The Interne Syndrome

FILMED October 1963

When I was discussing my journeys on STAR TREK, I wrote on one post that there was a film I was not going to be writing about, RETURN TO TOMORROW. Over time several Comments were left expressing disappointment at that decision, so I eventually reconsidered and did write about that show. When it was posted, a Comment was left… :

Ralph, your blog is a priceless window back to some of the shows I watched as a kid. … Ralph, will you be reviewing ‘Nanny & the Professor’ soon?

…that started me thinking. I had started the website with the idea of presenting a chronicle of directing in the early days of television when major production left New York City and moved to the west coast. The movie studios after a long period of ignoring a competitor that they hoped would fail, were finally but reluctantly recognizing it as an industry that was here to stay. It was an infant industry, so there was limited money that any of the three networks were able to pay when buying product from the studios. As a result there were several productions that, although I always tried my hardest, the final product did not live up to my expectations, and I omitted discussing them as I worked my way through my filmography. Also I did not keep logs or diaries, so that my memory of details of many productions was less than I felt would make for interesting reading. Through the response to my website (and I do read the Comments and respond when questioned) I recognize that television was a medium like radio that came into your homes, and your response to the characters on television’s small screen was different than your response to the characters on the big screens in theatres. I have come to realize that people developed strong affinity to programs that they viewed in their young years, memories of those programs that they cherish to this day. I also now realize that not all visitors to the website are going to view all of the posts. STAR TREK trekkers may not be interested in THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY or THE WALTONS, but they are interested in ALL of the STAR TREKS. So with that in mind, let’s visit another one of those forlorn ones I omitted.

My return to New York to direct my second THE NURSES three months after filming my first one had a minor complication. While still in Los Angeles preparing for my departure, I was notified by my agents that I was supposed to be in New York, that the production office for the show had called to complain of my absence. The New York office of my agency had neglected to notify me of the change in report date and then had the temerity to ask that I not make a fuss about the situation; it would have caused complications for the young agent who had committed the error. I hurriedly changed my reservations and flew out immediately.

Willa was played by Sandra Church. Sandra had been nominated for the 1960 Tony for her performance as Gypsy Rose Lee in the original Broadway production of GYPSY starring Ethel Merman. Two months earlier we had worked together on A HERO FOR OUR TIME on SUSPENSE THEATRE. THE NURSES had a $1,500 top for guest stars, which may have been the lowest top of any television company at that time. (Quinn Martin’s top was $5,000). But there was another salary cap. Only one $1,500 salary was allowed for any production. Edward Binns, a recurring character in the series, received that amount when he appeared, and he was scheduled to be in THE INTERNE SYNDROME. I had requested Sandra and was in my friend casting director Buzz Berger’s office when he was negotiating with her agent. There were offers and counteroffers in what sounded like a flesh peddling auction. I was embarrassed and concerned that I might not get her for the part. Buzz just laughed at my naivete. He told me to relax; it was all a game. He booked her for $1,475.

There was a circumstance in casting that occurred more often in New York than on the west coast: actors who were cast might be appearing in a Broadway play.

Note the instruction for GERRY MATTHEWS who was cast as Dr. George Everett:

(has show in evening)

When the shooting schedule was planned, care had to be taken that Gerry’s scenes were scheduled early in the day to be certain he was finished in time to make his evening commitment. Once later in Los Angeles an actor was cast in one of my productions, but no mention was made until the day he reported for work that he was appearing onstage at the Ahmanson Theatre at night. And he was in every scene scheduled that day. Talk about panic

Gerry Matthews had appeared as one of the law students earlier that spring in my NAKED CITY’s NO NAKED LADIES IN FRONT OF GIOVANNI’S HOUSE.

