October 14, 2014
Today’s New York Times has an obituary for Stanley Chase, a producer best known for mounting a key Off-Broadway production, a staging of The Threepenny Opera that ran for six years in the late fifties, and for the terrific science fiction film Colossus: The Forbin Project. The Times also credits Chase as a producer of television’s The Fugitive and Peyton Place, and for Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theater, specifically of that series’ Emmy-winning adaptation of Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.”
But those television credits are largely inaccurate.
Chase did not produce either The Fugitive or Peyton Place, and his brief stint on The Chrysler Theater post-dated “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” by several years. The Times records that Chase launched The Threepenny Opera from a phone booth in a Manhattan cafeteria, and one must wonder if the newspaper has fallen for the sort of resume puffery that one might expect from such an intrepid hustler. Did the Times‘s latest round of layoffs include all the fact-checkers?
Here is a more accurate rundown of Stanley Chase’s career in television.
Chase graduated from New York University in 1949 and claimed (in 1955 and 1958 biographies that appeared in programs for The Threepenny Opera) to have founded and edited a “TV trade weekly” called Tele-Talent. The same biography places Chase on the staff of Star Time, a DuMont variety show that ran from September 1950 to February 1951, as a writer and associate producer. At some point between 1951 and 1954, Chase worked for CBS, where he met Carmen Capalbo, who would become his producing partner on The Threepenny Opera. The Times obit and other sources describe Chase as a story editor for Studio One, at the time CBS’s most prestigious dramatic anthology; the Threepenny Opera bios claim only that Chase worked in the CBS story department for “a number of years.” Studio One had no credited story editor prior to Florence Britton (starting in 1954), and a 1962 Back Stage article characterizes Chase’s role in slightly more modest terms: he “was a script consultant to the CBS-TV story department and assisted with such shows as Studio One, Suspense, and Danger during 1952 and 1953.” A profile of chase by Luke Ford (author of The Producers: A Study in Frustration), based on Ford’s interview with Chase, offers an even humbler description of Chase’s CBS job (at least at the outset): messenger.
During the run of The Threepenny Opera, Chase produced three plays on Broadway and a Harold Arlen musical, Free and Easy, which closed after a European tour in 1960. After that, and a failed road company of The Threepenny Opera, he turned his attention again to television. In 1962, through his company Jaguar Productions, Chase developed a pilot that ended up at United Artists Television; called Dreams of Glory (and later retitled Inside Danny Baker), the proposed series was based on cartoons by William Steig (the creator of Shrek) and scripted by a pre-The Producers, pre-Get Smart Mel Brooks, at the time best known for his 2000 Year Old Man routine with Carl Reiner. According to UCLA’s catalog record for Inside Danny Baker, Chase shared a creator credit with Brooks, a configuration that would likely be prohibited under modern WGA rules. Chase told Ford that he and Brooks were sometime roommates, sharing an apartment in Manhattan and a Jaguar Mark IX in Los Angeles.
In May 1962, Chase joined ABC as a “director of programming development,” reporting to vice president Daniel Melnick. (Chase’s predecessor in that position: Bob Rafelson.) The Fugitive and Peyton Place were developed for ABC during Chase’s fifteen months as an executive at the network; but, significantly, those series were put together in Hollywood, and Chase was stationed in New York. Even if Chase did have some input, it’s far from customary for network suits to claim credit as producers. “We are looking for good shows and we’re working on some new ideas,” Chase told Back Stage in April 1963 – but just what ideas, exactly, seem to be lost to history.
In August 1963, Chase left ABC for a position as production executive for Screen Gems Television (still on the East Coast), where he developed a comedy pilot that would have been directed by Burgess Meredith and starred Zero Mostel. By the end of 1964, Chase was a free agent again, putting together another unsold pilot, Happily Ever After (renamed Dream Wife), starring Shirley Jones and Ted Bessell. Again, UCLA records Chase as a non-writing co-creator, alongside comedy writer Bob Kaufman.
In 1966, Chase – having finally relocated to Los Angeles – signed on with Universal, where he was assigned to the prestigious but fading filmed dramatic anthology Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theater. Chase came on the series at the tail end of the third season, and went into the show’s final year as one of four alternating producers under executive producer Gordon Oliver. The original group reporting to Oliver consisted of Jack Laird, Gordon Hessler, Ron Roth, and Chase; later Bert Mulligan and Paul Mason joined or replaced them. As if that weren’t fragmented enough, the twenty-six segments of Chrysler‘s fourth season included at least six produced outside of Oliver’s unit; it is possible that Chase worked on fewer than half a dozen episodes.
