The Man Who Went Blue Sky

TAPED  May 1974

After taping THE SYSTEM, twenty-five months would pass before I returned to INSIGHT to direct another script written by Lan O’Kun. As I wrote at the end of my post on THE SYSTEM about the future project: “That one featured a character who was pixieish beyond quirky.” Well here’s that young man – but not the older man you’ll see first. He too is quirky, but I’ll get to him in a moment.

That was the first and only time I worked with Wendell Burton, our young inventor. Wendell made an interesting entry into show business. He was majoring in political science at California’s Sonoma State College, when at the insistence of a friend, he auditioned for and won the title role in the San Francisco stage production of YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN. There during the show’s run, he was seen by director Alan J. Pakula, who chose him from over hundreds of more experienced film actors to play opposite Liza Minnelli in his production of THE STERILE CUCKOO.

THE MAN WHO WENT BLUE SKY was the first time I worked with Woodrow Parfrey, our weepy Dr. Landecker. Had Woody been around earlier during Hollywood’s Golden Age, he most certainly would have been under contract to one of the major studios, a member of that talented assemblage of character actors that so enriched the movies of the era, a group that included Thomas Mitchell, Claude Rains, Beulah Bondi, Walter Brennan, Barry Fitzgerald, Elisha Cook Jr. The list is endless! But by the 1960s Hollywood studios no longer could afford to maintain those large stables of talent. Those character actors who had had the assurance of weekly paychecks by being under contract now became freelance performers. Fortunately television’s need for product produced increased activity at the studios, and a whole new band of younger character actors came to the fore: Simon Oakland, Bert Freed, Royal Dano, Jack Gilford, Andrew Duggan, John Anderson, Ken Lynch, Eugene Roche, Norman Fell, Harold Stone and Woodrow Parfrey, who is described in his IMDB Mini Biography as being “One of the most interesting character actors to emerge on American film and television in the 1960s.”

Rowan and Martin’s LAUGH-IN debuted on television in January 1968. One of the many stars launched by the series was the charming Goldie Hawn with her infectious giggle. The following season Kristina Holland (our young wife) played Jimmy Komack’s secretary on THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER. Unlike Goldie, who was blond, Kristina had red hair, but her characters too approached problems with an irrepressible smile on their faces backed by gurgling laughter. She was a marvelous comedienne, and as I’ve made clear in the past, I believe inside every comedian/comedienne there is a fine dramatic performer waiting to make an entrance. Kristina’s Stella in this show bears a resemblance to another character written by Lan O’Kun. I thought Stella could have been a sister of Arlene Golonka’s character in INSIGHT’S THE SYSTEM.

The three men Cy will now meet were played by actors with whom I had worked before. The boss was my friend and reliable standby, Bill Quinn. The CEO with the moustache was Jack Manning, the one of the trio I had known the longest. In 1957 I was directing a production of Andre Gide’s THE IMMORALIST at the Horseshoe Stage in Hollywood. Midway through the rehearsal schedule I realized I had made a mistake in casting one of the actors and would have to replace him. I knew Jack through friends (Paul and Claudia Bryar) and Jack graciously came aboard. I had worked with Olan Soule previously on an episode of THE FBI. Olan, like Bill Quinn, had begun his acting career as a child. His many early professional years were spent in radio. When one of those programs brought him to the west coast, it was a natural progression for him to move from radio into television, where he had a long and lucrative career.

If I had been directing the following montage sequence on film, I would have shot all of the masters, the various coverage of Wendell, the inserts of the tablets, the shots of the clock and the close-ups of the CEO’s in the doorway. The sequence would then have been assembled in the editing room. I wasn’t quite brave enough to attempt the whole sequence in one long take, so I divided it into two. Here is the script:

montage1

montage2

montage3

As you can see, there was a lot of activity going on in the control booth. But I want to point out the responsibility placed on the actors. Their timing involved so much more than was required in acting a scene.

Here is the film:

One thing we didn’t include when taping: the dropping of the calendar pages was superimposed in postproduction.

I thought that was some very potent writing and some very moving acting for a climactic scene of a film that had started as an idiosyncratic comedy.

As I noted above, I think I met writer Lan O’Kun, but I never had any in-depth discussion with him. So now I am free to let my imagination run wild. When Henrik Ibsen’s GHOST, a play that dared to be about the venereal disease syphilis, was vociferously rejected by both critics and audiences, he retaliated by writing AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE, where he chastised the conservatism of society. I am wondering how much of Cy Walden was really Lan O’Kun. From the two scripts of Lan’s that I directed, I believe he was far from a conventional writer, and I state that as a compliment. Is it possible that writing for commercial television was as difficult and distasteful for Lan as watchmaking was for Cy? Did INSIGHT in addition to presenting valuable moral tales also provide an outlet for creative people like Lan, for people who were blue sky?

The journey continues

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One Response to The Man Who Went Blue Sky

  1. Jon Reeves says:

    This episode was prophetic!

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