"As a producer, something comes in front of you and you say 'Oh, I just have to tell that story.' A movie like 'Love is Never Silent' allows people with disabilities to watch and say 'We're seeing ourselves on the screen. We are visible. We are now visible.'"
About This Interview
In her seven-and-a-half-hour Archive interview, Marian Rees talks about her break into television as a member of staff production, where she worked on Lux Video Theatre and An Evening with Fred Astaire. Rees describes her work with Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin at Tandem Productions, where she served as the associate producer for the pilots of All in the Family and Sanford and Son. She discusses her long association as an executive producer for telefilms of the 1980s and 1990s, which she produced through her own company Marian Rees Associates, including "The Marva Collins Story," "Love Is Never Silent," and "Miss Rose White." Rees recalls her other TV movie projects, including The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Between Friends, When the Vows Break, Is There Life Out There? and Ruby Bridges. She outlines her then-recent work on the Masterpiece Theatre American Collection telefilms "Cora Unashamed," "Song of the Lark," and "Almost a Woman." She concludes by discussing ageism in the industry and gives advice to young, female aspiring television producers. Karen Herman conducted the interview on September 3, 2004 and November 5, 2004 in Studio City, CA.
After graduating with honors in Sociology from the University of Iowa, Marian Rees moved to Los Angeles in 1952 and began her television career as a receptionist/typist at NBC. By 1955 she had joined the Norman Lear/Bud Yorkin company, Tandem Productions, and in 1958 served as an associate producer on the much honored An Evening With Fred Astaire. She continued to advance in the organization and by the early 1970s served as Associate Producer on the pilots of All in the Family and Sanford and Son. In 1972, however, she was told by Tandem that she would be happier elsewhere and given two weeks notice. It was a stunning blow but as she told an interviewer in 1986, she used the firing to grow.
Rees assumed a new position at the independent production company, Tomorrow Entertainment, where she broadened her knowledge of development, pre-production, and post production. At Tomorrow, Rees was associated with a variety of quality productions, including The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. She then spent two years with the NRW Company as vice president and was the executive producer of The Marva Collins Story, a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation starring Cicely Tyson. In 1982 Rees formed her own company, Marian Rees Associates. Anne Hopkins joined the company as a partner and has continued to work with Rees ever since.
In order to fund her first independent productions, Rees initially mortgaged her home and car, facing demands for financial qualification far more extensive than would have been required for a man. She pressed for months to gain network approval for her first production, Miss All American Beauty, but resistance continued and she finally learned that the male executive she had to convince simply didn't want to trust a woman. Finally, with funds running extremely low, approval for the project came from CBS. Rees completed the project under budget and her company found itself on solid footing.
In the succeeding years Rees has garnered 11 Emmy Awards and 30 additional nominations. In 1992, just ten years after her company began she saw her film for NBC, Miss Rose White, garner four Emmys out of ten nominations, a Golden Globe nomination, and the Humanitas Award. Seven of her productions have been aired as part of the Hallmark Hall of Fame series.
Marian Rees has remained faithful to her vision of excellence, even in times financial difficulty. She examines potential stories to ascertain whether they speak to her personally and make her proud to be associated with the final product. These same concerns are reflected in the meticulous attention given to each project once it is in production. While filming Miss Rose White in spring 1992 in Richmond, Virginia, for example, both Rees and Hopkins supervised details at every stage of the production and personally examined every location shot for authenticity. Such care has meant that their work is usually focused on a single film at a time, always aware that the next project must be in preparation. Only once since the company was started have they put on the air more than two productions in any single year. Rees and Hopkins form a remarkable team, taking considerable risks, and always delivering quality products, a task made more difficult in the U.S. television industry at the end of the decade.
A champion for women's rights in the U.S. television industry throughout her career, Marian Rees served two terms as President of Women in Film. Her service to her profession also includes Board membership at the American Film Institute and the Producer's Guild of America, where she now serves as vice president. "Producer" may be an easy title to acquire in the modern television age. Few earn it, and none more certainly deserve it than Marian Rees.
-Robert S. Alley
MARIAN REES. Worked in live television, New York City in the 1950s; associate producer, Tandem Productions, 1955-72; executive, Tomorrow Entertainment, First Artists Television, EMI Television, and the NRW Company's features division, 1972-82; founder, Marian Rees Associates, 1982; producer, numerous made-for-television movies. Member: Women in Film (twice elected president); board of directors of the American Film Institute; Producers Guild of America (vice president, 1996).