The five Chrysler episodes that I can confirm as produced by Chase are: “The Faceless Man” (an unsold pilot for a Jack Lord espionage drama called Jigsaw, later expanded into the theatrical feature The Counterfeit Killer; and yet again, Chase appears to have added his name to that of the pilot’s writer, Harry Kleiner, as a co-creator); “Time of Flight,” a Richard Matheson script with elements of science fiction; “A Time to Love,” an updating of Henry James’s Washington Square into a “jet age love story set in Malibu Beach” (New York World Journal Tribune) starring Claire Bloom and Maximilian Schell; “Verdict For Terror”; and “Deadlock,” an adaptation of an Ed McBain story that was the final new episode to air. “Time of Flight” was also a pilot, in contention as a series (to star Jack Kelly) for the 1967-68 season – and once again, per Billboard, Chase managed to couple his name to Matheson’s as a co-creator.
(“One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” was not one of Chase’s episodes: It was made in 1963, when Chase was still at ABC, and bears the creative stamp of Chrysler‘s original producer, Dick Berg. The teleplay for “Denisovich” is credited to Chester Davis – a pseudonym for screenwriters Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene – and Mark Rodgers, an ex-cop who was a protege of Berg’s.)
Joseph Sargent, the director of “Time of Flight,” also directed the two features that Chase produced for Universal following the demise of Chrysler: the quickie The Hell With Heroes and Colossus, which began gestating as early as April 1967, when Chase hired James Bridges to adapt the D. F. Jones novel upon which the film is based. Chase also developed another feature, a rock musical with tunes by Jim Webb, that never got off the ground, and optioned Matheson’s novel Hell House, with Richard C. Sarafian slated to direct. (The precise timing of the latter effort is unclear, but it had to fall between “Time of Flight” and The Legend of Hell House, director John Hough’s 1973 version of the Matheson novel.)
Chase was often at odds with the studio over Colossus, which was shot on a relatively modest budget ($2 million) but languished in post production for eight months of special effects tinkering. Universal execs had no faith in either the no-name cast that Chase insisted upon or the title, which it changed from Colossus 1980 to simply The Forbin Project (Chase: “probably because someone in a black suit out there thought Colossus sounded like a Joe Levine epic” – which it does, admittedly). At the producer’s prodding, the film finally crept into theaters for a New York test run in April 1970, but not until after a mortified Chase saw it playing as the in-flight entertainment during a commercial flight.
Good reviews led to a wider release for Colossus in the fall, more than a year and a half after principal photography, by which time Chase – vindicated, but perhaps with too many burned bridges behind him – had left Universal. Chase formed an independent company and optioned Stephen Schneck‘s cult novel The Night Clerk in 1971. That film was never made, but Schneck worked as a screenwriter on at least two of the offbeat features Chase produced in the seventies, which include: Peter Sasdy’s Westworld knockoff Welcome to Blood City; the Peter Fonda trucker opus High-Ballin’; and Donald Shebib’s Fish Hawk, which unfortunately is not about a creature that’s half-fish, half-hawk. (Will Sampson plays the title character, a Native American.)
Chase also produced movies for television, including Grace Kelly, a foredoomed biopic with Cheryl Ladd as the movie star princess; An American Christmas Carol (yes, the one with Henry Winkler); The Guardian, a critique of vigilantism written by William Link and Richard Levinson; and one of the most significant telefilms of the seventies: the Emmy-winning Fear on Trial, about radio personality John Henry Faulk’s lawsuit to expose the blacklist.
Chase’s papers reside at UCLA, and its finding aid contains a biography that is more fact-oriented than the Times‘s (although its chronology is slightly garbled). The UCLA biography reports that Chase was born Stanley Cohen, suggesting yet another inaccuracy in the Times obit, which claims that the producer’s parents were named Hyman and Sarah Chase.
In all, Chase’s career in television was far from undistinguished. It just doesn’t bear much resemblance to the one that the Times describes.
February 20, 2014
On Monday The A.V. Club ran a piece called Beyond True Detective: 17 Long Takes Worth Your Attention, to which I contributed two capsules. They aren’t bylined individually, but I wrote the bit on the John Frankenheimer Climax episode and the one on Peyton Place, in which I managed to work in yet another plug for the amazing imagery of episodic director Walter Doniger.
This article was inspired by a single, climactic shot in the fourth episode of the HBO drama True Detective. That shot garnered a lot of attention: it staged a complex, six-minute action sequence without a single cut, and it went “viral” in a way that was a little surprising. For most of the year television critics usually can’t be bothered to focus on television as a visual medium: it’s all plot, plot, plot, and occasionally some notes on the acting. All of a sudden, we spent a week thinking about television formally.
As encouraging as that is, it has a down side. For one thing, we’re not even used to talking about the form of television. The A.V. Club piece is a case in point: even after some useful dickering on Twitter over the distinctions between a long take and a tracking shot and a handheld or Steadicam shot and a sequence shot (the most accurate term for what was being listed there, although it’s not used much outside of film school), someone made an editorial decision to use “long shot” as an umbrella term for all of the above. But “long shot” actually means something different: it describes an unrelated type of composition in which the camera is a certain distance from the subject of the shot.
As the tentativeness of the first paragraph suggests, it’s hard to pin down just what kind of long take we’re interested in discussing. A long take can also be completely static, and as such it’s likely to convey a very different (even diametrically opposite) meaning than the frenetic True Detective shot. In Frankenheimer’s Playhouse 90 “Days of Wine and Roses,” the scene in which the two principal characters fall in love runs for seven minutes and five seconds, with only a handful of subtle camera moves. The emphasis is on the actors; the purpose of the duration is let them perform without interruptions, and to prevent cuts from distracting viewers from the subtlety of their work. The True Detective-style long take poses a wholly different set of challenges for the actors, more technical than emotional: the priorities are timing and hitting marks with precision. On Peyton Place, where Doniger tried on a regular basis to execute scenes in a single takes, the actors were sharply split in their preference for his method versus the more traditional approach of carving the action into smaller pieces.
When the subject of long takes in television first came up, I grew frustrated at how ill-equipped I was to write about them on short notice. I do have a personal roster of favorite early TV directors who regularly mounted this kind of ambitious, exuberant filmmaking within the tight time and money constraints of episodic television: not just Frankenheimer and Doniger, about whom I’ve written at length, but also sixties action masters Walter Grauman, Sutton Roley, and John Peyser. If I’d had better notes or more time, I would have loved to get in one of a handheld shot from one of Peyser’s (or Vic Morrow’s) Combat episodes, or a tracking shot from a Mannix or a QM show signed by Roley. And I didn’t recall until the eleventh hour the fondness that Elliot Silverstein expressed for long takes when I interviewed him. Silverstein described a long, complicated master that he did for Dr. Kildare – and his fury when he discovered that the editors inserted freeze-frames into it, in keeping with the show’s house style for its opening act credits.
Long takes were rare in early filmed television, because of the kind of obstacle Rosenberg encountered. Producers often competed with their directors for control over how a show looked. Even if a director staged scenes in a single master, the producer and the editors could cut away from it in post production. To ensure that a long take (or any other kind of adventurous set-up) was the only take that could be used, a director had to be forceful enough to resist a producer’s or a studio’s demands for more coverage (that is, more shots of the same action from different angles). Silverstein made a concerted effort to insert himself into the editing process (the DGA guaranteed a TV director’s right to supervise the initial cut of his episodes), but he was an exception. Apart from the question of whether or not the director was welcome in the editing room, many directors simply couldn’t afford to pass up an assignment on another episode just to hang around the editing room on the previous one.
Originally, I opened that blurb on Climax with this quote from Frankenheimer: “What can I do that’s going to be startling, that’s going to call attention to this show as opposed to every other piece of crap they’ve done on this thing?” What’s significant about that line is Frankenheimer’s bluntness about using the long take purely as an attention-getting device – a stunt. Confronted with material he didn’t like, Frankenheimer chose to overpower it with style. When I polled a few colleagues about possible shots to use in this discussion, Jonah Horwitz (a PhD candidate specializing in film and early television at UW-Madison) took issue with the whole premise. “I find the whole ‘my long take can beat your long take’ topic macho and boring,” he wrote. Long takes can be a kind of dick-measuring contest between competitive, egocentric filmmakers (a description that certainly applies to the live TV anthology group). The more complex the shot, the more it invites a spectator to disengage from the art and marvel at the technique – which is exactly what happened with that True Detective shot. As with many of Breaking Bad’s stylistic choices, the goal seems to be awesomeness rather than rigor or seriousness.
But I don’t share Horwitz’s exasperation with long take mania, and not just because I enjoy the most gonzo shots as their own spectacle. Another contributor to the A.V. Club piece mentioned “The Stingiest Man in Town,” the Alcoa Hour Christmas story directed by Daniel Petrie, and wrote this: “Many programs in the Golden Age Of Television were filmed in long takes for one simple reason: Filmed live as they were, editing had to be kept at a minimum, and anything too complicated (such as a massive musical number that also wanted to give close-ups of the singers) had to be carefully choreographed, the actors and cameramen moving in tandem with each other to achieve the maximum effect.” The problem with that is the part about editing. While there were some limitations (like studio space) that made long takes appealing to live television directors, editing wasn’t one of them. Directors understood quickly how much of their power to guide the viewer’s eye across a small, monochrome screen came out of those cuts from one perspective to another. And cutting stroked the ego as much as any showy long take: no director ever felt more directorial than when he was standing in the control room, snapping out the show’s rhythm with his fingers as he called out each cut from one camera to another: “Take one, take two, take one, take three….” The conditions of live television were more hospitable toward long takes than they were on film, and they are common on Danger and Climax and to a lesser extent Playhouse 90. But the long take was never a default mode in anthology drama – it was always one of an array of stylistic choices.
The popularization of the Steadicam in the eighties meant something of a resurgence in long takes on television (as it did in the cinema, where Scorsese and DePalma fetishized them). If handheld photography had originally been a consistent stylistic component mainly in series like Combat and The Senator, which cultivated a documentary-style realism, the Steadicam made it possible for handheld work to be more smoothly integrated with fixed-camera shots. Steadicam photography was faster and more versatile than tracking shots could be; most television shows’ sets weren’t built to accommodate the laying of track or the passage of the camera through every nook and cranny. (If you study the Walter Doniger sequence that’s embedded in the A.V. Club piece, you’ll notice that the camera doesn’t actually have the mobility to follow the actors very far into the set. Doniger covers for that limitation ably with a lot of lateral movement, and by pushing in and out repeatedly.) Director Thomas Schlamme’s fabled “walk and talk” aesthetic, tailored to put Aaron Sorkin’s verbose dialogue on its feet, defined The West Wing and has carried over somewhat into Sorkin’s current endeavor, The Newsroom, via Greg Mottola and other directors. And John Wells, the perennially underrated auteur who succeeded Sorkin as The West Wing’s showrunner, has made even more extensive use of the long-take Steadicam look, which became ER’s signature technique for conveying the bustle of a busy hospital. Wells’s Third Watch did an episode in which each act was a single take. The A.V. Club piece, and some of the readers’ comments, cover these recent works in detail. One of the unstated takeaways from that list is, perhaps, that that one True Detective isn’t such a big deal after all.
My first piece for The AV Club ran last Friday. It’s a look at the ritual of preempting or editing television shows in the aftermath of tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombing – a ritual that extends back at least as far as the murder of John F. Kennedy. (That’s Martin Milner above, in the strange Route 66 episode “I’m Here to Kill a King,” which was meant to air on November 22, 1963, and bears some disturbing parallels to the assassination.)
As I was researching the aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination, I noticed that the original broadcast dates for at least two of the preempted television episodes have been recorded incorrectly in nearly every reference source. Presumably that’s because historians consulted newspapers’ TV listings without discovering that sudden changes were made after the listings were published. As a sort of wonky footnote, I thought I would untangle those errors here.
Channing, the one-season college drama with Jason Evers and Henry Jones, had an episode entitled “A Window on the War” slated for November 27, five days after the president’s death. An early work by the noted screenwriter David Rayfiel, who was adapting his play P.S. 193, “A Window on the War” involved an adult student’s plot to kill a professor (who is sort of a variation on the teacher character in All Quiet on the Western Front). The subject matter led ABC to push the episode back two weeks, to December 11. The episode that was substituted was Juarez Roberts‘s boxing story “Beyond His Reach,” which had evidently been penciled in for December 11. Wikipedia supplies the correct dates but the Internet Movie Database and the Classic TV Archive still have it wrong.
