Hastings’ Farewell

Filmed September 1962

After a summer of unemployment I returned to MGM in September for my next DR. KILDARE.  The script, HASTINGS’ FAREWELL, written by Peggy and Lou Shaw, was a powerful story of a man, brain injured in an automobile accident, who was now a complete aphasiac. Since Harkness Smith, the cinematographer for the series, was going to be absent for half the shooting schedule, Ted Voigtlander was brought in to replace him. Harkie and Ted were part of the new wave of cinematographers that resulted because of the advent of television. Both had been camera operators in feature films. But by the early sixties feature film production in Hollywood slowed down and film studios, formerly opposed to this new competition for the country’s entertainment dollar, decided to enter the battle for television viewers. As television production moved from the live sound stages in New York to the film studios in Hollywood, there was a sudden demand for trained directors of photography. And where would you find better trained men than those who had learned their craft from the great cinematographers of the American film at its peak. I would work with Ted again three years later when he photographed THE WILD WILD WEST series. Other directors of photography who traversed this same route from feature film camera operator to television cinematographer were William Spencer, Jerry Finnerman and Richard Rawlings. They too were in my future.

Directing episodic television had its limitations, but it also had its disciplines. Television did not have a captive audience like a movie theatre, where the attendee, having coughed up the price of admission, was unlikely to depart. Television viewers were free to leave the room, pick up a book or worse, just change the channel. Therefore television operated on the theory “hook your audience early”. Programs did not begin with the billboard titles of the series; the story had to start with the opening frame of film. To catch and involve the audience’s attention early, some series would select a  provocative climactic scene from later in the drama and show it as a prolog. Most detective and police series started their story with a prolog that was the crime. That was how my production of JOHNNY TEMPLE began, with the knifing of the teenager. But usually DR. KILDARE was a gentler show, delving into people’s emotions rather than showing exciting acts of violence. To heighten and enhance these less sensational dramatic moments a freeze frame motif was used. The freeze frame had been around for a long time, but to my knowledge had never been used as extensively as when it was made an integral part of the DR. KILDARE prolog.

We had come a long way since 1939 when David O. Selznick had to get Congressional approval for Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler to say, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

The exterior of Blair Hospital was filmed right on the MGM lot. The white structure, containing the offices of studio executives, was the Thalberg Building, built in 1937 after the death of Irving Thalberg at the age of 37. To the right of the building was Lot 1 with its thirty sound stages. To enter the lot one had to pass a guard gate. The amiable guard’s name was Ken Hollywood.

I had seen Harry Guardino perform several years earlier in the national company of A HATFUL OF RAIN. In the role of the drug addict’s brother he stole the show. Noted actor Malcolm Atterbury told me he too had seen the show and been very impressed with Guardino’s work. Later when Malcolm acted in a television production with Harry, he told him how much he had admired his performance. He said he had wanted to come backstage to compliment him, but since he didn’t know him, he felt he might be intruding. Harry’s answer? He would have been very welcome. It seemed everyone felt as Malcolm did, and there were no visitors.

Harry Sukman, Academy Award winner for his music score for SONG WITHOUT END, composed the background music for all of the DR. KILARE episodes I directed. As a basis for his score there was the DR. KILDARE theme that Jerry Goldsmith, another veteran of PLAYHOUSE 90, had composed. Then Harry would also create another theme, another melody, for the current story’s protagonist, in the case of this show a plaintive Jerry Hastings’ theme. The previous season while I was still on staff, Harry had been signed to compose the score for the pilot of Arena Productions’ new psychiatric series. And he was having trouble. He agonized with me over not being able to come up with a theme. It was as if he had used up all of the melodies in his head. I had been very impressed with the beautiful theme he had created for a recent episode, OH, MY DAUGHTER, a story involving Dr. Gillespie and his daughter. I suggested using that theme. After all it was a secondary melody in that show. It was not as if it was identifiable like a series theme. And I thought it was too good not to use again. Harry agreed with me. And that’s how the theme music for THE ELEVENTH HOUR  was born.

