4/22/16

TRIBUTE TO FRANK PART 10! "ANZIO"




In the spring of 1967 my mother, father and I went to Rome where my father was engaged as to rewrite the screenplay of a big, fat World War 2 movie called 'Anzio'. His friend Eddie Dmytryk (who he'd worked with previously on a couple of unmade scripts) was the director and was dissatisfied with the current script that he'd inherited on what seems to have been a very iffy catch-as-catch-can production. So off we went and my father wrote 'ahead of camera' (as the lingo then went) about a week at a time. What a way to make such a complicated movie! The producer was Dino De Laurentis and nobody was ever sure if the checks were going to clear, or if the checks were even going to be issued. That the film looks as large-scale and epic as it does is a tribute to Dmytryk's extreme professionalism and ingenuity. It had a great cast--Robert Mitchum, Peter Falk, Arthur Kennedy, Robert Ryan--and is highly enjoyable (it recently made it onto DVD--at last!) Above I've posted a fan-made trailer for the movie which is vastly superior to the crappy official Columbia Studios trailer which I've posted below.

In 2003 I directed Peter Falk in his last movie, 'The Thing About My Folks', and couldn't wait to tell him that I'd 'known' him since I was a four-year old, hearing about the frantic making of 'Anzio' and the rugged, dependable cast. My father actually worked directly with Falk who liked to improvise speeches for his character that my father would then distill into dialogue. Unfortunately, I didn't realize it at the time but Peter was at the beginning of his gradual descent into dementia. When I mentioned 'Anzio', there was a long puzzled pause. Then a little glimmer of memory crossed his craggy face and he said, "Yeah. That was in Rome, wasn't it?"




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4/20/16

TRIBUTE TO FRANK PT. 9: 'ASSIGNMENT UNDERWATER'


As I mentioned earlier my father had a multi-faceted career, bouncing between documentaries, live TV drama, educational TV, feature scripts, novels etc. But television series per se were not among his usual works. Thus the anomaly of 'Assignment Underwater', a syndicated series shot over 1960-61 on which he functioned as a producer/story editor/credited and uncredited writer and occasional director. The show starred the stupidly named Bill Williams as a kind of 'gun for hire with a boat' guy, a single dad (wife died? Or did she leave??) raising his pretty boatnick daughter (Diana Montford) and going after bad guys on the water. The show provided work for a lot of dependable B-list directors and actors--the B movie was disappearing and thus not a reliable source of work anymore--and the shows themselves have a nice, crisp B-drive to them. The suspense is actually suspenseful, the plots are tightly constructed and--thanks to the level of studio craftsmen who directed them--the series looks well mounted and more expensive than it actually was. (Among the directors were Edward L. Bernds, Steve Sekely, R.G. 'Bud' Springsteen, Gene Fowler Jr. and a young Eliot Silverstein). Some enterprising TV geek actually put together a few DVD's of collected AU episodes and, of course, some are up on youtube. The above episode, 'The Hot Chihuaha", was directed by Gene Fowler Jr. and, though he's not credited as writer, was rewritten extensively by my father. I know because he saved everything he ever worked on and once--when I was thirteen and should have been out in the street playing stickball--I sat around and compared and contrasted the two drafts. What a geek...

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4/18/16

TRIBUTE TO FRANK PT. 8: THE RADIO YEARS (WITH MICKEY ROONEY?)



I can't believe Youtube. Really all you have to do is ask and most of the time it delivers. But who are these people who post these insanely obscure, wonderful artifacts from dead civilizations? I don't know or care. I love you all. Have a nice day.

I was searching around for any copies I might have of the radio shows my father wrote in the late 1940s/early 1950s. There are some on privately made discs that he must have requested at the time --very sturdy items these discs, but who the hell can transcribe them? I know there must have existed some tape transfers made when I was growing up since I remembering hearing some of them. The one that I remember most clearly is an episode of 'Hollywood Star Playhouse' called 'Knee High To A Corpse', which starred Mickey Rooney.  It made an impression on me at the time because I already knew it as a screenplay called "Inch" that he'd wanted to make for years and hadn't realized that it was actually written (and produced) several decades before. It was a story that was dear to him and he dragged it around for many years after its radio premiere, turning it into the above-mentioned screenplay and eventually into a quite good, short novel that he published on Ex-Libras (which you can apparently download for free here) when he was well into his 80s. Think of it! Dreaming up a story in your late twenties and fifty-plus years later still playing around with it, transmuting it into different forms and finding a way to continue its life for an audience as yet unexposed to it. This is the essence of a real writers life--your stories are your objects and possessions and are both are dear to you and represent an ever-present opportunity to be monetized and shared.

Anyway, I asked and the internet answered. Above is the full 'Knee High To A Corpse' as broadcast on July 9, 1951 and starring Mickey Rooney as a member of a gang of thieves who's valued because of his tiny stature, which allows him to crawl in and out of spaces too small for normal people. He's obsessed with the worthless moll of the gang and goes into a 'fairy-tailspin' that...well, listen to the damn thing. I just did and I think it's pretty great. It thus far has attracted a whopping 10 views. Be the 11th. I dare you.

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4/15/16

TRIBUTE TO MY DAD PT.7 : CBS JAZZ DOCUMENTARY "MUSIC OF THE SOUTH"




It is with great pride and delight that I post the first two out of six parts of an exceedingly rare and important archival item--a documentary made by father, Frank De Felitta, called "Music Of The South". (The rest of the doc will reveal itself on youtube once you watch the first part).

