News from the Archive

Remembering Tony Verna

January 20th, 2015
Tony Verna

We're sad to learn that director Tony Verna passed away from acute leukemia on Sunday, January 18, 2015 at the age of 81. Verna broke into the business in local television at WCAU-TV in Philadelphia, where he worked on the local show Big Top and the original version of American Bandstand, then titled Bandstand. Verna is best known for his groundbreaking invention - the instant replay for sporting events - which he created in the wake of the Kennedy Assassination for the 1963 Army/Navy football game. He directed football, baseball, and horse-racing events for CBS Sports, and directed Live Aid, Sport Aid, and Global Prayer for World Peace. Verna directed for the 1960 & 1984 Olympics and the 1990 Goodwill Games, and throughout his career worked alongside legendary sports announcers, including Pat Summerall, Jack Whitaker, Dizzy Dean, and Vin Scully. 

Below are some selections from his 2004 Archive interview:

On his first job in sports broadcasting:

I started at WCAU in 1953. Before I knew it, I was out in the game. I guess I was actually paid by CBS as a freelance director in '55, which would have made me about 22. It was a little scary. I wasn't worried about the lenses and the cameras and the rest of that as much as I was worried about the talent. These guys were my grandfather's age. They weren't even my contemporaries. Later on I got along great with Mantle and DiMaggio. Dizzy Dean and Red Grange, Red Grange was like Jim Thorpe. You know? Working with those guys was intimidating at first.

On the first use of instant replay and how it changed football:

On how he'd like to be remembered:

Son of a photographer. Son of immigrants. Invented the instant replay. That's if it's limited wording on the tombstone.

Watch Tony Verna's Archive interview here and read his obituary in The Los Angeles Times

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Remembering H. Wesley Kenney

January 20th, 2015
H. Wesley Kenney

We're sad to learn that director/producer H. Wesley Kenney passed away on Tuesday, January 13, 2015 at the age of 89. Kenney trained at the Carnegie Institute of Technology and broke into television as a director at the DuMont Television Network in the early 1950s. He learned camera work on the early DuMont shows Morning Chapel, Life Is Worth Living (featuring Bishop Fulton Sheen), Magic Cottage and Funny Bunny (popular children's shows), Night Beat (Mike Wallace's breakthrough interview show), and Rocky King, Detective, starring Roscoe Karns. Kenney also produced daytime dramas, beginning with the fifteen-minute Modern Romances and continuing as a producer on the long-running soaps The Doctors, Days of Our Lives, The Young and the Restless, and General Hospital. He directed All in the Family during the show's fifth season, and also directed the pilot episode of The Jeffersons.

Below are some selections from his 2008 Archive interview:

On early television technology at Dumont:

Dr. DuMont invented a camera where the focus was in the handle, and that was an innovation, which of course became standard later today with a Zoomar. There were no Zoomars. You had lenses - one, three, five, eight inch lens, and they had a turret, and the cameraman would change the turret for the lens - eight being the tightest, five, and two being a wide-angle lens, and three. But the focus being in the handle was terrific because he could control the camera and run focus at the same time, which was really an innovation.

On Carroll O'Connor's brief absence from All in the Family:

There were eight electricians at CBS that went on strike, and Carroll, being the man he was, decided to go out in sympathy. He decided he wasn’t gonna do the show while they were on strike. The writers wrote the first couple or three shows, and Norman was furious. Carroll’s agent and the network and everybody told him, "You’re ridiculous. Do the show. We’ll settle the problem with the strike and the union, but it’s not your problem." Oh, no; he was gonna go on strike. We did three shows, and Norman was furious. What a lot of people don’t know to this day was on the third show, Edith gets a telephone call and Archie tells her -- this is the way it happened -- that he had been at a union meeting in upper Buffalo, and the plane got brought down in a snowstorm. He was fine and he was on his way home. That same phone call, if Carroll had refused to come back -- Edith would’ve gotten a call that the plane crashed and Archie had been killed, and that series was gonna go on without him. Carroll was smart enough to realize Norman wasn’t kidding, and Norman, let’s face it, Norman had three or four other shows on the air - Maude, What’s Happening? -  so although the show was the key mark to Norman’s dynasty, the writers had already written stories around his [Archie's] funeral. He came back.

On the role of a director in live television:

On working with actors:

I’ve said to young actors, "You cannot count on any kind of a situation when you do an audition. You never know what’s gonna be happening. Your audition is a performance in itself, but it’s not necessarily the performance you’ll give in the end."  

On his proudest achievement and legacy:

Watch H. Wesley Kenney's Archive interview here and read his obituary in Variety.

