Obituaries: Alfred Brenner (1916-2011); Lyman Hallowell (1915-2011)

August 23, 2011

Albert Brenner, an episodic television writer with a relatively sparse but impressive resume, died on July 17 at the age of 95.

Brenner won an Emmy early on, for a relatively inconsequential work, an episode of the half-hour filmed anthology Alcoa Theatre.  Titled “Eddie,” Brenner’s teleplay was impressive, but it was also a rewrite (for which he shared credit) of a British television original by future filmmaker Ken Hughes.  “Eddie” was a one-man show about a small-time loser (Mickey Rooney) who, armed only with the phone in his squalid room, tries to round up the cash he needs to pay off a bookie who will otherwise kill him.  If the premise and the casting sound familiar, it’s because Rod Serling’s much better-known Twilight Zone episode “The Last Night of a Jockey,” also starring Rooney as similar character, so closely duplicates them that the delicate charge of plagiarism floats uneasily to mind.  William Froug produced both shows, although as far as I know neither Brenner nor Screen Gems (the corporate owners of “Eddie”) filed suit.

Brenner’s originals are more interesting but harder to see.  He began as a busy live anthology dramatist in New York, with credits on most of the majors: Studio One, The United States Steel Hour, Kraft Television Theatre, Justice, Appointment With Adventure, Armstrong Circle Theatre.  Very few of these are archived, although UCLA and the Paley Center both have a late Brenner-scripted Kraft, “Angry Angel.”  UCLA’s on-line catalog summaries the 1958 broadcast thusly: “Drama of an emotionally disturbed teenaged girl and her lonely fight against a hostile world of adults.  Based on cases handled by the Hawthorne Cedar Knolls School, a non-sectarian institution in Hawthorne, New York run by the Jewish Board of Guardians.”  Lynn Loring played the title role.

“I was willing to stay there forever,” Brenner said of New York when I interviewed him, but the television industry wasn’t.  Brenner relocated to Los Angeles around 1959, possibly to rewrite what became his only feature credit, the tough Phil Karlson-directed thriller Key Witness (sharing credit with Sidney Michaels, an occasional television scribe who died in May).  Brenner wrote for One Step Beyond, Ben Casey, The New Breed, The Nurses, The Dick Powell Show, The Long Hot Summer, Felony Squad, The Bold Ones, Mannix, and McMillan and Wife, rarely racking up more than one or two credits on each show.  His only Checkmate, “Kill the Sound,” offers the oddball teaming of guest star Sid Caesar (as a neurotic, obnoxious disc jockey) and director James Wong Howe; but my favorite from that period is Brenner’s lone Arrest and Trial, “Journey Into Darkness,” a rewrite of Crime and Punishment with Roddy McDowall doing Raskolnikov.

Brenner’s most lasting association with a series was with The Eleventh Hour, a generously-budgeted, well-cast drama about psychiatrists that spun off of Dr. Kildare in 1962.  The shows themselves remain maddeningly elusive – lasting only two seasons, with a major cast change in the middle, Eleventh Hour was destined for a future in the MGM vaults instead of syndication – and I was able to verify some of his credits only by rummaging through Brenner’s own collection of scripts.  “The Blues My Baby Gave Me” (Inger Stevens with post-partum depression), “Like a Diamond in the Sky” (Julie London as a thinly-disguised Marilyn Monroe), and “Everybody Knows You Left Me” (Dina Merrill and Charles Drake, unhappily married) are all his, and probably some other episodes that went out with titles other than his own.

I wasn’t surprised that Brenner made it to 95.  When I visited him in 2005, he was a mere 88, and so busy writing that he wouldn’t confirm our appointment until an hour beforehand.  When I arrived, I found a mint 1958 Porsche in his Pacific Palisades driveway.  Yes, of course he still drove it, Brenner told me.  A tiny man, he seemed a perfect fit for the low-slung car.  I was hoping we might take it out for a spin, but all we did was talk of old TV shows.

*

Lyman Hallowell, a prolific editor on several important television dramas, died on July 11 at the age of 96.  I knew Hallowell slightly and was informed of his death in a recent e-mail from his nephew.

Hallowell’s Internet Movie Database entry currently lists exactly two features – Jacktown (1962) and the David Durston’s cult item I Drink Your Blood (1970), both New York-based exploitation flicks – and two television episodes.  That’s a powerful testament to the dimness of the light that the IMDb shines into certain corners of our cultural history.  For Hallowell edited thirteen episodes of The Defenders and at least fifteen episodes of N.Y.P.D. (both produced by our friend Bob Markell), as well as many segments of the other filmed dramas generated by Herbert Brodkin’s Plautus Productions: Brenner, The Nurses, For the People, and Coronet Blue.  The primary editors on The Defenders were Sidney Katz and Arline Garson, who brought in Murray Solomon and Hallowell as the Plautus workload increased.  On N.Y.P.D., he basically alternated episodes with Garson.

