John Rich Chapter 7


INT: You don't have to name names, but when you've had an Actor who has not given you what you wanted, how have you been able to manipulate the performance so that you get what you want?
JR: Well, as Jim Backus used to say, we use whips. [Laughs] [INT: That's good.] I truly don't know how to answer that—just persistence and patience. You have to be patient. You've gotta let them go through it quite a lot. In fact, it brings to mind my--I was placed in partnership with an Actor named Henry Winkler to produce, executive--we were both executive Producers of MACGYVER. And the reason we had that, we had a mutual agent who said, “There’s a synergy here,” because each of us, Winkler [Henry Winkler] and I, each had commitments form the network. Each of us had two commitments, I guess, to do series. And he said, "We put this together, you know,--" Now, Winkler [Henry Winkler] always wanted to be a Director and a Producer. And I said, "Well, gee, I don't know about Henry [Henry Winkler]. I mean, He's a very successful Actor, but what does he do--" I said, “Look, we'll arrange the compensation in such a way that it will work out fair, but teach him how to be a Producer,” I said, “or a Director or both,” I don't know. And sometimes on the set, Henry [Henry Winkler] would be seen in conversation with an Actor--this is during shooting. And the Actor frequently would come to me and would said, "What should I do?" I said, "About what?" He said, "Well, Mr. Winkler [Henry Winkler] just gave me a note. What should I--" I said, "Pay no attention. Go to the Director." And I took Henry [Henry Winkler] aside and I said, "Listen, one of the first rules of being a good Director, a good Producer: leave the Director alone." I said, "You hired this person, let them make the decisions." And he said, "But he was doing it wrong." I said, "How do you know?” I said, “You know, there are times when I have had Actors in trouble and I will say, 'Gee, that was terrific,' and it's not terrific. And if you were a casual person walking on my set, you would hear me say, 'That was terrific' against a performance that was clearly was not terrific, but it was process. I was on the way to something. I might have said, 'That's good, but now would you consider adding or subtracting the following?' And we would try another way.” I said, “But you must never interrupt that process, because when the Actor is told confusing--conflicting thoughts, they’re gonna break apart.” I said, “They're crystal. They're made of glass.” I said, “It's like the old joke about Polish crystal, which shatters at the sound of a fart.'" Remember that joke? [INT: No, but it's a great joke.] [Laughs] I said, "This is the way Actors, in fact, I remember Hitchcock [Alfred Hitchcock] once said--I was present! Somebody was accused him of saying that—[INT: Actors are cattle—the famous line.] “Actors are cattle,” and he took great umbrage. He said, "I would never say,” that wonderful, rotund voice and British accent, "I would never say such a rude, unthinking thing. What I actually said was, 'All Actors should be treated as cattle.'" That was his, well, okay, you know. Now, I don't agree with that, you know, but Hitchcock [Alfred Hitchcock] actually made his pictures out of a storyboard and the Actors really were, you know, little puppets that moved around. And he was very good at it. I could not work that way and I said to Winkler [Henry Winkler], I said, "For goodness sake, don't come on the set and take over the Director's function unless you're prepared to take over the entire function. 'Cause you don't know what the process is." I don’t think--Henry [Henry Winkler] was a very nice man. I always used to say he's running for mayor of the town because we would walk from the commissary back to a set or our offices and he would be confidently shaking hands and smiling and I’m just trying to talk business to my partner. And he would be running for office. And I’d say--Oh, you’re talking about casting? Here's what Henry [Henry Winkler] used to do in casting. I hope Henry [Henry Winkler] will forgive me for saying it, but he knows. I've said the same thing to him. We do get along, but there are times when he tried my soul and among those times was during the casting sessions, ‘Cause Henry [Henry Winkler] would be in on casting and an Actor would read and he would go in to everyone--First of all, he would shake hands with the Actor, forcing everybody in the room to shake hands with the Actor. And I would say to him, particularly in the winter, "Henry, you're passing the flu around." I said, "Why don't we just nod in a friendly manner to these Actors, because you shake hands with them as they come in and we shake hands as they go out, and the process”--because we have another Producer, Steve Downing, with us, we have three Producers, a Director, a casting office, and god knows what else is visiting from the demented gene pool of the network--they might be around. I said, "Everybody's shaking hands and the time it take, not to mention the disease we're passing around, is ludicrous."


