Funny Man With A Monkey: The Arrest

Filmed November 1963

In October after a wonderfully busy four months in which I directed six more shows (four on the west coast, two in the east), I returned to New York for the fifth time that year. That trip was for another double header of THE NURSES and EAST SIDE WEST SIDE. (My first double header of the same two shows had been in June, and I will discuss them soon). I wrapped photography on the episode of THE NURSES on October 21, but was notified that EAST SIDE WEST SIDE, which had been booked to start immediately after that, was behind schedule, and I was not to report for another week. A return to the west coast for that short span of time was a little daunting, and frankly I couldn’t afford financially to remain in New York for that period. I asked my agent to get me out of the commitment; I also asked him to have me released from the two future contracted EAST SIDE WEST SIDE’s which so far had not been scheduled. At that point I just wanted to go home and get my life out of the suitcase. I had filmed twelve shows in nine months, eight of them on location in Texas or New York, and I was ready for a rest. All of this was amicably arranged, and I returned to the west coast. There was no work on the horizon, but I was tired enough not to be concerned. I wasn’t home very long before I had a call from my agent. Director Jack Smight had just had to bow out of a commitment to direct an ARREST AND TRIAL because he had been booked to direct a feature film. Did I want the assignment? It was to direct an episode titled FUNNY MAN WITH A MONKEY with Mickey Rooney already cast to guest star. I guess my walking out of the screening room had not had the negative effect I had anticipated. I said absolutely, I want to do it.

I was delighted when I received the script by Jerome Ross. It was excellent — a well dramatized, scrupulously researched story of drug addiction.

The doctor was played by Forrest Compton, an actor who had appeared five years earlier in my production of THE ICEMAN COMETH in Gilmor Brown’s Playbox Theatre in Pasadena. There was more to the role than his short appearance in the prolog. The scene where he and his wife were awakened by a phone call requesting his assistance, because of time, ended up on the cutting room floor.

The doctor’s wife was played by Rachel Ames, whom I had directed six years earlier in a production of THE IMMORALIST at the Horseshoe Stage, a small theatre in Hollywood. Her stage name at that time was Judith Ames. Actually she was Rachel Foulger, the daughter of Dorothy Adams and Byron Foulger, two legendary character actors of the silver screen.


How did Rachel Foulger (a lovely name) become Judith Ames? Paramount Studios renamed her when she was one of a dozen young performers signed in the early fifties for their Golden Circle, a group being groomed for stardom. After we did THE IMMORALIST, Rachel compromised; she kept the Ames but lost the Judith. We had done three more plays together, but this was to be our only film collaboration. The following year Rachel joined the cast of GENERAL HOSPITAL, where she played Audrey and has the distinction of being the longest-running performer on that show.

The Rembrandt Motel exterior set was on the Universal backlot, but it had been renamed. It was originally the Bates Motel, the infamous setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. And just up a hill to the left of the motel was the Bates house. Don’t think it wasn’t eerie having that gloomy structure hovering over us. To complete the picture, my director of photography was John Russell, the man who had photographed that Hitchcock classic.

When Robert Osborne interviewed Mickey Rooney on TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES, he told him that Cary Grant, when asked once who was the best actor in Hollywood, responded without hesitation — Mickey Rooney. It would be difficult, no impossible for me to refute that. The man could do everything. Comedy. Drama. Song and dance man. One of his entourage took me aside at the beginning of this venture and explained the best way to work with Mickey. Before each scene he suggested I sketch in for Mickey what had come before and what we were about to do. I did this. Then Mickey would glance at the script, move into the set and proceed to bring those words on the page to life. To this day I still don’t know whether Mickey had prepared before or whether he was literally photographing the script as he scanned it.

As I stated before the script by Jerome Ross was scrupulously researched. He had obviously visited some narcotics division. My concern was the portrayal of the addicts. Our story did not involve the rehabilitation of an addict, but arrangements were made for me to visit Synanon, an establishment at the beach, which at the time was a “half way house” for junkies. Those who came there could stay, but they had to be “clean”, and they had to work to maintain the home. They cooked, they cleaned, they repaired. The rule of law was “tough love”. I was emotionally moved with the feeling of family I got from the residents. They were truly all there to help each other. I was even more impressed with the fact that if I had met, outside of Synanon, any one of the residents with whom I came in contact, I would not have known they were addicts. I was determined to try to bring that sympathetic and documentary feel to the project, in the casting and in the performances.

Frankly I felt that the casting of the two leads could have been switched, that Chuck Connors was better for the detective, and Ben Gazzara should have been the lawyer. But the original concept for the series had deliberately gone against this type casting. Gazzara’s character, Nick Anderson, was created as a different kind of detective — more intellectual, more sympathetic. Jerome Ross cleverly used the difference between Nick and the hard-nosed Gregson, head of the Narcotics division, to delineate the law’s approach to the problem of drug addicts.

