In my last two posts, I pointed out some of the many uncredited actors in the classic drama Naked City (1960-1963).  There’s also a special case worth pointing out: that of Richard Castellano, the swarthy, rotund actor who was Oscar-nominated for Lovers and Other Strangers and played Clemenza in The Godfather

Sometime in 1962, Castellano began working regularly as an extra on Naked City.  Once you’ve learned to recognize his unmistakable features, you can spot Castellano in practically every third-season episode.  Here are a few of his many guises:

 

Bartender (“Hold For Gloria Christmas,” with Herschel Bernardi in the foreground).

 

Waiter (“Idylls of a Running Back”).

 

Man in a subway station (“Go Fight City Hall”).  Once you’ve keyed on Castellano, you’ll notice that he goes through the same ticket line twice in this scene.

 

Man on street (“Dust Devil on a Quiet Street”).  Like any ambitious extra, he’s the only one looking up toward the camera.

 

Man with clipboard (“One, Two, Three, Rita Rakahowski”)

 

Bartender again (“Robin Hood and Clarence Darrow, They Went Out With the Bow and Arrow”) . . . .

 

. . . and finally, in that episode, rewarded with a close-up and a line (“Hey, what’s goin’ on?  Take it easy!”)!

Finally, here’s an unexpected bonus.  While I was capturing those screen shots, I stumbled by accident actross another well-known character actor, working as an uncredited extra in the background of the 1963 episode “The S.S. American Dream,” at least a year before his first official screen credit.  See if you recognize the man standing on the stairs at left:

 

Unless I’m mistaken, that’s Joe Santos, better known as Jim Rockford’s long-suffering pal Detective Dennis Becker on The Rockford Files

Here they are in the same shot, Castellano on the far left and Santos on the far right, two background players angling to get noticed behind the principals – and, against the odds, succeeding at it.

 

Makes you wonder how many other famous faces are lurking in the background of the Naked City . . . .

Postscript: Loyal reader David Moninger believes that the old lady in this shot (between Robert Duvall at left and an uncredited Audra Lindley, Three’s Company’s Mrs. Roper, at right) is Judith Lowry, better known as Phyllis‘s Mother Dexter.  Judging from her credits, Lowry was New York-based during the sixties, so it’s certainly plausible.  But since the elderly extra had no lines, her name doesn’t appear in the paperwork alongside the unbilled actors with speaking parts.  Can anyone weigh in on whether or not this is Lowry?

In my last post, I began a tour of the unbilled actors who lurked on the streets of the sixties crime drama Naked City.  Many of whom later went on to become major stars, or at least busy character actors.  Now, with the help of the production records on file in the archives of Naked City’s executive producer Herbert B. Leonard, we can identify most of these uncredited performers.

For some reason, Naked City’s third season yields the best crop of soon-to-be-famous bit players.  Maybe Marion Dougherty, the show’s legendary casting director, honed her knack for spotting future stars as she went along.  

Let’s begin with the one of the tiniest speaking parts you can possibly imagine.  Squint at this scene from 1962’s “Torment Him Much and Hold Him Long,” which stars Robert Duvall (in one of four leading Naked City roles) and Barbara Loden (director of Wanda, wife of Kazan, fleetingly a sixties ingenue) as husband and wife, and you’ll see a black couple in the stairwell in the background:

 

The male half of that couple is one Bobby Dean Hooks, who under the more formal moniker of Robert Hooks would become a fairly important leading man a few years later; fittingly, he starred in the next major New York City police drama, N.Y.P.D.  This Naked City episode precedes any other recorded television or film appearance for Hooks.

“Dust Devil on a Quiet Street” takes place in the world of young, aspiring performers.  With its scrutiny of a faded acting teacher (Richard Basehart) and a disturbed young actor under his tutelage (Robert Walker), it’s one of the most detailed glimpses of the process of acting ever attempted in a television drama.  The original writer of “Dust Devil,” Anthony Lawrence, told me that he struggled with the script, and welcomed the revisions undertaken by Naked City’s legendary story editor, Howard Rodman.  Rodman’s wife at the time, Norma Connolly, was a character actress, and I suspect that Rodman’s observations of her work are the source of the authentic-seeming acting exercises in “Dust Devil.” 

Ironically, for a text so sympathetic to the plight of the struggling actor, none of the actors we see performing in Basehart’s workshop receive screen credit.  However, Dougherty got it right once again: four of the five actors playing actors went on to enjoy noteworthy careers.  The first pair to try out a scene (which Basehart decimates) are Penny Fuller (All the President’s Men) and Ken Kercheval (Dallas):

 

Other students who have a line or two each include Stephen Brooks (front row, looking to the left), soon to co-star in The Nurses and The F.B.I., and character actress Joanna Miles (farthest right), also a Dallas alumna:

 

Moving on to the extraordinary “King Stanislaus and the Knights of the Round Stable” – the one with Jack Klugman, John Larch, and a meat cleaver all locked together in a butcher’s freezer – I originally thought that this young brunette nurse on the right might be Elizabeth Ashley, who did play an early role on Route 66 (another Herbert Leonard / Marion Dougherty effort) around the same time: 

 

Wrong: it’s actually Broadway actress and director Joan Darling, later of Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law

A week later, in the episode “Spectre of the Rose Street Gang,” we catch a single glimpse of The Waltons’ Ralph Waite, likely in his television debut, as a chauffeur:

 

. . . and then in “The Highest of Prizes,” only a slightly longer look at The Stepford Wives’ Peter Masterson (shown with Paul Burke), likely in his television debut, as a ferry boat crewman:

 

The final episode of Naked City, “Barefoot on a Bed of Coals,” is famous for Dustin Hoffman’s brief but showy role in the teaser, as a two-bit holdup man who gets blasted by a beat cop (Steven Hill).  Hoffman made the closing credits – just barely, in the penultimate slot – but a lot of familiar faces around him didn’t.  Here’s the great Philip Bruns (The Out of Towners; Harry and Tonto; The Great Waldo Pepper) as a paramedic who grouchily tends to Hoffman’s wound:

 

And Melvin Stewart (Trick Baby; Scarecrow and Mrs. King) as a witness to the crime:

 

Soon it’s revealed that Hill’s character isn’t really a cop.  Fortunately, there are plenty of real uniformed policemen around, played by the likes of Ramon Bieri (Badlands; Sorcerer):

 

. . . and future biker movie star Tom Stern, also uncredited:

For the fellow TV junkies in the audience who had watched these Naked Citys before reading this post . . . how many of these actors did you spot?

Naked City, the cop show of the early sixties that nearly every classic TV buff adores, is famous for three things: (1) the beautifully wrought dialogue and wonderfully strange characters created by its chief writers, Stirling Silliphant and Howard Rodman; (2) the extensive location shooting, which makes the show an ever more valuable etching of Manhattan at a specific moment in time; and (3) the roster of extraordinary character actors and future stars who received, in many cases, their first exposure on Naked City, after eagle-eyed casting executive Marion Dougherty spotted them on the Off-Broadway stages that had begun to flourish in the city.

Today’s post will address only the last of those elements of Naked City, one which has always been a source of both joy and frustration for me.  Joy, because Naked City frequently offers the thrill of spotting a favorite actor in one of his very first parts.  Like Bruce Dern, for instance, who hovers around the margins of “The Fault in Our Stars,” a 1961 episode in which he plays an aspiring theater actor:

(The man standing next to Dern is Alvin Epstein, whom New York magazine recently called “one of the most important classical actors of his generation.”  Another facet of Naked City’s historical value is that Dougherty often hired theater actors and acting teachers – including Sanford Meisner and Peggy Feury – who ended up making few, if any, other substantial appearances on film.)

Dern, in “The Fault of Our Stars,” does not receive credit on screen – and therein lies the frustration I mentioned above.  Because while Naked City scripts tended to include more speaking parts than your average one-hour drama – the show’s detectives canvassed the city in most episodes, talking to a cross-section of New York types as they sought each week’s wrongdoer – the large, ornate font of the credits left room for only a few of them to be acknowledged.

That stands in stark contrast to the other important New York-based dramas of the early sixties – The Defenders, East Side/West Side, The Nurses – which rigorously credited every bit player in the crawl at the end of the show.  (This is just a guess, but I’ll bet that union rules required New York-produced shows to credit every actor with a speaking part; certainly, they had to make room for some crew members, like scenic artists and electricians, whose positions were never credited on Hollywood-based programs of that era.  Because Naked City was technically produced in Los Angeles by Screen Gems, it may have been able to evade those rules.)

Let’s take another early episode as an example of how hard it was to snag a screen credit on Naked City.  “Button in a Haystack” has ten credited guest stars, beginning with Albert Salmi (a star character actor then) and ending with Mitch Ryan (an unknown then, but a star character actor a decade later).  But “Button” also features twenty-one unbilled actors in small speaking roles.  One of them (center) is the very recognizable William Duell, who played Sefelt, one of the asylum residents in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest:

Here are the rest of the uncredited cast members of “Button in a Haystack,” and the roles they played: Paul Alberts (Luna), Griff Evans (Man with shovel), Mike Dana (Man in pit), Charles Roy Pritchard (Ballistics Expert), Herbert Ratner (Seymour), Stephen Hart (Beatnik), Vern Stough (Pretty Girl), Bernard Reed (Candy Store Owner), Pete Gumeny (Benevento), Tom Ahearne (Patrolman), Howard Morton (Ivy Leaguer), Jerome Raphel (Man with bucket), Edd Simon (Cop), Ricky Sloane (Martin), Joey Kennedy (Little Boy), Susan Melvin (Little Girl), Mac Munroe (Police Stenographer), Frank Tweddell (Mr. Jassey), Bo Enivel (Truck Driver), and Louis Guss (Counterman).

Recognize any of those names?  Neither did I, except for Susan Melvin (briefly a popular child actress, she appeared in the movie Ladybug, Ladybug and starred in an unsold pilot for Naked City’s executive producer, Herbert B. Leonard) and Louis Guss, who enjoyed a long career as a character actor, specializing in surly, swarthy Noo-Yawk types.

But many of the uncredited actors on Naked City do look quite familiar – either because they appeared in a million other TV episodes and movies in small parts, like Louis Guss, or occasionally because they went on to become major stars, like Bruce Dern.  When I watched Naked City for the first time, I recognized most of the embryonic stars (but not all of them, as I recently discovered) and some of the character actors.  But many of those unnamed faces drove me bonkers.  I knew they were somebody, but I couldn’t place the faces.  I wanted to identify them, and that information simply hadn’t been published anywhere.

Fortunately, many of the production records for Naked City survive among Herbert B. Leonard’s papers, which now reside in the Special Collections Department of UCLA’s Charles E. Young Library.  Recently I had a reason to peruse those papers, and while I was doing so I kept an eye out for the names of some of those uncredited actors that I couldn’t identify on sight.  Let’s take a look at some of them.  (For the purposes of this post, I’m excluding the earlier, half-hour incarnation of Naked City, because a) there are no DVDs from which to take frame grabs and b) its casting director, Jess Kimmel, didn’t possess the same skill in finding talented unknowns that Marion Dougherty had.)

First let’s go back to “The Fault in Our Stars,” which cast Roddy McDowall as one of several variations on Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov that he played around this time (“Journey Into Darkness,” for Arrest and Trial, was another one).  It turns out that the cab driver who fares poorly at the hands of McDowall’s Nietzchean fantasies was played by our old friend Chris Gampel.  I never would’ve recognized Gampel without help, since the top half of his face is cut off for the entirety of his only scene:

Later, in a beatnik joint where McDowall and friends applaud the performing poets by snapping their fingers, we catch a quick glimpse of an emcee (on stage, at left):

That’s Harvey Jason, the British-born character actor who appeared in Oklahoma Crude and The Gumball Rally, as well as dozens of TV shows in the seventies and eighties.

Later, we meet another struggling actor:

He’s played by Teno Pollick, who committed suicide in 1991.  Pollick had a very minor career as a television actor in the sixties, but he had another claim to fame – as one of Anthony Perkins’s boyfriends during the mid-sixties.

One of the earliest hour-long episodes, “Debt of Honor,” opens on a poker game, in which the dealer is played, without credit, by the familiar character actor Howard Smith:

Later, in one of the series’ most elaborate action sequences, the cops pursue a pair of gunmen who show up just long enough to engage in a fatal shoot-out with Detectives Flint (Paul Burke), Arcaro (Harry Bellaver), and Parker (Horace McMahon).  This is the about the best look you get at the faces of the two hoods:

The man on the left is Charles Dierkop, later a familiar face in movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (on which Marion Dougherty consulted, without credit) and a regular on Police Woman, as one of the Mutt-and-Jeff detectives who supported glamorous Pepper Anderson (Angie Dickinson).  After his “Debt of Honor” bit part, associate producer Sam Manners sent a memo to Dougherty, praising Dierkop for his helpfulness during the shoot and encouraging her to hire him again.  Dougherty must have seen merit in Dierkop as well, because the diminutive character actor turns up in bit parts in about a dozen Naked Citys.

