Screen Gem's TV tastemaking machine

RICHARD GEHMAN May 18 1963

Screen Gem's TV tastemaking machine

RICHARD GEHMAN May 18 1963

Screen Gems is a film factory that makes dozens of TV shows in Canada and the U.S. The machine is $40,000 worth of electronics wired up to 200 people in Hollywood. Together they bring us everything from Yogi Bear to next year’s new medical series

RICHARD GEHMAN

SCREEN GEMS, INC., a subsidiary of Columbia pictures, is the biggest foreign operator in Canadian television. It produces a little more than ten hours of Canadian-originated television each week and it has more shows here on the air, on the networks and in syndication — which means being shown for the second time as reruns — than its own employees can tot up. There are some who regard its activities as a kind of American Invasion. There are others who see it only as the biggest and best-capitalized of the foreign operators. And there are those who wish it would act more like a company devoted to producing enter-

Screen Gem's TV tastemaking machine

tainment and disseminating information than like an organization strictly and devoutly dedicated to business, business, business.

It is hard for a visitor to Screen Gems in Hollywood to decide just what it really is. There is an air of unreality hovering all over that stucco and plasterboard community, tangible as the smog, brown and choking as the dust on the barren Hollywood hills. Statements made by executives are as changeable as the faces of the actors they hire. To find out what Screen Gems was doing I had lunch one day with William Dozier, the head of production, the man most directly responsible for the “product" — as he calls it — that this factory turns out. He started by emphasizing “quality," and he mentioned that as a producer of television series films he was looking for “fresh ideas." Then he made some extraordinary statements.

All the shows he ticked off, as he told me what was on the schedule for the 1962-'63 season, were comparable to other shows or to feature films that had been successful in the past.

There was, for example, Empire: “A kind of Giant," said Dozier, referring to the film in which Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson had played. “If you took the modern part of Giant

and left out the saga of the building of Texas, that would be our Empire." There was APO 923: “This is a World War II, South Pacific. Mr. Roberts, action, adventure-type show' — war it's true, but we think humorous. It will help us do strong stories without violence, except that violence will be built in by the war stories. The emphasis is going to be on the personal lives of these fellow's in the Pacific and the fun they have despite they're fighting a serious war. The European w'ar you couldn't treat quite as lightly. That was serious too, but the background of this war will be palm trees, native girls . . . Why, we've got Chinese girls swimming in lagoons in this.”

He was utterly serious. I am certain he was disappointed when his fun war never got on the air; APO 923 has yet to appear.

There w'as, he went on, 7y Cooper. "This is the name of a small-town county attorney in the midwestern U. S., more interested in justice than convictions, and his crony, a kind of an amiable bum but a philosopher. I don't know if you saw the picture Anatomy of a Murder, but this crony will have some of the qualities Arthur O'Connell exhibited in the character of the lawyer, except that our char-

acter is neither a drunk nor a lawyer. But there will be the same relationship between our two men as there was in the movie between Arthur O'Connell and James Stewart." Ty Cooper never got on the air either.

There was. finally. Our Man Hippins: "Paul Harrison had a version of this on radio called It's Hippins, Sir. It's Stanley Holloway as a butler. Kind of a male Hazel."

Presently Dozier mentioned another show he wanted to try, one about a non-dcnominational clergyman running a mission and church in downtown Los Angeles. "This would be kind of a Dr. Kildare with a church,” he said.

Dozier did not give me his actual batting average. He would not say how' many pilot films Screen Gems had made in the hope of selling them as series. From other sources I learned that there were four made that season that were not sold, among them a "medical” show. Later when 1 mentioned this to another Screen Gems executive, he said. “Yes — we did make a medical show, a better one than Ben Casey, the one that started the trend . . . but we were a year too soon with it.”

Among the shows that Dozier had mentioned to me there was not one continued on pape 42

continued from page 21

A feeling of panic vies with creativity on the TV stages

idea that a charitable viewer could have regarded as “fresh.” There was none that could not be guaranteed to reassure a salesman or an accountant.

