The Bull Roarer

Filmed July 1963

I think that was a historic moment in television. I am 99 and 44/100 percent sure that was the first time the word “homosexual” was uttered in a drama in an American television show. And it happened because of the persistence of one man – George Lefferts. George, a writer-producer based in New York, was sent a Meta Rosenberg created project from ABC with the offer to produce it. The project, the companion piece to their highly successful BEN CASEY, was BREAKING POINT, a medical-psychiatric series produced by Bing Crosby Productions for Desilu Studios. George said that he would accept, but only on condition that he would be able to include in his schedule half a dozen topics usually on television’s verboten list. ABC agreed, so George signed onto the project. One of the topics on George’s ‘demand’ list was homosexuality. When the story outline for THE BULL ROARER was submitted to the network for approval, it was turned down. They said the topic of homosexuality was unacceptable. George said, “Read my contract.” And so THE BULL ROARER continued development into script, written by Ernest Kinoy. It was the story of a gentle, sensitive young man, Paul, dominated by his macho older brother, Murray. Because his behavior was less predatory than his older sibling, Paul had doubts about himself. He sought psychiatric help. Was he a man — or a homosexual?

George’s first choice for the young psychiatrist was Robert Redford. He sent Redford the script and the plans for the series. He told me that Redford said he had walked the beach for hours, pondering his decision. This was a 27-year old Robert Redford with dozens of TV guest shots, but only one independent movie in his resume. He was still six years away from his breakthrough performance in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. The financial security alone must have looked inviting. But he decided he would turn it down in favor of doing a summer stock tour of a new unproduced play. The play was Neil Simon’s BAREFOOT IN THE PARK. Paul Richards was then cast as Dr. Thompson with Eduard Franz as the older, wiser psychiatrist.

We immediately cast Dean Stockwell as Paul, Ralph Meeker as Murray and a young 23-year old actress who had been doing a lot of theatre work in the Hollywood area, Mariette Hartley, as Betty. A couple days later we had a call from Dean Stockwell’s agent. Dean wanted to come to the studio to meet with me. I agreed. Dean came to the studio, and he and I went to a little bar on Melrose Avenue. The assignment had obviously been accepted by Dean and his agent without reading the script. Once he read it, he had a change of heart, and without giving any reason he apologetically told me that he didn’t want to do the show. I sensed he was fearful of the subject matter. It would have been stupid to hold him to his contracted acceptance, so we released him from his commitment.

Lynn Stalmaster, the casting director, had a hot new young actor he wanted us to meet, Michael Parks, a ‘rising star’, so he brought Michael into the production office. I remember Michael sat on the couch, George and I sat on chairs. We spent the first few minutes in get-acquainted conversation. And then I asked Michael to read. Michael announced that he didn’t read for parts. George and I were both a little startled by this. Stars don’t have to read for parts. Well-established character people don’t have to read for parts. Twenty-three year old wannabes read for parts. So I thanked him for coming in and stood up. And he stood up, but instead of leaving, he kept on talking. A couple of times I broke in, trying to end it all, but he just kept talking. So finally I reached over, took his hand, shook it and said, “Thank you again Michael for coming in.” He finally left.

I was not unhappy with the way this turned out, because I had an ace up my sleeve. Just a few months before I had worked with a young actor in New York on the last NAKED CITY that I directed, Lou Antonio. We had a print of that show, COLOR SCHEMES LIKE NEVER BEFORE, sent over from Columbia Studios. George viewed it and approved, so we brought Lou out from New York to complete our star trio. So many New York actors at this time would come out to the west coast with their noses up in the air about doing television. Not Lou! From day one he just said, “I love it here!”

As we neared our opening shooting date, there was the necessary meeting with the censorship department of ABC. Dorothy Brown, who was the head of that department, came over with a couple of underlings and all of her notes for changes she was going to request. George, Richard Collins (associate producer) and I listened to her requests, most of them inane. Many times I suggested cutting lines she was finding objectionable rather than using her suggested substitution. But then we arrived at a place in the script where Dorothy was insistent that somebody call Paul a sissy. I’m afraid I went ballistic. George finally invited me to leave the room with him, we went out into the outer office, and he said, “I think you’d better go if we’re to get through this.” So I went home, they got through it, and nobody called Paul a sissy.

