Obsession

Filmed October 1967

When I reported to the studio the day after completing filming BREAD AND CIRCUSES to begin prep on OBSESSION, producer Gene Coon had left. He stated he was leaving because he was burned out, but I wondered if Paramount’s purchase of Desilu Studio, with the subsequent shortening of the shooting schedule (and whatever other restrictions the new regime demanded) could have contributed to his departure. I for one certainly missed him.

OBSESSION was the second and final time when I would film on a planet set created on the studio sound stage.

There has been a continuing question about this episode: how could the character Jerry Ayres played in an episode (ARENA) of the first year, who was killed, show up in this episode. I have read an interview Jerry gave in which he said there was a scene filmed that explained that, but that scene ended up on the cutting room floor. I don’t think so; at least I didn’t direct that deleted scene, and I know it couldn’t have been one of the Yom Kippur scenes directed by John Meredyth Lucas because that scene was not in the script. Another thing, the characters played by Jerry in the two productions have different names. I find all of this an unusual happening, since I know how careful the production was NOT TO BRING BACK ACTORS unless they were playing the same character. I’ll have an interesting story to tell on this same topic regarding a later episode.

OBSESSION was the fourteenth time I directed Stephen Brooks. Our first two encounters were on the New York based THE NURSES, where he had a recurring role. Two years later he was Jim Rhodes, Efrem Zimbalist’s sidekick on QM’s THE FBI. Stephen left that series after only two seasons. I never asked him why. Was it his choice to walk away because of the limited opportunities his role gave him, or did Quinn or the network want someone older? (Stephen when he started THE FBI was only twenty-three years old. The original story plan had been that Jim Rhodes was the fiance of Efrem’s daughter, a character who soon disappeared from the series.) Or could it have been a request from Mr. Hoover’s FBI office in Washington? They were very careful to protect the image of their agents. Did Stephen’s youth make him too immature to fit that image? His replacement on that series was William Reynolds, an older version of Stephen, eleven years older.

Again, as in METAMORPHOSIS, the set for the visited planet was built on the small adjacent soundstage 8 used for swing sets. Again there was the same 180 degree rounded cyclorama, lit this time by Jerry Finnerman as a red sky, with rock and tree set pieces placed in front of it. In the first two sequences on the planet, each required two separate areas. These four locations were small enough areas that this was accomplished in front of the one cyclorama by judicious choice of camera angles and some minor repositioning of the rocks and trees.

Although Gene Coon was gone, I sensed his hands all over this script; after all it was created during his stewardship. And I realized from day one that it was a transferring of the Captain Ahab-Moby Dick battle from the ocean to outer space. But the script was more than the novel’s struggle between a man and a big whale; it was a mystery story, if not a “whodunit”, a “whatisit”. And it was more beyond that; it was a deep penetration into KIrk’s psyche, his inner struggle to overcome guilt for his actions in a past incident.

I cannot speak for the other directors and the other productions, but I can definitely say there was a drop in quality from THIS SIDE OF PARADISE and METAMORPHOSIS to the other episodes I directed the second season. And I ascribe the reason for this drop to the impossible expectation that episodes of STAR TREK could be filmed in five and a half days and maintain the standard of production excellence that had been established. There was an even more insidious influence caused by this shortening of the schedule. In the process of developing scripts, knowing there would be less time to film what was written had to have had an influence on what went onto the printed page. The series, which already leaned toward the cerebral, was now being nudged into telling even more of the story in long dialogue sequences.

As I bemoan the loss of Gene Coon, I don’t mean to dismiss the new producer, John Meredyth Lucas. His was a formidable task. As a director I felt that coming to direct a long running series for the first time was like a new Captain taking command of a ship in battle. For John, taking over as producer of STAR TREK was like an Admiral being reassigned to command an entire fleet. And to do it midseason — a monstrous assignment. Filling Gene Coon’s shoes? Use your imagination.

John came from Hollywood royalty. His mother was Bess Meredyth, noted screenplay writer dating back to the silents. She wrote the screenplays for many of Garbo’s films and was twice nominated for an Academy Award. When John was ten, his mother married Michael Curtiz, who I think is one of the underrated directors in filmdom; a total studio director who has never achieved an auteur status. But what a resume! What a range! CASABLANCA, CAPTAIN BLOOD, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, MILDRED PIERCE, ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, THE SEA WOLF, WHITE CHRISTMAS and on and on. He directed his first film in Europe in 1912, his last in Hollywood in 1961.

