My Name Is Martin Burnham: The Arrest

Filmed June 1963

As I faced the beginning of the 1963-64 season, big changes loomed in front of me. Until then I had led a very sheltered life as a film director. Four of my first six assignments had been filmed at MGM, where I never felt like I was working for a major studio. It was more like I was part of the family of a small independent film company utilizing the resources of a big plant. And my latest five-film involvement with Bert Leonard was very much like an independent production filming on location totally away from the strictures associated with major studios. I guess what I’m trying to say is that in those early days television was strictly small potatoes. But that was about to change.

My first booking for the new season was at Universal. However that was not my first association with the place that I came to refer to as the studio of the black tower. That first assignment had been an episode of CHECKMATE early in 1962 for Revue Productions, the company formed by the giant talent agency, MCA, when in accordance with the country’s monopoly laws they gave up their lucrative talent representation business and moved into film production. At that time the company was based in the old Republic Studios in Studio City. My major recollection regarding the show was that it was my introduction to a harrowing five day shooting schedule, as compared to the difficult six day schedules on DR. KILDARE and TWILIGHT ZONE. I’ve already discussed the flexible time on the Bert Leonard productions. By the end of 1962 when I returned for another assignment, MCA had bought the much larger Universal Studio (just down the road), but continued to release their product under the Revue Productions’ banner. That second association with the company was for an episode entitled A HALLFUL OF STRANGERS on their short-lived series, CHANNING. I do not have a copy of that film, so I have not viewed it in close to fifty years. But I remember the experience for two reasons. First the director of photography for the episode was Ray Rennahan. I was not as aware then as I am now of just who Ray Rennahan was. To me he was a very kind, older man (he was sixty-six years old) who rarely left his chair. What I later learned was he had been a director of photography in silent films, moved into talkies when sound arrived and had been the cameraman on the first full length technicolor feature, BECKY SHARP. In those early days of color films, Ray Rennahan was considered one of the masters, possibly the best color cameraman working. His credits include the great film classics DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, BLOOD AND SAND, FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, DUEL IN THE SUN and on and on. But starting in 1956 (when he would have been sixty years old) Ray, like so many of his contemporaries, had to move into television to keep working. And even there he only worked for another five years. Hollywood has never been kind to what it called its ‘gray list’.

Even more vivid is my recollection of an incident that happened during its production. The series was set in a college, and the episode involved a concert pianist coming to the campus to give a recital. A small auditorium was found not too far from the studio to use as the setting for that performance. When we arrived at the location, we found sitting on the stage a concert grand piano. The problem was the piano was white. Now I can assure you, if we had requested a white concert grand piano, we would have had protestations from the set dresser proclaiming that no such instrument existed. But that white elephant did exist, and it was sitting on the stage, ready for its closeup. Stanley Rubin, the producer, apologizing profusely, refused to go ahead with the filming. He said there was no way a university would own such a monstrosity. He asked that I film everything I could in the sequence that did not involve the piano. The plan was that when we returned to the studio, those shots involving the piano would be filmed there — roughly about a half day’s work. I agreed, and that’s what I did that day. A couple days later a black concert grand piano had been obtained, and a set of just the stage area was constructed in a small room adjacent to one of the work construction areas. The studio at that time was a very busy place, and soundstages were much in demand. So because the set was so small, this smaller area was used. I remember this vividly because at one point I had to leave the set to visit a rest room. When working on one of the regular sound stages, there was always a rest room in the near vicinity. But this was over in the construction section of the studio, and I had to go looking for one. Universal was a very large lot, and that was my first experience there. On my return, all of the work construction areas looked alike, and I couldn’t find my set. I almost panicked. On a five day schedule, now really shortened to four and a half days because of the white concert grand piano fiasco, I really didn’t have time for a situation like that. Somehow I finally found my set, completed the concert sequence and eventually the film.

Back to the beginning of the 1963-64 season, I was set to direct the first episode of a new series at Universal, the ninety minute ARREST AND TRIAL. It was two shows in one — the ARREST and then the TRIAL. It was I think the first weekly filmed long form show and a forerunner to today’s LAW AND ORDER. I have to admit, I was a little surprised that a relative newcomer like me would get the assignment. The pilot that had been filmed for the series had utilized standing sets at the studio. But once ABC bought the series, sets were designed based on the fairly new LAPD complex in downtown Los Angeles. One of my first chores during the preparation period was to spend a day at the complex, learning the procedures performed there; and then the usual task of scouting locations, the most important of which was a construction site of a new building. I was taken to one in the Wilshire district that was twenty-two (give or take a story) stories high. After my experience in New York at the sixty-two story high building, this was a snap. And it had a totally enclosed caged elevator.

