Alive And Still A Second Lieutenant

Filmed February 1963

My return to the west coast after the ROUTE 66 production in Texas was of very short duration, just long enough to replenish my suitcase with clean clothes, pick up a script at the studio (a complete one this time) and fly off to New York for my next assignment for Bert Leonard, a NAKED CITY entitled ALIVE AND STILL A SECOND LIEUTENANT. I have to confess — I am not a New York type person. My first brush with the big city was a very brief stay in 1952, so my return to New York in 1963 was really my introduction to the Big Apple. What I didn’t know then was just how well acquainted I was going to become with it. The next eight months would find me directing five more productions there.

It is said that one way to teach a person to swim is to toss him into the water and then it’s “sink or swim.” My five pictures for Herbert Leonard Productions was like that. Because of the forty theatre productions I had directed, I was very comfortable staging and directing on sound stages. But going outdoors for exteriors was another story, and I was getting a crash course in location filming. The wondrous thing was that I was given the opportunity by Leonard. Earlier I had been escorted by one of my agents to a meeting with Norman Lloyd, producer of television’s ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. Mr. Lloyd said to me, “Our next production is a mystery with an advertising agency background. What have you directed like that that you can show me?” I at that point only had a couple DR. KILDARE episodes that were neither mystery nor advertising agency. I didn’t get that assignment. But because of Bert Leonard, there I was in February, 1963, on West End Avenue turning onto 94th or 95th Street (I can’t remember everything) with no cop shows on my resume, staging and filming my first scene of a violent killing. I had succeeded with my location effort in Texas, but I was more familiar with that kind of drama. In theatre I had directed Arthur Miller’s DEATH OF A SALESMAN and THE CRUCIBLE, Eugene O’Neill’s  THE ICEMAN COMETH, Tennessee Williams’ THE GLASS MENAGERIE and Joseph Kramm’s THE SHRIKE. IN THE CLOSING OF A TRUNK was that kind of drama, theatrical and focused almost totally on actors’ performances. New York was a whole new ballgame. There was a gritty reality to the material and to filming on the street that was a new directing experience for me. It was now up to me to swim, not sink.

Although my prep period was not as abbreviated as it had been on ROUTE 66, it still was not the full six days usually scheduled for a director. And scouting locations was a time consuming assignment, since more than the exterior locations had to be found. At their studio in lower Manhattan there was a standing set for police headquarters, and a set was built for Jason’s apartment, but the rest of the interiors were live locations.

I met casting director Marion Dougherty, but I don’t remember auditioning any of the actors. As on ROUTE 66 it was left in her very capable hands. Happily I learned she had cast Robert Sterling, who three months before had guest starred  for me in PRINTER’S DEVIL on TWILIGHT ZONE. For the role of the son of the slain man, she cast twenty-four year old Jon Voight in what would be his first screen appearance.

That scene was Jon Voight’s first experience before a camera, and I have to say I didn’t think he was very good. The following summer I went down to the Globe Theatre in San Diego where he was appearing in two Shakespeare plays. Again he was not very good. When I say that, I am not demeaning the actor, I am praising him. I give him credit for going out and learning his craft. I also give credit to casting director Marion Dougherty. Marion had obviously seen Jon in some off-Broadway production and recognized a blooming talent that deserved a chance. It was only six years later, and again due to Marion’s casting, that he exploded on the screen with a magnificent performance in MIDNIGHT COWBOY. He indeed had gone out and learned his craft. And acting is a craft, an art, to be learned and developed. Great stars are not born. They need a place to work and be bad in order to learn to be good. Gable, Cagney, Tracy — all of them debuted in movies after they had passed the age of thirty. Bogie didn’t become a big star until he had reached his forties. And they are still with us as true screen legends. Where are those big stars of the Brat Pack: Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall et al. They had talent. Maybe stardom came too soon.

Back to Marion and she was remarkable. She was casting both NAKED CITY and ROUTE 66. Both shows were anthologies with small continuing casts which meant large numbers of guest roles to  be cast in each episode. All of this accomplished under the conditions created by the unconventional way Bert Leonard operated. Three of the five shows I directed did not have completed scripts when we started filming. I’ve often wondered how many times she had to cast roles before she had a chance to read the script.

In Texas I had my first experience filming a moving car sequence by towing. Here I would have my first experience filming with the camera in the moving car; the camera operator and I were in the back seat as we careened through the streets of Manhattan with Bob Sterling at the wheel.

Theatrical feature film was a director’s medium, but television, from the beginning because of its voracious demand for scripts (the early years of filmed television required at least thirty scripts a season) was a writer’s medium. For Herbert Leonard Productions Stirling Silliphant was one of the script doctors through whose typewriter scripts went on their way to the locations. I never met Howard Rodman, but I was aware that he also served that purpose. I would later learn that on a weekly series most scripts passed through the typewriters of an Earl Hamner on THE WALTONS to be Waltonized, or a Gene Coon on STAR TREK and THE WILD WILD WEST or many other unsung heroes. I suspected that the unseen Howard Rodman served the purpose of Naked Cityizing their scripts. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the writing of the police in this series was superior and far more realistic than what I would  encounter in my future cop-infested career.

