The Promise

FILMED  December 1969

Last night the following message was left on my Facebook home page:

hi ralph!!! this is so amazing. so good to find you.
you know, 19 years ago tomorrow, we lost bill. the timing of finding you is incredible. please call when you have a chance. i’m still in touch with lynn guthrie, too.
small world, huh?|
take care ralph, my director!

It was from Brandon Cruz, Eddie in THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER. It has been forty-three years since I directed him in an episode of that series. It has been
thirty-seven years since I last directed him (he was thirteen years old by then) in a pilot film that never got off the ground. The memories this has churned up! THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER is special to me. It was the show that brought me back from the abyss of THE THOLIAN WEB experience and the months that followed of what seemed like a blacklisting that kept me unemployed. I will admit I was emotionally vulnerable as I returned to work, but frankly that was a beneficial condition for me, a condition I welcomed, because I felt most effective when working from that state. We are all products of our training. Richard O’Connell, the young Yale graduate who taught the directing course at the Pasadena Playhouse, stressed that in approaching a new project, do not be analytical and critical when reading the script the first time, respond to it emotionally, because your initial response to the material was the response you were going to want to stimulate in your audience. The reason COURTSHIP was so fortuitous, it appeared to me that Jimmy Komack’s concept for the series dictated that every script would be written with the intent of emotionally involving its viewers. I‘m going to return and finish discussing the productions of the three episodes of COURTSHIP that I have not covered, starting with THE PROMISE, probably the darkest of my COURTSHIP films. And how do you begin a dark film? As lightly as possible.

I told you it was going to be darker, but just like Mrs. Livingstone’s flunking her English test in AN F FOR MRS. L, her possible deportation was a Hitchcock-like McGuffin*.

*McGuffin: noun chiefly Brit., an object or device in a movie or a book that serves merely as a trigger for the plot.

Have I told you how much I deplored the addition of the laugh track to films? It was a distraction; where were the people in the living room in this scene who were laughing. And some comedy scenes want a different response than a hearty guffaw. Onstage, in a live performance, actors adjust their performances and hold when an audience laughs. But you can’t do that on film, with the result that the canned laughter is heard over what follows.

Did you notice the “Written by” credit card?

That card gives the impression that Bob Rodgers, Peggy Chantler Dick and James Komack all got together and wrote a script. Not the way it happened. After Bob Rodgers sold the idea for his story to Komack, he went home and wrote the script. Once he turned it in Jimmy and Peggy individually made changes to his work, changes that were radical enough that they were awarded co-authorship credits.

The short scene coming up between Eddie and Mrs. Livingston was not in the original script, but when the film was assembled, it was decided that the business of Tom’s promise needed to be restressed The scene between Eddie and Mrs. L. was written, and since I was still at the studio filming the fourth of my final four commitments I was available to film it.

There are times when a director has to realize there are some scenes that are immune to directorial embellishments. The following scene between Tom and Miss Ritter was one of them. With fine words, adult content and two extremely talented actors — that’s when the director needs to block the actors in the action of the scene, give the cameraman his setups and then sit down in his director’s chair and keep out of the way.

Meg Wyllie was, like me, out of the Pasadena Playhouse, and the scene, I felt then and feel even more strongly today, was very adult for 1969 television. especially for a family situation comedy.

And that’s what this episode was all about, that critical time when a seven-year old boy learned that his adored father could not do everything, that his father was not all-powerful, and it happened with that deadliest of sins — a broken promise.

If I found the laugh track objectionable in the earlier comedy scene, I was outraged that it was used in the scene where Eddie was packing to leave. That was NOT a comedy scene. Silence in a scene can be very powerful. The laugh track broke the spell of the silences between Eddie and his father in a scene of a father very intelligently and sympathetically dealing with a critical moment in his seven-year old son’s life. That was not a laughing matter.

You’ll have to forgive my continued harping on the subject of the laugh track, but the scene between Tom and Mrs. Livingston was a different example of its misuse. The scene was beautifully written and sensitively played by Bill and Miyoshi. The laugh track brought smirking sex to the scene that the writing and acting had avoided.

I wasn’t usually in favor of young television stars being the ones who always saved the day, solved the difficult problems their elders couldn’t — James Kildare on DR. KILDARE, John-Boy on THE WALTONS, Danny Bonaduce on THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY. But since Eddie’s youth and innocence were the necessary means to resolve the conflict, I couldn’t very well object.

On my blog, which preceded this website by a year and a half, I wrote in detail and with great affection of THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER. At the end of one of my posts I wrote:

Wouldn’t it be nice if this small effort on a website could stir enough interest for this series to be pulled out of the vaults and released to the public on DVD; so that those who loved it in the past could reacquaint themselves with Eddie and his father, and those too young to have known it before could meet what I think is one of the forgotten gems of classic television.

Sometime in 2011 after the above item had been posted, the first season was released on DVD, and I have just discovered the second season has been released this year. I shall be ordering the second season very soon. In the meantime forgive me for imagining my blog may have had some influence on the decision for those releases.

The Journey Continues

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4 Responses to The Promise

  1. Liz Crasten says:

    I’ve been a big Brandon Cruz fan since “Courtship of Eddie’s Father” premiered 43 years ago and I also created a Yahoo group for his fans, which I posted a link to above.
    It would be great to meet him some day, if he’s ever in New York for a celebrity autograph show.


  2. Phil says:

    I recognized Meg Wylie immediately, but from where? After a minute or two, it hit me – she was one of the bald aliens who trapped and caged Jeffrey Hunter in the first ‘Star Trek’ pilot! She delivered a necessary element to both roles – nonchalant arrogance!

  3. Joe says:

    It’s amazing how this show really only had two sets. The apartment and the office. Actually, I think 95% of the show was in the apartment. That said, you never really felt like you were stuck in that apartment. The writing & directing was so good that you didn’t need to go anywhere else. I wanted to live in that apartment with the awesome deck.

    I do have one question and you may have already answered it but were the opening vignette’s for each episode all shot at once or individually? Thanks and keep updating us with your stories.

    • Ralph says:

      The opening vignettes were shot in “batches,” and at random. Jimmy would go out and shot a whole bunch of them, building a library. Then later shots would be seleted and dialogue would be written to lay in over the film. And I agree with you. I really loved that show. It was enormously creative and oh so effective!

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