INT: Henry's [Henry Winkler] in the casting session. Not only does he shake hands, but—[Jeremy Kagan crosses into frame as he asks question.]
JR: Oh, he goes further because the Actor would read and the Actor would be incorrect for the role for whatever reason. It could be a physically incorrect type, or whatever. And Henry [Henry Winkler] would go into a paroxysm, an excess of delight, and say, "Oh, that was wonderful. That was terrific. Oh, thank you so much for coming." And he would overplay this role of the thankful Producer to the point where I would say to him afterwards, "Do you really think that was a good performance?" He said, "No, it was terrible." I said, "But you said it was wonderful. Why did you say that?" He said, "I want him to feel good." I said, "But Henry [Henry Winkler], mark this down in the Producer book, the Director book: Don't encourage the Actor when that person, he or she, is gonna go out of this office, call their agent and say, 'I got it! Winkler [Henry Winkler] loved it!' But the fact is, they're not gonna get it, and I'll tell you one thing that's gonna happen because of it. They will say I didn't get it because Winkler [Henry Winkler] loved me, but that other son of a bitch didn't like me." That's me. I said, "So you're putting me in a very awkward position when you say how great this is. And you're not doing them any favors. You have to learn how to be non-committal. Friendly? Yes. We'll get back to you. Sometimes they'll make it, sometimes they won't." One day, I remember this--this was interesting, ‘cause I used to say to Henry [Henry Winkler], "Why don't you do some of the pre-casting?" Where I’m—I was shooting--we had another series besides MACGYVER called MR. SUNSHINE with Jeffrey Tambor. You talk about risk. [INT: What a good Actor.] Oh, he's marvelous. But that was a risky show 'cause it was about a blind college professor. [INT: I know, I remember it.] And we made no pretense about dumbing it down to the rest of America. We said, "This guy's gonna talk poetry, we're gonna have poetry." It was kinda wond—and he was great. So I said to Henry [Henry Winkler], "Please, see if you can do some of the initial vetting and get down to two or three performers after you've seen some of the people who really can't do it." And at lunch, during--while I was shooting on SUNSHINE [MR. SUNSHINE], “bring 'em down to the dressing room and I'll meet with them at that point.” He said, "Oh, that's a good idea." But he would stop on the set in the morning sometimes and say, "Have I got the guy for you!" I said, "Oh, that's great!" Again, as I used to say to Actors, "You know, we're on your side. We want you to be good." And I said--this happened to be on a casting on MR. SUNSHINE, so I said, "I'm delighted. We need this character very badly and I don't think it's gonna be that easy to find, but you found him?" He said, "Yes." "Great," I said, “good.” So now we're convened at the lunch break and Henry [Henry Winkler] brings in this Actor about whom he's been enthusiastic. And I couldn't believe what I was seeing, because the man who came in was bald and had a full beard. Now, our lead was bald and had a full beard, so instantly, my computer clicked and I said, "I don't care how good this Actor is, he can't do it. Because if we cast him--and this is not a show about brothers. This is not the Smith Brothers, the couch drop kings.” What was that trade and mark? Remember?" [INT: Yeah. The three guys.] Two guys, wasn't it? [INT: Yeah, you're right. I’m thinking of guys in the cigar. Yes, the two guys with the beard.] Trade and mark was on one side. [INT: Right, right, right. Trade and mark. Yeah, exactly.] [Laughs] They both looked very rabbinical, and of course Jeffrey [Jeffrey Tambor] looked rabbinical. In fact, I remember the first day he came in for a reading before we had cast MR. SUNSHINE. This was for the lead lead. You talk about casting a pilot. And this guy came in and I thought, "Oh my god. Why are they sending me a guy that looks like Schlomo the rabbi? I mean, this, you can't use this guy. Alright, be polite. Let him read." He read and I just sat bolt upright and said, "My god, that's just right." And he got the part then and there. [INT: Great.] So it just, it does show that sometimes initial conception can be off 'till you hear it. And you have to be polite, and you want to listen with respect, because sometimes an Actor will shock you. He did. Of course, he was brilliant. I just love his work. Anyway, so back to Henry [Henry Winkler], and he has in charge this guy that could be a double. And he read because we're being polite, and he left, and I looked at Henry and Henry said, "Huh? What abut that?" I said, "Henry [Henry Winkler], he can't do it." He said, "Why not? He read great!" I said, "Describe him physically." And he did, and then it was like, "Oh. Uh oh." I said, "No, you can’t--sometimes it has nothing to do with acting. It has to do with the physical persona. He can't do it because he's a double." "Oh yeah, okay." So, gradually we learned, you know. The biggest thing was eventually, we let Henry do more development, so to speak—you know, the euphemism of what's coming up next year. I would ask him to--particularly on MACGYVER, to not come on and talk to Actors when they were involved in the scene.


