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 why Kleiner would want to take his name off that mess, although I’m unclear as to why he used the pseudonym on “Clements”‘ most substantive body of work: 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.
February 1, 2008
Jan 1: A. I. Bezzerides, co-creator of Big Valley.
Jan 9: Laurence Heath, writer/producer for Mission: Impossible and The Magician.
Jan 27: Bob Carroll, Jr., I Love Lucy legend.
Jan 30: Sidney Sheldon, creator of I Dream of Genie.
Feb 9: Elliott Baker, live TV writer (U.S. Steel Hour, Way Out).
Mar 18: Jack B. Sowards, specialist in late-period westerns (Bonanza, High Chaparral).
Apr 6: Stan Daniels, Mary Tyler Moore Show writer and co-creator of Taxi.
Apr 9: A. J. Carothers, story editor (Studio One) and writer (My Three Sons).
Apr 13: Gail Ingram, live TV vet (Mama, Big Story) and My Three Sons rewrite guru.
May 6: Cynthia Lindsay, who wrote some My Three Sons and Family Affairs.
Jun 16: Wanda Duncan, who wrote a lot of Irwin Allen shows with her husband Bob.
Jun 17: Robert Vincent Wright, writer of many Mavericks and Bonanzas.
Jun 21: Suzanne Holland, ’60s soap opera writer.
Jun 23: Glenn Wolfe, who wrote two Perry Masons with Sol Stein.
Jul 27: David Shaw, prolific writer for nearly every major live dramatic anthology and story editor on The Defenders.
Aug 8: Melville Shavelson, screenwriter who produced My World and Welcome to It.
Aug 17: Max Hodge, industrial show writer who turned to TV (Girl From UNCLE, Batman).
Aug 25: Jim Carlson, Laugh-In writer turned’70s action scribe (Battlestar Galactica).
Sep 6: Sidney Ellis, action journeyman (Bonanza, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea).
Sep 19: Robert Sabaroff, Star Trek writer and Then Came Bronson producer.
Oct 17: Harry Kleiner, versatile drama/action writer (Bus Stop, Checkmate, The Virginian).
Oct 18: J. T. Gollard, who co-wrote one episode of The Fugitive.
Nov 7: George W. George, prolific action writer (The Rifleman, Adventures in Paradise) with his wife Judy.
Nov 9: Francine Carroll, creator of Amy Prentiss.
Nov 12: Ira Levin, novelist/playwright who began as a busy live TV writer (Lights Out, U.S. Steel Hour).
Nov 18: Hollis Alpert, film critic who co-wrote one Johnny Staccato.
Nov 26: Mel Tolkin, Your Show of Shows head writer.
Dec 14: Jack Gross, Jr., sitcom writer (Gilligan’s Island).
Dec 19: James Costigan, Hallmark Hall of Fame mainstay and Emmy winner for TV movies.
Dec 31: Bill Idelson, one of the major Andy Griffith Show contributors.
Feb 18: Jack Wood, Emmy-winning soap opera director (All My Children).
Mar 3: Sutton Roley, action director (Combat, Mannix) renowned for his visual flair.
Mar 15: Stuart Rosenberg, the top dramatic TV director in the early ’60s (Naked City, The Defenders, Chrysler Theater).
May 6: Curtis Harrington, indie horror filmmaker who directed TV movies and episodes (Charlie’s Angels) in the ’70s.
May 11: Norman Frank, live TV director/producer (The Jonathan Winters Show, Wide Wide World).
Jun 11: Bill Glenn, TV documentary director who became big in soaps (Young and the Restless).
Jun 26: Ron Weyman, top CBC director (Wojeck) who did a few US shows (Adventures in Paradise).
Aug 11: Richard Compton, ex-actor turned action director (Miami Vice).
Aug 27: Richard Heffron, ’70s film director who did the pilots for Toma and The Rockford Files.
Oct 26: Bernard L. Kowalski, prolific A-list director (Rawhide, Columbo) who launched Mission: Impossible.
