July 22, 2008
Fulfulling a promise I made a while back, I’ve added my interview with Richard DeRoy to the oral history archive on the main website. DeRoy, who passed away in March, was a talented freelance television writer for close to forty years. He should be, but is probably not, best known as one of the primary creative forces behind the TV version of Peyton Place, a huge popular hit of the sixties that has yet to earn the critical respect from historians that it deserves.
As a reader, I think of question-and-answer formatted interviews as easily digested morsels – informal, conversational, and usually without any big, blocky paragraphs. As an author, I always expect to breeze through them as well. After all, it’s the interview subject who does all the hard work, right? In practice, it always takes a great deal longer than I anticipate to edit, annotate, and introduce these oral histories. The usual delay has made a hash of my plan to upload Richard DeRoy’s interview, as a sort of tribute, right after I learned of his death in early April.
However, I can at least make some amends by pointing out that the piece has become timely again, in that the Sundance Channel will be screening DeRoy’s only significant feature film, Robert Wise’s Two People (1973), twice this month. It’s playing on Tuesday, July 22 at 12:50AM ET and Monday, July 28 at 4:00AM ET (those are “night before” dates, so technically it’s July 23 & 29). Because Two People was a financial failure it has been seen very rarely since its initial theatrical release, and I for one am eager to take a look.
A related aside: It’s worth noting that another key Peyton Place contributor, the character actor Henry Beckman, also died recently. Beckman played the father of Barbara Parkins’s teen tramp Betty Anderson, a disgruntled factory worker who eventually slid into mental illness. Like the contemporary Lost, Peyton Place was a show that skimped on the budget by mostly casting unknowns, then became a massive ratings success and began to add more expensive and better-known performers to its cast. This gave Beckman, a supporting player both before and after Peyton, a great deal more screen time than he usually enjoyed. And although the nature of the role encouraged a certain mastication of scenery, I think Beckman’s George Anderson is a lot of fun to watch. Beckman, who ended his life in Spain and began his long career in Canada, travelled quite a journey.
First Richard Kimble found his wife’s dead body. Then he was convicted of her murder. Then he found himself on the run with a psychotic nutjob vowing to send him to the death house.
But all of that was a cakewalk compared to what happened when Dr. Kimble fell into the hands of CBS Home Video.
The latest volume of The Fugitive to arrive on DVD, the third such set, has had all of its incidental music stripped out and replaced by an entirely new score composed specifically for that purpose. This is not the removal of occasional snippets of songs, which has (lamentably) become commonplace in the DVD realm because it’s expensive to clear the rights to popular tunes for home video. Instead, it’s the wholesale deletion of the entire original musical element of the series – and without any warning to consumers beyond a standard boilerplate disclaimer in tiny print. This is the first time any television show has arrived on DVD in such an aurally mutilated form. It’s a very big deal.
“Where did they put my music? Is it behind this fence?”
I’ve sampled the new music in some episodes on the set and compared them scene-for-scene to tapes of the show with the original score intact. The results were dire. To their credit, the new composers have been conservative in their approach, placing the new music for the most part in the same spots as the old – even imitating it note for note in some sections. Roy Braverman, a music editor who worked on the new score, wrote on his website that the “new music library is being composed ‘in the style of'” the original scores.
Up to a point, that’s true – the new music isn’t quite as obtrusive I expected. However, it is pedestrian and generic. As I watched the first act of one of my favorite episodes, “Devil’s Carnival,” my heart sank. The mournful Pete Rugolo melody used whenever Kimble would amble wearily into a new town, was gone, replaced by new notes that have no emotion at all. The Rugolo score played under William Conrad’s basso narration, adding a wistful quality to lines like “Richard Kimble: He travels a lot by thumb, makes many a long, lonely hike between rides.” The new music fades out abruptly as soon as Conrad starts speaking, and pops back in with an annoying two-note sting as soon as he falls silent. (The main and end titles of all the episodes have their original music intact, although the musical bridges from the teaser into the opening titles have been effaced in a rather jarring way.)
On a technical level, the new music has a tinny, squawky quality and the remixed audio tracks exhibit a lot of abrupt changes in volume. Even if you’ve never seen The Fugitive before, and aren’t sensitive enough to the styles of sixties music to detect the anachronistic, modern tinges to the new score, this release will hurt your ears.
This week I called Alan A. Armer, the producer of The Fugitive‘s first three seasons, and broke the news to him about the music replacement. Armer told me that he was “totally in awe of what you’re telling me . . . . I’m a bit staggered.”