Robert Hauser was the director of photography and again, like Jack Marta on ROUTE 66, was wonderfully cooperative. When we filmed the sequence in the prolog when Paul, emotionally distraught, ran down the stairs, I asked Bob if rather than shooting Paul running down the stairs, could we do his point of view of the descent. Now today with the steadicam, that shot would be no problem. But that was close to half a century ago, and back then that was strictly a B.S. shot — before steadicam. Bob got so excited about the shot that he ended up operating himself. With his eye looking through the lens he strapped an Arriflex camera to his forehead and ran down the stairs. He could have broken his neck, all for two seconds of film.

Our major location was a construction site. In seeing the film today, you would think we had gone to some distant place on the outskirts of the city. But we were shooting in the heart of Los Angeles, in the Hollywood Hills south on Mulholland Drive just west of Laurel Canyon. It was an area that had been cleared of trees and was being graded for the construction of new homes.

There was one line in the script that George was sure we would have to lose. At the scene when a very pretty young Betty Lorimer, who works in the office, walks across the grounds, the guys have a ball, teasing her, calling out suggestive remarks. One of them yells, “Honey, you want to ride on my bulldozer.” I said, “No, George. We don’t have to lose that line. You see, he’s sitting in a bulldozer when he offers the invitation.” So the line was left in. And with that explanation it survived all of the later ‘censorship’ meetings that were held.

When filming on location it was a practice sometimes to record wild lines to insure having a clean line reading. We wouldn’t do it for full dramatic scenes, only for lines like the “bull-dozer” line. And so I had Bill Bramley do several voice only recordings of those lines he called down to Betty. George Lefferts was on the location when we did it, and he was so pleased he said. “And we’re going to use the dirtiest reading.”

Psychiatry was still a relatively new medical science. One of its first entrances into show business (if not the first) was when Moss Hart used it as the basis for his 1941 musical, LADY IN THE DARK, later transferred to the screen in I944. In 1948 the screen revisited the subject with the Olivia de Havilland starrer, THE SNAKE PIT. I don’t know if the subject was ever utilized in the live Golden Age of Television, but its advent into filmed television came on strongly in 1963 with two series: MGM’s THE ELEVENTH HOUR produced by the creators of DR. KILDARE and BREAKING POINT from the BEN CASEY company. But although the approach of both series to the subject was totally serious, public statements about psychiatry were ambivalent:

Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist should have his head examined. – Samuel Goldwyn

 

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I’m schizophrenic,
And so am I.

–      Oscar Levant

If the nineteenth century was the age of the editorial chair, ours is the century of the psychiatrist’s couch. – Marshall McLuhan

That attitude could also be found in the public perception of the profession.

I’m not proud when I say my one confrontation with Dorothy Brown left me feeling slightly adversarial. I thought the script for THE BULL ROARER was an intelligent and thoughtful treatment of a difficult subject and I didn’t appreciate the narrow-mindedness she brought to our meeting. But I finally had my own little private moment of revenge. I’m sure nobody besides me ever recognized it. I’m not sure it even means anything except to me. But in a sequence where Paul and Murray drove Betty home, Murray berated Paul because he had not been forward enough in ‘nailing’ the gal. Paul nervously tried to light a cigarette with the car lighter. And when he went to put the phallic-like lighter back into its dashboard receptacle, I had him have trouble inserting it. Like I said, it probably doesn’t mean anything to anybody else, but to me it’s “UP YOURS, DOROTHY BROWN!”

Normally in staging a scene for a film the action for the actors is planned first and any adjustments needed in the set or set dressing are made later. But it can be done in reverse, especially in television with its budget limitations. When I was shown the standing set for Dr. Thompson’s office, I took special notice of a picture on the wall. I then used the picture as the basis for my staging of a scene.

Although George Lefferts had made the inclusion of a script about homosexuality a condition of his signing on to produce this series, THE BULL ROARER did not tell the story of a homosexual relationship. It would be another decade before television would do that. So Lefferts and writer Ernest Kinoy very deftly used the subject as the key to a very valid exploration of a problem just as important, a problem peculiarly very American, a problem that nearly a half a century later still exists.

