Corrections Department #6: Stryker Redux
April 5, 2011
No. At least, not quite.
Leslie Stevens took sole screen credit for directing Stryker, aka “Fanfare For a Death Scene,” the trashy Daystar Productions pilot we examined earlier this month. However, Stryker shared an unfortunate fate with The Haunted, the other Daystar pilot I wrote about in that piece: both saw their original director fired and replaced by the producer, arguably to the detriment of the finished product. In fact, Stryker’s production proved far more chaotic than that of The Haunted.
The initial director of Stryker was actually Walter Grauman, a highly regarded episodic and telefilm director with a forceful, action-driven style and a resume the size of the phone book. Though his credits also include Matinee Theater, Naked City, and over fifty Murder She Wrote segments, Grauman was best known for his association with producer Quinn Martin. He established the look of The Untouchables, directed the pilot for The Fugitive, and helmed many episodes of QM’s later detective shows, especially The Streets of San Francisco and Barnaby Jones.
Grauman worked on Stryker for about half of its official production schedule, before Leslie Stevens, in his capacity as producer, fired Grauman and took over as director.
Initially, Grauman was hired to direct Stryker in July 1963, while he was on location in England directing the feature 633 Squadron. Stryker, set to start filming on October 7, was delayed for a week and a half, and then another six weeks, for reasons that are unclear. During the hiatus, Grauman directed a single episode of Burke’s Law, but nothing else that fall; likely the delay cost him work, as it was too late for Grauman to book any other jobs during the original shoot dates.
When filming finally began on December 9, 1963, Grauman’s original director of photography was a journeyman named Monroe Askins, whose most substantial TV credits were a number of cheap action shows (Highway Patrol, Bat Masterson, Sea Hunt) for Ziv. The pilot had a budget of $256,000 and a ten-day schedule, of which Grauman shot at least six days. Grauman directed interiors at the Goldwyn Studios (also home to The Outer Limits) and exteriors, all at night, on MGM Lot #2, the Bel Air Sands Hotel (off Sunset Boulevard next to the 405 Freeway), and the Huntington Hartford Theater (now the Ricardo Montalban Theater, on Vine Street between Hollywood and Selma).
(The Hartford Theater provided both the exteriors and interiors for the climactic concert sequence. The Bel Air Sands probably doubled for the exterior of Stryker’s apartment, and the MGM backlot – where most of the exteriors for The Outer Limits were staged – was likely the site for the opening scenes outside the asylum, among others.)
At the beginning of his second week on Stryker, Grauman reported to work for more location shooting at the Wilshire-Comstock Apartments in Westwood (later the site of Freddie Prinze’s suicide). Leslie Stevens was already there, and Grauman was informed that his services would no longer be needed. Askins was also replaced, by The Outer Limits’ primary cinematographer, Conrad Hall. Hall had just wrapped on “The Bellero Shield,” The Outer Limits’ final segment of the year before a two-week Chrismas hiatus, on December 16, and it is possible that his availability triggered the timing of the personnel changes.
Why was Grauman fired? We may never know: Grauman, apparently, was never fully informed, and Stevens died in 1998. The two men had never worked together before, and it is possible that Stevens took exception to some aspect of Grauman’s distinctive style. But Stevens, on Stoney Burke and The Outer Limits, favored directors who took visual chances, and who shared Grauman’s love of bold compositions and aggressive camera moves: Leonard Horn, Tom Gries, Paul Stanley. Stevens himself worked that way. It is hard to fathom any obvious aesthetic clash between the two men.
Here is a purely speculative hypothesis: that Stevens saw the first week’s rushes, recognized the deficiencies in the script to an extent that he hadn’t before, and felt that the only hope for salvaging the turkey that was Stryker was to take the reins himself. But whatever Stevens thought he could add obviously didn’t help.
(A simple clash of egos is another possibility. Grauman and Stevens were both known as strong personalities.)
As Stevens struggled to assemble something usable out of the mess of Stryker, the pilot went over schedule and far over budget (Grauman estimated, perhaps too generously, a final tally of $1 million). In addition to finishing the script, Stevens reshot most of Grauman’s work. During a recent viewing of Stryker, Grauman recognized only some of the Huntington Hartford sequences as his own.
For Grauman, being fired represented a psychological blow, but not a major career setback. In January of 1964, he directed some of his finest work, the “Angels Travel on Lonely Roads” two-parter for The Fugitive (featuring Eileen Heckart as Sister Veronica, a performance so memorable that the character was brought back three years later) and a pair of Kraft Suspense Theaters. One of those, “Knight’s Gambit,” was a routine pilot that didn’t sell, but the other, “Their Own Executioners,” was an extraordinary sophisticated piece of work, featuring a script by Luther Davis (Grauman’s collaborator on his best film, Lady in a Cage) and a deeply moving performance by Herschel Bernardi.
One reason I filed this piece in the dreaded “Corrections Department” is that I committed a lazy gaffe in the original Stryker essay. I included the bumper-level shot of a car passing the camera in a list of typical Conrad Hall compositions, but in fact, it is a signature Walter Grauman shot; so much so that other directors I have interviewed have gently mocked Grauman’s fondness for low-angled framings of automobiles and buildings. I love these images – in an abstract way they express the prosperity, the urgency of the Camelot era – and they are very much Walter’s.
The camera starts below Richard Egan’s Lincoln Continental . . . and then tilts up to emphasize the enormity of his digs. I believe that Stryker’s office exterior, seen here, was actually the Wilshire-Comstock building, so this may have been one of the last shots Grauman completed.
Author’s Note: Although I have interviewed Walter Grauman on several occasions, we never discussed Stryker. Nearly all the information in this post, including the initial tip regarding Grauman’s involvement, was contributed by a reader and fellow historian who prefers to remain anonymous. The contributor’s sources were his own interviews with Grauman, and Grauman’s papers at the USC Cinema-Television Library. His generosity in allowing me to publish this research is gratefully acknowledged.