Armer had less involvement with scoring The Fugitive than most TV producers do on their shows; at QM Productions, series producers focused on story while the post-production was supervised by other executives (on The Fugitive, Arthur Fellows and John Elizalde). Nevertheless, Armer expressed dismay that the original cues are gone. “You just have to wonder how much that will affect the dramatic quality of the shows,” Armer told me. “I suspect that the show may have suffered as a result of it.”
The Fugitive has a somewhat unusual musical history. It was, as Jon Burlingame writes in his invaluable TV’s Biggest Hits: Television Themes From Dragnet to Friends, the only major hit series of the sixties for which “no single episode actually received an original score.” Instead, QM commissioned jazz composer Pete Rugolo (a former arranger for Stan Kenton) to write a library of cues that could be tracked into multiple episodes. Rugolo composed the theme and basic Fugitive motifs based upon either a screening of the pilot, or possibly just a description of the show’s premise.
To supplement Rugolo’s library (there were “other things they needed that I didn’t write,” Rugolo told Ed Robertson for his book The Fugitive Recaptured), Elizalde and music editor Ken Wilhoit pulled stock cues from outside music companies. Cues from the Capitol Music catalog were licensed, along with the CBS music library and, eventually, an archive of scores composed by Dominic Frontiere, the Outer Limits composer who became closely associated with QM during the sixties. The CBS library was an especially important source, and many treasured cues from The Twilight Zone and Gunsmoke (by such famous composers as Jerry Goldsmith and Bernard Herrmann) were repurposed for The Fugitive.
(There’s some debate as to whether any of Frontiere’s music appeared in the episodes on this DVD set. I’m almost certain that the familiar Outer Limits melodies from the Daystar library didn’t begin to crop up until The Fugitive‘s fourth and final season, but it’s possible that Frontiere’s scores for Daystar’s Stoney Burke or an earlier QM show, The New Breed, were sourced.)
Rugolo’s score would have been owned outright by QM and, though there was no connection between The Fugitive (an ABC show produced by QM and United Artists) and CBS Music in 1963, both properties are now owned by the same corporate entity, Viacom. Naturally, then, there’s ample cause for speculation as to what element of the Fugitive scoring could have triggered the music replacement – especially since the series’ first season, comprised of the same mix of musical elements, arrived on DVD intact last year.
Adding insult to injury, CBS has digitally altered the closing credits of each episode to insert the names of the composers of the new score:
It’s a move that reeks of duplicity. Instead of appending a new card containing the modern names to the end of the titles, as one would see on a film that’s been restored (although, in this case, these would be the “desecration credits,” not the “restoration credits”), CBS has hidden the new names in plain sight to avoid a clear admission that the music was changed. Here’s how that same card (from the episode “Devil’s Carnival”) is supposed to read:
Nothing personal against Messrs. Heyes, Winans, and Komie, but seeing their names embedded among those of the people who actually worked to create The Fugitive back in the sixties gives me a sense of almost physical revulsion.
Somewhat overlooked, given the magnitude of the score-replacement problem, is the fact that CBS sliced out portions of the image in the “Ballad For a Ghost” episode, in which Janis Paige plays a chanteuse who bears a haunting resemblance to Richard Kimble’s late wife. The two songs that Paige performs on-camera have been changed on the audio track, and so all of the closeups and medium shots during her numbers were deleted (a total of about a minute of footage). One of the missing shots is a fast-dolly into a closeup of Paige immediately after Kimble (David Janssen) sees her for the first time. The camera move emphasizes Kimble’s shock upon discovering his wife’s doppelganger; without it, the scene loses much of its power.
I didn’t realize this because I haven’t been watching any of the affected shows, but CBS has been taking this approach to some of its other classic television releases as well. Often when Jim Nabors sings in Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., or when Jack Klugman or Tony Randall belt out a few bars of a pop tune during the banter of The Odd Couple, those moments have been excised from the DVDs.
Look what they did to my song, Dr. Kimble: Janis Paige in a shot you won’t see on the new Fugitive DVD
The high costs of clearing popular music are widely known and many fans have been quick to forgive the studio and buy into the argument that paying the license fees for these songs would give the DVDs a prohibitive pricetag. I won’t take a position on that except to suggest that cynicism rather than blind trust would be a more productive attitude toward any issue of corporate accounting.
