Sunday, April 15, 2012

An Interview with Arthur Marks

Kliph Nesteroff: I was just watching some clips from Treasury Men in Action and...

Arthur Marks: Oh my God.

Kliph Nesteroff: Man Behind the Badge. Two shows that seem almost identical in style and format.

Arthur Marks: Well, those two shows were early in my assistant director career. They were designed so that we could make them together, back to back. Two days we would spend on Man Behind the Badge and two days later we would do Treasury Men in Action. All the sets were on the same stage.

Kliph Nesteroff: That makes sense. They both have the same prologue and epilogue with a guy sitting behind a desk lecturing the camera on crime and punishment.

Arthur Marks: Those were originally New York shows and they came out here to be filmed. They were live shows in New York.

Kliph Nesteroff: I understand that you were born into a show business family.

Arthur Marks: Well, I certainly was. I had a mother who came here in 1919 and became a film extra. I had a father who came here in 1919 separately and also became a film extra. My father worked up from every job in Hollywood; from prop man to sound to eventually assistant director.

He met my mother on one of the sets in 1925 or 1926. When I was born my father was working as assistant director on the film Hells Angels for Howard Hughes. He worked as an assistant director for thirty or forty years. He worked his last thirty years at MGM. 

Kliph Nesteroff: And you, yourself, had a bit part in the Spencer Tracy film Boys Town.

Arthur Marks: What happened was - with both my parents in the industry - many times a scene called for children. I was nine years old and children were needed as extras. So I worked quite a bit. I worked on Boys Town. I worked on so many... God, what's the Pearl Buck picture?

Kliph Nesteroff: The Good Earth.

Arthur Marks: The Good Earth. I worked on The Good Earth for about a month and I worked on the Andy Hardy's when I was older. It was fun because you also had school at the studio and you didn't have to go to your regular school. You kicked around with guys from other movies that you had worked with like Mickey Rooney. It was kind of fun and you were ditching school.

Kliph Nesteroff: Having been around it from such an early age - were you in awe?

Arthur Marks: I don't think in awe, but as I got older and got to be more involved... I was much younger than they were, but as I got older I thought, "Wow, look at all of these beautiful girls. This is a great business!"

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you ever get any billing in the stuff you worked on?

Arthur Marks: No. Although I worked on the film Good News with Peter Lawford, who was a good friend of mine, and I play football in that movie.

Kliph Nesteroff: It's interesting to think of you as being in those films. It makes me wonder who some of these other folks were in the background, uncredited.

Arthur Marks: Oh, God, there were so many of us. You can't even recall. Good News was 1946. I had just got back from the service. I got a job at KNX as an usher, so I worked on hundreds of different radio shows. That was wild, that was crazy and it was fun. Then my dad called me and told me they were going to do Good News. I had played football in high school and was going to play in college. So I got a contract for two weeks to play football for MGM! 

So I was in the locker room scenes and on the field. When I was in high school in Los Angeles - most men of age were in the service - so the studios hired high school boys to play soldiers, sailors and marines in all the war pictures. My friends and I worked in dozens of films in 1944 and 1945 as soldiers, sailors and marines. It was fun. It was great. You got ten dollars and a boxed lunch.

Kliph Nesteroff: That's interesting. That shortage never dawned on me.

Arthur Marks: Yeah, there were no men around. I would say that three-quarters of the people in movies playing soldiers were high school students from all over Los Angeles.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was your first gig on the crew?

Arthur Marks: When I got back from the War I worked as a laborer pulling nails out of sceners at the scene docks - which was a terrible job. I worked as a set dresser moving furniture in and out of sets. Then I got the job at KNX and went to college. I got a football scholarship at USC, but before I ever played - a job opened up in the production department at MGM. 

I thought, "Well, I'm a journalism major. What the hell am I going to do?" I left school and took the job in the production department at MGM, which really started the career. Working at MGM in those days... it was like going to mecca. It was a studio with the greatest stars and they were all over the place. My job was to take orders from the production manager. Write call sheets for the next day, order equipment, see to it that extras were called. Whatever they needed for the next day went through my department.

Kliph Nesteroff: Were you too low on the food chain to have encountered Louis B. Mayer?

Arthur Marks: No, we saw him all the time! He would always wave to us because our office was on the main drag. He walked over to the set all the time. Some of us he knew by name. He was very nice. He was like Papa Louis. Seriously. He looked upon MGM as his family and the people that worked there as relatives. He would throw parties in the summer where the whole studio was invited and everything was paid for. All the food, all the gifts, all the prizes they gave away. Fabulous.  

Kliph Nesteroff: I read that you ended up working as an Assistant Director on Lady of Shanghai. That was over at Columbia.

Arthurs Marks: Yes, that was later. I worked on its retakes. I never worked on the full picture. My first job as an assistant director was at Columbia. Columbia was a sensational studio for an assistant director to break into because the assistant director ran the picture. MGM had production managers and assistant production managers and all of that. 

Columbia didn't have that. It was probably the cheapest (laughs) studio in Hollywood in terms of having enough people to do the work. The assistant directors ran the set - so you learned so much. You had to just come up with things whereas MGM had a staff and another staff and more staffs. It was a whole different world. My first job at Columbia was a serial. You know what a serial is?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, of course.

Arthur Marks: Not a lot of people do. It was called Thunda, King of the Congo with Buster Crabbe. It was a learning period for me and I learned so much because it's all action. I did two of those in a row. I did one with Johnny Weissmuller called Jungle Jim and so on. It was just a tremendous learning period. I worked at Columbia for about three years.

Kliph Nesteroff: The impression I get is that the crew on a serial was the most adept because they had to work so fast and produce so much in a small time frame.

Arthur Marks: You're quite right. They were probably the best crews in the whole city. There were several because there were several serials being shot. The key was the director. It was a story in fifteen chapters and the scripts were the size of about four or five motion picture scripts. It was enormous. The directors were usually famous film editors who had also been directors in silent days and hardly ever looked at the script. 

They hardly ever looked at the script, but would know the whole fifteen chapters. They were so adept and working with them you learned editing. How to shoot continuity. How to shoot out of continuity. How to move the rock from one position to another so it looked like a completely different location. You learned everything. It was fantastic.

Kliph Nesteroff: One of the things that stands out most in serials is the marvelous stunt work.

Arthur Marks: Yes, they had fabulous guys. Every serial had about eight of them.

Kliph Nesteroff: Who were some of the characters involved in these. At Columbia Sam Katzman was kind of the...

Arthur Marks: He was the serial king. That's where I started. Sam Katzman. You know, I meet every Thursday in Hollywood at a famous delicatessen with eight guys whom I started with at Columbia Studios. You know how long ago that was? These guys are in their eighties and nineties. I've known them since 1950, 1951, 1952. They all became leaders of the industry. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I love Columbia B-pictures of that era. They're a lot of fun. William Castle made plenty of 'em before he became well-known.

Arthur Marks: Yes, I did two pictures with him. One was called Drums of Tahiti with Dennis O'Keefe and Francis X. Sullivan. I was assistant director for that one. I worked with countless directors. Columbia was also known for westerns. They did everything from Randolph Scott to these six-day Bob Steele westerns - shot in six days. Your eleven cavalry men would be played by the same men playing the Indians that chased them! Cowboys and Indians were a big item in that day.

Kliph Nesteroff: I'm a big fan of the cheapies. I'd much rather watch the cheap films made at Columbia during that time than the MGM gloss made during the same years.

Arthur Marks: That's interesting. Most just remember High Noon and stuff like that.

Kliph Nesteroff: I enjoy those Boston Blackie and Lone Wolf pictures. Lots of them are terrible, but they're all entertaining. Some of the big-budget MGM films don't deliver the same way... or perhaps it's just higher expectations...

Arthur Marks: MGM had the signature of being an MGM movie and sometimes that made the audience feel that they were entitled to more.

Kliph Nesteroff: Some of those B movies have incredibly adept character actors.

Arthur Marks: So many of them just had to do with budgetary problems and that's why Boston Blackie films and thing like that were made in ten or twelve days. That was the budget and you made your picture in twelve days or there was no Boston Blackie.

