A Question of Guilt

Filmed November 1966

Seven working days after I completed photography on THE RAID (during which time I prepared my next episode while another episode was filming) I returned to the streets of Los Angeles to begin filming A QUESTION OF GUILT and was surprised to find that William Cline, director of photography for my last two episodes, was no longer with the company. That was a disappointment. I liked working with Cline; I thought his work was much like Billy Spencer’s and as with Billy, I had had a good working relationship with him. Suddenly the constancy I had expected when I signed on to be exclusive to a series was no more.

When I moved to Carmel almost twenty years ago, I had to make a strange adjustment whenever I dined in a restaurant. The waiters and waitresses were different. They didn’t look like the waiters and waitresses I was used to having wait on me in Southern California. The southern version had all looked like movie stars waiting to be discovered, aspiring actors waiting in the wings. I used to like to go to Butterfield’s, a fine restaurant on Sunset Boulevard that was in what had been the guesthouse of John Barrymore’s home. One of the waiters there was David Mauro. He played Joseph Spooner, the junkie slain in the prolog to this week’s episode.

I met Andrew Duggan at a dinner party at writer Jean Holloway’s house. He was an impressive man – six foot four with a distinctive voice and a face that looked like it was carved in stone. When I read the script for A QUESTION OF GUILT, I immediately thought of him to play Tom Barrett, the cynical reporter. For the role of Frank Harris, the policeman, I wanted to cast the fine actor, Larry Gates, with whom I had worked three years before on THE NURSES. I gave my requests to casting executive John Conwell, who submitted them to Quinn Martin for approval. Word came back that they had been approved, but Quinn thought the roles should be switched. And you know what – he was right. While Duggan could have played either character, there was a polished elegance about Larry Gates that made the reporter the better role for him.

During the war, not the Revolutionary War, World War II, I was stationed in Belgium. I was assigned to an anti-aircraft group headquarters where my duties were to take a 16 mm  projector into the fields and run movies for the troops. Close to seven decades later one incident has remained vivid in my memory. I was running LAURA in a cold tent filled with fatigue clad G.I.’s. With only one projector, every ten minutes I had to change reels. As the film reached the end of the second reel, Dana Andrews’ detective character in a scene at a cocktail party arrested Laura, played by Gene Tierney. There was the stunned silence of the party attendees and then Laura’s maid screamed as the end of the reel arrived to the groans of the attending GI viewers. I jokingly said as I was changing the reels, “Wouldn’t this be a terrible time for the projector to break down.” And when I hit the switch to begin the next reel – nothing happened. The projector because of constant use in the cold weather had indeed decided to take a rest. I tell you all this because Laura’s maid was played by Dorothy Adams, one of the classic faces of American film. By 1966 I had known Doro for a decade; she was the mother of Rachel Ames, with whom I had worked on four stage productions and the wife of Byron Foulger, who was a regular on FULL CIRCLE, the soap opera where I spent a bumpy six months as assistant producer. I cast Doro as the mother of the slain junkie.

In the twenty-one years between the tent in Belgium and the soundstage at Warner Bros I had other contacts with Dorothy Adams. When I was a student at the Pasadena Playhouse I had not met her but I saw her perform many times in their main stage productions. I remember her playing Joan of Arc in a production of Maxwell Anderson’s JOAN OF LORRAINE and admiring her poor drunken Birdie in ANOTHER PART OF THE FOREST. Many years later at the Playhouse when I was directing her daughter Rachel in THE CIRCLE, Doro came to an early costume rehearsal and was not pleased with the gown that the wardrobe department had provided. So Doro went to one of the costume houses in Hollywood and brought back a stunning outfit for Rachel to wear. There were those at the Playhouse who were not too pleased, but her association with the Playhouse pre-dated that of any of the disgruntled and Doro was a formidable lady, a force to be reckoned with. That was an attribute she maintained for the rest of her life. As she aged and the acting assignments became scarcer, Doro taught acting courses at UCLA. In her final years she entered the famed Hollywood Motion Picture Home in the San Fernando Valley, afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. At the home Alzheimer patients were in an enclosed gated area. Soon after she arrived Doro decided the other Alzheimer patients needed some exercise, so she somehow managed to secure a key to the gate, opened it and took all of the other patients out for a walk. She was truly a great lady and a brilliant actress.

I was happy to be able to go out into the streets of Los Angeles to film the opening killing of Spooner and the truck driving through in the café scene. There was a NAKED CITY reality that could never have been captured if those scenes had been filmed on the backlot. If this show had been an episode of NAKED CITY, the café scene would have been filmed on location in a real restaurant and the point of view shot through the front window of the truck passing by would have been filmed there. But the café scene in A QUESTION OF GUILT was filmed in a set on a soundstage, while the point of view through the front window of the truck driving was  filmed at the location. There was an added advantage to filming the café scene on a soundstage. Here is the last page of the script of Act I.