THE BULL ROARER, like so many of the teleplays I directed in this period, owed a great debt to television’s live GOLDEN AGE. The quality of writing during that period was of epic proportion. Many of the teleplays written for the small television screen had an extended life on the movie theatre’s big screens and on the Broadway stage: MARTY, THE MIRACLE WORKER (both Broadway and the big screen), JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG, REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT, THE CATERED AFFAIR and on and on. Just as importantly that quality of writing continued in much of the fare of evolving television film productions. Writers were still probing the darkest recesses of the human psyches. And the networks were not yet afraid of long extended emotional clashes, had not yet totally replaced them with explosions and car crashes.

This was the first of three shows in which I directed Ralph Meeker. He was a superb actor. He had years before replaced Marlon Brando on Broadway in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. Later he starred on Broadway in the original production of William Inge’s PICNIC. He gave some outstanding performances in several major motion pictures. But he never broke through and became a major film star. Why?

In 1932 in the film CABIN IN THE COTTON Bette Davis said to Richard Barthelmess one of her early classic lines: “I’d like to kiss you, but I just washed my hair.” I always wondered if that film might have influenced Ernest Kinoy when he wrote the following scene.

The young actor who kept intervening to break up the fights was Eddie Guardino, stage name Danny Guardino. In real life he was the kid brother of Harry Guardino.

It was not a cop out that George Lefferts, having insisted on including the verboten subject of homosexuality as one of his projects, had ended up delivering a show whose main theme was “what is a man?” Contract or no contract there was no way ABC in 1963 would have aired a story of a homosexual relationship. It was a major breakthrough that the subject was even discussed and it opened the door for the future.

The journey continues

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23 Responses to The Bull Roarer

  1. The StarWolf says:

    Not original as comments go, but “thank you”. Fascinating stuff.

  2. Lisa M says:

    Just commenting on Ralph Meeker, definitely a strong actor but also with a sense of danger that perhaps prevented him from achieving his due. There’s none of the pretty boy about him, not in looks or deportment. He made a great Mike Hammer in “Kiss Me Deadly” and that says a lot. Something slightly crude about him — very masculine, too. Love him in everything for those very qualities and he’s great in this episode! How fortunate that you were able to direct him more than once!

  3. GMJ says:

    On re-watching this episode, I noticed that the name of George Lefferts does not appear in the opening credits. Was that a production mistake?

    On another matter, I’ve had a chance to watch a few more “Breaking Point” episodes on a few websites and I’m rather impressed by the stories and the performances. It’s a shame that ABC chose to cancel the program after just one season.

    • Ralph says:

      George Lefferts’ credit came at the end of the show. His credit was in the number one position. That would have been a contractual agreement made at the time he signed on. And I agree with you about the quality of the series. It was a better series than MGM’s THE ELEVENTH HOUR, which did get a renewal.

  4. Karen Markham says:

    Thank you for your postings on “Breaking Point.” This is a treasure. I was a college student when this show aired and it made a profound impression on me. I had been an admirer of Paul Richards since the early fifties. I’m 70 now and have been revisiting “Breaking Point” along with “Channing,” “Route 66,” “Naked City,” and others from the era. I have been able to get complete sets of the latter 3 but have only been able to obtain 16 of the 30 episodes of “Breaking Point.” I’ve looked and asked everywhere I can think of. I would do almost anything–legal, ethical and moral–to see the entire series again. If you have any suggestions, sir, I would be most grateful.

    • Ralph says:

      I am in the same boat as you, except you have 14 more episodes than I have. Do you by chance have a copy of NEVER TROUBLE TROUBLE TILL TROUBLE TROUBLES YOU? That is the other show I directed for the series. I wrote a post for it on my blog, RALPH’S TREK at http://ralph-senensky.blogspot.com/search/label/Breaking%20Point, but I did it without any film clips. If I had a copy I would redo it for this website. If you have a copy, just name your price.

      • Karen Markham says:

        Thank you for your reply! I feel honored. Unfortunately, I do not have that episode. If I did, you would be welcome to it. There are several sellers offering the same 16 episodes that I have. I can let you know which episodes they are and also the ones I’m looking for if you like, but I’ve never seen “Trouble.” I contacted CBS Television Distribution, who, according to their website now owns the licensing for “Breaking Point” and other Bing Crosby Productions, but I don’t think anyone there is old enough to know what I’m talking about. They say if they have it, it might be buried in some vault somewhere. Frustrating. Please feel free to contact me if you get any further information and I will do the same. Karen

  5. Karen Markham says:

    Sir, you are probably the only contact I will ever have with someone who worked with and knew Paul Richards. It would mean a great deal to me, and others I’m sure, if you could share any impressions you recall of him, as an actor, but especially as a person. I have seen as much of his work as I can find and have done a fair amount of research. From what I have seen, he took his work very seriously, approached it with integrity and unusual insight, and brought to every part the best that he had. Personally, I think no one could have done a better job on “Breaking Point,” regardless of some alternate opinions of the time. I know he badly wanted the part and fought for it. I’ve felt somewhat of a kinship with him, as we both grew up in the same area of Los Angeles, attended some of the same schools, including UCLA (19 years apart), where he studied psychology as an undergraduate, as did I. I am currently trying to research his early Jewish background, as it is similar to my family’s and we may have been affiliated with the same synagogues at some time. In the ’70s and early 80s, I gave acting a try, inspired partly by the talent of actors like Richards and Steven Hill. (I was terrible at it and had the good sense to take up another line of work.) And it still saddens me to this day that Paul Richards was taken from us so early. Please forgive me for rambling on so, but anything you might be kind enough to say would be more than greatly appreciated.

    • Ralph says:

      Karen: To answer your request, I must first state, my time on the set with Paul Richards was very limited. Since his scenes were usually confined to the psychiatrist’s office, I don’t think he worked more than 2 or 3 days on any episode, and I only directed 3 episodes. I know his work on SHADOW OF A STARLESS NIGHT was even more limited, since Eduard Franz in that episode was the predominant psychiatrist. In a way, you know more about Paul Richards than I do. I didn’t know he was Jewish. It’s interesting that you pair him with Steven Hill, since I worked with Steven only one day on THE TRAIN, an episode of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, but they were very similar (although I don’t think Paul was as orthodox as Steven.) Having said all of that, I remember Paul as being extremely professional, always totally prepared, and always very intense in his approach to his work. I am immensely proud of the long scene in THE BULL ROARER when Paul delivers the long speech to Lou Antonio (swinging the bull roarer over his head). I think his work was impeccable.

      • Karen Markham says:

        Thank you so much for sharing your recollections. It means a great deal to me. The scene you refer to in the “Bull Roarer” was an excellent one. There was a similar scene that Paul had with Cliff Robertson, who played an obsessive womanizer in the episode “So Many Pretty Girls, So Little time,” in which Dr. Mac began telling a story that at first seemed to have nothing to do with the therapy session, but he slowly and expertly built it to a stunning and revealing climax.

        And, yes, I have always seen the similarity between Paul and Steven Hill, in their acting styles, commitment to their work, parallels in their professional training, as well as their personal and family backgrounds. I don’t think they ever did anything together and I have no idea if they knew each other. What makes them both so appealing to me is there is always something deeper going on under the surface of their characters. My friend and acting teacher Rudy Solari always used to tell us in playing a scene, “Really look, really listen, really want what you want.” That’s what I see in both Paul and Steven. And no matter how small the part or how lousy the vehicle, they always made something special out of it.

        By the way, you mention that you’re almost positive that the word “homosexual” was first spoken on TV in “Bull Roarer.” You’re right, but it was close. “Bull Roarer” aired on October 21, 1963, and on December 18, the word was spoken on “Channing” in the episode “The Last Testament of Buddy Crown.” Interestingly, Mariette Hartley was in both shows.