Jack Priestley was the director of photography for NAKED CITY, and his style of lighting was different from the cameramen on the west coast. But it was a style that certainly worked for the series. The set for Jason’s office, if filmed on the west coast, would probably have been built at the studio. The New York studio for NAKED CITY was not nearly large enough to accommodate such construction, so we filmed on a live location. The result was a larger set than a television budget could have allowed for, and being a live location it was lit differently than it would have been lit on a sound stage. I think there is a documentary feel to the film which adds to the reality of the series.

This episode was the only time I worked with Nancy Malone on NAKED CITY. Two years later I was booked to direct the first episode of LONG HOT SUMMER, a series at 20th Century Fox based on the classic Paul Newman movie. A pilot had been filmed in which Nancy played the Joanne Woodward role. The pilot was scrapped, and a whole new cast was assembled. Since I was directing the first episode, I also was assigned the task of directing the tests of the replacement actors being considered for the series. Eventually all of the roles were cast except the Joanne Woodward role. The tests for that role did not produce an actress that the powers at the studio and the network found acceptable. They then decided they wanted Nancy after all and made an offer to her through her agent. Nancy was properly offended that she had been overlooked all of this time and turned them down. Frank Glicksman, who was producing the series and for whom I had directed TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH the previous season, knew of my association with Nancy on NAKED CITY. He asked me to contact her to try to influence her to accept the studio’s offer. I telephoned her; we had a nice conversation, and I guess I convinced her that she should accept the series, which she did. The series turned out to be a big bomb. I’ve never seen or had contact with Nancy since that time. I wonder if she has ever forgiven me.

NAKED CITY was the first time I filmed a sequence in a cemetery. It wasn’t the last. A decade later I directed five episodes of DAN AUGUST starring Burt Reynolds. All five episodes had a sequence in a cemetery, which proved to be prophetic. The series died after only one season.

This was the second show in less than three months that I worked with Robert Sterling. I think he is a perfect example of the way Hollywood discovered talent and then wasted it. His early work in films reveals a very attractive young man, put under contract by the studios for his looks, first Columbia, then MGM. At MGM he was the low man on the totem pole for the debonair, sophisticated, society roles: Robert Montgomery, Robert Taylor, Robert Young and Robert Sterling. (Interesting they were all named Robert). His fate in that position was to play leads in B productions (providing that Robert Young wasn’t available) and small supporting roles in A productions. The coming of live television in the early 50’s provided him (and so many other actors) the kind of roles they had for so long been denied. Then in 1953 he and his wife, Anne Jeffreys, were cast as stars of the  television series, TOPPER. I can’t resist — Robert Sterling developed into a sterling performer

When it came to shooting exterior metropolitan streets, the MGM backlot couldn’t compare to the streets of New York. The opposite was true when it came to filming interiors, which were done at NAKED CITY’s New York film studio, which was unlike any  film studio I had ever shot in on the west coast. As I remember, I think it was located on 3rd Street in lower Manhattan. As I further remember, it was not really a film studio. I thought it was an old three story Brownstone that had been gutted to provide a couple of pseudo sound stages, one stage housing the permanent police headquarters set, the other for the swing sets, in this case Jason’s apartment. There was not the height of the west coast sound stages to allow for the grids, so all overhead lighting was from lamps attached to the top of the set walls. And there wasn’t that great MGM prop department from which to draw the furniture and furnishings to dress the rooms.

Bert Leonard was not happy that I had Jason kiss Paula (which was not in the script stage directions). He interpreted it as a romantic moment, a love scene. I felt it was Jason’s desperate attempt to keep Paula from leaving. He was desperate enough to propose marriage. I still think I was right.

I earlier stated I was not a New York type person. That applied only to living in New York. Once I reported to the set to function as director, New York ceased to be a place to live. It became a movie set. And no art director ever provided me with a better place to film. I think there is no direction you can point a camera in New York and not get a wonderful shot, as long as you use a wide angle lens and don’t aim your camera directly into the wall of a building.

For me the power of this script was that it was an ordinary man, not a criminal, a common Joe involved in a crime. That was Hitchcock’s formula — to involve a common man in some nefarious situation. Unfortunately there would not be many of these guys in my future adventures in crime.

In a three month period Robert Sterling and I had collaborated on two films, one a commendable effort (this one) and one that would become a piece of classic television (the TWILIGHT ZONE). I never saw or had any contact with Robert Sterling again. There are eight million stories in Hollywood; ours was one of them.

The journey continues

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12 Responses to Alive And Still A Second Lieutenant

  1. Lisa M. says:

    Fascinating, once again, and thanks so much for including all the clips. The quality is outstanding and they really make your narration come alive for us.

    Nancy Malone had a tremendous strength as an actress, didn’t she? Clearly it helped the transition into her directing career, but it’s too bad she stopped appearing in front of the camera.

    She always reminded of another supremely talented actress, Lois Nettleton.

    Wonderful post!

  2. Daniel Rudolf says:

    The Long Hot Summer turned out to be a bomb in the States. However, many many miles and an ocean away it was a HUGE success. In Hungary, it was among the few American TV series aired that time, and it was one of the most watched and most successful thing on TV here. Most people above 40 know about it, and they know it better than the movie version. It’s kinda funny.

  3. detectivetom says:

    You are correct about the police writing being realistic. two quick emaples from this episode.

    On the crime scene Adam asks a citizen if he was a member of the police Crime Lab. He says no and then he orders him away from the vehicle. A bit of simple police humor.

    A moment later the wwwife and son of the victim approach, even before the police know the name of the vic. I count now even the count the number of times that happened to me.

    A quick question, mr. Senensky.

    In the scene when Adam and Libby approach his vehicle, prior to the confrontation with the cab driver, I thought I saw a quick flash. A camera perhaps from a citizen standing on the steet?

  4. Ralph says:

    Your eye is better than mine, Tom. I’ve never caught that quick flash. And if it did indeed happen and was noticed by us at the time, I know we would have reshot.

  5. Phil says:

    Hilda Brawner played Paula. IMDB says she was mostly in TV shows produced in NYC up to 1964. Her career restarted in 1971 under the name Hildy Brooks.

    Ralph, can I assume the production had permits to block or control certain streets for the exterior filming? The traffic (cars and pedestrians) was not as heavy as I would have expected. Did you do any filming on Saturday or Sunday to avoid congestion?

    In the 7th video, do you know the name of the cemetery or the streets it was near? Was it in Manhattan?! It reminds of the one used in ‘The Godfather’. Thanks.

    • Ralph says:

      We did nothing to control traffic. The location for the killing was a side street with less flow of traffic.I think a reason for the traffic not being so heavy was the weather. I remember that February as being brutally cold. And I don’t remember where the cemetery was. I’m not that well acquainted with New York. It could very well have been the one used in THE GODFATHER.

    • Lou S. says:

      Phil,

      The confrontation over the parking space occurred in front of 309 W. 78th Street.

      Later, we see Paula emerging from the subway stairs on E.53rd St a few steps away from 5th Avenue. (The awning from the famous Stork Club, a few doors down, can be seen in the background). She then turns on to 5th Avenue and enters the office building.

      I think the cemetery scenes were filmed at St. Raymond Cemetery in The Bronx. This cemetery was used in at least one other “Naked City” episode which starred Eddie Albert and a young Chris Walken. In that episode, you can see the towers of The Bronx Whitestone Bridge in the background.

  6. Keith Danish says:

    Ralph, it is a real treat to read your commentaries about the Route 66 and Naked City episodes that you directed. These series were so memorable to me, a young teen in the early 1960’s, exposing me to the complexity of the world and of human character. I still like to bike in the city and photograph “then and now” scenes of the remaining locations. You mention a studio on 3rd Street in Manhattan used for Naked City, but I thought they used the Biograph Studio in the Bronx (sometimes called Gold Medal Studio).

  7. Mike K. says:

    I recently rediscovered Route 66 on Retro TV and fascinated watching it, especially how the locations as so much a part of the show. As a writer I’ve always admired Sterling Silliphant’s grasp of the language and how easily and marvelously he turned a phrase. George Maharis had a brooding magnetism that the later episodes following his departure from the series lacked. I wonder, given what must have been prohibitive costs to do location shooting week after week, if Route 66 made money for the producers (Leonard/Silliphant) or the network? And do you think such an ambitious series – both from a creative and from a production standpoint – could ever be done today? I’m assuming the answer to the latter question is no, which saddens me. Terrific site and a great tutorial on a behind-the-scenes look shooting a TV series and the difficulties that arise during production. Thank you for what must have a time-consuming effort, but obviously a labor of love. It’s an invaluable resource.

    • Ralph says:

      You have answered your own question about doing a ROUTE 66 today. I also don’t think so. Did the show make money back then? I don’t know for sure, but I would suspect that it did, although certainly not an exorbitant amount. You must remember that ROUTE 66 was done in the very early days of television when there was NO money to work with. Salaries compared to today’s were pin money. That may have been the reason for the quality. People working in television were there because they loved what they were doing — not because they were making a fortune.

  8. Phil says:

    Regarding the scrapped pilot of ‘The Long, Hot Summer’, IMDB says that Earl Hamner was one of its writers. Unfortunately, the news broke that Earl passed away yesterday. His success on ‘The Waltons’ unfairly obscures his writing on a variety of other projects.

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