To Play Or Not To Play

FILMED December 1970

I think one of the most interesting and meaningful relationships in the creation of a film can be that between the director and the writer of the project. Ideally the director would be involved during the script’s creation; the two are in essence co-parents of the film. This happened very rarely in television and almost never in episodic television. It did happen for me with Jean Holloway for SHADOW OF A STARLESS NIGHT on BREAKING POINT, which I consider a very personal film. More often the series producer or story editor would fill in as a surrogate co-parent, as Charles Larson did on TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH and a couple of THE FBI’s, as we made adjustments to another author’s script. An unusual experience for me was COLOR SCHEMES LIKE NEVER BEFORE, an episode of NAKED CITY written by Alvin Sargent. When I reported to the production offices in New York to start preparation, there were just a few pages of completed script. Alvin was busily writing it on the west coast. When I commenced filming a few days later, the script was still incomplete. A few new pages a day arrived, but I didn’t receive the final pages until about the fifth day of filming. Yet the result was the most personal film I had directed (it was my eleventh) until that time and one that was an enormous impetus to my developing career. I did not know Alvin Sargent. I had never met him, but somehow the words on his pages connected with me in such a way that it seemed as if I had been sitting beside him as he typed. Recently forty-nine years later I received the following e-mail:

 

You directed it and it’s late in writing you, but your direction met the story and characters so beautifully. Naked City is always a proud credit, especially Color Schemes……I recently came across your break down of shooting…every moment. I’ve never seen anything like that. Watching it was so meaningful to me. I suppose you do it with all of your work. Incredible attachment to your own history. Wanted to let you know that Rossen and Antonio were beautifully cast and directed in a favorite movie of mine. Hope you are well. I am a little behind you age wise. My knees would never know that. Hope you have a good year. Alvin Sargent

 

But on most of my assignments it was as if I was a single parent, responsible for rearing the infant in the crib to its final departure as an adult exiting the house.

 

Six months after completing WHEN MOTHER GETS MARRIED I returned to Columbia Studio to direct two PARTRIDGES back-to-back. The first one was TO PLAY OR NOT TO PLAY written by Stan Cutler and Martin Donovan. As usual I had not met either of the two authors, although seventeen months previously I had directed their script, AN F FOR MRS. L. on THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER.

This episode, like the first one I had directed, had the group on the road for an engagement, so I had yet to work in the standing set, which was their home. My questioning the group appearing in a club in WHEN MOTHER GETS MARRIED extended to this episode. The script again called for a club, so I found myself back in the same set as for that first show. It even had the same red drapes for background, although their arrangement on the stage was changed.  As before there was the necessity of limiting the size of the audience, which was not realistic for the situation but had to be done for budgetary reasons.

THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY was filmed on the Columbia Ranch, a 40-acre lot purchased in 1934 by Columbia Studio to serve as their back-lot for exterior filming. The lot was situated in Burbank, CA, on Hollywood Way just a bit north of the Warner Bros. Studio. Compared in size to the 102 acres of MGM’s lots 2 and 3, it was strictly small potatoes. In addition the lot had five sound stages, two of which were assigned to the production of this series. There was a wonderful convenience in having the back-lot sets on the same lot and in walking distance from the soundstages. On those days when filming was scheduled for both interiors on the soundstage and exteriors, there was a saving in time and a saving in money.

Marc was played by twenty-two year old Michael Lembeck, just at the beginning of an illustrious career, which eventually found him behind the camera directing. Two months prior to this he had appeared for me in an episode of DAN AUGUST. I would have cast him in this show without auditioning him, but since the producer was not acquainted with his work (this would be only his third or fourth screen appearance), I had the casting director bring him in to audition and he was approved. Michael then asked if anybody had been cast as Marino. When we replied not yet, he suggested his father, Harvey Lembeck. I jumped at the idea. Who could forget Harvey as one of the prisoners-of-war in STALAG 17.  The benefit for me in casting a pro like that? The opening line in the next sequence about the dirty tablecloths was something Harvey added to his role.

There was a card in the end credits about the music performers. When the series went into production, no Partridge family voice was on the sound track. The voices were just those of the augmented performers.

By the time of TO PLAY OR NOT TO PLAY, that had changed

And I still haven’t met Stan Cutler or Martin Donovan.

(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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2 Responses to To Play Or Not To Play

  1. Mike says:

    Could ‘Gerry Boffin’ be the late Gerry Goffin?

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