HASTINGS’ FAREWELL was the first time I would go to an institution for research. Peggy and Lou Shaw and I went to the Long Beach Naval Hospital to visit their Aphasia Unit. The Shaws then wrote the sequence where Kildare, now very involved in Jerry Hastings’ plight, goes to visit an Aphasia Unit. On my return to the studio I consulted with my casting director, Jane Murray, and told her I wanted to cast our speech therapist just like the one I had met. I described her to Jane. She was a sweet white-haired lady, more like a fraternity house mother than a pathologist. Jane loved the idea and brought three or four character actresses in to meet us. I liked one because she looked so much like the therapist we had met at the hospital. Jane favored one of the others, a very pretty lady who looked like a Pasadena matron, which I think she was. But her credentials were intriguing. She was Betty Bronson, and she had played Peter Pan in the 1924 silent film. I couldn’t resist. Peter Pan won.

The day before Betty was to work, it was thought our script might be short, and so the Shaws wrote an addition to the sequence. It was a page and a half of complex medical dialog. Betty had the scene from the original material down cold. But the sheer volume of medical verbiage in the new material sent to her the night before filming caused problems. She knew most of it, but there was one speech that she kept stumbling over, her closeup when she stood behind Mike. I finally solved the problem by having her READ her lines from a cue card while I filmed Mike’s closeup with her hands on his head.

HASTINGS’ FAREWELL provided another first for me — my first location shooting away from the studio. We went to a residence with a swimming pool close to MGM in Culver City to film the home movie sequence for a scene between Kildare and Mrs. Hastings. Since we didn’t need sound, we took a skeleton crew and filmed with the smaller Arriflex camera.

I always believed in rehearsing scenes before filming. But I tried to be careful not to rehearse too long. There is a time in rehearsal when the scene “comes alive”, when the actors catch fire; I wanted the camera to be rolling when that happened. When Mrs. Hastings returned to the hospital with Kildare, I first filmed a long master shot for the whole sequence before breaking it up into two shots and closeups. And indeed the scene came alive. What I didn’t anticipate was the very thing happening that I was trying to avoid. In the master shot when the photograph fell to the floor, Beverly’s emotional response was absolutely brilliant. When we did her closeup, she was great, but it really wasn’t as good as in the master shot.

I’m afraid that I was a pain in the you know where a lot of the time, asking for script changes. But there were a few times when I fought to protect the script, to avoid changes. Just before I was to shoot the scene where Kildare returned to Hastings’ room to find him on the floor holding the photograph, a colored page came down from the story editor adding an additional line to Kildare’s speech. I stormed into David Victor’s office and pleaded to leave the script alone. I said the added line diluted the power of the moment. David saw it my way, and the added line was eliminated.

The day at the Naval Hospital proved invaluable. The various techniques used by Kildare trying to reach Hastings were learned by both the Shaws and me on that one outing.

I met Claudia Bryar in 1955 when she and her husband, Paul, came to audition for a production of MY THREE ANGELS that I was directing at the Players’ Ring Theatre in Hollywood. I cast the two of them in the play, and then the following year they played the Lomans, Willy and Linda, in my production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN at the Morgan Theatre in Santa Monica. They gave superb performances. Claudia later reprised the role of Linda in another production of SALESMAN directed by Corey Allen, this time with Herschel Bernardi as Willy. HASTINGS’ FAREWELL, when she played the nurse on duty the night Kildare struggled to save Hastings, was the first of several times Claudia and I got to work together in film.

Remember the words about Irving Thalberg: “He didn’t make movies for people to see. He made movies for people to feel.” I believed in those words when I filmed this episode. I believe in them even more strongly nearly a half a century later.

Fourteen years later I would return to the subject of aphasia when I was priveleged to direct the episode GRANDMA COMES HOME on THE WALTONS. Ellen Corby had had a stroke that kept her off the show for a year. That episode was her return to the series. Ellen had gone through intense therapy during that year. She was able to comprehend and with intense concentration speak a little. It was the reverse of the situation with Harry Guardino. He had to portray a person who couldn’t comprehend, who couldn’t speak. Ellen, who really couldn’t speak, had to portray Grandma, who although limited in her speech, could speak. When I dealt with Ellen, a true aphasiac, I truly appreciated what an amazingly brilliant performance Harry Guardino had given.

The journey continues

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17 Responses to Hastings’ Farewell

  1. Kathy Tasich says:

    I saw this episode as a teen and never forgot it. It is still as poignant as ever.I wish I could see the entire episode, but the clips were wonderful. I agree Harry Guardino was amazing and so was Ms. Garland.It was so interesting to learn about all the preparation.Thanks for the memories, Ralph! I look forward to each post!

  2. Ralph Senensky says:

    Kathy: If you send me your mailing address to: senensky@pacbell.net I will make a copy of the complete show for you.

  3. Kathy Tasich says:

    Hi Ralph!
    I am not the best with the computer, but I did send you my address, I hope you got it, and I did it correctly. Let me know, and thanks for being so nice to send this to a fan. I’d rather watch shows that make people
    “feel” as you said then the junk they have on TV now!

  4. Phyllis L. says:

    Thank you so much for this! I dug out my old diary from 1962, and here was what I wrote about that show on Nov. 1 (I was a teenager):

    I watched ‘Kildare’ – it was the best show I’ve ever seen in my life! It was about a man with aphasia, or brain damage, whose wife wanted him committed. When he tried to speak, it was all mixed-up and backwards-jumbled, but he thought that of normal language, and what he was saying, he considered right. Finally, Dr. Kildare visits a clinic, and teaches the man one word, ‘wife.’ It was so touching that I cried.

    You touched so many people with that show, Mr. Senensky. I’ve always been a lover of words, but I think that was my first encounter with the word “aphasia,” and that was how I knew what it was when my father developed Alzheimer’s. Incidentally, my mom kept him at home for as long as she possibly could. She positively did not want to put him into a nursing home until she finally had no other choice, but when she did, we used to visit him there every day.

  5. Phil says:

    Ralph, did Harry Guardino do any research before delivering this remarkable performance? I’ve never met an aphasiac, but he made me believe he was one.

    Regarding the home movie footage, was it completely scripted? Was there any improvising?

    IMDB list many additional actors in this episode, including Coleen Gray, Mary Murphy and Merry Anders. Is this a mistake, or was there a smaller, secondary story in the episode? Other sources I’ve looked at don’t mention anything beyond the Hastings story.

    • Ralph says:

      HASTINGS’ FAREWELL was my fourth directing assignment and was the first time I worked with Harry. I do not know what his preparation was for the show, but I agree it was a remarkable performance. More than a decade later I directed Ellen Corby in GRANDMA COMES HOME on THE WALTONS, and she was a true aphasiac having suffered a stroke the year before. Their performances are amazingly similar. The home movie footage was all improvised. And as for the three women supposedly part of the cast of the show, absolutely not. The only one of the three I knew was Mary Murphy who appeared in FUNNY MAN WITH A MONKEY on ARREST AND TRIAL.

  6. Phil says:

    FYI – Youtube has your ‘Night Gallery’ episode. Harry Guardino was top-notch in the first story, which I really liked. I didn’t quite GET the second story, but I’ll re-watch it. That’s no burden on me since it has Jill Ireland.

  7. Jason says:

    Hi Ralph,

    Just wanted to let you know I saw this for the first time last night, and it was amazing! My wife and I were on the edge our seats for the whole episode, and found the ending very moving. I’ve always enjoyed Harry Guardino’s work, and was impressed to see him be as good as a largely nonverbal character as he was in his usual more voluble roles.

    I really enjoyed the sincerity of the writing and direction, since it allowed for all the rough edges of the characters and situation, and avoided pat sentimentality (while making us kinda teary at the end).

    Anyway, kudos for the great work from someone who wasn’t around for the first broadcast of the show! It still holds up.

  8. Richard Y says:

    Mr. Senensky, As the exterior of Blair Hospital was the Thalberg Building, can you advise what was used for main title establishing? It is not the same building. Thanks

    • Ralph says:

      I’m not sure what you’re referring to. DR. KILDARE didn’t have a main title series billboard as did other series. A freeze frame imposed on a scene from the film served in its place, so there was no other establishing shot of the hospital (at least in HASTINGS’ FAREWELL). Hospitals have many entrances. If at any time there was a wide shot of the building that was Blair Hospital, it could have come from stock footage. (And I hope you don’t mind that I corrected the spelling of my name.)

  9. Richard Y says:

    I apologize for the misspelling.
    I later realized that the establishing was not used here or in your others posted. I have attached a youtube link that shows a season 1 clip. It is real quick at the beginning.
    Definitely not the Thalberg here and did not know if you had any thoughts. And I realize you were not involved in selecting clip establishing. Thanks for this site, SO VERY informative.

    • Ralph says:

      You don’t need to apologize for the misspelling. I only mentioned it because I didn’t want people to think at this late date I was shortening my name to fit on the marquee. I’ve seen the clip in the link you provided. I’m sure it came from stock. I know that I used a building on Lot 2 as an entrance to Blair Hospital in two instances in JOHNNY TEMPLE.

  10. Richard Y says:

    Thank you. Just found you on Facebook 🙂

  11. Richard Y says:

    Not to beat something to death here but that hospital establishing was taken from the 1940s movies ‘Young Dr. Kildare’ franchises. Found one of the movies on youtube.

  12. Michael Mill says:

    There are only 2 DR. KILDARE episodes that I remember to any degree, & both of them I saw only once, when they were initially broadcast. My 2nd favorite is THE MASK MAKERS with Carolyn Jones. My All-Time Favorite & “Holy Grail” of KILDARE episodes (in that I have been on a Quest for a copy of it for decades) was, as I call it (since I never knew its real title), “Beverly Garland/Harry Guardino/Damn, Damn, Damn!”

    I seem to recall I knew at that time (I was around 14) who Harry Guardino was; however, this was the first time I remember seeing Beverly Garland. I remember the pool home movie scene, the smashed picture scene, and parts of the very, very touching ending.

    The fact that this was the first time I every heard the word “Damn” on television also was memorable, in that it added to the “adult” (as it were) content to the script. Although Mr. Guardino & Miss Garland went on to greater roles & greater acclaim, I personally feel that this episode captures them at their creative heights. He was never more handsome & touchingly poignant, & she was in her heyday of Emotional Intensity Meets Hard-Edged Allure.

    In the days before VHS, let alone DVD, there was small chance I would ever again have the opportunity to view “Beverly Garland/Harry Guardino/Damn, Damn, Damn!” However, I stuck to my Quest, as I needed to ascertain if, indeed, it was as good as I remember it being.

    In the 1980’s I lived in Hollywood, & I had the opportunity to see Miss Garland receive her Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, around the time she was on MY THREE SONS. I remember her husband spoke at the ceremony & said that his wife was television’s first POLICEWOMAN (referring to the Angie Dickenson series) because, years before, Beverly Garland starred in her own policewoman series called DECOY.

    At the conclusion of the ceremony I came very, very close to congratulating Miss Garland, because I specifically wanted to mention the KILDARE episode. In fact, in the back of my mind, I was even prepared to embarrass myself to the degree of coming out & asking her point-blank, “Oh, by the way, Miss Garland, do you have your own copy of ‘Beverly Garland/Harry Guardino/Damn, Damn, Damn!” and, if you do, can I come over & watch it?”

    Needless to say, I did not approach her because of the crowd, the photographers, and the realization that this was definitely NOT the time to ask her about a TV guest appearance she did 20 years previously. However, had there been easier access to her I would have had no qualms about telling her how wonderful she was in KILDARE. And adding, casually, “Uh, speaking of that most memorable episode, do you possibly have a copy that you was willing to loan out to a very eager & appreciative fan?”

    Now, with the relatively recent release of the KILDARE series, I can view, 50 years later, the “Holy Grail” episode that I found so compelling. And the 3 scenes I remembered most clearly are as vivid as I wanted them to be.

    That I would have only 2 KILDARE episodes that I remember, and that I would be able to view them again, albeit decades later, I find remarkable.

    That these 2 episodes would both be directed by the same man, and that he would write additional background material about them, AND I would have the opportunity to convey to him my thanks, after lo these many, many years, I find miraculous.

    Thank you, Ralph, most sincerely. You, as a director & writer, have definitely shown me how excellence is created when gifted artists gloriously mesh their talent & inspiration.

    And, of course, my thanks-to-all-concerned for letting me know, finally, what the exact title of “Beverly Garland/Harry Guardino/Damn, Damn, Damn!” actually is…

    • Ralph says:

      Where do I start to reply to your two beautifully written Comments about shows produced 53 years ago? I share your admiration for the three people you write about. Harry was the only one I worked with again, twice — once in a NAKED CITY and later in a NIGHT GALLERY. The fact I didn’t work again with Carolyn or Beverly was no doubt influenced by my statement about THE MASK MAKERS: “… it was a drama with an interesting protagonist, who was, unusually, a woman, a rarity in television.” The sad thing is that I only saw Carolyn one more time, at an annual Pasadena Playhouse alumni breakfast. I never saw Beverly again after our final day of filming on HASTINGS’ FAREWELL, a show I will from now on always call, “DAMN, DAMN, DAMN!” I wonder if you realize how incredibly meaningful it is for me to learn how those earlier works (they were my 3rd and 4th television directing assignments) affected a 14-year old boy. Thank you!

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