At the outset of his career in the film business, it seemed Abby Singer just couldn't keep a job. As secretary to Jack Fier, Columbia's volatile production manager in the late 1940s, Singer was fired at least half a dozen times. "Then Fier would call my home and say, "Please send Abby back."
More than 50 years later, it seemed Singer just couldn't lose a job. "I kept trying to retire and they just wouldn't let me," he said of his remarkably long career as 1st AD, unit production manager and producer in which he'd segued from movies (Death of a Salesman, The Wild One) to television series (Gunsmoke, Columbo) and movies for television.
Around some sets, Singer became such an institution that crews named a shot after him — the next to last take of the day is referred to as "the Abby Singer shot."
It began when he worked as a 1st AD in television at Universal, where as many as 20 shows a day rotated among shared stages. "I'm hyper, and when I saw a location move coming up I used to say to the crew, 'There's one more, so let's start wrapping it up,' and they'd call transportation and get the jump on it," he says. "Over the course of the day you could save 50 or 60 minutes, and give those back to the director.
"Now, they only use it for the next to last shot of the day, but it used to be every time we moved," he recalls. "I get a kick out of it; it's used all over the world."
Everywhere from Yugoslavia to Australia, Singer's shot precedes him. While traveling in Israel, he came upon a crew shooting at a restaurant where he was eating. "I was talking to the cameraman, I said, 'I'm Abby Singer,' he said, 'Stop it!' He had the crew come over to meet me."
Now almost 89, Singer got his start when he moved to Los Angeles from New York after Navy service during WWII. After several years at Columbia, Fier got him into the Guild as a 2nd AD in 1949. In the late '60s, he asked Fier if he could cross over to television so he could stick closer to home to watch his kids grow up. He eventually became executive in charge of production at MTM.
A fast-talker with a gleam in his eye, Singer was honored in 1985 with the Frank Capra Award for service to the Guild. "I gave all I could to the Guild because it gave me a lot," he says. "When I joined there were 300 members, and the studios kept us busy," Singer recalls. "Today there are 13,400, and it's dog eat dog."
These are things he can mull over with the "Romeos" (Retired Old Men Eating Out), a group of old-timers with whom he breaks bread every Thursday at Art's Deli. "We rip the whole industry apart," he says.
But Singer's memories of the business are mostly fond. "I love it, I just love it," he admits. "Next to my wife and children, the film business is everything I ever wanted."