An F For Mrs. L.

Filmed July 1969

Six months after completing THE LIBRARY CARD, I returned to MGM to direct three more episodes of COURTSHIP. Six months can produce major changes in a production company as I had already learned, but this time the changes were improvements. Ralph Riskin had come on board as associate producer. He was another prince in Hollywood royalty; his father was producer Everett Riskin, his uncle was the legendary Robert Riskin, screenplay writer of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, LOST HORIZON, MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN, in fact most of the classic Frank Capra films; and his aunt was Fay Wray, KING KONG’s great love. Brandon Cruz was now seven years old. But the change that I think was most important, the change that brought a new dimension to the series was the addition of Peggy Chantler Dick as the new story editor, although that was not how she was listed on her card in the closing credits.

 

Another change was a change that only affected this current production. The opening vignettes on my first two COURTSHIP’s had been relevant to the stories that followed. This time the dialog between Eddie and his father was totally unrelated to the ensuing tale.

Half hour shows were filmed in different ways. Some rehearsed three or four days, then filmed a performance before a live audience with multiple cameras. Before the advent of tape, film cameras were used and then the film would be edited. After tape entered the picture, the director edited during the performance as had been done during the live television era.

THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER followed the same kind of schedule as filmed hour shows. It was filmed with one camera and when filming was completed on an episode, a new show started the following day. This was going to be another first for me. I was booked to film three shows back-to-back; there was to be no prep time between shows. Once I began filming I would stay on the soundstage until the three productions were completed. You know, filming a show in three days — well it seemed to end just as I was getting warmed up. The eleven days it took to complete the three episodes gave me a chance to get my engine really revved up. And an added excitement was how different the three shows were from each other. The first one was AN F FOR MRS. L.

Although most of my stage directing before entering film had been in comedy, only two of the sixty-six television shows I directed before COURTSHIP had been comedies. They were episodes of DR. KILDARE and NAKED CITY. In both instances my challenge had been to fit what were very broad comedies into the dramatic mode of the respective series. Here the problem was the reverse. The COURTSHIP series was a comedy, but Mrs. Livingston’s situation was very personal and very serious. Not to acknowledge that, to treat it strictly comically would diminish its importance.

A McGuffin is an object or device in a movie or a book that serves merely as a trigger for the plot. The origin of the term was from a Scottish surname, borrowed by the English film director, Alfred Hitchcock, from a humorous story involving such a pivotal factor. Mrs. Livingston’s ‘F’ was my McGuffin for this story.

Eddie appeared in all but two scenes in this episode, the same as his appearances in THE LIBRARY CARD. But whereas the earlier show had a four-day shooting schedule, AN F FOR MRS. L. was scheduled to be filmed in three days. The difference?  This show was being filmed during the summer and Brandon did not have to go to school for three hours a day.

The darkroom scene between Norman and Tom was not in the original shooting script. But after filming began it soon became apparent that such a scene was needed to help trigger the plot. That was one of the advantages the production had because of its having filmed that first batch of episodes the previous fall. With that backlog of completed films it could take the time to add the filming of the desired scene to an already loaded shooting schedule.

I think a major contribution Peggy Chantler Dick made to the series was the fleshing out of the character of Mrs. Livingston. As I had discovered six months earlier with the first two COURTSHIPS, I was finding more true human drama in this sitcom than I had been finding in many of the dramatic shows I had directed.

I wonder if this story were being filmed today, with the added sophistication youngsters have now with television, computers and their tweeting cellphones, would a seven-year old be innocent enough to believe and become frightened as Eddie did. I wonder sometimes if innocence disappears too soon from youngsters’ lives; if in their rush to grow up I wonder if they’re not missing something – childhood!

The journey continues

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3 Responses to An F For Mrs. L.

  1. Ralph Riskin says:

    Wow! Thanks for that glowing introduction. And more than that,,thanks for the clips. I haven’t seen anything of what we accomplished for many years and I am impressed with what I saw. God, Bill was so handsome and Brandon was a real scene stealer. I find myself sighing for those days. What a good time we all had. Hard to believe that Bill, Jimmy, Myoshi and who knows how many crew people are gone. Thank you Thank you!

    • Ralph! Hello… where are you these days??? It’s Larry Anderson from The Magician series — Bill’s teacher and co-host of Carnival of Plants!!! I’ve often reminisced in my own mind of earlier days and wondered where people have gone and I’ve “Googled” your name and could never find anything about you. But today i stumbled on this one lone message you left on this site. I’m still in L.A. (Studio City) and you can find me online — I’m on Facebook or 818-985-3191. Great to see you’re still out there (at least you were in 2012!)

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