This production didn’t suffer from the new regime as severely as BREAD AND CIRCUSES (the action sequences were not as complicated as those in the arena), nor as much as my next assignment, RETURN TO TOMORROW (the story line was more compact and, frankly, better written). OBSESSION may be the best of the episodes I directed after the  Gulf Western invasion. It did what television used to do so well when it told stories of people caught in emotional conflicts.

The final encounter between Kirk and his potential nemesis on the planet required a larger space than either of the first two sequences. This required a major rearrangement of the set pieces; it was in fact creating a new set, but with the same set pieces in front of the same cyclorama.

Three years later I directed Stephen Brooks for the fourteenth and final time. It was an episode of a medical series at Screen Gems that he headlined. The series was not successful, and our paths never crossed again. I didn’t know Stephen away from the movie set. And on the set I knew Jim Rhodes (THE FBI), Ensign Garrovick (STAR TREK), the twenty-one year old interne on THE NURSES or Dr. Petitt on THE INTERNES. Why did his career end so early? There was a barber shop in Toluca Lake that many of the men on THE FBI series patronized. It was a barber shop, not a ladies hair salon. Its owner was Eleanor, and the barbers were all women. Beverly at the second chair cut Pat Sajak’s hair; Eleanor cut Efrem Zimbalist’s hair. Some time in the mid-seventies Eleanor told me that Stephen was an unhappy, disturbed young man. He left Hollywood in his early forties and died of a heart attack in Seattle, Washington at the age of fifty-seven. Why do I bring this up? Because we are inundated ad nauseum with news about those in Hollywood who ‘make it’, many with a minuscule talent. There are so many more, talented like Stephen, whose star doesn’t shine, it only flickers. He was a sensitive and attractive young actor. WHY? Each episode of the series, NAKED CITY, ended with the line: “There are eight million stories in the naked city; this has been one of them.”  To do a variation of that line, “There are eight million stories in Hollywood; the Stephen Brooks story is one of them.”

The journey continues

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23 Responses to Obsession

  1. Christopher Brent says:

    That’s a shame about Stephen Brooks. I really enjoyed his performance in Star Trek. Sometimes, Hollywood can be cruel, cold, and callous.

  2. Josh Lee says:

    It is sad about Mr. Brooks. He was one of the better guest stars in this series. To me, Obsession is a tale that has been told before but it works because of the balance and interplay between the characters. I am still amazed at the class and professionalism of the actors they had. I wish I knew more about the behind the scenes people. One hears a little about the writers and producers (and even directors!)and I have heard a great deal about Jerry Finnerman and Matt Jeffries, to name a couple. But it takes an entire gang of folks to do a TV show and they do it every day. I hope that if any of them see this wonderful page, that they enjoy it as much as I do and that they know that fans appreciate them x years later.

  3. C. Ralph Adler says:

    Hello, Ralph

    First, many, many thanks for your fine, iconic contributions to the original Star Trek series.I was introduced to the show at age 13, in the middle of its second season, and from that first night (The Doomsday Machine…not one of yours, I know…) my world, and how I thought about it, changed. Anyway, not enough room here to analyze my experience with Star Trek, but I do want to add some thoughts to perhaps assuage some of your negative memories of directing Return to Tomorrow. (Since you don’t have a section devoted to that episode, I just stuck my message here in the Obsession posts.) I admit that when I first saw Return, I was in the full, ecstatic glow of having discovered Star Trek, and EVERY new episode was a gigantic adventure and true revelation. While you view the show from the perspective of an established Hollywood veteran professional with high standards for quality storytelling and drama, I see that episode as an essential moment in my adolescent growth! And here are some of the saving graces of Return to Tomorrow:

    It contains “the speech” from Kirk…the “risk is our business speech.” Pulse pounding in its sense of adventure, it captures the essence of the entire idea of Star Trek…and though delivered with a bit of Shatner ham, it’s succulent, fine-glazed, tasty as hell ham. I have spent countless bored minutes in college classrooms and business meetings writing down that speech verbatim in a notebook, just to kill time and feel that rush of Star Trek adventure. And I bet thousands of other Trek fans have committed that speech to memory, my friend.

