Brotherly Love

FILMED  August 1969

After wrapping GROWING, GROWING, GROWN in July, I returned to MGM where I directed three more episodes of THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER and then back to Warner Bros. for three more of THE BILL COSBY SHOW. The COSBY’s had a different schedule than COURTSHIP. Monday was designated as a “Reading” day, but I don’t remember that the cast assembled on Monday for a reading; it was a day off for Cosby and an extra prep day for me. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday were filming days with nothing scheduled for Friday; I think Fridays were used when necessary for pick-up shots, which didn’t happen very often. At least it didn’t happen on any of mine. The first of these three new assignments was titled BROTHERLY LOVE and was written by one of the show’s creators, Ed Weinberger.

(Click on the square to the right of the numbers for FULL SCREEN VIEWING)

The wonderful music was by Quincy Jones, and it perfectly reflected the series’ irreverent approach to comedy, different from most of the comedy spewing off of the nation’s television screens. No laugh track telling viewers when to chuckle. No procession of one-liners to motivate the chucklers. No large supporting casts mugging for attention. Just a simple plot played honestly and totally real, and the laughs magically came. The plot for this episode? Simple! Brian’s line, “I’m quittin’ my old lady, man.”

The enlarging of the regular cast in a series, those actors who would be contracted to appear in all of the episodes, was something that had happened in series television, and I think it affected the quality of the productions. In the early days DR. KILDARE had Kildare and Gillespie as the two main characters; THE FUGITIVE had David Janssen; ROUTE 66 had the two boys and a Corvette. They were all free to meet exciting new people each week and have limitless experiences, but this series didn’t fall into that trap of overextending the running cast. Lee Weaver played Brian, Cosby’s brother, but his was only a recurring character. I had already worked with Lee; he had appeared in GROWING, GROWING, GROWN. He was a fine actor, and Brian was a wonderful character, but to have to include Brian in every week’s story would have curtailed the playwrights’ flexibility in plotting, would have imposed a monotonous sameness on those stories. In the fifty-two episodes that were filmed in the two seasons the series aired, Brian was involved only seven times. I know that was tougher on Lee, but the series was about Chester Kincaid, not Chester and Brian Kincaid.

I have commented several times on the prevalence in television of three-minute scenes. The scene with Beverly was over six and a half minutes, another way that this series defied the current conventions and restrictions.

Did you see Bill break up and start to laugh when he hit Lee with the pillow? Being the pro that he was, he just kept going. Since I was filming with two cameras, we were able to cut to the angle behind Bill to complete the fight. There was no way we could have cleaned up the mess for a second take. There just are some scenes that have to be accomplished on Take one.

As I recall, I think I thought Fred Pinkard, who played the father, was a recurring character on the series. Checking the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) I now realize this was his first appearance on the show. The amazing thing was that as interesting as that character was, the father only appeared one more time in the second season.

Cosby was so creative. Did you notice that as he sat down on the table, he picked up a basketball, and when Verna crossed over to hug Brian, he let the ball fall to the ground. Olga James, (Verna, Brian’s wife) was another actor playing a recurring role that appeared effectively when needed. Olga, a soprano, was a graduate of Juilliard School, and her major work was on the Broadway stage. Her first film was the musical, CARMEN JONES. She too had been in GROWING, GROWING, GROWN, and would appear in nine episodes during the series’ two-year run

I would have liked for the show to end on that plaintive, poignant note after the father exited, but television series liked (1) happy endings and (2) the chance to insert another commercial.

This whole episode played in Chet’s small apartment. I had worked with three of the cast of five before. I guess what I’m trying to say is it was a very easy and pleasant gig. No traumas. No major crises. And it did have one exciting event. Visitors to a set were common, but one day we had a very special visit. Muhammad Ali dropped by to pay his respects to Bill. I have always been impressed by the Hollywood lore of Marilyn Monroe walking the streets of Manhattan with Milton Greene, with no one noticing her presence. Marilyn said to Greene, “Do you want to see her appear?” When he said yes, suddenly everyone who passed the couple turned and stared. It is an irrefutable fact that great stars have an uncanny ability to click on an inner switch that gives them an incandescent aura. Muhammad Ali had that glow.

The Journey Continues

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3 Responses to Brotherly Love

  1. Phil says:

    I’ve recently watched a few episodes. I wasn’t crazy about this one (not as good “Growing, Grown, Gone”), but overall, the series is pretty good.

    There are some amazing guest stars that pop up in it, including Don Knotts as a repo man going after Chet’s TV set. Will Geer appears early in another episode and I almost cracked up when Ellen Corby showed up a few minutes later!

    Yes, Lee Weaver is a good actor. He had a delicious role in his one episode of ‘The Wild Wild West’…played a hotel desk clerk working for the bad guys. At first, I didn’t realize it was the same guy.

    Your comment on Muhammad Ali reminded me of one episode where someone had a newspaper in front of his face. You could read the headline, which started something like, “Frazier says Clay…”

    I vaguely recall this series when I was little. The only episode I remember in detail was Chet being filmed doing a TV commercial for a cold cereal with two or three kids at kitchen table. For whatever reason, they had to do take after take of them eating the cereal. This became somewhat difficult for Chet, as the cereal tasted lousy! I remember he whispered to one of the kids, “how can you eat this stuff?”, and the kid replied that he was only picking up the milk with his spoon!

  2. Daniel Rudolf says:

    I’ve recently watched a number of episodes from this show (I admit I’m not a huge fan of sitcoms, but I enjoyed this one quite much) and I just realized that you directed one of my favorites, a kinda special episode. Without spoiling anything, I’m awaiting your post on that one!

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