PLEASE NOTE THIS SITE IS NEITHER AFFILIATED WITH NOR AUTHORIZED BY CHARLES SIEBERT
1996, Xena Warrior Princess
Ten Little Warlords (Season 2, episode 8 )
Mr. Siebert’s last filmed performance prior to his retirement from screen acting/directing (he has directed regional theater more recently); he also directed the episode. Notable: Mr. Siebert was set to direct Lucy Lawless in this episode; Ms. Lawless unfortunately fractured her pelvis and was unable to perform. In a 1997 interview for Whoosh, Mr. Siebert states that he assumed shooting of the series would go on hiatus, until the memorable (to Xena fans) decision was made to film the episode as ‘Xena in Calisto’s body’.
In my opinion, Mr. Siebert’s little performance as Sisyphus shows remarkably well the fine talent that we could have enjoyed if he had not retired. I recall reading a quote from Mr. Siebert that there were no good roles for him once he turned 50. What a loss!
Despite a plot in which there are eight eccentric warlords chewing up the scenery, a de-deified god Ares, and a hyped up Gabrielle (Xena’s sidekick, for you non-Xena fans), the performances pale when Sisyphus is on the screen. Lovely line readings catch the ironic anachronism of the Xena universe (“Not likely!”) and Mr. Siebert’s usual excellent use of gesture and stage business includes the world’s oldest use of ‘air quotes’. Mr. Siebert actually manages to bring freshness to air quotes – amazing.
Mr. Siebert’s other Xena credits, in addition to directing several episodes, include providing the voice of Poseidon in episodes 19 and 21 of the second season, 1997 (Lost Mariner and Ulysses).
1993 A House of Secrets and Lies
A slow-moving melodrama starring Connie Selleca as a chronically cheated-on wife; the first half of the movie kept me watching, expecting it to blossom into a Gaslight type of plot, or perhaps a belated slasher flick, but no, it resolves into a didactic “woman’s movie” about co-dependency*. Connie Selleca does a nice job expressing all sorts of emotional pain, pain which possibly was caused by hearing, across the gap of nearly two decades, the screams of “Oh, for God’s sakes!” coming from my living room. (Really, if you catch your husband half naked with a half naked woman, and he says, “It’s not what it looks like…” how would you respond?) However, if you like this sort of movie, or if you are in fact a recovering co-dependent, you would enjoy this. Also notable, a typically engaging performance by Grace Zabriskie as the hooker with a heart of gold. You can’t take your eyes off her when she’s on the screen.
Mr. Siebert appears 105 minutes into the movie as a (believe me, much needed) therapist. He gives a perfectly acceptable performance in a scene that lasts a minute and a half. His appearance, though quite different from his TJMD days, is pleasing, and I continue to have a hard time understanding why his acting career suddenly died out (see my brief comments at TJMD,1979-1986, in this section).
1991 Deception: A Mother’s Secret
Weepy chick flick, fine if you like that sort of thing, in which sensitive guy loses wife to car accident and stepson due to a bizarre custody issue (his wife had kidnapped the kid, basically). Features the fabulous Katherine Helmond, another can’t-take-your-eyes-off-her actor. Mr. Siebert plays another lawyer, this time a private lawyer working on the adoption case. He appears at 19, 29 and 35 minutes into the film in some nice scenes where, again, we see his usual use of stage business enlivening his scenes.
My copy of this movie was in very poor condition, and this was the clearest screen cap I could get. You can see that he has plenty of props to work with.
There’s a short clip on YouTube of this scene from Deception: A Mother’s Secret.
I’ve not caught Mr. Siebert in a poor or even mediocre performance, though he’s appeared in some mediocre and poor productions; however, I do find the butt-end of his acting career, in the form of these three consecutive melodramas, to be a bit sad. Perhaps it’s because these were almost the last pieces I was able to obtain and view, and my quixotic little project is coming to an end. (A note from the curator: I wrote this just before the site went up, and little did I know how much more was still to come!)
1991 Don’t Touch My Daughter
A well-known and often shown television drama which can also be found under the alternate title “Nightmare” (the title of the novel it’s based on). Victoria Principal plays a single mom whose daughter is molested; Paul Sorvino is the sympathetic detective, and, spoiler alert, she gets away with murder – or does she? Mr. Siebert plays the prosecutor or DA (it wasn’t clear to me which), appearing in four scenes through the movie. I particularly liked the atmospheric location scene near the end, in which Sorvino and Siebert (Sorvino, incidentally, using an unusual speech pattern – I wasn’t sure what he was going for) have a strangely quiet scene together. The reason for the ambiguity becomes clear a few minutes later in the denouement of the movie. Note, also, the interesting pan and tracking shots used in this scene, as well as in the earlier courtroom scene – the camera sweeps past the actors before bringing them into the frame. Mr. Siebert’s choices in his line readings and gesture give dynamics to a generic character.
August, 2012: Mr. Siebert informs us that Paul Sorvino was doing a Chicago accent and also imitating actor Dennis Farina “just for the fun of it.” No word on what Farina (of ‘Law and Order’ and more recently, ‘Luck’) thought of this.
1990 The Big One: The Great Los Angeles Earthquake
Contemporary reviews state that Mr. Siebert gave a strong performance as the forceful mayor of Los Angeles. The earthquake section of this movie is on YouTube, and is quite amazing to view, considering the date of production. Mr. Siebert is visible in the segment, along with other cast, primarily dodging falling objects. He looks surprisingly similar to his heavily made-up appearance in The Adams Chronicles, fourteen years earlier. This is the sort of powerful-male role that you would think the actor would have been typecast into; again, his size and presence are an asset here. I think that the variety of roles that Mr. Siebert has played over his career speaks to his craft and professionalism.
This movie is available on VHS and DVD. I’ve read comments that it’s cut to about half the length of the original; perhaps this refers to the VHS edition. The DVD version is three hours long. It’s very viewable; not only are the effects good, but the fine editing of the earthquake scenes makes the most of it. The first hour of the movie, as you may imagine, sets up all the little domestic scenarios that will soon be ‘shaken’, pardon the pun.
Of course, you don’t make a disaster movie without asking your actors to go through a little Sturm und Drang.
This was no picnic for the two actors who have to manhandle
him down from here…
…and perhaps no picnic for the actor, either…
Mr. Siebert is, indeed, perfectly believable as the pragmatic and tough mayor. I liked the moment near the end of the movie, his last scene in it, in which he recognizes his secretary, dead in her car, having never made it out of the parking garage. This comes among a number of histrionic scenes as the various characters find their loved ones either dead or alive. Here, the actor expresses a great deal of emotion using only his eyes.
1987-1994, Murder She Wrote
Night of the Headless Horseman, season 3, episode 11 (1987)
Playing a doctor again- well, a dentist – Mr. Siebert performs a rather typical Murder She Wrote character in a relatively engaging episode of the show. His New England accent is a bit dicey to my ears. At the end, when Mr. Siebert’s character is revealed to be (spoiler alert!) the murderer, he brings forth a number of Riverside-like facial expressions. (Do note the genuine tear the actor produces during his confession.)* This is notable as the only example I’ve seen, after watching quite a lot of his performances, of the actor giving this spin to another character. Possibly this is because the Murder She Wrote character shares a certain pathos with the well-known Riverside character. Then again, Trapper John MD had just gone off the air, so quite possibly Mr. Siebert was asked to play the character this way for the viewers. For more on Mr. Siebert’s long-term portrayal of the benighted Riverside, see the TJMD section of this site.
I’ve seen the bulk of Mr. Siebert’s filmed work (excluding soaps and game shows), and I believe this is the only time the actor is seen actually committing an act of violence (unless we count his brief neck-breaking move in “The Rhineman Exchange”). When he’s played a bad guy, any violence is either off-screen, implied, or botched (see “Wild and Wooly”, or the Rockford Files episodes). I’ve often commented that I never find the actor to be particularly menacing, but a combination of acting, lighting and editing kinda-sorta pulls it off when the character loses it and goes all homicidal.
Trivia: Doug McClure is the sheriff who arrests Siebert’s character. Doug McClure also had the honor of appearing in ‘Wild and Wooly’.
*I remember seeing Sir Laurence Olivier on a talk show back in the 1970s, railing about ‘method acting’ – you can see Olivier’s opinion dramatized by Kenneth Branagh, who portrays him in the 2012 Academy Award nominee, “My Week with Marilyn”. Olivier demonstrated that he did not have to rely on ‘the method’ by producing tears from either his right or left eye, on cue. Obviously this made a great enough impression on me that I recall it so vividly after all these years. I appreciate Mr. Siebert’s craft precisely because he is an artist in stagecraft and the craft of acting.
Indian Giver, season 4, episode 10 (1987)
Mr. Siebert portrays a combative banker with a puzzling sort of New England accent. Bear in mind that every episode of Murder She Wrote is a veritable symphony of bad New England accents.
Wheel of Death, season 10, episode 21 (1994)
The actor appears in several scenes throughout the episode as the mean, nasty and drunken husband of the murder suspect. At the end of the episode, there appears to
be some hope that husband and wife will get their acts together and reconcile;
probably not a good idea (Mr. Siebert plays the role as very nasty, and this time he’s quite convincing).
Nowhere to Turn (season 5, episode 2)
I must confess, watching this was a bit of a cross for me. I intensely dislike this show, and this was one of the most annoying episodes I can imagine, so I fast-forwarded to Mr. Siebert’s moments on screen.
In his television career, Mr. Siebert has portrayed a lot of doctors and a lot of bad guys, perhaps with more success as a doctor than as a bad guy. In this episode, he portrays both a doctor and a bad guy. OK, a psychiatrist, but still a doctor.
If you compare this role (a rather typical one for this genre of television) to Mr. Siebert’s portrayal of two different types of heavies on The Rockford Files, you’ll agree with me that the actor does actually manage to be rather menacing here – something that he didn’t always carry off well (note my comment on The Rockford Files role, that he does better with ‘slimy’ than ‘menacing’). Pay attention to his use of his size to appear intimidating. The beard doesn’t hurt, either.
A typically competent and detailed performance by the actor in a generic role. I was not at all engaged by the plot, but the performance suggested a little more depth than was actually written for the character.
Nice backlighting in this shot.
Ahami Awry Kidnapped (season 1, episode 12)
-not yet viewed
Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die, Part I (season 1, episode 14)
-not yet viewed
I am seeking this short-lived program, if only because I have trouble imagining how Mr. Siebert could appear in only Part I of episode 14. A synopsis of the two-part episode states that his character is accused of murder. I assume they clear him in the first part. (Update 2013: Mancuso FBI seems to be available via Ivid, which I think is a streaming service.)
1988 Favorite Son (TV mini-series)
(This mini-series led to its spin-off, Mancuso FBI.) I finally obtained a VHS of the commercial release, which is much shorter than the original four-hour series. The editing is very tight, giving it the appearance of a theatrical release; only one obvious fade-into-commercial remains. You will, after watching the short version, wonder about some plot holes and loose ends, which reviewers on IMDB attribute to the cut material. However, it shouldn’t detract from your enjoyment of this fast-moving thriller, packed with good performances plus a hefty dose of sex and violence. As a cynical look at politics, law enforcement, and the media, no one inhabiting the Favorite Son universe is an idealist, and that’s putting it mildly. I recommend the movie; it moves along well and captures the viewer, but this is one you may not want to watch with the grandkids.
Charles Siebert appears about 20 minutes into the movie in a single scene, playing the medical examiner. His performance is very much in keeping with the hard edges of the production, and a nice match with Robert Loggia; it’s not surprising that he reprised the role in the television series. The actor gives a zesty portrayal of a colorful character in about ten lines of dialog. He also shows his range – there is no trace of any previous Siebert performance, but the realism of the dialog makes this a nice ‘bookend’ with Deadly Hero. I also note that the actor is quite handsome with his natural hairline and full beard, more so than the still above illustrates.
Alas, my 30-year old video player died and the replacement I got at Goodwill produces a really poor picture, so no screen shots at this time.
1988 ABCAfterschool Special
Tattle: When to Tell on a Friend
-not yet viewed
This is another one I’m unlikely to find, though I’m fairly sure the Afterschool Specials were out on home video for use in schools. I’ll keep looking.
1988 Eight Men Out
No, Mr. Siebert does not appear in this film. I make approximately 1,000 mistakes every day, so it’s enchanting for me to catch IMDB in an error. What’s really humorous is that IMDB’s mistake has led many other sources to say that Charles Siebert is sometimes billed as Charles Siebert II.
Frankly, I was skeptical even before checking this out. How, I wondered, was an actor of 49 or 50 going to get away with playing a 29-year old catcher?
Given that many of the actor’s extended family are also in the entertainment business, this may be a relative. However, as I know to my sorrow after trudging through thousands of pages of search results, it’s not exactly an uncommon name. (Update, June 2012: noted Siebert expert Kathleen Cummings has informed me that the actor in Eight Men Out is the same Charles Siebert who wrote ‘The Wauchula Woods Accord’ and other notable works. This probably explains why half the image results for ‘Charles Siebert actor’ are the other Charles Siebert. Ms. Cummings points out other areas of confusion; for example, she said that Wikipedia references to author Siebert’s works link to actor Siebert’s Wikipedia page. All very mysterious!)
August, 2012: Mystery solved. Mr. Siebert (the actor) explained that, by SAG rules, no two members can perform under exactly the same name. For some reason, Mr. Siebert (the author), who appeared in the film as a consequence of a writing project, was permitted to join SAG under the same name as Siebert the actor. This led to the actor receiving a courteous call, some years ago, from the author, who had received a number of the actor’s royalty checks. According to Mr. Siebert (the actor), who was an officer of the Screen Actor’s Guild at the time, this sort of thing is not supposed to happen. The actor also occasionally receives e-mails intended for the author, which he duly forwards.
1988 Shakedown on the Sunset Strip
-not yet viewed, but on the way! Finally available (legally), December 2012.
If you persevere a bit, this movie turns into a somewhat tongue-in-cheek romp through an incredibly convoluted tale of police corruption. Square-jawed Perry King plays an obsessively ambitious yet naively honest cop who is out to bust a Hollywood madam in 1940s LosAngeles, where “whores pop up like mushrooms after the rain” as one character states. Joan Van Ark chews up the scenery as the madam, and for those who criticize Joan Van Ark for her cosmetic surgery choices, let me advise you that she looks pretty rough in her unaltered state. This television movie is well-made with good costumes and sets along with a good score by award-winning composer Lalo Schifrin. There are scads of good character actors in colorful roles, including Charles Siebert, last in the alphabetical list of guest stars (billed above the ‘also starring’). Siebert appears in three short scenes between 30 and 40 minutes into the movie as a police sergeant who may or may not be on the level. He reappears for a single line in the trial scene and makes a momentary appearance in the wrap-up at the end.
Trivia: Director Walter Grauman, hailing from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, directed one episode of TJMD (Bad Breaks, Season 6, 1985) and so would have worked with the actor at that time.
When this movie was filmed, TJMD had been off the air for about a year but was running in syndication, and I imagine the actor, though perhaps financially comfortable, was looking for his next gig. In the movie, we see him a bit heavier than on TJMD, perhaps because there was no pressure to maintain his weight for the Riverside role, or perhaps his new wife was a really good cook. He is also without any glamour makeup or lighting. He looks just fine for his part, and handles it well, making it quite distinct from his TJMD performance, and also distinct from his cop portrayal in The Onion Field. Given this, and his really good portrayal of the mayor in The Great Los Angeles Earthquake, it continues to be difficult for me to understand why his acting career faltered; nor does the actor himself have an explanation. I have sometimes thought, looking at Mr. Siebert’s pre-TJMD work, that he may have been too good-looking for character roles, and not photogenic enough for romantic leads (note my comments on the inconsistency of the actor’s appearance in TJMD episodes). In his last few television appearances, we see the actor has aged-in beautifully, and his final performance in 1998 on Xena shows what we have missed, alas.
I viewed Shakedown on Sunset Strip nearly two years after starting this project, during which time I have seen Mr. Siebert on stage twice. He is somewhat magnificent in appearance these days, in my completely unbiased opinion, and we are still missing a lot of film and television performances he could be doing, alas again.
1988 Perry Mason: The Case of the Avenging Ace
Well, I knocked another one off my list when I viewed this last night (September, 2013). The movie opens with a swingin’ arrangement of the Perry Mason theme and some classy photography and art direction as the case is introduced. It’s all downhill from there. David Ogen Stiers, Charles Siebert and Patty Duke are all wasted in a far-fetched plot with so-so dialog and character motivation. Mr. Siebert, as ever, gives it his all. I like the way he looks guilty as heck sitting in the courtroom (you’ll find this to be a little bit of misdirection as the story ends with some less-than-electrifying revelations).
1987 Good Morning Miss Bliss
This would have been Mr. Siebert’s first recurring series role after TJMD. His part was cut after the pilot, and the program itself lasted only a couple of seasons; however, it must have some type of fan base (probably because it was a precursor to the popular series Saved By the Bell), as episodes show up on YouTube and are just as quickly taken down by the owner of the rights. I have seen the pilot episode, and read contemporary reviews. Mr. Siebert gives his usual competent performance as the typical warm, supportive TV husband. (The actor informs us that the director of the pilot was Peter Bonerz, also an actor best known from The Bob Newhart Show, but also a Marquette University classmate and best man at Mr. Siebert’s first wedding.) No screen caps, because there is clearly a copyright issue.
1987 Whitewater Summer
Yet another Sean Astin coming-of-age flick. Mr. Siebert plays Astin’s character’s father in the opening scene; it’s a generic “dad who wants his son to go to camp and become a man” role. Mr. Siebert carefully underplays the unpleasant possibilities, but isn’t given much to work with.
1987 The New Mike Hammer
Lady Killer (season 3, episode 18)
-not yet viewed; not currently available in any format. Stacy Keach, who played Mike Hammer in this series, made his first filmed appearance as Autolycus in the 1968 Barry Boys-directed ‘A Winter’s Tale’, and Banquo in Macbeth, both produced by New York’s public television station. Charles Siebert played Florizel and Malcolm, respectively. Siebert acted with Keach’s brother, James Keach, in ‘Nowhere to Run’.
Trivia: Pernell Roberts, then still appearing as ‘Trapper John, MD’, guest-starred on the 1983 pilot for this series. The actress playing his wife was Penelope Windust, who played Charles Siebert’s character’s love interest in Tarantulas: Deadly Cargo. Siebert would guest, twice, on the series after TJMD concluded.
Born to Run (season 5, episode 5)
You can find this on YouTube in the dubbed version shown in Germany. My high school German got quite a workout trying to figure out the plot. Just watching the acting and doing a little lip-reading, I could tell that Siebert’s character was keeping some dark secret from his wife. It turned out to be a quite dramatic and rather intimate secret, but to quote the wife, “Liebe ist doch soviel mehr als nur das Bett.” It’s not easy to judge a performance when the vocal belongs to a voice actor (the dubbing and voice acting were excellent, by the way), but it’s a substantial and emotional performance. Perhaps I shall see it in English some day. (I assume this is ‘Born to Run’. It’s ‘Wettrenner’ in German.)