        I’m including a link to a YouTube video–very recent and very short–44 seconds–of Steven Hill dancing at the bar mitzvah of one of his grandsons. It’s touching and uplifting. I admire Steven Hill not only for his talent but for the principled life he’s led.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AACL3v3jMtE

        Thank you again for taking the time to reply. I enjoy all your posts. Karen

        • Ralph says:

          Hi again Karen: Well will the surprises never cease. In the mid 1950’s I was set to direct a production of THE IMMORALIST at the Horseshoe Stage on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. I had most of the show cast, but was having difficulty casting the rose of the Arab boy, Bachir (played in the New York production by James Dean). A young actor came in to audition, and I knew I had found my Bachir. He played the role, and so successfully that I cast him in the next production I did at the theatre, ALL SUMMER LONG. The interesting thing about all of this is that we became friends, and he told me he had been working for UPS while he tried to advance his acting career. When he came in to audition to THE IMMORALIST, it was like a last stand. He was planning on giving up in Hollywood and leaving. Getting that role was what kept him on. The actor was Rudy Solari.

          • Karen Markham says:

            This story about Rudy sounds very familiar, although I don’t recall any details. He talked a lot about his experiences, good and bad, and the people he worked with over the years. By the time I met him, he was mostly teaching, and a great mentor he was, along with his teaching partner Guy Stockwell. After I was no longer taking Rudy’s classes, I continued to work with him as registrar of his acting academy, while he was converting the Beverly Canon movie theater into The Solari Theater in ’76, ’77. Well, the title was registrar, but it also included a lot of manual labor, from digging out a basement for dressing rooms by hand, with shovels, to scrubbing the urinals in the men’s room. Rudy had a whole cadre of devoted volunteers doing whatever was necessary to make the theater happen. He had a real talent for attracting love and loyalty.

            I meant to ask you, do you by any chance have scripts for the Breaking Point episodes you directed, especially Bull Roarer? If you do, would it be possible to post a page or two on this site, or even a call sheet or cast list? That would be very exciting.

            I should probably mention this on the FBI page, but your comments about working with Steve Ihnat
            made me remember how completely entranced I was by his unique talent and persona, especially his voice. It truly is a great sadness that he died so young. Thank you again, sir, for all your fascinating posts.

  6. Karen Markham says:

    I was just thinking that today, the 21st, would have been our friend Rudy Solari’s 79th birthday.

    On a different note, you mention elsewhere that you have not seen the “Channing” episode you directed, “A Hall Full of Strangers” for 50 years. I have the series, and it is available on sell.com by seller Dominik2002 if you are interested in seeing it again. It holds up well…and glad you solved the white piano problem!

    My best to you. Karen

  7. rick daniel suegreen says:

    Hi again Ralph, I have just read and watched your clips and relevant info on The Breaking Point series, it reminded me of the wonderful Ben Casey, very striking, dramatic with strong writing and performers to match. Simply and powerfully shot, I found myself drawn in to the scenes so much Ralph that I forgot they were scene clips! I wanted to “turn the next page” to eagerly see what happened next! What with your casting problems with the lead role, just how it worked out so fine in the end, yes Michael Parks is a terrific actor, but Mr Lou Antonio brought all the perfect nuances to the part. You should have cast him in the first place! Ralph Meeker is superb too, as is the gorgeous Mariette Hartley, (one of my late Fathers Fave crushes)!! She was incredible in Star Trek’s All Our Yesterdays, you can see in this 1963 production that she has it all, beauty and intelligence. You did a fine job Ralph in standing back and letting the story unfold, it was a fine story, very strong, I would imagine for audiences back in 63, ground-breaking I would say. I found your posts and scene clips very entertaining and insightful. It was very interesting to read Karen Markham’s posts and of the story regarding Rudi Solari, I remember him in The Paradise Syndrome segment of ST and in the rousing Garrision’s Gorrillas. Of other actors who would have played the psychiatrist well could be the wonderful Sebastian Cabot, whom I have just become a fan of from seeing him in the obscure tv series Ghost Story/Circle of Fear. he is superb. Herbert Lom was stunning in an English tv series The Human Jungle, where he too portayed a psychiatrist. I thought the lengthy scene at the climax terrific stuff, just wonderful staging/acting/writing. beautiful stuff Ralph, and another series I didn’t know of.