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Remembering Sid Smith

January 15th, 2015
Sid Smith

We're sad to learn that director Sid Smith passed away on Tuesday, January 13, 2015 at the age of 93. Smith started out directing television commercials and soon became an AD on Eddie Condon's Floor Show and Your Hit Parade. He directed and/or produced The Jimmy Durante Show, Wide Wide World, and The Bell Telephone Hour, and enjoyed a seventeen-year association with Bob Hope, directing his television specials. Smith also directed several variety/award shows, including the Miss USA and Miss Universe Pageants, Circus of the Stars, and The Emmy Awards, directed Elizabeth Taylor in her Elizabeth Taylor Goes to London Special, and worked with PBS' Bill Moyers. 

Below are some selections from his 1997 Archive interview:

On staging a ballet for The Bell Telephone Hour:

That was just kind of a fun thing to do, a tour-de-force of cinematography matched with dance. Ballet is really not meant for television, because ballet is best seen in profile so you can see the lines of arabesque and jetes and all of the great ballet movements. Yet the camera is best when things are on axis. It’s very, very tough to shape ballet for television. And I did a lot of that with the choreographer. I said, "Don’t do that across there, do that down here." I kept things on the axis, so you partly see the line, but still you get the feeling of depth and movement, which you never get if they’re always going across the screen right up above.

On working with Bob Hope:

I just was always kind of in awe. We’d be walking along on the way to a location and he’d start telling me a joke. I couldn’t believe it - here’s Bob Hope telling me a joke. It’s a knock-knock joke. I’d think, "My God, what is this?" But that went on for seventeen years and we seldom disagreed. 

On his directing style and advice to aspiring directors:

On his legacy:

Watch Sid Smith's full Archive interview here.

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Remembering Brandon Stoddard

December 22nd, 2014
Brandon Stoddard

We're sad to hear that Executive Brandon Stoddard passed away today, December 22, 2014, at age 77 after a long battle with cancer. Stoddard entered the workforce in the advertising industry, first at BBD&O and later at Grey Advertising. He soon transitioned to television, becoming the Director of Daytime Programming at ABC, where he scheduled the groundbreaking and award-winning ABC Afterschool Specials and the pop culture classic Schoolhouse Rock. He was appointed to Vice President of Motion Pictures for Television at ABC and oversaw several successful television miniseries, including QBVII; Rich Man, Poor Man; Roots; The Winds of War; The Thorn Birds; and Masada. Stoddard also oversaw one of the most controversial programs ever to air, the television movie The Day After, which depicted the effects of a nuclear holocaust on a small town in Kansas. He became the President of ABC Entertainment in the mid 1980s, later became an independent producer, and served as an Adjunct Professor at USC. He was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in March of 2014.

Below are some excerpts from his 2007 Archive interview:

On casting Roots:

The most difficult one [to cast] was Kunta Kinte. I had seen LeVar’s test, which I didn’t like very much - LeVar Burton - who was then a sophomore, I think, at USC, and had done very little acting. He looked great, but the test was not particularly good, and we were shooting in like two days. We were starting with LeVar. He came into my office with David Wolper and Stan Marguiles and we had a meeting with LeVar and he was so impressive in person, he was so Kunta Kinte - the energy, the feeling, the power, the positiveness of LeVar, that we said okay and off we went, and thank god. Thank god we said okay to LeVar Burton. Because he was fabulous. 

On the popular miniseries The Thorn Birds:

On his legacy in entertainment:

I had the greatest ride in the world. I got to do some shows I never, ever, ever, ever thought I would be able to do - never get on the air, never be as successful as they were. There are shows that I am intensely proud of - most of them. There are a lot I am not. There are many huge disappointments, some of which we talked about. But on the whole, if I list out my biography and the things that we were responsible for on the air, I’m pleased. I can look at that mirror and say, "It's okay. You did okay." 

Watch Brandon Stoddard's full Archive interview and read his obituary in Variety.

 

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Remembering Joseph Sargent

December 22nd, 2014
Joseph Sargent

We're sad to learn that director Joseph Sargent passed away this morning at the age of 89 in Malibu, California. Sargent directed episodes of Lassie, Gunsmoke, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and the now-classic "The Corbomite Maneuver” episode of Star Trek. He directed the films "The Taking of Pelham 123" and "Jaws: The Revenge," and worked with Hollywood screen legends James Cagney (Terrible Joe Moran) and Elizabeth Taylor (There Must Be A Pony). Sargent worked with Stanley Kubrick in the pre-production stages of "One-Eyed Jacks," and helped cast an unknown Pierce Brosnan in the miniseries The Manions of America. He also directed the Emmy-winning television movies Miss Evers’ Boys, A Lesson Before Dying, Something the Lord Made, and Warm Springs

Below are some selections from his 2006 Archive interview:

