The Library Card

Filmed December 1968

Two weeks after I completed photography on my first COURTSHIP, I started filming my second one, THE LIBRARY CARD. Unlike the opening teaser vignette for GUESS WHO’S COMING TO LUNCH, the one for this show was not part of the script. It followed the normal procedure and the dialog was written later, recorded and laid in over shots Jimmy Komack had filmed on location, but it did have a relevance to what followed. It established the theme of “responsibility”.

When I recently viewed the feature film directed by Vincente Minnelli, I was aware of the difference in tone between the feature and the television series that evolved under Jimmy Komack’s guidance. The film with Glenn Ford and Ronny Howard seemed to stress the conflicts in their relationship. Tom Corbett, a recent widower still in the throes of grief, showed a lot of impatient anger toward his young son, who did not like the current lady in his dad’s life and could not hide his disapproval. Komack’s interpretation of their relationship for the small screen was very different. To begin with his Eddie was only six years old, two or three years younger than the Eddie in the feature film. And the relationship between Eddie and his father was a more loving relationship, one of ‘best friends’. Although there were a few comic forays into the subject of finding a new wife for Tom, Komack’s main theme centered on the responsibilities of single parenthood.

Because this script placed a stronger emphasis on little Eddie (there were only three short scenes totaling three pages in which he did not appear) the show was given a four-day shooting schedule. Since three and a half days of that schedule would be filmed in the Corbett apartment, there were almost no problems. Well maybe there was one, but it was minimal. Well maybe a bit more than minimal. This was the last show to be completed before the Christmas break; in fact the last day of filming was scheduled for December 24th, Christmas Eve, after which production on the series was to be shut down. In the following months Jimmy would complete postproduction on this first batch. That really was an unusual situation in developing a new series for television — to have that kind of time to let the show evolve. But back to the slight problem. Both Brandon and I were ill with seasonal flu. I remember thinking how fortunate that we were filming in the Corbett apartment set; there was a bed in each of the bedrooms, and I took to one of them many times while the crew was lighting for the next setup. The real trouper was Brandon. If I sounded ill when I called “action” — no problem. That bit was always cut from the film. If I hadn’t mentioned this, I doubt if, when watching his performance, you would have realized he too was ill.

Not only did Nilsson and George Tipton compose a charming music background score, Nilsson wrote and sang bits that commented on the action in the scene — sort of a musical one-man Greek chorus. Another of the innovative Komack touches.

One spring when talking to writer-producer Tony Spinner, I asked him what he was up to. He told me of a project he had in development for a potential series for the upcoming season. When I commented that it seemed like a rerun of something already on the air, Tony smiled and said, “But that’s the secret — do the same thing, just a little differently.” One of the staples of network television was the single father format. THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER was its latest arrival. Preceding it had been BACHELOR FATHER John Forsythe, Fred MacMurray and his three sons and surrogate parent Brian Keith to his nieces and nephew in FAMILY AFFAIR. I think the charm of this series was the ways Jimmy Komack found to do it differently

It was bad enough to have laughter on the sound track when the show was being photographed by four cameras during a performance in front of a live audience ( I LOVE LUCY e.g), but this show was being filmed with a single camera on a studio set without any audience. The laugh track was machine-made later and frankly was an intrusion. Many times I felt the insertion of the laughter not only didn’t help provoke laughter from the tuned in audience; it got in the way and lessened the comedic effect being pursued.

And then we committed what I consider a major goof. Because the Culver City police department was the closest police station to the studio, that’s where we filmed the following sequence. Tom Corbett’s apartment would NOT have been in Culver City. I think it would have been in one of the high rises in Century City and we should have used the police department in Beverly Hills, but that was not as convenient to the studio.

It is easy to imagine how this show might have been created in different hands. The courtships of Tom Corbett would have been center stage with a weekly procession of beautiful aspirants for the job of Eddie’s mother. Eddie would have been a little older, say a nine-year old version of wisecracking Danny Bonaduce (of THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY), always ready with a sexy rejoinder. And more than likely it would have been filmed in front of a studio audience. I for one am grateful that Jimmy Komack was given the assignment and am most appreciative of what he produced – a show that I think is one of the classic gems of the era, but one that has somehow slipped through the cracks when it comes to recognition.

The film clip of me is from a recent interview by the Archive of American Television, a division of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation.

The journey continues

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5 Responses to The Library Card

  1. Christopher Riordan says:

    Just charming. Naturally, it was always one of our favourite shows. Sean and I watching it religiously.
    And I remember being so thrilled when I found out that you had directed so many of the episodes.
    Thanks, CR

  2. Rich Ambroson says:

    I strongly agree with you regarding the direction that Mr. Komack took the show. I loved this one when I was a kid, and hope to be able to find it to show my wife. It even makes me a bit misty just thinking about the series. Great stuff.

    • Ralph says:

      To start your search, show your wife the 9 episodes I have written about.

      • Rich Ambroson says:

        Dear Ralph,

        For sure, I’ll start with the episodes you have written about. It’s been probably 40 years since I’ve seen it, but I still recall “An ‘F’ For Mrs. L”, and how worried Eddie was about Mrs. Livingston.

        I have never seen the feature film the series was based on, but I can’t picture anyone else playing Mrs. Livingston than the wonderful Miyoshi Umeki. I will look forward to enjoying these with my better half.

        All the Best to you!

        • Ralph says:

          The feature film was truly different from the series. The housekeeper was (as I remember) a watered down version of a Marjorie Main character. And the emphasis of the film was on the several courtships of Eddie Father. As I’ve written, Komack made those courtships a minor backup to the main courtship of the series — between father and son.

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