I was about to enter into a totally different relationship with my director of photography than any I had experienced so far. My cameraman was Lionel Linden, Oscar winner for AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, with such classic credits as GOING MY WAY, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, I WANT TO LIVE and a gazillion others, and now a contract director of photography at Universal. Gone were the days when Harkness Smith on DR. KILDARE guided me with a fatherly protection. No longer were the likes of Jack Marta, Jack Priestley and Ted Voigtlander going to be manning my cameras with equal consideration for my film inexperience. Linden, or Curley as he was called, was a hard drinking, tough, there is no other word, s.o.b. I came to the set totally prepared as I had been on my first eleven productions. I would tell Linden precisely what my shot would be, carefully explaining any camera moves and what the framed picture should look like. He would listen, and when I was finished he would take a rag out of his rear pocket, slam it to the ground and snarl, “Put the damn camera here.” This went on relentlessly from early morning till the end of the day.

To add to my woes the script was a bit of problem, beginning with its opening.

Melodramatic but very unreal. In 1963 women did not go walking at night down dark deserted streets, although you would not have realized that if you watched much television. Lone women on dark deserted streets seemed to be a staple of television of the period. As for the rest of the script the basic premise was strong, but most of the dialogue was overwritten. In our rehearsals for each scene (and I always rehearsed each scene before giving the cameraman the setups) we pruned away the excesses and rewrote where necessary to make it more realistic. Executive producer Frank Rosenberg liked the film he was viewing — at least for the first four or five days. Then he complained to me about the rewriting we were doing on the set. I personally thought it wasn’t the result of the rewriting that bothered him as much as the fact that he was not involved. Let me say right up front, I liked Frank. I have read and heard a lot of negative things about him, but he always was great to me.

I ended up with two directors of photography on this production. On the sixth day of filming we were on location at a park in Burbank, when midway through the day Linden came to say goodbye to me. He told me that he was leaving the show, warmly wished me well and offered sincere words of encouragement for my future. He had me totally confused. After he left I was told that Linden had had an altercation with the head of the transportation crew and hurled an anti-Semitic remark at him. The transportation man reported this to the studio, and Linden was removed from the production. Another contract cameraman, Walter Strenge, reported to the set and took over as director of photography. Walter was another Hollywood old-timer, a gentler man than Linden, and with a far less distinguished resume. As you realize, shows are not filmed in sequence, so although Walter was the director of photography only for the last three and a half days, an early police lineup sequence was filmed by him. At one point in that sequence I wanted Martin’s point of view of the room from his position in the lineup. Walter filmed it, but he graciously told me he was marking it “filmed under protest”. I guess his protest wasn’t too strong; the shot is in the picture.

If I had been filming the sequence when Martin returned home after the lineup at MGM, I’m sure we would have filmed it at night.  If I had been filming it the following year for Quinn Martin, I know it would have been filmed at night. But this was Universal, and I was introduced to day for night filming, not as effective but quicker and cheaper. Just a matter of concern for cost outweighing concern for quality.

There was a sequence in the script of Martin walking aimlessly in the city. It did not take long for me to realize shooting a scene like that in New York produced more exciting film than shooting it in Los Angeles.

The day we scouted the location for our construction site, I saw a large crane in the center of the top floor of the unfinished building. I realized the arm of the crane was long enough to extend past the edge of the building. Also it had a large bucket at the end of the arm that could hold a cameraman with a hand held Arriflex camera. That would permit me to get a high shot angled down on Martin standing at the building’s edge, contemplating killing himself. I could also use it to get the same angle on the struggle between Martin and Latham. I asked the assistant director to make arrangements for us to use the crane. That site was our first day’s work. I arrived early that morning and discovered no arrangements had been made for the crane. That was an example of the way Universal functioned. Loyalty was NEVER to the production. Loyalty was to the various departments, all of whom were more concerned with staying within budget and when possible showing a profit.

To be continued

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4 Responses to My Name Is Martin Burnham: The Arrest

  1. Mark Speck says:

    The show you refer to as Banning…might that have been Channing with Jason Evers and Henry Jones?

    There was a movie that Universal did a few years later called Banning, which starred George Peppard…I think that may have added a little to the confusion.

    • Ralph says:

      You are so right! I am correcting it immediately. The movie BANNING I think was directed by someone I knew at CBS — Ron Winston. And thank you!

  2. Phil says:

    Regarding ‘Banning’, Robert Wagner starred in that one, not George Peppard.

    It seems like many of James Whitmore’s TV guest shots were as guys who were a little cracked in the head. Someone posted your ‘Judd for the Defense’ episode (“The Money Farm”) on Youtube a couple of months ago, where he gets in trouble again in the first three minutes. Ralph, did you ever work with or meet his son, James Jr.? He started in acting and went into directing.

    • Ralph says:

      James Whitmore was a magnificent actor. The finest performance I saw of his was when he played Harry Truman on the stage. I remember going backstage after the show to praise him and feeling almost speechless because I was so impressed. As for Junior, I never got to meet him.

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