Unfinished Business

TAPED May 1980

 “Insight was terrific.”

“I watched Insight growing up.”

“As a kid, Insight creep-ed me out.”

“Love this show which in my single digit years was a fixture on Sunday mornings in my house thanks to Dad.”

“Wow… I remember this show from when I was a little kid. They used to run it early mornings before or after “Davy and Goliath” back in the early 70′s. … I remember even as a little kid, being pretty amazed at how many big name actors appeared on it.”

“It’s so exciting to get a look at this wonderful series again.”

“It was the Catholic Twilight Zone, and it was awesome. It used to run on Saturday/Sunday mornings on ABC in New York, Just after the farm report, and it was as important a show for me to catch as the cartoons that followed.”

Those are some of the Responses that were left last week after I posted THE POKER GAME, an episode of INSIGHT, here on RALLPH’S CINEMA TREK and on my Facebook page. Amazingly, the response to my Facebook page set a record: 11,495 visits in 3 days. I was truly surprised. INSIGHT had been a half hour show offered free of charge to individual stations to be run as part of their public service airings, and as I understood it, all that Paulist Productios required in return was the approval of air times. There were no national advertising campaigns publicizing the series. It sort of snuck into towns at odd non-primetime hours.

According to the International Movie Data Base, the filmography for Jim McGinn, the author of UNFINISHED BUSINESS, only includes six teleplays – all for INSIGHT. UNFINISHED BUSINESS was the last one. I never met McGinn, but I was told this teleplay was a dramatization of his relationship with his father.

“Ralph, when you say “editing the tape as we shot”, what does that mean for us civilians?”

That was another response on my post of THE POKER GAME; so let me try to explain. Adjacent to the sets on the soundstage where the action was photographed was the control room.



Seated at that panel (left to right as they were at CBS) were the technical director, the director, the associate director and the script supervisor.

withstaff

They faced a bank of television monitors. The number of monitors would vary from studio to studio.

monitors

The director, the technical director and the associate director all had microphones before them connecting them to the cameramen on the soundstage. As the scene was being performed the director, working from the monitors and his preplanned script, called for the shot to be relayed to the tape machines that were recording the production. The technical director, at the control panel, was the one who technically carried out the director’s selections.The technical director also controlled all other aspects of the production: sound, lighting et al. The job of the associate director was to work a step ahead of the director, always making sure that the camera for the next shot would be correct. It was all split second timing, as the production was being taped and edited in one operation.

Unlike THE POKER GAME, which was taped at CBS Television City, UNFINISHED BUSINESS was rehearsed and videotaped at Metromedia Square in Hollywood, which I remember as being the location of station KTTV, Channel 11 in the Los Angeles area.

I had worked with Jack Bannon several months earlier when I directed an episode of LOU GRANT. Jack was a regular on the series, playing Art Donovan, one of the staff reporters. Jack was another Hollywood offspring from a show biz family. His father was Jim Bannon, an actor with a long if not illustrious career in Hollywood, first appearing mainly in westerns and then in television. His mother was Bea Benaderet, one of the supremely talented character “voices” of radio; she was literally considered to be a female Mel Blanc. Later she moved on into television with great success. She was the original choice to pay Ethel Mertz on I LOVE LUCY, but had to turn it down because she was a regular on THE GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN SHOW. Her appearances on PETTICOAT JUNCTION ended after 175 episodes, when she was felled by cancer.

It is interesting to me how some films (big screen, little screen) can date because society changes. THE POKER GAME, filmed in 1969, had as its protagonist a hippie – defined in the 60’s as a person of unconventional appearance, typically having long hair and wearing beads, associated with a subculture involving a rejection of conventional values and the taking of hallucinogenic drugs. Forty years later the term “hippie” has lost its bite. But then there are subjects that never seem to change. i.e. the problem of many with aging parents. In 1937 Leo McCarey directed the magnificent MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW with Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi as the parental problem for Thomas Mitchell and his several siblings. McCarey that same year directed the comedy classic, THE AWFUL TRUTH, for which he received the Academy Award for best director. His acceptance speech was very short. He said, “Thank you, but you gave it to me for the wrong picture.” MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW is still a remarkably moving film that is ageless, and the possible problem of aging parents which existed in 1937 when that film was produced, which existed In 1969 for Jim McGinn  — that problem is still relevant as we view UNFINISHED BUSINESS today.