One fact made clear by the extensive song deletions on various DVDs is the fact that CBS has an active corps of intellectual property lawyers scrutinizing the musical history of their television properties. In off-the-record remarks to me, several people with recent experience in the home video world have characterized both the CBS/Paramount legal staff, and their counterparts at other studios, as inexpert, inconsistent, and overcautious. (As an example, when you hear long stretches of silence in a Paramount or Warner Bros. DVD audio commentary, it’s usually not because “these people got caught up in watching something . . . they hadn’t seen in over 40 years,” as Jeffrey Kauffman suggests in his review of the recent Mannix DVD. It’s because the lawyers have scissored out any material that could in theory trigger some kind of defamation claim.) The convoluted nature of The Fugitive‘s underscoring raises the possibility that CBS’ attorneys scrutinized the show’s cue sheets, found some unfamilar names, and made a hasty decision to replace the score without fully or accurately investigating the ownership of the music.
(Before publishing this piece I attempted to solicit a comment from CBS, but calls and e-mails to several CBS home video personnel, as well as a Paramount media relations representative, were not returned. Roy Braverman and one of the credited composers of the new Fugitive score also did not respond to interview requests.)
A separate, but very much related, issue is the ignorance and/or sympathy that on-line DVD reviewers exhibit for this sort of nonsense. Ronald Epstein, proprietor of the widely-read Home Theater Forum website, praised Paramount for its “wise decision” regarding the Fugitive music replacement. Both DVDTalk and DVDBeaver, well-respected sites among cinephiles, gave the Fugitive DVD set high marks without noticing the music substitution.
Now, I have some sympathy for DVD reviewers in this situation, because nobody can be an expert on every TV show or movie that’s thrown over the transom. And as we’ve seen above, the studios will do everything they can to disguise the alterations they’ve made to their product – so each DVD is a little trap for the unsuspecting DVD reviewer to step into. But I feel that the ignorance displayed by DVDTalk’s Paul Mavis in this case is inexcusable.
Two days before publishing his review of the altered Season 2 set, Mavis posted a review of the largely unchanged Season 1, Volume 2 Fugitive DVD. How could any remotely competent film historian or “Fugitive fanatic” (Mavis identifies himself as both) watch parts of these two collections back-to-back without immediately noticing the radical changes to the sound of the series’ music? After being alerted to his error, Mavis posted a defense of CBS’ decision: “I know it feels good to bitch out the studios for doing this . . . but I also know this is a business – pure and simple . . . . I’m not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I’m going to enjoy the show.” As of this writing, Mavis has yet to substantially amend his review, which still claims that the audio on the DVD set “accurately represents the original broadcast presentation.” This is not consumer reporting as I understand the concept.
And speaking of consumer reporting, I vowed after February’s Route 66 debacle that I wasn’t going to turn this into a DVD blog. I also wrote that I was going to balance my reporting with some positive posts about successful DVD editions of early TV shows. But before I’ve gotten around to doing that, we have yet another crisis to address – another essential series of the sixties that’s being butchered in its initial videodisc release. It’s ironic that The Fugitive should join Route 66 in the virtual wastebin (and the wastebin, make no mistake about it, is exactly where I’m recommending you file your Fugitive Season 2 discs). The two series have always been paired in my mind because of their peripatetic structure, and because they featured protagonists who were anti-heroes of a sort – social dropouts at a time when television typically celebrated establishment figures (doctors, lawyers, policemen) and looked askance at nonconformists. In this regard The Fugitive, which arrived on the air as Route 66 began its final season, can be seen as a natural continuation of the earlier show – Richard Kimble was a forced exile from society while Route 66‘s Tod and Buz had left on their own accord and could re-enter the mainstream at any time. Both of them were prescient hints of the years ahead when “dropping out” became a widespread credo for disaffected young people.
Because of that, although I’m not sure that I’d call The Fugitive or Route 66 my favorite television drama of the sixties, I would argue that the two of them have to be considered the most signifant. It’s beyond dispiriting that both shows are in real peril of being utterly ruined in their first (and likely only) complete home video release.
It is of – pardon the pun – paramount importance that CBS undo its error, untangle whatever legal or financial morass underlies the music substitution, and give us the real Fugitive. With the release of this DVD set, if not before, I’ve become convinced that large-scale music replacement is a form of aesthetic butchery that’s the equal of panning-and-scanning or colorization during the days of VHS. It took a long time, but those battles have largely been won by videophiles. Now those of us who care about television and movies know what the next fight will be.
Update (4/20/2013): After more than four years of further gaffes – more numerous than I could attempt to report along the way – CBS/Paramount issued a definitive box set with all of Pete Rugolo’s music and the vast majority of stock cues intact. For the most part, replacement copies were not provided to consumers who purchased the mutilated sets, and no official explanation for the music replacement was ever offered.