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour had planned to show “The Cadaver,” a Michael Parks-starring episode about a practical joke involving medical students and a cadaver, as the first post-Kennedy episode, on November 29. Instead, the episode that had been preempted on the night of the assassination, “Body in the Barn,” was shown on November 29, and “The Cadaver” (evidently because of its morbid subject matter) was pushed back until January 17. Most references claim that “The Cadaver” aired as scheduled on November 29 and that “Body in the Barn” didn’t resurface until July 3, in the middle of summer reruns. That’s wrong.
What’s interesting here is that, in their book The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion, Martin Grams Jr. and Patrick Wikstrom figured this out and printed the correct dates, with an explanation as to why they were given incorrectly elsewhere. That book was published in 2000, and yet all of the data aggregation sites on the internet – the IMDb, Wikipedia, TV.com, Epguides, the Classic TV Archive – still reflect the incorrect dates. It’s a good example of how sites like those tend to grab the low-hanging fruit and overlook more obscure sources. Rely upon them at your own peril.
As documentation, I’ve reproduced some pages from some relevant TV listings below. First, an early Los Angeles Times listing for Channing‘s “A Window on the War” on November 27:
Then a New York Times listing for November 27, giving the evening’s episode correctly as “Beyond His Reach”:
A Chicago Tribune listing for “A Window on the War” on its eventual broadcast date, December 11:
A Hartford Courant listing for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour‘s “Body in the Barn” on its original airdate, November 29 (no date is given on the clipping, but the episode titles for other series correspond to 11/29):
“The Cadaver” debuting on January 17, 1964, per the Los Angeles Times:
This New York Times TV listing for July 3 is one of several that declares “Body in the Barn” a repeat:
Also in the AV Club article, I mentioned that Espionage switched around its schedule in order to delay an assassination-themed story. That episode was “A Camel to Ride, a Sheep to Eat,” which was pushed back from November 27 to December 18. “The Light of a Friendly Star,” originally scheduled for December 4, was moved up a week. I’m not sure of the original sequence for the episodes in between, but the Classic TV Archive has the final airdates right. (Apropos of nothing, can I tell you how annoyed I am that the British DVD release of Espionage went out of print before I snagged one?)
May 8, 2012
Last month, in a buffoonishly McCarthyesque moment, Representative Allen West (R-Fla.) claimed in a town hall meeting that there were “about 78 to 81” communists in the United States House of Representatives. Asked to support that claim, West’s office could provide only some qualified (and unreciprocated) statements of support for the Congressional Progressive Caucus that appeared in a Communist Party USA publication. The Communist Party itself confirmed that it lists no members of Congress in its membership rolls. (If only….)
Also last month, a post on the UCLA Library Special Collections Blog announced that it has made available the papers of television pioneer Roy Huggins. The headline of the post characterized Huggins as a “blacklisted writer,” and the article went on to offer a description of Huggins’s relationship to the blacklist so artfully sanitized that it deserves to be called Orwellian:
In September of 1952, Huggins was summoned before the infamous U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to answer questions about his brief membership in the Communist Party. He continued to write under his own name, and under the name “John Thomas James,” combining the names of his three sons.
It would seem that, more than two decades after the demise of the Cold War and the end of anti-communist hysteria, the subject still encourages the most basic and blatant distortions of fact.
Roy Huggins was a gifted television producer. With Maverick, The Fugitive, and The Rockford Files, all of which were largely his conception, Huggins proved that ongoing television series could defy genre conventions – could have authority figures as villains and defiers of authority as protagonists – and still attract an audience. The other series that bore Huggins’s imprint – 77 Sunset Strip, Run For Your Life, The Outsider, the Lawyers segments of The Bold Ones, Alias Smith and Jones – were less adventurous, but were consistently smart and well-produced.
Roy Huggins was also a fink.
On September 29, 1952, Huggins appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee and gave the names of nineteen colleagues and acquaintances whom he believed to be present or former members of the Communist Party. He gave the names with the full knowledge that, if they hadn’t been already, the careers of those men and women would be destroyed.