Kliph Nesteroff: The speed of which these things were turned over became important. When television came in - these would be the directors working in television - the B unit guys - because they knew how to crank stuff out at incredible speed. William Beaudine. Jack Arnold. 

Arthur Marks:  Oh, yes, I knew Jack very well.

Kliph Nesteroff: Lady of Shanghai - the film was redone after the fact...

Arthur Marks: Yes, it was redone, reshot, re-edited. That was a little bit before me and I came in right after that. Apparently they did not release the picture right away and wanted to redo some parts. There were scenes at sea and boats and such. There was stuff we did with scale model work and additional shooting with Rita Hayworth. There were additional shots a year or two after the film was finished.

Kliph Nesteroff: Orson Welles was no longer involved at that point.

Arthur Marks: They took the picture away from him. Yes, Harry Cohn hand picked the shots that he wanted. He was a cheap bastard and he was difficult as far as directors were concerned.

Kliph Nesteroff: Was the issue that the film was too weird?

Arthur Marks: It was too out of Columbia's realm. Columbia was a studio that didn't do esoteric work, didn't do work that was too over the head of the audience. It was a very down to earth studio and that is what Harry Cohn wanted. That's why Frank Capra was such a hit. His pictures reached the man on the street.

Capra had a contract that said Harry Cohn could not come down on the set. He could not come down and say one word while he was shooting a picture. This was after he won the Academy Award. That is a true story.

Kliph Nesteroff: Frank Capra had saved the studio from bankruptcy, essentially.

Arthur Marks: Yes, I think you're quite right. You're quite right. His pictures were enormous successes.

Kliph Nesteroff: What do you remember about Harry Cohn?

Arthur Marks: Harry Cohn was a tough son of a bitch. He was enormous. He loved every woman he ever saw - and he had a bedroom in back of his office! He shacked up with half the studio girls under contract. If you were on his shit list - you were gone. You were gone in a day. For any reason. If you crossed his executives in the wrong way you were gone. He ran it with an iron fist. It was not a lovable place, Columbia. Working on the sets - that was different. The John Fords and everyone else were super. 

But the staff, the executives under Harry Cohn were a little drastic and a pain in the ass. The assistant director rarely made contact with them - you just did your job. I'll give you an idea of it. The head of production at Columbia... when I got my assistant director's card, I was working at MGM. I hoped to go on as an assistant director at MGM, but they were full up. I started looking elsewhere. I tried very hard to get an appointment at Columbia. Week after week after week. It took six weeks. Finally I got a call to come in for an interview.

I went into the palatial office of the head who hired the assistant directors. He looks at me. He doesn't say a word. Suddenly he lays into me like I'm the lowest fucking ladybird on the pole. He says, "What kind of an assistant director are you gonna be if it takes you six weeks to get in here!? You're no goddamn good! Who wants you?" I said, "Wait a minute!" I tried to defend myself. He said, "Get the hell out of here." That's the God's truth! 

That night I got a call from the production department to go to work at Columbia. It was weird, I tell you. A lot of fear. In fact - the head of production's name was Jack Fears. Does that tell you something? True story. A lot of the fellas that I knew in the production office at Columbia then are the guys I have lunch with. We go to a place called Art's Delicatessen in Studio City. 

I did the first television series at Warner Brothers and I did the first television series that was done at Fox. The first television series that was done by a major was done by my company. We did Casablanca at Warner Brothers. It was a wild time because the studios at that time were afraid of television. They were afraid that television would take the place of movies, so you had no cooperation on the lot from the department heads or the studio head. Even so, they invested their money in a television department and I was hired to be assistant director on Casablanca

It was a television version of the movie. It was terrible because the television actors couldn't get dressed until the feature actors had been dressed. You couldn't get make-up until the feature actors were made up and so and so on. Well, I had just come from serials at Columbia and a two-day television show, Man Behind the Badge. I said, "We can't operate that way." I moved everything to the set. Make-up, wardrobe, everything. When I went to Fox and did The 20th Century Fox Hour, they encountered the exact same problem. I did the very same thing. So that's the very quick history of my entrance into television at the majors.

Kliph Nesteroff: So your entrance into the studio's television department came because you were already working in motion pictures...

Arthur Marks: No, it was because I was already working in television. I had been doing Man Behind the Badge and Treasury Men in Action. It had a reputation for being a fast, good show in those days. I left Columbia. MCA bought a studio and had gone into television production. They called themselves Revue Productions. The leaders of the production department were Columbia assistant directors. So they called me to come over there from Columbia and do television. 

So I did half a dozen television series there before I left to do Man Behind the Badge. For two years I had done things like Pride of the Family, Pepsi-Cola Playhouse and there must have been twelve shows I did. When I left Revue I was elevated to first assistant director on Man Behind the Badge and Treasury Men in Action, which was considerably more money and a more important job. The reputation of our unit got to be very good. We got a call from Warner Brothers that they were going to start television. They needed a key crew to do it and that's how it came about. You zig and you zag and you never know. 

Kliph Nesteroff: You became associated in a big way with the Perry Mason series.

Arthur Marks: Well, 1955 I was doing the Man Behind the Badge. 1956 I went to Warner Brothers to do Casablanca, which was ill-fated. I got a call from Fox to do The 20th Century Fox Hour. It was probably one of the most important television shows ever made. It was remakes of Fox motion pictures with big stars like Joan Fontaine and Paul Douglas. They were remakes of Fox pictures, so I was doing those in nineteen days. Each show was like a completed picture and, of course, we did thirty-two of them.

At that time, a company moved onto the lot and they were going to do a pilot called Perry Mason. It was very interesting. When I wasn't doing The 20th Century Fox Hour, I would do other series to fill in. I worked on the pilot of Perry Mason. Six months later when the pilot sold and the Fox hour came to an end, it dovetailed perfectly. I was asked to be the assistant director on the first Perry Mason series and there you go. I directed around eighty of them. It was a labor of love. It was a great series. We handled it with care. We gave it a lot of love. The show was very popular, as you know.

Kliph Nesteroff: The 20th Century Fox Hour - I've never heard of that format in television - the adaptations of motion pictures. It was a common thing in radio.

Arthur Marks: There was a thing on radio called the Lux hour. They did famous pictures that were current and the original actors or new actors would come and dramatize that. The 20th Century Fox Show was the same thing except on film. 

The beautiful thing about it was that if you were doing The Ghost and Mrs. Muir for example, you could cut the stock film from the movie into the show; the house on the cliff, the sea, all the beautiful shots. I would sit with the director and editor and we would pick shots. It was another way for me to learn directing and editing and so on. I was continually fortunate to fall into these spots.

Kliph Nesteroff: You started as assistant director on Perry Mason, but you remained involved with the show in a variety of capacities.

Arthur Marks: I actually began directing the show the latter part of the first year. The directors that they had first hired, many of them, were feature directors. They couldn't stand the time element of filming. They needed to shoot these in six or seven days. A court room scene was two days and demanded tremendous organization. It's very difficult to film court rooms, editing wise and everything else because it's action versus reaction. 

Consequently, the directors kept falling on their faces. As the assistant director my duty was to help the director. So I would go up to them and say, "You're doing this wrong. If you do this you can't edit or do this" and so on. It came to the attention of the powers that be and they said, "Look, you're half directing these shows. Why don't you direct one or two of them?" 

That's when I started directing. I left the show briefly to direct a few shows elsewhere. I came back when they gave me an offer to be head of production on the show and also to direct ten shows a year. That's what I did.

Kliph Nesteroff: Sounds like a good gig.

Arthur Marks: It was a good gig!


A Moose said...

There's also a William Castle connection to "Lady of Shanghai" as well Kliph. Bill's daughter Terry tells of how Bill actually bought the rights to the book with hopes to direct, but Cohn got Welles to direct and Bill was relegated to being Orson's assistant.

This is told in the documentary "Spine Tingler". about Bill's life.

Unknown said...

Arthur Marks was the man behind the legendary ABC and NBC drama series Treasury Men in Action.

Unknown said...

I had the pleasure of meeting Arthur Marks and stayed at his home once in the summer of 1968. I had one great conversation with him. Some things just stay with you