Archive for the ‘Television Writers’ Category

"Philco TV Playhouse" Celebrates 60th Anniversary

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008


The Philco TV Playhouse, which ran from 1948-55, establishing itself as one of the shining examples of the best of the dramatic anthologies during the Golden Age of Television, aired its first production on October 3, 1948. That production was an adaptation of the famed “Dinner at Eight,” and Variety raved: “It can be hailed as one of tele’s major achievements to date, not only in rich, warm-bodied acting, but in the whole concept.”

The credit to the success of the series is attributed to legendary producer-director Fred Coe (pictured above with actor Jose Ferrer as “Cyrano”). Coe was known for his cultivation of top writers and directors, many of whom were interviewed by the Archive of American Television in its early efforts to document this period— such as writers Tad Mosel, Horton Foote, JP Miller, David Shaw; and directors: Delbert Mann and Arthur Penn. Other notable Philco writers included Paddy Chayefsky, Robert Alan Arthur, and N. Richard Naish.

Delbert Mann said of Coe in his Archive interview, “he was my guardian, he was my father figure, he was my mentor, my guide, my teacher. Everything I learned about directing I learned from Fred Coe.”

Philco would go on to stage many notable shows (and in 1951 would alternate with Goodyear TV Playhouse, which likewise staged quality productions, such as “Marty”). Among Philco’s most significant productions were: “An Inspector Calls” with Walter Abel (aired: 11/21/48), “Cyrano de Bergerac” with Jose Ferrer (aired: 1/9/49), “What Makes Sammy Run?” with Jose Ferrer (airdate: 4/10/49), “Macbeth” with Walter Hampden (aired: 5/1/49), “The Trip to Bountiful” with Lillian Gish (aired: 3/1/53), “A Young lady of Property” with Kim Stanley (aired: 4/5/53), “The Rainmaker” with Darren McGavin (aired: 8/16/53), “Othello” with Torin Thather and Walter Matthau (aired: 9/6/53), “The Mother” with Cyril Ritchard (aired: 4/18/54), “Middle of the Night” with Steven Hill and Eva Marie Saint (aired: 9/19/54), “The Death of Billy the Kid” with Paul Newman (aired: 7/24/55), and “A Man Is Ten Feet Tall” with Sidney Poitier (aired 10/2/55).

TV Comedy Writer Seaman Jacobs Dies at 96 – Archive Interview Online

Sunday, April 13th, 2008

Sad to report that noted comedy writer Seaman Jacobs passed away in Los Angeles on April 8th. He was interviewed by the Archive of American Television in March of 1999 and his full 7-part interview is available online here.

Click here for an obituary press release from the Writers Guild of America, West.

Interview description:
Full 7-part oral history interview with comedy writer Seaman Jacobs (1912-2008). He talks about starting as a writer for the Brazilian Pavilion at the 1939 Worlds Fair. After his Army discharge, he wrote for radio personalities Jack Paar, Bing Crosby, Ed Wynn, and Henry Morgan. In 1949, he made his TV writing debut on the The Ed Wynn Show. He then wrote for Earn Your Vacation, Bachelor Father, The Real McCoys, the pilot for The Addams Family, F-Troop, The Lucy Show, many other situation comedies and numerous George Burns and Bob Hope specials. Conducted March 30, 1999 by Charles Davis.

Emmy® and Oscar®-winner Abby Mann Dies at the Age of 84– Archive Interview Online

Thursday, March 27th, 2008


Writer Abby Mann who won an Academy Award for the screenplay of Judgment at Nuremberg and won three Emmys for writing (The Marcus-Nelson Murders, Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesnthal Story, and Indictment: The McMartin Trial) was interviewed by the Archive in August of 2004.

Click here to access his entire six-part Archive Interview.

Interview Description:

Abby Mann was interviewed for nearly three hours in Los Angeles, CA. Mann talked about his early teleplays, written during the Golden Age of Television Drama in the 1950s. He discussed such noteworthy teleplays as “A Child Is Waiting” (for Studio One) and “Judgment at Nuremberg” (for Playhouse 90). He also talked about the feature film adaptations of these teleplays. Mann discussed his writing of the television movie The Marcus-Nelson Murders, and the creation of the subsequent series Kojak. Mann talked in detail about two other 1970s projects, the series Medical Story and the miniseries King. He spoke about his more recent endeavors as writer and executive producer of such television movies as The Atlanta Child Murders and Indicment: The McMartin Trials. Throughout the interview Mann expressed his concern about the state of the American justice system and his lifelong passion to correct injustices through the written word.

FINALLY! "Gilligan" and "Brady" Creator Sherwood Schwartz gets a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008
CONGRATULATIONS TO SHERWOOD SCHWARTZ,
WHO WILL BE HONORED WITH A STAR ON THE
HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME THIS FRIDAY.

WHO:
Sherwood Schwartz
Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, President/CEO Leron Gubler
Guest speakers: Florence Henderson and Dawn Wells

WHAT:
2,356th Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

WHERE:
6541 Hollywood Boulevard

WHEN:
Friday, March 7, at 11:30 a.m.

To watch Archive interviewee Sherwood Schwartz’s full 12-part (6 hour) interview, click here.

Interview description:
Aside from discussing the creation of his classics,
Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch, Sherwood Schwartz candidly described writing for comedic legends Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Red Skelton, and working on such series as I Married Joan and It’s About Time. The 6-hour interview was conducted by Dan Pasternack on September 17, 1997.

Legacy of the Watts Writers Workshop Continues

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

Archive interviewee Marla Gibbs (co-star of The Jeffersons and star of 227) will be one of the honorees at the Watts Writers Workshop Gala Banquet on February 9th. Other honorees include actor Ted Lange (co-star of The Love Boat), actor Roger E. Mosley (co-star of Magnum, P.I.), and Professor Johnnie Scott, the Emmy award winning writer of the acclaimed NBC documentary, The Angry Voices of Watts. Selections of a recent interview with Budd Schulberg will also be screened.

In September of 1965, television and film writer Budd Schulberg started the Watts Writers’ Workshop in response to the devastation of the infamous riots, which had taken place in the primarily African-American South Los Angeles neighborhood a month earlier. “In a small way, I wanted to help,” says the Academy Award-winner. “The only thing I knew was writing, so I decided to start a writers’ workshop.”

The Watts Writers’ Workshop applied for and received a $25,000 grant from the fledgling National Endowment for the Arts — which enabled the group to establish Douglass House. The Workshop’s new home served as a meeting space for its writing programs as well as housing for some of the Workshop’s members, many of whom were homeless.

“The NEA provided tremendous assistance, no question about it,” says Schulberg. “It was like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval, and it helped us gain additional private support and also obtain help from the film industry.”

The Workshop quickly attracted national and international media attention; in 1966 it was the subject of an hour-long NBC TV documentary. Writing from the Workshop was also collected in the 1967 anthology From the Ashes: Voices of Watts.

“The Watts Writers’ Workshop allowed us to voice what urban, black America was thinking, feeling, and seeing and to get that out to he rest of the country,” observes honoree Johnnie Scott. “Before that, we had no voice; no one was listening.”

Though the Watts Writers’ Workshop lasted less than a decade, its legacy endures. In 1971, Schulberg and screenwriter Fred Hudson, founded the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center in Harlem, New York. The center’s programs include writing classes in several genres as well as an after school program in creative writing and computer literacy for elementary and middle school students. The Center also produces the annual Black Roots Festival of Poetry, Prose, Drama, and Music, which has showcased leading African American writers and artists such as Lucille Clifton, Gordon Parks, Toni Morrison, and Ishmael Reed.

For information or tickets call 619-531-0902 or visit www.climbsd.org

Writer Mel Tolkin Dies at 94 – Archive Interview Online

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

We’re sad to report that comedy writer Mel Tolkin passed away yesterday, November 26th, at his home in Century City. Mel Tolkin was interviewed for the Archive of American Television for four hours. In his interview, Mr. Tolkin discussed his long writing partnership with Lucille Kallen (also an Archive interviewee) and writing for such shows as Admiral Broadway Revue and Your Show of Shows, Caesar’s Hour, The Sid Caesar Show and The Danny Kaye Show, as well as writing for All in the Family. The interview was conducted by Bob Claster on November 4, 1997.

Link to his New York Times obituary.

From his Archive Interview:

On teaching comedy.
First I’d say that humor cannot be taught. Humor is an attitude towards life. It’s a rather cynical approach. It’s a negative approach. It’s saying people misbehave. People put on shows. People wear masks. People are proud of what they shouldn’t be. People compete unfairly. If you think life is wonderful, you don’t belong in comedy. Of course, there’s a lot that can be taught and at UCLA I taught very detailed things. Some of the things I mention here: how people recognize themselves on the screen and so on. What people are funny? And I quote the opening line of Anna Karenina by Tolstoy when she says, happy people are alike in their happiness. Only unhappy people are different from each other, and that’s all there is. Because she proceeded to have one of the unhappiest marriages of all time, Karenina. But she left him. So that’s an important lesson. Happy people are dull conversationalists — no fun to be with and probably vote Republican.

On how he would like to be remembered.
I will be remembered and that’s good enough. I speak about that subject to my son, Michael, and said if I never wrote another line, I’ve done my share. I’m pretty proud of what happened up to now.

Click here to access Mel Tolkin’s Archive of American Television Interview.

"Mary Kay and Johnny," American Network TV’s First Sitcom, Celebrates its 60th Anniversary! Archive Interviews Now Online

Thursday, November 15th, 2007


Mary Kay and Johnny was a live domestic comedy that centered around a young couple that lived in Greenwich Village: he worked at a bank and she was a homemaker. It debuted on November 18, 1947. Mary Kay and Johnny (1947-50) originally ran on the Du Mont network (for nearly a year), then (except for a brief stint on CBS) spent the rest of its run on NBC.

Among the true-to-life storylines used on the show: Mary Kay got stuck in an elevator; Mary Kay left the apartment with a cake in the oven, leaving the “culinary-challenged” Johnny to finish the task; and, most importantly, Mary Kay’s pregnancy and birth to son Christopher William (on December 19, 1948: that night’s episode was done thirty minutes after his birth and showed an “expectant” Johnny Stearns pacing the waiting room floor). At the age of ten days, Christopher William made his debut on the show, and became a regular, years before there was a “Little Ricky.”

Variety’s October 13, 1948 review opined: “Much of the show’s charm is traceable directly to the femme half of the team, who displayed a pleasant personality that prototyped the average conception of a young American housefrau…. Storyline picked them up with Mary Kay making plans for her first baby, which is due in a couple months, and her difficulties in buying the right baby carriage. It was that simple, but also that good. Whether the gal is actually going to have a baby wasn’t made clear, but it would be a neat idea for the series…”

The Archive of American Television interviewed both Johnny Stearns (creator/writer/co-star) and Mary Kay Stearns (co-star) of this pioneering program. Click here to view their entire 4-part joint-interview (parts 1 through 4).

Interview Excerpts:

Mary Kay on breaking into television:

I went back to New York to start looking for work, and I got a call from an agent saying that there was a television job that I should go and see about. And of course, at that time, I didn’t know that much about television. But you know, a job is a job. So, I went down into the garment neighborhood of New York, and had an appointment with a man named J. Jostle, who owned a junior dress company. And he said, “yes, I’ll– it’s fine, you can do it.” And I said, okay, so I went at the appointed time to Du Mont studio, which was downtown in New York, in what was Wannamaker’s Department Store… And so it was a fifteen minute program [modeling dresses] and during the 15 minutes, I think we had something like five dresses so it was quite hectic.

Johnny Stearns on convincing the sponsor of Mary Kay’s previous show to consider a sitcom:

So I want up to this garment district and up in the elevator, and met J. Jostle, a very nice man, and he said, “you know,” he said, “we’re all madly in love with your wife. She’s the cutest thing we ever saw. But I’m going to get out of TV, because the only sets in New York City are in bars, and I don’t think I’m going to sell too many J. J. Junior dresses to fellows drinking beer in a bar.” And I said, well, I think you’re absolutely right. And I said, however, if you’re going to go off of the air, how about letting us have one performance, because there’s something I’d like to try. And he said, “what is it?” I said, well, in radio, there’s a great many domestic comedies and comedies, I mean, The Jack Benny Show, and The Easy Aces and Henry Aldrich, and you know, all of these… but there’s never been anything like it on TV. So, I’d like to try it. He said, “well, I’ll tell you what. I have a friend who manufactures compacts that have a flashlight in them so that women can powder their nose in the dark.” And he said, “I’m going to give you 200 of those.” And if you can do anything you want to on the air, and just offer these to the viewers, and if you can get rid of all 200 of them, give them away free, maybe I’ll continue.” So, we went home to our little apartment, and I wrote a script about a young married couple– well, we hadn’t been married very long. And so we did the program, and at the end of the 15 minutes, Mary Kay said, “and now, in honor of our first performance of the Mary Kay and Johnny show, we want to give you these–” And then we went home and prayed all night, because we thought, how embarrassing it’s going to be if no one likes them. And about 11 o’clock the next day I called up Mr. Jossel and I said, are you getting mail? And he said, “come on down.” And I said, but did you get any– and he said, “come on down.” Wouldn’t tell me, so I went down there, climbed up to the office in the warehouse district, and he had something like 8000 letters, telegrams, over night mail, and a contract this long for Mary Kay and Johnny show, to sign. And which flabbergasted us. And I said this was the start of Mary Kay and Johnny show.

Johnny Stearns on the show’s plotlines:

I can remember an episode that we did, and the reason I remember it, I also used it as an audition for U.S. Steel when they were considering hiring us. And it consisted of the two of us in the living room. I was reading the paper and Mary Kay was at a writing desk, writing a letter. And she said: “Darling.” And I’m lost in the paper. She said, “Darling.” I said, “hum?” Not looking up, the paper’s around. She said, “how do you spell ‘scrumptious?’” And I said, ‘scrumptious’? Just they way it sounds.” And Mary Kay went, “No, that isn’t one of the words you can do that. How do you spell it?” I said, “s-c-r-u-m-p– shush.” And she says, “shush?” And I said, “yes.” And she said, “are you sure that’s right?” And I put down the paper and I said, would I have any reason to lie to you?” And she said, “well, I’ll take your word for it. It looks funny, but I’ll take your word for it.” I said, “well, you are you writing to?” She said, “I’m writing to the president of U.S. Steel.” And I said, “oh, how long have you two been carrying on a correspondence?” She said, “Not long. This is my first letter.” I said, “well, what are you writing him about?” And she said, I’m writing about our stainless steel flatware that we just bought.” And I said, “well, what are you saying?” She said, “I’m saying it’s ‘scrumptious’.” And, you know, it went on kind of– so this was kind of little bit of the flavor of the thing that ah– generally the situation was that because of Mary Kay’s big generous heart, she would create a situation that would put me in a real bind, but then by the time the half hour was over, she either intentionally, or unintentionally would get me out of the bind. That was kind of basically what would happen. But there were all sorts of things done.

Johnny Stearns on getting revenge on a critic:

I remember one we did where I was returning some glasses to a neighbor across the hall because we had had a party. And Mary Kay said, “be very, very quiet, because I’ve finally gotten Christopher asleep. So I went out the door, to return the glasses, and when I came back, she inadvertently had put the chain on the door. So I you know, “Mary Kay, Mary Kay,” which obviously she couldn’t hear, and Christopher couldn’t hear. So I was stuck. I was outside, couldn’t ring the bell. So went down the hall and climbed out a window and went along a ledge, you know, a little tiny ledge and we had– this was on film, so you could shoot all this kind of thing. It’s perfectly safe, but it looked great, and while this was going on, Mary Kay had the radio on very low, and an announcer was saying, “there’s a cat burglar in such and such an area of New York, has been spotted, so we just want to warn people. So at this point, I was pulling the window up from the outside, and Mary Kay was, you know– so she got a vase, and as I– because the room was dark. And she got a vase, and as I came in, she hit me over the head, and boom, I went down. And so Mary Kay ran to the phone and asked information, the number for the police station. And at this point I began groaning, and so she said to the information, “oh, hold the line a minute,” she went back and hit me again.” And finally, she got off the phone and she turned on the light, and she said, “oh, it’s you, darling.” Well, we had gotten a bad review from a columnist by the name of Harriet Van Horn. And you know, when someone writes a bad review, there’s no way you get back. You can’t write a bad review about them. So when Mary Kay said, “oh, it’s you, darling.” I said, who were you expecting, Harriet Van Horn?

Interview descriptions:

John (“Johnny”) Stearns (1916-2001) talked about growing up with a theatrical background, as his mother founded the “Petersborough Players,” in Petersborough, New Hampshire. This town was the model for Thorton Wilder’s “Our Town” and Stearns described how Wilder staged “Our Town” there himself, making this theatre the first summer theatre to do the play after its Broadway run. Stearns described his days in the theatre on the New York stage and his entrance into television on the experimental Philadelphia station WPTZ-TV. He described his work on stage and in film (Boomerang) with Elia Kazan. Stearns described how he became the creator, writer, producer, and star (along with his wife) of the very first television situation comedy, Mary Kay and Johnny (1947-50). He described the week by week production of the show, storylines used, and a description of its run on three different networks (Dumont, NBC, CBS). He also talked about his several year stint in the 1950s as the spokesperson (along with his wife) for U.S. Steel, appearing in commercials during the U.S. Steel Hour. He talked about other series he produced and directed such as: The Steve Allen Show (the WNBC show which would later become the Tonight show), Faye and Skitch (1953-54), Make Me Laugh (1958), Music Bingo (1958-59), and Seven Keys (1961-64). He also described in detail producing the long running agricultural program AG, USA, which began in 1961.


Mary Kay Stearns described her stage debut at age 2 and a half at the Pasadena Playhouse in California. She talked about her appearances on stage and in film on the West Coast before moving to New York to appear on Broadway. She described her television debut on the Dumont network on a show called J.J. Juniors, in which she modeled junior fashions. The timeslot was then taken by the Mary Kay and Johnny show (1947-50), television’s first situation comedy in which she described her co-starring role with her husband. She later found herself on television in Mary Kay’s Nightcap, in which, from 1951-52, she “signed-off” for NBC by telling the viewers what would be on television the following day and doing occasional interviews. She talked about appearances on “live” television shows such as the Armstrong Circle Theatre and Kraft Television Theatre. She also talked about her several year stint in the 1950s as the spokesperson (along with her husband) for U.S. Steel, appearing in commercials during the U.S. Steel Hour.

Sidney Lumet’s Interview Is Now Online

Friday, November 2nd, 2007


With Sidney Lumet’s critically praised film “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” now in theaters, the Archive of American Television has posted his three-hour interview online in which he discusses his career that started in the theater and in the “Golden Age of Television.”

Soundbites from Sidney Lumet’s six-part interview.

On “live” television:
The pressure was wonderful. And because it wasn’t insane, the pressure was, can we do it? Because nobody knew what we could do and what we couldn’t do. And nobody could say no to you because nobody knew. It was literally learning to walk. Ah, so there was nobody to say no….. From a technical point of view, anything we wanted to try, we could try. The lighting [was] very flat, just pan lighting, just scoops in ever set. And slowly, like everything else, became more and more refined and interesting…. It was quite extraordinary how much mood you could get in my still staying within the general perimeters. Also, the cameras needed a certain basic level of light simply to function…. The amount of noise in the studio was enormous. The cameras carried behind them cables about that thick. And those would just slide on the floor. And you could hear it. So if a pot wasn’t being used, it had to be closed and opened on a cue. It was out of this that all of these developments came. The same thing was true of the boom mikes, which started out– the old RCA ribbon mikes, which movies had been using for years. But they picked up everything. And so, slowly [there] developed highly directional mikes, which are being used in movies today. All of the technical advancements, which came in movies, television brought them, because movie companies never gave a damn, they never invested the money in them. The networks had to. They started with old movie equipment…. If you put a cable into this wall, for this camera, and put a cable into this wall, for this camera, you’d better not wind up like that, because if you got your cables twisted, the cameras wouldn’t be able to move. All these things had to be figured out in meticulous detail. The greatest leap forward, I must say, belonged to me when all of a sudden, I got so tired of being limited by where I could move my cameras, because there were cables coming out of walls, I thought, aha! I know what we do. We’re going to run them up the wall into the grid, and drop them down the middle.

On using blacklisted writers in the 1950s:
It’s one of the great romantic stories. Arnold Manoff and Walter Bernstein and Abe Polonsky were a triumvirate. They were close friends— close personal friends, close political friends. And all three of them had been writing for ah, fairly openly on “Danger”…. When blacklisting hit and the three of them were immediately knocked out of the box. They said, look, we don’t know which of us will get hired, again, if ever. Why don’t we set up a co-op? And ah, let’s find fronts…. what we will do is if one of is hired, we all three split the check. If things go good, and there’s a lot of work– you may have to do the first act, and I’ll do the second act, and Abe, you do the third act if we’re on deadlines, and things like that. So they set up that kind of a co-op. This was all done through the wonderful [“You Are There” producer] Charlie Russell, who didn’t have a political bone in his body. He was just a sweet, open guy from the Midwest, who thought this was too fucking unfair, and he was going to do anything he could to break it, or fight it, [and] hopefully, not putting himself in any jeopardy. He also was very careful, not only trying to protect himself, but he wanted to protect me, and if I ever wanted to talk about [the script], he would say, give me your notes, and I’ll bring them to the writer. So I didn’t know, for a number of months, about this arrangement that the guys had. Charlie was protecting me. And also, that way, protecting himself because if I ever got called, he didn’t want me in the position that I would say what I knew or didn’t know.

On using politically subversive scripts for “You Are There”:

They were deliberate choices because of the situation…. And in fact, I remember when we did “Salem Witch Trials,” we hired, for the prosecutor, I believe his name was Vince Harding. [Editor's note: according to our research, Vinton Hayworth is the actor's name.] And Vince, who was a very good actor, was one of the guys who gave names to the Red Channels.

On his reputation of being an “actor’s director”:
I think because I was an actor myself, I know what they’re going through. The process of acting is extremely painful. I know that doesn’t sound logical to most people, but all good work is self revelation. And that’s true for performing artist as well. And actors, the only instrument they’ve got, it’s not a violin, it’s not a piano, ah, it’s not just their bodies, the way a dancer is, there’s no disguise. That’s them up there. And the better they are, the most of themselves they’re using. That process of self revelation is extremely painful. I understand that process. Ah, if I can help them to feel any more secure, and any more ah, unafraid of releasing whatever part of themselves, they have to, I understand that I can help them that way.

On the 1960 television presentation “The Sacco-Vanzetti Story”:
Steve [Hill] did the great Vanzetti address to the Judge, you know, that you get in every lit class in college. And he was just brilliant. It was just underplayed and so simple, and so direct. And [producer Robert Alan Aurthur and writer Reginald Rose] both wanted more. Feisty and more angry, and I said, no, no, no, the speech is so great, it’s simple and better. “Will you try it? Just try it the other way?” I said I’m not going to try it the other way because then when we edit it, once I’ve left, you’ll have the editor put the– the way you want it in there, so no, I’m not going to do it another way. And Bob Aurthur, one of the sweetest men that ever lived, and sensitive, a writer, a wonderful man, said: “look.” And he took some back page of my script and said– he was the producer– “Sidney Lumet has final cut on this show.” Signed, Robert Alan Aurthur, producer. Wouldn’t have been worth anything, but that did it, and I did it the other way, and when it was over, Bob and Reggie said, no, you were right. But ah, it was the first time I had ever gotten into this discussion about final cut, which then became a big thing in my own movie career.

On the feature film “Network”:
It’s a peculiar movie. Everybody keeps saying, oh, God, what a brilliant satire. [Writer] Paddy [Chayefsky] and I keep saying, what satire? It’s sheer reportage. Everything that was discussed about television in that movie has happened, except we haven’t killed anybody on the air yet. That’s the only thing that hasn’t happened. Deliberately. But other than that, everything has happened, news as entertainment. I mean, ah, could anything be sillier than the way poor Dan Rather has to stand up there on 48 Hours, or whatever that silly show is, and try to make believe that he’s a magazine editor, or what have you, and be serious about this nonsense that they put on night after night? Ah, and you know, it may have been a little much to have the prognosticator– he came around on a revolving stage, tell you what’s going to happen tomorrow, but I don’t think it’s too far fetched.

On the highlight of his career:
It’s all one piece to me. I’m not being coy, I’m not avoiding it. There’s a continuum that’s just so sensible to me, I like it. I like it all.


Interview Description:
Lumet spoke of his work as an actor on the stage before he became a director in television. He recalled his work on the television series Danger (1950-55), and You Are There (1953-57) both “live” dramatic shows of the time. He discussed the use of blacklisted writers on these shows and how the material they wrote often reflected the era of McCarthyism. He also discussed other television dramatic anthology series he directed for including Omnibus, Goodyear Playhouse, The Alcoa Hour, Studio One, and Kraft Television Theatre. He described his direction of the well-known television special The Sacco-Vanzetti Story and The Play of the Week: “The Iceman Cometh” both of which aired in 1960. He spoke of his transition to a feature film director with 12 Angry Men in 1957 and his work on such other feature films as the Paddy Chayefsky’s Network (1976).

60 Years Ago — October 20, 1947 — The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) Began Its Probe That Resulted in The Hollywood Blacklist

Friday, October 19th, 2007


“Television Responds to the Red Scare”
By Gary Rutkowski

American television production, halted in its infancy before World War II, continued full-force with the four networks— ABC, CBS, NBC, and DuMont— scheduling programs regularly. Soon after, in 1950, they also began consulting an independently published booklet entitled “Red Channels,” which listed alleged Communists or sympathizers who were not to be employed on television: a blacklist.

With the beginning of the Cold War a strong Anti-Communist wind blew into postwar America and it was exploited. The era would be defined by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, whose manipulation of public opinion intensified the “red scare.” The “scare” was rooted in two sets of hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947 and 1951 which targeted (but was not limited to) the Hollywood film, television, and radio communities. After the first, ten men (dubbed the “Hollywood Ten”), mostly screenwriters, were imprisoned for not cooperating with the committee, having not “named names” of other members of the Communist party of “leftist” organizations.

Many of these and other blacklisted writers found a safe haven in television— writing under pseudonyms and fronts. Others, such as performers and directors, found they could not work at all. Careers were ruined and lives were shattered in a time when any left wing political association, no matter how tenuous, could be considered subversive.

Television provided the first expose of the hysteria with Edward R. Murrow’s 1954 CBS “See It Now” broadcast “A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy,” which weakened McCarthy’s credibility by offering film clips of his own misstatements and half-truths. McCarthy received equal time on “See It Now,” only damaging himself further. In a related press conference, Murrow said: “Who has helped the Communist cause and who has served his country better, Senator McCarthy or I? I would like to be remembered by the answer to that question.” Weeks later, ABC and DuMont aired the “Army-McCarthy Hearings,” further weakening McCarthyism’s stronghold.

The blacklist came to an end in the early sixties, after McCarthy’s death, when several producers insisted that writers from the “Hollywood Ten” receive screen credit under their real names again. In 1997, on the 50th anniversary of the first HUAC hearings, formal apologies were given to blacklisted artists by such organizations as the DGA, the WGA, SAG and AFTRA.

(Reprinted from The Vault: The Journal of the Archive of American Television, Winter 2000.)

Selected Soundbites from the Archive of American Television Collection:

Ring Lardner, Jr. (Writer, blacklisted, one of the “Hollywood Ten”)

“HUAC Chairman [J. Parnell Thomas] said: ‘That’s enough, skip to the $64,000 question. Go ahead.’ He turned it over to the committee counsel who then said: ‘All right, Mr. Lardner, are you now, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?’ I said, ‘I can answer that question, too, but I’d like to explain.’ Thomas said: ‘Never mind explaining anything.’ I said one other thing, and he said: ‘Come on, answer the question, any real American would be happy to answer that question.’ And I said, ‘I could answer it the way you want it, Mr. Chairman, but if I did, I’d hate myself in the morning.’ He said: ‘Leave the witness chair. Take him away.’ I said, ‘I think I’m being removed by force.’ And I was indeed.”

Roy Huggins (Show Creator/Producer/Director, “friendly” witness)

“[HUAC] asking me for names that they already had was a violation of their mandate from Congress and so I felt that it was wrong for me to cooperate with them. I didn’t think it was wrong to give them names although I would rather not have. But giving them names they already had didn’t strike me as being a horrible deed. But cooperating with them, with this loose canon committee that was violating its mandate from Congress and violating my rights was, was really not the right thing to do. But I decided that I was going to cooperate with them and I was also going to state that I felt what they were doing was wrong.”

Abraham Polonsky (Writer-Director, blacklisted)

“I was subpoenaed [and] I stood on the Fifth and wouldn’t answer any questions…. I got a letter from a college here recently, and the letter said: “ what is the thing you’re proudest of?” And I wrote back and said, when the U.S. Government pushed me, I pushed back.” And the kid wrote back: ‘That’s why we love you!’”

Tony Randall (Actor)

“Everybody was cleared through that man [Vincent] Hartnett [“Red Channels” author]. He made a living from clearing people. People made money out of the blacklist. And the worst blacklisters were actors who turned in other actors and got their jobs. It was a devastating disclosure of human nature.”

Joseph Wershba (CBS News Reporter/News Producer)

“What Murrow did was to hurl the spear that broke open this whole boiling fear in the American body politic where it wasn’t a question of whether this was going to be constitutional or that was going to be, the question was going to be whether we have a government at all based on a constitution.”

Leonard Goldenson (Executive/Founder ABC)

“We couldn’t afford it. It cost us about $600,000 to run that [coverage of the Army-McCarthy hearings] gavel to gavel, but when that was over, that was good-bye Mr. McCarthy. The public turned on him. And properly so.”

Ring Lardner Jr.’s entire six-part Archive interview is now online.

Interview Description:

Ring Lardner, Jr. (1915-2000) described his work as a screenwriter and one of the most closely identified victims of the Hollywood blacklist. Mr. Lardner described his career as a writer on such films as A Star Is Born (1937), in which he contributed the movie’s famous ending; Woman of the Year (1942), for which he and co-writer Michael Kanin won an Academy Award; and Laura (1944), the classic film noir for which he contributed uncredited. He described the Hollywood “red scare” which halted his career and placed him on an industry blacklist. He described his testimony as an “unfriendly” witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) that landed him in jail as one of the “Hollywood Ten.” He spoke in detail about his work in television, which he did under pseudonym during the blacklist era, working on such series as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-58), The Buccaneers (1956-57), The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (1956-57), and Ivanhoe (1958). Mr. Lardner talked about his emergence from the blacklist in the mid-sixties that culminated with his win of the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for M*A*S*H (1970).

Prolific Writer David Shaw Dies — Archive Interview Online

Monday, July 30th, 2007

David Shaw has died at the age of 90. Shaw was one of the most prolific writers during television’s “Golden Age,” nominated for an Emmy Award for his adaptation of “Our Town” for Producers Showcase. He was interviewed by the Archive of American Television on August 31, 2004.

Writer David Shaw’s five-part interview is available for viewing on Google Video. Click here to access David Shaw’s entire interview.

In part 2 of his interview, David Shaw talks about his work as a writer on Philco-Goodyear Playhouse, one of the key dramatic anthology series of the “Golden Age,” for which he wrote the most teleplays of any single writer.

From Part 3:

Q: There was a term called “kitchen sink” dramas. What did that refer to?

A: It referred to many of the Philcos that are family dramas. With family problems. They weren’t shoot ‘em ups, they weren’t crime, they weren’t sexy. They were just family dramas…. They’re not too far away from soap operas, really. But they’re easy to produce and didn’t call for big sets or lavish outdoor production.

Q: What is the legacy of Philco-Goodyear Playhouse?

A: I think that it was the beginning of good drama on television.

Q: How important do you think [Philco-Goodyear Playhouse producer Fred] Coe was to what is referred to as the “Golden Age of Television”?

A: How important? He was it! Fred was it. There was nobody like him.

Interview Description:
Shaw discussed his prolific career as a television writer that began in 1949 for the ABC “live” dramatic anthology series Actors Studio. He spoke in great detail about his work on the series Philco-Goodyear Playhouse, for which he contributed the most teleplays of any writer. For Philco-Goodyear, Shaw commented on several of his individual teleplays and talked about working with legendary producer Fred Coe. Shaw described knowing and working with other such figures of the “Golden Age of Television Drama,” as director Delbert Mann, writer Paddy Chayefsky, and actress Eva Marie Saint. Shaw discussed several series for which he served as a story editor including Mr. Peepers and The Defenders. He described his teleplays for Producer’s Showcase (including his Emmy-nominated adaptation of “Our Town”) and the six shows he wrote for Playhouse 90.