June 4, 2008
Debuting today on the website is the last of the dispatches from the archives that got killfiled when the late, lamented Television Chronicles magazine received its cancellation notice back in 1998. It’s a lengthy production history and critique of the hybrid 1963-64 police procedural-slash-courtroom drama Arrest and Trial, now remembered mainly as a footnote in TV history due to its structural resemblance to Law & Order.
As a footnote is arguably how Arrest and Trial should be remembered. It’s not a classic on the order of East Side/West Side or The Invaders. When I took on the show, it was on the assumption that its blatant emulation of elements of Naked City (in the arrest half) and The Defenders (in the trial half) would mean it might rank alongside them. As I actually watched and wrote about Arrest and Trial, I realized that the attempt to combine the disparate virtues of those two classics had created something of a misshapen mess – and I wondered if the series was worth the amount of time and the number of words I’d devoted to it. But as Timeless Media began releasing Arrest and Trial on DVD last fall, it seemed like a good time for me (and perhaps my readers) to reconsider the series.
In polishing the piece a bit and revisiting some of the episodes, I’ve been reminded of the virtues that do make Arrest and Trial eminently watchable. Ben Gazzara was one of the most inventive actors of his generation, with an intimate technique well-suited to the small screen. The show’s sizable budget permitted more location shooting than just about any other Universal TV production ever managed, and so Arrest and Trial offers a terrific tour of 1963 Los Angeles. (And as I know the city better now than I did ten years ago, I’d love to have time to watch the episodes again just to try to figure out where each one was filmed. If anyone Angelenos who are seeing the show on DVD care to, I hope they’ll post some notes along those lines in the comments here.)
I was also struck by how Arrest and Trial‘s image of law enforcement is so far removed from both our actual and fictionally represented experiences that it’s like something beamed in from another planet. The Civil Rights-era plainclothes detective (played by Gazzara) who heads up the first half of Arrest and Trial is not just soft-spoken and empathetic – the kind of guy whose shoulder you just want to lean your head on – he’s also a frank advocate of the policeman as social worker and psychiatrist instead of head-buster. You can imagine how real-life cops of the twenty-first century would guffaw if they somehow found this program in their Netflix queues. Today our police have dropped all pretense of having a relationship with civilians that’s anything but adversarial – and our cop shows and cop movies, both those that demonize and even those that glorify the police, get a visceral charge in depicting the collateral damage that their subjects inflict on anyone unlucky enough to get between a cop’s foot and an ass that needs kicking. I live in a city where the police department has enacted blatantly unconstitutional policies against its citizens, over and over again, and been rewarded not with censure but with municipal and judicial approval. So seeing Arrest and Trial again after ten years moved me unexpectedly. It was a reminder of one way in which we’ve lost our way since the sixties. Or, if that’s too naive, it’s a depiction of a civic ideal that we might never have had – but that we should still be trying for.
To date Timeless Media has released two DVD collections of Arrest and Trial, containing 18 of the series’ 30 episodes. Of the thirty, four episodes are essential: “Journey Into Darkness,” “Funny Man With a Monkey,” Sydney Pollack‘s “The Quality of Justice,” and “The Revenge of the Worm.” Thus far only the first two are available among the DVDs, so one hopes a third volume will emerge.
If you make it all the way to the end, don’t neglect the episode guide, which contains a lot of wonky trivia – episode budgets, shooting dates, unused episode titles, uncredited writers and actors – gleaned from the series’ production files.
May 27, 2008
After a pretty public battle with cancer during the past year, Sydney Pollack left us on May 26 at the age of 73. That’s not exactly young but it comes as a bit of a shock still, because Pollack had been so robust in recent years, so visible within the industry, and so active (and marvelous) as a character actor in movies like Eyes Wide Shut and Michael Clayton. Word of Pollack’s illness first emerged last August when he dropped out of Recount, the HBO movie about the 2000 presidential election that premiered a day before he died. (Jay Roach of Austin Powers replaced him.) Pollack had sworn off television the second the had enough clout to do so, after he won an Emmy for directing a Chrysler Theatre segment called “The Game” back in 1965. Recount would have been the first thing he directed for television in 43 years. Obituarists like me would be remarking about what a long path he’d taken to come full circle.
I wish I could say something positive about Pollack the man, who I found rather smug and standoffish during my only encounter with him, or about his movies. Pollack’s films tended to garner praise for their “adult” good taste and their classical, old-fashioned style. I thought they were banal and middlebrow, and that none of them excepting a few of the earliest ones did anything to stimulate the senses or the intellect.