And the fellow on the right in the image above?  His name is Jerry Ragni, and as far as I can tell, he is indeed the same Gerome Ragni who went on to co-write Hair.

Moving into the second season, Ernest Kinoy’s delightful, semi-comedic 1961 caper “The Hot Minerva” features Eugene Roche as a plainclothesman:

Someone at the Internet Movie Database noticed Roche’s unbilled appearance here, even though he’s squinting into the sun for all of his twenty seconds of screen time.  But Sharon Farrell’s blink-and-you-miss-it bit, as an actress who doesn’t seem to mind bumping into Detective Flint (series star Paul Burke), hasn’t been recorded on the internet until now:

Farrell soon skipped town and was playing leading roles on Hollywood TV shows less than a year later.

“A Case Study of Two Savages,” featuring Rip Torn and Tuesday Weld as a pair of hillbilly psychopaths on a bloody rampage across midtown, earned some notoriety in 1962 for its brutal and unexpected violence.  Torn has a scene where he buys a pistol from a cheerful young gun store clerk and then proceeds to wipe the smile off his face:

The clerk has several they’re-grooming-me-as-a-star close-ups and even a name – “Fred!” – so I expected him to turn up in the credits, but no dice.  If you’ve been keeping up with recent posts, you’ll recognize Fred’s real name – he is Tom Simcox, a star of Joseph Stefano’s The Haunted pilot.  Like Farrell, Simcox played his last bit part on Naked City before heading west and becoming one of TV’s minor leading men of the sixties.  (The Internet Movie Database may have scooped me on Simcox, but it also claims that Ned Glass appears in this episode as a bartender.  Wrong: the bartender is played by a less familiar character actor named Ken Konopka.)

“Today the Man Who Kills the Ants Is Coming” – perhaps the best of Howard Rodman’s wonderfully opaque episode titles – takes place mostly in the police squadroom.  Among the assembled cops there, we can catch quick glimpses of the Tony-nominated Broadway actor Rex Everhart (at right, with Milt Kamen):

. . . and the great African American actor Godfrey Cambridge (Watermelon Man), in the center of this crowd (wearing plainclothes):

Next time, we’ll continue our bit-player tour through the Naked City’s third and final season, which yields an ever more bountiful crop of uncredited young actors.

Hilda & Hildy

February 7, 2011

Who was Hilda Brawner?

If you’re a fellow devotee of the New York-based television dramas of the early sixties, I’ll bet you’ve wondered the same thing at some point.

Hilda was a pretty brunette who appeared on Broadway a lot, starting in the late fifties, and then in some of the last gasps of live television.  On stage, Elia Kazan directed her in Tennessee Williams’s Sweet Bird of Youth; the stars were Paul Newman, Geraldine Page, and Rip Torn, and Bruce Dern and Diana Hyland toiled alongside Hilda in the supporting cast.  For television, she was on The DuPont Show of the Month and on The Guiding Light for a while in 1963.  She played small parts on The Nurses and Route 66 (in the Sam Peckinpah-directed episode “Mon Petit Chou,” with Lee Marvin and playing second fiddle to French import Macha Meril, later the star of Godard’s Une Femme Mariée).

If you’re lucky enough to have seen Reginald Rose’s meticulous, devastating indictment of capital punishment, the “Metamorphosis” episode of The Defenders, then you will remember Hilda as the wife of Robert Duvall’s young death row inmate.  But it’s most likely that you recall Hilda from Naked City, which seemed to hold a particular affection for her.  She appeared on the show three times, first in secondary roles, then finally in a lead in “Alive and Still a Second Lieutenant,” latterly famous as Jon Voight’s television debut.  In “Alive,” Hilda played the girlfriend of Robert Sterling’s sweaty, ulcerous business executive (dare I say it? a Roger Sterling type; could the actor be the source of the name?), who spirals out of control following a violent road-rage incident.

Now that you’ve seen the screen grab above, you’ll have some idea of why I became mildly obsessed with Hilda — and with whatever happened to her.  Because Hilda’s last credit came in 1964, and there seemed to be no trace of her after that.  Did she die young?  Marry and raise four kids on Long Island?  Hook up with a network executive and ensconce herself on Central Park South?

