During my research for this fall’s Then Came Bronson article and this tangential follow-up on the lost Chrysler Theatre episode “Barbed Wire,” I learned of the recent deaths of two of the men who made crucial contributions to those series when I sought to interview them.  Neither death was reported in the mainstream or trade press; here are brief, belated obituaries.

Siegel Credit

Lionel E. Siegel, a prominent writer and producer in dramatic television during the sixties and seventies, died of cancer on July 25, 2013, in Montreal, according to his wife, Rachel Lacroix.  Siegel, a Chicago native, had lived and worked in Canada since the mid-eighties.

Born November 30, 1927, Siegel made a late entry into the entertainment industry, notching his first television credits in his early thirties on Ben Casey, a medical drama whose producers were skilled at finding talented novices.  Siegel was talented, prodigiously so, especially in those earliest scripts.  “Sparrow on the Wire,” for Mr. Novak, dealt with anti-Semitism and free speech; “Let Ernest Come Over,” for Marcus Welby, addressed race, specifically the double standards for achievement applied to black professionals like Siegel’s police detective protagonist (Percy Rodriguez).  Siegel’s Rawhide script, “Corporal Dasovik,” is one the best and most uncompromising Westerns ever filmed for television (it won a Western Heritage Award).  A blatantly anti-military piece, “Dasovik” depicted the Cavalry as filthy and criminal, its leadership as cowardly and absurdly unfit.  It was either a conscious allegory for the Vietnam War, or else an accidentally prescient rendering of the way in which Americans would be forced to regard their armed forces after William Calley became a household name.

Those descriptions make Siegel sound like a firebrand of the Reginald Rose school, but he was equally accomplished at apolitical, character-driven stories.  “Lucky Day,” a Then Came Bronson episode I didn’t have room for in the A.V. Club piece, is one of the series’ best.  It’s a delicate little anecdote about the moments of panic and doubt experienced by a bride (Lynne Marta) and groom (Barry Brown), and the calm hand-holding that the slightly-older-and-wiser Jim Bronson undertakes to shepherd them to the altar.

Also in the sixties, Siegel spent four years on the writing staff of Peyton Place, which was less a soap opera than an excuse to string together wistful vignettes of small-town life, Winesburg, Ohio-style.  It’s difficult to determine who wrote what at this remove (each episode was credited to at least two writers), but Everett Chambers told me in 2005 that “Lee Siegel was the best writer of them all.”  Reached last month, Rita Lakin, another Peyton staff writer, recalled Siegel as “kind and friendly and quick with the sarcastic remarks.”

Contracted by Universal in the early seventies, Siegel did probably his best work as the story editor for the final season of The New Doctors, which (under the stewardship of a new producer, David Levinson) abandoned the series’ technological focus in order to tackle a hot-button controversy in each episode.  But Siegel’s career took a sharp, unexpected turn into escapism at Universal after he signed on as a writer, then story consultant, then producer and executive producer on The Six Million Dollar Man and its spin-off The Bionic Woman.  The bionic shows were reasonably well-made for what they were – kiddie fare that essentially assumed the prime time niche vacated by Irwin Allen – and they conferred upon Siegel enough professional cachet that he was poached by an independent company to develop a similar show around the Marvel character Spider-Man.  It didn’t last, and it’s a bit of a shame that Siegel never found his way back to the kind of adult-oriented drama at which he had first excelled.

Siegel’s other survivors include a son, Nicholas.


Roth Credit

Producer Ron Roth died on May 28, 2013, according to the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine.

Beginning his career as an assistant to producer Dick Berg at Universal in 1961, Roth worked on the second season of Checkmate, then followed Berg to the dramatic anthologies Alcoa Premiere and Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre.  Criminally underseen in the years since, both those series tried with some success to rekindle the idiosyncratic, writer-driven drama of live television on a California backlot; they attracted actors who rarely did television, and won a number of Emmys.  During the third season, after Berg had been elevated to develop features for the studio, Roth continued as one of several rotating producers on Chrysler Theatre.  Roth’s segments included “Barbed Wire,” an episode shelved for its controversial subject matter, as well as the Western “Massacre at Fort Phil Kearney” and the fourth-season premiere “Nightmare,” a juicy entry in the “psycho-biddy” genre, written by Leslie Stevens (The Outer Limits), directed by Robert Stevens (Alfred Hitchcock Presents), and starring Julie Harris in a dual role.