Photographed in 1956 in the deepest backcountry of Alabama, the film is a one hour exploration of the roots of jazz, focusing on the music of slaves and field workers. Interviewed are several descendants of slaves, who heard the nascent jazz sounds in the fields as children coming from their parents and grandparents. Even if you aren't especially interested in jazz or folk music, the opportunity to actually see and hear a descendant of a victim of "America's Original Sin" (Obama's great phrase) shouldn't be passed up.

The film was commissioned by CBS as part of an educational show called "Odyssey" which aired on Sunday afternoons throughout the 1950's and into the sixties. Integral to the making of the film was Frederic Ramsey Jr., a legend among jazz scholars who co-authored one of the first serious books about jazz, "Jazzmen" (1939) and who made scads of field recordings of blues singers and country musicians for Folkways records in the 40's and 50's. Ramsey's passion for the subject is evident in this movie--he took my father and the television crew to the very heart of the poverty-stricken backfields of the rural south where he'd made friends with men, women and families who were--quite literally--living in another time, another place.

At the beginning of the program, there's a live studio introduction of that day's show--which for some reason carries the title "They Took A Blue Note"--along with a little Dixieland music to "set the scene". Actually the Dixieland intro (which for me is unbearable and overlong) is there to show that Dixieland wasn't the root of jazz at all (as it was supposed by many at the time to be) but rather the outgrowth of the folk music and slave songs that preceeded it by a good many decades. The band, by the way, consists of some terrific jazz musicians: Kai Winding on trombone, Max Kaminsky on trumpet, Lou Stein on piano, Cliff Leeman on drums, Jack Lessard on bass and Sol Yaged on clarinet. I wish to hell they were playing a better tune, but there you are...

Beginning next week, in the ongoing tribute to my father who passed away at the end of last month, I'll be uploading a series of documentaries that he made for NBC in the 1960's--on such diverse topics as war (the Battle of the Bulge and Pearl Harbor, both of feature priceless interview footage with famous military commanders), art (a survey of modern American art made to celebrate the opening of the Whitney Museum), and the occult (a wonderfully entertaining doumentary about haunted English manor houses featuring the great Margaret Rutherford). All of these films run an hour and were shamefully tossed into the incinerator by NBC for "storage space" reasons. Fortunately my father saved prints of his work and I'm glad to finally be able to make them available to students of film, news, documentary, music and the like.

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4/13/16

TRIBUTE TO FRANK DE FELITTA PT. 6: 'THE WINDOW'



Continuing to pay tribute to my late father Frank De Felitta, we come to 'The Window'.

In 1952, an ABC Sci-Fi anthology TV program called "Tales Of Tomorrow" broadcast a deeply upsetting event. That weeks episode, titled "The Lost Planet", was interrupted by a strange transmission showing three people--two men and a woman--sitting in a tenement window, drinking heavily and jiving incoherently. The image appeared to be coming from another show and soon the proper programming was returned, only to be interrupted again by the people seen in the window. The broadcast of "The Lost Planet" was abandoned as the network attempted to figure out why they were receiving this image of these people. It soon became apparent that it wasn't another show at all, but a "ghost transmission", an image being bounced off a satellite (or somesuch) and that the people in the window were real people, unaware they were being watched on national television.

The live in-studio chaos that was now being televised continued to be interrupted by the action in the window, and soon enough it transpired that one of the two men and the woman were planning on murdering the other man, who was her husband. He was a drunk and the plan--as heard over nationwide airwaves--was to push him down a flight of stairs and make it look like an accident. Panic swept through the studio and soon through New York City. The ABC switchboard was jammed with callers saying they thought they knew who the people in the window were, or at least recognized them from their neighborhoods. Police swung into action, attempting to locate the window and its inhabitants before the murder could take place. But it wasn't to be. The murder went down and the new medium of television hosted the entire grisly event, albeit unwillingly.

But one of the men in the window--the lover of the wife, in fact--bore a remarkable resemblance to Rod Steiger who was, as yet, not widely known. In fact, the entire event was a "War Of the Worlds" type hoax, perpetrated by father,  Frank De Feliita (who wrote the script) and his producer, Mort Abrahams who told my father to "write something that can only be produced for the medium of television". My father came up with the outrageously inventive idea and the director, Don Medford, staged the thing with real verite aplomb--the portrait of the three in the the window is haunting, a still medium-shot capturing the deadly tableaux with impeccable detachment. The in-studio stuff feels truly live and improvised, with people wandering about, cameras visible, cables everywhere and general pandemonium nicely captured. The Timex watch ads are intact--but are used as necessary breaks while the rest of the group tries to figure out what to do next and are thus cleverly incorporated. All in all, the hoax show never falters--no cuts or extra angles interfere with the authenticity of the proceedings. According to my father, the network was truly jammed with calls that night. At the end of the show, the announcer clearly states that you were not watching an episode called "The Lost Planet" but were, in fact, watching "The Window", starring--among others--Rod Steiger. He added that he hoped the audience "had enjoyed this exciting experience in televised entertainment."

If you go to 23 minutes, 27 seconds, you'll see a fellow walk in on the in-studio chaos that's going on, look on with mild interest and then exit, wanting nothing more to do with things. That would be Frank De Felitta, age 31.

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