50 Years Ago Today "Playhouse 90" Presented "Old Man"

On November 20, 1958, Playhouse 90, the preeminent dramatic television anthology of the day, presented William Faulkner’s “Old Man,” a program for which Variety wrote, “such a word as incomparable must be applied.” Archive interviewee Del Reisman, the series story editor, explained, “there were all kinds of stunt shows that were done. In the third or fourth season, John Frankenheimer directed ‘Old Man,’ it’s a wonderful show, but he virtually flooded the CBS studio.”

The show was about a convict (played by Sterling Hayden), who is ordered into a flat-bottomed boat to rescue a pregnant woman (Geraldine Page) during a flood. It was adapted for television by Horton Foote, produced by Fred Coe, and directed by John Frankenheimer.

Variety opined: “Much of the credit for this over-powering story of man’s humanity as well as inhumanity to man also must go to Geraldine Page, as the pregnant woman in the tiny rowboat, and Sterling Hayden, the monosyllabic convict who must fullfill his mission amid the swollen waters of the Mississippi.”

John Frankenheimer said in his Archive interview: “Fred Coe gave me the script because he loved ‘Days of Wine And Roses,’ and he said, ‘You know, I honest to God don’t know how to do this, but I love this script.’ And I read it, and I had been playing around with videotape with the editors. And I read it and I said, well, there’s only one way to do this, Fred. We’ll tape the whole goddamned show. And we got to do it scene by scene, and we got to have a huge [water] tank. Up to that time, nobody had ever cut videotape. So, the editor, a guy named Ross Murray and I just took arbitrary scenes and cut them together with a straight razor blade…. I was totally obsessed on how to do this show. I brought in a Chapman Boom. A Chapman Boom is a huge movie crane that goes 30 feet in the air. Has engines and everything on it. Brought that into the studio, that’s the first time that had ever been done. If fact, the Cameraman who worked the Chapman Boom, Pat Kenney put on a aviator’s helmet, you know, it was that, that kind of a thing.”

Click here to view John Frankenheimer’s entire Archive Interview.

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