THE INTERNE SYNDROME was the second of the fifteen productions I would direct with Steve Brooks in the cast. I write about those other productions on other posts, and if you’re the kind of viewer who doesn’t want to know how a story ends until the final curtain, I suggest you skip this section and view the next clip, because I want to talk about Steve. Soon after THE NURSES, he moved to the west coast. Two years later we again worked together on eleven episodes of THE FBI, where, as one of the stars of the series, he was an agent paired with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. That series ran for nine seasons, but although his work was exemplary, Steve was let go at the end of the second season. It was only recently that I found out who was responsible for his dismissal. It was the FBI, and they gave no reason. The following year I cast him in a guest star role in what is our most famous collaboration, the STAR TREK episode OBSESSION. Three years later I was hired to direct an episode of THE INTERNS at Columbia Studio, a series in which he was the main star. The series did not make it. According to the Internet Movie Data Base Steve spent the next decade with guest star jobs on various series, but not too many of them. I learned from Eleanor, the owner of the all-girl barbershop in Toluca Lake, that he still came there, and she described him as an unhappy, disturbed young man. Sometime in the eighties he left Hollywood and moved to Seattle, Washington. He died there at the age of fifty-seven. I didn’t know Steve away from the sound stage; I only knew the different characters he portrayed. I think now the young interne, Ned Lowry, that he played in THE NURSES when he was twenty-one years old, was probably the closest to the real Steve. Sandy Meisner said acting is playing yourself in imaginary circumstances. That way the true emotional inner self is transferred to inhabit the body of the role being performed. Steve was a very talented and sensitive young man. Being fired from THE FBI had to have had an enormous impact on him, and the subsequent frustration from lack of employment, a frustration Hollywood is masterful at inflicting, ended up destroying what gave signs up front of being a promising career. For those of you who continued on after I gave you the option to skip over, you may now continue, and I’m certain when you view the rest of the film clips, you will feel the same sadness I have been feeling as I assembled them.

I recently read an article headlined: Film is Dead? Long Live Movies, the premise being since there is such a strong movement toward digital photography, “Film” may no longer be what we should call our movies. This variance in nomenclature regarding film is not new. I recently had a discussion via e-mail with Steve Bowie, maestro at The Classic TV History Blog, about a similar difference. Steve referred to the productions I directed as “television.” I said I direct film. My premise was that my productions were recorded on film, and the fact that they are viewed on a television screen only refers to the medium on which they are seen. Today since they can be viewed on a mobile device, does that mean they should be called “I-Pads” or since they can be viewed on a computer – but I think you get my point. I bring this up because I have always tried to approach my projects as making a film, a small movie that stood alone, independent of the episodes that preceded or followed. Most of the time the subject matter and the writing made it easy… but sometimes it didn’t …

… see what I mean!  Need more?

My return to New York to direct THE INTERNE SYNDROME came after a hectic period of activity in Hollywood. By the end of August I had filmed the two projects on the west coast booked between my New York assignments, when one of my agents called with another offer. It was a new series at Desilu (where I liked working) and it could be squeezed in before the Jewish High Holy Days. The series was THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, and it would be filmed at the Desilu-Culver studio in Culver City, the old Selznick lot where GONE WITH THE WIND had been filmed. I was tired, but I couldn’t resist; I accepted, and it turned out to be a very unusual and introspective experience. Let’s get to the unusual first. It was early September, just weeks before the beginning of airing television’s new season. Jack Palance, the star of the series, was being sent out on a promotional tour for the show’s approaching premiere, so he would not be available for the first few days of filming; but since there were not enough scenes in which he did not appear to fill our schedule during his absence, scenes in which he did appear were scheduled to be filmed. My job was to film everything in those sequences except his angles. That meant I would be blocking the action with the actors for those scenes without his presence (using a stand-in for his character), and then filming the close-ups, two-shots, all the shots in which he did not appear. When he returned I would film the master shots, his close-ups and other angles in which he did appear. I knew the script was inferior. I knew as I progressed that the results were, for me, less than satisfactory. But the atmosphere in the producer’s office was positively euphoric, filled with camaraderie and praise. The young producer (an ex-agent as I remember) was totally charming, and we had a fine relationship. But I was troubled. I had cast Nina Foch as guest star. Earlier that season we had worked together on MY NAME IS MARTIN BURNHAM on ARREST AND TRIAL. I had enormous respect for Nina, and one day at lunch I confided my concerns to her. I was feeling that my having such a good, friendly personal relationship with a producer could very easily develop into an easy and safe way to survive and progress in the profession. But I didn’t want that. My goal was to be a good director.