Facades (season 3, episode 15)
This was an easy plot to follow, even in German. Siebert’s character has not told his wife that the little Vietnamese orphan they’re picking up is his child. “Es tut mir leid!” he explains. “Es ist vorbei!” Well, okay, then.
Only season 1 is currently available on DVD. It will be a while before these seasons are released, if ever.
Love Boat’s last season, Season 10, consisted of longer ‘specials’ with theme casting (for example, uniting musical stars such as Ethel Merman and Ann Miller, etc.) and stunt casting. In the last episode of this last season, over a dozen classic comedians and comic actors play themselves (Milton Berle, Steve Allen, Louis Nye, Don Knotts, and more) while several actors play their well-known characters (Tony Dow and Jerry Mathis as the Cleaver boys; Florence Henderson as Carol Brady). Siebert reprises his TJMD role as Dr. Stanley Riverside, and David Wayne reprises the elder Mr. Riverside. This is interesting because TJMD aired on CBS, while Love Boat was ABC; the only connection was that Love Boat filmed on the 20th Century Fox lot (20th Century Fox produced TJMD; Love Boat was an Aaron Spelling production). Given Mr. Siebert’s strongly worded statement about being done with this character, I would have suspected that his contract included this final appearance immediately after the final season of TJMD, if it had been for the same network. Perhaps the viewers just missed their Dr. Riverside. Trivia: Christopher Norris appears as herself.
The tenth season specials are not available, except for some clips on YouTube. I have not found any portion of this episode. Update, November, 2015: Well, this episode showed up on YouTube a couple of weeks ago, and to my surprise, I actually remember seeing it when it originally aired. It’s a silly ‘mystery’ story with the usual antics by the regular cast, featuring a large group of ‘special thanks’ cameos, including a ten-second appearance by Mr. Siebert at 31 minutes in. I didn’t see either Christopher Norris or David Wayne in the ‘thanks to’ list at the end, for all the cameo actors. The IMDB listing says Mr. Siebert plays Dr. Riverside, but no such credit is given nor is he identified – presumably, the joke was that he would be recognized as his character. He says, “Out of the way, I’m a doctor,” and “Do you know the way to the infirmary?” to Love Boat’s Doc, leading to the expected ‘slow burn’. And that was it.
Aerobic April/The Wager/Story of the Century (season 8, episode 8 )
Mr. Siebert appears in ‘The Wager’ as a cynical man of the world who winds up falling in love. This must have been a nice change for him after six seasons of Stanley Riverside. He looks quite dashing in a full beard.
Same Wavelength, The/Winning Isn’t Everything/A Honeymoon for Horace(season 6, episode 4)
Mr. Siebert is in the ‘Same Wavelength’ segment. Connie Stevens plays a psychic who forsees that their characters are destined for one another; the actor gets to show quite a different character than Stanley Riverside as he plays a wolf on the make. Trivia: Jack Gilford was a guest star on both this episode and the Season 4 episode (below). Siebert also worked with Gilford on TJMD.
– Vicki and the Gambler/Love with a Skinny Stranger/That Old Gang of Mine (season 4, episode 24)
The first eight seasons of ‘Love Boat’ appeared on YouTube at the end of 2013, so I was able to see this episode. The actor appears in the segment “Love with a Skinny Stranger” playing a man who has lost a lot of weight; Vicki Lawrence (with whom he will make numerous quiz show appearances) plays his jealous girlfriend. Mr. Siebert requested that no one go out of their way to see this one, and I doubt that any guest actor on Love Boat ever felt proud of their appearance there. This is typically lame Love Boat humor, with an incongruous laugh track, but it’s a chance to see Mr. Siebert playing a non-Riverside character during the run of TJMD. And the viewer can at least appreciate the actor’s good looks, plus a couple of short scenes in short shorts. Siebert also shows off his disco moves in a white dinner jacket and ruffled shirt.
1979-1986 Trapper John, M.D.
Go to reviewed episodes:
Mr. Siebert was 48 when this series ended, and has stated that there were no good roles offered to him once he turned 50. If you cast your eye down this appreciation, the actor was incredibly busy through the 1970s prior to taking the Stanley Riverside role in TJMD*; he became incredibly not busy after it. (Keep in mind that movies released in 1980 or 1981 were probably filmed much earlier). Though Mr. Siebert has stated that he became more interested in directing than in acting, it’s hard not to imagine that the TJMD role basically killed his acting career. The M*A*S*H curse?
I don’t feel very convinced that the actor’s age was a great factor in the dearth of roles offered after TJMD. He was rarely a romantic lead and rarely had roles that capitalized on his physique or appearance. He was very effective in age and type-suitable roles, such as The Great Los Angeles Earthquake.
Hence, you will read in the TJMD section my guesses about Mr. Siebert’s possible mixed feelings about the TJMD experience.
*In summary, from 1976-1979, the actor appeared in seven theatrical films, nine television movies, and thirty-eight television episodes; after the end of TJMD, his work dwindled to one theatrical film, eight television movies, and twelve television episodes by the time of his retirement from acting in 1997.
1981 All Night Long
A sweet, short and quirky little film directed by Jean-Claude Tramont, and featuring Gene Hackman playing adorable, and Barbra Streisand in a cute and uncharacteristic role. (Also featuring an infant Dennis Quaid playing, well, Dennis Quaid). If you like watching the background performances by supporting cast, virtually every character in the movie is odd and/or eccentric. Hackman’s character is the corporate guy who’s had it with the system; Streisand is the off-kilter dame who changes his point of view. Mr. Siebert plays the tight-assed vice president who demotes Hackman’s character to night manager at a drug store. Watch for the delightful scene, about 50 minutes in, as Hackman pilots a remote-control helicopter (background music, the Ride of the Valkyries a la Apocalypse Now) to chase Mr. Siebert around the store. Sporadic foul language. Trivia: a very brief appearance by Bonnie Bartlett, who will play one of the major roles in the Great Los Angeles Earthquake (1990).
For plot purposes, it’s supposed to be 3AM.
The actor looks like it’s 3AM. Hey, maybe it
really was 3AM.
1980 A Cry for Love
This is actually a pretty good movie, with great acting by everyone involved, especially Susan Blakely and Powers Boothe, who looks a little like a young Marlon Brando here. Even the child actors are quite good.
Although this was surely intended as a cautionary tale about addictions, the moralizing is not heavy-handed. This is no “after-school special”. We recognize the characters’ self-destructive dynamics without having it pushed in our faces. I’m sure this movie, which won a 1981 Eddie for editing and was released on home video, was often used as a classroom teaching tool. As a social worker, I appreciated how well it demonstrated some of the very real dynamics of drug addiction (note how the children take over adult responsibility and the role of ‘forgiving’ their mother), though I must say, two addicts in love equals many, many problems.
The costume and set design are period pieces now, in an enjoyable way. I was a little alarmed to recognize the brown refrigerator in the kitchen set as the same one I am still using. I think maybe I should replace it.
Mr. Siebert has a brief but important role as the ex-husband of the female addict (Blakely) in a nicely modulated scene that appears about twenty minutes into the movie. His character is letting Blakely’s character know that the children have been complaining about conditions in their home, and that he’s going to sue for custody. Blakely’s character is a sympathetic one (not to me – I’ve worked with too many clients who put their kids through this kind of hell), but Mr. Siebert carefully keeps his character from looking like a bad guy. This is important to the plot, because the addicted mom character has to eventually realize that what he’s saying is true, even if she doesn’t want to admit it. It’s the turning point that she goes back to, at the end, when she finally decides to go to rehab.
This movie is available on VHS but I’ve been reluctant to invest in it, because according to the reviews, it was terrible. But when have I let that stop me?
I have finally gotten a copy of this, one of the last pieces I will have viewed during this project of mine (by my estimate, Mr. Siebert made at least 231 filmed appearances, not counting his appearances on soap operas, and I have viewed 185, or roughly 80%). It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but I’m shocked that this ever turned up even on late night TV. It is, at best, innocuous. I have to say, I’ve always found the premise behind the various Topper films and television shows to be pretty annoying to start with, so I’m hardly an impartial judge.
Mr. Siebert appears about fifteen minutes into the movie and his part lasts about two minutes (yet he is billed as “co-starring”). The actor appears in a hideous mustache and KICKS A DOG. Yet I still don’t find him menacing.
A few bits of trivia struck me: the movie stars Jack Warden as Topper, playing the role with considerably less brio than his role in 1979’s And Justice for All (also with Mr. Siebert). It stars Rue McClanahan in a very uncharacteristic role as a stuffy society matron, which she plays with a Billy Burke voice. Rue McClanahan’s Broadway debut was in Jimmy Shine, 1969, with Mr. Siebert. Topper has two extended disco scenes, and 1978’s Blue Sunshine had a rather famous disco scene (hey, it was the 70s). Mr. Siebert’s character in Topper is named Stan. He goes on to play another Stan in Trapper John, MD, starting in 1979.
The things one thinks of when watching an insipid movie!
1979 The Last Word
How fitting that this – The Last Word - is the very last piece of Mr. Siebert’s work that I acquired and viewed prior to putting up my appreciation website. I had read reviews, and thought it sounded like a fun movie. Richard Harris, Karen Black, and Mr. Siebert in a tacky 1970s track suit – what’s not to like? The movie was, in fact, a bit of a disappointment, but I must share an odd coincidence. I purchased this in the form of an ancient VHS tape that had been a rental copy, and I put it into my player without checking to see if it had been rewound. It started right into Mr. Siebert’s scene. I like to imagine that the last person who viewed it before me – possibly in 1979 – had been so highly offended by the actor’s VPL (visible panty lines) that they ripped it out of their VCR in disgust. Think of the children!