Well, no, none of that, it seems.  Hilda Brawner, pretty ingenue, changed her name and became Hildy Brooks, busy character actress.  Hildy played supporting roles in lots of movies (The Anderson Tapes, Islands in the Stream, Playing For Keeps, Eating) and guest-starred in dozens of television episodes during the seventies and eighties.  I remember her as one-third of “A Very Strange Triangle,” a bisexual love story that was controversial when it aired on The Bold Ones in 1971.  Hildy still works – she’s in one of the last episodes of Nip/Tuck, one that I haven’t seen yet – although I couldn’t locate her for this piece.  Are you out there, Hildy?

Incidentally, although I seem to be the first person on the internet to put Hilda & Hildy together, I can’t really take credit for it.  Her name change is mentioned in a couple of memoirs, and Jeffrey Sweet’s Something Wonderful Right Away: An Oral History of The Second City & The Compass Players.  Plus, there was a big clue that I missed for years: under different names, Hilda and Hildy played the same role in the two recorded versions of O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, Sidney Lumet’s videotaped videotaped Play of the Week two-parter of 1960 and John Frankenheimer’s film from 1973.  Here she is in both.

Hilda Brawner (left) and Julie Bovasso as Margie and Pearl, 1960.

Hildy Brooks (left) and Nancy Juno Dawson as Margie and Pearl, 1973.  Below: Hildy Brooks in a 2007 episode of Boston Legal.

HildyBL

Paradise Cove Is Too Far: It could’ve been the name of one of the sixties TV dramas Paul Wendkos directed, during the years when shows like Naked City and Ben Casey competed to come up with the longest and most cryptic segment titles.  “Ten Days For a Shirt-Tail” and “The Wild, Wild, Wild Waltzing World” were actual television episodes from Wendkos’s resume.

But Paradise Cove Is Too Far is not one of his credits; it’s a note I found scrawled on my folder for Wendkos, at the end of a set of directions to his Malibu home.  I never made the trip to just-before-Paradise Cove.  For the last few years, I’d been talking to his wife, Lin Bolen Wendkos (the inspiration for Faye Dunaway’s character in Network, according to rumor, but hopefully not for the more terrifying aspects of that character) about meeting Paul for an interview.  But he’d suffered a stroke shortly before I got in touch and remained too frail for the kind of in-depth questioning that I would have needed to toss his way.  I kept calling every time I was in Los Angeles, hoping that I’d catch him on a good day, but I never did.  Wendkos died last month, on November 12.

Since I started making notes for this piece, good obituaries have appeared in the New York Times and the Independent, so I don’t feel obligated to outline the whole of Wendkos’s long career.  He began with a regional independent film, The Burglar, which is a common way for directors to enter television now, but was extremely unusual then.  The Burglar is an impeccable film noir.  It derives from a novel by David Goodis, the reclusive Philadelphia native whose home town figures essentially in most of his prose.  Wendkos also hailed from Philly and deployed his camera along its streets with a knowing eye; he was a perfect match for the material, as was surly sad-sack star Dan Duryea.

The Burglar led immediately to a feature contract and a number of mostly commercial films for Columbia, including Gidget and its two sequels, which led off most of his obits.  Wendkos disowned most of his studio films, considering them too compromised, although film buffs make claims for The Case Against Brooklyn and the western Face of a Fugitive.  The oddity from among Wendkos’s early films, another indie called Angel Baby, has a small cult following that may grow following its recent sort-of DVD release (in Warners’ new burn-on-demand library).  More on Angel Baby further down.

Once he escaped his Columbia pact, Wendkos spent most of a decade in episodic television.  He directed for most of the top shows – Naked City (his favorite), Ben Casey, Mr. Novak, Dr. Kildare, The Untouchables, I Spy, The Invaders, The FBI, the pilot for Hawaii Five-O – and, in the same 1968 interview that found Wendkos dyspeptic on the subject of his feature career, he expressed some guarded satisfaction about his work in the newer medium:

Television is a talk medium.  The cinema is basically a behavioral medium, an action medium, people do things to generate a story.  [I]n television they talk about doing things.  You’re dealing with incredible professionalism in this field.  All the scripts are tailored for five to seven day schedules and it’s so much easier to shoot characters talking about something than having them go through the actions.  Television has an affinity for the minutiae of emotions as opposed to the broad sweep, the spectacle, the action of a motion picture.  The difference is in the complexity of the mounting.

