Remembering Jack Shea

We’re sad to hear of the passing of director Jack Shea, who died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease on Sunday, April 28th, 2013 at the age of 84. Shea directed many of Bob Hope’s television specials, as well as several series, including The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, The Waltons, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, Good Times, The Ropers, Silver Spoons, and Designing Women. Shea also served as a three-time president of the Directors Guild of America and was active with The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences when it split ties with The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in 1977.

Below are some excerpts from his 2002 Archive interview:

On directing Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis in their respective television shows:

Somebody on the Hope Show – they were changing directors – remembered my work and said, :we ought to hire Shea.” It was a tremendous thrill. I had this chance to direct one of the big live shows in those days. I got that opportunity and I did it. Everything worked. It was a wonderful time, but I remember doing that and then I suddenly got a bid from Jerry Lewis to work on one of his shows. He called me in and he said, “You’re doing the Hope show, huh?” And I said, “Yeah.” He said, “I also want you to do my show.” And I said, “okay.” Then I realized that Jerry was watching anybody that did the Hope show – that was the leading show at that point. So I had the great opportunity of doing the Bob Hope shows and also the Jerry Lewis shows. That was all live, you know, and it was wild times. I mean they both were very interesting characters, totally different personalities, because Bob was very in control and he had the writers that did his material for him and he was always the same character that you see you now.  Rarely, rarely got terribly upset.  And Jerry, of course, was frenetic. I liked both of them and enjoyed working with both of them.

On Bob Hope’s legacy:

I mean he’s just one of the most outstanding characters. I think he will be thought of for many, many, many years, because I think he was just such a dynamic character. When he walked in a room, you know, he did that little walk that was so very specifically Bob Hope. I think he will be remembered for a long time. He’s so identified with helping the troops by being there and supporting them.  And the troops knew that, too. The marvelous receptions that he got when he’d be going out for the troops… He’s quite extraordinary.

On how he began directing Sanford and Son:

I had been doing something else for Normal Lear at that time. That was one of Norman’s shows, he and Bud Yorkin. I was doing some other shows for them at that point and when they got that show, they had a few problems when they were getting started. Redd Foxx and the directors were having problems, and I think that in the first four or five shows they had four or five directors. I came in with great trepidation, and I got along fine. I think I had one fight the whole long time on the show.  When I say fight, one disagreement. It was a tough one to do, because you had a lot of people who had specific ideas about how they wanted their material, but as I remember, it worked out pretty well. It was a funny show. Redd was really something else. Every rehearsal was hysterical. It took a long time to get work done, but we had a lot of laughs and laughs are important.

On directing The Jeffersons:

I honestly can’t remember exactly how I became involved with it, but I just know that it was a great experience and I think I had done so much work with Norman Lear and the other people there, that when it came up I was the guy they felt would be comfortable with it. And I certainly was. We just had a wonderful association. We worked together for a long time and had a great time. When you start a show and you’re not sure how it’s going to go, you always feel sort of uncomfortable… And then suddenly when you hit, boy you really hit it. The way I know a show was really making it – when my kids would come home and tell me that the kids in class were doing “The Jeffersons” and walking like George. Then I knew we had a hit. And we did have a hit. Boy it was just great. Such a great combination of people.

On his approach to directing actors:

I like to use the instincts that actors have. Now when I lay out my work, I know that sometimes an actor has to be at a certain spot at a certain time in order to make something work that has to be there. And I have to find justification for getting that actor to that place without just saying, “get up and move, Charlie.”  I just find I just try to talk to actors same way I like them to talk to me. I tell them what I’m looking for and what I think they ought to do in a particular case. If they disagree and have another opinion I listen to it. Then I make up my mind as to which way it’s gotta be, and I just try to make the case going and will listen to anything they have to say. But it’s going to be my decision, because it’s my responsibility.

On his involvement with what would become the Directors Guild of America:

When I started my career, for some reason I always felt that good union representation is important, in our business especially, because I think it protects the actor, the director, the writer and I think we all need that protection. I think the director needs that protection. When I started in the business, I got interested in trying to be part of that protection, because I saw directors being misused or abused in some cases, and for the sake of not only the individuals but for the sake of the whole craft, I think we need to be able to protect people so that they can do their jobs as well as they can do them. In some cases that wasn’t occurring. And I think I was anxious to see if I could help in allowing people to direct who wanted to direct. That’s why I got involved.

On how he’d like to be remembered:

As being a good or capable, honest director. That’s about all I can ask for.

Watch his full Archive interview and read his obituary in the Los Angeles Times.

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