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Along with the legendary Clifford Odets, the writers who sold scripts to The Richard Boone Show included Robert Towne (Chinatown), James Poe (Lilies of the Field), Whitfield Cook (Strangers on a Train), Stanford Whitmore (The Fugitive), Howard Rodman (Route 66), and Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without a Cause).  Unfortunately for posterity, none of those scripts — apart from the two penned by Odets — were filmed.

This week The A.V. Club published my overview of The Richard Boone Show, an uneven but occasionally brilliant anthology series based around Boone’s pet idea of extending the theatrical tradition of the repertory company to television.  Perhaps half a dozen of the twenty-five episodes are masterpieces: not a bad track record, even if most of the others are disposable or, at best, memorably strange.

But one aspect of The Richard Boone Show that I only touched upon in passing was the unusual degree of chaos surrounding the acquisition of stories for those twenty-five segments (which were originally meant to be thirty, before the ratings tanked and the episode order was cut).  According to William D. Gordon, the series’ second story editor, 327 unsuccessful pitches were considered.  It’s worthwhile to take a closer look at what we know about the development of those stories and, in particular, the raft of unproduced scripts, many of which were penned by authors of some distinction.

The Richard Boone Show’s legendary story editor, Clifford Odets, was unaccustomed to the pace of television, and may have overbought and dawdled too much during the early months of pre-production.  NBC executives Grant Tinker and Ross Donaldson, interviewed by Jack G. Shaheen in 1969 for an unpublished dissertation on The Richard Boone Show, both claimed that Odets was “too slow” to function successfully as a television story editor.  Actor Guy Stockwell told Shaheen that had Odets lived, the network “would have phased him out.”

Odets’s death in August 1963, after about six months on the job, and the dismal ratings following the premiere in September were both events that triggered severe upheavals in the show’s content.  Odets’s replacement, William D. Gordon, was a relative novice — like most of the series’ directors, he had been an actor until recently — and he served as something of a figurehead for Boone, who made a concerted effort to fill the void left by Odets and exercise more control over the material.  There was ample evidence that Gordon was out of his depth: he shared credit with other writers on five episodes, two of whom responded to his rewrites by adopting pseudonyms; and Gordon’s sole original teleplay, which he also directed, was arguably the worst episode of the series.

If Odets’s death didn’t spell doom for some of the more far-out stories he developed, then the initial ratings likely did.  Though Boone never admitted it publicly, he appears to have capitulated to NBC’s desire for a more conventional, action-driven show in an (ultimately futile) attempt to earn a second-season renewal.  The September premiere appears to coincide with a dividing line in the script development, wherein most of the (many) stalled Odets-commissioned were dropped for good, and the remaining slots in the production schedule were filled with hastily-ordered, suspense-oriented scripts (likely everything after #4032 in the list below; a total of seven episodes).  Some other scripts that Odets bought, including “A Need of Valor” and likely “A Tough Man to Kill,” were rewritten in a more conventional fashion by Gordon and probably Boone.

Gordon’s justification for the mediocrity of the material he brought in was self-serving and rather dubious, but it did reflect the show’s tendency (which began under Odets) to recruit marginalized old-timers (John Fante, Louis Pollock, Joseph Petracca, Fred Finklehoffe) and relative novices (Paul Lucey, John Haase, Littlefield & Wehling) rather than the usual rank and file of in-demand television dramatists:

I got writers with the best reputations; their scripts were bad …. I could go up to $12,000 for a script.  This money brought out yesterday’s ideas from top guys of yesterday …. So I went to kids that hadn’t sold anything before.  They had the ideas.  It was the unknown writer who saved the Boone series.  They put the guts into the shows.

Following the show’s cancellation in January, the episode order was abruptly cut from the projected thirty to an uneven twenty-five.  (Twenty-six, a multiple of thirteen, was a more common cutoff for one-season shows at the time.)  It’s unclear which unproduced script, if any, was slated for the twenty-sixth slot, or whether any of the others had been approved by NBC and Boone had the order extended to thirty.

