posts, at least, death will be back on holiday.

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2 Responses to “Obituary: Ira Cirker (1923-2010)”

  1. Griff Says:

    Well, HEADMASTER actually came _two_ years after the original Griffith program went off the air. I am genuinely sorry that you never had the opportunity to speak with Aaron Ruben about the show. This failed sitcom has always fascinated me: I remember the big build-up CBS gave the show, the many articles about Griffith’s return to TV, even the consensus that of all the “relevant”-tinged programming crowding network television in the fall of 1970, HEADMASTER would be a sure thing. The show just didn’t work, of course — it was well-meaning, but slow and old hat. The comedy was generally wan and the drama about the kids and their problems didn’t always mix with the bits by Jerry Van Dyke and Parker Fennelly. And no one wanted to see Andy (who gave a sincere, intelligent performance) play a headmaster of a private school. I didn’t see all of the episodes of the show, but I found them vastly interesting; it was such a departure for Griffith. I think he was disappointed by the near complete failure of ANGEL IN MY POCKET, the mediocre feature he had done for Universal in 1969, and I believe he was looking to do something different. The show’s quick demise must have been difficult for the performer, so successful in television to date, to accept.

    The story of the show’s rapid foldo and the production company’s sudden decision to immediately tool-up a different (if not altogether _new_) show for Griffith for mid-season on CBS must be a tale worth telling in some detail. I’ve always assumed that THE NEW ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW — which premiered January 8, 1971 — must have evolved from stories or even scripts prepared for the original Griffith show’s Andy Taylor character. Certainly the character hardly differed. But it wasn’t quite the same; it was like Mayberry, but it just wasn’t Mayberry. This didn’t work either, and when CBS swept out its remaining rural sitcoms at the end of the ’71 season, the new Griffith show went with ‘em.

    Griffith, of course, went on to act frequently on television and occasionally in features (he’s pretty good in 1975′s HEARTS OF THE WEST), and starred in a few short-lived series over the years before landing MATLOCK in 1986. But I still think about about HEADMASTER and that strange 1970-71 season. Thanks for mentioning it.

  2. JW Says:

    Excellent post, Stephen. Great writing, as usual.


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