How Maxine Samuels built her own Seaway

Impossible, they said. So she did it. She needed a prohibitive three million dollars, film savvy, and confidence by the shipload. She raised the first, she had the rest. Now this elegant, audacious redhead is offering viewers the largest Canadian-produced TV film series ever.

SUSAN DEXTER October 2 1965

How Maxine Samuels built her own Seaway

Impossible, they said. So she did it. She needed a prohibitive three million dollars, film savvy, and confidence by the shipload. She raised the first, she had the rest. Now this elegant, audacious redhead is offering viewers the largest Canadian-produced TV film series ever.

SUSAN DEXTER October 2 1965

How Maxine Samuels built her own Seaway

Impossible, they said. So she did it. She needed a prohibitive three million dollars, film savvy, and confidence by the shipload. She raised the first, she had the rest. Now this elegant, audacious redhead is offering viewers the largest Canadian-produced TV film series ever.

SUSAN DEXTER

RUMOR HAS IT THAT Canadian filmmaker Maxine Samuels eats stagehands for breakfast, actors for lunch and directors, because they’re stringy and tough, for dinner. The gossips say this diet gives her a fat bankroll, a fearful reputation and frequent indigestion.

Like a bumblebee (fellow workers say she has a sting, but it’s not up to her advance publicity) that flouts all the laws of aerodynamics by flying, Samuels has created a film empire in three years and made it a success, when, all around, people were saying it couldn’t be done.

Her latest enterprise, called Seaway, the largest Canadian - produced television film series ever, delighted her detractors. Now Samuels had gone too far, they thought, because she wanted to spend three million dollars on thirty hour-long prime-time adventure stories set in a locale that most Canadians view with complacency if not downright boredom — the twenty-three-hundred-mile inland waterway we prosaically call the St. Lawrence Seaway.

But Samuels went ahead and raised the money. The CBC English and French networks have bought the show for $850,000, Associated Television in England has put up $1,500,000 and, the remaining $650.000 has come from Miss Samuels and her bank. Her chief argument in selling the show was that audiences glutted with Hollywood sound - set westerns and situation comedies are hungry for different film material — and Seaway is certainly that.

Maxine Samuels is both an earlystarter and a late-bloomer. She had taken over a women's-wear business u'hen her mother fell ill and built it into a $600,000-a-year proposition by the time she was twenty-two. only to have her own illness and three marriages bring her business to an end. Yet she was able, with no film experience, to raise a million dollars for her first series — The Forest Rangers — sixteen years later. She has been able to attract such top U. S. talent as Jack Priestley (a photography director who won TV Emmies for Naked City and East Side West Side), despite the fact that Priestley had never worked in Canada let alone heard of Miss Samuels. The thirty hour-long Seaway episodes comprise nearly half the domestic drama production the CBC will offer in the coming season.

As it turned out, Seaway's cost to the CBC was even larger than $850,000 since the corporation lost Michael Sadlier, program director of the English TV network, who not only joined Seaway as producer, but also married Samuels. The company — Seaway Productions Limited, a division of Samuel’s older ASP Productions Ltd.

also snatched Ed Moser, who was script supervisor of the CBC drama department, and an able young producer named Don Macpherson.

Seaway is more a waterbound Route 66 than a film like On The Waterfront — though youthful co-star Stephen Young, who plan's an American shipping-line trouble-shooter, appears to have modeled his speech on that displayed by Marlon Brando in the movie. Young had been playing the part of a young husband in NBC’s soap opera Moment Of Truth when he tested for Seaway. He was selected Seaway's lead on the basis of overwhelming support from a sample group of teenagers called in to see the screen tests. The production staff were surprised at his appeal — many of them had favored another actor — but they decided to go along with majority opinion and Young got the job. (Gaining release from the soap opera was no problem, since his melodrama wife had become pregnant in real life, and wanted to cancel her contract just as badly as he wanted to end his. So the scriptwriter simply sent her to hospital, killed her there, and sent Young to another city to heal his broken heart.)

