Out Of The Depths

TAPED May 1975

OUT OF THE DEPTHS was the first of the INSIGHT scripts written by Fr. Terry Sweeney that I directed. Like his I WANT TO DIE, the other one which came two years later, it made a powerful statement, but unlike I WANT TO DIE and the other INSIGHT scripts with which I was involved, it was more religion-related  — but strictly non-denominational church and non-recruiting.

One day in the rehearsal hall Lynn Hamilton (the janitoress) stopped in the middle of a scene and proclaimed in a loud, clear voice, “Ralph Senensky is the only director who doesn’t believe in taking a break so his actors can go to the restroom.” We obviously took a break.

Lynn was the only one of the three principals with whom I had worked before. Sometime in the early 70s, our first collaboration was a live public-service one-act play about racism. The production, which toured the Los Angeles area, was available free of charge to corporations and businesses. Its goal was to educate workers and improve racial working relationships within companies

In 1973 she starred in a two-hour movie-pilot I directed, A DREAM FOR CHRISTMAS, an attempt by Lorimar Productions to bring to television a series that we euphemistically referred to as a black Waltons. When we were having difficulty getting network approval for Lynn to appear in A DREAM FOR CHRISTMAS, Lee Rich, the head of Lorimar called Fred Silverman, the head of programming for ABC and told him, “No Lynn Hamilton, no A DREAM FOR CHRISTMAS. You can read and see more detail about this on my post for A DREAM FOR CHRISTMAS.

Fans of THE WALTONS will recognize Lynn for her recurring role of Verdie Grant Foster. Verdie first appeared in THE SCHOLAR (an episode in the first season which I incidentally did NOT direct) when she came to John Boy and asked him to teach her to read. Lynn’s performance was so successful, Verdie returned sixteen times during the series’ run.

We taped the clip you just viewed with four cameras in one long fourteen and a half minute take. That was more than half of the show. Good actors love doing that. It was like acting on stage. They were able to build and sustain character; it helped in playing emotional scenes. I think live television and later live on tape added another avenue for actors, combining stage acting with film acting. True there was an added demand, an added pressure placed on them. Because of the multiple cameras, their movements were constricted. They needed to hit assigned marks at designated times so that shots, framed in rehearsal could be taped as planned. But there was an added benefit. No longer were they required as in film to replay scenes over and over endlessly for the different camera setups.

That was the first and (unfortunately) the last time I worked with Cliff De Young (Joe). A native of Los Angeles, Cliff’s career started in music, when he was the lead singer of the 1960s rock group, Clear Light. After the band broke up, he headed east and starred in the Broadway productions of HAIR and the Tony Award-winning STICKS AND BONES. He had returned to the west coast just two years prior to this production.

Even in rehearsals for something as stark as OUT OF THE DEPTHS, there is always room for humor, although sometimes it is dark humor. The day of taping for an episode of INSIGHT the company provided a catered lunch, usually served in one of the rehearsal halls. If another episode was in rehearsal at the time, that cast was also fed. OUT OF THE DEPTHS was in rehearsal on such an occasion, and John Astin told me that Patty Duke, who was married to him at the time, was going to be joining us for lunch. Lunchtime came, but no Patty Duke. She arrived a little later, still in time as I remember to eat, and she told me why she was late. As she was leaving her house, she saw a paramedic vehicle across the street. A fire engine! She immediately went across to her neighbors to discover a member of the family had had a heart attack. There was much confusion, some very emotional family members, and Anna (Patty’s real name) did her best to comfort and console. Ever the director I suggested that she should emotionally remember what had happened; there would certainly come a time when she could use it as an actress. She smiled at me and said she already had it stored away.

Did you recognize John Astin (Harry) as having played the kooky patriarch Gomez Addams in THE ADDAMS FAMILY? Before that he had been Dickens to Marty Ingels’ Fenster in the sitcom, I’M DICKENS, HE’S FENSTER. His resume is loaded with comedy roles, at which he was so adept. Another reason beyond the philanthropic that encouraged actors to offer their talents to INSIGHT — usually given gratis — was the opportunity to be given roles they were not often offered in the marketplace. Which brings me again to Fr. Terry Sweeney. Not only did the scripts he write present themes of social problems in a clear and dramatic way, he wrote very believable characters in interesting turmoil, and he wrote dialog that was intelligent and for the performer very actable. You say, “But isn’t that what all writers do?” And the answer is, “It should be, but it isn’t always.” I think Terry Sweeney was a remarkable playwright!

The journey continues

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6 Responses to Out Of The Depths

  1. John Dayton says:

    Wow. Ralph, you continue to inspire me – “I got goosebumps” as the train approached John. I recently was asked if Lynn was still around. She is, but she is “retired”. So many wonderful memories of her on THE WALTONS.
    I noticed John Meredith Lucas in the credits. Were any of your STAR TREKS shot while he was at Desilu?
    I also noticed 16mm prints were available. I hope these prints haven’t gone to dust. And wouldn’t it be great if the show were restored and put out on DVD. Your work was, I would guess, recorded on the old Quad 2″ Ampex machines.

    • Ralph says:

      John Meredyth Lucas indeed was around for the last 2/3 of season two. I tell the funny story when I was filming OBSESSION Herb Solow and John came down to the set to as if I would stay on and go into prep when I wrapped to shoot another show. I had to turn it down because of the Jewish High Holy Days. But Solow was not to be deterred. He got out a calendar and pointed out that Rosh Hashannah fell during the prep period, so I could prep early and be away. Yom Kippur fell on Saturday, but Yom Kippur eve was Friday night and so it was arranged I would leave early on Friday — mid afternoon– and John would finish the day’s work. From then on John and I referred to him as my Yom Kippur director.

      • John Dayton says:

        That is hilarious! John’s son Mike ran a film photo studio for years just up the street from me. The digital revolution put him out of biz, but boy does he have a wonderful collection of Star Trek memorabilia.

  2. detectivetom says:

    Once more, bravo! A great episode. Who cannot love John Astin? He starred in several “Insight” episodes I believe.

    Sweeney was execurtive producer of last year’s film, “Bhopal:A Prayer for Rain,” which starred Martin Sheen. Ironically I read an article yesterday about a book he wrote last year with his son, Emilio Estevez about his return to his Catholic faith.

  3. blair White says:

    I enjoy reading the blogs as you were around for the best creative run that television had. Now days cheap laughs and drama, polished with special effects.
    Oh well you made it happen on many shows we loved growing up.

  4. Bill says:

    Ralph, I can’t tell you how happy I am to have found this website. I have been a lifelong Insight fan since I first “discovered” it on Sunday morning TV back in 1976. “Out of the Depths” has always been one of my very favorite episodes, and I had almost given up hope of ever seeing it again. Ever since Insight disappeared from broadcast television more than 20 years ago, I have had to satisfy myself with the occasional episode that turns up on YouTube. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to see “Depths” again, as well as the other episodes you directed, some of which are also among my favorites. Best wishes.

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