Born May 14, 1930, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Died March 8, 2008, Los Angeles, California.
Schlitz Playhouse: “Homecoming” (9/5/52)
Star Stage: “Being Nice to Emily” (4/13/56)
Studio One: “Snap Your Fingers” (6/18/56)
Studio One: “Emmaline” (7/16/56)
Kraft Television Theatre: “All Those Beautiful Girls” (5/29/57)
Studio One: “The Human Barrier” (7/29/57)
General Motors 50th Anniversary Show (special material) (11/17/57)
Studio One: “The Enemy Within” (5/19/58)
This Man Dawson: “The Silent Man” (co-teleplay) (1959) [unverified]
Goodyear Theatre: “Point of Impact” (co-teleplay) (11/23/59)
Alcoa Theatre: “Capital Gains” (teleplay only) (2/1/60)
77 Sunset Strip: “Publicity Brat” (teleplay only) (4/5/60)
Surfside 6: “According to Our Files” (co-teleplay) (10/24/60)
Surfside 6: “Local Girl” (10/31/60)
Shirley Temple Storybook: “The Reluctant Dragon” (teleplay only) (11/13/60)
Surfside 6: “Yesterday’s Hero” (1/23/61)
Surfside 6: “An Overdose of Justice” (5/22/61)
Checkmate: “Through a Dark Glass” (11/1/61) [DVD]
Checkmate: “The Crimson Pool” (11/22/61)
Checkmate: “The Star System” (1/10/62)
Checkmate: “Remembrance of Crimes Past” (2/28/62)
Checkmate: “The Someday Man” (5/2/62)
77 Sunset Strip: “The Lovely American” (co-teleplay) (5/4/62)
Alcoa Premiere: “The Town That Died” (teleplay only) (5/25/62)
Alcoa Premiere: “Jeeney Ray” (co-teleplay) (3/14/63) [WGA Award]
Mr. Novak: “Love in the Wrong Season” (12/3/63)
Mr. Novak: “The Boy Without a Country” (co-teleplay) (12/10/63)
The Twilight Zone: “Ninety Years Without Slumbering” (from a George Clayton Johnson story) (12/20/63) [DVD]
Peyton Place (staff writer, 1964-1965)
The Rogues: “Wherefore Art Thou, Harold?” (story and co-teleplay) (3/28/65)
The Rat Patrol: “The Exhibit A Raid” (2/6/67) [DVD]
The Girl From UNCLE: “The Fountain of Youth Affair” (teleplay and co-story) (2/7/67)
The Flying Nun: “A Bell For San Tanco” (teleplay only) (9/28/67) [DVD]
The Flying Nun: “The Fatal Hibiscus” (teleplay only) (10/5/67) [DVD]
The Flying Nun: “Polly Wants a Cracked Head” (10/19/67) [DVD]
The Flying Nun: “Ah Love, Could You and I Conspire...” (10/26/67) [DVD]
The Rat Patrol: “The Fifth Wheel Raid” (12/11/67) [DVD]
The Flying Nun: “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” (12/21/67) [DVD]
The Flying Nun: “The Puce Albert” (3/21/68) [DVD]
Room 222: “The Laughing Majority” (2/30/70)
Barefoot in the Park: “Something Fishy” (11/12/70)
Room 222: “Half Way” (11/18/70)
The Name of the Game: “I Love You, Billy Baker” Part 1 (11/20/70)
The Name of the Game: “I Love You, Billy Baker” Part 2 (11/27/70)
The Partridge Family: “This Is My Song” (12/4/70) [DVD]
The Partridge Family: “My Son, the Feminist” (12/11/70) [DVD]
The Name of the Game: “A Capitol Affair” (2/12/71)
A Howling in the Woods (telefilm; from a novel by Velda Johnson) (11/5/71)
ABC Afternoon Playbreak: “This Child Is Mine” (12/7/72)
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (unsold pilot; co-teleplay) (5/28/75)
Bell, Book and Candle (unsold pilot; from the John Van Druten play) (9/8/76)
Murder in Peyton Place (telefilm) (10/3/77)
Harold Robbins’ 79 Park Avenue (co-teleplay) (10/16/77, 10/17/77, 10/18/77)
Hawaii Five-O: “The Bark and the Bite” (teleplay and co-story) (2/8/79)
Hart to Hart: “With This Gun I Thee Wed” (teleplay only) (12/4/79) [DVD]
The Dream Merchants (telefilm) (co-teleplay, from Harold Robbins’ novel) (5/12/80; 5/19/80)
The Other Victim (telefilm) (11/4/81)
Intimate Agony (telefilm) (co-teleplay and story) (3/21/83)
Remington Steele: “A Steele at Any Price” (co-teleplay) (11/1/83) [DVD]
Remington Steele: “Scene Steelers” (co-teleplay) (11/15/83) [DVD]
Remington Steele: “Blood Is Thicker Than Steele” (1/31/84) [DVD]
Remington Steele: “Woman of Steele” (co-teleplay) (3/27/84) [DVD]
Remington Steele: “Let’s Steele a Plot” (co-teleplay) (12/18/84) [DVD]
Father Dowling Mysteries: “The Woman Scorned Mystery” (2/1/90)
Father Dowling Mysteries: “The Solid Gold Headache Mystery” (3/29/90)
The Survivors (1969)
As story consultant
Peyton Place (1965-1966)
Remington Steele (1982-1983) [DVD]
Peyton Place (1966)
As supervising producer
Remington Steele (1983-1984) [DVD]
Feature Films (as writer): The Baby and the Battleship (1956); Two People (1973).
Richard DeRoy had an unusual problem. DeRoy was a young playwright who liked to write urbane, Noel Coward-ish comedies and romances about wealthy, carefree people. His problem was that he was trying to break into television in the mid-fifties, A.M.: after “Marty,” Paddy Chayefsky’s Philco Television Playhouse script about the troubles of a shy, lovesick Bronx butcher. Once the 1955 film of Marty won the Oscar, the market clamored for more of the same, and penning a decent imitation-“Marty” was the surest ticket to a motion picture sale and a screenwriting contract.
Dick DeRoy had no interest in applying himself to anything so downmarket. Instead he wrote what he wanted, fantasies about witches and farces about fashion models that frustrated his agents and, eventually, his bosses at CBS.
It was ironic, of course. At any other time in the history of entertainment, a writer of such feathery, frothy instincts – one unburdened by a need to declaim about the sorry state of world affairs or the corrupt nature of mankind – would have been welcomed with open arms. Had he come along a decade earlier, DeRoy might have found a niche writing books for the Freed unit musicals at MGM. A decade before that he could have been a scenarist for Ernst Lubitsch’s or Mitchell Leisen’s sophisticated comedies at Paramount. But by the late fifties, even Billy Wilder was making a lot of movies about hookers. DeRoy was a man out of his time.
What to do? DeRoy’s dilemma was one of geography as well as timing. For as long as he stuck it out in New York, he struggled, writing spec scripts that didn’t sell and taking impersonal assignments just to get by. It wasn’t until he made the inevitable move to Hollywood – the transition that many more self-serious writers dreaded, or came to regret – that DeRoy truly flourished. There he found his metier: as a pop craftsman who infused an unusual level of wit and intelligence into a succession of genre programs that were rarely written with as much care or skill.
It would be difficult to overstate the value of the contributions Richard DeRoy made to a variety of shows now mostly dismissed, fairly or not, as junk TV: SurfSide 6, Checkmate, Peyton Place, The Flying Nun, The Partridge Family. His first significant Hollywood script was “Local Girl,” a sensitive SurfSide 6 – not, it turns out, an oxymoron.
DeRoy’s protagonist in “Local Girl” was Darcy Peyton, a gangster’s moll dripping with jewelry and furs, who has stolen an envelope full of cash from her wealthy benefactor. Darcy plans to flaunt this precarious success before the small-minded denizens of her dirt-road hometown, and hires Kenny Madison, one of the Surfside detectives, as a bodyguard to escort her there. A pair of thugs in pursuit of the purloined money provide a bit of menace, but DeRoy was permitted to place the emphasis on character and humor. His Darcy Peyton is full of pluck, and every time she suffers some reversal – like, say, the revelation that her real name is Ora Mae Purdy, or that the moonshiner beau who spurned her once before is now in cahoots with the gangsters – Darcy comes out swinging. It’s a rich character to find in 1960’s television equivalent of the drugstore dime novel.
DeRoy’s best scene has Darcy confronting her shotgun-toting Pa (Frank Ferguson), a venal redneck who’s indifferent to her return – until she waves a fistful of cash in his face. Furious, Darcy humiliates her father (or tries to; he’s oblivious to the insult) by paying him to sleep in the barn while Kenny stays the night in his house. A moment later, when she’s alone with Kenny, Darcy breaks down: “If he had just put his arm around me, or something.” DeRoy delights in Darcy’s strength but takes care to show the deep emotional wounds that have led her to confront her past.
Sue Ane Langdon, very southern and yet as voluptuously feminine as Marilyn Monroe, fits the part of Darcy like a glove, and even the limited Van Williams (who played Kenny Madison) holds up his end of their bouncy comic repartee. Because of them “Local Girl” really springs to life on screen and, as DeRoy noted in our interview, it got him all the work he wanted in Warner Bros.’ factory of private eye shows.
Sue Ane Langdon in SurfSide 6’s “Local Girl.”
At the same time DeRoy began writing for Universal’s imitative buddy-detective series, Checkmate. DeRoy’s Checkmates aren’t first-rate television – the dialogue is clunky and the mysteries devoid of surprise – but each of them contains a meaty, glamorous role for a female star. It’s worthwhile to contrast DeRoy’s disinterest in his male villains and their perfunctory schemes – art forgers concealing a past crime, a fading movie director plotting against a rival – with the depth of his empathy for the heroines. Every episode contained a study of the female vulnerability and resilience that fascinated DeRoy, whether it was as a photographer (Claire Bloom) blinded by an acid thrower, or a temperamental movie star (Elizabeth Montgomery) who’s really just an overgrown child clinging (literally) to her teddy bear.
“Remembrance of Things Past,” his penultimate Checkmate, contains a scene in which a woman spy Karen Vale (Angie Dickinson), just released from prison, enters a busy diner. The waitress ignores her as the other patrons gradually recognize Karen and then begin to slander her in stage whispers. Serenely, Karen ignores them until finally the private eye hero (Anthony George) can’t stand it any longer and insists that she be served. It’s another emblematic DeRoy moment.
Checkmate’s producer was Dick Berg, who in 1962 moved over to produce Universal’s prestigious anthology hour, Alcoa Premiere. DeRoy began to contribute scripts to that project and one of them, “Jeeney Ray,” a rewrite of Iris Dornfeld’s adaptation of her novel, earned him a Writers Guild Award. “Jeeney Ray” centered on the relationship between a mentally handicapped teenager (Brenda Scott) and her earthy stepmother (Joanna Moore). It was yet another contemplation of strong-willed women. The two Berg series solidified DeRoy’s commitment to the distaff protagonist, a motif that would prevail throughout the remainder of his career. Once again, the timing was off: in the era of the great movie stars, DeRoy might have been an ideal collaborator for Garbo or Crawford or Bette Davis.
A Writers Guild Award, said to be coveted more by writers than an Emmy, is generally guaranteed to elevate a recipient into the top ranks of the industry, and so DeRoy’s next assignment was for Mr. Novak, a high school drama run by one of the best writer-producers in television, E. Jack Neuman. “Love in the Wrong Season,” DeRoy’s finest effort for Mr. Novak, focused on a remedial reading teacher (Patricia Crowley) who reciprocates a student’s crush on her.
“Love in the Wrong Season” offers the provocative idea that Miss Wilder is susceptible to this type of forbidden romance because she finds the advances of adult males (specifically, the show’s English teacher lead, John Novak) aggressive and boorish. In DeRoy’s delicate calculus, Novak – the series’ putative hero – comes off as an insensitive prude, a not terribly appealing alternative to the sweet, eager-to-please boy (Tommy Kirk) who shares Miss Wilder’s fondness for romantic poetry. The episode concludes with things set firmly right by society’s age-appropriate standards, the boy shipped off to a different class and the teacher soundly principal-chastised. The feeling that builds up in DeRoy’s teleplay is not hysterical, however, but wistful. As his title instructs us, we have not witnessed something ugly, just a case of love in the wrong season.
Mr. Novak proved that DeRoy could write both adult and teenaged characters with authenticity. That was precisely the quality Paul Monash sought as he launched his 1964 television adaptation of the Grace Metalious novel Peyton Place. Monash’s creation remains one of the most misunderstood ventures in the history of television. Not at all the salacious, empty-headed trash that the term “soap opera” generally conveys, Peyton Place deserves a place amid the quality dramas of the sixties. Think of it as a Mr. Novak segment that happens to run for 267 hours instead of one. Certainly that’s how DeRoy and the other writers approached their task, building intricate, character-driven story arcs with a meticulousness that would drive a modern audience mad.
It’s generally a given now that a serial drama will unfold in real-life time – that a season of, say, ER will chronicle a year in the lives of its characters – but Peyton Place actually slowed down time, taking weeks to pore over critical days or even hours in its fictional timeline, then jumping months ahead after a set of stories reached their resolution. Nowhere else in American television has a staff of writers had the luxury of so much temporal real estate to explore the inner lives of their creations, and Peyton Place filled up with a large population of mercurial, fragile, moving, and realistically multi-faceted inhabitants. There was Betty Anderson (Barbara Parkins), a poster child for class resentment, torn between an essentially good-hearted nature and a compulsion to scheme or sleep her way to the top of the social ladder; Norman Harrington (Christopher Connelly), petulant and impetuous, thrown into turmoil after his mother’s sudden death and always second-best next to his golden-boy brother Rodney; Elliott Carson (Tim O’Connor), freed from prison after an unjust twenty-year sentence, channelling his pent-up emotions alternately into the warmth of a new family and righteous, sometimes violent crusades on behalf of the disenfranchised. Those are my favorites, but there were dozens more.
After an initial few months of instability, the Peyton Place writing staff coalesced under DeRoy’s leadership into an efficient, congenial team, most of them under forty and half of them women – a revolutionary demographic for mid-sixties prime time. Together this team maintained not only the narrative continuity of the series but the emotional truth of the characters with a remarkable fidelity. Peyton Place, a massive hit, inspired obsessive loyalty, and rarely have a series’ viewers been so richly rewarded for their close attention.
By the middle of 1966, DeRoy had been named one of the series’ two producers under Monash – he oversaw the writing staff while Everett Chambers supervised the cast and physical production – but he had grown restless. DeRoy walked away from a top job on a hit series to pursue his own speculative writing.
At least commercially, it was a bad decision. The play he wrote was not produced and when DeRoy re-entered the television industry it was at a lower rung than Peyton Place. He began writing scripts for half-hour comedies, mainly for his friend Bernard Slade, a sitcom guru ensconced at Columbia’s Screen Gems television factory.
If nothing else, DeRoy’s adventures in churning out Flying Nuns and Partridge Familys proved that he could author as groan-inducing a one-liner as anybody. To wit, from The Flying Nun’s “Ah Love, Could You and I Conspire?”:
Q: How well do you take dictation?
A: I don’t know, I’ve always lived in a democracy.
As he told me in our interview, DeRoy was more skilled at story construction than at dialogue, and when his sitcom segments are entertaining it’s because they lay a clever foundation for the requisite silliness. “Polly” addresses The Flying Nun’s essential problem of finding reasons to get its heroine airborne in a most adroit way: it saddles Sister Bertrille (Sally Field) with a foul-mouthed, orphaned parrot that goes missing in the last act, forcing her to take to the skies in pursuit. “Ah Love, Could You and I Conspire?” reworks the plot of “Local Girl,” turning the convent into a hideout for a gangster’s girl on the lam.
It would be overreaching to suggest that The Flying Nun drew out vast reserves of Deroy’s wit, although “Polly” gets in one good joke, a cutaway to two birdwatchers arguing about what species to which the winged postulant might belong. The Partridge Family, another Slade creation and a marginally smarter one, benefitted from two mischievous DeRoy premises. “This Is My Song” was a light, goofy variation on All About Eve, in which middle boy Danny (Danny Bonaduce) decides he’s a songwriter at a time when the family’s meal ticket, Keith (Shaun Cassidy), fears he’s “written out.” DeRoy works in a lot of insider movie references and a few zingy one-liners. (Danny gets the idea that he’s an artist after seeing Moulin Rouge on TV and Keith quips, “I’m glad he wasn’t watching Myra Breckenridge.”).
“My Son the Feminist” chronicles Keith’s fling with a teen activist (Jane Actman) and the band’s appearance at rally for the P.O.W. (“Power of Women”) group. The episode occupies a place in pop culture history as the broadcast debut of the Partridges’ massive hit song “I Think I Love You,” and it contains what I think is a dirty joke, in this line of dialogue heard over a public address system: “Due to technical difficulties beyond our control, the Partridge Family will not appear today. However, Miss Bancock, the girls’ phys ed coach, has agreed to step in and tell us about her crusade to get women into professional hockey.”
Miss Bancock, indeed: as DeRoy’s comments about his Peyton Place years reveal, he was not above sliding one by the censors just to see if he could get away with it.
In person, Dick DeRoy was a pixie, diminutive and elephant-eared; when I met him, late in his life, he reminded me a bit of the actor Ian Holm. Though all of his colleagues whom I spoke to about DeRoy expressed their admiration for his talent, they also described him in somewhat comic terms. “It was like a perfect sitcom plot,” remembered Peyton Place writer Gerry Day about the weeks after DeRoy learned that he was about to have his first child. “There was everything that usually happened in a pregnancy – the weight gain, the cravings for strange foods – only it happened to Dick instead of his wife.” Another Peyton Place staffer remembered taking DeRoy for long walks around the Fox lot to work off his stress over his impending fatherhood.
Dick had a way of expressing himself that I can only describe as bitchy (“I do, but I don't use it for this,” he replied when I asked, during a follow-up interview, if he had an e-mail address), but somehow it was never offensive. DeRoy was funny during our interview – erudite but profane. At the same time he offered some of the most straightforward and accurate insights into the nature of the television business that I’ve yet encountered. His pithy, economical sketches of the personalities he encountered had a drollery not unlike lines that might have been penned by his idol, Noel Coward.
The InterviewWhy did you choose to become a writer, particularly for television?
Partly because it was accessible. I grew up in Beverly Hills and went to Beverly High. We were not rich. I lived over a market. But I did grow up in Beverly Hills, and I saw that there was a very attractive lifestyle for writers. And in high school we had this weekly radio show on KNBC, a drama, and that’s really where I discovered this was something I liked doing. I started writing for that and acted in it as well. That was an incredible opportunity.
Then I went to Stanford, and they had a writing program that you could get credit for. I did a lot of writing for that, and nobody encouraged me until the last quarter, when one of the professors read a story of mine and he said, “You know, you have a real talent for satire.” I said, “Fine. You’re telling me now?” And then I was encouraged by a couple of other people at Stanford, and they were very helpful.
I got out of Stanford in ’51. I was in the reserves and in ’53 went on active duty. I finagled my way, with the help of somebody I’d been working with, to the training film studio in Astoria. I had always dreamed of being in New York.
I had a terrific job in the army. I was the company clerk. I was surrounded in the office by idiots, the commanding officer and a sergeant. Work that might take them all day, I could do in twenty minutes, and then I wrote. I had a typewriter, I had a telephone. Friday afternoon, that place was an empty shell. That place was loaded with guys who had their eye on the business. That’s where their hearts were. There were a few regular army people, but . . . upstairs, in another unit, we had Marty Starger, who became a big guy at ABC, and Ira Levin, who wrote Rosemary’s Baby.What were you doing when you made your first sale?
I worked on the waterfront in a freight forwarding office. I ran a machine from six at night till eleven, and then I would write by day. That’s how it happened. I think I got that half-hour adaptation as the first thing [“Being Nice to Emily”]. Somebody on the Theatre Guild of the Air, Mark Smith, was script consulting a show which was [called] Star Stage. He gave me an adaptation to do which was done with Anne Jeffreys, a glamour lady from the forties, and her husband, Robert Sterling, a very handsome man. A little arrogant.And you had sold something to Fireside Theatre before that in Los Angeles?
There was a show called Fireside Theatre that was my first credit. I may have sold two; I’m not sure. There was one about father and son cops, and one about a one-time football hero. That was partly due to the efforts of an agent who then became one of my closest friends, a woman named Miriam Geiger.
Miriam Geiger was with William Morris, then the biggest talent agency in the business. Was that a big deal, to land with that agency before you’d had any professional experience?
Yeah. I mean, Miriam was not a very high agent there, but she was an agent, and she spent the time with me. She was terrific. When I was introduced to her, I brought her this enormous pile of stuff. She later said, “I will never do this again. I will never read that much material!”
The living was not guaranteed, but you know what your expenses are, and it’s not like when you’re married and have kids and all of that. You can deal with it; you can improvise. I wish I had done more of them. But I was a grind. When I wasn’t working at the freight forwarding, I was at the typewriter.How did you manage to become a writer full-time?
A friend of mine from the Signal Corps was a cameraman named David Tapper. He was working on Camera Three with a man named Robert Herridge, who was an innovator and an independent. He took two of my scripts to Bob Herridge, these two comedies, and Herridge loved them and bought them and did them in summer Studio One.1 Then CBS immediately put me under contract. I got a monthly stipend, and I never got produced again by them.
I only know of about five or six scripts that were produced live before you went to L.A.
That’s about right.How long were you under contract to CBS?
A year.So were you idle, waiting for assignments, for some of that time?
No, I gave them outlines and they didn’t want to do them.For live anthologies?
Yes. I was pitching primarily to a woman who was the story editor [for CBS], Florence Britton. Florence was an ex-actress who played Tarzan’s mother in one of those movies.2 She and my agent then, Mary Howell, were, I believe, lovers. They lived together. And Mary worked for her aunt, who was a very prestigious play agent, Miriam Howell. Mary was a big booster for me.Tell me about the first two scripts you sold to Studio One.
I was writing sort of fey fantasy comedies. For one of those, I ripped off Bell, Book and Candle. Then there was a French girl named Francoise Sagan who published a novel at nineteen. Everybody was, “Who is she? What is this?” And I took that and turned it into a comedy.
Mary Howell kept saying, “You’ve got to stop writing these fantasies, because nobody’s going to buy them.” The thing at the time was “kitchen drama.” I don’t mean that disparagingly. They were stories of ordinary people.
The first show [“Snap Your Fingers”], Herridge cast the least glamorous actress I have ever seen. She [Nancy Sheridan] was from the days of actresses endlessly messing up their hair and being natural, and this was a story about a witch who was very glamorous and seductive. It was Lilli Palmer on stage and Kim Novak on screen, and she just didn’t sell this at all. And I was angry at Bob for casting her.
But the second one [“Emmaline”], it just was perfect. There was an actress named Deirdre Owen. I used to take her out. She was so talented, and she got married and had a baby and I think that was the end of it. They did an all-star production of Man and Superman on Broadway, but Brooks Atkinson, who was the pillar of the New York Times theatre critics said that the only person who knew what she was doing in Bernard Shaw was Deirdre. She had a real feel for theatre and character. She could have been a very major player.What do you remember about Robert Herridge?
He loved writers, I think, and gave them plenty of freedom. There weren’t those arduous meetings: “Well, now on page three . . .” You know, you did it and he loved it. He was very experimental in certain ways. I think he was a little bit innocent, and he didn’t know how to function in the halls of networks. I think a lot of people, he didn’t like, and a lot of people didn’t like him. He was probably very threatening by his naivete, his innocence. He did a lot for me. I was twenty-five or twenty-six. There was an article in the New York Times, the whole business.
And then I got stuck at winter Studio One in a field that was so alien to me, which was Air Force shows. But they were fun, and I had to go to various places to research them. I think what happened was that I read an article, or [producer] Norman Felton read an article, about this camp in Colorado where they set up sham prisoner of war setups, and you had to go through it and survive it. One of us thought, it’s going to be a good story, so we did it. Then I did one on how they investigated [a test plane crash]. It wasn’t my metier, but I seemed to do an acceptable job, and I was happy to be on the air.
I did those two shows for Norman, and I could see around me that the jobs were not going to be plentiful. Live television was really dying out by the time I got into it. I did Kraft and so on, but it really did shrink back there to almost no place for a television writer. It had been such a marvelous field of opportunity ten years before. So I came back here [to Los Angeles], which was a big mistake. I was broke. I should have stayed in New York and been broke and written plays.
Oh, there was one other job I had in New York. There was a woman named Helen Deutsch, who was an enormously successful Hollywood screenwriter. Helen was hired, at God knows what fortune, to write the General Motors Fiftieth Anniversary Show. Big-time television, two hours, and she needed some help. I did a sketch, and Roger Hirson did one, for Helen. I would come up from my little apartment in the Village to the Sherry Netherlands to Helen’s suite.3
Helen was really a very difficult lady, but she was nice to me. She was a fighter. She was tough. I remember sitting in her suite when the manager came up to say, “Your bill has been lingering, Ms. Deutsch.” And I mean, I thought she was – verbally – going to castrate him. I looked the other way. She was that kind of woman. She was rather homely. Rather! She was very homely. Every day, when Roger and I were there, these two attractive young guys, at some point in the meeting she would walk to the mirror over the fireplace and say, “Oh, my God, I look a mess!” And of course that was the cue for Roger and myself to say, “Oh, no, Helen!”What happened at CBS? Did they end your contract?
They never renewed me. Let’s put that in a nice way.And that was what drove you to emigrate west?
It looked like it was time to come. There were agents from here who would come to New York and take me to breakfast and say, “It’s time to come west.”Did you have a specific assignment in Los Angeles, or did you just move out cold?
Well, I had parents who lived here, so I had no expenses.
You moved back in with your parents?
Yeah, for just under a year. Everybody in the family worked, so I had the apartment all day to write. And I must have gotten some kind of job very quickly –you know, a money job. By this time filmed television drama, and comedy, were grabbing [people]. So there was work.
You worked on some of the Warner Bros. detective shows, like 77 Sunset Strip and SurfSide 6.
That was sort of my first steady job. It was as good as being under contract. I had a couple of producers who, any time I was available, had jobs for me. One of them was a good friend, a man named Jerry Davis. Another was Bill D’Angelo.4
I watched “Local Girl” recently and thought it was about as good as a show like SurfSide 6 can get.
When I came back to Los Angeles, it’s the first job I got. “Local Girl” was special. That really established me, because it had character. For years after that show, Sue Ane Langdon, who played that girl, would call me, hoping to hear that I was writing another one for her. The producer was Jerry Davis. That’s part of what kept me there. He was just a wild man. Funny and dear, but not above dropping his pants on the balcony at Warner Bros.From there you moved on to Checkmate, another detective show for which you wrote a series of very polished, character-driven scripts.
I had a certain kind of – not edge, but I like to do sophisticated people. And people of some position. So Claire Bloom played a photographer who’d been blinded, I think, and Elizabeth Montgomery was Marilyn Monroe. Angie Dickinson was a woman who had been put in prison for being a traitor, and it was about what happened when she got out. Everything is connected to a star or a performer. Dick Berg would say to me, “I think I can get Claire Bloom. What can we do for her?”
So you would be able to write a part for a specific actor?
Quite frequently, for that show.
Which was uncommon in television, at least at that time.
Well, the Warners shows were cast with a pool of Warner actors and actresses. None of them were very good, but it was okay. Those were very airhead shows.
But you liked to write lighter kinds of stories.
Yeah, but there was a difference between light and airhead!You wrote one script for The Twilight Zone during its final season: “Ninety Years Without Slumbering,” based on a story by one of the series’ regular contributors, George Clayton Johnson.
I know the show was major, but I don’t even know how that came about. I think Bill Froug was producing it at that time, and I did a rewrite for him. I think the whole thing was a matter of two weeks. It was about a clock that stopped and then you die, and it happened to have a very appealing old actor, Ed Wynn.
That was my only Twilight Zone. I did try to sell them something [else]. I had a show I wanted them to use Lena Horne in, but they didn’t buy it.Do you remember what your outline was about?
I think she was a nurse in a mental hospital, and it had something to do with amnesia. I think they were looking for something for Lena Horne.
Mia Farrow and Ryan O’Neal in Peyton Place.
Now we come to one of the most significant credits on your resume.
In the early sixties, my big break was when I got hired as one of the writers on Peyton Place, and ended up being the script producer with thirteen writers working under me.
It’s a funny thing about Hollywood – I never had a great career, but I had a very steady career with a good living. And I would do it differently from this perspective, but I think careers are cyclical. If you’re on a big hit, you’re in demand for ten years. That happened to me twice. Peyton Place kept me busy – although I didn’t stay with the show through the seventies, it kept me working through the seventies. Then I sold a movie, an original movie [Two People, starring Peter Fonda] that Robert Wise bought and directed, and that – although the movie was a terrible flop – that again kept me up there and high profile for a while.
How did you get the Peyton Place job? Had you known the executive producer, Paul Monash, during live TV?
No. I’m sure that he scoured the field, because they needed a lot of writers. I had an agent who gave him, I think, Mr. Novaks. I had written a Mr. Novak about a teacher who falls in love with one of her students. When he told me what the show was, I thought that that would be an interesting example to show him.
Peyton Place was extraordinarily well written and produced.
Paul Monash was a terrific producer. He was one of the most intelligent men I’ve ever known. He was a terrific boost to me – after a year with him, I knew I was good. Paul really valued me, because I took a lot of the details off of his shoulders, and I caught what he wanted to do with the show.
And then the show was so blessed by casting. You know, she’s never been a great actress, but Mia Farrow was perfect. Ryan [O’Neal] was perfect. The late Chris Connelly was perfect. It was just very well cast.
When they had started to shoot, we really didn’t know what the show was about. We were sort of finding our way. So we’re sitting in dailies one day, and Paul is saying, “You know, we have got to figure out what this show is about.” They had some footage of Mia, and I said, “Paul, that’s what the show is about. This innocent child and all these things surrounding her.”
The initial impact, I think, lasted for a long time. Some of the stories we were doing were kind of dull. We did have one absolutely marvelous performer – we had several good ones – but Lee Grant just took that role [of Stella Chernak] and ran with it, and she was very good. She got an Emmy for that.
It seems to me that the storyline with the most vitality was the initial love triangle between Rodney, Alison, and Betty – the boy, the good girl, and the bad girl – and that the show kind of had to restart itself once that was initially resolved.
Well, you know, that kind of story just taps into something very fundamental with people. People see themselves in one of those roles. With the older characters, I don’t think you could dig as deeply. They would be written entirely differently today. I mean, Dorothy [Malone] was an interesting actress and interesting to look at, but – Constance is keeping secrets from her daughter? A lot of the audiences would have very different attitudes today.
So you preferred to write for the teenaged characters rather than the adults?
You know, young people are very easy to write about, because they are facing their major choices. What are you going to do with a forty-five year-old divorcee? We realized the money was in the kids. You sit in a projection room and you look at Mia Farrow, who couldn’t act her way out of a paper sack, but with that face and that voice and that manner, that’s going to be a star – you know it. And the two very young people, Chris Connelly and Patty Morrow. When Patty and Chris would go to New York, they would have to have security guards outside their hotel. They were that popular. So then how are a bunch of middle-aged actors going to compete with this?Which storylines did you think were dull?
Well, I remember Mariette Hartley coming back from Africa or somewhere with a doctor. It never seemed to catch fire [even though] Mariette’s a very good actress. And even, for me, the return of Elliot Carson. Big deal, you know. You could write about middle-aged people, but today it’s done much differently.So you were conscious of the gap between real life, and life as you presented it on the show?
Oh, sure. [Laughs.] Yeah, you knew that was not the way people lived and approached their relationships. It was very idealized. Alison Mackenzie was the innocent version that – not that everybody wants to be, but that a lot of people never got around to being. You can hardly think of Betty as the carnal one, because she was relatively [tame]. Barbara Parkins, who was to me a very naïve woman as I remember her playing anything, was just a very sexy-looking girl.
We used to have to fight for every sexual color in it. We had this crazy lesbian censor at ABC who rode around on a motorcycle and carried her helmet to meetings with her. And she didn’t know from shit. I mean, you could put the most obscene thing in there that would get you in trouble with everybody else and that would go right past Dorothy. She was really weird.5Do you remember specifics about what actually was censored?
I remember endless notes. Every week there were notes about Betty’s cleavage and, I mean, nothing was showing. But they’d be very worried about that. And, not too much talking about the sex. [Instead] everybody was “in love,” or thought they were in love. The standards were so totally different than you see in movies today.
There’s a lot of talking around the subject matter in the early Peyton Place scripts.
Well, yeah, and Paul was not an on-your-nose kind of writer. A lot of times, because these kids were so appealing, if you gave him twelve pages between two of them, he was thrilled. Most filmed shows don’t do that. But he would be happy to see Alison and Rodney on screen for twelve minutes in the show, because he knew instinctively where the money was.What was your relationship with Paul Monash like?
I had a giant office on the first floor, and he had a giant office right above me on the second floor. We had a direct line, so we were in touch all the time. One of the big concerns – the main concern, it seemed to me – was the great hunger [for material]. The thing that the show did was consume storylines. We were always looking for a major storyline, and we were always looking for major storylines that would connect in some way to the earlier storylines. Because we were using the same characters. So, if an innocent is going to turn into something else, you’ve got to show how that happened.
There was a real revolving door of writers on Peyton Place at first; you were the only member of the original group to stay with the show for more than a few months. The first episodes were credited to Robert J. Shaw, who had written for some of the same Warners detective shows as you, and Franklin Barton, who had been Monash’s de facto story editor on several earlier series.
Bob Shaw was a terrible writer, but he was the fastest. I liked Bob. He was a very gracious guy. And – I can say this now because he and his lover are both dead – but he was a terrible writer. We shared a secretary, and his office was next to mine. We would get our outlines, and I would sit and scratch my head for a day, and Arlene was already typing his first act. He didn’t like to spend time on it. He had written a lot of daytime soaps, so writing three hundred pages a week didn’t faze him. There are people who have that skill. I developed the skill for plotting soap opera, but I could never supply that much dialogue.6
Franklin Barton was sort of the head writer. Frank was used to the political way of going, and he used to undermine me at every turn. I said, “Don’t do that.” Of course I ended up replacing him. I didn’t set out to, [but] I think he sensed that I could be the one to replace him.
After they left, you became the senior writer among a group that was mostly in their twenties and early thirties, and about half female – an extremely unusual demographic for a mid-sixties writing staff.
It was very early on to use women, and we did use a lot of them. A woman named Sonya Roberts, who was really a good writer. Carol Sobieski wrote those kids like a dream. I mean, it just all poured out. I remember when she came in for interview. This girl in a sloppy raincoat walks into the office, and I thought, “Who is she?” And in ten minutes I knew she was going to be so good. Rita Lakin was a good writer who didn’t always grasp it. Peggy Shaw was very much a part of that show. She’s a flaming creature, but I liked Peggy. She was sort of down to earth. Boy, was she a fast writer. By the time you finished describing the assignment, she was handing it to you. But not always great.
Oh, and Michael Gleason. He created Remington Steele, and I worked for him [on that series]. I gave him his first job, and he gave me a job.
Did you supervise the plotting of the show’s storyline?
There were two people who worked with me on plotting: Del Reisman and Nina Laemmle. We would get together three or four mornings a week, because we were doing three episodes a week, and we’d work out the episode and one of us would write it up and pass it out to the writers. I’d spend a certain amount of time with writers, going over their scripts, and Nina and Del did a lot of that. But, essentially, the plotting, supervised by Paul, was in our hands. The day-to-day plotting: “Tomorrow, Alison will thus and such.”How would you decide when to end or begin a storyline, or introduce a new character?
That I really don’t remember, except that you’d say, “Hey, this is running out of steam.” You sense it, because you’re working with it every day. Or Paul would say, “Hey, enough of that one, already.” Not quite as brutally as that, but he would say, “Maybe we need to get on to something else.”
Did you interact much with the cast or the directors?
Mostly in a friendly way. There were two directors in the beginning, who were so opposite in the way they worked. Ted Post, who was a “set it up and shoot it” guy, and Walter Doniger. Walter’s problem was that he thought he was also a writer. He would give me fourteen page notes on a half-hour script, and I’d say, “Thank you, Walter.” I’d put it in my drawer and forget it. I mean, there was no time for that kind of thing. He took himself very seriously, but he had a certain talent. Paul would have said, if he were still with us, that Walter really established the visual style of the show.
Then Ted got his dander up one day: he was going to give me notes, too. And he would raise these picayune things. Everybody’s got a temperament. Actually Ted is a much-respected director, I think. And then we had a couple of other people who didn’t do the show as often, like Jeff Hayden.
What about the performers? Did they send you comments on the scripts?
No such thing. They just didn’t do that. I don’t know whether they were told not to or what. You know, they were not big stars then.
Ryan O’Neal used to call me about one thing, and he was absolutely right. He had killed Lee Grant’s brother [by accident] and I kept on giving him the line, “I didn’t kill Joe Chernak!” What it should have been, as he pointed out to me, was, “I didn’t murder Joe.” And he used to call me and then I would get very embarrassed. You know, “Yeah, you’re right, Ryan, I did it again.”Why did you leave Peyton Place after two years?
I wanted to do some speculative writing. I wrote a play. Peyton Place was tiring. I mean, that’s a very demanding job. It ate up most of my time. I don’t think I ever had a weekend that was completely free. I’m not the earliest riser in the world, particularly in those days, and Paul called one morning. My wife Jewel comes into the bedroom and [says], “It’s Paul!” I’m groggy. What could he be calling me about? He says, “Dick! Mia cut off her hair in the middle of an episode!” I said, “Paul, we’ll deal with it.” And hung up. I don’t even remember what we did. I think they gave her a wig to put on.
After Peyton Place you wrote a number of situation comedies. Wasn't it unusual for a writer to shift back and forth between dramas and sitcoms?
Jonathan Hole, Olan Soule, and Sally Field in The Flying Nun.
Well, you could say, “Oh, that’s nice, you’re versatile.” It also is not a good career move. It may be okay now, but it was not a good career move then, because they can’t peg you. I don’t think I got one assignment where they said, as the first choice, “Let’s get Dick DeRoy.” I was convinced that it was always, “Let’s get Dick DeRoy. He can do this, and he’ll deliver.” But I mean I wasn’t known as anything, except as a[n all-purpose] writer. If you have a reputation as a certain kind of writer, you’re the person they come to first.How did you end up doing those comedy series?
Well, they were there, and I kind of enjoyed them. There was a man named Bill Sackheim, who was doing a lot of them, who got me going. Bill had produced the comedy I wrote about taxes [for Alcoa Theatre]. And Bernie Slade would always call me and say, “I’ve got this new show, and would you write for it?” People call you and if nothing else is on the horizon, you do it. And they were very easy to do. I mean, they were snaps.7
Many of them were fantasies.
Yeah. Bill Sackheim once asked me, “Why is it that you can write The Flying Nun, and I don’t seem to have anybody else who can write The Flying Nun?”
I said, “Because I believe she can fly.”
That was a very shrewd take on what was going on there: I believed she could fly. If I thought, “Oh, I’ve got to write about this cunt that flies,” it never would have worked. For me.
It was not great, but it was fun. Remington Steele was really fun, because it was a happy group. The writers who came to work under me, I said, “Listen, guys,” – they were young – I said, “It’s never going to be like this anywhere else. Just take my word for it.”
I’d run into them [years later] and they’d say, “You know, you were right.”
But the premise was funny. You could hand Pierce [Brosnan] anything, and I adored Stephanie [Zimbalist], for all her craziness. It just was a dream. The show had a funny concept. I think it got too funny with it – it needed a little more balls in the threat department. But it was really a delight to work on. I used to take a tape recorder and put it in my car, and on the way to the studio I’d do a scene, because it was the kind of writing that just came naturally to me. That’s what I would have liked to have always done. I think my happiest time in commercial television was writing and producing Remington Steele, because that was my kind of thing.
After the situation comedies, you wrote for The Name of the Game.
The two-parter in Vegas with Sammy Davis was one of my least favorite encounters. I was there because he had notes. And I couldn’t stand his manager. They were just, “We’re hot shit.” I don’t think I did all of that script. I’d warned them I was going to Europe, and Steven Bochco replaced me.
I also did one that Suzanne Pleshette did, where they were trying to establish her character as a permanent character, a gossip writer. Joan Crawford was supposed to do it, and she got sick or something, and then they got Mercedes McCambridge to replace her. She was terrific, but it wasn’t exactly Joan Crawford in the sense of lustre.You were also a co-creator of The Survivors, a big prime-time soap that flopped notoriously in 1969.
Ugh. Well, The Survivors was a continuing story like Peyton, so I was the obvious choice to be brought in to do the script supervising. It was the, quote, creation of a man named Harold Robbins. I had a meeting with Harold, and he said, “I had this meeting with, I’ve forgotten the guy, at ABC. I don’t remember what I said to him, but he said, ‘I’ll buy it.’”
But there was a guy at Universal whom I really loved, who became a friend, Grant Tinker. He said, “Come on already, we could use you [on this show].”
It was so glitzy, the whole thing. I got immediately sent to France to meet with Harold. Harold lived above Cannes, and we stayed at the Carlton and the whole fancy business. They started casting. They had Lana Turner and George Hamilton. And it was a disaster.
The producer that was hired was a man named Bill Frye. And Bill was the – I don’t know what you call it – [an escort] to all these women stars. So they hired him, thinking he’ll know how to deal with Lana. Well, he was used to Irene Dunne and Loretta Young and all these very fine Christian ladies. Lana was not that. They never hit it off.8
Saturday afternoon, before we were supposed to start shooting on a Monday, we were at this very, very fancy brunch at the estate of the Firestone heiress, the Princess Troubetzkoy and her husband. This hangs over the Mediterranean with two yachts floating in front, and it is just so moneyed you can’t stand it. And Lana got piss-drunk, and Bill got piss-drunk, and at some point he and the designer, whose name now escapes me, accompanied Lana to her waiting limo down at the parking area. I was thinking, they seemed gone a long time, but big deal.
Bill comes back and I said, “Gee, what kept you?”
He said, “I slapped her!”
That’s what you need to hear 48 hours before you’re supposed to go before the cameras! He slapped your star?
Well, he was out of the show before Sunday morning. Grant had to take it over. He really was not an experienced producer, but the famous [incident] – I mean, it just reverberated all over the south of France and Hollywood. I was the first of the company to come back, and my phone in the office was ringing off the hook, because this was all over the newspapers.
There was a party that night, Saturday night, at the yacht club or something, and Lana is there. She said to me, “Dick, nobody touches this face!” That’s a line I’ve never forgotten. She knew what her fortune was, you know. The bones!
At the time Grant was married to Mary Tyler Moore, who was with us on the trip. I said, “Mary, if you’re going to be a big star, you’ve got to learn to say things like, ‘Nobody touches this face.’”
1 The unjustly forgotten Robert Herridge (1914-1981) was one of the most innovative live television producers of the late fifties. During stints on Studio One, Kraft Television Theatre, and Camera Three he fostered the careers of many promising young writers and actors. Best known today for several key jazz performances that he produced for his Robert Herridge Theatre (which included both scripted and documentary shows), Herridge is the subject of a brief profile in The Nat Hentoff Reader (Da Capo, 2001).
2 Britton appeared, not in one of MGM’s Tarzan films, but in the Paramount knockoff King of the Jungle (1933), starring Buster Crabbe as “Kaspa the Lion King.”
3 Helen Deutsch (1906-1992) was a top Hollywood screenwriter of the forties and fifties with credits on National Velvet, I’ll Cry Tomorrow, and Valley of the Dolls. Roger Hirson (1926- ) was a live television writer (Playhouse 90) who became a successful screenwriter (Demon Seed) and Tony-nominated playwright (Pippin).
4 Jerome L. “Jerry” Davis (1917-1991) was a screenwriter who transitioned into producing on various Warner Bros. TV series including 77 Sunset Strip and SurfSide Six. He was a prolific sitcom writer (The Farmer’s Daughter) and producer (Bewitched, Harper Valley PTA) in subsequent decades. William P. D’Angelo (1932-2002) is perhaps best remembered as the story editor for Batman (1966-1968), but he became a prolific writer-producer-director of sitcoms and made-for-television movies in the seventies and eighties.
5 For more stories about the follies of censorship under ABC’s Dorothy Brown, see David J. Schow and Jeffrey Frentzen’s The Outer Limits Companion.
6 Robert J. Shaw (1917-1996) was a prolific television writer who specialized in crime and action shows. He wrote for 77 Sunset Strip and Checkmate during the same period as Richard DeRoy. Shaw’s homosexuality is discussed in William J. Mann’s Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood 1910-1969 (Penguin, 2002).
7 William Sackheim (1920-2004) was an ex-screenwriter (The Human Jungle) who spent a decade as an executive producer for Screen Gems, where he oversaw The Alcoa/Goodyear Theatre, Empire, Gidget, The Flying Nun, and others. In the seventies he became an important producer of made-for-television movies (The Neon Ceiling, The Law) and feature films (The In-Laws, The Competition). The Canadian playwright Bernard Slade (1930- ), best known for Same Time, Next Year, wrote for Bewitched and The Flying Nun and created The Partridge Family.
8 Grant Tinker (1925- ) co-founded MTM Productions, the most important American television production company of the seventies, and was the chairman of NBC from 1981-1986. William Frye was a staff producer for Revue (later Universal) Television, best remembered as the executive producer of Thriller (1960-1962).
All Text and Interview Copyright © 2007 Stephen W. Bowie
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