Nov 11: Delbert Mann, Philco Television Playhouse staffer famous for “Marty.”
Dec 21: John McPherson, cinematographer (an Emmy winner for Amazing Stories) and director (Incredible Hulk, Alien Nation).
Jan 8: Yvonne DeCarlo, Lily Munster.
Jan 13: Larkin Ford (aka Will West), purported last survivor of live “Twelve Angry Men” cast.
Jan 16: Ron Carey, annoying Barney Miller regular.
Jan 27: Tige Andrews, Detectives supporting cop and Mod Squad‘s Captain Greer.
Jan 31: Lee Bergere, character actor who played Abe Lincoln in a Star Trek.
Feb 4: Barbara McNair, black singer and ’60s ingenue who had her own variety show.
Feb 14: Lee Patterson, top-billed star of Surfside 6 (reported in the media some eight months after his death).
Feb 15: Walker Edmiston, voice actor also in many authority-figure bits in the ’60s.
Feb 19: Janet Blair, ’40s movie star turned live TV ingenue.
Feb 24: Bruce Bennett, ex-Tarzan who guest-starred on a lot of ’50s and ’60s shows.
Mar 1: Eddie Firestone, diminutive supporting player in hundreds of TV episodes.
Mar 11: Betty Hutton, ’40s movie star who had an eponymous sitcom.
Mar 15: Alice Backes, tall small-part actress, a secretary or spinster aunt in many sitcoms.
Mar 20: John P. Ryan, eccentric character actor, often a villain or cop in ’70s TV.
Mar 21: John Zaccaro, early ’60s bit player.
Mar 22: Angus Duncan, bit actor/second lead active on TV from the ’60s through the ’90s.
Apr 1: Salem Ludwig, blacklisted New York character actor, a recurring D.A. on The Defenders.
Apr 2: Paul Reed, comic actor, the boss on The Cara Williams Show, recurring on Car 54.
Apr 7: Barry Nelson, square-faced star of ’50s live anthologies and My Favorite Husband.
Apr 11: Roscoe Lee Browne, imposing black character actor, recurring on Soap.
Apr 19: Bob Miles, frequent bit player (and Michael Landon’s stunt double) on Bonanza.
Apr 24: Roy Jenson, sneering supporting villain in many westerns and QM shows.
Apr 28: Dabbs Greer, resident clergyman on Little House on the Prairie and Picket Fences, a quintessential small-part character actor at his best in infrequent heavy roles.
Apr 29: Andre Philippe, Cricket’s bandleader on Hawaiian Eye and a teacher on Mr. Novak.
Apr 30: Tom Poston, Steve Allen regular and Newhart sidekick.
May 6: Maurice Marsac, French-accented bit actor who played many a headwaiter.
May 7: Shirl Conway, star of The Nurses. Arch Whiting, one of the crewmen on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
May 9: Beau Van Den Ecker, stuntman/bit player on Combat and Hawaii Five-O.
May 27: Gretchen Wyler, stage actress in an occasional TV guest role.
Jun 11: Mala Powers, film ingenue turned guest star on many Perry Masons and Warner Bros. westerns & private eye shows.
Jun 16: Joe di Reda, busy bit actor.
Jun 21: Carlos Romero, Mexican supporting player with a devilish grin.
Jul 9: Charles Lane, TV’s oldest old man and Petticoat Junction‘s Homer Bedloe.
Jul 11: Rod Lauren, ’60s juvenile lead guest star and real-life murder suspect/suicide.
Jul 12: Maury Hill, veteran bit player from live TV (Space Patrol).
Jul 17: Bart Burns, actual last survivor of live “Twelve Angry Men” cast.
Jul 19: Laura Devon, beautiful ’60s blonde, an underutilized ingenue and member of the Richard Boone Show repertory.
Aug 3: James Callahan, perpetual guest star and recurring Dr. Kildare intern.
Aug 21: Terri Messina, cute bit player in late ’60s shows.