    • Ralph says:

      Hi Rick: There was a reason Lou Antonio was not cast in the first place. Lou at that time was unknown on the west coast. He was a New York actor with several credits on Broadway and appearances in New York-filmed episodes. And always in supporting roles. The talented casting director Marion Dougherty had cast him in episodes of NAKED CITY in small roles. A few months earlier she had cast him in a larger role, but still a secondary character in COLOR SCHEMES LIKE NEVER BEFORE, an episode of NAKED CITY. I directed it. It was another example of directing a production without the complete script. The final pages didn’t arrive until our fifth day of filming. The strange thing that happened was that Lou’s secondary story became the main story of the film. (Please read and view the NAKED CITY post of COLOR SCHEMES — I think it is truly a gem!) Anyway when Dean Stockwell dropped out of THE BULL ROARER and Michael Parks attitude resulted in his being overlooked, I had a copy of COLOR SCHEMES sent over to the Desilu Studio from Columbia Studio and had the producers look at Lou’s performance. They were thrilled to cast him.

      • Ralph says:

        I forgot to mention that BREAKING POINT was produced by the same company the did BEN CASEY. BP was their psychiatric companion to the medical BC, just as at MGM THE ELEVENTH HOUR was their psychiatric companion to DR. KILDARE. Oddly I directed DR. K. but not the ELEVENTH HOUR and directed BP but not BC.

        • rick daniel suegreen says:

          Hi Ralf : Thank you for the explanation regarding the terrific Lou Antonio, I have seen that name many many times too, as a Director like yourself on countless episodic tv, and he is superb indeed. I am glad he went on to do well in the business. Your insights are so absorbing. You would have been well suited to doing some BEN CASEY’S, and Sam Jaffe would have been a wonderful actor to direct. I indeed will take a good close look at the NAKED CITY post you mentioned to me, and may I say again THANK YOU for taking out the time to reply to my posts

  8. Phil says:

    From this episode, there are so many different directions I want to branch out towards…let’s start with the star.

    I’ll bet Karen Markham’s research on Paul Richards has been fascinating. Also, someone set up a tribute website, paulrichards.net, in 2002 and it’s been updated numerous times since. It reprinted a few articles, but I found one it doesn’t have, an AP wire service story in the Ocala-Star Banner (9/15/1963). Richards was asked how he prepared for ‘BP’:

    “How else?” he answered. “I went to a psychiatrist.”

    “As a patient?”

    “Yes, as a patient.”

    The article also says he listened to hundreds of taped converstions between doctor and patient, read scores of case histories and watched psychiatrists at work in clinics.

    • Ralph says:

      I didn’t know that, but I’m not surprised. I’ve stated and still feel that BREAKING POINT was one of the GREAT series on television, and it’s cancellation after only one season was a tragedy.

  9. Phil says:

    The views of the construction site (videos 3, 4, & 12) remind me of an episode of ‘The Fugitive’ (“Terror at High Point”), which was filmed at the Mt. Olympus residential development during mid-Oct. ’63…same equipment, including the big spiked rollers. Google Maps shows a Mt. Olympus Drive today as a main road with smaller nearby roads named after Greek gods. Maybe you were there too for “The Bull Roarer”.

    The vast scale of this construction project is really conveyed in the 12th video. In addition to clearing the mountains, it looks like they were building new mountains…the ancient Egyptians would have been impressed. I guess it was a different time…no risk, no financial worries, everyone felt secure. Did anyone object to big developments back in the day? Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t envision projects like this happening today; the bureaucrats and tree huggers would strangle this baby in its crib.

    *******

    I found the music quite striking during Murray’s fight with Lloyd (video 4), which they used in a couple of other spots…like someone was playing a piano with a pair of clenched fists! Who composed this? I had to look it up…Walter Scharf. Had no idea who he was…EIGHT Oscar nominations!

  10. GMJ says:

    Re: Video #8 “What is a man?” speech

    Following up on a previous post, I’ve re-watched this scene a number of times. I wondered if the voice over with scenes of the construction site was as written by Ernest Kinoy or was it a last minute creative decision made in post-production. It’s an extremely effective sequence and gave me something to think about, even in 2015.

    Thanks again for your posting and I look forward to reading more of your essays.

    • Ralph says:

      The speech was written by Ernest Kinoy. I have forgotten the details, but my thought now was that in post production it was a very long speech for the visual to be alternating close-ups of Paul Richards and Edward Franz. Thus the use of visuals from the production site. I think that was done after my director’s cut. My reaction? Brilliant!

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