I don’t know what else remains unreported about Hallowell’s career – possibly a lot of work in New York-lensed commercials, industrials, and soap operas, or uncredited work as an assistant editor or sound editor.  He spent a number of years in Los Angeles, employed in the editing department at Twentieth-Century Fox, where he worked on features directed by Elia Kazan and Joshua Logan.  In 1955 or 1956, Hallowell moved to New York to work as an assistant editor for MKR Films, an all-purpose film editing firm founded by three heavyweights: Gene Milford (who won an Oscar for editing On the Waterfront), Sidney Katz, and Ralph Rosenblum (later Woody Allen’s chief editor).

I’m surprised that an obituary for Hallowell hasn’t emerged, because in 2008 he made the news as half of one of the first same-sex couples to marry legally in California.  He and his partner, John Dapper, were honored that year in the San Diego Pride parade.  Hallowell met Dapper (an art director who worked on Dark Shadows) in Los Angeles in 1945, when both were staffers at Fox (Hallowell worked on films for Elia Kazan and Joshua Logan there).  They remained together for over 65 years.  There’s a short film about the pair that’s making the rounds of LGBT festivals, and Hallowell was well enough to attend several of those screenings before he passed away.

Lyman Hallowell (left) and John Dapper. (Via Gay San Diego)

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3 Responses to “Obituaries: Alfred Brenner (1916-2011); Lyman Hallowell (1915-2011)”

  1. Mike Rice Says:

    Its the Cop Dramas that began in movies in the 1970s, that undermined the Liberal Dream.
    Remember all those sympathetic dramas of the fifties and sixties. Even Lost in Space felt
    sorry for the evil Dr. Smith. I didn’t figure out right away that Dr. Smith was a cosmic joke
    and comment on the weeniness of television drama of the fifties and sixties, until I got to thinking
    about him many decades later. The writers of these things had poured straight out of the Red Scare.
    The writer of the first Tom Tryon movie, I Married a Monster from Outer Space, was himself a
    communist from outer space. There were commies everywhere and TV shows often had a
    ludicrous side that wags in the audience could spot and laugh at. I led Three Lives, the story
    of commie Herbert Philbrick, played by Richard Carlson, was clearly the work of a fifth columnist
    who worked directly for Gus Hall and the Daily Worker. The stuff on television now is so Nazi
    its impossible to identify with these creeps. Hawaii Five O, the modern incarnation, is filled with
    heavies playing leads, like the misshapen son of James Caan, who has no business in the acting
    field. Where is the Paul Burke of Naked City who could find the innocent side
    of anyone who got hauled into the precinct? A confrontation between he and the evil Javerts-like
    Lieutenant Girard of the Fugitive, would have been a fit subject for a Serling written hour long
    Twilight Zone in the city of 8 million. The Serling documentary on PBS, which transformed Serling’s
    life story into telling episodes from his writing on the show was so ludicrously funny that I have to go
    back and have another look each year. Serling visits an episode with a variation on the merry go
    round going out of control scene from Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. The doom voiced narrator
    limning Serling on the show summons the scene where Gig Young tries to confront his earlier self in the
    little town he came from. Instead he finds his own father blocking his path: “Don’t get in his way, you
    have to let him live his own life!” says Dad. Gig protests, “the Shore Patrol, the Shore Patrol, I am the
    f**king shore patrol!” Suddenly Ramses appears, “Go from me Moses, for if you stay you will surely
    die!” I thought I hated old TV until I got a look at Righty Gary Sinise reading his robot-like lines on one
    of the awful CSI shows, while gearing up for another patriotically gorey memorial day weekend singalong
    on PBS. How did this Steppenwolf theater veteran fall so low? When Larry Fishburne was thrown into the
    horrible CSI TV dustbin, I prayed for him, and lo, he rose again on the third day, to appear once more in
    feature work! God Bless you Larry Fishburne!

  2. Mike Rice Says:

    If I could just see two episodes of East Side, West Side, with George C. Scott playing the chief social worker, I could be restored to my former self.


  3. If I knew who your former self was and if I felt he was worth restoring, I would send you ONE episode of EAST SIDE WEST SIDE.


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