Obituaries: Gustave Field; David T. Chantler; Esther Mitchell

September 13, 2012

Writer Gustave Field died on August 5 at the age of 95.  Field was a fairly obscure talent – at present, the Internet Movie Database believes inaccurately that he died in 1977 – with a smattering of television credits in the sixties and seventies: Wide Country, Gunsmoke, Combat, 12 O’Clock High, Then Came Bronson, The Bold Ones, The Six Million Dollar Man, and the early made-for-television movie The Sunshine Patriot.  Had I known some of what Philip Purser reports in this fascinating remembrance, I would have made it a much higher priority to seek Field out for an interview.  Field had been a photographer (of Einstein and the nuking of Nagasaki) and, in the late fifties, a story editor for British ABC network, where he mentored the young Alun Owen and Harold Pinter.  There’s also the matter of a phantom Lost in Space credit that’s being fussed over among fans; it could be an error in the obits, but also an assignment that was purchased but not produced, or a rewrite job too insubstantial to earn a credit.  Purser claims that Field liked to take his name off scripts; I’ll bet there’s another batch of credits under a pseudonym somewhere, but all of Lost in Space’s pen names seem to be claimed already . . . so it’s a subject we’ll have to revisit.

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Writer David T. Chantler died on March 13.  Born May 24, 1925, Chantler got his start in television on the CBS newspaper drama Big Town, but was best known as one of the primary writers (of nearly three dozen episodes) for the fifties kiddie favorite The Adventures of Superman.  Though he was living in Marina Del Rey as of a few years ago, Chantler spent much of the sixties working in England, on television shows including Interpol Calling, Zero One, The Human Jungle, and Paul Temple.  He also wrote a pair of Hammer films, She and the well-received Cash on Demand, as well as the Paul Wendkos-directed western Face of a Fugitive.  His other American television credits include Lassie, Richard Diamond Private Detective, Daniel Boone, and The Invaders.  His last produced script listed on the Internet Movie Database was made in 1970, and I wonder what Chantler was doing in the forty years since.

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Esther Mitchell died on May 30, one day short of her ninety-second birthday.  Mitchell was one half of a prolific husband-and-wife team; with Bob Mitchell, she wrote a dozen Land of the Giants scripts as well as episodes of Perry Mason, Cannon, S.W.A.T., and Charlie’s Angels.  (Bob Mitchell, who died in 1992, had been a busy solo writer, especially for Highway Patrol, for more than a decade before they began working together; the collaboration may have begun because he was getting more work than he could handle.)  The Mitchells’ most important series together was Combat, for which they were among a stable of generally second-rate writers brought in when producer Gene Levitt took over the show’s second season.  If there’s a standout among the Mitchell-scripted episodes, it’s probably “The First Day,” the story of a quartet of unusually youthful replacements who join the squad; a follow-up of sorts, “The Old Men,” focused on middle-aged draftees sent to the front lines as the supply of able-bodied men dwindled.

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Also overlooked, perhaps, amid the unprecedented wave of beloved television veterans’ deaths this summer – Kathryn Joosten, Richard Dawson, Ray Bradbury, Frank Cady, Susan Tyrrell, Richard Lynch, Norman Felton, Doris Singleton, Don Grady, Andy Griffith, Ernest Borgnine, Celeste Holm, William Asher, Morgan Paull, Lloyd Kino, Sherman Hemsley, Frank Pierson, Lupe Ontiveros, Chad Everett, Norman Alden, Russ Mayberry, R. G. Armstrong, John P. Finnegan, Al Freeman Jr., Gore Vidal, Phyllis Thaxter, Ron Palillo, Rosemary Rice, Biff Elliot, Phyllis Diller, William Windom, Steve Franken, Claire Malis, Lance LeGault – were those of writer Don Brinkley (The Fugitive; Medical Center) and assistant director Charles Washburn (Star Trek).  There are good, detailed obituaries for each at those links.

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4 Responses to “Obituaries: Gustave Field; David T. Chantler; Esther Mitchell”

  1. Toby O'B Says:

    Thank you for remembering these contributors to the TV universe. Their names may not have jumped out at me while watching so many of those shows you listed, but they deserved to be remembered. There aren’t many venues online for fans of the medium to find out such information. I check the obit pages for the LA Times and the NY Times every day and I’m pretty sure these were never mentioned there.

  2. John D Says:

    Thanks for these, Stephen. The articles on Don Brinkley and Charles Washburn were great. I’m always amazed at the full and varied lives that are behind the credits that are often barely noticed.

  3. James Smith Says:

    Always an avid reader of the blog. It is excellent that your blog is here to remember those who sometimes get missed by the “usual” media. That list is waaaay too long though – I guess it is something that is going to happen now that the baby boom generation of which many are part is reaching a certain age…

  4. Mark Speck Says:

    Many thanks for this blog, Stephen…there were too many of these people that fell through the cracks when it came to obits. I had to visit the IMDB to get more details on things. Thank you again!


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