The production numbers, most of which are listed below, reveal the unusually high amount of waste in the series’ story acquisitions.  Production numbers were apparently assigned as scripts were purchased, not as they went before the cameras; and so the numbers on the produced episodes climb as high as 4045, with the twenty skipped slots belonging to unfilmed scripts.  An annotated list of episodes is below, followed by as much as I could compile on the unproduced scripts from published newspaper articles and archival sources (chiefly the papers of Odets and actor Lloyd Bochner, and production documents appended to Shaheen’s dissertation.)

After the first seven episodes, the sequence of filming is uncertain, but the sequencing below should be a close approximation.  Odets had sole story credit on the first seven episodes produced, then shared it with Gordon on three more; after that, Gordon alone was credited for “story supervision,” even on some episodes known to have originated under Odets’s tenure.  (Hollywood forgets quickly.)

NorthStar

PRODUCED EPISODES

Credited Story Supervisor: Clifford Odets

“Big Mitch” (#4003)

Aired December 10, 1963 (11th).

Written by Clifford Odets. Directed by Lamont Johnson.

Rehearsal: May 13-14, 1963.  Filmed: May 15-17, 20-22, 1963.  Originally titled “North Star” (a reference to the brand of freezer Mitch purchases as an ostentatious wedding gift for his daughter).

“Where’s the Million Dollars?” (#4017)

Aired December 31, 1963 (13th).

Written by Edmund Hartmann. Directed by Robert Gist.

Rehearsal: May 23, 1963.  Filmed: May 24, 27-29, 31, June 3, 1963.  Originally titled “One For the Money.”

“Statement of Fact” (#4008)

Aired September 24, 1963 (1st).

Written by E. Jack Neuman. Directed by Lamont Johnson.

Rehearsal: None.  Filmed: June 5-7, 10, 1963.  Neuman’s script was an expansion of a radio drama he wrote in 1950, which had been performed at least four times; Odets and Boone may or may not have been aware that it was not an original.  Note the truncated shooting schedule: this appears to have been designed as a “bottle show” to compensate for expanded schedules/budgets of other early episodes, which makes it an especially odd choice to open the series.

“Wall to Wall War” (#4010)

Aired October 8, 1963 (3rd).

Written by John Haase. Directed by Robert Gist.

Rehearsal: June 11-12, 1963.  Filmed: June 13-14, 17-21, 1963.  Haase was a Los Angeles dentist-cum-novelist, later known for Erasmus With Freckles (filmed as Dear Brigitte) and Me and the Arch-Kook Petulia (optioned by Robert Altman and ultimately filmed, as Petulia, by Richard Lester).  He probably connected with The Richard Boone Show via producer Buck Houghton; see below.

“The Mafia Man” (#4009)

Aired January 7, 1964 (14th).

Written by Clifford Odets. Directed by Lamont Johnson.

Rehearsal: June 24, 1963.  Filmed: June 25-28, July 1-2, 1963.  Originally titled “Only the Young,” then “Don’t Blow Bugles” (the latter referencing an expression said several times by Boone’s character, meaning don’t draw attention to yourself).

“Which Are the Nuts? And Which Are the Bolts?” (#4022)

Aired December 17, 1963 (12th).

Written by Fred Finklehoffe. Directed by Robert Gist.

Rehearsal: July 3, 1963.  Filmed: July 5, 8-12, 1963.

“All the Comforts of Home” (#4023)

Aired October 1, 1963 (2nd).

Written by Paul Lucey. Directed by Robert Gist.

Rehearsal: July 12.  Filmed: July 15-19, 22, 1963.  This was Lucey’s first sale to television.

“Stranger” (#4011)

Aired October 22, 1963 (5th).

Written by Dale Wasserman. Directed by Buzz Kulik.

Final draft dated July 16, 1963.  Probably filmed immediately after “All the Comforts of Home”; contains location work on the California coastline that was likely done back-to-back with the pine forest scenes from “Comforts.”

Credited Story Supervision: Clifford Odets and William D. Gordon

“Where Do You Hide an Egg?” (#4014)

Aired October 15, 1963 (4th).

Written by Joseph Petracca. Directed by Douglas Heyes.

Final draft dated August 1, 1963.  Original title was “An Embarrassment of Riches,” then “If You’re Born Square, You Can’t Die Round.”

“Don’t Call Me Dirty Names” (#4001)

Aired December 3, 1963 (10th).

Written by John Haase. Directed by Lamont Johnson.

Final draft dated August 14, 1963.  Producer Buck Houghton had developed this script for The Dick Powell Show during his brief period as a producer at Four Star Productions in 1962, and brought it with him to The Richard Boone Show (which may account for the early production number).  The controversial subject matter (unwed pregnancy, abortion, suicide, and adultery) may have blocked Haase’s script at Powell and delayed its production on Boone.  Likely rewritten by Odets.

“Sorofino’s Treasure”

Aired October 29, 1963 (6th).

Written by Joe Madison. Directed by Robert Butler.

Final draft dated August 20, 1963.  “Joe Madison” was a pseudonym for Louis Pollock, adopted as a result of the blacklist rather than objections to rewriting.

Credited Story Supervision: William D. Gordon

“Vote No on 11!” (#4025)

Aired November 5, 1963 (7th).

Written by Joe Madison [Louis Pollock]. Directed by Richard Boone.

Bochner retained drafts dated September 4 and September 23, 1963.

“The Fling”

Aired November 12, 1963 (8th).

Teleplay by William D. Gordon. Story by Het Manheim and E. Jack Neuman. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg.

Final draft dated September 17, 1963.  Intended for rehearsal on September 20 and filming September 23-27, 1963.  However, Richard Boone suffered “severe face and chest injuries” in a drunk driving accident on the night of September 19.  Production shut down for a week and resumed on September 30.

“Welcome Home, Dan” (#4037)

Aired January 21, 1964 (16th).

Teleplay by William D. Gordon. Story by E. Jack Neuman. Directed by Robert Ellis Miller.

Final draft dated September 18, 1963.

“Captain Al Sanchez” (#4028)

Aired November 26, 1963 (8th).

Written by John Fante. Directed by Paul Stanley.

Final draft dated October 4, 1963.  Odets commissioned the script from Fante, who had done some relatively undistinguished screenwriting in the fifties and early sixties. Ironically, given The Richard Boone Show’s emphasis on literary celebrity, Fante’s name was never promoted in connection with the series. Although his reputation may have since eclipsed even Odets’s, Fante (Ask the Dust) was not widely acknowledged as an important novelist until Black Sparrow Press reprinted his novels in the late 1970s.

“The Hooligan” (#4032)

Aired January 16, 1964 (15th).

Teleplay by Walter Brown Newman. From a play [The Boor] by Anton Chekhov. Directed by Lewis Milestone.

Final draft dated November 1, 1963.  An adaptation of Chekhov’s The Boor, which (like “Statement of Fact”) was recycled from an earlier radio script.

“First Sermon” (#4034)

Aired January 30, 1964 (17th).

Written by Joe Madison [Louis Pollock]. Directed by Richard Boone.

“Run, Pony, Run” (#4024)

Aired March 3, 1964 (21st).

Teleplay by William D. Gordon and J. R. Littlefield & Bob Wehling. Story by J. R. Littlefield & Bob Wehling. Directed by Robert Gist.

Final draft likely dated December 9, 1963.  Probably originally titled “The Fix” and “Man on Spikes.”  Blake brought the script to Boone’s attention via the actors’ workshop.

“Death Before Dishonor” (#4042)

Aired February 11, 1964 (18th).

Written by William D. Gordon. Directed by William D. Gordon.

Final draft dated December 19, 1963.

“A Tough Man to Kill” (#4029)

Aired February 18, 1964 (19th).

Teleplay by John Wry and William D. Gordon. Story by John Wry. Directed by Michael O’Herlihy.

“John Wry” was a pseudonym for Harry Julian Fink, who had been a prominent contributor to Have Gun – Will Travel.

“Occupational Hazard” (#4045)

Aired February 25, 1964 (20th).

Written by Gilbert Ralston. Directed by Harry Morgan.

“The Arena” Part I (#4040) and “The Arena” Part II (#4041?)

Aired March 10, 1964 (22nd) and March 17, 1964 (23rd).

Written by Harry Julian Fink. Directed by Richard Boone.

Final draft dated January 2, 1964.  An unsold pilot for a political drama that would have starred Lloyd Bochner as a tough district attorney (and possibly Michael Constantine, Mary Gregory, Michael Witney, and David Mauro, who play members of his staff).  A list of story material under consideration dated May 10, 1963 refers to a “Walter Doniger spinoff proposal” entitled “The Politician,” which probably became “The Arena”; why Doniger had no credited participation in the finished production is unknown.

“All the Blood of Yesterday” (#4043)

Aired March 24, 1964 (24th).

Teleplay by William D. Gordon and Mark James. Story by Mark James. Directed by Richard Boone.

Final draft dated January 26, 1964.  “Mark James” was a pseudonym for George Bellak.

“A Need of Valor” (#4020)

Aired March 31, 1964 (25th).

Written by Reuben Bercovitch. Directed by Harry Morgan.

Purchased as of April 8, 1963; final draft dated February 5, 1964.  Odets commissioned the script from Bercovitch, which was shelved for a time after Odets’s death.  Boone revived the script and requested a revision to enlarge his role; when Bercovitch declined,Boone himself (and possibly Gordon) did the rewrite.  Bercovitch sought to remove his name but was told (inaccurately) that he was prohibited from doing so because he’d already been paid for the script.

GreenRoom

UNPRODUCED SCRIPTS

The following were purchased for production on The Richard Boone Show.  The scripts by Poe, Cook, and Dozier were considered enough of a lock at one point that those writers’ names were used in advertising for the series; these scripts are the likeliest candidates as casualities of NBC’s loss of faith in Odets’s (and Boone’s) judgment.

  • Halsted Welles, “Blue Meteor” (accepted 2/19/63).  Approved by NBC and Boone.  “Revised draft in” and ready for “discussion” as of 5/10/63.  Probably retitled “The Descent.”
  • James Poe, “The Mouse” (3/1/63).  “Odets working with Poe for outline” as of 5/10/63.  Poe had adapted Odets’s play The Big Knife into a 1955 feature film.
  • Mann Rubin, “Sparrows of Summer” (3/19/63).  Approved by NBC, “qualified approval” by Boone.
  • James Menzies and [Lionel E.?] Siegel, “Pemmican” (3/19/63).  “Story in and being re-written” (presumably by Menzies and Siegel) as of 5/10/63.
  • Robert Towne, “Escape” (3/19/63).  Later retitled “The Dolphin’s Nose.”  A fictionalized version of Francis Gary Powers’s stint in a Russian prison camp following the U-2 incident.  “Story in and being re-written” as of 5/10/63; Towne recalled a fruitful collaboration with Odets.
  • Whitfield Cook, “There Are Five Cold Lakes” (3/19/63).  Retitled “Five Cold Lakes.”
  • Robert Dozier, “Separate Maintenance” (3/19/63).
  • Don M. Mankiewicz, untitled script (3/29/63).  “Started outline” on 5/10/63.
  • Richard Landau, “The Proud and Angry Dust” (4/4/63).  “Due” on 5/10/63.
  • George Zuckerman, “Game of Absurdities” (4/4/63).  First drafted approved by NBC and Boone on 4/16/63, in “discussion and revision” stage as of 5/10/63.
  • Stanford Whitmore, “Cougar, Bear and Calvin Play” (4/23/63).  In “discussion and revision” stage as of 5/10/63.

The following were retained in Odets’s files on the series, and were probably purchased during his period as story editor:

  • Irving Pearlberg, “A Boat Ride to Bear Mountain” (script, notes).
  • Leslie Weiner, “A Few Marriage Proposals” (script, outline, notes).  Weiner (1916-1999) was a minor playwright (In the Counting House) who had studied under Odets at the Actors Studio in the early fifties; to my knowledge he has no other television credits.
  • Nicholas Ray, “One in a Million” (script).  Ray and Odets had been friends since the Group Theatre period in the thirties; during the mid-fifties, they were neighbors at the Chateau Marmont, and Odets had done significant script doctoring and consulting on Ray’s films Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Bigger Than Life (1956).
  • Roland Wolpert, “Sing a Song of Success” (script, notes).
  • Clyde Ware, “Those Jackson Boys” (outline).

The following story material was “under favorable consideration” as of 5/10/63 but may have been rejected:

  • An adaptation of an unspecified Ernest Hemingway work by A.E. Hotchner (who was a friend of the novelist’s and had adapted many of his stories for live television).
  • A second play by Leslie Weiner and a play by Ruth Wolff, both unspecified by title.
  • Unspecified novels by Dolores Hitchens and Hillary Waugh.
  • Scripts or outlines by Howard Rodman, Gabrielle Upton, John Vlahos, Douglas Heyes, and Charles K. Peck, Jr.

The following writers were named in Variety as probable contributors to The Richard Boone Show, but likely fell into the category of wishful thinking on the part of Boone and/or Odets: John Steinbeck, Edward Albee, John O’Hara, William Gibson, Rod Serling, Julius Epstein, Alfred Hayes, and Tad Mosel (adapting James Agee, as he had with the hit 1960 play All the Way Home; it’s unclear whether Boone was attempting to secure the rights to that work, which was filmed in 1963, or more likely seeking to assign Mosel a different story of Agee’s).

Had all of these scripts come to fruition, we’d probably be writing about The Richard Boone Show as a lost masterpiece (or even an unexpected hit) instead of as an interesting footnote.

Notes From Buck Houghton

November 6, 2009

Continuing this blog’s fiftieth-anniversary coverage of The Twilight Zone, I turn your attention to one Archible Ernest “Buck” Houghton, Jr., the producer of the series’ first three seasons.  On September 25 and 26, 1998, I spoke to Houghton on the phone for some time, on the subject The Twilight Zone and also about his work in television before and after that series.  At the time, Houghton’s non-Zone career had not been documented very well, apart from a few paragraphs in Marc Scott Zicree’s Twilight Zone Companion.

For some reason that I can no longer remember, the Houghton interviews were not recorded.   But I took good notes, and I offer a summary of them below, in the hope that a few of these tidbits may not have not been captured elsewhere.

*

The earliest TV project that Houghton mentioned was the Schlitz Playhouse, which he worked on in 1951-1952.  Houghton did not discuss many of his other fifties shows, which include China Smith and Man With a Camera.  But he did cite Wire Service as his favorite of his pre-Twilight Zone shows, because its hour-long format permitted more elaborate storytelling.

Houghton told me that William Self, who had been his boss on Schlitz and had developed the Twilight Zone pilot for CBS, hired him to produce the series.  Houghton screened the pilot and read some early scripts before he met Rod Serling for the first time.  Houghton stood 6’3” tall, and during their first encounter, Serling asked, “Don’t they have any short producers?”

I asked Houghton briefly about some of the other major Twilight Zone contributors as well.  He felt that George Clayton was “as crazy as a march hair” and recalled that the underrated Montgomery Pittman was physically heavyset and “very social . . . a good storyteller.”  Of the Twilight Zone directors, Houghton liked to assign “character-driven” scripts to Douglas Heyes, and to use Don Medford for episodes that were heavy on “action, action!”  As most fans consider John Brahm’s brooding imagery a perfect fit for The Twilight Zone, I was surprised to learn that Houghton valued the German emigre mainly for his efficiency.  Brahm could be counted on to bring his Twilight Zones in on schedule.

Houghton explained that he left The Twilight Zone at the end of its third season because of the lengthy arguments about extending the series to an hour-long format.  Houghton did not approve of the change.  He left the series and accepted an offer as a sort of producer-at-large at Dick Powell’s Four Star Productions.

Houghton’s timing was bad, and his experience at Four Star disastrous.  He got along with Powell, but fought with the executive in charge of business affairs for the company.  (Houghton could not remember the man’s name, but it was probably Thomas J. McDermott.)  The problem was that Powell was dying of cancer; he would expire on January 2, 1963, one day before the hour-long version of The Twilight Zone debuted on CBS.  During Powell’s illness, Four Star Productions fell into chaos.  It was top-heavy with executives and contracted talent, and light on new projects to which they could apply themselves.  This was year that then-collaborators Sam Peckinpah and Bruce Geller spent playing cards in their office, and the season when Christopher Knopf, the co-creator of Big Valley, traded his interest in the show to get out of his Four Star contract.  Houghton emerged with only a single credit to show for his year at Four Star.  He produced an unsold pilot called Adamsburg, USA, which was broadcast as one of the final segments of The Dick Powell Show under the title “The Old Man and the City.”

Houghton told me that Rod Serling wanted him to return to produce the final season of The Twilight Zone, but that the network overruled him.  (At the time, CBS had an inside man, former network executive Bert Granet, in place to oversee Serling’s anthology.)  Instead, Houghton moved from Four Star back to MGM to produce The Richard Boone Show for the 1963-1964 season.  He was working on the same backlot that was still home to The Twilight Zone, and using in for Richard Boone just as expertly as he had on Serling’s series.

The Richard Boone Show was an ambitious attempt at creating a modern repertory theater on television.  It was home to two giants, Boone and story editor Clifford Odets.  Houghton was brought in by both of them together, although (like nearly everyone else in Hollywood) he soon clashed with Boone.  Houghton found the actor autocratic, and felt that Boone thought he should’ve been a bigger star (and a star in movies, not television).  Like Powell, Clifford Odets would pass away just months after Houghton went to work for him.  According to Houghton, the famed playwright found that he disliked story editing and ended up concentrating almost entirely on the two original scripts he wrote for the series.

For the next two decades, Houghton passed through a number of well-known shows without finding a permanent home.  Houghton labored briefly on Lost in Space, but (like nearly everyone else in Hollywood) he disliked its executive producer, Irwin Allen.  He spent a few months commuting between Los Angeles and the Tucson location of High Chaparral, which NBC hired him to produce on the theory that Chaparral’s creator, David Dortort, would spread himself too thin between the series.  NBC was wrong, and Houghton moved on.  Later he spent a half-season on Harry O and a full season producing Hawaii Five-O.  Houghton left that series because (like nearly everyone else in Hollywood) he couldn’t get along with Jack Lord.  A few made-for-television movies rounded out Houghton’s producing career.

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There’s a reason why I called Buck Houghton in 1998.  Together with a friend and fellow historian, Stuart Galbraith IV, I had come up with the idea of staging a sort of Twilight Zone reunion.  We would invite some of the show’s surviving creative team to lunch, record the proceedings, and write them up as a feature for some film or science fiction magazine. 

For obvious reasons, Houghton was first on our list of guests to approach, and I’ll never forget his response.  Politely, Houghton declined our invitation, and when I pressed for a reason he said that he would “prefer to remember everyone as they were then.”  Then he added something even more touching: that he would be willing to participate anyway, if it would help my career as a freelance writer.

Naturally, I couldn’t accept Houghton’s generous offer on those terms, and without his involvement our reunion idea fizzled out.  Only nine months later, in May 1999, Houghton died, and his obituaries recorded a laundry list of ailments as the cause.  (Variety reported “complications from emphysema and ALS.”)  If Houghton, who said nothing to me about his failing health, was willing to battle those illnesses just to help out a stranger, then he had to have been one very classy guy.  I’m sorry we never met for that lunch.

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