INT: This is a problem that still occurs. You know, the fact is, the performance really is gonna be created by you and your Actor--not by anybody else.
JR: Yeah. I would never do that. I mean, it would just—and in fact, I was always so insistent, I mean, I guess I was an anomaly as a Producer, because I would tell these Directors, "I want your first cut." "What? You want my first--" "Yes, I want your first--you're not finished until you cut. I want to see the entire process. Whatever you have." And frequently, they didn't know how to cut. I was astounded. And I would teach cutting. [INT: It is interesting, because, I mean, I think in a strange way for you, you already knew the value of cutting way back when you didn’t want it.] Oh boy, did I ever. In fact, you wanna--[INT: Yes, I do. Are you gonna tell an editing story—a cutting or an editing story?] Yeah. [INT: Is that were you were going?] Yeah. [INT: Alright, go.] Yeah. When I was first--the reason I got to do a western, because I had done OUR MISS BROOKS, JOAN DAVIS [I MARRIED JOAN DAVIS], and Ray Bolger [WHERE'S RAYMOND?] in successive years. And I, this came to--in those days, we shot 33 episodes a year and I did ‘em all. [INT: What was Bolger like—I have to interrupt. You’re gonna come—I’m gonna come to this--] He was great. I mean, he was not a great dancer. Now, that came as a shock to me. He was what you call an eccentric dancer. He was the straw man. He used to do slip and slide. It drove the orchestra crazy. Earle Hagen, who was our conductor/composer, would constantly be dropping notes to pick up where he was missing the beat. My--I was married to Sylvia Lewis, who was choreographer and dancer with Ray [Ray Bolger], and she was a metronome. And Ray [Ray Bolger] would always look at her when dancing because she had the beat and he could never quite get it. And once, we did a--I gotta talk about, but my real wife is Pat [Pat Shea]. [INT: There's no question about that.] I wanna make sure. [INT: I can testify to that.] I wanna make sure that—[INT: No, we got it. This is not even relevant.] Are you kidding? [INT: I'm just curious only because he was a kind of, you know--] She's my closest relative. What are you talking about? [Laughs] My closest relative. God bless you Pat [Pat Shea]. Thank god for her. Anyway, once we did a, what was supposed to be a split screen challenge dance where Ray [Ray Bolger] would play both parts, and it was a toy soldier on a drum, a toyshop kind of thing. And it was a military tap. And we discovered—I discovered to my amazement, that he couldn't tap. He couldn't keep time. Ray Bolger, the great dancer! And as I say, Ray [Ray Bolger]--he was a sweet man. We got along fine. He read, sometimes he read okay. Once in awhile he would come off and say, "Why didn't I get a laugh?" And I’d say, "Well, Ray [Ray Bolger], you inverted two words." He said, "Does that matter?" I said, "Yeah. In comedy in matters." It was not good. Stanley Shapiro and Paul Henning used to write the show. [INT: Right.][ Two pretty good guys. [INT: Right.] And they would be furious and I said, "Look, we'll get it. Don't worry, guys." I would say, "Ray [Ray Bolger], you can’t—you have to put the words in opposite construction. Otherwise, the audience will not laugh." The audience will not laugh if it is mystified. [INT: That’s [inaudible] Mr. Sennett.] My favorite line. [INT: So you--] So here he is doing a military tap and he can't tap. It's out of sync with the orchestra. You know what we did? I mean, I hate to admit this, but it was true. We had Maurice Kelly was his dance-in. You know what that is. [INT: Oh yeah.] In musicals. He did—he was like the stand-in, except he was a dancer, when we were lighting. And Moshe [Maurice Kelly] was a very good dancer and he did a military tap and we recorded his feet. And I shot Ray [Ray Bolger] above the ankle, [INT: Great.] so that I took the heat where if people looked at it, and they said, "How can this Director possibly do what he's doing? He's shooting a great dancer above the feet.” Well, maybe the set is out of alignment. I would hope. But we had to tap right when the sound was correct, 'cause it was Moshe [Maurice Kelly].


INT: Now, you were gonna say something about editing. [JR: Oh, editing. Oh.] It actually got you into the westerns.
JR: Yeah. Okay, so here's what happened. So I've done all of these comedies, about 139-- oh, more than that. Almost 120. [INT: Right.] And I said to--CBS wanted me after I finished on OUR MISS BROOKS--that was ending—and they said, "We want to start a new series with Eve Arden and we'd like you to direct the opening shows." I think it was a 13-week commitment or something. So I said, "Look, I love Eve [Eve Arden], and we had a wonderful relationship and it was a great thing working with her, but I've always wanted to get back to my dramatic roots, somewhere. I know, you know, I'm a Shakespearean scholar! You know, I've gotta get back to the drama somewhere. Why have I done all these comedies? Just came that way." [INT: Right.] I said, "I've got to do a drama. For example,” I said, “some of my friends like Arthur Penn and John Frankenheimer are now doing PHILCO PLAYHOUSE [THE PHILCO TELEVISION PLAYHOUSE, THE PHILCO-GOODYEAR TELEVISION PLAYHOUSE], CLIMAX!, PLAYHOUSE 90. These are CBS--at least the two in California. Arthur [Arthur Penn] had gone back by that time, became a distinguished Director in New York. I stayed on after our stage manager stint. Arthur said, "I'm leaving because the tin trees, the Christmas trees on Hollywood Boulevard are beginning to look real to me, so I'm going back to New York." I said, "Come on, you'll be alright." He said, "No, I can't stand it anymore, you know." And he went back and did PHILCO PLAYHOUSE [THE PHILCO TELEVISION PLAYHOUSE, THE PHILCO-GOODYEAR TELEVISION PLAYHOUSE] and had a distinguished career on the New York Theater of course. He's on Broadway again. Did you know that? [INT: Yeah, I did. I actually read about it.] He's doing Sergeyev [Nikolai Sergeyev]. God, can you imagine? Whoopee. By the way, that’s another one. I studied Russian Literature when I was in school. [INT: Me too.] Did you really? [INT: Yep.] I used to love those guys. [INT: Nothing like 'em.] They were hot Writers. [INT: Dostoyevsky [Fyodor Dostoyevsky], Tolstoy [Leo Tolstoy]. Start with the top two, go down to Chekhov [Alexander Chekhov]. You’ve got a lot of--] As Carl Reiner would say, "Boy, they could write, these boys,” you know? “They don’t call you Turgenev [Ivan Turgenev] for nothing, you know?” [Laughs] It’s like Max Bialystock. Have you seen THE PRODUCERS in New York? [INT: Yeah.] What a brilliant--you know, one of the few plays that surpassed its hype. [INT: Yeah. It was delicious.] You know, some of those shows that be honest I did like THE KIDNEY STONE, THIS TOO SHALL PASS. [INT: That's great line.] [Laughs] HUNDRED DOLLAR LEGS. CATS [KATS] spelled with a ‘K’. [INT: Right. Right.] SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER. I mean-- [Laughs] Can you imagine? [INT: Great line.] I mean the energy that went into--anyway, that's Mel [Mel Brooks]…


INT: Alright, now come on, you want to do serious drama. [JR: I wanna do serious drama. Okay.] You want to clamor for the drama.
JR: So, the deal was this. I said, "I will do four episodes." This I said to CBS—[INT: Of THE EVE ARDEN SHOW.] I was my own agent at that time. [INT: Right.] In fact, the best deals I ever made was when I was without an agent: ALL IN THE FAMILY, DICK VAN DYKE [THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW], all without agent. [INT: Wow.] So I said to CBS, "Four shows of comedy, then you must give me a drama." And I'm thinking "CLIMAX! and PLAYHOUSE 90." Hey, hey! He said, "Okay," so they made the deal. About the third week of the new EVE ARDEN SHOW [THE EVE ARDEN SHOW], I reminded one of the guys at CBS--that gene pool that's so defective--I said, "You made this deal. What are you gonna--which one am I gonna do? PLAYHOUSE 90 or CLIMAX!?" They said, "Oh, sorry. They're all booked up." I waved the contract at them I said, "What are you gonna do?" There were some ashen faces when they said, "Well, the only show we own is GUNSMOKE." I said, "Yeah." And they said, "Well you've never done a western, have you?" I said, "I've never seen a western being shot. What's the difference?" And they said, "Well, would you direct GUNSMOKE?" I said, "Well it's a drama, isn't it?” I said, “Isn't that what the contract says?" Oh my god, well they didn't want to do this, but over a barrel. "Okay, you've got GUNSMOKE." So I showed up--that was the time when I was casting Pernell Roberts. [INT: Got it.] So I've done three days and I did some things that obviously irritated the script supervisor, ‘cause she kept saying I'm crossing the line, I'm doing this wrong, you know, things that I really, I suppose, didn't truly understand about film direction. But I still picked it up. I said, "I now know what you mean," you know, and I got it. But at one point, there was a wonderful cameraman named Fleet Southcott. Did you ever work with him? [INT: No, no.] What a dear man. And at one point--remember I described that scene of a highwayman holding up a stagecoach? That was Pernell Roberts sitting on a horse. [INT: Right.] Didn't know he had a Jewish Actor on his back. [INT: Right. Right.] But it was a long shot, so there was no problem. In fact, I may have had a double at that point. I don’t—Anyway, I said to Fleet [Fleet Southcott], "You know what I'd like?" I said, "I'd like to put the camera on top of the stagecoach and shoot over the driver." It was a six up. Six horses. [INT: Oh yeah.] "And come over a rise and deliver the highwayman, the gangster, the hit man, whatever.” What do you call them? The heavy. [INT: The bandit, in those days.] The bandit, holding a rifle on the stagecoach, making it stop. He said, somebody said, "Hey, the camera's gonna shake if you put it--" I said, "Yeah. That's the idea." This is before Tom Jones when they were doing shaky cameras. I don't think anybody did that. It was—[INT: Right. Right.] I didn't realize I was being innovative. I mean, all I thought was, "Hey, this might be an interesting shot!" And they said, "Oh, you can't do that." Somebody was muttering. And I said, "Why, is there a physical problem?" And they said, "Well, how you gonna run the camera? It has to be run through the sound truck." I said, "Well, you have long cables, don't you? How’s it run right now? Don't you connect it to the sound truck?" They said, "Yeah." I said, "Well if I'm on the stagecoach looking forward, it seems to me that the sound truck could follow up the stagecoach and keep the loop, and you've got running water. The electricity is going." They said, "Oh yeah, you could do that." And god bless Fleet Southcott. He said, "You know what? This kid may have an idea.” You know, he said, “We've been on the rails,” I remember that phrase, “we’ve been on the rails so long, we're not thinking in any new terms.” He said, "That might be an interesting shot." [INT: Great.] I love that man. [INT: Great.] He said, "We really should try this." So I—and there a lot of muttering. The crew did not like what I was doing. But we put the camera on a high hat on top of the stagecoach, over the driver, and the six up, and delivered the heavy. [INT: Great.] It was a wonderful shot. It shook, it was great, it had a feeling of great speed, intimacy. It was a lovely shot. And then I did a few other things, which I think—I once started a shot one way and wound up--I forget how many--it wound up with a close-up of the marshal's badge and it was a point of view of a heavy getting off the stagecoach and Dillon [Matt Dillon] had been on--by the way, that's another thing I used to talk about on GUNSMOKE. One of the things I loved about the way it was written in those days was that Marshal Dillon [Matt Dillon] made mistakes. In fact, the episode that I was doing, he'd come in on a stagecoach because Chester had said to Doc, “You know, he's out chasing so and so,” you know, “he's gonna come in with this gangster.” I keep using the wrong word--[INT: Outlaw. Outlaw.] Outlaw, thank you. That's the word, yeah. Thank you. [INT: You're welcome. I got one for it.] So he said, “He’s