Aug 24: Bill Catching, veteran stunt man who spoke a line or two in many ’60s shows.
Aug 28: Miyoshi Umeki, ethnic-stereotype housekeeper on The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.
Sep 3: Steve Ryan, Tige Andrews lookalike and Crime Story supporting cop.
Sep 4: Michael Evans, British-born bit player.
Sep 6: Percy Rodrigues, black lead guest actor of the ’60s and ’70s.
Sep 10: Jane Wyman, ’40s movie star who hosted the Fireside Theatre.
Sep 15: Brett Somers, Match Game panelist and TV guest star (Defenders, Odd Couple).
Sep 18: Sallie Brophy, busy ’50s and early ’60s supporting actress.
Sep 21: Alice Ghostley, comic character actress who was one of Bewitched‘s witches.
Oct 2: George Grizzard, essential everyman actor of the ’60s, in important TV roles from The Twilight Zone to Law and Order.
Oct 9: Carol Bruce, WKRP in Cincinnati‘s Mama Carlson.
Oct 12: Lonny Chapman, hoarse-voiced character actor, ubiquitous on The Defenders, ’50s live anthologies, cop shows & westerns.
Oct 14: Sigrid Valdis, Colonel Klink’s sexy secretary on Hogan’s Heroes.
Oct 17: Joey Bishop, star of an eponymous ’60s sitcom.
Oct 21: Vic Ramos, bit actor in ’60s New York shows and later a major casting director.
Oct 25: Lyn Statten, small-part actress in ’50s and early ’60s TV shows.
Oct 30: Robert Goulet, the star of Blue Light.
Nov 10: Laraine Day, ’40s movie star turned frequent TV guest star (Hitchcock, Wagon Train).
Nov 14: Michael Blodgett, who played a lot of hippies in late ’60s shows. Ronnie Burns, briefly a juvenile lead in the ’50s and played himself on father George’s series.
Nov 19: Dick Wilson, sitcom bit player made famous by some TV ads.
Nov 28: Jeanne Bates, Ben Casey‘s Nurse Wills and a familiar supporting player.
Dec 5: Joe Brooks, F Troop supporting player.
Dec 23: Michael Walker, sixties juvenile lead (Perry Mason, Ironside).
Other Creative People
Jan 1: Howard Kunin, film editor (Gidget, Cannon).
Jan 4: Richard Belding, head film editor for Universal TV during the late ’60s. Steve Krantz, network exec and producer.
Jan 27: Claude Binyon Jr., assistant director on The Outer Limits and Get Smart.
Jan 30: Karl Messerschmidt, longtime technical director at NBC (The Dean Martin Show).
Feb 6: Frankie Laine, sang the Rawhide theme and appeared in a few ’60s shows.
Feb 27: Meryl Abeles (O’Loughlin), casting director (Outer Limits, The Fugitive) and casting exec for MTM Productions.
Mar 4: Robert Prince, top ’70s composer of incidental scores (Mannix, Night Gallery, Name of the Game).
Apr 1: Tom Moore, network president who dumbed down ABC from 1962-1969.
Apr 23: Bob Moore, film editor (Dobie Gillis, I Spy, Good Morning World).
May 14: William W. Spencer, director of photography many shows, especially for QM (12 O’Clock High, The FBI).
May 21: Bud Molin, film editor (I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Spy).
May 25: Benjamin J. Kasazkow, art director on The Defenders, Hawk, and NYPD.
May 26: George Greeley, composer (My Living Doll, the My Favorite Martian theme).
Jun 2: Leroy Coleman, MGM art director for Mr. Novak, Cain’s Hundred, etc.
Jun 10: Ben Lane, Columbia makeup dept. head overseeing Bewitched, The Monkees, etc.
Jun 17: Ed Friendly, network exec turned producer (Laugh-In, Backstairs at the White House).
Jun 25: Carmen Dirigo, hair stylist for The Andy Griffith Show and Petticoat Junction.