The movie has a typical “everyman bucks the system and becomes a folk hero” plot, and yet is surprisingly dull and disjointed; even the final scene of Harris fending off a SWAT team with his various inventions lacked spirit. I think Martin Landau was the standout performer. Harris’ performance was so understated as to be nearly comatose. I was surprised to see in the credits that the actor playing Landau’s character’s wife, in a very brief appearance, was Bonnie Bartlett; I didn’t recognize her (she also appeared in All Night Long and The Great Los Angeles Earthquake). As a social worker, I particularly enjoyed the scene in which Harris’ character attempts to apply for welfare. The caseworker is, naturally, absolutely horrible.
Mr. Siebert appears as a slimy guy at an engineering company, who cheats Harris’ character out of his invention. As I have said, the actor does ‘slimy’ very well, and it’s a different flavor of slime than his appearances in All Night Long, Tarantulas, or The Rockford Files. The character styling is far more outrageous than his appearance as the “town rotter” in Tarantulas. Even in 1979, the scene would have been ridiculous (Mr. Siebert’s character and another actor are seen working out in – what? The company gym?), and through the eyes of 2011, the actor’s track suit looks like something that might be worn by Siegfried and/or Roy. The tape was still in very good condition, and I got several screen shots, but I will spare the good gentleman’s dignity and merely repeat what I have said before: it takes a lot of courage and humility to be an actor.
The ‘red’ suit.
Looks pink to me, but perhaps it’s just because the tape is so old.
The actor would like us to know that he, himself, was embarrassed by this scene (August, 2012).
1979 The Miracle Worker
The role of Captain Keller in The Miracle Worker seems to be a thankless one. The play is essentially all about the two leads, Annie Sullivan and her pupil, Helen Keller. I looked at reviews of several stage and film presentations of The Miracle Worker, and the other actors rarely get a mention. The Variety reviewer (Variety, 10/12/79) says, “Charles Siebert fails to establish the strength of the determined father…” To me, he seemed to play what was written for the part (namely, cranky). A more judicious criticism might be the unevenness of the actor’s accent in different scenes (Mr. Siebert essays a light southern accent in this role.) Diana Muldaur’s accent is the most consistent and accurate. It’s actually her character – the mother – who is the determined one, and Ms. Muldaur gives a very nice performance.
The dinner table scene with Melissa Gilbert as Helen is nicely choreographed.
Mr. Siebert plays the part with what will be the last use of his natural hairline for some time (this aired concurrently with TJMD, which he played with more hair); I have not yet seen all of his post-TJMD work, but so far the next appearance sans rug seems to be The Great Los Angeles Earthquake, 1990. He is handsome enough, but it’s easy to see why this look wouldn’t have gotten him the TJMD job. There was room for only one bearded, unbewigged actor on TJMD.
He also seems to be in much better shape than two years earlier, in Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo. (It just seems wrong to mention Tarantulas and the slightly more prestigious The Miracle Worker in the same paragraph, but, as the saying goes, from the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.)
Patty Duke, who plays Annie Sullivan in this production, is more than a foot shorter than Mr. Siebert, and appears to weigh about 100 lbs, if that. (Ms. Duke will appear again with the actor in the 1988 television movie “Perry Mason and the Case of the Avenging Ace.) I have it from the horse’s mouth that the actor is really carrying her down the ladder in the scene in which Helen locks Annie in her room (Siebert to the author, 8/12). It’s a fun scene. I didn’t have a chance to ask if they had a safety harness on Miss Duke. I can only imagine the insurance issues.
I found it interesting that camera angles are used to make the most of the height difference, particularly the very high shots over Mr. Siebert’s shoulder, looking down on the diminutive Ms. Duke. Compare this to the many instances I have pointed out where Mr. Siebert seems to be filmed to minimize his height. In The Miracle Worker, other than Captain Keller’s son, there are no male actors to be overshadowed, and Siebert is playing the dominant role as the family tyrant. This is another instance where I didn’t find him to be too menacing, but that may have been a dramatic choice on the part of the actor or the director. The play does suggest that Captain Keller is more bark than bite, and that Mrs. Keller has him pretty much wrapped around her little finger. However, I didn’t see much chemistry between Siebert and Muldaur, and the production needed it.
Trivia: In her first autobiography, Call Me Anna, Ms. Duke covers this television production pretty thoroughly (see Chapter 32), and specifically mentions how supportive Mr. Siebert was when she was overcome with nerves. Compare to the story of Mr. Siebert comforting Maureen Stapleton (Theater section of this site, 1970’s Gingerbread Lady) and to a lovely anecdote shared with me by a young actor who made his stage debut with Mr. Siebert, and who unfortunately did not want me to use his comments, but said that Mr. Siebert is a ‘prince of a man’. He is also extraordinarily kind and patient with overly inquisitive website curators.
1979 …And Justice for All.
This is an entertaining movie that I never would have seen if not for my odd little project of seeing all of Mr. Siebert’s filmed work. I’ll certainly watch it again. Full of great little performances, from the transvestite in the opening scene to every character emoting in the hallways of the courthouse, this also marks the first film appearances of Jeffrey Tambor and Christine Lahti. Don’t miss Jack Warden as a bonkers judge, or John Forsythe playing a really, really bad guy. (I wonder if it was hard to talk him into the photo shoot for the still pictures that show up late into the movie). Al Pacino was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance here.
Mr. Siebert shows up in a short scene within the first fifteen minutes of the movie. Possibly the role was a little larger and was left on the cutting room floor, because he has a name and a title in the credits, while he appears as an anonymous prosecutor in the finished film. The beginning of the movie sets up the slightly nutty clientele of Al Pacino’s lawyer character, and the ‘life goes on’ attitude of the lawyers in the middle of it all. Siebert’s character is trying to make time with a woman in the gallery, while waiting for the judge to enter the courtroom; meanwhile, Pacino’s client takes advantage of his inattention to eat some of the evidence. A tussle ensues. This allows the introduction of Jack Warden’s character, who breaks it up by firing a handgun…
The movie is set in Baltimore, and the Baltimore Sun’s reporter observed and wrote an amusing article about the filming of this scene (Sandy Banisky, Baltimore Sun 12/11/78).
I can’t believe that I got a new-in-package, still sealed DVD of this good movie for ten cents at Goodwill, but I had to pay nearly seven bucks, plus S&H, for – ugh – Season 2 of ‘What’s Happening!!’
1979 The Onion Field
When I began my project of tracking down all of Mr. Siebert’s filmed work in February, 2011, the first of his motion picture appearances that I saw was All Night Long, if I’m remembering correctly. At the end of August, 2012, I can finally say that I’ve seen every one of his motion picture appearances after viewing The Onion Field. I’m afraid I’ll never be able to say that about his television work, much of which has disappeared into various vaults.
Surreal in its realism and mesmerizing from the opening right through the depiction of the onion field incident, The Onion Field unfortunately loses some momentum after that, but is a thought-provoking film, well-cast and well-acted. One jarring note that surprised me, given the very creative score for the first part of the movie, was the syrupy music during the scenes with the surviving police officer and his wife. This was so out of keeping with the tenor of the film that, in the first instance, I expected one of the actors to make a comment like, “Who turned that radio on?”
This is Ted Danson’s film debut and he does a spectacular job, as do all four leads (John Savage, James Woods, and Franklyn Seales, whose life and career were both tragically short).
Mr. Siebert appears 65 minutes into the movie for a short scene; he is one of several uncredited actors in the movie, and it isn’t clear why, as he has lines and his lines are fairly relevant to moving the main theme (the guilt of the surviving officer) along. The movie is filled with very short bits that give the character actors a chance to shine. Beautifully illustrating the emotions of a parent and grandparent facing the fact that a child has grown up to kill, in parts lasting less than a minute, are Sandy McPeak (who played Chief Beasley, the cheated-on husband, in Tarantulas!) and Lillian Randolph (for whom this was the last appearance of a film career stretching back to 1935). Mr. Siebert’s part, alas, is not one with as much dramatic impact, but is worth comparing to his other cop roles.
McPeak’s performance in this movie illustrates what is also true for Mr. Siebert and many another character actor: one has one’s Tarantulas, and one has one’s Onion Fields.
1979 The Runaways
48 Hours to Live (season 2, episode 13)
Not yet viewed, but evidently the last episode of a very short-lived show.
1979 The Seeding of Sarah Burns
This was quite an oddity for the time (it concerned artificial insemination), and does not seem to be available in any format. Mr. Siebert has what I would expect would be a fairly substantial role, as one of the prospective parents.
1976-1979 One Day at a Time
Mr. Siebert had a recurring role as Bonnie Franklin’s boss, Jerry Davenport, during the third and fourth season of this popular show. One Day at A Time, like many other 70s sitcoms, had a strong social theme, in this case, women’s rights. Mr. Siebert played the role pretty much straight; his character wasn’t as exaggerated as, say, Archie Bunker, but represented the mainstream TV view of the typical sexist male boss of the time. I would assume his run on the show ended when Mr. Siebert began working on TJMD.
Fear of Success (season 4, episode 24)
Francine Strikes Again (season 4, episode 18)
The Arab Connection (season 3, episode 11)
Ann’s Competitor (season 3, episode 18)
Ann’s Secretary (season 3, episode 15)
Ann’s Out-of-Town Client (season 3, episode 5)
Episodes of One Day at a Time appear sporadically on the streaming services; I was only able to view “Ann’s out of town client”. Mr. Siebert appears throughout the first half of the episode, his first appearance as this recurring character. The character is overbearing and just slightly obnoxious, considering that he fills the role of the “guy with the outdated attitudes” that was so typical on 1970s sitcoms. This is a good example of the type of role that one would think the actor would have been asked to play most often, the dominant male.