Huggins stood behind the defense that all of the names he supplied were already known to the Committee; in other words, he wasn’t fingering anyone whose life hadn’t already been wrecked. Huggins even worked that rationalization into his testimony (which is fascinating to read), although it does not bear up under scrutiny: if the handy appendix in Robert Vaughn’s Only Victims is accurate, Huggins was the only witness to name the optometrist Howard Davis in public testimony, and a few of the other eighteen were fingered in the HUAC record for the first time by Huggins (and then subsequently repeated by other friendly witnesses).
And of course, as Huggins later articulated, the actual names were irrelevant. HUAC was not interested in the names (which its investigators, and the FBI, already had); it was interested in legitimizing itself through the ritual of naming. Anyone who gave names bolstered the witchhunters’ influence, and prolonged the blacklist for everyone. Huggins thought he was beating HUAC at its own game (not just in his choice of names, but through several more arcane gambits that I haven’t gone into here). But, in the end, the House won.
It’s not my desire to rake Huggins over the coals again. Huggins himself was blunt, and repentant, on the subject of HUAC. In an eloquent interview in Victor Navasky’s Naming Names, Huggins called his cooperative testimony “a failure of nerve” and said that he was “ashamed of myself.”
The problem is that, no matter how much UCLA might like to, it is impossible to separate Huggins’s HUAC record from his later success. The inconvenient truth is that his career thrived during the era of the blacklist. Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, and even The Fugitive came about during the decade when anyone who defied HUAC could not work in Hollywood. Had Huggins chosen not to give names, none of those shows would exist.
So, if we return to that post on the UCLA blog, some annotation is in order. In no way was Huggins a “blacklisted writer.” He has screenwriting credits in every year between 1948 and 1953, and directed a film, Hangman’s Knot, which was released in late 1952. Huggins worked steadily before the HUAC subpoena arrived, and his cooperation was immediate (or very nearly so). Some of the “late friendlies” were in fact sad figures who endured years of unemployability before finally capitulating to HUAC (in other words, they could accurately be described both as blacklisted and as friendly witnesses), but Huggins was not one of these. It is an insult to anyone who truly was blacklisted to apply the term to Huggins.
Further, the placement and wording of the UCLA post’s discussion of Huggins’s pseudonym implies that, like many authentically blacklisted writers, Huggins had to write under a false name during the Red Scare. In fact, he didn’t start using “John Thomas James” until the mid-sixties, and for reasons that had nothing to do with the blacklist. (Huggins described the pseudonym, which he often used on stories that were fleshed out into teleplays by other writers, as an act of modesty. A few writers I’ve talked to have suggested that Huggins was a credit grabber, and used the pseudonym to make it less obvious.)
It would be bad enough if some random blogger on the internet (like me) got these facts wrong. For an academic institution like UCLA to whitewash history in this way is inexcusable – particularly since the same misinformation (or disinformation) has also been recorded for posterity in the library’s official finding aid for the Huggins collection. This post – which is bylined by Peggy Alexander, a Performing Arts Special Collections Librarian at UCLA – betrays either an embarrassing ignorance of its subject or, perhaps, an even more dismaying inclination to obscure the facts and to rehabilitate Huggins for later generations who have (fairly or not) come to view the friendly witnesses as cowards and opportunists. If it’s the latter case, then UCLA shows incredibly poor judgment. Since when is it the job of libraries to act as press agents for its depositors? Not to mention that Huggins himself was frank about his role in the blacklist. Why should the curators of his legacy be any less so?
And finally, I submitted an early draft of the above as a comment on the UCLA blog last week. As of now, it is still “awaiting moderation” and not visible to the public. I guess that’s the internet version of getting gaveled down by J. Parnell Thomas.
Edited slightly for clarity on 5/9/12 – SB.
December 9, 2011
Yesterday’s New York Times has an obituary for Marion Dougherty, an influential casting director who spent nearly two decades working in television before transitioning into feature films (including many important ones, such as Midnight Cowboy and The Sting).
It seems to be par for the course that television is a minefield even the most experienced obit writers can’t get right. Actually, the Times has already issued a correction with regard to Dougherty’s movie credits – initially the writer, Dennis Hevesi, added two films that she didn’t cast, Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate, to her resume. But I’m guessing we won’t see a correction addressing the two pretty obvious errors I spotted with regard to Dougherty’s television work.