 

Sometimes a director follows the script but alters its focus. In this case the script called for the waitress to come in and pick up the tip with the scene-ending emphasis being on Spooner’s wristwatch that she was wearing. Because of Richard Haman’s imaginatively designed set I was able to conceal the identity of the waitress as she moved to the counter to pick up the tip and save the scene-ending emphasis for the revelation that she was the woman who had witnessed Joe Spooner’s killing and that she recognized McKinney and Vic as his murderers.

As I watch the film today I find little fault with the photography, but it was difficult working with Robert Moreno, the new cameraman who replaced Bill Cline. His photography didn’t have the rich film noirish texture of the work of the two Billy’s, Spencer and Cline, and I have to admit his style was very good for this episode. But as I remember it, working with him was laborious, it wasn’t fun.

There was one confrontation I do remember  — when we did the final shot in the last sequence. We were filming it at night on the backlot at Warner Bros. The camera was mounted on a crane and when I described the shot I wanted, Moreno said there was not enough room to do it. Well by this time I had been around the ballpark a couple of times and was not to be deterred as I had been several years before on that bridge in the TWILIGHT ZONE. I told him where the crane should be, where it moved, I carefully laid out every detail in the way I thought the shot could be acconplished. And it worked.

The amazing thing is that in viewing it now the shot doesn’t seem that difficult.

I had wanted to work again with Eve McVeigh ever since she played Lou Antonio’s mother in THE BULL ROARER on BREAKING POINT. She had given such a fine performance in a very minor but difficult role, I felt I owed her. I finally found a role for her.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I like to direct action sequences but I get as much  satisfaction when I have a good strong scene and can film it on a soundstage with two fine actors. I’ve just shown you one of those good experiences. Here’s another.

What would a Quinn Martin show be without a final action sequence of cars with squealing tires. I’m not sure. I never directed one. In fact I’m not sure, but I don’t think I ever saw one.

One day on the set Andrew Duggan and I were talking. He mentioned that he had been in an episode of THE FBI during its first season. “What part did you play? I asked him. He tilted his head, smiled and said, “A cop.”

When I completed photography on A QUESTION OF GUILT I was tired. Part of it was because I had filmed eight episodes in six months without any time off. I’m sure the loss of Billy Spencer halfway through contributed to the fatigue. I called my agent and asked him to see if I could sit out an episode to give myself some time off to rest up, to recharge my batteries. When I entered into this contract I had been aware that although I was receiving the top salary that Quinn was paying his directors, he did have a very select few to whom he was paying a bit more. I had requested that I receive that higher stipend which he granted. My agent checked with Quinn and reported back to me that I could have the time off, but my salary for the balance of the contract would no longer include the extra sum. I was shocked. Since at that time the number of episodes for the season was more than twenty-six, I would still be able to fulfill my commitment of thirteen episodes. I wondered if like Paul Bryar and his experience with Quinn on THE UNTOUCHABLES, I was being punished for what Quinn had questioned about my conduct on the set of THE DEATH WIND. Whatever it was, I wasn’t having any part of it. I told my agent that under those conditions, I wanted to terminate my commitment for the balance of the contract. He secured my release. It was around Thanksgiving and I gave myself some time to rest up. Then with no bookings in my future I made plans to return to the midwest to spend the holidays with my family. Shortly before I was to depart I received a call from one of my agents about an offer of employment for a show to be filmed in January in a series that I had never directed. I said accept it. He did. Now had I not terminated my commitment to THE FBI, I would not have been available for this next booking, which after a change in assigned scripts was THIS SIDE OF PARADISE on STAR TREK.

The journey continues

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3 Responses to A Question of Guilt

  1. Great Ralph!!! Seek the way to see the series, thanks.

  2. Kathy Tasich says:

    I think it’s marvelous you provide the biographies of the actors/actresses who play small, but inportant scenes in these episodes such as Dorothy Adams and Eve McVeigh. The scene between Duggen and McVeigh was extremely powerful. The Cop vs journalist scene showed two pros at their best! You give them real recognition for there immense talents that often go unnoticed. Could you please tell me the name of the actress who witnessed the murder? She was exceptional! Any information on her? Bravo Ralph for these wonderful insights!

  3. Ralph says:

    The actress was STELLA GARCIA. She worked probably three days. The scene on location in the alley, the scene in the cafe with her boy friend and there was another scene between her and Zimbalist-Brooks. And I never saw her again. That was not a time when Hispanic actors and actresses were finding a lot of work. But I agree with you, she was wonderful.

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