It’s interesting to compare this particular performance with his performance in the TJMD pilot, in which we have a slightly louder and more bombastic Stanley Riverside than will be seen later in the series. I imagine that Mr. Siebert’s performance as Jerry Davenport must have been a factor in his casting in the Riverside role as it was initially envisioned (judging by the pilot episode, a big, loud guy who is also a coward and a sneak).
Update, August 2012: Mr. Siebert states that his work in ODAAT had nothing to do with his getting the TJMD part, but that he did leave this role for that one. He also tells us that it was his Bronx cheer (seen below) in audition that won him the role
“You know, Ann, when the company hired you, my first reaction was…” (Bronx cheer and ‘thumbs down’ sign) “…ya know what I mean?”
Offering Ann a key to the men’s room necessitates Mr. Davenport’s having to remove it from his coffee.
I don’t know how good you’d have to be at your job, in real life, to get away with that.
But it’s television, so all you get are some ‘takes’.
I managed to survive the 70s and 80s without seeing a single episode of Dallas or Dynasty, but their popularity at the time was such that I was pretty well aware of who JR was, and why everyone wondered who shot him. The “Red Files” two-parter, according to Dallas fan sites, is a particularly well regarded episode. I only watched the second part, and I had no trouble following the plot, once I figured out who was married to whom.
Mr. Siebert has a substantial role, appearing through the middle third of the episode, from about 16 minutes in to about 36 minutes, and is, appropriately, first billed guest actor. His character is an aggressive assistant D.A. who grills Victoria Principal, who plays – Pam, right? At any rate, the actor’s D.A. has a pretty flashy style, and Mr. Siebert uses a wide range of vocal dynamics but without, I was pleased to note, attempting a Texas drawl. He worked in some of the ‘slimy’ sneers and disrespectful facial expressions that were a large part of his stock in trade in 1970s TV (note his expression at about 31 minutes in, when he casts doubts on Pam’s veracity) and also uses quite a lot of dominant-male body language and a particularly expressive use of his hands. The slightly stagy mannerisms fit well for the part and give us a nice look at the actor’s theater technique. The actor pulls out his whole bag of tricks for this part, and it’s the only time that his little repertoire of mannerisms is so apparent. You have to have watched a lot of Mr. Siebert’s work to pick this up.
Very noticeable in this episode is the 5 o’clock shadow that was commonly seen on the actor in his clean-shaven roles on both large and small screen through the 70s, with the notable exception of TJMD, which I assume took care of the issue with makeup. John Keating’s New York Times article about the Channel 13 production of MacBeth (6/4/67) describes Mr. Siebert as “luxuriously bearded” and the actor has a demonstrable innate gift for facial hair, obviously (it’s interesting to speculate in which of his filmed roles he wears a natural beard as opposed to an applied one; perhaps I need a new section for this site.)
Another interesting feature, if you’re watching closely, is seeing the actor apparently moving out of his lighting (when he says “No further questions,” and sits down at the counsel table). Since the set is an interior not including windows or lighting that should appear to be coming from the outside, I’d say that the momentary variation is a minor little blooper. Also, though this might have something to do with the transfer to DVD (I viewed this on the commercial DVD available at my library), the sound quality varies during the scenes with Siebert’s character questioning Larry Hagman and Victoria Principal. It sounds like they used some dialog recorded on set and some looped dialog. Note the poor synch on both Mr. Siebert and Ms. Principal during their scene together.
Again, the suit looks very familiar. It also doesn’t appear to fit him very well, so I assume it came from wardrobe.
Trivia: The actor will grill Victoria Principal again in ‘Don’t Touch My Daughter’.
Trivia: The role of Lyle Sloan returns in the 1980 season, with the character played by Nicholas Coster. I have not seen the episode but I presume that Coster, who is British by birth, uses an American accent. Coster, a busy actor with a similar career arc to Mr. Siebert’s, also appeared in an episode of ‘Husbands, Wives and Lovers’ (1978).
An episode from Good Times’ last season. Good Times is the series probably best remembered for the presence of Jimmy Walker as “JJ”, whose catch phrases (“Dy-no-MITE!”) became part of the cultural environment of 1970s America. Alas for fine actors John Amos and Esther Rolle.
In this episode, the Evans family is seeking a loan to move out of the projects and buy a house (the denouement of season 6 and the series). Mr. Siebert plays a bank official. The episode begins with the set up of a joke: Siebert’s character is on the phone, explaining that he’s begun doing stress-relief exercises. The first few minutes of his dialog with the assembled Evans characters are accompanied by Mr. Siebert making a bizarre assortment of physical gestures. Canned laughter, that bane of 70s television, punctuates Jimmy Walker’s reaction shots. Based on what I’ve been able to view of Mr. Siebert’s television work, this is a rare opportunity, outside of TJMD, for him to do physical comedy.
Mr. Siebert gets to act a bit silly.
At the end of the episode, Siebert’s character has to tell the family that they’ve been turned down for a loan. The assumption is that ‘the man’ is putting the family down. But no, instead (and there’s a genuine laugh here), Siebert’s character starts to cry.
Finally, the episode ends with everyone dancing and we get another laugh as Siebert joins in, though I suspect it took no acting talent for him to dance like a white guy. (Unable to get a screen cap as it happens under the credits – look at the episode yourself. For a better example of the actor’s real physical grace, he has posted excerpts from a 1961 Look Up and Live episode on YouTube.)
As a point of trivia, Christopher Norris (Nurse Brancusi on Trapper John, MD) also appears in this episode. The Wikipedia entry for the Barnaby Jones series states that Siebert, Gregory Harrison, and Pernell Roberts appeared together in one episode of the show. This is not true.
The Coronado Triangle (season 6, episode 22)
This episode is available on YouTube. A typical well-made episode of this popular series, in which Siebert plays a convincing heavy. The actor certainly played a wide range of roles before he ‘became’ Stanley Riverside in TJMD. He shows up about 26 minutes into the episode and manages to commit all sorts of mayhem, including holding a gat on that nice Buddy Ebsen.
The Fatal Dive (season 5, episode 4)
This doesn’t seem to be out on DVD. They’d better hurry if they want to release it before all the Barnaby Jones fans have died off.
Another appearance at a funeral on this show. The actor portrays a guy who’s mourning at the wrong funeral, pretty much of a stock comedy bit. He gives the expected double-take when he finds out the truth, which Jean Stapleton volleys back nicely.
Stretch Cunningham, Goodbye (season 7, episode 19)
This is the well-known and beloved episode in which bigoted Archie Bunker learns (at the funeral) that his good friend was Jewish. Mr. Siebert plays a rabbi. His only other ethnic role identified as a Jew is in the Rhoda episode ‘Rhoda v. Ida’. Physically, Mr. Siebert is suited to playing several ethnicities, and this is certainly one of them, but he was more often typecast as a WASP.
It’s a bit painful to listen to the actor intoning the prayers in Hebrew, which goes on for some time under Jean Stapleton and Caroll O’Connors’ dialog, but his reaction shots (check out the eye-rolling) to Archie Bunker’s comments are a hoot.
Archie’s Civil Rights (season 6, episode 12)
This episode was posted on Youtube in June, 2013. Charles Siebert plays Dr. Murray Berger, dating Rhoda’s mom Ida (Nancy Walker). “You can’t date him, Mom – he’s too…tall…for you.” Not the funniest episode of this popular sitcom, nor does Siebert have much to do except exude some charm and be tall. He appears about 11 minutes into the episode and again at the end.
1978 Richie Brockelman, Private Eye
A Title on the Door, A Carpet on the Floor (episode 3)
Spinoff from The Rockford Files – It’s unlikely that I’ll find this one-season wonder, which was written by Steven Bochco.
Update, October, 2014: Well, I did find it. Dennis Dugan had appeared on a couple of ‘Rockford’ episodes as brash young PI Richie Brockleman. Six episodes of a spin-off appeared, and judging by the music, Universal was looking to woo the youth market. The show didn’t look bad, by the standards of its time. This episode has Rene Auberjonois as a crooked guy running a detective agency and Charles Siebert as a crooked architect, helping the bad guys get their hands on some plans. The actor brings out his ‘heavy’ portrayal prety well, but pays for his crime by being incinerated. Counting ‘Tarantulas’, that makes two incinerations for Siebert in 1978.
1978 Husbands, Wives & Lovers
Another very short-lived show that I’m unlikely to find, unless, just possibly, the pilot was released as a TV movie. I have seen episodes offered via bit torrent sites. (An – ahem – industry insider tells me he may be able to provide me with this. Time will tell.) Trivia: Husbands, Wives and Lovers ran back-to-back with The Incredible Hulk on CBS (Mr. Siebert performed in the Hulk pilot).
The opening credits of this show are available on YouTube. Here’s part of Mr. Siebert’s sequence in the titles, which are fairly lengthy. That’s Claudette Nevins playing his wife.
Mr. Siebert plays the dapper and charming ex-husband of Adrienne Barbeau’s character (daughter of the title character). He quite naturally (hey, this is Maude! Men are scum!) turns out to be a sweet-talking louse. This was one of the first things I viewed when I began tracking down as much of the actor’s filmed work as possible, and it’s since been taken down, but I do recall that he was costumed very elegantly for the time period – I seem to remember a very nice topcoat and turtleneck sweater.
Mr. Siebert evidently had an ‘in’ with Norman Lear productions, given his many performances on Lear sitcoms in this decade. (The actor says that Lear’s casting director, Jane Murray, liked him and kept using him.)
