Who and Where Is Hudson Faussett?

November 17, 2010

The witty composition above is an image from Michael Powell’s last completed feature, Age of Consent.  A pariah and an exile after his confrontational 1960 film Peeping Tom outraged the bluenoses of Great Britain, Powell had to leave his native country to find work.  He directed a few American television shows for the producer Herbert Brodkin (who also threw a lifeline to Alexander Mackendrick, the expatriate director of Sweet Smell of Success), and then landed in Australia, where he made two features.  The second of those, Age of Consent, is a lovely, optimistic work that I’ve just seen for the first time.  It’s a sensitive, sensual study of sexual awakening, of an exotic, teeming semi-wilderness (an island off the Great Barrier Reef), and of the process of artistic creation.

The opening sequence of Age of Consent takes place in New York City, where the protagonist, a painter (James Mason), gets fed up with the cynical art world and decides to seek a place to recharge his creative batteries.  In an audio commentary for the DVD, film historian Kent Jones tells us that Sydney actually doubled for Manhattan in these scenes – a fact that’s obvious, upon reflection, from the bright red cab that James Mason steps out of, and from the presence of Frank Thring, an imposing Australian character actor who plays an art dealer.  But during my first viewing I assumed that Powell had spent a few days shooting in the Big Apple, because he was able to cast two actual Americans as the pair of gauche nitwits who respond to Mason’s abstract art with utter clueless.

Those Americans are the pair pictured above.  The lady in front of the red circle is Peggy Cass, a Tony-winning stage and television actress who was, at the time, best known as a game show guest (primarily on To Tell the Truth).  And the red triangle man?  His name is Hudson Faussett, and he’s one of the lost figures of early television history.  I’ve always wanted to know more about Faussett, and now, thanks to Powell’s film, I know what he looks like, at least.  Age of Consent is the last place I expected Faussett to turn up, but it’s appropriate.  It’s that kind of movie, a film of rebirths in unexpected places.

In one interview, which I can’t locate at the moment, someone who worked with Faussett said that the joke was, if you turned him the right way, the Hudson River would come pouring out into Manhattan.  (Get it?  Hudson … Faussett.)  That’s about as substantial a reference to Faussett that I can find (or not find, as it happens) on my reference shelf.  The Internet Movie Database spells his name wrong, and a search of old press clippings proves that the variant spellings go all the way back to the beginning of his career, when he was a bit player in (among other things) the 1937 cult marijuana scare film Assassin of Youth.  I believe “Faussett” is accurate, but in fact I’m not even sure of that.

Later, in the late forties, Faussett resurfaced as a Broadway actor and director.  By 1950, he was a staff producer and director for NBC, where he had a hand in the origins of several important shows.  Faussett produced the early seasons of the half-hour Armstrong Circle Theatre, a dramatic anthology that changed formats several times during its long run.  Faussett’s incarnation of Armstrong was not a venue for the kind of searing kitchen-sink dramas shown on The Philco Television Playhouse; rather, according to historian Frank Sturcken, it “offered sentimentality with ‘the pleasantly related moral.’”  Which may have something to do with why we remember Fred Coe and not Hudson Faussett today.

However, Sturcken (in Live Television: The Golden Age of 1946-1958 in New York; McFarland, 1990) also credits Faussett as the co-director of the historic two-hour telecast of “Macbeth” on The Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1954, for which Judith Anderson won an Emmy.  Faussett was the “camera director,” handling the technical side of the broadcast, while the younger George Schaefer directed the actors.  This kind of pairing occurred often in early live television – it echoed a brief practice of pairing experienced filmmakers with theater directors in the early talkie days of motion pictures – and usually what happened was that after a few shows the stage director, if he had any talent at all, learned camera technique and struck out on his own.  That’s how my friend James Sheldon, who later worked for Faussett on Armstrong (directing, among other segments, “The Bells of Cockaigne,” featuring a young James Dean), began.  So if Schaefer, who accrued twenty-one Emmy nominations (he won five) and continued his association with Hallmark for the rest of his life, learned a bit about directing from Faussett, that alone secures Faussett’s place in history.