On directing James Arness on Gunsmoke:

The lesson I learned, because Jim is not the kind of human being or actor that would do anything just for arbitrary ego reasons, or because he’s a diva about his role - ‘cause that also happens when an actor or an actress will absolutely demand certain things be done because of my character, using the character to justify probably something that makes her feel uncomfortable, or makes her look too old, or makes him look too weak, or whatever the problem is. In this case, what I learned was that a man who plays a character for as long as Gunsmoke was on the air - by that time, and I think it was probably in its fifth, sixth year - is committed really to the integrity of his role. Because of that he knows he can’t suddenly depart from that commitment and that part of the relationship he has with that role to satisfy a director’s need to be fancy with a camera angle. I had to settle my anger a little bit to come around to realizing that. ‘Cause at first, my immediate reaction is, "Oh come on, this is nonsense. He wouldn’t miss," etc. But he was absolutely right. In terms of the Marshal Dillon mystique, if he draws on a man that man is dead - that’s the way the mythology had been constructed, and that’s the way it had to stay. I had to dismantle the shot, and he doesn’t shoot the man. The man draws his gun, he pulls his gun, the man runs away. I averted a disastrous confrontation, and at the same time learned a valuable lesson, which is not to set up any kind of shot, any kind of scene, any kind of staging without a rehearsal. Now I’ve fallen into that trap several times since then in all these glorious years of directing where you think it’s so simple. The actor is late, "I’ll go ahead and set it up on second team, or the actor needs a break or has to rest. It’s okay, we’ll set it up on their stand-in..." And every time I learn the same lesson. I finally have learned it thoroughly. I will never ever set up any scene or shot, however fancy, especially if it’s fancy without a rehearsal.

On his experience with the Hollywood Blacklist:

I barely squeaked by that period. I was not big enough target quite fortunately, despite the fact that I was very vocal against it, as virtually all of us were. I had an enormous circle of friends, all who had been blacklisted and suffered different levels of unemployment and a lot of pain. A lot of families broke up, divorces, people running off in order to make a living going off to Europe, etc.

On directing Star Trek:

They had shot a pilot that they didn’t want to use as a first episode, and I think the pilot played as the third show. I was called in to produce and direct with Gene Roddenberry, “The Corbomite Maneuver.”  I loved the show, so I was all too anxious to get into it. I had started doing long form at that time, but this was such a marvelous challenge that I couldn’t resist it. I must say working with Gene Roddenberry was quite an experience. He was a very interesting guy, and as a Southern gentleman he proved his metal when I suggested that the crew of the Enterprise was rather well diverse. They had Japanese, they had people from Vulcan, and a Scot, and a nice mix, except there was no black person on the crew. He instantly jumped on that and followed through on it, and that’s how Nichelle got her role.  

On directing The Marcus-Nelson Murders and winning his first Emmy:

Abby Mann sent me the script - CBS was very high on it - and I was at Universal, and Sid Sheinberg called me and said, "This is one you’re gonna like." Sure enough, it was a very important piece. It was really basically an examination of the events that led up to the Miranda decision that we now take for granted. It's very much part of the canon of law. But before the Marcus-Nelson murders there was no limit as to the different techniques used to draw a confession out of a suspect so that they would literally sign a confession rather than undergo any more torture. Now they had to have their rights read to them, etc., etc., and that’s what Marcus-Nelson was. I loved the film. It’s one of my favorites. And evidently it was a lot of other people’s favorites ‘cause it won all kinds of Emmys. It was my first.

On advice to aspiring directors:

Learn, learn, learn, learn, but most importantly, learn what one of your major resources is, and that’s the actor. The more you can absorb what the actor must absorb, which is a different way of saying the more actor training you can include in your education, the easier it’s gonna be for you to relate to actors, to get the most out of actors, to help them overcome a lot of the obstacles. It becomes a very, very valuable, and very necessary credential to have as a director. In addition to all the stuff that the film schools are teaching, unfortunately one of the biggest omissions is the training -- the actor training that should be part of directing 101. The emphasis unfortunately has been a little lopsided toward the use of camera, the F-stops, all of the film stock. These are all valuable, but they are not necessarily the full responsibility of the director, as much as it is the responsibility of the director of photography. The director has to know camera. He has to know what the role of camera is in articulating the content of a scene, and what the role of the camera is in terms of presenting the most vivid, dynamic images to hold the audiences emotional involvement. Everything is valuable. The camera, the script, the sets, the make-up, the costumes, but as I said before it starts with making the actor as comfortable, and as willing to take a risk as you can. That’s basically it. Then my other advice is get a good friend in the business to give you a hand, ‘cause everybody needs that.  

Watch Joseph Sargent's full Archive interview and read his obituary in Variety.

 

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