Ironically enough, the season before, Dozier and his cohorts had introduced one new idea, a dubious property called The Hathaways, about a couple who had three chimpanzees whom they treated as children. Critics and public alike had stoned it off the air.

There does not seem to be anything unusual in Screen Gems' bag next season. One is called Grind!. It will star Imogene Coca, a tried-and-tested personality who will be remembered for her work with Sid Caesar — and for-

gotten for her own shows which mainly were failures. Grind!, Dozier explained to me, “is kind of a traveling Hazel.” She is a servant who goes from family to family. Then there will he The Farmer's Daughter. There was a feature film by that title starring Loretta Young. The new one will star Inger Stevens. An agent in Hollywood recently described Inger Stevens to me as “a younger Loretta Young.” Another is Archie, "pre-sold” because it is based on a comic strip of that name.

Dozier did not precisely excuse Screen Gems' corporate lack of creative resourcefulness in our conversation. but he felt bound to tell me that he believed the company was doing as well as it could, everything — time, pressure, etc. — considered. He kept calling the Screen Gems films “product,” and after a while I asked him w hy he chose that term.

“People who make pictures in studios call them products," he said. “That happens to be — pictures — what we manufacture. Now, I don't want to seem to be divorcing creativity from product, because in our business you can't turn out a product unless it has a high degree of creativity . . . but the end result is product, and maybe we are inclined to think with that word in mind because we turn out so much of it.

“In our business we must have it as good as we can get it by a certain date when it must go on the air. It must go on the air by then. Getting it on and having it on is, if anything, more important than how' good it is going to be. Any person who is at leasi semi-creative deplores that, but that is the business.”

Dozier's voice was calm. The voices of those out on the main lot were anything but. It occurred to me. as I meandered around, looking in on this set and that, watching the inner parts of this factory grind out its product, that everyone was spending as much time on controlling his panic as he was spending on allowing his imagination to lead him into the creation of entertainment. And everyone I spoke to was as cool as Dozier, a chilled and lubricated part of the grinder.

Pure hearts and ready fists

Herbert B. Leonard, an independent producer who has joined forces with Screen Gems and thereby lost part of his autonomy, the producer of. among other things. Rin Tin Tin, Circus Boy (in syndication now) and Naked City and Roule 66. could not be shaken out of his whirling, revolving schedule into an interview. He spoke to me one morning while watching some film flash before his eyes on the tiny screen of a cutting-and-editing machine.

A little pink piggie of a man. Leonard said he felt that his shows were “saying something.” He did not call them “product." Nor did he say exactly what his shows were trying to say. Route 66. in its original form, was a show about two young men who were shuttling hack and forth across the country in a Corvette, industrious hoboes equipped with pure hearts and ready fists. It was created at about the time that Jack Kcrouac s paean to the lazy restlessness of adolescence. On the Road, had fourni a wide audience among lazy and restless adolescents and older book re\ ¡ewers who wished they still felt the stirrings. Leonard said — rather proudly. 1 thought — that he never had read the book. He had thought up Route 66 all by himself, he said. The book had come to his attention only a short time before we had our "meeting." He still hadn't finished it. Then he excused himself and rushed off to "an important meeting." promising to see me again. There was an urgency

about him that I found hard to reconcile with his position as one of the most important television producers in Hollywood. It seemed to me that he did not really think he was.

Strling Silliphant. Leonard's chief writer on Route 66, was more communicative but no less urgent. He identified himself as one of "several guys in this business who are trying to say something.” A handsome, commanJing man with a certain boyish eagerness about him, a willingness to explore and probe into the depths of human behavior ( if only he had the time), Silliphant spoke more frankly than most of the Screen Gems people I talked to in Hollywood. "I can pretty much write what I'm capable of writing,” he said. "If there are any limitations they're of time. If I had tw'o months to spend on Route 66 for each script, I'd be much prouder of them. But I have to write these things in anywhere from two to five days. Of the first thirty-five shows. I wrote twenty-four. Before I go to my typewriter I sit down with Bert Leonard and talk over the whole idea of the script. What is morality today0" he asked rhetorically, his voice rising ever so slightly. "I'm raising questions about that in my next script . . .”