Roth, too, jumped into World Premiere telefilms and features – there was really nowhere to go in television from Chrysler Theatre but down – but at the worst possible time.  During the late sixties, studio chief Lew Wasserman personally approved every film that went into production at Universal, favoring out-of-touch duds like Thoroughly Modern Millie and Skullduggery, and leaving it to VP Edd Henry to turn down so many other projects that Henry earned the nickname “Mr. No.”  Roth developed Elliot West’s postwar spy novel The Night Is a Time For Listening and, intriguingly, a Rod Serling-scripted adaptation of Max Evans’s Western novel Shadows of Thunder (retitled The Devil in Paradise), with Alex Segal (All the Way Home) attached to direct.  But neither property went before the cameras, and Roth quit Universal in 1969.

(The only made-for-TV movie Roth completed at the studio, 1968’s The Manhunter, triggered the termination of star Sandra Dee’s contract, and wasn’t shown for four years.)

A year later, Roth and Chrysler Theatre story editor Robert Kirsch reunited with Berg at Metromedia.  There, and later at Playboy Productions and a succession of other studios and independent companies, Roth spent the next two decades producing a string of made-for-TV movies, both acclaimed (like the 1971 neo-noir Thief and the Emmy-nominated The Image, with Albert Finney) and absurd (like the disaster entry SST: Death Flight and the dune buggy gang flick Detour to Terror, starring O. J. Simpson).

In 1990, Roth left the television business for a second career in real estate and investment counseling.



There is a lost episode of Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater, the acclaimed filmed anthology that ran on NBC for four years in the mid-sixties.  Filmed sometime in 1966, during the first half of the show’s final season, this episode was rejected by the sponsor and never shown publicly.  It’s likely that a copy still exists, but if so, it hasn’t seen the outside of Universal’s vaults in nearly fifty years.

Entitled “Barbed Wire,” the unaired segment starred Leslie Nielsen, Michael Parks, Sean Garrison, and the character actor Don Pedro Colley, in what would have been his television debut.  It was produced by Ron Roth, a former associate producer on the series who by 1966 was one of several rotating Chrysler producers (the others included Gordon Hessler, Stanley Chase, and Jack Laird).  The names of the writer (or writers) were never reported in the press, but the director of “Barbed Wire” was Don Taylor.  (Taylor directed at least one other Roth-produced Chrysler Theater that season, the Western “Massacre at Fort Phil Kearny.”)

“Barbed Wire” was a World War II story set in a stateside stockade for soldiers who had gone AWOL or committed other offenses.  In the sole Variety report on the incident, the author relayed a somewhat garbled synopsis from Leslie Nielsen:

Actor said that he plays a very hard commandant of the camp, a strict disciplinarian.  In a key scene, a drunken GI tells him as far as he is concerned about the war, the more who get killed over there, the better the chances for him to get a job when it’s all over.  Nielsen said that after this remark a fight ensues, in which the GI is accidentally killed.

Contacted last week, Colley offered this description of the plot:

It was about a crazy commander of this stockade, and he had flipped out and was commanding his stockade like it was a [concentration] camp.  He would make people stand in a circle, and if they moved out of the circle, the guards were ordered to shoot them.

Colley also remembered the events leading up to his casting:

I drove down from San Francisco to L.A. after I made up my mind that I needed to go make some money in Hollyweird.  Driving into town at night, the first thing you see is this huge monolith on a hillside that says Universal City.  Back in the day, that was about the only thing that the Ventura Freeway had on it – this monolith that stuck out.  It just froze me to my heart, like seeing an alien from outer space.  At night, just after sundown, it was the only thing that was lit up.  One night, I was at Shelly’s Manne-Hole, on Cahuenga Boulevard.  It was a jazz club.  Shelly Manne was a jazz drummer, the best in the business.  And this fella came up to me and said, “Don Pedro, man, how you doing?  I remember you from San Francisco, when you were hanging out in the jazz clubs and being beatniks and carrying on.”  I said, “Yeah, I remember, Duke.  What’s happening?”  He says, “Listen, I’m a publicist out at Universal Studios, in the Tower building.  Come on out and I’ll introduce you around.”  I said, “You got it, man.”  So we went out there and he did introduce me around to people in the Tower building, and one of those people was Ron Roth, whom he had become friends with.  Universal had a bunch of young producers that they were grooming.  So they said, “Yeah, well, you got this one little bit.  You’re one of the people in the stockade.”

I got there in January ’66, and Duke Williams had been there about six or eight months, in the publicity department.  When I got over there, he had access to a car, and he was making deliveries to the various companies on the lot.  I got to ride along with him.  We went all the way to the top of the hill, which is now the Universal Walk, that was called the Shiloh Ranch [from The Virginian].  They had actual cattle and horses and farm things up there.  We’d look out over the Valley and I was fantasizing, like, “Wow.  The world is mine!  Mine!”  Sitting on a rock and laughing to myself.  People were saying, “That boy’s crazy.  What’s wrong with him?”

On the set of his first television episode, Colley found a way to put his own stamp on his small “Barbed Wire” role:

I’m kind of a goofball.  The only thing that came to my mind was Laurel-and-Hardy kind of goofball, where Hardy gets into a dilemma and all he can do is waggle the end of his tie.  They remember you better if you’re funny, versus just being a bad guy.  I decided to play it that way.  They were there for a reason, and my one scene dealt with that reason.  And that was a little added – my little deal, that I was allowing myself to give this character that much depth.


Don Pedro Colley in 1968 (Here Come the Brides, “The Stand Off”)

So why was “Barbed Wire” shelved?  According to Variety, Chrysler viewed the episode as “anti-military.” It’s tempting to speculate that “Barbed Wire” carried an unwelcome anti-war theme at a time when the Vietnam War was raging, but the actual issue may have been more prosaic; a 1968 Los Angeles Times profile of Colley wrote that it was “judged too violent.”

Incidentally, Jennings Lang, Universal’s head of television at the time, denied the controversy, claiming (lamely) that “Barbed Wire” was shelved because of possible plans to develop it as a feature film.  But it’s clear that the Variety reporter put more stock in what he or she called “insider reports” (most likely a leak from Roth) of the more controversial explanation.

About eighty of the one hundred or so Chrysler Theater episodes were syndicated, in two separate packages, albeit never widely.  (The exact episode count for Chrysler is debatable, depending upon whether or not one includes the comedy specials starring Hope that aired in the Chrysler timeslot about every fourth week.)  But many of the unsold pilots and two-parters, as well as scattered other episodes, were withheld from syndication.  In most cases, those were either expanded or re-edited as features for overseas release and resurfaced in the U.S., if at all, in TV-movie packages.  Others disappeared because of rights issues.  (For instance, the writer S. Lee Pogostin told me that his Emmy-winning episode “The Game” got locked away after Hope acquired the rights for a theatrical remake, which was never made.)  Unsurprisingly, “Barbed Wire” appears to be one of those unsyndicated episodes.

I stumbled across this story while researching Then Came Bronson and Michael Parks, who in 1966 was in the midst of a terrible run of luck both personally and professionally.  In 1964 his wife of only five weeks, the actress Jan Moriarty, died of an overdose of pills, and in 1968 the actor’s brother, James, drowned in a skin-diving accident.  In 1966, Parks refused a role in a remake of Beau Geste, and his studio contract at Universal fizzled out in acrimony and litigation. He didn’t act for nearly three years, apart from four made-for-TV movies.  The comeback promised by Bronson had the opposite effect, as Parks’s disputes with the series’ producers and directors were widely reported and landed him on what Bronson casting director Joseph D’Agosta described as Hollywood’s “life’s too short” list.  (As in: Life’s too short to work with that guy.)  Once again, after Bronson was canceled in 1970, Parks was absent from the screen for three years – wholly absent, this time – until he accepted a leading role in Between Friends, a Canadian film by the acclaimed director Donald Shebib, which gradually resuscitated his career.  (Coincidentally, his leading lady in Between Friends was his leading lady from the Bronson pilot, Bonnie Bedelia.)  During that exile, in 1971, Parks’s nine year-old stepdaughter, Stephanie, was hit and killed by a motorist in Ojai.

Although minuscule in comparison to those other setbacks, the disappearance of “Barbed Wire” couldn’t have come as good news – especially since one of those three late-sixties telefilms, 1968’s An Act of Piracy (directed by William A. Graham, who directed the Bronson pilot), was also shelved.  A 1970 Variety article implied that Piracy was rejected for a World Premiere slot due to “violence,” but it’s also possible it was just terrible, judging from Parks’s description of the character he played: “I was forced to play a fat, bald, gold-toothed Mexican revolutionary.  They say I came across like a cross between Fernando Lamas and Marlon Brando; I think it’s more like Alfonso Bedoya and Dame May Whitty.”  At least An Act of Piracy, which also starred William Shatner, was finally broadcast – but not until 1976, and under an even more generic title, Perilous Voyage.

For Colley, “Barbed Wire” had a more positive outcome.  The final version of the episode cut Colley’s one big scene for length, but the supportive Roth arranged for the young stage actor to get a copy of the minute-long sequence for his reel.  Ironically, that one minute would be all of “Barbed Wire” that anyone outside of Universal would ever see – and it helped Colley to get him the breakout role as the Canadian trapper Gideon during the penultimate season of Daniel Boone.

Needless to say, it would be most welcome if Universal were to liberate “Barbed Wire” and some of the other elusive Chrysler Theater segments – if not for a commercial release, at least for deposit at UCLA or another archive.