Jump to content
 
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...

MEMOries are made of this


Richard Kimble
 Share

Recommended Posts

This is a memo sent by actor Robert Reed to Sherwood Schwartz, producer of the Brady Bunch sitcom. I think it is worth reading, even if you have no interest in The Brady Bunch or actually hate it (as I do). At the very least it shows how seriously some actors take their profession.

 

The episode in question is "The Hair-Brained Scheme", the final episode of the original series (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0531135/reference).

 

-------

 

To Sherwood Schwartz et al.

Notes: Robert Reed

There is a fundamental difference in theatre between:

1.Melodrama
2.Drama
3.Comedy
4.Farce
5.Slapstick
6.Satire &
7.Fantasy

They require not only a difference in terms of construction, but also in presentation and, most explicitly, styles of acting. Their dramatis peronsae are noninterchangable. For example, Hamlet, archtypical of the dramatic character, could not be written into Midsummer Night's Dream and still retain his identity. Ophelia could not play a scene with Titania; Richard II could not be found in Twelfth Night. In other words, a character indigenous to one style of the theatre cannot function in any of the other styles. Obviously, the precept holds true for any period. Andy Hardy could not suddenly appear in Citizen Kane, or even closer in style, Andy Hardy could not appear in a Laurel and Hardy film. Andy Hardy is a "comedic" character, Laurel and Hardy are of the purest slapstick. The boundaries are rigid, and within the confines of one theatric piece the style must remain constant.

Why? It is a long since proven theorem in the theatre that an audience will adjust its suspension of belief to the degree that the opening of the presentation leads them. When a curtain rises on two French maids in a farce set discussing the peccadilloes of their master, the audience is now set for an evening of theatre in a certain style, and are prepared to accept having excluded certain levels of reality. And that is the price difference in the styles of theatre, both for the actor and the writer--the degree of reality inherent. Pure drama and comedy are closest to core realism, slapstick and fantasy the farthest removed. It is also part of that theorem that one cannot change styles midstream. How often do we read damning critical reviews of, let's say, a drama in which a character has "hammed" or in stricter terms become melodramatic. How often have we criticized the "mumble and scratch" approach to Shakespearean melodrama, because ultra-realism is out of place when another style is required. And yet, any of these attacks could draw plaudits when played in the appropriate genre.

Television falls under exactly the same principle. What the networks in their oversimplification call "sitcoms" actually are quite diverse styles except where b@stardized by careless writing or performing. For instance:

M*A*S*H....comedy
The Paul Lynde Show....Farce
Beverly Hillbillies.....Slapstick
Batman......Satire
I dream of Jeannie....Fantasy

And the same rules hold just as true. Imagine a scene in M*A*S*H in which Arthur Hill appears playing his "Owen Marshall" role, or Archie Bunker suddenly landing on "Gilligan's Island" , or Dom Deluise and his mother in " Mannix." Of course, any of these actors could play in any of the series in different roles predicated on the appropriate style of acting. But the maxim implicit in all this is: when the first-act curtain rises on a comedy, the second act curtain has to rise on the same thing, with the actors playing in commensurate styles.

If it isn't already clear, not only does the audience accept a certain level of belief, but so must the actor in order to function at all. His consciousness opens like an iris to allow the proper amount of reality into his acting subtext. And all of the actors in the same piece must deal with the same level, or the audience will not know to whom to adjust and will often empathize with the character with the most credibility--total reality eliciting the most complete empathic response. Example: We are in the operating room in M*A*S*H, with the usual pan shot across a myriad of operating tables filled with surgical teams at work. The leads are sweating away at their work, and at the same time engaged in banter with the head nurse. Suddenly, the doors fly open and Batman appears! Now the scene cannot go on. The M*A*S*H characters, dealing with their own level of quasi-comic reality, having subtext pertinent to the scene, cannot accept as real in their own terms this other character. Oh yes, they could make fast adjustments. He is a deranged member of some battle-fatigued platoon and somehow came upon a Batman suit. But the Batman character cannot then play his intended character true to his own series. Even if it were possible to mix both styles, it would have to be dealt with by the characters, not just abruptly accepted. Meanwhile, the audience will stick with that level of reality to which they have been introduced, and unless the added character quickly adjusts, will reject him.