THE INTERNE SYNDROME was my eighteenth film in two years. The film set was my film school. My campus extended across the nation with classrooms on each coast and a couple in the center. And each of the films was an exam. The thing is, the films weren’t graded with the grades applied to a final grade toward graduation. The films were viewed across the nation and internationally. Today they are still being viewed on cable, on DVD and on the internet, and they are being examined, critiqued and judged by the same critical standards that are applied as if they had been produced as full theatrical releases.

With the completion of photography on THE INTERNE SYNDROME, I was booked to direct the second of my four commitments on EAST SIDE WEST SIDE. That commitment was to start immediately, but I was notified that their current production was behind schedule, and my report date was set back one week. Frankly I could not financially afford to stay on in New York City for a week, and I chose to bow out of that commitment. Also in the past nine months, I had directed twelve productions, only four of which had been filmed in Hollywood. I was not only anxious to go home, I wanted to go home and stay; so I also had my agents free me from the other commitments to EAST SIDE WEST SIDE. That may seem like a rash action for a novice director, and I guess it was. But somehow it worked to my advantage. Because I was back on the west coast and out of work, I was available when an offer came that to this day I would hate to have missed. I was available to direct Mickey Rooney in FUNNY MAN WITH A MONKEY on ARREST AND TRIAL.

The Journey Continues

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5 Responses to The Interne Syndrome

  1. Phil says:

    Sandra Church was freakin’ amazing. Before reading this post, I had no clue who she was. Aside from her stage work, I never realized she played Marlon Brando’s wife in ‘The Ugly American’…I haven’t seen that movie in about 20 or 30 years. Per IMDB and Wikipedia, it seems that she married a Broadway producer in 1964 and dropped out of the acting business.

  2. detectivetom says:

    Wow, who knows what would have happened if Steve Brooks was allowed to stay on the F.B.I.

  3. Saladbar says:

    Been catching up with some of your past blog posts. This was an excellent episode of a series that I’ve never seen before. Although a number of “medical shows” from the sixties were shown in reruns for years afterwards (e.g., “Ben Casey”), “The Nurses,” as far as I know, never made it to daily syndication, at least in my neck o’ the woods. Good acting all around–especially from Sandra Church, who was “amazing,” as Phil stated. A shame that this beautiful and talented actress retired from the biz at a young age! She was superb as “Willa” here. LOVE this blog–reading about your experiences and watching these great shows! Thanks!!

  4. Phil says:

    Ralph, I assume your episode of ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ was called “Leaves in the Wind”. My regular online sources have no info on this episode’s crew, only on the cast. UCLA has most of the series in 16mm b&w, although this was Desilu’s first color drama. Youtube has almost nothing on it.

  5. Phil says:

    The blog has been doing detailed weekly revisit of every TV Guide covering the 1964-‘65 season. Here’s what they wrote/transcribed from the March 6, 1965 issue:

    Neil Hickey’s three-page “One Battle the Women Lost” examines how The Nurses on CBS became The Doctors and the Nurses. It was Michael Dann, CBS-TV vice president in charge of programming, who felt that after two seasons the series could benefit from “a couple of strong male character in continuing roles.” Producer Herbert Brodkin agreed to the change if good actors could be found. Michael Tolan and Joseph Campanella were those actors.

    Here’s how Brodkin explained the change:

    Like most decisions around here, I made that one, and for two reasons: first, the ratings weren’t high enough, and second, stories for a pair of nurses were too hard to find. I’ve never had as much trouble with a series as I had with The Nurses, and primarily because of the difficult in finding scripts. So we added a couple of men, and the nurses have, in effect, become supporting characters. There’s no point saying anything else. Part of the problem was that, in making things happen in a story, nurses are hand-holders.

    Actress Shirl Conway revealed she was never told why the change was made and she hated the new title. “I thought it was a pedestrian one, and I still do. Out of sheer diplomacy, I think it should have been called The Nurses and the Doctors.” Her co-star, Zina Bethune, likewise said she didn’t know why the switch was made. “They really didn’t contact me about it. The series is no longer directed at women’s problems, and as a result, I think the stories are more varied.”

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