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

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

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

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

Rare Serling

September 7, 2012

The ambitious Rod Serling program mounted by the UCLA Film and Television Archive is still going on at the Hammer Museum (which is actually not on the UCLA campus, but just below it on Wilshire Boulevard).  I’ve been remiss in not mentioning this series earlier, but it has four programs left to go and if you’re in Los Angeles, you should catch some or all of what remains.

The reason the UCLA program, curated by Mark Quigley and Shannon Kelley, is so valuable is that it focuses on the Serling teleplays (and screenplays) that you probably haven’t seen, or even heard about.  Instead of cycling through the most famous Twilight Zones and Night Gallerys, Quigley and Kelley have given us a plethora of obscure anthology segments, features, unsold pilots, and other odds and ends.  There’s a slight emphasis on mid-to-late period Serling, which is also a good idea.  Serling’s legendary post-Twilight Zone burnout was no joke, but because of it the final decade of his career has probably been too much neglected.  There are some gems in those ten years – chiefly his 1965 western series The Loner, which regrettably is not represented here, but also some other Serling-scripted projects which are.

If you’re a Serling aficionado, then you probably know Serling wrote an odd Christmas special in 1964 called “Carol For Another Christmas”; it was shown on ABC but paid for by the United Nations, which is why it has a bunch of movie stars in the cast (Peter Sellers, Eva Marie Saint, Sterling Hayden) who weren’t otherwise doing TV at the time.  But did you know that Serling also wrote another public-service type thing that year for the U.S. Information Agency, called Let Us Continue, with E. G. Marshall?  And let’s say you remember “A Storm in Summer,” a 1970 Hallmark Hall of Fame that remains much too hard to see.  Did you know that two years later Serling turned the premise into a series pilot for CBS called We Two, featuring Herschel Bernardi in the Peter Ustinov role?

Even the Twilight Zones and Night Gallerys chosen for the series aren’t the usual suspects.  “The Shelter” and “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” aren’t among my favorites (are they among anyone’s?) but they’re not bad, and I get the reasons why they’re here – “The Shelter” represents Serling’s connection to the post-nuke genre I wrote about last month, and “Mr. Denton” screens alongside Serling’s only western screenplay (Saddle the Wind).  The films here stick a little more closely to the canon, but they’re all showing on 35 millimeter and there is one double feature of true obscurities, Buzz Kulik’s The Yellow Canary (still very hard to come by) and the caper movie Assault on a Queen.

Of particular interest among what hasn’t screened yet are the pilot for The New People – the 1969 Aaron Spelling series, which is supposedly terrible (Serling bailed after the pilot) but has also gotten some attention in recent years due to the similarities between its premise and that of Lost – and a 1960 Desilu Playhouse called “The Man in the Funny Suit.”  That’s a show about the making of “Requiem For a Heavyweight” (screening the same night), the live Playhouse 90 that almost didn’t go on as planned because Ed Wynn couldn’t remember his lines.  (Without telling Wynn, they had actor Ned Glass in the wings, ready to go on in his place.)

Although the docudrama had become a minor staple of the late anthology period (“A Night to Remember” and “The Night America Trembled” are perhaps the most famous examples), it was unusual for television to attempt so self-reflexive a project so early: a television episode about a television episode, with many of the principals (Serling, Wynn, his son Keenan Wynn, and director Ralph Nelson, among others) playing themselves.  Unlike “Requiem,” which is now a Criterion DVD, “The Man in the Funny Suit” has never been in circulation (not even among collectors, as far as I know), and I’m eager to see it someday.  I hope it’s as interesting as it sounds.

Some impressive guest speakers are part of the mix as well, and while you’ve already missed Marc Scott Zicree, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, and Mickey Rooney (perhaps fortunately, in the latter case), you can still catch Jim Benson (co-author of the excellent Night Gallery companion book) tomorrow night and Yellow Canary star Pat Boone (ask him if he’s voting for Obama) on September 14.

If you go to any of the remaining screenings, tell’em the Classic History Blog sent you and you’ll get a . . . well, just a funny look, of course.  But check out some of these Serling rarities anyway.

And while we’re on the subject, what Serling ephemera would you have included in a series like this?

The New People (I can’t identify everyone, but the blonde, second from top right, is the ravishing Tiffany Bolling).

Correction (9/7/12): Initially this piece indicated that the pilot We Two had a laugh track.  In fact, it didn’t, but the network’s desire to add one over Serling’s and the producers’ objections may have been a reason why it didn’t go to series.

Dear Professor,

If you assigned a final exam or essay question worded exactly as follows:

List & discuss at least six tv shows that depict the police, courts, and correctional components of the correctional system.

… then one of your students has been Googling for the answers, and may or may not have plagiarized them from my blog.

Hope that helps.

And let me know what grade I got.

WordPress metadata is awesome!