Though he directed a few more theatrical films (including the creepy The Mephisto Waltz, TV producer Quinn Martin’s only foray into features), Wendkos spent most of the seventies on directing made-for-television movies and mini-series, many of which were quite highly regarded.  The first of them, a chiller called Fear No Evil, continues to attract obsessive attention; the second, The Brotherhood of the Bell, was a look at a Skull and Bones-type organization that earned Wendkos a DGA award nomination.  The Legend of Lizzie Borden, with Elizabeth Montgomery wielding the axe, was a big deal in its day, and The Taking of Flight 847: The Uli Derickson Story netted Wendkos an Emmy nomination.  And so on.

I should, at this point, be able to offer some specific insights on what made Wendkos one of the best among his generation of TV directors.  But that’s tougher than it sounds, even for a specialist like myself.  It’s at least a measurable task to isolate the elements in scripts that make a TV writer unique – the repeated themes, the “voice” of the dialogue, the broader control that can come via elevation to producer or story editorship.  But to do the equivalent for an episodic director requires a close viewing of many segments, in close proximity, and even then the common elements may remain elusive, or mislead.  How does one grapple with the fact that, as a production necessity, episodic television directors (even the best ones) routinely had less involvement in pre- and post-production than the hackiest of movie directors?  How many presumably directorial choices were in fact the director’s, and how many were dictated by the producer or the star or the house style of a particular show?  Do his Invaders segments more closely resemble Wendkos’s segments of other series, or those Invaders segments helmed by others?  TV movies are easier – one can presume a bit more creative control on the part of the director – but most of them are maddeningly hard to come by these days.  Little wonder that the expert cinephiles at Dave Kehr’s blog struggled last month to define the Wendkos touch, even as they agreed upon their admiration for it.

Tise Vahimagi and the late Christopher Wicking, in their book The American Vein, contemplate this authorial question with mixed success, but I think their take on Wendkos is sound:

In his best work, there is a clinical detachment from his characters, which prevents any easy transference from the viewer.  His analytic view intensifies the feeling that we are watching insects under a microscope.  Some of the insects run bewildered from the various physical and psychological hounds on their trail, whilst others do the pursuing — implacable and imperious.  Wendkos’s framing of a cold world is usually meticulously correct, frustratingly proper.  It conveys a Langian sense of fate, against which individuals are powerless.

To which I’ll add only that the best dramatic TV directors of the sixties, of whom Wendkos was one, had to be equally proficient in their guidance of actors and in their use of the camera.  This is an obvious point.  But the fact that there are few television auteurs who managed to specialize in one area to the exclusion of the other (in the way that, say, Kazan was an “actor’s director” or Hitchcock a meticulous planner of compositions) makes it all the more difficult to differentiate amidst their work.

*

If I can’t offer a full analysis of Wendkos’s mise-en-scene, I can at least shed some light on one mystery which emerged from that discussion on Mr. Kehr’s site.  The authorship of Angel Baby has always been disputed in the reference books.  Though Wendkos bears the sole screen credit, the project originated with another director, Hubert Cornfield, who had a similarly uneven and interesting early screen career.  (Although when Wendkos segued into television, Cornfield simply disappeared).  The press reported during the film’s production in 1960 that appendicitis forced Cornfield off the film, without indicating how much of it he completed before Wendkos took over.  In that 1968 interview, Wendkos distanced himself a bit from Angel Baby – he claimed he was promised script changes which never materialized – but also neglected to say how much of the finished work actually bore his stamp.

This week I put in a call to Angel Baby’s lovely and talented star, Salome Jens, whose portrayal of the title character, a phony (or is she?) faith healer, is one of the film’s chief assets.  According to Jens, Cornfield was fired after one or two days (“he had a lot of ideas, but none of them worked”) and all of his footage was reshot by Wendkos.  Of the two credited cinematographers, Jens remembered Haskell Wexler as Wendkos’s primary collaborator; Jack Marta (soon to become the DP on TV’s Route 66) was there mainly to protect the picture’s union status.  (Wexler was not yet a member of the A.S.C.)

Angel Baby began shooting on location in Florida and Georgia, but was forced back to Los Angeles by uncooperative weather.  That may account for the film’s uneven mixture of steamy tropical authenticity and cramped, flimsy-looking sets.  Apart from Jens, the visual energy Wendkos brings to the film – lots of tracking shots and low angles, perhaps to suggest the faithful gazing skyward – is the best thing about it.

