Posts Tagged ‘“Sanford and Son”’

Remembering Jack Shea

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

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.

Happy 90th Birthday, Norman Lear!

Friday, July 27th, 2012

You may know that Norman Lear created All in the Family and The Jeffersons, but did you know that he also produced “Stand By Me” and “The Princess Bride?” Today the prolific writer/producer/director turns 90 and we take a look back at the career of the man who not only brought “Archie” and “Edith” to the small screen, but helped bring “Princess Buttercup” and “Westley” to the big screen, as well.

Born Norman Milton Lear on July 22, 1922 in New Haven, Connecticut, Lear wanted to follow in his uncle’s footsteps and become a press agent. (Lear’s uncle worked at MCA and always seemed to have a quarter to spare, even during the lean Depression years.) At the end of his senior year of high school, Lear won the American Legion Oratory Contest, earning him a scholarship to Emerson College. He left Emerson in 1942 to become a gunner in the Air Force during World War II, then fulfilled his childhood dream and worked for George and Dorothy Ross as a press agent in New York. Now married with a baby on the way, he returned to Connecticut, but soon moved to California. Leaving the life of a press agent behind, Lear performed odd jobs to make a living, including starting a business to mail celebrity addresses out by request. He and friend Ed Simmons teamed up to dabble in writing, and Lear promptly fibbed his way to the big time. He pretended to be a reporter interviewing Danny Thomas, got Thomas’ phone number, and pitched him a routine about Yiddish words that had no English counterparts. The not-Jewish Thomas wound up using the sketch at Ciro’s nightclub, giving Lear and Simmons their big break:

Agent David Susskind (who happened to be Lear’s first cousin!) then recruited the pair to write for Jack Haley’s Four Star Revue back in New York. Shortly after, in 1950, Jerry Lewis lured the duo away to write for Martin and Lewis on The Colgate Comedy Hour, where a young Bud Yorkin worked as stage manager. Martin and Lewis had recently signed movie contracts in California, so the show and its writers relocated back to the West Coast. This time Lear would stay put in sunny California.

After three years writing for Martin and Lewis, Lear and Simmons moved on to writing for The Martha Raye Show in 1954, where Lear got his first taste of directing. He split with Simmons and became a junior writer on The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show from 1957-58, where Bud Yorkin was a producer and Lear’s boss. Lear and Yorkin soon decided to form a company together, Tandem Productions. The pair complemented each other – Yorkin had more experience as a producer/director, and Lear was by then an experienced writer. They made a deal with Paramount to executive produce variety shows and specials, including The Andy Williams Show, and specials for Carol Channing, Bobby Darren, and Danny Kaye (who Lear says cooked excellent Chinese food).

Lear dabbled in films, writing the 1963 movie “Come Blow Your Horn,” and soon read an article about the British sitcom ‘Til Death Do Us Part, which featured a father-son relationship that reminded Lear of his own relationship with his father. From this premise he created All in the Family in 1968 and sold the show to ABC. He shot a pilot with Carroll O’ Connor and Jean Stapleton, but not Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers, and the show didn’t make it air. Lear then made a second pilot (also without Reiner and Struthers), which CBS picked up when Bob Wood replaced Jim Aubrey as head of the network. Just as All in the Family was starting, Lear wrote and directed the 1971 film “Cold Turkey” and was offered a three picture deal with United Artists. He turned down the deal in order to focus on All in the Family, which premiered to rather poor ratings:

CBS re-ran the series that summer and the audience grew. Then the Emmys that year did a cold open with “the four principles of All in the Family,” putting the show squarely on the map.

All in the Family showcased Lear’s talent for intertwining social consciousness with humor. In his Archive interview he explains how he can find comedy in anything:

Lear and Yorkin soon created 1972’s Sanford and Son from the British program Steptoe and Son. Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson were tapped to play the leads:

The duo produced Maude in 1972, which famously aired an episode (“Maude’s Dilemma”) in which the title character decides to have an abortion. Lear describes how the episode initially aired without significant controversy, but caused a raucous when broadcast in reruns:

Lear became master of the spin-off, creating Good Times from Maude in 1974, and The Jeffersons from All in the Family in 1975 (Maude was already an All in the Family spin-off). In 1974 he started T. A. T. Productions with Jerry Perenchio (the name comes from the Yiddish expression “Tuchus Affen Tisch,” which in Lear’s words, roughly translates to, “enough with the talk, put your ass on the table.”) Lear continued creating hit shows with 1975’s  One Day at a Time, and the critically acclaimed, but short-lived syndicated show Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman in 1976. At one point during the 1970s, Lear created/produced four of the five top shows on television. Those were the days.

He had some flops, as well. 1977’s syndicated Fernwood Tonight (aka Fernwood 2-Night) about a local talk show host, All That Glitters about male/female role reversals, and Hot L Baltimore about two prostitutes in The Hotel Baltimore, (the “E” had fallen off the sign, hence Hot L Baltimore), didn’t last beyond one season.

Lear decided to end All in the Family in 1979 (he was not involved with Archie Bunker’s Place) to dedicate more of his time to causes in which he believed – he formed the advocacy group People for the American Way in 1980. He was a member of the first group of inductees into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1984, along with honorees William Paley, Lucille Ball, Edward R. Murrow, David Sarnoff, and Milton Berle. Lear also became active in movie production, buying Embassy Studios (T. A. T. became Embassy Communications), and soon selling it to Coca Cola. Lear then formed (and currently serves as chairman of) Act III Communications, which produced 1986’s “Stand By Me,” 1987’s “The Princess Bride,” and 1991’s “Fried Green Tomatoes,” among others.

Lear remained active in television throughout the 1990s, producing Sunday Dinner in 1991, and 704 Hauser in 1994. More recently he’s produced several movies, including 2000’s “Way Past Cool,” and the 2011 short, “The Photographs of Your Junk (Will Be Publicized!).” We can’t wait to see what he’ll come up with next.

Happy 90th, Norman! Here’s to many, many more!

Watch Norman Lear’s full Archive interview.

- by Adrienne Faillace

No Heart Attacks, Please, but “Sanford and Son” is Turning 40!

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Based on the BBC’s Steptoe and Son, Sanford and Son is the creation of producers Bud Yorkin and Norman Lear. Comedian Redd Foxx starred as widower and junk dealer, “Fred G. Sanford,” an Archie Bunker-type curmudgeon, Demond Wilson played his grown son, “Lamont,” and the two lived together and ran the family business in South Central L.A. Fred’s wife had passed away decades before, and his trademark move on the program was to feign a heart attack, grab his chest, and call out, “I’m coming to join you, Elizabeth!” The show aired on NBC from January 14, 1972, to March 25, 1977.

The Archive is honored to have interviewed many of the talented individuals involved with Sanford and Son. Co-creator Norman Lear described to us how he cast the show:

Musician and producer Quincy Jones shared how he composed the show’s theme song:

And actor Pat Morita discussed playing Sanford and Son’s “Ah Chew:”

Learn more about Sanford and Son at our show page.

Watch the intro to Sanford and Son: