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: