Guess Who’s Coming To Drive?

FILMED June 1971

I was told that one of the directors (who shall remain nameless) of THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY came into the producer’s office on his first day of prep, tossed his script on the producer’s desk and said, “Okay! What are we going to do with this whale shit?” I never did that, although once I heard the story there were times I was tempted. GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DRIVE was not one of those times, but only because its script would have been limited possibly to the size of a medium size tuna.

GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DRIVE was the most situation driven (as opposed to character driven) episode of the seven PARTRIDGES I directed. But that didn’t change the way I went about directing the material; I still approached each scene with the same question: what is this scene about? And then planned the staging (no matter how outrageous I considered it) as realistically as possible. If that meant I couldn’t dig as deep into the motivations and emotions of the characters as I would like to — so be it! Because I still wanted to get the laughs. So what replaced character? Slapstick!

I met Milt Kamen (the new driver) seven years earlier when he auditioned for THE JACK IS HIGH on SUSPENSE THEATRE. He lost that role to Larry Storch, but I remembered I had been impressed with his audition. Milt had been a regular on CAESAR’S HOUR, the Sid Caesar comedy series. He was basically a comic, but like most comics, he was also a fine dramatic actor

We never left the Columbia Ranch to film this episode. The shots of the bus traveling down the road were lifted out of stock. The gas station was an exterior set on the ranch.

I remember that when I began directing film in 1961, I was positive that I would always remember every actor I worked with. I didn’t realize then the number of actors with whom I was going to be associated. The gas station attendant in the last clip was Vic Tayback. Beginning in 1976 Vic appeared in 200 episodes of the series, ALICE, as Mel, the owner of the diner. In 1979 my brother and his family came from Iowa to visit me in Los Angeles. I met them at the airport and my two teen-age nieces were all excited, because the actor who played Mel had been on the same plane with them. They asked me what was his name. I had to say I didn’t know. As we were leaving the airport a man came up, grabbed me and hugged me. It was Vic Tayback.

Two years before this I had directed AN F FOR MRS. L on THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER that had a similar plot; Eddie suspected Mrs. Livingstone was going to commit Hara Kiri and so he spied on her. But the mood of that piece was serious; it examined what occurred when a seven-year old boy’s imagination encountered a frightening circumstance. This outing with Danny was at the other extreme – broad comedy. As with Eddie, Danny’s suspicion about Johnny led to his spying on him, so Danny became a Sam Spade and the comedy was in the eleven-year old boy’s outrageous version of how to be a Sam Spade.

One thing I liked about this episode: the musical number was part of a concert and there were no plot requirements that locked me into filming in a nightclub set, which I found unreal. But I didn’t want to  be restricted to repeating what we had done before in A PARTRIDGE UP A PEAR TREE — filming in a black set with spotlights; so I asked the gifted director of photography, Fred Jackman, if we could add a star filter in the camera. He enthusiastically said yes.

The following day the producer phoned the set to tell me how much he liked the dailies. He said to tell director of photography Fred Jackman he was especially pleased with the photography in the concert sequence. I suggested that it would be nice if he told Fred personally, so I called Fred to the phone. After the call Fred told me that the producer had asked him what kind of spotlights he used. I asked, “What did you tell him?” Fred said, “Oh, I just told him they were some of my own personal lights.”

 

Via the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) I have learned Brian Forster has met numerous drummers who told him they were inspired to take up playing drums by his “Partridge Family” character Chris. He embarrassedly admitted that he never actually learned how to play them, but merely “faked it” for the cameras.

Bobby Sherman had guest starred earlier in an episode of THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY that was a spinoff for a new series to star him. ABC bought the series and ordered thirteen episodes. Bob Claver, executive producer for THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY who would be fulfilling the same duties on the new series, booked me to direct four of them. I still had one more episode to do with the Partridges, but it was rescheduled for a later date so I could direct the first episode of the new show. Because of this I was involved in casting sessions for some of the new series running characters. Millie Gussie, a true Hollywood veteran, was the casting director. There was a long parade of talent coming through to compete. I vaguely remember a young Diane Keaton auditioning … she giggled a lot both when answering questions and when she read a scene. I remember Steve Carlson coming in; he had appeared in an IRONSIDE I had directed. But mostly I remember that the casting session was a very unpleasant experience. I was accustomed to casting sessions where the talent would be met by the casting director, the producer and me. I was the one conducting the audition. Before having the talent read a scene, I would talk to them, ask them questions. I wanted to put them at ease, but I also wanted a chance to get a sense of who they were. That was not the way the auditions for this new show went. Beside casting director Millie, the producer and me, there were five or six writers sitting in on the session. And although I was still the one conducting the audition, I was not in control. The writers were a total distraction. They must have thought they were in a script conference. Their comments and one-liners made it impossible to focus on the acting talent. You would have thought they were there to audition for some standup comedy show. I felt it was unfair to the actors to have to perform before that inattentive group. Later when callbacks were scheduled, I told Millie I would not be attending; I considered the behavior of the group rude and embarrassing. Millie understood. I had the feeling she felt the same way.

My records show I then directed the first two of my contracted commitments, but I remember absolutely nothing about shooting those shows. I next returned to direct my final THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY.

The journey continues

This entry was posted in The Partridge Family. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Guess Who’s Coming To Drive?

  1. Daniel Rudolf says:

    Vic Tayback is also remembered as an “outer space Chicago” gangster boss in a comedy-themed episode of Star Trek, A Piece of the Action, which was directed by none other, than Jimmy Komack. I guess this is really a small world.

  2. Linda Mislan says:

    Very cool still a huge fan of David Cassidy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *