at his retirement
party from The Toronto Star,
holding a blown-up picture
of himself from the cover
of STAR WEEK magazine.
Film and TV director Joseph Pevney (right)
poses with Rock Hudson and Cyd Charisse on the
set of his 1958 film "Twilight of the Gods."
A day with a
movie and TV director
JIM BAWDEN, veteran TV columnist and show biz feature writer
recently retired from The Toronto Star, joins us as a
regular staff member this week. He begins by re-creating his
1985 interview with director Joseph Pevney, best known today
as the director who did 14 episodes of the original "StarTrek"
TV series. Pevney died last month at age 96.
By JIM BAWDEN
Its strange but
the death of Hollywood director Joe Pevney at 96 actually
got to me. Id interviewed the guy when he was about to
retire in 1985
and he had me believing he was born in 1921 (the obituaries say
Whatever his age he was sprightly that day in June of 1985 and
our lunch at Hamburger Hamlet in Century City went on most of
I was then collecting a book of interviews
on TV directors, still to be published, but here are highlights
of our talk:
Q: I know you were
a child soprano in vaudeville and later a journeyman
stage actor in plays like "Key Largo" with Paul Muni.
Then came acting in such films as "Body and Soul" with
John Garfield. But how did you get to make the jump to directing?
A: Its what
I always wanted to do. Look at this face: It was made for gangster
films and thats all. Universal-International in 1950 was
trying to reassert itself with medium budgeted pictures and producer
Ralph Dietrich, who knew me well, signed me to direct "Shakedown"
with Howard Duff as a nasty newspaper photographer. It was what
we call an AB, a B budget but with aspirations. I
managed to polish it off in three weeks and Howard got great
Then I was assigned to direct "Undercover
Girl" with Alexis Smith, who had just been dropped by Warners.
She played a female cop handling the dope racket. We shot it
mostly in tenements destined to be torn down for the next L.A.
freeway and my producer, Aubrey Schenk, sold it to theatres with
lurid publicity and it was UIs most profitable picture
of the year. It cost so little most of the earnings were pure
profit and I was in.
Q: Its said
you discovered Rock Hudson.
A: He was already at UI when I got there. Used him in "Shakedown"
in a bit. Thats where he told me Joe, my contract
says I dont have to open doors and speak at the same time.
We soon got him cured of that. UI wanted to make its own stars
so we got Rock. Dick Long, people like that and plopped them
into "Air Cadet" (1951) which had a limited budget
but some sturdy air photography. Then we had him in boxing shorts
in "Iron Man" (1951), a Jeff Chandler boxing epic I
polished off in less than a month. And by then Rock was making
the fan magazines although he never did learn to act.
Q: Sounds like
all these pictures were the same.
A: Not really.
I made "The Strange Door" (1951) with Charles Laughton
and Boris Karloff, whod whisper to me "I say isnt
Charlie boy really hamming it up in this scene?" But I met
my match with Loretta Young. She really scared me. Knew everything
about the making of a picture. "Joe, dear, what lens are
you using here?" shed ask. I filled her swear box
on that one. Jeff Chandler, her co-star was petrified of her.
The picture was "Because Of You" (1952). In one scene
I had her massaging his bare back --after all she was a dope-runners
moll turned nurses aide, (so) what was wrong with that?
Scenes like that made it a huge hit and Loretta asked for me
again for "It Happens Every Thursday" (1953), which
turned out to be her final film before she jumped to TV. It was
a deadly dull comedy and I told co-star John Forsythe hed
be better in TV than movies. Nobody had fun on a Loretta Young
picture, shed become so preachy.
...could get "preachy"
Q. It sounds like you
never took your movies seriously.
A: I had Alan Ladd
as a Foreign Legionnaire in "Desert Legion" (1953).
We all laughed through that one. These adventures were shot in
Technicolor but could not run more than 80 minites or so because
they were all shown as double bills. Look, in "Yankee Pasha"
(1954) I was told to use Mamie Van Doren as a harem girl. In
"Play Girl" (1954) Colleen Miller from Nebraska rooms
with Shelley Winters in Manhattan and trouble ensues. One had
to laugh through such nonsense.
Q: Tell me about
Joan Crawford in "Female On The Beach"(1955).
A: She took one
look at Jeff Chandler and said "Mommy wants some of that!"
Jeff said she was all over him all the time. It was a Crawford
film noir, meaning somebody was trying to kill her. We
shot it in a vacant beach
pad at Malibu with great cliffs and after dark it looked quite
carried her emotions around on her arm. You want hysterical,
so hysterical some scenes played like a spoof. But she wouldnt
down and consequently audiences tittered at the wrong places.
Crawford really did
go for Jeff Chandler when
they made this picture together.
Q: You then went into
bigger budgeted stories.
A: "Away All
Boats"(1956) was designed to highlight the studios
younger stars: Jeff Chandler, George Nader, Lex Barker, with
such veterans as Dick Boone and Charlie McGraw free to steal
scenes as they wished. And it made a lot of dough. Then Jimmy
Cagney chose me to direct "Man of A
Thousand Faces" (1957), the life story of the great Lon
Chaney. Cagney was meticulous about getting the makeup right
and researching all
aspects of the story and it was his second favorite performance
George M. Cohan (in "Yankee Doodle Dandy"). In fact
1957 wasnt a bad year at all for me, I also had the studios
biggest grosser, "Tammy and the Bachelor" (1957) with
Debbie Reynolds who was hardly a teenager by then. But the studio
forgot to sign her for future Tammy adventures so Sandra Dee
had to take over.
Q: Explain why
you went into TV so quickly.
A: I had a wife,
a famous one (former child star Mitzi Green) and a
growing family. UI went into another redesign and by 1960 only
budgeted As were released. My kind of moderately budgeted
was dead. I was offered TV work right away, I took it and I loved
Q: An early hit
for you was Wagon Train?
A: I remember my
first, a 1959 episode was called "The Vivian Carter Story"--
at the end of the first day I was told I was 10 pages behind.
But the cast pulled for me and we got through it. The guest stars
were Lorne Greene, Jane Darwell, Patric Knowles and Phyllis Thaxter
thats a better cast than I had in some of my movies.
Two weeks later I completed a second with Frances Bavier and
Vera Miles and next I found myself directing Dame Judith Anderson.
Theres a funny story there--Ward Bond was a sponge of an
actor. If he was acting opposite Lorne Greene hed start
behaving, talking like Lorne and not even know it. So how was
I to tell him to stop speaking like Dame Judith Anderson? Another
memory: I directed John McIntire in his first "Wagon Train"
episode and that was years before he replaced Ward as the new
Q: Looks like westerns
were your favorite TV genre.
A: Lorne remembered
me from "Wagon Train" and used me on "Bonanza"
six times (1968-72). I also did "Laredo," "High
Chaparral," "Cades County." On a western
the outdoor stuff had to be done on the first or second take.
Thats why the genre has virtually disappeared. All those
western production companies supplying the horses, gear, coaches,
have all gone and to do a western these days (in 1985) the cost
would be catastrophic.
Q. How many letters
do you get about Star Trek?
A: Dozens a month!
If only I had kept a diary I could publish it and
be rich. People want specifics and every hiccup on set. Ill
look at an episode and remember stuff but not without prodding.
We were not a hit
--the gun of cancellation was always being pointed at us. The
a hit in syndication because of Gene Roddenberrys writing,
it has a resonance. But we did a lot of laughing on set. My best
episode was "The Trouble With Tribbles" but we couldnt
do that one todaythe whole "Star Trek" phenomenon
has become so deadly serious. Id alternate on the second
year with Marc Daniels. Hed be shooting on the floor and
Id be in pre-production on the next episode. Such a hard
schedule. Thats why I loved doing sitcoms--"Bewitched,"
"Petticoat Junction." I did 11 "Munsters"
in 1964-65. Getting typecast--its a directors nightmare
just as much as an actors. I did six "Alfred Hitchcocks"
(1962-65) and he told me on the set if only he could do a comedy
just once like I was doing.
....plagued with "tribbles"
in the famous "Star Trek"
episode directed by Pevney
Q: Why quit when youve
just got such raves for directing "Trapper John, M.D."?
A: Its best
to go before being asked to decamp. On "Trapper John,"
I did every other one for a spell, alternating with Vincent Sherman,
who has a few years on me. Hed say, "Kid, the next
one is yours. When I started TV series work was considered
an elephants graveyard for directors. I always hated to
dawdle so I took to it and Im grateful. But just as I dont
want to go back to vaudeville I think Ill pass when future
assignments are offered.
©2008 by James Bawden.
FILMS OF JOSEPH PEVNEY
(1950) with Howard Duff
2. "Undercover Girl" (1950) with Alexis Smith
3. "Air Cadet" (1951) with Stephen McNally
4. "Iron Man" (1951) with Jeff Chandler
5. "The Lady From Texas" (1951) with Howard Duff
6. "The Strange Door" (1951) with Charles Laughton,
7. "Meet Danny Wilson" (1951) with Frank Sinatra
8. "Flesh and Fury" (1952) with Tony Curtis
9. "Just Across the Street" (1952) with Ann Sheridan
10. "Because of You" (1952) with Loretta Young
11. "Desert Legion" (1953) with Alan Ladd
Natalie Wood in
12. "It Happens Every Thursday" (1953) with Loretta
13. "Back to God's Country" (1953) with Rock Hudson
14. "Yankee Pasha" (1954) with Jeff Chandler
15. "Playgirl" (1954) with Shelley Winters
16. "Three Ring Circus" (1954) with Dean Martin, Jerry
17. "Six Bridges To Cross" (1955) wiht Tony Curtis
18. "Foxfire" (1955) with Jane Russell
19. "Female on the Beach" (1955) with Joan Crawford
20. "Congo Crossing" (1956) with Virginia Mayo
21. "Away All Boats" (1956) with Jeff Chandler
22. "Istanbul" (1957) with Errol Flynn
23. "Tammy and the Bachelor" (1957) with Debbie Reynolds
24. "The Midnight Story" (1957) with Tony Curtis
25. "Man of A Thousand Faces" (1957) with James Cagney
26. "Twilight For the Gods" (1958) with Rock Hudson
27. "Torpedo Run" (1958) with Glenn Ford
28. "Cash McCall" (1960) with James Garner, Natalie
29. "The Crowded Sky" (1960) with Dana Andrews
30. "The Plunderers" (1960) with Jeff Chandler
31. "Portrait of A Mobster" (1961) with Vic Morrow
32. "The Night of the Grizzly" (1966) with Clint Walker
Joseph Pevney also directed
episodes of the following television series:
1. "Johnny Staccato"
(1959) with John Cassavetes
2. "Bus Stop" (1961) with Marilyn Maxwell
3. "The New Breed" (1962) with Leslie Nielsen
4. "The New Loretta Young Show" (1962) with Loretta
5. "Ben Casey" (1962) wiht Vincent Edwards
6. "Going My Way" (1962) with Gene Kelly
7. "Wagon Train" (1959-64) 11 episodes
8. "Bewitched" (1965) with Elizabeth Montgomery
9. "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour" (1962-65) five episodes
10. "Kraft Suspense Theatre" (1965)
11. "The Big Valley" (1965) with Barbara Stanwyck
12. "The Loner" (1965-66) six episodes
13. "The Munsters" (1964-66) 11 episodes
14. "The Legend of Jesse James" (1966) with Christopher
15. "Pistols 'n' Petticoats" (1966) with Ann Sheridan
16. "12 O'Clock High" (1966) with Robert Lansing
17. "The Fugitive" (1966) with David Janssen
18. "T.H.E. Cat" (1966) with Robert Loggia
19. "Laredo" (1967) with Neville Brand
20. "Mission: Impossible" (1967) with Peter Graves
21. "Star Trek" (1967-68) with William Shatner (14
22. "Marcus Welby, M.D." (1969) with Robert Young
23. "The Virginian" (1969-70) seven episodes
24. "Adam-12" (1969-70) 10 episodes
25. "The High Chaparral" (1968-70) three episodes
26. "Cade's County" (1971) with Glenn Ford
27. "The Partners" (1972) with Don Adams
28. "Bonanza" (1968-72) with Lorne Greene (six episodes)
29. "Search" (1972) with Hugh O'Brian
30. "My Darling Daughters Anniversary" (1973)
31. "Who is the Black Dahlia?" (1975) TV movie with
Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
32. "Mobile One" (1975) with Jackie Cooper
33. "Emergency" (1974-76) seven episodes
34. "Petrocelli" (1974-76) four episodes
35. "Executive Suite" (1976) three episodes
36. "Lanigan's Rabbi" (1977) with Art Carney
37. "Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries" (1977-78) seven
38. "Lucan" (1978) with Kevin Brophy
39. "Fantasy Island" (1978) with Ricardo Montalban
40. "Sword of Justice" (1978) with Dack Rambo
41. "Grandpa Goes to Washington" (1979) with Jack Albertson
42. "Cliff Hangers: The Secret Empire" (1979) three
43. "The Incredible Hulk" (1978-79) with Bill Bixby,
44. "How the West Was Won" (1979) with James Arness
45. "Mysterious Island of Beautiful Women" (1979) TV
46. "The Rockford Files" (1979) with James Garner
47. "Hagen" (1980) with Chad Everett
48. "Palmerstown, USA" (1981) with Jonelle Allen
49. "Little House on the Prairie" (1982) with Michael
50. "The Paper Chase" (1983) with John Houseman
51. "The Rousters" (1983) with Chad Everett
52. "CBS Schoolbreak Special" (1984)
53. "Trapper John, M.D." (1979-85) eight episodes
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