What, indeed, I asked myself as I stumbled away from Silliphant out to my rent-car. Another phrase stuck in my mind, one he had used that had seemed perfectly reasonable when he used it but now' came resounding back as I tried to get over my feeling of having no real way to communicate with the Screen Gems people. "Howard and I,” he had said, “have a new' kind of screen credit for writers we arc urging Bert to adopt. It’s an inside joke. He — I mean Howard Rodman, he writes most of Nuked City — and I can't create all the shows that Bert and Screen Gems want us to do. Nobody has time to develop new waters. I mean, there's no time. So Bert buys scripts from outside writers for 66 and Naked and turns them over to us. We do w'hat we can with them in the time we have. So our new credit that we want him to use. it's only a joke, is this: ‘Written by soand-so, un-written by Stirling Silliphant or Howard Rodman.' "

Laughing as I recalled this. I stoppet at once, for 1 had remembered a remark made to me by an assistant director on Empire, Dozier's Giantlike series. He had paused to shake hands hurriedly and then rush into a scene he was setting up. “If I seem to be running around like a chicken with its head cut off,” he had said, "don't worry. I am."

Fear, or at least a state of tension, is the natural condition of most people who work at Screen Gems. Some outsiders who work there temporarily say, "It is much, much better than it used to be," and probably it is. In the old days, when Harry Cohn, The Founder, was alive, it must have been all but unendurable.

C ohn w'as the absolute ruler of the small country he originally staked out for Columbia Pictures in Hollywood. Every day his car drew up and he walked through the front lobby, past a picture of himself staring down like a belligerent bulldog, and went straight into a meeting of his produc-

ers. directors and top w riters. One day he arrived in a state of unusual exuberance.

“Guess where I was last night?" he bellowed.

"Night school?" asked a writer, who the next day became an ex-writer.

An all-but-illiterate man. Cohn was no better and no worse than the rest of the Hollywood pioneers. He made pictures — or, as he called them, "pitchas" — that appealed to him. He used to say. "If I don't unnastan it.

the public won't," and he followed that policy as though someone had branded it into his chest with a hot iron.

Two writers once handed him a script set in mediaeval times. "Yes. sire," said one of the characters at one point. Cohn, in a rage, called one writer in and shouted. "I pay you two all that goddamn money and you can't even spell! Look: "Yes siree is spelled "Y-e-s-s-i-r-e!”

Born of poor immigrant parents in

the Bronx section of New York, thereby asserting himself as one of the few entertainment tycoons not born on the Lower East Side, Cohn wasted little time in school. A one-time streetcar conductor and an army cavalryman. he became a songwriter on Broadway and broke into the motion picture business when exhibitors still rented empty storerooms and furnished them for afternoon showings with chairs from funeral parlors. Presently he moved to Hollywood and became

a producer of quickly made, cheaply financed films in the area known as Poverty Row. Not far from there he eventually built Columbia Pictures, which he made into one of the towering companies in The Industry. The films he made and the stars in them brought Columbia a total of forty-five Academy Awards.

Cohn was no accountant, but since his principal objective was making money out of his product, he had, like the present-day generation of Screen Gems executives, an accountant's mind. He would not take chances. “I.ct me tell you how Harry was,” the late Jerry Wald, who worked for him, told me in 1961. “He was like this great coach of a football team. It's the closing seconds of the game. The coach calls in a kid — what is he, a halfback? — and he says, ‘Kid, all I need is a I I). I he kid goes in. He rushes down with the ball, he makes this tremendous luntch anil catches this pass, lie’s down to about the half-inch line and all of a sunn lie’s tackled. He looks down, and who is it'.' It s the coach. 'That was the way Harry was.”