But Pollack was an ideal episodic television director, and for a short time, a tremendously important one. Between 1961 and 1965, Pollack enjoyed a meteoric rise from assignments on a few journeyman westerns (Shotgun Slade and The Tall Man) through the top episodic dramas (Ben Casey, The Fugitive, The Defenders) and into the handful of remaining anthology hours (Kraft Suspense Theatre and the Chrysler Theatre, both shot on film, not staged live) still on the air in the mid-sixties. That wasn’t as unusual an accomplishment as it sounds. In television at that time, one tended to either get stuck in the episodic rut for a long haul, or make the leap to features quickly; ambitious young directors and their agents understood that the clock was ticking. Stuart Rosenberg, Elliot Silverstein, Robert Ellis Miller, and Mark Rydell were the Big Five along with Pollack who vied for the top TV jobs throughout the early sixties and then got their first important movies between 1965-1967; if one compares their television resumes, the chronologies and the shows that crop up look a lot alike. But Pollack was younger than any of them and among his contemporaries he may have the record for the smallest number of TV segments done before the pole-vault into the big leagues was achieved.
Pollack in a rare leading role (he began as an actor, but mostly in supporting parts) in the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock Presents segment “The Contest of Aaron Gold”
And how does the early work stand up today? Energetic, inventive, youthful, far livelier than the most TV episodes of the time, but notably devoid of personality. The shows are kid-in-a-candy-store exercises in technique, all tracking pull-backs and crane shots, most of it just restrained enough to complement the material rather than overwhelm it. Pollack’s Cain’s Hundreds and “The Black Curtain,” a flavorful, seedy Cornell Woolrich adaptation for The Alfred Hitchock Hour, are experiments in noir lighting and composition, deliberate studies in a particular style.
The film critic Scott Foundas, one of the few to write about Pollack’s TV period, describes a “dazzling … cubistic montage of bustling street scenes to suggest the disorientation felt by a timid Native American boy ill at ease in the big city” in the Ben Casey “For the Ladybug … One Dozen Roses.” “Karina,” a Frontier Circus, begins with an abstraction, a harlequin against blackness, walking straight into the camera. A moment later a shot of Elizabeth Montgomery’s gartered legs glimpsed in a crystal ball ripple-dissolves into the real thing. Then a shot of her as a black-clad wraith, cape swirling, running into and over the camera. That’s all in the teaser – and everything after the opening titles is routine. These sound like gratuitous, indulgent flourishes wedged incongruously between whole acts of standard rhythmic shot-reverse shot framing that Pollack couldn’t vary and keep to his tight production schedule – and that’s exactly what they are. But the truth is that so much of television looks so monotonous, one tends to take the visual pleasures where they come without dwelling too much on how unmotivated or immature they might be.
Since Pollack was working on the best TV shows in Los Angeles, the material was very good – the writers Pollack worked with, Howard Rodman and Stirling Silliphant and S. Lee Pogostin, put more of a personal stamp on the episodes than he did – and so were the performers hired to guest-star. That was Pollack’s saving grace: he was good with actors. “King of the Mountain,” a Cain’s Hundred, is a fine three-character piece with Edward Andrews as a corrupt cornpone bigwig and Nashville‘s Barbara Baxley as his sullen, suffering wife. Robert Duvall, not always his subtle, reliable self this soon, has key early roles in that segment as a crooked, slow-moving sheriff’s deputy who finds the buried vestiges of his decency, and in Pollack’s Arrest and Trial (Rodman’s “The Quality of Justice”) as a child killer. There are delicious riffs from Pat Hingle as a smiling, straight-out-of-Jim Thompson psycho lawman (Cain’s Hundred‘s “The Fixer”) and a Vegas high-roller in a string tie (Kraft‘s “The Name of the Game”); and Cliff Robertson, going from broken-down fighter pilot on Ben Casey (“For the Ladybug … One Dozen Roses”) to a compulsive gambler on the Chrysler Theatre (“The Game”). And, of course, there’s “A Cardinal Act of Mercy,” the Ben Casey tour de force in which Pollack coaxed perhaps the finest of Kim Stanley’s few recorded performances out of the fragile actress. She won an Emmy. Already Pollack was forming, not a stock company of character actors, but a model in miniature of the succession of crucial star relationships (with Robert Redford, famously, but also Jane Fonda and others) that would drive his movie career.