1978 Blue Sunshine
If you’re a fan of B horror movies and you haven’t seen this movie yet, what’s wrong with you? This is a cult classic, and I don’t mean in the Mystery Science Theater manner. Think Roger Corman, not Ed Wood. Director/writer Jeff Lieberman made a low budget, quickly produced movie that has pretensions toward greatness, or at least quality. There are some interesting camera moves, creative ways of giving the illusion of expensive production values, nice musical score, and even a couple of good shockers. Most of the movie’s deficits are in a poor screenplay with plot holes you can drive a truck through, but what makes it a cult classic is the over-the-top acting by Zalman King and Deborah Winters, the leads. (Trivia: Deborah Winters was also the female lead in Tarantula: Deadly Cargo). Mr. Lieberman generously takes full responsibility (blame?) for some of the more bizarre acting choices by the leads.
According to the director’s commentary on the DVD, the role of the officer trying to chase down the hero, who is innocent, of course, and trying to find the people who are becoming murderous lunatics due to the past ingestion of LSD (really, don’t ask), was originally supposed to be played by Stefan Gierasch. Gierasch does appear in the beginning of the movie, questioning Deborah Winters’ character about the murders. However, the actor had an accident and was unable to continue, so a new cop character was written in, and Mr. Siebert, who shared an agent with Gierasch, was hired for this role. It would have been interesting to see where Gierasch intended to take his character, as he gives a rather eccentric performance in his one scene, as though he’s playing “good cop, bad cop” all by himself. This could just be a response to the poor dialog he was given. (Trivia: Gierasch portrayed Jacques in the 1968 American Shakespeare Theatre production of ‘As You Like It’, in which Charles Siebert was Oliver. Mr. Siebert says he used to drive Gierasch back to NYC from Stratford, Connecticut after the shows.)
I don’t think I would have wondered too much about the sudden disappearance of the first cop (there are enough other little discrepancies in the early part of the movie to distract one’s attention from a minor detail like a character just dropping out of sight) if I hadn’t listened to the commentary.
This is one of Mr. Siebert’s more substantial screen roles. I mean ‘substantial’ in terms of screen time, not substance. He plays the familiar movie trope of the dedicated cop who is going to get his man, even though he’s on the wrong track. Though he’s not given anything very fresh or creative to do, he’s solid and workmanlike in the part. (Compare to Mr. Siebert’s cop role in Deadly Hero, with a much better script).
In his commentary, the director notes that he carefully kept some of his actors (Mr. Siebert, Guy Williams, Ray Young) away from his lead (Zalman King) so they would have a fresh response to him in their scenes. My reaction to this comment was, they’re professional actors, for gosh sakes. I’d think they could handle performing their role even if they had just eaten a tuna sandwich with the other guy off-screen. It’s especially humorous if you note that, though Mr. Siebert’s character is chasing down Zalman King’s character, the two never actually have a scene together. So what did it matter, hmm? (Update, August 2012: Mr. Siebert disputes Mr. Lieberman’s account; he said the actors all shared an RV and that he got to know Zalman King pretty well.)
It is interesting that the director chose to segregate the actors who were giving the most natural performances from the ones who were giving the most unnatural ones. (This may sound like a criticism, but trust me, if we didn’t have this dichotomy of acting styles, this would not be a cult classic). Guy Williams and Ray Young, among the natural actors, are particularly effective in this movie.
Mr. Lieberman, in his commentary, compliments Mr. Siebert twice. First, for indicating “without action” (I think this is what he says; it’s hard to make the second word out) that his character doesn’t believe what Guy Williams’ character is telling him. On my first viewing of the movie, and before listening to the commentary, I noticed this, too. It looks like this:
“I am not believing you, Mr. Politician.”
If you’ve already read my comment on “Wild and Wooly” or “Tarantulas”, do note Mr. Siebert’s hair. See what I mean?
The director also praises Mr. Siebert for “selling” the scene in which he gamely submits to being pummeled against a lavatory stall by Ray Young’s crazed character. This is certainly worth seeing and comparing to Mr. Siebert’s stunt work in his two Rockford Files episodes. As Mr. Lieberman points out, you can’t use a double if you have to see the actor’s face.
The acting is better than the bald cap, don’t you think?
Just an amusing note: I don’t know who the second person on the commentary with Mr. Lieberman is, but he cues the director on Mr. Siebert’s name, and the two of them spend about a half a minute trying, without success, to remember what television show he went on to make immediately after the movie. Hey, you guys! It was TJMD!
Note, August, 2011: a new 35th anniversary edition of Blue Sunshine has been released, with new commentary by Jeff Lieberman. The release that I viewed is an earlier one. In August, 2012, Mr. Siebert told me he was unaware of, or possibly astounded by the need for, an anniversary edition. Funny, you’d think he’d have something like that on his Blackberry. “Note to self, it’s been 35 years since I appeared in Blue Sunshine….”
Trivia: Mr. Siebert’s Wikipedia entry, which appears to have originated with the gentleman himself (you can check this by using the revisions setting in Wikipedia, and Mr. Siebert has confirmed it as well), states that this was his first feature film. This suggests either that it was filmed prior to Deadly Hero, or that Mr. Siebert didn’t consider his role in Deadly Hero to be big enough to mention. I have found this film listed as both 1978 and 1976. I presume the earlier date is correct.
1978 Wild and Wooly
What the title or the cover art on the VHS jacket (released on home video in 1988, the cover looks like a porno) have to do with this movie, I have no idea. This is an Aaron Spelling production that was nowhere near as bad as I expected, based on the reviews. In fact, in 1978, this was probably a decent evening’s entertainment, with great production values, location shots, good costuming (though a little confusing to see 1880’s clothing during what is supposed to be the Teddy Roosevelt era), lots of extras inhabiting the sets and doing plenty of stage business, nice art direction, and many recognizable actors, like Ross Martin, David Doyle, and Doug McClure. Though the contemporary review in Variety suggested this was intended to be a Charlie’s Angels clone set in the old west, I didn’t get that impression at all, though as an Aaron Spelling production, the female figure did get plenty of attention. (Mr. Siebert states that this was absolutely intended to be a Charlie’s Angels clone. The author of this site is naive.)
I’m not saying you’d want to run out and get this movie, but it was painless to watch, and Mr. Siebert’s part was quite interesting.
Mr. Siebert plays an international assassin known by the ominous and threatening name “Sean”. It took me a few moments, listening to Mr. Siebert’s initial dialog, to realize that “Sean” is intended to be Irish. Mr. Siebert didn’t overdo the accent; he kept it light.
I was expecting, given the time period in which the piece was set, that the actor would be covered up with facial hair, and so I was surprised by his first scene, which comes nearly 50 minutes into the two-hour show. They let him play it handsome. We first see only his gloved hands as he wipes blood from his knife (or rather, mimes it; no blood is seen). The camera pans to his face. He exuded sufficient menace and I will say, was effective as a heavy in this role. His acting in this scene, aided by the lighting, reminded me somewhat of the typical film noir tough guy. Variety described his performance as “suitably villainous” – (Variety, 2/22/78) I assume they meant this in the most flattering way. A reviewer on IMDB called the character ‘foppish’, perhaps not understanding the meaning of the word.
Notable: Sean’s girlfriend is played by the estimable Jessica Walter, later to play Trapper John’s ex-wife on Trapper John MD. I have tried when possible to post screen shots of actors who appeared with Mr. Siebert in different venues (Ray Young in Blue Sunshine and TJMD, for example), but as far as I can tell, Mr. Siebert and Ms. Walter never had a scene together in TJMD. (Mr. Seibert thinks they did have some scenes together, but nothing significant. If anyone is willing to watch all 151 episodes to find out, please let me know the answer.) Update: the two actors appear together briefly in Season 5, episode 3: May Divorce Be With You. Midway through the episode, Walter appears juggling a pile of hatboxes, which Siebert takes from her as they exchange a few lines. They may also appear together very briefly in A Fall To Grace in Season 6. I’ll have to watch it again to make sure.
Mr. Siebert has three short but fun to watch scenes in the movie. Part of the premise is that ‘Sean’ is a master of disguise. In his second scene, the actor is disguised as a blind hotel desk clerk. Perhaps I have spent too much time watching Mr. Siebert’s performances, because I immediately recognized him from behind. Just allow me to clarify that statement, lest anyone think I’m referring to something else: I recognized his hair. Throughout the 70’s, Mr. Siebert’s hair turned up in a most peculiar way in the back. I’m not sure if this was just a personal characteristic, or the result of a poorly fitted hairpiece. Update, August 2012: The actor wishes us to know that this is just a characteristic of his hair, and I am beginning to get the feeling that my little hair jibes are getting on his nerves.
Mr. Siebert takes a couple of pretty good stage falls during this scene and his next, in which he impersonates a military officer. Spoiler alert, he gets shot and ‘bites the dust’. The weed of crime bears bitter fruit, Sean!
Can you see what I mean about the hair:
I was not able to get good screen shots from this video, unfortunately. This is about the best I could do. Sorry about the distortion and scanner lines. A series of short clips from Wild and Wooly is posted on YouTube.
1978 Nowhere to Run
This David Janssen movie has a minor cult following of its own, if you’re lucky enough to find it. I hardly know how to describe it: black comedy? Caper movie? Buddy flick? I suppose it’s a caper movie, and the ending is, believe me, a surprise. Mr. Siebert plays an airline pilot (this is unique in his career, at least as much of it as I’ve seen so far), and his part comes in about an hour and fifteen minutes into the movie, appearing through about a ten minute segment. He has some amusing lines which, if I were to tell you, would give away part of the ending. Unlikely as it may be that anyone will ever read this, let alone read it and intend to find and see this movie, I think I’ll leave it unspoiled. (Mr. Siebert’ reminds us that his first prime-time TV outing was on Harry O., with David Janssen.)