The most generic problem to date in "The Brady Bunch" has been this almost constant scripted inner transposition of styles.

1. A pie-throwing sequence tacked unceremoniously onto the end of a weak script.
2. The youngest daughter in a matter of a few unexplained hours managing to look and dance like Shirley Temple.
3. The middle boy happening to run into a look-alike in the halls of his school, with so exact a resemblance he fools his parents.

And the list goes on.

Once again, we are infused with the slapstick. The oldest boy's hair turns bright orange in a twinkling of the writer's eye, having been doused with a non-FDA-approved hair tonic. (Why any boy of Bobby's age, or any age, would be investing in something as outmoded and unidentifiable as "hair tonic" remains to be explained. As any kid on the show could tell the writer, the old hair-tonic routine is right out of "Our Gang." Let's face it, we're long since past the "little dab'll do ya" era.)

Without belaboring the inequities of the script, which are varied and numerous, the major point to all this is: Once an actor has geared himself to play a given style with its prescribed level of belief, he cannot react to or accept within the same confines of the piece, a different style.

When the kid's hair turns red, it is Batman in the operating room.

I can't play it.
 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Are you kidding me?!!! He's either on coke,or just out of his mind. That's nuts to write a chapter from War and Peace,just to say he can't play a simple part on The Brady Bunch. My goodness.do your job like you're paid well to and zip it,or go play Hamlet in the park to an audience of 1.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I find this interesting but fairly non-surprising, even obvious. What are we supposed to do with this thread, come up with sit-coms  (or whatever) that was able to, at least to some extent, combine two styles? What about I Love Lucy. It's fairly realistic with everyday situations but then Lucy would go off on a tangent or some stratagem to get her into the movies. Sometimes an episode would set up the a final scene that might seem to switch gears, morphing into slapstick or something.

 

??

 

--

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Are you kidding me?!!! He's either on coke,or just out of his mind. That's nuts to write a chapter from War and Peace,just to say he can't play a simple part on The Brady Bunch. My goodness.do your job like you're paid well to and zip it,or go play Hamlet in the park to an audience of 1.

 

I think the article is talking about persona, not actor. Yes, a good actor can be versatile and play a variety of roles. But he has to change the persona depending what he is doing at the time. An actor on The Brady Bunch cannot take that persona to Shakespear, he has to change persona to do that. Yes?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think the article is talking about persona, not actor. Yes, a good actor can be versatile and play a variety of roles. But he has to change the persona depending what he is doing at the time. An actor on The Brady Bunch cannot take that persona to Shakespear, he has to change persona to do that. Yes?

I understand the point he's making,and it's a good one,but It's just a silly sitcom,and no one is going to care. My gosh,the laugh tracks are already built in to that show. Unless he's writing the script,or directing this episode,he should just do his job and cash his checks. This isn't a movie they are making,and he's really majoring in the minor on this. Edit: You know,after going over that again....I think this was just a carry over,from an ongoing argument of creative differences.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I like the letter and thanks for posting it.

I think many artists feel that frustration when asked to perform something substandard to their talents - for the money. It's awful compromising, and the serious theme of THE FOUNTAINHEAD. 

 

What many forget is that it takes talent to perform well in a bad idea, your performance can somewhat elevate the production. I'm sure Reed is spinning in his grave that he is best remembered for such a horrific vehicle....but at least he's remembered at all. While many great movie actors, like Laird Creegar, are wholly forgotten.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

© 2023 Turner Classic Movies Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Cookie Settings
×
×
  • Create New...