Dutch angles, not dated at all: Piper Laurie in “Something About Lee Wiley”
As one of the top-of-the-heap young directors, Pollack enjoyed a certain amount of control over the material he worked on, a considerable rarity. It was during the anthology period that he first connected with David Rayfiel, later the most important of his screenwriters, and I’m guessing that Rayfiel’s TV scripts for Pollack bear the director’s clearest thumbprint out of all his small-screen work. “Something For Lee Wiley,” a lush twenties melodrama about a female singer blinded in a riding accident, was a 1963 Chrysler with a terrific star turn by Piper Laurie and some gorgeous color photography (Pollack’s first). Foundas wrote that its “air of dreamy fatalism and a jagged use of flashbacks . . . directly anticipates They Shoot Horses Don’t They?” That gets at another influence that Pollack’s work begins to show around this time, an influx of dutch angles, freeze frames, interpolated stills, and tricky edits. Perhaps Pollack merits another award: as the director who imported the biggest undigested European New Wave influence into sixties television. The obvious contemporaneous reference point is Arthur Penn’s Mickey One, the mid-sixties American cinema’s boldest attempt to grapple with the New Wave form in the raw; Pollack’s most avant-garde TV efforts hold the same fascination as the Penn film, more fascinating objects than real successes. Oh, and there’s the jazz music, another New Wave signpost that Pollack appropriated with as much constancy as possible in episodic TV: “Lee Wiley” was scored by Benny Carter, “The Watchman” (the second Rayfiel script, for Kraft) by Lalo Schifrin. Early harbingers of the inexcusable Dave Grusin muzak to come.
The Pollack-Rayfiel collaboration curdled on “The Watchman,” a talky, pseudo-existential mess that limned the thirty-year relationship between a Spanish guerrilla (Telly Savalas), his Boswell (Jack Warden), and the woman they shared (Victoria Shaw). Pollack pulled off some stunning beauty shots, stumbled over a clumsy expository gimmick (Warden addresses a psychiatrist who remains off-camera), and emphasized the romance between Warden and Shaw. It was the same trick he would fall back on in The Way We Were: duck the half-baked ideas in the script and pour on the emotion.
(There’s at least one more Pollack-Rayfiel effort, an unsold pilot called “The Fliers,” starring John Cassavetes, that I’ve been unable to see.)
Pollack would’ve blanched at my assessment of his film career; he disowned his early films, like the earnest, urgent The Slender Thread, and most especially his TV work. I can guess why: he probably felt there were too many camera moves, too many crude cuts, in comparison to the smooth style of his features. In his book Female Brando: The Legend of Kim Stanley, Jon Krampner got some good, specific quotes from Pollack about that Ben Casey segment, so the memories were there if Pollack chose to dredge them up. But in virtually every other interview I’ve read, when he was asked about his TV work, Pollack copped a superior attitude, putting down both the shows and his own contributions to them. Which is fine if you’re, say, Robert Altman and your style really did evolve into something revolutionary; conversely, if your career has instead yielded sentimental, brain-rotting slop like The Way We Were (which is the blacklist rendered as a Hallmark card) and Out of Africa, then curt dismissals of the rambunctious, promising early impulses might be taken as snooty and ungracious.
I don’t make that comparison arbitrarily, for Altman was another contemporary of Pollack’s who moved up from TV into features in the late sixties. Altman worked on Kraft Suspense Theatre, too – got fired off it, actually; he had a hard head and his ten-year trudge through TV had a lot more detours and tangents than Pollack’s. Altman’s TV segments are eccentric, personal, audacious, while Pollack’s are clever, imitative, pretentious, and ultimately writer- and actor-centric. You can see the blueprint for their film careers right there in the television resumes. Altman, for what it’s worth, seemed to cherish his TV work in his later years, took pride in it alongside his films (almost to a comic extent, considering how powerful some of those are), even recorded audio commentaries for DVDs of his Combat episodes.
In mid-1965, Pollack directed “The Game,” a Chrysler Theatre which was, like his earlier Kraft piece “The Name of the Game,” a taut, claustrophobic gambling story set entirely within the interior of a casino. It’s a remarkable work that I’ll write about in another context later. Even before “The Game” won him an Emmy the following year, Pollack had run into some sort of conflict with the suits at Universal and turned the final editing over to his writer, S. Lee Pogostin. The statue clenched Pollack’s ability to flip the bird to TV for good (he’d already finished The Slender Thread). Robert Altman’s exit from TV came around the same time, when he told Variety that Kraft’s Suspense Theatre was as bland as its cheese (it wasn’t, but no matter) and necessarily had to clean out his office at that enterprise; it was a long winter before MASH. Pollack wafted out of TV on the golden wings of his Emmy. He was 31 – the same age I am now.
Jack Warden (note how skillfully Pollack integrates his shock of red hair into the mise-en-scene) and Telly Savalas in “The Watchman”
April 16, 2008
Last week I went to Los Angeles to add a few more tendrils to the sprawling oral history project that’s largely overtaken my life during the last few years. (The median age in my rolodex is probably somewhere around 81.) Compiling the research needed to ask good questions is a formidable chore all its own, and it always yields some unexpected dividends. Sometimes these surprises are unpleasant ones.