    In the bigger picture, Return had a true sense of sci-fi magic and mystery…the concept, the morality, of “lending” one’s body to another for a larger purpose, the deep baritone voiceover of James Doohan as Sargon, the other worldly yet somehow traditional music, the lovely performance by Diane Muldaur (this 13 year old kid fell in love with her smarts, her figure, and her beautiful long hair), Nimoy as Hanoch laughing broadly with evil intent, and the truly touching closing moment (“Oblivion together does not frighten me, beloved…”), Corny? Melodramatic? Hell, yeah. But I drank in every melodramatic moment of it.

    I guess I’d like to say “give yourself a break, Ralph.” Return to Tomorrow may not be considered first tier Star Trek, but here is one intelligent fan (who is now a professional writer and filmmaker) who whispers mute words of thanks whenever I watch the episode and see your name in the credits as director. Awe-inspiring work, sir!

    Many thanks for all of the Star Trek memories you created for us!

    C. Ralph Adler

    • Ralph says:

      Isn’t it interesting that two of the most impassioned Comments on STAR TREK have been about RETURN TO TOMORROW. (See Josh Lee’s COMMENT about RETURN TO TOMORROW on THE THOLIAN WEB posting ) I of course am very pleased that the show made such a deep impression on young fans. My reluctance to write about it is because of a paucity of what I can say. I did not keep journals, so what I write today is strictly from memory and from what watching the film will provide. And it was not a happy time on the Enterprise. RETURN TO TOMORROW was my third show in a row under the new restrictive Paramount regime. The pressures were mounting and of course exploded two shows later on THE THOLIAN WEB. It’s reassuring to learn that the film produced under those conditions was not the failure I have considered it to be, and I consider your COMMENT and the one Josh Lee wrote to be a perfect replacement for what I have been unable to provide.

  4. C. Ralph Adler says:

    Ralph, thanks so much for your response! Here’s a question you might consider for us, considering your first hand experience with the series. Given all of the politics, squabbling, regime changes, and general conflict we hear about the production of Star Trek, how is it that such a sense of warmth, family, and adventure came through the stories so consistently? How did the actors, writers, producers, and directors get their act together so brilliantly to disguise the behind the scenes darkness to bring forth a series of stories where the characters seem to genuinely love and care for one another, and the human race seems to be on such a hopeful course? How did Kirk and Spock seem so unified in mission and friendship while Shatner and Nimoy were battling for status? Why do Scott, Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu seem so unquestionably loyal to their captain while Doohan, Nichols, Koenig, and Takei were struggling to deal with Shatner’s ego? This continues to be one of the enduring mysteries of Star Trek.

    Ralph Adler

    • Ralph says:

      First I have to ask you a question. What does the ‘C’ stand for? Since I consider ‘Ralph’ the ultimate nerd name, I have difficulty trying to figure out what name starting with ‘C’ is bad enough to make you prefer using your middle name. Now moving on, I have to say, you do know how to ask loaded questions. Referring to your “Given all of the politics, squabbling, regime changes, and general conflict we hear about the production of Star Trek”, I can truthfully say, at that time, I was not aware of it as being such a large problem. When I first came aboard, I remember hearing that Leonard’s bags of fan mail far outweighed Bill’s. And I remember at one time surmising that if there was a star problem with Bill, it was being reined in because STAR TREK was not a successful show. But since I boarded late in Season One, I directed only two shows before Paramount bought Desilu, and for me that became the major problem. And although I never discussed it with any of the cast, I am sure they too were affected by that change in ownership. To answer your question, how did the cast, if they did have these troubled feelings, deal with the situation? They were professionals. Each of them — Spock, Doc, Scotty et al — came to the set to perform not only up to what was expected of them, each of them came to deliver a performance that met his (or her) own high personal standard. That’s called “Acting!”

  5. C. Ralph Adler says:

    First, to answer your question, my first name is Carl. I’m a junior, Carl Ralph, and to avoid confusion when someone yelled CARL!!! on the farm, they called me Ralph from the start. I agree, it’s the ultimate nerd name. Reserved for goofy dogs and unappealing characters named Kramden. How do you think Ralph Fiennes got away with pronouncing it Rafe?

    I love your one word answer to my question: “acting.” Of course, that’s the secret. It confirms that the Star Trek cast was a very professional, talented group, much maligned or, at least, unappreciated for their acting skills. The Trek crew was one of the most affecting families in television, and they confirmed what my parents taught me: to value and seek out, loyalty, tenderness, appreciation for diversity, and FUN in my family and friends. Now, in no way do I think of Star Trek as a religion, or even a philosophy or a way of life, but to see these values portrayed without apology or explanation was a wonderful thing to find in popular media.