Young did move to another city — to Montreal. Canada’s largest port and the hub of the St. Lawrence Seaway — and the new Maxine Samuels production began in late June.

“Stephen's a remarkable guy,” says one Seaway executive. “He’s always improving — you can see the difference in his acting almost daily.” Young’s co-star, and the anchor man of the show, is the highly professional Austin Willis, who will do anything for Seaway except climb a ladder (he suffers from vertigo). Willis plays a retired admiral who acts as a check on the impulsive Young and. almost in his spare time, is in charge of ships moving up and down the seaway. So whenever there’s a body found floating in the St. Lawrence, or a seaman jumps ship, or medical authorities discover plague aboard a freighter, Willis will investigate, and try to control the let’s-solve-it-yesterday inclinations of Young, who is paid by shipping companies to see that nothing delays their vessels.

Heights have proved a hazard for others on the set besides Willis. Nehemiah Persoff, one of the imported guest stars, was swaying on a suspended platform sixty feet above a ship’s hold, when picketing longshoremen suddenly charged down to the docks and began to harass laborers still unloading the Saguenay Shipping Line vessel on which an episode of Seaway was being filmed. For a few panicky minutes, Persoff was convinced that the longshoremen operating the winch holding him and fourteenyear - old actor Richard Thomas in midair would be so upset by the picketers that they would let go. Thomas, unaware of possible danger, thought it was great that Seaway was big enough to employ so many extras. Finally, after about five spine-chilling minutes, Persoff and Thomas were returned safely to earth, and the longshoremen walked off the job.

That seven-week strike was not the only labor trouble encountered by Seaway, for Montreal has had a strikebound summer. A grain-handlers’ strike forced Samuels’ company to postpone the show originally intended as the series opener, because the script called for a chase through a busy grain elevator. A gas strike threatened to immobilize Seaway's moving stock, which includes a forty-four-seat Quebec school bus for the crew, a twenty-ton tractor trailer, and a ten-ton equipment truck that carries one of their power generators to feed lights and equipment on location. (One Seaway wit observed that the worst possible strike could have been the Quebec Liquor Commission walkout; fortunately, it was settled before Seaway began.)

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MAXINE SAMUELS

At the company’s Montreal studio, I sat talking with writer Norman Klenman. There was a sharp smell of hot lights, equipment lay about, crew members on their dinner break (it was ll p.m.) passed the time with desultory conversation, and Klenman was saying, “As a nation, we’ve abdicated the right to a film industry.”

Miss Samuels swept in. bedecked in jewels and wearing slacks, and trailing in her elegant wake were Sadlier and Ted Holliday, the rumpled associate producer who later resigned because of ill health. There’s a certain leonine quality about Maxine Samuels. She’s proud; she looks haughty with her fiery-red hair pulled back from hcr face. She took off her sun glasses and sat in a director’s chair, flanked by Sadlier and Holliday. Klenman went instantly to her side to check an insert for a script, and she looked almost like a cross between Sol Hurok and Catherine of Russia. On acquaintance, though, she turned out to be a charming, articulate, soft-spoken but tough - minded woman.

She breeds horses on her farm north of Toronto, and says the only time she feels totally free is while riding a horse (“My mind goes completely blank”). There have also been times when office worries have been so overwhelming she’s slept the night in the stables, because horses are comforting.

She says she has a fierce temper, and admits to driving people hard — but no harder than she pushes herself. Some of those who work with her feel she’s covering a shyness with her efficient unruffled exterior.

She confesses readily to success, but makes it sound deceptively easy: “I’m not a pioneer in the Canadian film industry,” she says. “There have been other well-intended and well-produced efforts. We have the technical knowhow here, but no one has mobilized the effort toward commercial selling and production the way I have.”

In the fall, she begins her first feature film, to be directed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie. Titled The Cold, Cold Box (though this could change by release time), it will cost a million dollars and is a psychological drama about the preservation of life in ice. Again there are those who feel that she’s overextending herself. But she’s done it before — and carried it off. And you can always remember that Maxine Samuels’ philosophy is clear: “I don’t want personal glorification if I have to spend the rest of my life paying for it.”