Harry was played by Joe Mantell. Joe in 1955 had appeared as Ernest Borgnine’s best friend in the Oscar winning MARTY.

Hoagy’s wife was played by Mary Murphy. Mary made her first screen appearance in 1951 in an uncredited role in a Bob Hope film. Her last film appearance was in 1975. A decade before her appearance in this film she had been Marlon Brando’s leading lady in THE WILD ONE. A small part of another one of the eight million stories of Hollywood.

Mickey was truly incredible. I did as his assistant had advised; I would locate him with where we were in the script and tell him what the oncoming scene was. I would then lay out the blocking for him. In scenes where he was involved with other actors we would block and rehearse. Never did he say he had a different way he wanted to do it. He just did it as if he had spent hours planning to do it the way I had outlined. The fine detail that he brought to his portrayal was a joy to behold. And all I had to do was say: “Action”, ”Cut”, “Print”.

There was a very interesting story I read somewhere. Mickey was doing a scene in a television film where he had been shot. Camera rolled, action was called and Mickey proceded to emote. He stumbled about the room, struggling with his pain until after his final line of dialogue, he dropped to the floor, dead! The director called “Cut”. Then he said to Mickey, “That was wonderful, Mickey, but you don’t die in this show.” Mickey’s surprised reply was, “I don’t?” I don’t know if that actually happened, but again, if there’s a difference between truth and the legend, print the legend.

The final sequence of the ARREST part of the story was scheduled to be filmed in several different locations. The opening scene in a supermarket parking lot was scheduled for later on Friday, the third day, but for reasons I will disclose in a moment, we didn’t film it that day; it was filmed later in the schedule.

On Friday morning we arrived early on skid row so that we would be set up and ready to film as daylight broke. Mickey was immediately recognized by the homeless inhabitants of the street. He was totally accessible. He encouraged everyone who came up to him to get their act together. “You can do it,” he repeatedly assured them. He was minister, priest, rabbi rolled into his one short stature. But when it came time for the camera to roll, the missionary disappeared and was replaced by Hoagy Blair, the junkie.

We were rolling along just fine. Later in the morning I had planned a shot from the top of a six story building. I was up there with the camera crew, looking down at the street below. When the camera was set up, I called down to the assistant director that we were ready. But no one paid any attention to me. I called down again. Again I was ignored. Getting a little impatient I yelled, “Come on, let’s get this show on the road.” No response. “What’s the matter with you guys. Come on! Let’s do it!” One of the second assistant directors started to call up something to me, when I heard Eddie Dodds, the first assistant director, say, “Don’t say it.” I immediately ran down the six flights to the street. I was told President Kennedy had been shot.

The next thing I remember I was sitting in the back seat of one of our cars, squeezed in between two of the crew; Mickey sat between two bodies in the front seat. And the car windows, which were open were filled with the faces of the poor souls of the street as we listened to the radio report of what had happened in Texas. I felt like I was in church.

There was just the shot from the top of the building and one additional shot of Mickey running to complete our work at this location. Mickey, devastated as he was, agreed to do them.

The rest of the day’s location filming was abandoned. Mickey, having completed the final two shots went home. Universal may have been the only studio that didn’t suspend production for the day. Our company returned to the studio and spent the afternoon trying to film a sequence between Ben Gazzara and John Larch. It was a difficult afternoon.

I spent the weekend preparing my work for the following week. Sunday morning my mother phoned to ask me what I thought of the most recent event. I told her I had not had my television set on, I was too busy working on the script. She told me that Lee Oswald had just been shot. I immediately turned on my television, and spent the rest of the day dividing my time between the news on the screen and getting ready for filming on Monday. The Kennedy funeral was scheduled for Monday, but as far as I knew, I would be back at Universal rolling the camera. Ten o’clock that evening I had a call from the studio telling me the Monday filming was cancelled. They had been trying to reach me to notify me of this all day. But they didn’t realize I was a resident of Los Angeles; they thought I was a New Yorker, and they said they had been calling hotels all over the area trying to find me. So Monday, like the rest of America, I sat glued to my television watching the funeral, and I’m not ashamed to say I shed a great many tears.

Tuesday we returned to work. There were still six days of filming ahead of us. I always marvel at the ability of show people to bounce back. You know, the old “the show must go on” thing. And bounce back we all did.

The filming of the final sequence of THE ARREST section was an amazing experience. Again I oriented Mickey on where we were coming from and what we were about to do. He looked at the script. The taped confession part of the scene was a page and a half long. I filmed with two cameras, side by side; one camera was a master angle four shot, the second camera was Mickey’s closeup. On take one Mickey delivered three solid minutes of pure gold.

To be continued

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3 Responses to Funny Man With A Monkey: The Arrest

  1. Phil says:

    Ralph, the 4th video is getting hung up at 1:16 and won’t advance beyond that. I tried two different PCs and got the same result.

  2. Daniel Rudolf says:

    Just read the news about Mickey Rooney passing away. Another great legend of the silver screen has left us. May he rest in peace.

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