Director Paul Bogart Dies at 92

The Archive of American Television is sad to report that director Paul Bogart passed away on Sunday, April 15th of age-related causes. He was 92. Bogart started his career in live television in New York, directing episodes of Kraft Television Theatre, and Armstrong Circle Theatre. From there he went on to direct films and several TV dramas and comedies. He directed over 20 episodes of The Defenders and more than 100 of All in the Family, winning one of his many Emmys for “Edith’s 50th Birthday,” in which Edith Bunker fends off a would-be-rapist.

Here are some selections from Bogart’s three-and-a-half-hour interview:

On being hired as an NBC Floor Manager:

They now call it stage manager. At the time it was floor manager, but they want a little more dignity now so it’s a stage manger. You herded the cast around. You made sure they were there, like a stage manager. You relay instructions from the director over a headset to them if you were on the air, if not you spoke to them over the studio address system, and you cued them went to start, and timed them – you had to figure out hand signals. I had no idea. I made them up … Everybody was making up his job at the time. The directors were making up their time, there were people that had some experience in radio or some minor experience on Broadway, but television was a mystery to everybody. I never learned how a television camera works, and I never want to. And I never learned how a film camera works. I’m not interested in the mechanics of the job. I just want to know what I can do.

On his process for learning how to direct:

Do. I just did it. I used to watch other people’s work; I did it to enjoy it. I’m a great audience, I’d just sit there. I’ll believe anything you tell me, if you tell it right.

On working with writers:

I work with writers always – if they were there – sometimes they would grab the money and run to Bermuda or something. But if the writer was around, I would meet with them and we’d talk about the script, we’d have script sessions … Some of them hated me because if I didn’t like the work, I would direct it away from me, from the way it was written … if it called for heavy emotion, tears, weeping and wailing, and the situation didn’t warrant it, I couldn’t ask an actor to do that. I’d say, “this is not that serious,” so we would adopt a different way to deal with it, and some writers didn’t like that. I think one or two of them wanted to kill me.

On how videotape changed directing:

As soon as you could start making mistakes everything changed. At first you would videotape the whole show straight through as a live show. Then they would play the tape on the air. Then you would have a dress rehearsal, you’d have an air show, you want to combine them … they wouldn’t let you do anything but black to black. When they figured out mechanical systems where you edited electronically by assembly, adding shot after shot instead of literally cutting the tape, you didn’t have to cut anymore, you just had to shoot us. Then the world opened up.

On his favorite episode of The Defenders that he directed:

I used to beg them to do a comedy, cause I was so tired of serious stuff, so I did a comedy called “The 700 Year Old Gang” which was about an old Jewish man who makes wine in his basement and gives it to his friends. Jack Gilford played that and then is I think sued by the government. That became a two parter. That was two hours. That won Emmys.

On returning to directing for television after directing films:

I don’t love television more than films; I never got to same material in films that I got in television. In films, somebody else would get the good scripts before they came to me, and I knew I wasn’t getting top material. Also, I made some mistakes, I turned down things I shouldn’t have done, and missed a couple. We all make mistakes. I made some loo-loos.

On directing the All in the Family episode “Edith’s 50th Birthday:”

On working in front of a live audience on All in the Family:

It’s elevating. It really sparks up the material. Everybody responds to an audience, everybody. Later on when we dropped the audience for the last few shows, I forget how many, I think Carroll just didn’t want to put up with the tension of the performance. Anyway, it just was insane because that audience told you when you went wrong, they taught you what you didn’t do right, they taught you what was good. They made the most of what you didn’t expect they were going to like at all. So you learn a lot. I miss them.

On advice to aspiring directors:

I think an aspiring director should read a lot, expose himself to music, art … because later on he’s going to draw on that knowledge. I draw on everything I ever knew about – painting, music, any kind of art. I use it all the time. I think that’s what a director needs, a good liberal arts education. Instead they learn how to load a camera.

Watch Paul Bogart’s full Archive interview here.

Read his obituary in the Los Angeles Times.

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