gonna capture this guy,” and then in comes the stagecoach and Dillon [Matt Dillon] gets off the stagecoach and takes—and he's got his saddle on him. He said, "What happened to the outlaw that you're chasing?" He said, "Well, I got close enough to put salt on his tale,” remember that phrase, “but he got away. He shot my horse out from under me." "What?" And, oh, that was a different episode, pardon me. [INT: Alright, alright.] But okay. But that wasn’t what the show was about. It was about something else, but he had been on this stagecoach. And what I loved about him was that he was a human, Marshal. Sometimes the outlaw--that's that good word, got away. [INT: Yeah.] Years later, when I came back to GUNSMOKE when it was an hour show, I was directing for John Manley. And I said to—I was reading the scripts and I said to Dillon [Matt Dillon], to Jim Arness [James Arness], I said, "Jeez, you don't make any mistakes anymore." He said, "Yeah? What about it?" I said, "Well, this is super marshal." He said, "Yeah, what do you expect?" You know, I mean, they had made him into a superhero that never made mistakes, which I did like as well. I mean, I did the show and I had fun doing it, but okay. So I'm back to GUNSMOKE, first time, half hour, Pernell Roberts, a lot of complaint about my work because I'm crossing the line, so on. And it was turned over to editing. Okay? I was invited to a running. Norman MacDonnell was the Producer. I was sitting in the theater, watching this thing unfold and my jaw got dropping lower and lower and my shoulders slumped more and more. And I--what was unfolding on the screen was so turgid, was so awful. I thought, "Oh my god! Did I do this?" This was awful. And it ground to a halt. It felt like four days. And the lights came up and everybody was slumped lower in their seat. Silence. And I said to MacDonnell [Norman MacDonnell], I said, "Could I ask who cut this thing?" And a hand went up timidly. It was a guy. And I said to Norman MacDonnell, I said, "Can I spend some time in the cutting room with this gentleman?” I said, “I think there's a few things that we can straighten out." And he said, "Anything you can do. Okay." With the despairing look of the—I mean they knew. This guy came from comedy. What does he know about westerns? [INT: Right.] I went in the cutting room, I spent about three days, and I started with, take out all of this, he had some incredible preamble. I said, "Just remove that.” I said, “Start here." And we marked the and ran the film. I said, "Stop here. Here's where you want a close-up, here's where you want--" I went right through the film--three days worth of editing. [INT: Right, right.] We put it together. I said, okay now—we invited everybody to run. Well, everybody sat bolt upright. The thing just sparked. It just clicked off the screen, it was terrific. And MacDonald [Norman MacDonnell] said, "My god, what have you done?” He said, “It's wonderful." I was hired on the spot to do the rest of the year, along with Ted Post. Ted [Ted Post] had one week. I had the opposite. And that year at the Emmys, that editor won the award for cutting. [INT: You're kidding. That's great.] He's gone now, so I can tell the story, but I wish I had saved the picture. He's holding up his Emmy saying, "This really belongs to you." It was very sweet. But he didn't have a clue, because--I guess because I was doing things that were a little bit off-center.


INT: Let's talk about camera. What, you know, there's a style of camera that you use for, you know, telling a comedy. There's a style of camera that you use for doing these dramas. Is there or is there?
JR: What I try to do is to be anonymous. I don't want to—I don’t like camera tricks. And by tricks, I'm not talking about special effects today. I'm talking about Directors who shoot up somebody's crotch or get the martini glass framed in the foreground or the something that said, "Look at me." I used to not like Directors that said, "Look at me. Look how clever I am. Look at what I'm doing." In fact, even wonderful Producer-Directors like Stanley Kramer would make mistakes, I thought, because in watching JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG, I almost became sick at the revolving--yeah, you just did the gesture. The dolling camera that kept going round and round and took away from what was being said. I said, "We're losing the focus here." In fact, jeez, this is—oh, what a sweetheart Stanley Kramer-- was a wonderful man, a great Producer, a great Director. But I was sitting next to him one day at a board meeting and I was doodling and it was a lot of circles and, you know, whirls and obviously—meanderings, okay? And he said, "Is that the product of a tortured mind?" he said to me. And I said, "No, it's the dolly track from JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG." [Laughs] And he went, "Ooh, okay. Okay." [Laughs] I don't wanna play with you.


INT: Now, you mentioned earlier James Wong Howe. Let's talk about some camera stuff.
JR: Oh yeah. Well, I never knew him, but Jim Backus used to talk about him all the time. James Wong Howe was an anomaly. A man of obvious Chinese descent who was an Academy Award-winning cinematographer in the, I guess, late 30s [1930s], early 40s [1940s]. And as a sideline, he opened a Chinese restaurant on Ventura Boulevard. And he worked at Universal [Universal Pictures] a lot, you know. This goes back to, you were talking about the Director who--oh, it was Vincente Minnelli, who said, "Back up, back up" and he said, "take down that wall." It was ten, ten feet. They took down the wall down to accommodate his camera position, which was astounding. [INT: You got it.] And I said, "Why didn't he change lenses?" You know, okay. So the story is that one lunchtime, James Wong Howe, on his break, drove over to his restaurant and there found a still cameraman taking a picture of the front of his new restaurant to put on the menu. And he observed this man quietly. The man looking through the lens, “No, not good.” And he backed up and now he looked through a lens and he backed up, and now he was off the sidewalk and he was in the parking lane and he looked. He said, “No, no. It's no good,” and he backed up. Now he's in the lane of traffic, which is moving. And James Wong Howe said to him, "Hey, excuse me,” he said, “you know, you're doing something dangerous. Why won't you just change to a wider angle lens?" And the still man said, "You take care of the chop suey, China boy. I'll do the photography." You ever heard the story? [INT: Yeah. Yeah.] Oh, I'm sorry. [INT: It's great! No, it’s great.] But it’s a--China boy? Now, can you imagine?


INT: Now you were also talking about Hal Mohr who was also a camera--
JR: Hal Wallis? [INT: No, not Hal Wallis the Producer. I thought this was in relationship to Academy Awards in 1953 or something.] Oh, Hal Mohr. [INT: Yeah.] Yeah, I was assigned to the very first Academy Awards telecast--the 25th Academy Awards, at the Pantages Theater, and the Director was Bill Bennington and I was the Associate Director, but doing some of the segmentation myself, ‘cause it was very complicated. Bob Hope was the master of ceremonies. [INT: MC?] And every presenter had been a former Academy Award winner. It was really star-studded. And they were all very nervous because--especially the women. They were saying, “Television! 1953. Television, my god!” And they hired Hal Mohr who--in fact, I hadn't know him. In fact, when I was on JOAN DAVIS [I MARRIED JOAN DAVIS], I'd already know him through this this. And he was there to satisfy the women particularly. That Hal [Hal Mohr], who had been known as a women's cinematographer, would take care of them. And I don't know what he did 'cause it was like, you know, piss on a griddle, finally. It was still—[INT: Still a lot of hot lights.] A lot of hot light. But I remember the incident very well, because I was such a meticulous Assistant, Associate Director that I had timed everything so meticulously that I knew at every second where we were with respect to what was going on, and Milton Berle started to go over and we--I said, "Look, we gotta make an adjustment here." And I think it's the only time in the history of the Academy Awards that it got off on time. [INT: Wow.] And I did it. [INT: Wow.] I'm very proud of that. [INT: You should be.]


INT: Let’s segue into Assistant Directors and how they function for you. Now, obviously you’ve made a bunch of features as well, so you've had the experience of having them there, as well as on the television shows. What's the relationship and how does it work well?