Jun 30: Will Schaefer, composer of incidental scores for I Dream of Jeannie and other sitcoms.
Jul 27: William Tuttle, created some famous makeup designs for The Twilight Zone.
Jul 29: Tom Snyder, old-school talk show host.
Aug 12: Merv Griffin, game show pioneer & talk show host.
Sep 8: James McAdams, producer at Universal (The Virginian, Kojak).
Sep 28: Martin Manulis, legendary live TV producer (Playhouse 90).
Oct 23: Robert F. O’Neill, associate producer on Dr. Kildare and Columbo.
Nov 13: Monty Westmore, Ozzie and Harriet makeup man.
Dec 3: Gary Shaffer, casting director for The Courtship of Eddie’s Father and Medical Center.
January 20, 2008
The musical name typically associated with The Defenders is Leonard Rosenman, a distinguished young composer of film scores (East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause), whom producer Herbert Brodkin had hired to write a short fanfare that served as the opening title theme for The Defenders. But that was the extent of Rosenman’s contribution; for the first season, The Defenders was underscored entirely with library music, which often gave this distinguished show the sound and feel of a cheap B movie.
Once The Defenders was a hit of sorts for CBS, Brodkin wisely opted to expand its music budget. He hired Lewin, who had been the music supervisor (i.e., the man who selected and positioned the stock music tracks) for Brenner, a half-hour cop show Brodkin had produced in 1959, to create original scores for every episode beginning with the third season. At the same time Lewin became the credited composer for The Nurses, the medical show that Brodkin was also producing for CBS.
The difference was immediate and palpable. Lewin proved to be a rich, innovative talent, and one evidently up to the task of crafting music for over sixty hours of television each year between 1963 and 1965. Undoubtedly some tracks were reused, but nearly every episode has a unique motif that relates to its subject matter. The Nurses episode “Gismo on the EEG,” for instance, marked one of TV’s earliest uses of electronic music to accompany its story of a tomboyish nurse who builds an important medical device in the hospital basement. For “The Leopard Killer,” about an African chieftain stranded in the alienating modern world of an American hospital, Lewin wrote a percussion-driven score to suggest the sound of tribal drums.
(Lewin may also have been involved with both series as a composer or music supervisor prior to his initial credit on them in 1963. There are also no screen credits identifying the stirring orchestral theme to The Nurses or the jazzy, minimalist alternating solo timpani and sax riffs heard throughout Brenner and over its closing credits. I wonder if Lewin is responsible for those as well.)
Lewin taught music at Yale and Columbia for many years and composed scores for local theater productions and outdoor historical dramas. He evidently worked as a music editor or supervisor for other New York-based TV dramas in the ’50s, and on a few movies (Splendor in the Grass, The Angel Levine), but his only important film credit as a composer was on Michael Roemer’s The Plot Against Harry – a film made in 1969 but shelved for twenty years.
Lewin’s website has a photo and a more detailed resume and biography.
UPDATE: TV music expert Jon Burlingame points out that ASCAP credits the main and end titles of The Nurses to Robert W. Stringer, who received screen credit as the show’s music supervisor for the first season only. The score for “Night Shift,” the pilot episode, was composed by Glenn Osser. So my speculation that Lewin might have been responsible for The Nurses theme was inaccurate. I do suspect that the Brenner motif I described was Lewin’s work – either an original composition or a very skillful arrangement of existing cues – although I should add that what I called a “sax riff” may be a different woodwind which my very untrained ears can’t identify.
UPDATE, 2/6/08: Members of Mr. Lewin’s family have contacted me with a couple of corrections, and the text has been adjusted to reflect those. The Lewins also report that Frank did compose the Nurses main title theme – that he called it “his Tchaikovsky” because of its “sweeping, romantic character.” Assuming that’s true, it’s interesting to speculate why Lewin never received credit for his work (as Leonard Rosenman did for his Defenders theme).
January 14, 2008
I’ve decided to treat the articles on my website as finished pieces and resist the temptation to rewrite or add onto them as new information comes my way. But that doesn’t preclude annotating them occasionally by way of this blog.
I was pleased to note that the best segment by far of the batch of The Outcasts that I watched over the holidays was written by Anthony Lawrence. That confirmed my view of Lawrence as an adept commercial TV writer capable of occasionally going deeper with a poignant, heartfelt work, like his masterpiece, The Outer Limits‘ “The Man Who Was Never Born.” The Outcasts, in case you’ve never heard of it, was an odd biracial western that ran on ABC for one season (1968-1969). It never quite made it as an allegory for Black Panther-era racial politics, but it did offer TV’s first black male action hero who didn’t take any crap from anybody, and it depicted the shaky camaraderie between buddy protagonists who were a former slave (Otis Young) and slavemaster (Don Murray) with a surprising integrity.
Lawrence’s “Take Your Lover in the Ring” was a romance between Young’s character and another ex-slave (Gloria Foster), a woman who appears to be traveling in servitude to her former master (John Dehner, ideally cast), even though it’s a few years after the Civil War. The series’ pilot included a good throwaway line about how former slave Young had once been the stakes in a poker game, and I could see how Lawrence picked up on that notion and spun it into “Take Your Lover”‘s initial premise of Young winning Foster’s freedom at a card table. Of course, it’s a starcrossed love affair – for Lawrence, there was no other kind – once the script pulls a big switcheroo and reveals that Foster and Dehner are actually partners in a con game. (The title of the segment refers to an obscure bit of African American folklore, a elaborate children’s chant that Lawrence fearlessly incorporates into Young and Foster’s dialogue as a kind of courtship ritual. It’s almost too purple, but I think it works.)
“Take Your Lover in the Ring” was the Outcasts episode submitted for Emmy consideration (Hugo Montenegro’s score got a nomination) and the Museum of TV and Radio screened it in a 1993 program, so I’m not the only one who found it memorable. Lawrence’s other Outcasts segment, “The Glory Wagon,” was more in keeping with the show’s emphasis on uncomplicated action fare. But I enjoyed being able to peg it as a Lawrence script even before his credit came on screen, because Jack Elam’s flamboyant outlaw is introduced in the prologue as “Abel Morgan Blackner.” It’s yet another variation on a similarly named character, plucked from his wife’s family history, whom Lawrence incorporated over and over again in his work. Sussing out the personal within the generally impersonal medium of mainstream television is the kind of task that historians haven’t even begun to come to terms with. Individual instances like this one might seem trivial, but I think they add up to an important consideration when one tries to sort out how content was forged out of the variety of influences (cultural, financial, political, individual) at work in the TV industry.
I wrote about Norman Katkov‘s “The Lonely Hostage” as one of his best efforts. But until now I had never taken a look at the other two Ironsides that Katkov wrote, because he shared credit on them with other writers. “Perfect Crime” is a campus sniper whodunit with a magnificently implausible resolution, but Katkov’s teleplay is tricky enough to keep the viewer guessing along with the cop characters. “Side Pocket,” on which Katkov was probably the last of the three credited writers (Sy Salkowitz and the talented Charles A. McDaniel were the others), is slightly better, a pool hustling story centered around a restrained performance by Jack Albertson as Manie (or is that “Money”? I can’t tell from the actors’ pronunciations) Howard, a legendary, calculating pool shark who “doesn’t play for less than $500.”
It’s foolhardy to speculate on who wrote what in these split-credit teleplays, but I’d wager (less than $500, though) that Katkov was responsible for most of Albertson’s spare dialogue: “The hand, the stick, they eye. It’s like they got a life of their own. They do what they want. It’s like I’m not even there. Just the hand, the stick, and the eye.” The first two seasons of Ironside, recently out on DVD, include all of these episodes (there’s another Katkov credit in the third season, which will hopefully appear soon). If you’re only sampling the show via online rentals or the like, these three are well worth including.
