Monday, October 24, 2011

Rare Gems: News Articles and Ready for the People

A little over a week ago, Crystal and I made a thrilling discovery, one that we had hoped we would make for months. We immediately linked it up with our site. What was it? Articles about Simon.

Just as we had gleaned from the scant information we had managed to turn up before, we found that Simon was a warm, friendly, funny guy. He had a lovely sense of humor and saw the gentle amusement in such oddball situations as people insisting they recognized him, but thinking they had personally met him somewhere, as opposed to having watched him on television.

To our excitement, we also confirmed how Simon approached his characters. He studied each one individually before starting to act out the part. Sometimes scripts were even altered because of Simon’s interpretation of a character! That article mostly described his villains, but I’m sure it applied equally to his heroes as well.

It’s thrilling that Simon put so much time and heart into even his oneshot guest characters. Of course, we could clearly see that he had, but I wasn’t sure if the sympathy we often felt was deliberately introduced by Simon or the writers or if we were picking up on hidden nuances as Simon’s true self shone through even the darkest of scoundrels. Now I know it was most likely both.

I am excited to realize that the more human side of characters such as Howard Walters and even William Poole were brought out on purpose by Simon’s marvelous, professional skills. He wanted every character he portrayed to be three-dimensional, to have both good and bad sides. That is, I’m certain, one of the many reasons why he is still so beloved today.

As previously mentioned, it’s just a misconception that Simon usually played villains. He himself said in one of the articles that it isn’t true, it only seems that way. Sadly, many of the heroes he played are not easily accessible for us to view today. There were many of them on anthology and other shows that are simply not available now, likely because of both not being as well-remembered as other shows and simply because there is no one to re-release them.

I believe the one role of Simon’s that I would like to see more than any other is the prosecuting attorney Murray Brock in Ready for the People. From the information I have found, it was a failed pilot for a television series that was turned into a theatrical movie. Would the series have featured Simon as a regular? We don’t know. For all we know, it could have been an anthology series or one with a rotating cast, such as the later The Name of the Game. All we know for certain is that Simon was heavily involved. It is a great shame that this series failed.

There is something about Ready for the People that makes it highly unique and sets it apart from every other known movie or television series that Simon worked on. As far as we can tell, at least in the failed pilot, Simon was the star. He was not playing second banana to anyone, as he did in every other television series in which he was a regular. Even in movies where he had a large role, such as I Want to Live!, he still was not the first-billed (nor was he the true star even if billed lower). In Ready for the People, Murray is the main character. It’s his character that advances the plot, attempting to uncover the truth about the case he is currently trying. He believes the defendant is innocent and strives to find this out.

(Perry Mason aficionados should find it of interest that Murray’s assistant is played by Karl Held, who portrayed eager law student David Gideon in nine episodes over seasons 4 and 5. Was it because of his role as David that he was chosen for Ready for the People?)

Is there any way to view this relic of the past? Both Crystal and I have searched high and low. I had hoped that, since it was released as a theatrical movie, it would not be as difficult to locate it. But so far we have not had any luck. I believe I was told that it is available on a file-sharing network, either Kazaa or LimeWire, but Crystal and I do not use such sites. I am assuming that the copyright long ago ran out, rendering Ready for the People in the public domain and therefore, legal grabs for anyone. If this is true, I wish it could be located and placed online for all to see. If instead the copyright is still valid, I wish the holder would release it.

This is such a unique role of Simon’s. It should not be lost to time. I of course wish that everything he acted in would be made available. If only two rare productions could resurface, I wish it would be this one and his first collaboration with Darren McGavin, The Problem Child episode of the Purex Summer Specials anthology. Such gems should be viewable to all as examples of classic television, as well as rare and amazing performances by some very talented people.

~Lucky Ladybug

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Tony Vincenzo: Editor and Friend

The role of Tony Vincenzo remains one of Simon Oakland’s most endearing and memorable roles.  On the surface, Tony seemed to be a rather easy man to read; all he wanted were facts---facts that could be verified.  Much to his chagrin, of course, it was all but impossible for Carl Kolchak to prove his unbelievable stories, leading to clashes between the editor and the reporter more than once.

In an old newspaper article from 1967, Simon was described as an actor who studies all aspects of a character before bringing him to life.  Though the article was referring to his villain characters, it’s obvious that Simon took the same approach before becoming Tony Vincenzo; there is so much more to Tony than the loud-voiced skeptic on the surface.

Though Tony’s role (and subsequent characterization) in the first Night Stalker movie was limited, it was clear even then that Tony respected the forever-unlucky reporter, particularly in their last scene together.  This is expanded upon even more in The Night Strangler; in the beginning of the movie, Tony happens upon a half-drunk Carl at a press bar in Seattle, and though his tone suggests that he very well knows that he’s setting himself up for another series of headaches in dealing with the reporter, Tony still walks over and says hello, and then helps him get a job with the paper he’s currently working for.  After the events of the first movie (and all of the clashes they had been through), Tony had every opportunity to just ignore Carl and leave, yet that was the one thing he did not do.  No employer would willingly seek to hire a former employee who gave him so much trouble; this is our first hint at the unspoken friendship between Carl and Tony that we see more hints of in the series.

The series, though lasting only twenty episodes, gave us even more depth to Tony’s character.  We get more confirmations about his unspoken friendship with Carl, but we also see another side to him: his genuine concern for Carl.  Tony is screaming with worry at him in “The Trevi Collection” (despite, ironically, saying that he can’t afford to worry about him), immediately checks up on Carl after he lets out a yell of fright in “The Spanish Moss Murders” (leaving a party in his office, I might add), insists that he take a rest in his office after Carl collapses from exhaustion in “Firefall,” and even keeps a vigil over Carl in the end scene of “The Energy Eater” after the reporter’s latest misadventure leaves him frostbitten and unconscious, among other examples.

Simon’s portrayal of Tony also shows us something else.  If there is the right kind of evidence, Tony will be far less likely to dismiss Carl’s story.  We see this in “Primal Scream,” where Carl gets convincing photographs of the monster ape he’s trying to chase down.  Rather than telling him to get off the case as he usually does, Tony instead encouraged him to keep following the story (much to Carl’s surprise, too).  Even after their superiors told Carl to get off of the story, Tony still encouraged him to keep going; clearly, if Carl can prove his unbelievable stories, then Tony will be willing to print them.

In just two movies and twenty episodes, we got an incredible amount of characterization for a character who was clearly multifaceted.  One can only wonder how much father Simon could’ve taken the character had the series not been canceled; there was already a script for a third movie, plus scripts for three more episodes.  One of these lost episodes, “Eve of Terror,” was adapted into comic form by Moonstone, and if their comic is any indication of the script, then we would’ve seen even more character development of Tony.  At one point, Tony openly expresses his regret that he can’t support Carl’s story, even apologizing to him; it’s a very powerful scene, and one that I would’ve loved to have seen Simon bring to life.  At another point in the story, we also see Tony show off what I like to refer to as Swivel Chair Judo, which consists of him sending a swivel chair careening across the office floor to knock another chair out from under Kolchak via the domino effect (I should point out that this was well before the considerably more heartwarming scene, and that Tony did have a reason for it); I would’ve loved to have seen Simon do that, as well, for no other reason than that it would’ve been incredibly cool.

I know that I certainly can’t complain with what we have.  Simon managed to breathe so much life into Tony Vincenzo with just two movies and twenty episodes.  Yet there will always be a part of me that will wonder how much deeper a character was he.  As good as Moonstone’s original comics are in helping explore that (including showing us what would happen if Carl and Tony took on a monster together), there is nothing that will ever compare to the joy of seeing Simon bringing Tony to life.

~Crystal Rose