JR: Oh my god, the most important guy next to the cameraman, I must say. The symbiotic relationship is more directed to the cameraman, I think, than assistant, especially in television when the Assistant [Assistant Director] frequently works for the company. I remember one day at Universal [Universal Pictures], I was doing RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, I think it was. I said--I was in a naughty scene and I was working on the scene. It wasn't coming easy, but I have a clock in my head. I know pretty well where I am at all times. And I noticed, in those days, the Assistants were always on the telephone to the front office, and they were reporting in. And there will be more and more agitation the longer you went, you could—well, you know, you've been there. So I saw my assistant on the phone and then he came rushing over and he said, "John [John Rich], John [John Rich]! You don't have time to direct this scene." And I looked at him and I said, "You know, I know you mean well, and I know you're working for the front office, but the day I don't have time to direct a scene is the day you're out of business," so I said, "so calm down. I know where to make it up." I said, "I'll be alright. I'll get there. But I've gotta get this scene. This is a pivotal scene and I want to get it right, so be patient." He’s, "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." But Universal [Universal Pictures] was another place where I was doing a western and one day in the middle of the shot, here comes a striped canvas motorized something—a bus, a, what do you call, a trolley? [INT: Yes.] Some kind of thing was--I said, “Oh, jeez.” I said to the assistant, “Get that god damn thing out of my shot!" He said, "I can't." I said, "What do you mean you can't?" He said, "It's the tour." I said, "What's the tour?" They had just begun the Universal tour. They're selling tickets to--I said, "You mean, and is that gonna come right through here? The camera position and everything?" He said, "Yeah." I said, "You mean I'm gonna be looked at by people who are paying a fee for this?" He said, "Yeah, I guess so." I said, "I wanna be paid for that." I said, "I'm not gonna be standing here like a dress Actor pretending to be a Director and have somebody gawk at me." So I made everybody turn their back. I said, "Turn away." And then I went to the front office and said, "Is this gonna be the way you conduct business in this lot?" And they said, "Oh yeah, that's a big thing, the tour." I said, "You're gonna have to do it without me. I will not work here again." [INT: Wow.] Well, I did subsequently, but they rerouted the tour. Somebody finally figured out you better not go through a set. You go around it. Nonsense. [INT: Now they go through.]


INT: Now, you've had experience as a theatrical film Director as well. Do you--is there a difference at all in the way you function as a Director between this and any of the other experiences that you've had in television?
JR: I'm more impatient on a feature, because the lighting takes so long. It drives me up a wall. I say, you know, you got rehearsal with the Actors, I give them positions that are marked, second team comes in, all we can do is go off on the side and talk about it or rehearse lines or whatever. But they're ready. I wanna get going. And then, of course--now, it's not the cameraman's fault, I mean, the Director of Photography. They're doing the best they can. They've got antiquated equipment, they have shades and lights, barn doors, and this and that. And the better the Cameraman, the more artistic the lighting, and it just takes forever. But in television, it's a little more slapdash, you know. You can get away with more 'cause they didn't bother lighting the walls the way you do on a feature. So I grew quite impatient, even with a guy like Lucien Ballard, who was wonderful. I mean, a gentleman, an excellent photographer. [INT: Great Cinematographer.] God, he's gone now. I miss him. Did you ever work with Lucien [Lucien Ballard]? [INT: No, I just know his work. His work was great.] He was wonderful. But he, he, too, was slower than I would like, but he was wonderful, so I can't complain about him. But I’ve had other—in fact, I did, I think I did three or four pictures with Lucien [Lucien Ballard]. I'll tell you a story about--that involves editing, final cut, and doing something a little daring on the set, okay? It all comes in one piece. I had—the scene was--I was doing ROUSTABOUT with Elvis Presley and Barbara Stanwyck. How do you like that for a canella? And she was so wonderful to work with. I mean she was just great. [INT: Right.] And Elvis [Elvis Presley] was okay, but he was not an Actor. I hate to say this--I didn't think he was a singer, but then what the hell did I know about, about songs, you know? I tolerated the singing and I tried to make him a better Actor. And I think he was a better Actor because of Barbara Stanwyck. I mean, I kept saying, "You know what? You're gonna have to come up to bat against this woman. She's gonna mop the floor with you unless you…" “Oh, yes sir, Mr. Rich [John Rich]. One day I had to read him off because we had a nine o'clock call and Barbara Stanwyck was standing, as she always did, in her marks, standing, lines rehearsed, ready to go, nine o'clock. And Elvis [Elvis Presley] was late. And he came at about at 9:15, 9:20, and I took him aside and I said, "I wanna tell you something. You're a big star, but that woman was a star long before you were born. She's a wonderful Actor, she's ready to work at nine o'clock--that's the call." I said, "As long as I'm on this picture,” I said, “you must never keep her waiting again. Don't do that. It's impolite, it's costly to the company, and it's so rude to this wonderful performer. Don't do that." He said, "Oh, yes, sir, Mr. Rich [John Rich]." He was always very polite. Always, "Mr. Rich [John Rich]. Mr. Rich [John Rich]. Yes, sir." But a sad character, very sad. But anyway, I had this idea. So this is a carnival picture. [INT: Right.] And the picture—the idea was, he was on a Ferris wheel. The carnival is closed down. He's now working as a roustabout.