Archive for the ‘"Gunsmoke"’ Category

Director John Rich Dies at 86

Monday, January 30th, 2012

The Archive is sad to report that director John Rich passed away yesterday at the age of 86. Rich was one of the most respected and prolific directors in all of television, directing numerous episodes of The Colgate Comedy Hour, Our Miss Brooks, Gunsmoke, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan’s Island, and All in the Family (including the “Sammy’s Visit” episode), and was instrumental in merging the Screen Directors Guild with the Radio and Television Directors Guild to create the current Directors Guild of America. Here are some selections from Rich’s seven hour interview:

On how he became the main director for The Dick Van Dyke Show:

It came about because of my service to the Guild, oddly enough. I had been doing westerns – I did five years of westerns and that was the hot stuff. But I had been on the Director’s Guild Board of Directors all that time. Sheldon Leonard was on the Board. He walked by me one day, he said, “hey, how would you like to come in out of all the dust?” I said, “and do what?”  He said, “I got a new show with an actor named Dick Van Dyke and Carl Reiner.”  I said, “Carl Reiner?” That got my attention. Van Dyke I had never heard of. I said, “oh, I don’t know, what do you think?” He said, “I think you can do a nice job. I’d like you to come in and meet Carl Reiner and Van Dyke and see if you get along.” Fine. So I was asked to come to Carl Reiner’s house and it very pleasant, and I loved his work on Sid Ceasar’s show. I told him so. And when I met him, I was introduced to Van Dyke and I said, “I thought you were wonderful in ‘Vintage ‘60.’”  And he said, “no, that was  Dick –” some other actor. My introduction to Dick Van Dyke was to compliment him on a play he was not in.  First faux pas, you know.  Then I was going to do the show and I did it and God, it was wonderful.

On directing the opening sequence of The Dick Van Dyke Show:

On being asked to direct new series All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show on the same day:

It was a curious thing, one of those rare days in the life of a freelance director. I had a call from Mary Tyler Moore saying she’s doing a new show, would I read her script. Jim Brooks and Alan Bergman had written it.  The same day Norman Lear sent me All In the Family. I read both of them. I thought, God, and I called Mary– as a matter of fact, I met with Jim Brooks and Alan.  I said, “you know, having worked with Mary on Dick Van Dyke, I thought this would be a very good show, but it kind of had some overtones of reminiscence. It just feels okay, like another comedy that might be good, but this other thing is outrageous.” It was 1970, and the dialogue that was written then, just blew me away. I called Norman, I said, “you aren’t going to make this, are you?” He said, “yeah.” I said, “is anybody going to put it on?” He said, “they say they will.”  Well, I told Mary, I said, “you know, I really got to do that show even if it’s an exercise.” I don’t know if it’s going to get on, but I was committed to the first 6 shows, whatever it was.

On directing the Emmy-winning “Sammy’s Visit” episode of All in the Family:

On how he’d like to be remembered:

Obituary from The Huffington Post

Obituary from the Los Angeles Times

John Rich’s full Archive Interview

Composer Fred Steiner, best known for the “Perry Mason” theme, has died

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Legendary composer Fred Steiner passed away on June 23rd at the age of 88. The prolific composer (and musicologist) worked on many series including Playhouse 90, The Twilight Zone, Perry Mason, Star Trek, The Bullwinkle Show, and Gunsmoke. He also received an Oscar nomination for his work on The Color Purple. Fred was interviewed by the Archive of American Television in 2003. Here are some excerpts from his 4+ hour interview:

On composing the theme for Perry Mason.

CBS Music Director Lud Gluskin assigned me to it…. I have found some old sketches for the Perry Mason theme, some old pencil sketches, and they have no resemblance to what I finally came up with it. So it’s a complete mystery to me.  But apparently he liked it.  The original title was “Park Avenue Beat.”  And the reason for that was that I conceived of Perry Mason as this very sophisticated lawyer — eats at the best restaurants, tailor-made suits, and so on — and yet at the same time he’s mixed in with these underworld bad guys, murder and crime.  So the  underlying beat is R&B, rhythm and blues. And for the crazy reason that in those days, even to this day, jazz or R&B, whatever, is always associated with crime.  You look at those old film noir pictures they’ve always got jazz going for some reason or other. So it’s kind of a piece of symphonic R&B.  But since then, it’s been known as the Perry Mason theme.

On the opening of Gunsmoke.

I came up with the logo where you see him with the low angle shot of Matt Dillon. Well, first you see him from behind with the legs, it’s a face-off with the villain, the bad guy.  I wrote that.  And it ends up with the two gunshots, [HUMMING], bang, bang.  I wrote that. Now it seems like an obvious thing to do, set up the gunshot.

On writing the second theme for The Bullwinkle Show.

The first theme was written by Frank Comstock. Frank had kept the copyright to that music, and it was probably some lawyer, excuse the expression, who advised [creator/producer] Jay Ward, “hey, you’re losing money by not keeping the copyright to the music.” That’s when I got called in, and I got assigned to write, not only a new theme, but also about an hour’s worth of incidental music, and that’s what he used in various segments. The music editor was Skip Craig, who was very good…. The only thing Jay Ward told me that he wanted what he called a show biz theme.  But I wrote several themes for it.  I wrote the first one that you hear with Rocky flying around, he’s going back and forth.  Then you got the other one with Bullwinkle and the top hot strutting.  But he told me he wanted a show biz theme.  Jay was a marvelous guy.

On composing for Star Trek.

I had a conference with [series creator] Gene Roddenberry, and he said I don’t want any “boops and beep stuff,” like I guess they were having on some of the other science fiction shows.  He wanted, I think the term he used was “Captain Blood in space.”  And oddly enough, that was exactly the kind of thing that I had thought of.  They had shown me the pilot film, which Alexander Courage had scored, and he was of the same mind, although he had a little bit of kind of strange sounding stuff in there.  So the first one I scored, wow, it was a weird assignment as I recall. But I got assigned to, instead of scoring a whole episode, because Star Trek was very heavily scored with library, Bob Justman, who was the line producer, associate producer, line producer, whatever you want –  had things rigged so they’d use mostly library in a sequence.  But whenever there was a certain new character on the screen, or some new twist of a story that would demand new music.  So my first assignment there was writing special music for three — three different episodes in one session.  That was quite a way to break in.

Watch his full Archive interview here.

Link to his New York Times Obituary.

Western star James Arness passes at 88

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Sad news to report: TV Legend James Arness passed away today at the age of 88.

He was best known for his longtime portrayal of Marshal Matt Dillon on the classic Western series Gunsmoke and later on How the West Was Won. The publicity-shy star was interviewed by the Archive of American Television in 2002. Here’s a clip from his two-and-a-half hour interview where he discusses his career success:

The entire interview is available at http://emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/james-arness

Interview description:

James Arness was interviewed for two-and-a-half hours in Los Angeles, CA.  Arness spoke about his early years and experiences, which included serving in the army during World War II, and recalled his start in local radio in Minneapolis.  He noted his break into acting in movies and listed several in which he appeared.  He described his experiences in early television including anthology series that were done “live.” He then spoke in great detail about the role for which he is most known that of “Marshal Matt Dillon” on Gunsmoke.  For Gunsmoke, he talked about his initial reluctance to take the part (until convinced by John Wayne for whom he was under contract), described the series characters and their relationships with each other, and discussed working with the behind-the-scenes talent, including key producers and directors.  He also talked about later television roles including his appearance as a regular on the late 1970s western series How the West Was Won. The interview was conducted by Henry Colman on August 16, 2002.

Link to his New York Times obituary.

From his family: “Jim will be deeply missed by his family and friends. In lieu of flowers the family asks that donation be made to United Cerebral Palsy in Jim’s name.”

Happy Birthday to Gunsmoke star James Arness!

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

ArnessHappy birthday to actor James Arness (born May 26, 1923) who turns 88 today! Best known for his longtime portrayal of Marshal Matt Dillon on the classic Western series Gunsmoke, the publicity-shy star was interviewed by the Archive of American Television in 2002. Here’s a playlist of highlights from his insightful two-and-a-half hour interview:

The entire interview is available at http://emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/james-arness

For more about the TV legend, here’s a link to James Arness’ official website.

