After seeing THE FABLEMANS, Steven Spielberg’s only slightly fictional story of his early life, I was reminded that ,at the age of 22, Spielberg’s professional debut as a director was at Universal Television and his star was Joan Crawford.
After his success with Twilight Zone, Rod Serling produced a new TV series called Night Gallery (1969-1973).
The show’s pilot consisted of three half hour stories, with “EYES”, the middle story which starred Joan Crawford, Barry Sullivan and Tom Bosley.
Steven Spielberg had become a Universal contract director in 1968. He had been signed by producer Sidney Sheinberg after making a short called AMBLIN’ (1968). AMBLIN became the name of Spielberg’s production company in later years.
It does seem rather extraordinary that Universal should choose a 22 year old novice director to direct the Oscar winning star, Joan Crawford , who was making movies 20 years before Spielberg was born.
The story goes that .initially , Joan objected to the choice of director but was persuaded to go ahead with the project.
Spielberg tells the story that he went to meet her at her home and found her with a blindfold on in order to get into the character of the blind woman she would be playing.
Spielberg also spoke of the show’s crew showing some resentment at this young man being in charge.
The director has said that Joan spoke to the crew and said:
”I’ve got great respect for this director and I want you to treat him as you would me – we are all professionals.”
Spielberg also said, “It was a great experience to be baptised that way.”
At the 2022 TCM Classic Film Festival, Spielberg said:
“She was kind and understanding – and selling Pepsi-Cola left and right!”
Apparently Joan and Steven kept in touch after filming.
Tom Bosley was interviewed for Emmy legends.org, and said that the script was meant for Bette Davis and Martin Balsam.
He called his time on the show ( a 9 day shooting schedule), “ A wonderful experience.”
So what is EYES about. Joan plays a very wealthy woman who lives alone in a New York penthouse. Blind from birth, yet she is surrounded by paintings and special possessions which she has never seen.
She is single minded in wanting to see .even for a short time, at whatever cost.
Tom Bosley plays a gambler who is being pressured to pay his debts of $9,000 . He’s desperate , ( and ridiculous as it may seem), agrees to Joan’s offer to pay his debt in exchange for his eyes!
Barry Sullivan is the doctor she blackmails into doing the operation. He does warn her she will only see for 12 hours.
There is of course a dramatic twist at the end.
(Joan and Barry Sullivan had costarred in 1955’s QUEEN BEE.)
I liked THE FABELMANS ,though it was overlong at two and a half hours. If it had been the real Spielberg story, I’d love the film to have continued to show us that historic filming of “Night Gallery.”
Steven Spielberg directed the very first COLUMBO episode , “MURDER BY THE BOOK” in 1971.
Only two years later he directed DUEL and in 1975 came JAWS. The rest,as they say, is history.
When the former head of Universal ,Sidney Sheinberg died in 2019, Steven Spielberg said: “…..he gave birth to my career – he gave me “Jaws” and “Schindlers List” – we were a team for 25 years.”
”Eyes” can be seen on Season 1 of NIGHT GALLERY on dvd.