Working on a tape production, when we moved from the rehearsal hall into the television studio, I had a small problem. I could give technical directions to the cameramen using the microphone before me, but I found it difficult to relay instructions to the performers that way. From my many years directing theatre and then film, I was used to talking to actors face to face, quietly and confidentially. And so when I needed to speak with one of the actors, I would leave the control room and go out into the set. This took time. It also used up energy. But when we taped the sequence of Bill and Jack walking in the corridor, I made an exception to my own rule. During a lapse when some technical work was being done, I heard via my headphones Bill telling Jack that he was concerned that he didn’t look old enough. Bill was 68 years old; Mac McGinn was 83. I recognized that as pure actor’s vanity, so I couldn’t resist. Using the microphone in front of me with a message that blared from the studio loud speakers for all to hear, I said, “Don’t worry Bill. You look old enough.”

Bill Quinn, a close personal friend, was a true product of show business. He made his Broadway debut at the age of 6. He appeared in silent films as Billy Quinn. He was the Blind Man on ARCHIE BUNKER’S PLACE. He was Mary Tyler Moore’s father on her acclaimed series. I sometimes think he appeared in every television series ever produced. And in real life he was Bob Newhart’s father-in-law.

I’ve told this story in one of my posts, but a good story is worth repeating. Bill was playing the judge in FUNNY MAN WITH A MONKEY, an episode of ARREST AND TRIAL guest starring Mickey Rooney. In the courtroom Mickey was on trial and was seated at the defense table, so during the time the crew was lighting the next setup, Mickey would rise, turn around and face the 50 extras seated in the courtroom. He had a captive audience, and he proceeded to entertain them. When the set was ready and the assistant director called places, Mickey would finish his routine, and as the audience gleefully responded, he would turn around, sit down at the defense table, and by the time I called “Action”, he was totally in character, tears streaming down his cheek if the scene called for it. During one of these takes I was standing by Judge Bill Quinn, and I heard Bill mutter, “That son-of-a-bitch, how does he do it?”

Here is the script for the “bath” scene:

bath

After the show was completed, we were long, so the first part of the scene, getting Jim into the tub, was eliminated. And true to the script, the part of the scene preceding “When you were a little kid …” was ad libbed.

Have you noticed that Marcia Rodd as Pat McGinn spends a lot of her time in her scenes listening. And how wonderfully effective she is!  I felt Marcia brought the same quiet authority to her work here that Michael Learned provided as Olivia on THE WALTONS. Marcia too had an interesting background. Kansas-born, she headed east to study drama at Northwestern University before heading to New York to pursue the stage. Off-Broadway! Broadway! Some feature films! Norman Lear spotted her and hired her for an episode of ALL IN THE FAMILY. She played Bea Arthur’s daughter in the episode that spun off into the successful series, MAUDE. Marcia turned the sitcom down. She returned east to her first love – the stage, and iIn her later years, that led to her moving to the other side of the footlights to direct.

Recently my close friend, the brilliant Jan Wahl, film critic in the San Francisco Bay area, wrote me, “… the problem in today’s movies is I rarely give a fig about anyone or what happens to them. In Classic Hollywood. 20’s through the 50’s. I connected and cared about the protagonists and wanted to follow their journey.

I agree. I think UNFINISHED BUSINESS is a product of that old traditional approach to film making. So fasten your seat belts and get out the box of Kleenex.

The journey continues

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5 Responses to Unfinished Business

  1. detectivetom says:

    Have not been on the site a for a week or so as I was away and seeing the Insight posts made my day! I could not even begin to explain the effect Insight had growing up as an Irish-Catholic kid on the Southwest Side of Chicago in a large Roman Catholic parish.

    The shows explored religion and morals from a new prespective from those Catholic films we watched in school. It was modern. It made you think about the problems of the day. It was a coming-of-age in an American society which in the early 70’s was still reeling from the protests of the 60’s.

    Ironically the first Insight I watched was your first directed episode, “The Death of Simon Jackson.” I would also be interested in those, pardon the pun, insights of that show.

  2. detectivetom says:

    Thank you for this post.

    Quick question. Was that Joseph Campanella doing the voice-over at the end of the closing credits?

  3. Phil says:

    Regarding Jim Bannon, b-westerns.com has a detailed bio on him. Also, westernclippings.com has reviews of his four Cinecolor movies as Red Ryder. Based on these websites, I guess you had to live through this era to understand how popular or prolific ‘B’ westerns & serials were (including their merchandising offshoots), before TV buried them in the ’50s.

    Per retroweb.com, Metromedia Square was bought by News Corp. in 1986. It was sold in 2000 and demolished in 2003. Normal Lear set up shop there, where many of his ’70s sitcoms were taped.

  4. Daniel Rudolf says:

    Bill Quinn played the bit role of Doctor McCoy’s father in Star Trek V. It was his final acting appearance.

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