Cohn was one of the most hated and feared men in Hollywood. Joseph l.aitin. the writer, once told a producer lie was thinking of writing a story about Cohn. "What will you call il, I lie Monster'?” asked the producer. “No, wait, (uve him a break. Your title should be: 'Harry Cohn — Man or Monster?' "

' Hen Hecht, who was one of the highest-priced writers on the Columbia lot. had an argument one morning with Cohn about the price for his next assignment. When he got back from lunch he found that Cohn had moved his office from the luxurious suite he had been occupying into a hall closet ordinarily used by junior writers. Cohn called him and gloatingly asked him how he liked his new quarters. “Any part of a barrel of herring smells the same," Hecht said. The director Robert Aldrich, down with influenza on a Wednesday, stayed home from the studio on a Thursday. On Friday, when he reported back for work, he found that another director had been given his assignment.

People who went to work for Cohn soon found that he regarded them only as replaceable parts in his fortune-making machine. When James Dean was the hottest kid in Hollywood, in demand by nearly every producer. one of Cohn's men took him into the office, hoping Cohn would put him into a film that was going into production. "What makes you think you can act?" Cohn snarled. Judy Holliday starred in Born Yesterday on Broadway; Cohn bought the property, then found that he had to buy her. as well. He had wanted to put one of his own tested box-office attractions into his version. He was enraged. When Miss Holliday arrived for work, she was ushered in to see him. Working on his sales figures, he did not look up for several minutes. Finally he said. “Turn around." She obeyed. “You got a big rear end,” lie said. That concluded their interview. Later he grudgingly developed respect for her ability and even went looking for properties that suited her.

Cohn ran his studio like Big Brother in George Orwell's /9S4. Yet,

unexpectedly, he had a certain streak of sentimentality. On the night that Country Girl won the Academy Award, Oscars were given also to Grace Kelly and to George Seaton, the director. Clifford Odets, who wrote the original play, got none. At the party to celebrate the winning, Cohn walked over to the desk where the Oscars were displayed, picked up the one awarded to him for the picture, and gave it to Odets. As Humphrey Bogart lay dying of cancer,

Cohn called him nearly every day to pretend to discuss the problems of The Good Shepherd, the C. S. Forester book that Bogart had been scheduled to appear in. “Come on, you skinny bastard, get off your back and come to work!” Cohn would bellow.

When television first appeared after World War II as a threat to the film industry, nearly everyone in Hollywood's big studios began telling each other that it really was no threat. Cohn was the only one who believed that

the new medium would amount to something.

Harry Cohn had a subsidiary company called Screen Gems that distributed short subjects and sixteen milimeter films. He took that name for a new company he and his brother Jack formed. It immediately began producing commercials. During the next two years it made over two hundred commecrial spots.

Screen Gems went on producing commercials until 1951, when it sign-

cd with Du Pont to produce seven half-hour films for the historical program called Cavalcade of America. By ihe spring of 1952 it was in the TV production business in earnest and for good. Irving Briskin, the studio manager, and Ralph Cohn, sold Ford Motor Company a half-hour drama anthology to star top Hollywood names that previously never had been seen on television. The films were to cost thirty thousand dollars each. Screen Gems did this by doing some-

thing unprecedented, and something highly unusual for Harry Cohn. It agreed to absorb a deficit of $10,000 on the first run of each film during that year.

Harry Cohn's peers said he was crazy. They still were hoping that television would go away. The following year they were wishing that they had followed his example. The Ford Theatre shows were syndicated for rerun under the title Your All Star Theatre. They still are running in syn-

dication around the world. This was the first of many gambles Screen Gems took in producing fare for television. It still is gambling today.

Canada, in Screen Gems' plans, is one of the principal gaming tables. Because production costs in Canada are lower, the company hopes to produce films here that may not earn their profits here but will earn them eventually in foreign markets. None of the original shows — except Pick a Letter — a children's show with

cartoonist George Feyer — have much chance of being sold outside Canada, but the company has in mind an ambitious production schedule.

Whether or not Harry C ohn had this in mind originally is open to question. One close associate says he recalls Cohn thinking aloud about the Canadian market, but none of his relatives or associates in Screen Gems led the Canadian invasion. Screen Gems was more or less led in — by Canadians.

Joe Dunkelman, a Canadian who came from the family that owned Tip Top Tailors, had the idea of getting into the television business in 1952, just about the time that Screen Gems was beginning to move in the United States. Dunkelman went to New York and picked up whatever films, series and features, he could find for the company he formed, Telepix Movies. Eventually he approached Gerald Bronfman of the Seagram dynasty, who always had had a yen to get into show business. They joined forces and began acquiring properties for distribution in Canada's then limited market.

“We prospered from the word go”

Bronfman and Dunkelman had a friend. Lloyd Burns, whom they had known since they were boys. Burns, born in Toronto, had graduated from McMaster University and gone into the textile business. Bronfman and Dunkelman urged Burns to join them. “Bronfman showed me some of the surveys he had made of the television potential, and I wasn't much impressed." Burns says today. “But then I spent a weekend with him at one of his summer places, and I finally decided I would get involved.

“I became a partner and general manager of the operation. To give an idea of what happened in television in Canada beginning in 1952-53, for the first six months of the year I joined we grossed $77.000, but we wound up the year grossing just under $300,000."

After six months w'ith Telepix, Burns went to the U. S. and made a survey of the companies that were in television. “Screen Gems was a stick-out,” he now says.

Because Screen Gems looked as though it among all the companies knew best what it was doing, Burns made a deal “after some protracted negotiations.”

“Our deal.” he says, “without getting into the complexities of it, because it was a complex deal, was that w'e kept the Telepix organization on the one hand and on the other set up a Screen Gems of Canada. I was general manager of both companies and Bronfman and Dunkelman and myself were directors of Screen Gems (Canada) Ltd., hut Screen Gems had no directorship on our board, and all the product was jointly pooled and put into the Screen Gems operation.

“The whole thing prospered from the word go,” says Burns, who became general manager of Screen Gems (Canada) Ltd. “In the mid-fifties when we really got rolling, the vast majority of U. S. shows on the Canadian network were Screen Gems’. The other American companies were sending salesmen to Canada. We opened

offices — in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. We were years ahead of our time.”

Screen Gems, in 1956, began making advances to Lloyd Burns to move to New York. He resisted. In 1958 their offer became so appealing he finally decided to make the move, and is now vice-president of international operations. At the same time Dunkelman went into production on his own and sold out his end of the original Telepix to Bronfman. Telepix is still in business, hut Screen Gems is dominant in Canada.

"The reason for this,” Lloyd Burns says, "is that we always have operated and functioned as a Canadian organization. Many of the things that were developed in Canada that were thought to he detrimental to American interests, we originated. When Canada started working on this business of playing shows a day ahead of the U. S. in order to protect the border stations and their markets, w;e fought like crazy to get it. lt‘s now a matter of standard buying policy for Canadian stations. Whenever a question has come up that has involved C anada and the national sovereignty of Canadian television, we always have been on the Canadian side of the fence. Our organization is still basically a Canadian organization.

"We were the first outside oganization to get involved in Canadian production, in ’56-’57. In those days the CBC had a very hard and fast rule that they allowed no outside production. They w'ere prepared to consider a project in which they had one hundred percent creative control, and we were willing to give them that. So we went in on a co-operation deal to produce a strip show — a fivedays-a-week show — called Portia Paces Lije, the old soap opera. We spent $17,500 on it. We had a top cast and good production, hut it just didn't work. That was our first venture. and it was discouraging. But now we're really into Canadian production with our ten and one-half hours, and we expect to he in it even bigger in the future . . .”

Meanwhile, hack in the States, things are a good deal different under A. Schneider, Jerome Hyams, John H. Mitchell and the rest of the present Screen Gems executives, than they were when Columbia Pictures first set up its TV subsidiary. "It's now a case of the tail wagging the dog.” one official put it to me. Screen Gems, he meant, is now more important than the organization that owms it.

There is, however, a difference. Harry Cohn relied on his own reaction to ideas for his product. The Screen Gems people appear unwilling to trust their own judgment.

