I worked with Sid Lumet several times. What a talent! His intensity could
wear you out. We had worked for seven days in a rehearsal hall somewhere in midtown and
the day we were to shoot the show we went to the studio. Sid (as did all the directors)
had all his shots and cuts planned out. The first rehearsal was a walk through for
positions, called a "tech rehearsal." This was so the three, and sometimes four,
cameras could find their places and roll about the set while electricians lifted one-inch
thick cables over cameras and around the sets so we didnt get a jumble of electric
In one show I did with him, I played a gunman. There was a particular
exterior shot Sid wanted and hed worked out the mechanics of it. He had the roof of
a tenement building about four feet off the floor, with a camera set very low shooting up
at the actor standing at the edge of the roof.
Nearby was this huge plate glass mirror hanging by a loop of heavy rope
at each end, at a precise forty-five degree angle from the floor, which was dressed to
look like a sidewalk. I noted the mirrors height at about eight feet. Sid had a
camera moved into position, shooting into the mirror and asked me to step under this
gigantic piece of glass, facing it (back to camera) and looking up into it. He explained,
"What the camera will see is you standing on the sidewalk looking up. In the control
booth, when I cut to the low-shot camera seeing the guy on the roof looking down,
itll appear as if youre seeing each other from a distance of four floors.
"Fantastic" I said as I stepped beneath the mirror,
"Hey, Sid, what do you call this shot?"
"We named it the Guillotine Shot, in case
I finished the sentence for him, "
the mirror breaks."
Laconically he said, "Thats the general idea."
Live TV and On-Air Gaffes
In live television, where you couldnt go back and re-shoot, we
all, sometimes, got into weird situations. When they happened, they felt like
catastrophes. Looking back, they were as funny as anything devised by a brilliant comedic
Once we were on the air with a scene in a living room ostensibly on the
fourteenth floor of an apartment building. I am standing, looking out the window as the
leading lady and I play the scene. With the camera on my back, as I speak and lazily
glance toward the window, I froze, for just a second.
Walking across the width of the window, with fourteen stories of air
beneath his feet, was a stagehand carrying a hammer. I went on with my line, as I saw him
suddenly look past me, through the window, right at the camera. He saw the red lights and
knew he was being broadcast. He stopped, not knowing what to do as I stared at him. Then,
as if not to be seen, he tiptoed across the remaining distance. The girl and I finished
the scene as if nothing had happened.
On another show, where I played another gunman, I was to kick in a front
door, enter onto a foyer landing with a few steps down into the living room and a black
railing around it. Just below the railing, and out a few feet, was a desk. As I pull my
gun from my breast pocket, the other actor in the room raises his gun and shoots me. I am
then to crash through the railing hit the desk, slide across it, and onto the floor.
Nothing complicated. We all did our own stunts in those days, and this wasnt a
particularly dangerous one. I always made sure, when I was going to do something like this
to take my watch off. It was a beautiful gold Le Coultre with a gold and ebony band, one
of the first calendar watches to show the moon phases.
In the live performance, everything was going great. The first twenty
minutes were coming off fine; we could all feel it. The big moment arrived. I kick in the
door. John Barragray (the other actor) raises his gun as I pull out mine and he plugs me!
My arms go up as I fall forward, crash through the railing and hit the desk like Im
skiing downhill. As my left wrist makes contact and my head is turned so I dont
break my nose, I see this black and gold flash leave my wrist in pieces and take flight
across the room. My last words as Im dying and sliding off the desk are, "Oh,
shit, there goes the watch!"
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