“I had a lovely experience with Paul,” said Jens, who also did an Untouchables for Wendkos two years later.  “I felt that he enhanced what it was I brought him.  I already had ideas about what it was I was going to do, and he was very supportive.  I loved Angel Baby.  I thought it was a sweet little film.”

*

There’s one discrepancy I haven’t resolved, and that’s the question of Wendkos’s age.  Most reference books report his date of birth as September 20, 1922, but the obits all state that he 84 rather than 87.  If I sort out the facts, I’ll report back.

UPDATE, 12/3/09: Lin Bolen Wendkos says that Paul’s birth certificate bears the 1925 date.  No one in the family seems to know how that 1922 business got started.  Intriguing!  Also, Paul was his middle name; his given name was Abraham.

QM Minus Two

September 17, 2009

vlcsnap-112254
Paul Burke and Nancy Malone in Naked City (“Requiem For a Sunday Afternoon,” 1961)

The grim reaper has been working overtime this month: Larry Gelbart, Army Archerd, Patrick Swayze, Henry Gibson, Zakes Mokae, Mary Travers, and the estimable Dick Berg, who granted me a good interview last year.  One of the weird coincidences in television history is that many of the major players – actors, writers, directors, crew – from the Quinn Martin factory are or, until recently, were still alive and available for interviews.  If you were writing about Bewitched or Ben Casey, you were out of luck, but if you tackled a QM show you could compile a decent production narrative by way of oral history.

Now death finally seems to be catching up with QM, claiming Philip Saltzman (a producer of The FBI and Barnaby Jones) a couple of weeks ago, and now both Paul Burke and George Eckstein over the weekend.  Burke, of course, was the second star of QM’s World War II drama 12 O’Clock High, replacing Robert Lansing, whom Martin found too diffident and remote to headline his series.  Burke had a more likeable, down-to-earth quality than Lansing, although he was a less gifted actor.  He was Leno to Lansing’s Letterman.

Burke had also been the replacement star of Naked City, taking over for James Franciscus in what the New York Times’s obituarist, Margalit Fox, called Naked City’s second season.  Technically that’s accurate, but Fox’s phrasing reminded me of how it has never felt true.  In my mind, there were two Naked Citys, the half-hour and the subsequent hour-long version.  Both sprang originally from the pen of the prolific Stirling Silliphant, and both took great advantage of the practical outdoor locations available in New York City.  But the casts were different (save for a pair of supporting players), a full TV season separated them, and the extended length of the later episodes occasioned a major shift in tone. 

The Los Angeles Times’s obit for Burke called Naked City “gritty,” but that’s more true of the Franciscus version, a lean, action-centric genre piece that turned Manhattan into a giant playground for foot and car chases.  The half-hour City had more in common with other contemporary half-hour crime melodramas – there were a wave of these made in New York City in the late fifties, including Big Story, Decoy, and Brenner – than with its own sixty-minute incarnation, which told character-based stories in a much wider tonal range.  The Stirling Silliphant of the first Naked City was the terse pulp writer of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and late films noir (The Lineup, Five Against the House).  By 1960, when the hour Naked City debuted, he was the loquacious beat poet of Route 66, a personal writer working an in an ever more idiosyncratic voice.  Because not even Silliphant was prolific enough to write both shows at once, he gradually delegated Naked City to Howard Rodman, whose scripts were even more lyrical and offbeat.

If I haven’t said too much about Paul Burke, it’s because he always struck me as a passive personality, just on the good side of dull.  That sounds like a knock, but it may have made Burke ideal for the hour Naked City, which required the regulars to step aside most weeks to let some grand stage actor – Eli Wallach or Lee J. Cobb or George C. Scott – take a whack at one of Silliphant’s or Rodman’s verbose eccentrics.  One of the best things about Naked City was the relationship between Burke’s Detective Adam Flint and his girlfriend Libby, played by Nancy Malone, that resided on the margins of the show.  The pair were friends as well as lovers, and quite clearly (thanks less to the dialogue than to the sidelong glances between the two actors) sleeping together.  Adam and Libby were one of TV’s first modern, urbane, adult couples: Rob and Laura Petrie without the farce.  Burke may have done his finest work in those scenes.