This was a busy year for Mr. Siebert. ‘Coma’ is one of the best quality movies he appeared in; the suspense holds up pretty well even today. I’m not a great suspense fan, personally, and I got rather tired of watching Genevieve Bujold running, climbing, and hiding. Mr. Siebert has a very short but effective scene (as a doctor, what else) near the beginning of the movie. He plays one of the anesthesiologists whose patient (who just happens to be Tom Selleck in what I believe is his first movie role) has gone into an inexplicable coma. I particularly like his line reading: “He was just a little light…” Having worked in healthcare, I recognized the tone of voice that a doctor would have, trying to work out what went wrong with his department head and other doctors. Mr. Siebert easily conveys the plot point that, however paranoid we are intended to get about what’s going on at Massachusetts General, the anesthesiologists are evidently not a part of it.
August 2012: The actor shared an anecdote: he originally auditioned for the part of the patient, because he would have had two days work instead of one. Whether, if he had played the patient, he would have gone on to Magnum PI… well, we’ll just never know, will we? Mr. Siebert also likes to say that this is the only movie he ever worked on in which the director wrote him a prescription (Michael Crichton, author and director of Coma, was a physician).
1978 Greatest Heroes of the Bible (TV miniseries)
NBC ran twelve episodes of Old Testament stories in 1978 – 79. Uncredited on IMDB or in the credits on the DVD version, Charles Siebert appears in the ‘Samson and Delilah’ episode. After viewing that episode, I had no great desire to view any of the others, but I will say, they did a lot with a little; the scanty sets in the middle of the Arizona desert actually don’t look bad as a stand in for ancient Israel, and the costumes are decent. Too bad the script wasn’t better (and don’t blame God, because they don’t follow the Bible particularly well). Mr. Siebert is in almost every scene, though often standing behind someone or cut off so that only an arm and shoulder are on screen. He only has about two lines and when he’s just standing in the background, tends to look as if he wishes he were elsewhere. However, he obviously does much of his own riding, including mounts and dismounts, and some stunt work. Although his ‘fight’ with John Beck looks a bit silly, he does a great job making the falling of the Philistine temple look like more than a bunch of foam blocks coming down.
By the way, if the series is anything to be ashamed of, there are a lot of name actors who must be hiding this from their resumes: take a look at the IMDB cast listing!
Trivia: Victor Jory appears as Horaz in this episode. In 1979, Charles Siebert will play Captain Keller in ‘The Miracle Worker’ – the role Victor Jory played in the 1962 movie version.
1977 Tarantulas: the deadly cargo
B horror movie, anybody? More like a C or D. Mr. Siebert plays what Variety described as “the town rotter” (Variety, 12/28/77). In the visual shorthand of the 70s, we know he’s a rotter by the way the top three buttons of his shirt are left undone and by the gold chain intertwined among his chest hair. Ah, the 70s – check out those tight-fitting flared polyester slacks! The floral shirts! On both the men and the women!
The movie itself is rather uninteresting, and there are no outstanding parts and there is no outstanding acting. (We’ll see a more enlivening performance from the female lead, Deborah Winters, in Blue Sunshine). There are a lot of shots of tarantulas, as you may imagine, yet without stirring even a mild shudder. I regret to say that probably lots of arachnids were harmed in the making of this movie.
I think my favorite scene in this movie is when several characters are tiptoeing around a floor-full of spiders that have been knocked unconscious, while they pick up a few with tongs and shovels to drop them, one at a time, into buckets of alcohol. Hey, I thought. Just step on them. Equally effective and a lot faster. And that tells you everything you need to know about Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo.
Mr. Siebert appears with the character styling described in the first paragraph above and does not look like he’s in particularly good shape (compare his appearance in The Rhinemann Exchange, 1977, or The Miracle Worker, 1979). The plot calls for him to lift a playing-unconscious actress (Penelope Windust, a Tony-award nominee, and reasonably petite) from the ground, which he appears to do unaided – this isn’t easy; try it if you don’t believe me – and carry her, twice, for maybe about twenty yards or so. Note his knees buckling slightly, but he gallantly avoids slamming the actress into the gate he carries her through. She’s pretty game, too, because she doesn’t move a muscle. The clip can be seen on YouTube.
If you slow down the video as Mr. Siebert and ‘unconscious’ Ms. Windust tear away in the big convertible, you can see that they left a hubcap behind. I’m delighted with myself because I don’t usually catch these things.
Character styling as cinematic shorthand: 1970s viewers would immediately know he’s a rotter!
Mr. Siebert’s character is a rotter because he’s carrying on with the police chief’s wife (Windust, above), and then tries to burn down a warehouse in order to collect the insurance, though frankly it would also have solved the pesky tarantula infestation. The weed of crime bears bitter fruit, indeed. As punishment for his sins, the actor (or rather, his stunt double) is fried in the act.
Look out for that tarantula immediately to your left…
…which could startle you enough that your can of gasoline
goes skittering down the roof toward those power lines…
Trivia: Mr. Siebert tells us (August, 2012) that Pat Hingle, who plays the doctor in this movie, and with whom Siebert has a scene (see below) originated the role of Gooper in the premiere production of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. When Charles Siebert played the same role for the 25th anniversary revival (see Theater section of this site), Pat Hingle came backstage to congratulate him. Since then, Mr. Siebert has gone on to play Big Daddy in two productions of Cat, and has also made a point of going backstage to congratulate the actor playing Gooper in other productions he has attended.
Pat Hingle also appeared in a 1981 episode of Trapper John, MD, playing Gonzo’s long-lost father (‘King of the Road’, Season 2, Episode 15).
This was an iconic series in its day. I find it amusing that Mr. Siebert went from performing in the pilot of a comic-book series to directing a comic-book series (Hercules).
Trivia: Susan Sullivan, above, made her Broadway debut in Jimmy Shine, also Mr. Siebert’s Broadway debut. In 1967, the pair were Florenz and Perdita in the Barry Boys directed ‘A Winter’s Tale’.
You can view Mr. Siebert’s scenes in the opening after the (cheesy, Hallmark commercial) David/Laura montage, and at approximately 25 minutes and ninety minutes in. In this pilot, almost no one but Bill Bixby and Susan Sullivan get any lines, if we don’t count grunts and screaming. Even Lou Ferrigno didn’t get any lines, and he has the title role J
A little off-topic, but here’s that hair thing again. Also, Mr. Siebert is seen in a three-piece gray suit so often through the 70s, I wonder if it came from his own wardrobe. (Mr. Siebert informs us that they never came from his wardrobe, but occasionally made their way into his wardrobe.)
Appearances on Good Times and What’s Happening!! If only he’d been on The Jeffersons, he’d have hit the trifecta. What’s Happening!! was a comedy in only the most rudimentary way, and this episode is particularly heavy-handed and didactic as the character Shirley (performed by Shirley Hemphill) finds herself hired as a secretary, despite her lack of qualifications, in order to provide a company with some racial diversity. Mr. Siebert’s character comes off much better then the other guest characters, who are blatantly bigoted; he interviews Shirley in a kindly manner (much more kindly than any interview I ever went on) and treats her fairly. Mr. Siebert’s comic timing in delivering ‘takes’ and lines shines here, perhaps only in contrast with the rest of the cast.
Trivia: Shirley Hemphill will appear in an episode of Trapper John, MD (‘Fat Chance’, Season 5, Episode 9) but without any scenes with Mr. Siebert. And that episode was directed by Susan Oliver; Mr. Siebert will be appearing in a documentary about that actress/director, due out in 2014.
I hesitate to mention this, but as a bit of trivia, the actor, in his second scene, seems to be having what I will call, for want of a better term, a wardrobe malfunction. The actor appears in two scenes on the same set which are supposed to be happening on two different days, and wardrobe seems to have used a little “cheat” by removing the jacket of the suit and providing a different shirt and tie, instead of a full costume change. I almost don’t believe my own eyes, as I can’t imagine why they would have filmed this; surely it would have only taken a few minutes, or a simple fix like putting the jacket back on, to correct the problem.
There’s a short clip on youtube.
1977 Murder in Peyton Place
Now available on DVD and on YouTube (2013). Siebert plays Howard Kaiserman, D.A., in this steamy melodrama that packs a couple of year’s worth of soap opera plots into an hour and a half pilot for a night-time soap that was not picked up. A number of the original Peyton Place actors returned for this, and the acting and production values are good if you like this kind of drama. Charles Siebert’s performance as a D.A. with a shady sense of ethics and the father of a budding pornographer includes a courtroom scene very reminiscent of his performance in the Dallas ‘Red Files’ episode. He appears at 55, 58, 1:11, 1:16 and 1:24 in this 1 hour, 34 minute show. It’s easy to see that he would have been a continuing character if the pilot had been picked up.
1977 The Other Side of Midnight
-not yet viewed. Given the consistent labeling of this feature as “soft core porn”, I am a bit shy of ordering it via interlibrary loan. It’s not like I can say I’m viewing it for its artistic value.
Update: Mr. Siebert himself assured me that “no, it’s not [soft-core porn], certainly not by today’s standards,” so I went ahead and acquired a commercial VHS tape of this movie. As I popped it into my player, it occurred to me that Mr. Siebert may have seen quite a bit more soft-core porn than I have. He certainly couldn’t have seen less. Well, we don’t get very far into the movie before we start seeing some fairly graphic sex. (The only thing I have seen that’s more graphic than parts of this movie is the opening credits of the documentary, “This Movie is Not Yet Rated.” I hesitate to inquire what today’s standard for soft-core porn is.) Marie-France Pisier is a lovely actress, which I know because I have now seen every square inch of Marie-France Pisier. This is not an exaggeration. Susan Sarandon is a hoot as a smart but ungainly woman who manages, somehow, to keep the lower portion of her body clothed throughout the film. This was probably in her contract. The only male nudity, alas, is the backsides of some wrinkly older guys. The film industry was not into equal opportunity in 1977.