For instance, while I was digging around putting together videographies for this batch of interview subjects, I came across the unpleasant discovery that the TV producer James McAdams had passed away last September. There was no obituary, just a mention in (of all places) a comment posted an Amazon.com review of the DVD release of McAdams’ series The Equalizer by one of his friends. I didn’t reach out to anyone to confirm this, but the mention is bylined by one Coleman Luck, an Equalizer writer, and there’s a matching Social Security Death Index entry, so sadly I’m thinking this is for real. McAdams was neither a writer nor a director, just one of those veteran production guys who made the wheels turn. One of my director friends remembered knowing him as an office boy at Universal even before his first official credit, as an assistant to exec producer Frank Rosenberg on Arrest and Trial. McAdams rose up through the ranks on other Uni TV product like Ironside, The Virginian, The Bold Ones, and finally scored some Emmy nominations on Kojak. James McAdams: 1937-2007.
During that same flurry of fact-sifting I finally sorted out another industry veteran’s death once and for all, this one from a lot further back. I knew that Richard Lang, who directed a raft of Harry O and Kung Fu episodes, had died around 1997 or so, because it was mentioned in Ed Robertson’s production history of Harry O, in the audio commentary on the Cleopatra DVD (Lang was an assistant director on the film), and apparently on an “in memoriam” card on the final Melrose Place episode he directed. So I gather Lang died suddenly. But there was no obituary in the press or the trade papers, and no source has ever formally reported Lang’s death until now, when it occurred to me that his real name could be Walter Richard Lang, Jr. (His father was the film director Walter Lang.) That hunch yielded a matching SSDI listing and finally closed my file. Richard Lang: 1939-1997.
Then, as I was in L.A. making some new acquaintances among the ranks of early television writers, so was the Grim Reaper. I had already made my peace with the idea of not interviewing Seaman Jacobs, the veteran comedy writer with credits on a laundry list of famous sitcoms: The Real McCoys, Petticoat Junction, Bachelor Father, F Troop, The Andy Griffith Show. Jacobs, who died on April 8 at 96, was fairly well known and had told his stories to others better qualified to capture them than me. (And if you’re having a chuckle over his first name right now, watch the first thirty seconds of his Archive of American Television oral history and you’ll see that Jacobs beat you to that joke.) Seaman Jacobs: 1912-2008.
But I had some pangs of regret when I saw the obit for Robert Warnes Leach, a long-forgotten television scribe who died on March 30 at 93. His credits are those of a journeyman – some Ziv shows (Men Into Space), a quick pass at Perry Mason – but there’s something about his decisive exeunt from the TV industry, and that wonderful nineteenth-century name, that make wish I’d taken a crack at firing some questions at him. Robert Warnes Leach: 1914-2008.
And then the final blow landed on Friday, when a lunch companion informed me that the veteran TV and film writer-producer Richard DeRoy died in early March. (Another close friend of DeRoy’s confirmed the information this week, and told me that the family’s desire for no publicity or memorial is the reason that no press release was sent out. Otherwise I imagine the news would have merited an obit in the L.A. Times, or at least the trades.) DeRoy was a talented and fairly important writer, one that flourished above all as a head writer, story editor, and finally producer on Peyton Place during its first two seasons. (Update: Two months later, a decent Variety obit.)
Rather than write more here, I’m going to move my 2004 interview with DeRoy – which was fairly brief, but pithy and amusing – to the head of the line and add it to the oral history page within the next couple of weeks. Richard DeRoy: 1930-2008.
February 11, 2008
The Writers Guild of America today confirmed the death of the screen and television writer Harry Kleiner on October 17.
Kleiner, born in Russia and raised in Philadelphia, contributed to a raft of well-known films over a span of more than four decades. His first screenplay, a solo effort (adapting Marty Holland’s novel), was for Fallen Angel (1945), a moody film noir that was Otto Preminger’s follow-up in that genre to his celebrated Laura. Kleiner’s next work was the bland 1948 policier The Street With No Name (remade, with considerably more pep, by Sam Fuller as House of Bamboo). From there Kleiner moved on to write a number of studio A pictures including Lewis Milestone’s Kangaroo (1952), William Dieterle’s Salome (1953), Curtis Bernhardt’s Miss Sadie Thompson (1953), Preminger’s Carmen Jones (1954), Rudolph Mate’s western The Violent Men (1955), and two at Warner Bros. for Vincent Sherman, the epic Ice Palace (1960) and A Fever in the Blood (1961). He also worked without credit on William Wyler’s Friendly Persuasion (1956). Following an interlude in television, Kleiner worked on Richard Fleischer’s Fantastic Voyage (1966) and then Bullitt (1968) and Le Mans (1971) for Steve McQueen. His final credits – the last awarded at an ageism-defying 73 – were on two action pictures in collaboration with director Walter Hill, Extreme Prejudice (1987) and Red Heat (1988). Kleiner was nominated for two WGA Awards and won an Edgar for Bullitt.
Kleiner’s television credits were selective but noteworthy. Roy Huggins, who produced A Fever in the Blood, was an advocate for luring veteran screenwriters into television, and he engaged Kleiner to write four episodes of the worthwhile TV version of Bus Stop (1960-61). In the same season Kleiner wrote at least two teleplays for the Untouchables knockoff Target: The Corrupters. In 1962, when Huggins moved from the cancelled Bus Stop at Fox to produce Universal’s new ninety-minute western The Virginian, Kleiner followed and wrote all or part of six segments. None of those, as it happens, were very good: Kleiner seems to have fared better working with strong feature directors, or adapting literary material, than in the fast-paced world of crafting original stories for television.
The Guild also confirmed my suspicion that Kleiner also wrote under the name “Harold Clements” (note the similarity in both initial consonants). Several internet sources indicate that Kleiner’s credit on a 1964 segment of the Chrysler Theatre, “The Faceless Man,” morphed into one for Clements after the show (an unsold pilot, I think) was released theatrically in 1968 under the title The Counterfeit Killer. The Counterfeit Killer was padded out with some reshoots scripted by a young Steven Bochco (whose first screenwriting job was this curious one of expanding old anthology episodes into low-budget movies for Universal). It’s understandable that Kleiner would want to take his name off that mess, although I’m unclear as to why he used the pseudonym on six full or partial Checkmate teleplays between 1960-1961. Most likely, Kleiner was under exclusive contract to another studio (presumably Warners) at the time and sought to conceal his moonlighting. (Pulp enthusiasts take note: One of those Checkmates was a rewrite of a Leigh Brackett script, another a polish of a William P. McGivern teleplay.) None of the Clements Checkmate scripts strikes me as very impressive either, apart from the final one, “Voyage Into Fear,” a final draft of a story & teleplay by the underrated TV western writer Edmund Morris.
I first got interested in Harry Kleiner after reading A Very Dangerous Citizen, Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner’s biography of the blacklisted writer-director Abraham Polonsky. In it, Buhle and Wagner (perhaps respecting their subject’s legendary reluctance to confirm his under-the-table work, or else simply speculating) hinted provocatively that Polonsky made uncredited contributions to the screenplays for both Preminger’s Carmen Jones (1954) and Robert Aldrich’s The Garment Jungle (1957). (Aldrich was replaced by Vincent Sherman, who received sole credit.) The authors observed that the directors of those films shared a sympathy for leftist politics (and victims of the blacklist), but I noted another connection: both screenplays were credited entirely to Harry Kleiner. An unlikely coincidence, or had Kleiner perhaps worked as a front for Polonsky on two important features?
I decided it might be worthwhile to ask him, and to collect whatever stories Kleiner could tell about his TV work on the way, but sadly he never responded to any of my inquiries via the Writers Guild. My hunch is that he was ill the whole time. His last residence was apparently far from Hollywood, in the Chicago area, which may help explain why no one noticed the passing of this major screenwriter . . . until now.
February 5, 2008
Television writer Robert Guy Barrows died on January 31. Barrows penned scripts for some of the top dramas, action shows, and westerns of the mid-sixties and early seventies: Ben Casey, Big Valley, Daniel Boone, Mission: Impossible, The Virginian, Run For Your Life, four for The Man Who Never Was. He wrote the Fugitive episode wherein Kimble hides out in a home for the sightless and solves the problems of several embittered blind people, and three Kraft Suspense Theatres including “The Gun,” a strident gun control piece starring Eddie Albert. My favorite Barrows script was his first Kraft, “The Machine That Played God,” with Anne Francis as a woman who kills her abusive husband in self-defense, but starts to lose confidence in her version of events after she flunks a lie detector test.
Barrows wrote most (but not all) of those scripts with his second wife, Judith, who was nine years his junior. Shortly after Judith died from an overdose of pills in 1970, Barrows’ productivity as a TV writer largely ceased.
In his later years Barrows returned to his home state of Colorado, and recently resurfaced on the web.
Correction, 11/16/11: The original version of this piece misstated the cause of Judith Barrows’s death. Thanks to Jane Klain for some fast research assistance.