*

George Eckstein produced Banacek, Steven Spielberg’s Duel, and a number of other important television movies of the seventies.  But I suspect more TV fans remember him as a story editor and primary writer for Quinn Martin’s two finest hours, The Fugitive (for which Eckstein co-wrote the two-hour series finale) and The Invaders

Last month Ed Robertson, author of The Fugitive Recaptured, chastized me for expressing only modest enthusiasm toward Philip Saltzman’s Fugitive episodes, which included one of Ed’s favorites, “Cry Uncle.”  Well, I’m relieved to report that Eckstein wrote some of my favorite episodes, chiefly “The Survivors” (about Richard Kimble’s complex relationship with his in-laws), “See Hollywood and Die,” and “This’ll Kill You.” 

The latter two paired Kimble, the innocent man on the lam, with actual hoodlums of one variety or another, allowing Eckstein to zero in one of the more intriguing aspects of the show’s premise: how does one live among the underworld of criminals without becoming one of them?  “This’ll Kill You” showcases Mickey Rooney as a washed-up, mobbed-up comedian, whose infatuation with a treacherous moll (the great Nita Talbot) leads him to his doom.  It seems like every TV drama of the sixties wrapped a segment specifically around Rooney’s fireball energy; some were dynamite (Arrest and Trial’s “Funny Man With a Monkey,” with Rooney as a desperate heroin-popper) and some disastrous (The Twilight Zone’s “Last Night of a Jockey,” with Rooney as, well, an annoying short guy).  Eckstein’s seedy little neo-noir gave Rooney some scenery worth chewing.

I interviewed Eckstein briefly in 1998 while researching my article on The Invaders.  Eckstein is only quoted in the published version a few times, because he was incredibly circumspect.  Not only would he not say anything bad about anyone, he’d barely say anything at all about them.  I suspect Eckstein agreed to talk to me only because I had gotten his number from another gentleman of the old school, Alan Armer, who had been his boss on the two QM shows.  I wish I could have asked him more – especially now, as I am just reaching the point in the run of The Untouchables (which I had never seen before its DVD release) when Eckstein, making his TV debut, became a significant contributor.  It’s always a race against time.

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Actor Clement Fowler died on August 16 at the age of 84.  The death notice in the New York Times refers to Fowler as a “working actor.”  That’s a frank expression, one I often see applied to actors who manage (barely) to earn a full-time living from their craft, but never receive much recognition from the public. 

To be even more frank, Fowler possessed the face of a character actor – long, narrow, with a small chin and suspicious little eyes – and in his recorded performances he created a gallery of hustlers, gangsters, and weirdos.  Below, in the tacky suit that seems a rather desperate cry for attention from the costume department, Fowler plays a bookie on Route 66.

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George Maharis, the blacklisted actor David Clarke, Clement Fowler, and Martin Milner in Route 66 (“The Opponent,” 1961)

Born in Detroit in 1924, Fowler was performing in New York by 1950.  His resume of Broadway and off-Broadway roles ran to arm’s length, and included a Rosencrantz to Richard Burton’s Hamlet (a role he reprised in the filmed version of that production) and George in a Hartford staging of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  Like Chris Gampel, an actor I wrote about last year who had a similar career, Fowler committed himself to the theatre and to New York; his film and television appearances are a patchy index of shows filmed on location in the east.  Also like Gampel, he began in live television and ended on Law & Order.

Among the dramatic anthologies, Fowler played on Studio One and Robert Montgomery Presents, Danger and Suspense, Omnibus and The Hallmark Hall of Fame.  Fowler’s parts were often small, and surely there are many more from the live era which will remain unrecorded.  Soaps (The Doctors; Loving; The Guiding Light, which survives him by just a month) fill in more of the gaps.  The spate of gritty shows – Decoy, The Defenders, Mr. Broadway – that emerged from the Big Apple in the late fifties and early sixties also gave Fowler, with his rough features, a chance at some larger than usual roles.  On Big Story, he played “The Phantom of the Pennsylvania Turnpike,” and on Naked City he was “The Bumper,” the contract killer who bumped off John McIntyre’s Lieutenant Muldoon in a fiery car chase.  It was one of the earliest occasions in which a television series killed off a regular character, and as such I suppose it is Fowler’s historical claim to fame.

Fowler worked for Scorsese in The Age of Innocence, and played Steve Guttenberg’s father in Diner.  There are uncredited movie roles, too, apparently in Robert Mulligan’s The Pursuit of Happiness and the early television film The Borgia Stick.  He was sometimes billed as Clem Fowler, and at present the standard internet sources split his credits between both names.

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Clement Fowler and Luther Adler in Naked City (“A Memory of Crying,” 1961)

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