Director Robert Butler’s Archive Interview is Now Online!

Friday, August 3rd, 2007


Director Robert Butler was responsible for creating the look and feel for many classic television series in a career that spanned five decades. His full Archive of American Television interview is now available online, including detailed accounts of directing the first episodes of Batman, Moonlighting (pilot telefilm) and Hill Street Blues.

Click here to access Robert Butler’s entire five-hour interview.

Interview description:
Butler began by describing his early years breaking into the business as an usher at CBS. He described his experiences in various behind-the-scenes capacities on such classic “live” anthology series as Climax! and Playhouse 90. He described his first break in television directing on the comedy/drama series Hennesey. He detailed his many and varied assignments in series television in the 1960s on such series as The Detectives, Bonanza, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, The Defenders, The Fugitive, Hogan’s Heroes, The Twilight Zone, Batman, and Star Trek. Butler described his work in the 1970s on television movies (such as Columbo MOWs and James Dean) and feature films. He extensively described his groundbreaking work on the look of Hill Street Blues, for which he directed several of the initial episodes (including the pilot). He talked about his later work on such series as Remington Steele, Moonlighting (the telefilm pilot), Out on a Limb, Midnight Caller (which he also executive-produced), Sisters, and Lois & Clark. The interview was conducted by Stephen J. Abramson on January 14, 2004.

Books: A Memoir by Archive Interviewee John Rich

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

A recent book, Warm up the Snake: A Hollywood Memoir (The University of Michigan Press), recounts Archive interviewee John Rich’s life in the trenches as one of television’s premier directors and producers. Rich boldly recounts his work on many classic series (and episodes) including The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan’s Island, All in the Family and MacGyver as well as his longtime involvement in the Directors Guild of America. It’s a humerous, no-holds-barred look behind the scenes at some of our favorite shows and also gives readers a glimpse into what makes a great director.

From Warm Up the Snake:

During my days as an NBC stage manager, I witnessed plenty of foul-ups that no one could have invented. One day I was assigned to monitor the time and placement of a live commercial insert within a program, produced by an outside advertising agency. The program featured “Dunninger, the Mental Wizard,” a see-all know-all “mentalist” act. As the NBC representative, I had little to do but sit in the control room behind the production team and observe the action with my notepad at the ready. The first two sales pitches went as planned, but as the program neared its end, the director became concerned that the time would run out before the final commercial. He instructed the stage manager to “give Dunninger a speed-up and signal we have one minute to go.”

The stage manager obeyed, but the mentalist’s pace continued as before. The director called, “Give him 30 seconds!” No response. “Speed him up, we’re not going to make it!” Pandemonium reigned as the performer talked right into the NBC systems cue, cutting off transmission. The last commercial was lost: disaster. I made my notes, and joined the angry mob as they boiled out of the control room and confronted a bewildered Dunninger. “W lost the last commercial: the agency men screamed. “Why didn’t you take our cues?”

“What cues?” Dunninger asked.

“The three or four speed-ups, the one-minute, and the thirty-second cues we gave to the stage manager.”

Dunninger was irate. “Why don’t you put the son of a bitch where I can see him? What do you think I am, a mind reader?”


John Rich’s Archive interview is now online.
Click here to access all 14 parts.


Interview description:
John Rich was interviewed for nearly seven hours in Los Angeles, CA. Mr. Rich talked about his start in television as a stage manager for NBC, where he worked on The Colgate Comedy HourT. He eventually got his start as a director on The Ezio Pinza Show. He talked numerous shows he directed throughout his career including I Married Joan, The Ray Bolger Show, Our Miss Brooks, Gunsmoke, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, and All In the Family, which he also produced. He also discussed directing pilots for Maude, The Jeffersons, Barney Miller, and Newhart. Mr. Rich also discussed executive producing Benson and MacGyver. The interview was conducted by Henry Colman on August 3, 1999.