The first suggests that Route 66 and Naked City, the two shows that really put Dougherty on the map as a discoverer of important talent, ran from 1954 to 1968. If only. The correct dates are 1960 to 1964. (Dougherty didn’t work on the earlier 1958 season of Naked City, which was cast less imaginatively by a West Coast has-been named Jess Kimmel). Although Dougherty had cast Warren Beatty on Kraft as early as 1957, it was on Naked City and Route 66 that she routinely gave early exposure to young Off-Broadway actors who would become some of the superstars of the seventies: Robert Duvall, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Cicely Tyson, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Alan Alda, Bruce Dern, Ed Asner.
The second error is an internal contradiction: Hevesi writes that Dougherty was the casting director for Kraft Television Theater beginning in 1950 (I believe this is accurate, although it could be off by a year in either direction) but later claims that she was a casting assistant for six years. Since Kraft was Dougherty’s first job in the entertainment industry, and the series went on the air in 1947, that’s impossible. As far as I can determine, Dougherty started on Kraft in 1948 or (more likely) 1949, and became its chief casting director within two years or less. In any case, she was a woman well under the age of thirty when she started in that job – a noteworthy accomplishment, although there were other women with similar track records. (Alixe Gordin, who was born a year before Dougherty, became the casting director for Studio One around the same time Dougherty ascended at Kraft; Ethel Winant was a casting executive who achieved considerable prominence at CBS a few years later.)
Dougherty enjoyed a certain amount of public attention during this time – the Sunday Mirror Magazine ran a 1955 profile that called her “the nation’s top casting director” and credited her for sending Jack Lemmon, Rod Steiger, and Anne Francis to Hollywood – and her influence at Kraft cannot be underestimated. A blueprint of the offices of J. Walter Thompson, which packaged the anthology, places Dougherty in an office next to those of the two directors, Maury Holland (who was also the producer) and Fielder Cook; the three of them are the only Kraft staffers named on the plans. That Dougherty never received a screen credit on Kraft (her first, as far as I can determine, came immediately afterward, as the “talent coordinator” for the short-lived 1958 incarnation of Ellery Queen) was a noteworthy injustice, and probably one attributable to blatant sexism.
(At first Dougherty’s name was also absent from the credits of Route 66 and Naked City, although the executive producer, Herbert B. Leonard, eventually compensated for that omission by awarding her the humungous single-card credit shown above.)
Reading the Times article, one might get the impression that Dougherty was closeted. Actually the casting director, who kept her personal life very private, married during her Kraft years and later became the companion of director George Roy Hill (most of whose films she cast) after both their marriages ended.
In the interest of full disclosure, earlier this year I worked on a documentary, Casting By, which features Marion Dougherty prominently and identifies her as perhaps the first independent casting director, at least in the sense that that profession exists today. The Times does a good job of explaining her significance, but there is a lot to Dougherty’s story that remains untold. Sometime soon, I’ll write more about her.
Correction, 12/16/2011: An earlier draft of this piece indicated that Dougherty was married to the cult character actor Roberts Blossom; in fact, although Dougherty cast Blossom in several projects, her husband was a non-actor with a similar name. The Classic TV History Blog regrets the error (and acknowledges the irony of its appearance in a post that was itself a correction of another publication’s mistakes).
September 15, 2011
When Cliff Robertson, one of sixties television’s most persuasive and sought-after leading men, died over the weekend, I noticed a factual inaccuracy repeated in several obituaries, most prominently the Washington Post’s. As we’ve seen in earlier cases, like that of Sidney Lumet, otherwise impeccable obituarists tend to get their feet tangled in the murk of early television. Let’s set the record straight on this one.
Robertson’s most famous film role, at least at one time, was the one for which he won an Oscar – Charly (1968), the mentally retarded man made super-smart by science, which he had first played in a 1961 United States Steel Hour called “The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon.” In its obituary for Robertson, the Post set the stage for Charly with these paragraphs:
While acquiescing to studio demands in a run of undistinguished films, Mr. Robertson found more compelling work on live television. He played a pool shark in “The Hustler” and a married alcoholic in “Days of Wine and Roses.”
When it came time to cast the film versions, he was overlooked in favor of bigger stars: Paul Newman and Jack Lemmon, respectively. “I was starting to get a reputation as always a bridesmaid, never a bride,” Mr. Robertson said decades later.
It’s a catchy factoid: Robertson, the perennial also-ran, loses out on not one but two key film roles he had originated on television, then wises up and buys the movie rights to a third, to great triumph. But it’s wrong.
Robertson did give an extraordinary performance in the Playhouse 90 broadcast of “Days of Wine and Roses.” But Robertson was not in the live television version of The Hustler. In fact, there was no live television version of The Hustler.
Walter Tevis first wrote the story of pool shark Fast Eddie Felson as a Playboy short story in 1957, turned it into a novel two years later, and saw the Paul Newman film come out two years after that. No video incarnation was produced during that four-year stretch.
So from where did this persistent bit of misinformation originate? Possibly from Robertson himself. In Shoptalk: Conversations About Theater and Film With Twelve Writers, One Producer – and Tennessee Williams’ Mother (Newmarket, 1993), Robertson told author Dennis Brown that
Back in the late 1950s I did several shows on live television, things like Days of Wine and Roses and The Hustler, that went to other actors when they were made into movies. I came to the conclusion that in order to get a great role, I had to develop it for myself.
Was Robertson inventing his association with The Hustler – embellishing his resume with a role he didn’t get? No, but he was stretching the truth a bit.
Robertson did star in a television anthology segment about a nervy young pool hustler who faces off against a fat, cocky old pro (Harold J. Stone). The show was called “Goodbye, Johnny,” and it was first aired on Alcoa Theatre on February 9, 1959. But “Goodbye, Johnny” was shot on film, not broadcast live; the characters’ names are all different from those in The Hustler; and Walter Tevis’s name appears nowhere in the credits. A number of reference books have identified “Goodbye, Johnny” as an adaptation of The Hustler, but that’s plainly inaccurate. The only connection that one might establish between them would be a charge of plagiarism against the writer of “Goodbye, Johnny,” Leonard Freeman. (I’ve seen both the film and the television episode, but not recently enough to take a position on that subject; and I haven’t read either the short or the long version of Tevis’s text.)
Clearly Robertson felt there was a link between “Goodbye, Johnny” and The Hustler. That’s probably because Robertson auditioned unsuccessfully for the role of Fast Eddie Felson; and, according to at least one source, it was “Goodbye, Johnny” that got him that audition. So maybe for Robertson, Johnny Keegan really was just the TV version of a movie role he never got. But for the rest of us, it’s just sloppy fact checking.
As a postscript: I greatly enjoyed learning, as I researched this piece, that our new friend Gerald S. O’Loughlin played a pivotal role in the Charly story, and that Robertson was a big fan of his. O’Loughlin was in the cast of “The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon,” and, as Robertson tells it in his Archive of American Television oral history,
Gerald O’Loughlin had a profound impact. He was one of the wonderful character actors; still is. We were doing the TV version of Charly . . . and he said to me, in the middle of the week, “Cliff, you’re doing a hell of a job. Who do you think’ll do the movie?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, you know, every time you do a good job on television, whether it’s Days of Wine and Roses or what, some movie star comes along and buys it or gets it and you’re watching it and you’re not [in it]. Who do you think’ll get the movie?” And I said, “Well, knowing Hollywood, maybe Debbie Reynolds,” just to be kidding. So that was Gerry O’Loughlin, also a member of the Actors Studio. Great actor.
And one more for the road: The Los Angeles Times claims that thirty-year All My Children star Mary Fickett, who died on September 8,
found steady work in television in the 1950s and ’60s, including the anthology programs “Kraft Theatre,” “Armstrong Circle Theatre” and “The United States Steel Hour,” as well as “The Edge of Night,” “The Nurses” and other prime-time series. When “The Nurses” was turned into a daytime drama in 1965, she continued her role.
Wrong: Fickett was a guest star on a 1963 episode of the prime-time The Nurses called “A Dark World,” playing Karen Gardner, a nurse who transfers to the psych ward as part of the recovery process from her own breakdown. (Ah, medicine!) When she joined the daytime The Nurses in 1965, Fickett took over the leading role of senior nurse Liz Thorpe from the original star, Shirl Conway.
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.