Finally, it was a treat to find some video of Don M. Mankiewicz on Youtube, in which he mostly discusses labor issues but also catalogs some of the same high points of a TV career that he told me about in our interview. So far it’s the only positive dividend I can think of to come out of the devastating writer’s strike of ought-seven.
January 8, 2008
Checking in briefly to comment on a trio (they come in threes, you know) of deaths among the pioneers of the early days of television.
Bill Idelson, who died on December 31, was a radio and TV actor who transitioned into comedy writing in middle age. He had a juveline lead in an important radio show, Vic and Sade (note the quote in the LA Times from radio great Norman Corwin, still with it at 95), but I remember his recurring role as Rose Marie’s Oedipally-challenged suitor on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Idelson wrote a few Dick Van Dyke scripts and then, with collaborator Sam Bobrick, a slew of Gomer Pyle and Andy Griffith Show scripts, including the classic “Goober Takes a Car Apart.” (Possibly the only Goober-centric episode I can tolerate.) Credits on a multitude of popular sitcoms followed, some written with Bobrick and others with a subsequent partner, Harvey Miller: The Odd Couple, M*A*S*H, The Bob Newhart Show, Love American Style, et cetera. I can’t figure out why these obits for comedy writers never mention their longtime collaborators: is it lazy research on the IMDb (where it’s hard to suss out writing teams within the credits), or posthumous credit-hogging in the families’ press releases?
Herbert B. Swope, Jr., son of the famous journalist, died January 4. He was one of the forgotten TV directors of the live era who never made any real inroads into filmed television or movies. I’m glad there’s an AP obit, but it garbles the chronology a bit. “Ottie” Swope directed or produced a lot of live TV in New York in the late ’40s and early ’50s, mostly for NBC: Lights Out, Robert Montgomery Presents, Armstrong Circle Theatre. Then he moved to L.A. to direct Climax out of CBS’ Television City complex in 1955, then quickly moved into a producing job at Fox, where he oversaw a batch of feature films. While at Fox Swope evidently produced some of their TV shows, including Five Fingers and The Many Lives of Dobie Gillis. (Fox’s burgeoning TV department had become a live TV elephant’s graveyard: this was during the same time that Playhouse 90‘s resident genius, Martin Manulis, was spinning his wheels as their head TV exec.) I don’t know what happened to Swope after the early ’60s; retired early to Florida, it appears, where I’m guessing all the TV historians neglected him. He was on my list, but I never made the call.
Finally, James Costigan died on December 19, but his body wasn’t found by neighbors until a week later. He’d been living on Bainbridge Island, Washington, where he’d spent his last years as the neighborhood recluse. Costigan was a successful playwright who began his TV career writing for the usual live dramas (The Web, Kraft Television Theatre, Studio One, The U.S. Steel Hour) before he settled in as the primary writer for the Hallmark Hall of Fame from about 1956-60, the period when it accrued much of its prestige. Costigan mostly wrote adaptations but also did the show’s first original script, “Little Moon of Alban,” an Irish rebellion drama that won enough acclaim to morph into a short-lived Broadway play. He also wrote John Frankenheimer’s live production of “The Turn of the Screw” for Ford Startime. During the ’70s Costigan wrote several award-winning movies of the week, including Eleanor and Franklin and Love Among the Ruins. He was nominated for five Emmys and won three.
I wasn’t surprised to read that Costigan died in seclusion; word of his elusiveness had gotten around. I hadn’t seen enough of Costigan’s work to get interested in taking up the search myself, but several people, including a former president of the Writers Guild, had reported to me their unsuccessful attempts to track Costigan down with the idea of recording some sort of oral history. I’ve gotten to know a few TV veterans who bailed on their Hollywood lives very definitively, and others who’ve shunned interviews, but Costigan was apparently in a league by himself. I’m guessing no one ever got to him, and we’ll have to speculate as to why he hid himself away.
UPDATED: The LA Times finds a niece and gets a good quote on Costigan from my friend Del Reisman.