"We do a lot of audience testing, w ith a machine,” William Dozier said last year in Hollywood. "Too many people have tried to reduce show' business to an exact science, and I don't think you can do that. But we do have this machine, and I think it is excellent as an assisting weapon. We have a young man named Pierre Marquis who runs this machine, which is forty thousand dollars’ worth ot electronics equipment. Two hundred people sit in a theatre, and each has a little dial, and the dials are wired up to this kind of console up in the bal-

cony. And the people up there can see the reaction of the viewers on a graph. It writes in whatever point of the show where this happens, where that happens, and later you see the high points of their reactions and the low points, and if you are a showman you know what they ought to he, so the machine just confirms what you know' . . .”

I asked if the machine could change his thinking about a show.

"The results of this machine’s showings should not he overlooked,” he said. "They should he given considerable weight in forming our own judgment. It should never be allowed to replace our own judgment, but it is a big help. Sometimes it indicates weakness in a show. It seldom points up any strength hut it sometimes does weakness.

"The audience that the machine samples are selected carefully according to background, education, age levels. So the machine can tell you if the show will appeal to people over thirty-five or whatever, or educated people or uneducated. It’s very valuable to indicate if we are getting the audience w'e are trying to get. If you are selling cornflakes you w'ant to hit a certain audience. If you are selling autos you want to hit a certain audience. It tells us if we are getting to the audiences we arc trying to reach . . .”

“Quality” is a hated word

The “young man,” Pierre Marquis, is very much a power in Screen Gems today. He recently has been made a vice-president. He is resented by the writers and directors who are trying to bring "quality” — hated word — into the operation.

Nate Monaster, one of the most expert script writers in Hollywood, said to me. "Marquis represents that deadly norm that says if you depart one step from what he believes is trustworthy, he considers it controversial. I don’t know why they put such faith in him. Maybe, like so many people at Columbia and Screen Gems, he’s related to somebody.” (Marquis is not related to anybody there.) "And he’s shifty,” Monaster continued. "If his charts don't work he produces a second set of papers. He can’t he wrong. If you question him, he says you’re doing it for some hidden subconscious reason.”

This certainly is true, as 1 learned. Pierre Marquis had been avoiding me. We were introduced one day in a hall by Jim Hardiman, the publicity man, who had told me, "Pierre’s part of Screen Gems is one of the most interesting aspects of the operation. You ought to talk to him, and maybe he’ll let you watch him making a test.” When we met and I asked Marquis for a date, he said he was going hack to New' York. "1 could see you there,” 1 said. "No, I’ll he coming back here,” he said. "Then maybe I’ll sec you here.” I said. “Maybe,” he said. "Call me.” I did not call him, hut Hardiman did, and every time he did he was told that Marquis was tied up. "He’s a very busy man,” Hardiman said, apologetically.

Then, one day, 1 had a date to see Tony Owen, the producer of The Donna Reed Show and husband of its star. I was a half-hour late and mean-

while Owen received another caller, the elusive Pierre Marquis. When 1 look back upon this meeting, it taxes my credulity.

Owen, approaching fifty, is a former Chicago newspaperman and professional football club owner who has a voice that sounds as though the frog in his throat spends its time sharpening crosscut saws. He is thoroughly likable. Marquis presents quite a contrast. He is a slender man, just under forty, neatly turned out, prissy. He graduated from Boston University l.aw School in 1947 and found his way to the NBC network where he was a “market and media analyst." Then he was a television “research director” for a while and then he went to Screen Gems. So much for the dramatis personae. The action of the play began when Owen said to me, "This guy sittin’ here has an answer for everything. He can give you a real scientific analysis of anything you got.”

“Do you think testing is valuable. Tony?” I asked.

"Yes, 1 do. I can tell you a lot of people who don’t.”

“Did you ever hear of a fellow named Thomas E. Dewey?”

“Sure.”

"He was elected president of the United States, you know,” I said.

“Who?” Dewey? I wish to hell he’d of heen."