    Ralph, thanks so much for carrying on “the name” (Ralphs Unite!) and for taking the time to answer our questions. I have the feeling we could have many interesting (and fun) conversations over tea.

    I hope you are well!

    Ralph Adler

  6. Ralph Adler says:

    Amen! Keep in touch! You might find posts from me on other parts of your site in the near future–you’ve written a lot about which I’d love to comment. (Especially Tholian Web and Is There In Truth…) Also, I’d like to read about your non-Trek work.

  7. Scott Hedrick says:

    I am studying project management. That gives me a little different perspective than a lot of other readers. It would be nice to be able to make a copy of every document needed to produce an episode of Star Trek, to show how many people and resources are needed, how changes have to be made on the fly if someone is late or a costume not ready or weather damages a set, how management changes affect the production, and so forth. However, I doubt I could scrounge up enough storage space for even one episode. Small forests die in order to produce each episode, although now you could probably store it all in the tiny corner of a laptop hard drive. Your job is that of a project manager. It’s really nice to see how things went behind the camera.

  8. Phil says:

    Sorry, but Trek fans have been shaking their heads for decades about Spock trying to block the air vent with his hands! Otherwise, it’s a pretty good episode.

    Ralph, did the directors on this series direct the voice-over ship log reports spoken by Shatner (beginning of the 4th and 5th videos) or by other actors? Would the actor watch the relevant part of film during the log report recording to match the mood of the scene?

    Fans of Stephen Brooks can see a sample of his work on ‘The Interns’ at tvobscurities.com (type in ‘The Interns’ in the search box).

    FYI, earlier this week, tvobscurities.com posted an article on another series Ralph worked on, ‘Slattery’s People’. Its archives also contain an article on a series Ralph was not fond of, ‘Search’.

    • Ralph says:

      The directors did not direct the voice-overs. And no, the actor did not view the scene on the screen as he recorded.

    • Rick Maze says:

      I interpreted the scene as Spock trying to perform the Vulcan mind meld on the amorphous “creature” flowing through the ventilation register (doesn’t the spread of hands give it away?).

      • Ralph says:

        That’s the beauty of film! I hadn’t interpreted it that way. I don’t know if Leonard had that intention. But I find it exciting that you read that into the action.

    • Xavier says:

      Spock was trying to connect his mind with it’s mind but the producer changed the ending.

  9. Phil says:

    Somebody unearthed two episodes of the S. Brooks series ‘The Interns’ earlier this month and put them on Youtube…but not the episode Ralph directed. I will monitor this like a hawk.

  10. Thomas Greenlaw says:

    Great fan of the late Stephen Brooks and was delighted to run across these clips one of the shows that he appeared in. Always thought he was a fine actor and sorry that he never clicked with other series of his own. I cherish the personal letter he sent me. It is stored in my desk. Have tried to find out more about his later years in the 80’s and 80’s. No dice. Perhaps a family member will come across with this info. His memory deserves it.
    “Thanks for the memories”

    • Christy Brooks Weigel says:

      Hi Thomas,

      Stephen was my brother. My sister and I, were delighted to read your wonderful comments about him. FYI, in the early 80’s, he was a regular on Days of Our Lives, and also appeared several times on “Medical Center”, once on “House Calls” and made a television movie with Shelley Fabares, “Two for the Money, which were in the 70’s. After attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in NY, work came quickly for him.

      A remark that was made in this piece, that he was disturbed, was totally not true! He did suffer from bouts of depression. Our father died 3-1/2 years before he went to Los Angeles and our father’s death greatly affected us all, especially him, as he was the only son. He eventually became very disenchanted with the business and retired.

      • Chet Marino says:

        Christy, it was nice reading what you had to say about your brother. There was something about him that was special. I’m sorry to read he passed away at such a young age (same age as me actually). I hope that his later years were happy and that there were good people in his life. I’m curious, do you know the name if his character on Days of Our Lives? Best to you.

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  13. Rob says:

    Dear Ralph Senensky,

    I recently came across a Soviet science fiction film from 1967 called “The Andromeda Nebula”:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFncDXAtv9Q

    I thought you might be amused because parts of the film has story similarities to “Obsession” in that the cosmonauts are attacked by a cloud creature. It was made in the same year as the Star Trek episode so it’s doubtful that the Soviet filmmakers were influenced by the episode you directed (or vice versa). I have to say “Obsession” holds up better than the Soviet film which is often extremely slow.

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