I Want To Die

TAPED April 1977

It had been a decade since I directed my first INSIGHT for Fr. Kieser and Paulist Productions. In that time I directed eleven productions, but I still felt frustrated. Because the shows were pre-taped, a big part of the challenge of directing a live television show was mitigated. There wasn’t the accomplishment or the pressure of directing a show from the beginning to its finality in one continuous operation. As in film, scenes could be taped out of sequence to be spliced together later in editing.

And then for my twelfth production I was handed the script for REQUIEM FOR THANKSGIVING. There were only four characters, and the entire action of the play took place in twenty-six consecutive minutes in one set. I decided that rather than breaking the script down into smaller pieces, I would shoot it in one long continuous take. Well on second thought, because of the short opening scene that ended with the billboard title sequence, I would do it in two.

During postproduction the title of the show was changed to I WANT TO DIE.

suicide |ˈsoōiˌsīd| noun
the action of killing oneself intentionally

ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from Latin sui ‘of oneself’ + caedere ‘kill.

It was a rare experience; I knew and had directed all four of the actors before. Earlier in the month of April, 1977, I had directed an episode of EIGHT IS ENOUGH, where Grant Goodeve, (Bill) and Laurie Walters (Kate) played two of the eight. I guess I was impressed with what I saw when working with them, so I cast them in these two demanding roles.

I’ve already documented my long experience with Walter Brooke. I met Walter in 1952, when I was the assistant director at the Chevy Chase Summer Theatre in Wheeling, Illinois, a community north of Chicago. He was part of a summer stock theatre package starring Franchot Tone that our theatre booked, and I served as the stage manager for the production. Our friendship and collaborations resumed later in Hollywood when I directed him in episodes of THE FUGITIVE and MANNIX.

Jeanne Cooper (for years Katherine Chancellor on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS) had appeared in an INSIGHT I had directed seven years earlier, but our association went even further back than mine with Walter Brooke. In 1947 Jeanne and I were in the same class entering the Pasadena Playhouse School of the Theatre.

I couldn’t continue in one long take. The staging was going to move from the dining room into the living room, and Camera 4 in the doorway behind Walter, which had been covering Jeanne Cooper’s close-ups, had to be repositioned.

scrptcooper

For the wider shots when the doorway was in the frame, the cameraman had to move it out of the doorway, out of sight. The layout at the studio made it impossible to move the camera to its new position while taping continued. If this had been a live presentation, that would have been something the set designer would have considered in his original plans. And then of course a live presentation would have had commercial breaks. The camera would have been repositioned then.

The four actors are to be commended, not only for their superlative performances, but technically they had to physically hit specific positions and marks while being photographed by 4 cameras. And the scenes were long. The first one around the table was over 9 minutes; the second one after Walter left the scene was over 11 minutes.

The teleplay was by five-time Emmy Award winner Fr. Terrance Sweeney, a Paulist Priest associated with the production of INSIGHT. During that time he wrote ten scripts in addition to creating the Longform T.V. and Feature Film Division for Paulist Productions.

Again this was a production that would not have been on any prime time series schedule. And if by some miracle it could have been, I am positive Bill’s cynical prayer, “Dear God, wherever you are, whoever you are, IF you are …” would have been found objectionable by the program practices department, even though it had been written by a Catholic priest.

The journey continues

This entry was posted in Insight. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to I Want To Die

  1. Liz MacGillicudy Lucas says:

    Brilliant!! Fabulous actors and an amazing script. Fr. Terry wrote a number of episodes of Insight, and I was lucky enough to appear in several. Funny, when I turn on the TV now, and I come across these ‘religious channels’ with someone preaching to thousands in the audience, I really feel that Insight made it’s message almost subliminally, and made it’s point of view with far more clarity than these yelling (and of course asking for money!!) “Preachers”.

    • Ralph says:

      I couldn’t agree more with what you say! And what I didn’t write, but I’m sure you will agree, Fr. Terry was not only talented, he was movie-star handsome and had the gals in the casts swooning.

  2. detectivetom says:

    Powerful stuff. Makes me look at Grant Goodeve in a different light.

    As I wrote in the first posting, one can see how Insight can have an influence on a young Catholic kid (and non Catholics as well) watching these in theology class.

    I’d imagine the Paulist Fathers would not have paid as well as the networks for directing a show. Yet, as the old saying goes, good things come in small packages.

    Bravo!!

    • Ralph says:

      I’m not sure what they paid. Almost everybody endorsed their checks back to them. We didn’t bother. They never had to write the check for me.

  3. Phil says:

    Amazing stuff…and I hope you have more goodies in the pipeline. Youtube has the first 10:49 of “The 7 Minute Life of James Houseworthy”, which emulates ‘The Twilight Zone’. For your other readers, don’t watch it if you want to avoid spoilers.

    Since you’re talking multiple cameras for ‘Insight’, did you ever get an offer to direct a 3-camera live audience sitcom?

  4. GMJ says:

    Outside of some obvious differences (video vs. film), were there any other differences when it came to setups or acting technique? Did the “Insight” episodes take a shorter amount of time to produce compared to other half-hour shows, including “The Bill Cosby Show” or “The Partridge Family”?

    Thanks for including “Insight” to your web page.

    • Ralph says:

      On INSIGHT the fact that all of the camera angles in a scene were filmed at the same time with three or four cameras to a very minor extent affected the shots, but I didn’t feel that diminished their effectiveness. In fact many times I thought it ended up getting something even more striking. As for time, half hour shows in front of an audience being shot with 3 or 4 cameras (I LOVE LUCY) rehearsed 3 or 4 days and filmed or taped on the last day. Half-hour shows filmed with one camera and no audience (NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR) usually had 3 or 4 day schedules. Actually the schedule for half-hour shows was easier than the hour shows, most of which filmed in 6 days — QM productions filmed in 7 days, but more than half of that time was spent filming locations outside of the studio.

  5. Scott Weaber says:

    If I recall correctly, “Insight” was broadcast here in Philadelphia on Sunday mornings around 7am. This episode is obviously a heavy topic and a necessary one, but no different than several of Norman Lear’s productions of that era – without the comedy. So, I have to thank God that “Insight” was not in the prime time schedule. So many shows aren’t given the time to grow and then there are shows that are on way too long!
    Thank you once again for sharing your insight & scripts, Ralph. : )

Leave a Reply

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