At NBC, Faussett also produced The Ford Star Revue, a variety show hosted by Jack Haley, and The Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney Show (Winchell was a ventriloquist, Mahoney his dummy).  In 1958-1959, Faussett was the NBC producer for Tic Tac Dough; I’m guessing he was essentially an executive at this point, since Tic Tac Dough was packed by a pair of outside producers, Jack Barry and Dan Enright.

Tic Tac Dough was one of the casualties of the quiz show scandals.  It is the show for which Charles Van Doren auditioned before he was selected for his ultimately infamous stint on Twenty-One, a more popular Barry-Enright production.  Eventually, evidence emerged that Tic Tac Dough was also rigged, by producers who fed questions and clues to the contestants.

As far as I can tell, Faussett’s television credits end around this point.  It’s tempting to speculate that his career, like those of Barry and Enright and Howard Felsher (the hands-on producer of Tic Tac Dough), was derailed by the quiz show controversy, but I don’t have enough information to know if that’s the case. 

What we do know is that by 1969, Faussett was living in Australia.  Although Peggy Cass was imported from the States to play her bit part in Age of Consent, Faussett was evidently recruited locally.  Faussett played small parts in other Australian films and television shows as late as 1990.  Judging by his apparent age in Age of Consent, he must be deceased by now, but I can’t locate an obituary.  Perhaps my Australian readers (yes, I do have at least one) could be of some help in that regard?

CORRECTION: An earlier draft of this piece referred to Van Doren as a contestant on The $64,000 Question, rather than Twenty-One.

UPDATE: Please be sure to read the comments sections for some helpful contributions regarding the mysterious Mr. Faussett.  Australian reader (and media critic) Kit MacFarlane has unearthed a fascinating document from the National Archives of Australia (reproduced below) which confirms Faussett’s birthdate and the date of his initial move to Sydney, which was in 1960.  It looks as if Faussett was an employee of the ad agency McCann-Erickson at the time, and had a job waiting in the Sydney branch of that firm.  He listed his “intended profession” as “TV producer,” which then begs the question: did Faussett make any noteworthy contributions to the Australian television industry? 

Another point, which I thought too tangential to mention above, is that another American television producer emigrated to Australia sometime in the mid-to-late sixties: Charles Russell, the man famous for courageously giving blacklisted writers work on CBS shows like Danger and You Are There.  (He’s the basis for a character in Walter Bernstein’s screenplay The Front.)  Russell moved back to Los Angeles sometime before his death in 1986, but it’s possible that he worked in Australian television, too.  I wonder if Russell and Faussett ever crossed paths Down Under and stopped to reminisce about the bad old days….

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13 Responses to “Who and Where Is Hudson Faussett?”

  1. mike rice Says:

    Brush up your Shakespeare, Friend. Charles Van Doren never appeared on the $64,000 Question. He was an NBC denizen. It was on 21 that Doren was given the answers that unseated resident gargoyle Herb Semple, then catapulted him onto the Today Show as a regular, but ultimately into obscurity. Van Doren was more ashamed than the other shameless sorts that were given the answers. Van Doren endured minor teaching and editing jobs for the rest of his life and never forgave himself for his indiscretion. Very old school. He’s have been resurrected and issued a new career ten times by now, by the standards of the modern era. You shouldn’t try to wing it this ruthlessly in your posts. Also, you should have mentioned that a luscious plumb of a stage actress named Helen Mirren made her screen debut in this film, in all her naked vulnerability. Helen is thin and ashen today by comparison to the south seas treasure she was then. You forgot to mention Peggy Cass’ real claim to fame, as a regular guest on Jack Paar. Hudson Faussett is more obscure today than Herb Semple.

  2. Stephen Bowie Says:

    Thanks for the correction, Mike. The attitude, and the slightly creepy reference to Ms. Mirren, are somewhat less appreciated.

  3. Stephen Bowie Says:

    Oh, and incidentally, Mike, it’s Herb STEMPEL.

  4. mike rice Says:

    I knew it was wrong but didn’t change it or check the spelling. What’s the good of criticism if one won’t admit faults of ones own? Very Oscar Wilde don’t you think?

  5. jr Says:

    Seems a stretch to consider what you wrote as “criticism.” You made a correction. The post was amended. You were patronizing. What do you want, a high-five? You shouldn’t try to wing it so ruthlessly in your comments.

  6. bobby J. Says:

    Very interesting article. The only thing that puzzled me was the use of the word “bluenoses”. It seemed off.

    As one who loves the Powell/Pressburger movies of the 40s, ‘Peeping Tom’ was a shock to the system then and even now if most people watch their films in roughly chronological order. And as someone who thinks that Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ is a masterpiece as is Wyler’s ‘The Collector’, not to mention Laughton’s ‘The Night of the Hunter’, I think the question is if a director can put an audience in the shoes of the killer is such a way.

    For me, the answer is ‘yes’. But it takes an incredible amount of wit and bravura skill and panache.

    Billy Wilder did it magnificently in ‘Double Indemnity’ and handled similarly dark topics, though perhaps not as intense bleak, in the brilliance of ‘The Lost Weekend’ and ‘Sunset Boulevard’. Even he faltered with ‘Ace in the Hole’, though in typical Wilder fashion, he soon picked a commercial property to bounce back with.

    Mikey Powell set it in not only from the killers subjective viewpoint, but also set the whole thing in the seediest settings possible for the time, above a grubby shop in which the porno photos of its day would take place.

    Coming after a decade in which his films had lost their spark (after Pressburger left, though the decline happened soon after the dismal preview of the last great masterwork, ‘The Red Shoes’, which incidentally became the most successful British film of it’s era).

    One of the definitions of a bluenose is “a person who advocates a rigorous moral code”. I don’t think that’s the right word. It’s a film that viscerally shocked audiences and critics (en mass and some of the finest in the world, such as Dilys Powell – whose rave review of Spielberg’s ‘Duel’ would elicit a theatrical showing and was, according to the director, responsible for his elevation) and then tried to make them care that he too was a victim….though I don’t think that makes them bluenoses.

    I’m pretty liberal but there’s something inappropriate about assigning 21st century sensibilities (the world of ‘Dexter’) to a late ’50s world.

    Bluenoses….
    hmmm, I sure feel like one having penned this.

    Keep up the terrific work.

    • mike rice Says:

      I never considered Ace in the Hole a failure. Kirk Douglas was very much in Champion mode when he made the film. I’ve seen it again in the last year and was reminded of it when the Chileans were drawn from the earth some months ago. What I noticed was that the carnival setting of Ace in the Hole at the edge of the mountain, wasn’t terribly different than the one assembled in Chile to handle the real thing. There was so much self-celebration even before the men were recovered that a different kind of carnival was put in motion. There were loads of equipment and people on the side of the Chilean mountain. I think Billy Wilder would have been interested.

      Incidentally, someone referred to my summary of the changes in Helen Mirren over forty years as creepy. I object to the modern use of the word creepy. Its kids parlance, a broad brush that suggests the person being described as creepy is outside the boundaries of normalcy. To describe the major changes in Helen Mirren in forty years isn’t the least bit creepy. Her body which has been bared in several films has changed completely
      but she still looks fine. There’s nothing ‘creepy’ about observing the remarkable change. Mirren’s performance in the 1969 film is nothing like the Mirren performances we observe today. She simply isn’t the actress she used to be. The change is remarkable. The change in her body is extraordinary. You have to see the Powell film to note the change.

  7. sz Says:

    hi,

    Out of curiousness I did a little research and found that Hudson Faussett was born in Trenton, New Jersey on January 27, 1907 and had died in March 1988. He was apparently living in Sydney, Australia under the name Theodore F. Faussett.

  8. Stephen Bowie Says:

    Thanks, SZ. You have, if I’m guessing correctly, given the SSDI a more thorough perusing than I did. And I agree that that must be him.

  9. Patrick Murtha Says:

    Thanks for this very interesting post on a figure I had not been aware of. The careers of those who were involved multiply in movies, radio, television, and theater, often from a New York City base, are instructive and fascinating.

    It is interesting to speculate whether Peggy Cass was suggested by Faussett to play that part in “Age of Consent.” I can’t find an earlier project in common, but they undoubtedly moved in the same circles in Fifties New York.

    Faussett’s two known forays on Broadway were not notably successful. He appeared in a small part in the comedy thriller “Lady in Waiting” in 1945 (and was also the stage manager). The play, written by the Sydney-based Max Afford and adapted to an American setting by Alexander Kirkland (who also starred), was only the second play by an Australian to be performed on Broadway, but ran for only twelve performances. Might the playwright have flown in for the occasion? Could the Faussett/Australia connection have started there? (Afford died in 1954, before Faussett made his move to Australia.)

    Alexander Kirkland is a bit of a mystery man himself, because no one seems to know where or when he died. Born in Mexico in 1901, he acted (and later directed, produced, and wrote) on Broadway from 1925, and acted in Hollywood features from the Thirties through the Fifties, the last being Elia Kazan’s “A Face in the Crowd” in 1957. He also has a writing credit on “The Philco Television Playhouse,” for an adaptation of a play by Paul Gallico, so he too had a hand in live television. He was married to Gypsy Rose Lee from 1942 to 1944, but the child she conceived during that marriage was actually fathered by Otto Preminger. The historical record on Kirkland peters out after the mid-Seventies, his last known location being Cuernavaca; according to both Wikipedia and the IMDB, “no reports of his death have surfaced.”

    Faussett’s other Broadway credit was a service comedy, “Tenting Tonight,” in 1947. The only review I have seen, in “Billboard,” was decidedly negative (“The sum-up on this one is an emphatic: No”). The play lasted 46 performances.

    The earliest theater reference I found for Faussett is in the Red Bank, New Jersey, Register for February 2, 1927, indicating that “T. Hudson Fausset has resigned as stage manager of the Savoy stock company at Asbury Park and has resumed his studies at Washington and Lee University.” The “T.” is presumably for Theodore, and thus tallies in that respect with the record sz found. The spelling here is “Fausset” with one “t,” however (but I agree with you that the preponderance of the evidence suggests that “Faussett” is correct).

    Faussett co-wote a play with Mary Thomas called “Scarlet on Snow” that was registered with the Library of Congress in 1933. His location at that point is listed as Interlaken, New Jersey, a tiny borough not far from the seaside Asbury Park.

    As of 1935, Faussett was still involved in community theater in New Jersey, co-managing the Monmouth Community Players with his writing collaborator Mary Thomas, and acting with her in Benn Levy’s “Springtime for Henry,” which he
    also directed.

    I spotted a 1937 Lux Radio Theatre credit for Faussett. That show was broadcast from New York.

    Faussett staged summer stock plays at the Newport, Rhode Island, Casino Theatre in 1945 and 1946. The September 4, 1948, issue of “Billboard” reveals that Faussett was slated to direct the winter stock season for a new company called The Stage in Atlanta. So he got around.

    Faussett directed Kenyon Nicholson’s play “The Barker” off-Broadway in 1947 and, again, got a poor review from “Billboard” (“Unfortunately Hudson Faussett did not give his thesps the kind of staging they needed”). It may be no wonder that he gravitated to television — theater apparently just wasn’t working out for him.

    Of Faussett’s late Australian screen and television credits, one that stands out is the 1977 comedy “Barnaby and Me” pairing Sid Caesar and a spunky koala. The IMDB amusingly notes “In his 1982 book ‘Where Have I Been? An Autobiography,’ a sobered-up Sid Caesar admits that by the time he did this film, he was so far-gone because of his prescription drug and alcohol addiction, he has no memory of making this movie, or of even being in Australia.”

  10. Stephen Bowie Says:

    Thanks for your contributions, everyone. This is exactly how I hoped this blog would work!

  11. steve z Says:

    In regards to the co-director pairings during the 1950′s, It was done during the 1970′s on the All in The family series. John Rich and Bob LaHendro would co-direct. Rich directed the actors and LaHendro would direct the camerawork.


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