“According to the pollsters and the scientific analyzers, he was — before he was defeated.”

Pierre Marquis spoke for the first time, to me. “You don’t believe in polls and analyses?”

"No. 1 think they’re untrustworthy. I think the pollsters’ main function is making work for themselves.”

Tony Owen tried to make peace. "I believe in this testing of Pierre’s because it don’t tell you if it’s going to win or lose ... It tells you what you have, and you can make up your own mind. It’s like a doctor looking at a specimen. He don’t only tell you one thing, and this machine of Pierre’s don’t, either.”

"How can you trust a machine?” 1 asked.

"Do you claim my machine is untrustworthy?" Pierre Marquis demanded. "Is that a personal opinion, or do you have some scientific basis ... ?”

"Personal opinion.”

“I would suggest that you find out a lot more about it,” he said, loftily.

Tony said, "Why don’t you go look at one of Pierre’s tests?”

Pierre Marquis said hastily, "Oh, I couldn't set one up at the moment . . .”

"You never can,” 1 said.

"All I can tell you is that our batting average over the past two years has been outstanding,” he said.

"You can see the results,” said Tony, obviously a convert. "It’s not guesswork. It’s how much they like the show, why they like it, why they don't, and it’s broken down into men and women and age groups. I can tell you this. Because of testing Pierre done on one of our first shows, it made a big. big difference in Donna Reed. We started off at the bottom of the ratings. We opened up our show with a commercial. After testing the damn thing we found out we oughta

open up with something that would hold ’em. So we did. We have what we call a "teaser’ now for the opening scene.”

“How many people were tested?” I asked.

“Two hundred.” said Pierre Marquis. “Each one with a dial in his hand.”

“You then took the opinion of two hundred as a projection for an audience of thirty million?” I asked, not sure I had understood him.

“You are disbelieving this on an emotional level!” Pierre Marquis cried.

“1 just don't believe two hundred people can tell you the reaction of thirty million,” 1 said. "It seems to me I’m disbelieving on a factual level.” And to Owen: “Tony, if the machine disagreed with something you strongly believed in, what would you do?”

Tony Owen hesitated. “Well ... I want Donna to go broader on the show. So does Pierre. Donna don't want to go broader. I want her to do more funny things. Not way out. Not Lucy. Just not be the always-perfect mother and wife. Now', if the machine says, "Don't let her go broader,' I'll go along with what the machine says.”

"It’s not what the machine says,” said Pierre Marquis. “It's the sample audience, projecting a good segment of the public.”

"My foot,” I said.

"You arc saying that on an emotional level!" he cried again. He was on his nimble feet. If he had not been a scientific sampler of public opinion, he would have shaken his fist or possibly used it. “I have the truth on my side!”

"The truth of two hundred,” I had to say, “as opposed to thirty million.”

“You ought to see a test,” Tony Owen repeated.

“I can't set one up right now,” Pierre Marquis repeated.

Tony Owen had to go to a meeting with William Dozier, thereby bringing our little scene to an end. Of all the hundreds of Screen Gems, Inc. shows I have seen, and of all the hundreds I may sec in the future, like it or not. The Pierre Marquis HalfHour is the one that will live longest in my memory. It still burns there, for in a special way it is symbolic of the impersonal and mathematical personality of Screen Gems. No, wait. There is one other show I will remember along with it. It w’as an episode of The Donna Reed Show that I happened to see by accident one night during the current season. On that show, Donna went broader.

Harry Cohn died of a stroke on February 27, 1958. They held his funeral on a sound stage at Columbia. Clifford Odets w'rote the eulogy, which was delivered by Danny Kaye. Someone made a joke that has been repeated many times. It went as follows:

FIKST MAN: Everybody hated Harry. How' come so many people turned up at his funeral?

SECOND MAN: You know what Harry always said — you got to give the people what they want.

As William Dozier said to me, the spirit of Harry Cohn “still permeates the organization to some extent.” Except for one thing. Screen Clems today is giving the people what the machine wants. ★