Sincerely,

Stephen Bowie

The Classic TV History Blog: Busting Internet Plagiarists Since 2007

Andy

July 3, 2012

As you already know if you’ve been a longtime reader here, Andy Griffith (or Andy Taylor) was something of a surrogate father for me, and for many North Carolinians of my age.  Even for those of us lucky to have great dads already.

We’ll be flying the flag at half mast here at the Classic TV History Blog for a little while.  Regular programming is cancelled until further notice.

Crime Time

October 3, 2011

Okay, loyal readers, it’s time to fire up the television set . . . .

. . . . slam a fresh U-matic cassette into your VTR machine . . . .

. . . . and settle back into your most comfortable plastic-covered recliner.

Because, for no special reason other than that I finally carved out a couple of weeks for some binge-viewing and a lot of them were on top of the pile, much my output for the rest of this year will be focused on an array of crime dramas from the seventies.

(So if you don’t like those, it’s going to be a long, cold winter.  Sorry!)

This excursion into retrograde crime-fighting will take the form of criticism, DVD reviews, interviews and other sidebars, goofy throwaways, and anything else I can come up with to provide a little variety.

Taken as a whole, the glut of police and private eye shows that cluttered the airwaves in the seventies aren’t as good as many of the older dramas that I’ve often written about here.  They challenge or transcend the limitations of genre less frequently than the best crime shows of the sixties or of this century.  But many of them are a lot of fun and, more to the point, many of them are new to me.  So I hope you’ll join me on my bell-bottomed journey through through Watergate-era violence, mayhem, and skullduggery.

Stay, as they say, tuned.

Reading Material

September 17, 2011

Those guys are at it again: The bloggers who brought you their Siskel-and-Ebert rundowns on every episode of The Outer Limits and Thriller have turned their attention to Batman.  As before, the supplemental content that John Scoleri and Peter Enfantino have organized, and the reader comments (historian Gary Gerani, for instance, on the mise-en-scene of TV director Tom Gries) have greater value than the episode reviews themselves.

So far, the most interesting piece is this frank new interview with Joel Eisner, author of the eighties-era companion book to the series, The Official Batman Batbook.  Generally accurate and entertaining, and very well-designed, Eisner’s book is a delight to read even if it’s not the full-on production history that someone should still write.  In the interview, no one comes off particularly well, not even Eisner (who seemed interested only in writing an authorized history of the series – why? – and was willing to pay the actors for interviews).  As it turned out, even with money on the table, greed kept Burt Ward and Adam West from participating in the Batbook, to the later regret of at least one of them; and West’s subsequent attempt to publish an autobiography (to be ghostwritten by Eisner) foundered on similarly unrealistic expectations of profit.  None of that comes as a surprise to me, because I remember clearly that the good old days of the Hollywood Collectors Show – in which the “celebs” generally showed up to meet fans, sold their photos for $5 each, and signed everything else for free – came to a fast end after the “Batman Bloc” (West, Ward, Julie Newmar, and Yvonne Craig) banded together and successfully started charging $25 for any and all signatures.

I do hope the Batpole men are able to recruit Lorenzo Semple, Jr., to share some new memories for their blog.  I saw Semple speak at a screening earlier this year, and he’s still sharp, funny, and able to attract the attention of very good-looking fangirls.

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I’m quoted in Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.’s piece here about The Defenders, on the occasion of its fiftieth annversary.  Ivan contacted me to ask why I thought The Defenders has remained so conspicuously out of circulation, relative to other long-running shows of its era.  I’ve heard various theories, some plausible and some from people connected to the show, as to why executive producer Herbert Brodkin’s legendary parsimony may have created future clearance problems for The Defenders (and other Plautus productions).  But my argument to Ivan is that at this point it’s probably an Occam’s razor situation: The Defenders is MIA because it’s old, it’s obscure, and much more commercial TV properties have been tanking on home video left and right.

(These TV-debut anniversaries that come around every September and early October are arbitrary and hypocritical, aren’t they?  If The Defenders remains neglected at 49 and 51, nobody is going to suddenly revive it on its 50th birthday.  Anniversary fetishizing is a harmless ritual until – and I’ve heard of this happening more than once – some publisher or programmer rejects a project because it’s tracking too late to hit one of those meaningless dates.  Then it’s not so funny any more.)

Gone Fishin’ Again

September 8, 2011

It’s that time again: I’m in need of a blogging breather in order to relax, recuperate, work on some other writing projects, figure out what the hell I’m going to do with the rest of my life, or (e) all of the above.

Actually there will be at least a few posts over the next couple of weeks, but they’ll probably be brief.  Meanwhile the screener pile is swollen with unwatched DVDs (I still can’t believe anybody sends me these for free!) so, if all goes according to plan (and, fair warning, very little has gone according to plan lately in the project completion department), I’ll be back soon with some reports from that front.

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