I will say, the costumes are beautiful in those instances when the actresses are wearing them. Mlle. Pisier seems to do a good job simulating some kind of exotic practice which is supposed to be her character’s super-power, or at least I hope she was simulating it. Perhaps due to my own lack of imagination or something, I couldn’t figure out what she was rubbing all over herself. Perfume? Liquor? Absorbine Jr.?
I’ll take the gentleman’s word that this movie isn’t soft-core porn, but I don’t recommend that you watch it with Grandma and Pop-Pop (or with the grandkids, if you in fact are Grandma or Pop-Pop). Frankly, when you get up to my age and beyond, the nudity of lovely young people can only lead to depressing comparisons anyway, and it is definitely too late to be picking up pointers on exotic practices, especially if your medical coverage is below par.
However, returning to Mr. Siebert, his part (fully clothed, in uniform, in fact) comes quite early in the film, at about 25 and 45 minutes in. He oozes sleazy charm as a womanizing RAF pilot, and is the one to deliver the news that the pilot who was the second guy to have sex with Mlle. Pisier’s character in the first half-hour of the movie is a total jerk. Nor do we see anything of a redeeming nature about this jerk character at any time right up until Mlle. Pisier’s character, who throughout the movie has been on a vendetta of hatred against lover-boy, is suddenly falling into bed with him, at which point I gave up on the movie. Well, it is Sidney Sheldon, not Jane Austen, so what did I expect?
Now my dilemma is, where in my home shall I hide this videotape?
I kid! I kid! Seriously, it’s a better movie than Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo, and about on the same level as The Rhinemann Exchange, but with graphic sex and full frontal (female) nudity. So enjoy.
(Mr. Siebert has pointed out to me that Marie-France Pisier died this past April, 2012, at the age of 66. He remembers her as a very sweet person and with all respect I will say that she invested the shallow Noelle Page character created by Sidney Sheldon for The Other Side of Midnight with both fascination and dignity. I think this says a great deal about her skill as an actor.)
Another short-lived series that I’m unlikely to find.
Dead Dog and Cat (episode 1)
I have a vague memory of this show, which I believe lasted less than two seasons, and I am sure I’m not going to find it. (It did show up briefly on a pay-cable station, but, I have my limitations, so was not able to view it.) Mr. Siebert reminds us that this was Kim Basinger’s first major role, which may be why I remember it.
1977 The Rhinemann Exchange
I had read that this is another example of a lengthy mini-series that is only available in a cut-down version. The DVD I purchased contains all five hours of star-studded spectacle. The production values are very good and if you like Robert Ludlum I imagine you would enjoy viewing this. If you like Stephen Collins, you will see plenty of Stephen Collins, in all senses of the term. If you don’t like Stephen Collins, you’ll enjoy watching him get “the Fauntleroy kicked out of him”, as Larry Hagman’s character states. I was afraid that scanning this for Mr. Siebert’s very small role would be a bit of a chore, but – “meine Pflicht hab’ ich getan” – I was willing to do it. God was good to me, however. Mr. Siebert’s role comes right up front, ten minutes in, in about a four-minute long vignette of military counter-intelligence training. Much of this consists of reaction shots. He plays a tough sergeant (I trust the credits on this, as I couldn’t detect any sign of military rank, and I’m not very good at that, anyway). He seems tough enough, but as I’ve said, I never find him very menacing. If you don’t care for Stephen Collins, you may enjoy watching Mr. Siebert attempting to break his neck.
Hate Stephen Collins? That’s him on the ground (unless it’s a stunt double).
Speaking of stunt doubles, this has nothing to do with our actor, but the scene of Collins doing martial arts has one of the most glaring instances of a mismatch in physical attributes between actor and stunt man that I’ve ever seen (even including the male dancer who dubbed Jennifer Beals’ hip action in Flashdance). This is actually quite instructive as you can easily see the cuts that would have fooled the eye, if only someone had noticed that Collins has pin-stright hair and the stuntman, lovely curls.
1975-1977 The Rockford Files (TV series)
One of the most popular series of the 70s, and probably, of all of them, the one that’s kept the most appeal. There’s a timeless quality in the humorous, but not satirical, take on the detective genre, not unlike the spin that Maverick, also with James Garner, put on westerns. Mr. Siebert was called upon to play a pair of heavies in two episodes, and the characters are quite different, allowing us to look at the actor’s craft in creating them.
New Life, Old Dragons (season 3, episode 18)
Mr. Siebert plays a character who is described as a dangerous psycho. Somehow, I never find him to be convincingly evil in any of his heavy roles. However, the Rockford Files isn’t a show that ever required a convincingly evil bad guy. Mr. Siebert gives a James Dean/aging juvenile delinquent edge to his baddie in this episode. Somehow, when he advances on the helpless tied-up guy with a baseball bat, you doubt that he’s going to start clubbing him. Nor does he – instead, he just shouts at him in Vietnamese.
When you see this guy in a dark alley, do you walk the other way – or ask him to help you cross the street?
This episode is well worth watching. The Rockford character outsmarts the bad guys by putting them in a position to be beaten up by another bunch of goons. The scene is, as I’m sure it was intended to be, somewhat comical. There is a very poorly executed stunt as Mr. Siebert’s character gets punched in the midsection – not clear if it’s a double or the actor, and the fault is probably the camera angle, not the performer.
The Reincarnation of Angie (season 2, episode 12)
In this earlier episode, Mr. Siebert plays the more slimy type of bad guy, which he does rather well, having an excellent sneer and snide vocal intonation. His scene is right up at the beginning, short in duration but memorable. The actor gets his face banged onto a table and takes a punch from James Garner. Both are ‘sold’ well.
Not a look. Who says actors are vain? Notice the camera angles and Mr. Siebert’s posture, making him look shorter than Mr. Garner. The actors aren’t much different in height, standing, but probably were when seated.
Ouch. Although it’s impossible to see, I imagine that the actor is wisely using that left hand placement to make sure he doesn’t actually get his nose broken.
In his director’s commentary on the Blue Sunshine DVD, Jeff Lieberman states the only way to film a convincing stage punch is from behind the puncher. However, the touching scene above moves immediately to James Garner delivering a roundhouse left to Mr. Siebert, from exactly this angle. It’s done perfectly. A screen cap wouldn’t do it justice; if interested, see for yourself. These episodes are easily available on DVD or internet.
The 1985 version of Contemporary Film and Theater lists this 1975 episode as Mr. Siebert’s television debut (discounting his earlier appearances on soap operas, among other things). In fact, his first prime time appearance was in Harry O. This Rockford Files episode was his second Hollywood job, the actor himself lets us know, and this was his first on-screen stunt. Mr. Siebert (August, 2012) says that Garner cared about getting the stunts right, and also that he was a delight to work with.
In a 1982 interview with Associated Press reporter Jerry Buck, Mr. Siebert reminisces about what he, in that interview, calls his first job in Hollywood: “Here was the classically trained Shakespearian actor. I spent the first day doing nothing but driving a car. The next day James Garner came up to me. I thought, ‘here comes the compliment to my acting.’ He said, ‘You know, you’re really a good driver.’ That was my first accolade in Hollywood…”
It’s hard to believe, but only the first two seasons of Police Woman (a tremendously popular and influential show in its time) have been released so far.
1977 Tail Gunner Joe
I know it’s out there on VHS somewhere…
After searching for a year, I finally found a copy of Tail Gunner Joe, which evidently was commercially released at some point. Despite my initial intention, I have now gone to the dark side and purchased a duped copy. It was my understanding that this would be a dupe of a VHS of the original airing, but it appears to be a commercial release, and I hope the video equivalent of the RIAA won’t be coming after me any time soon.
May I say, this television movie should be made available to the general public. A hatchet job on Senator Joe McCarthy, it brought out dozens of stars eager to avenge the Hollywood blacklists, and contains some fine performances. Most notable is Peter Boyle as McCarthy, giving a carefully modulated performance. I enjoyed the short scene with John Carradine near the beginning of the movie, exhibiting his usual effortless style; Patricia Neal has a wonderful scene, and Burgess Meredith, as always, gives a fine performance. In the movie, we, in 2012, see the 1950s through the eyes of the 1970s. Though the movie is completely one-sided as far as its view of McCarthy and McCarthyism (and more than a bit cruel at times), there are many points that are applicable today in what would seem like a fairly timely look at manipulative politics and the role of the media.
Mr. Siebert plays James Juliana, a historical figure and one of McCarthy’s assistants. He is visible in the opening scenes, seated behind Peter Boyle during the Army-McCarthy hearings, and he appears to be using every advantage to stay visible (you can see him stretching himself upward into the camera angle). He later has two short scenes, one with John Forsythe, in which the actor seems to be using some kind of odd accent (Forsythe is also using an odd accent, so I guess it evens out). In his second scene, near the end of the movie, he is questioned during the hearings (dialog during the hearings scenes is based on the actual transcripts, and this is a rather famous exchange), and does not appear to be using any type of accent. Maybe it was just me. The actor remains visible in a couple of other scenes that depict the hearings. His two short scenes are at approximately one and two hours into the movie. A short clip is on YouTube.
I am sure that many of the actors involved felt vindicated by participating in this movie, and I wonder if Mr. Siebert noted that, per the script, McCarthy was also a Wisconsin native and a graduate of Marquette. Also, as a point of trivia, distinguished society photographer Walter Sheffer photographed Senator McCarthy for Life magazine and also took numerous photos of the Marquette Players, including many of Charles Siebert (see the Marquette University section of this site). I think that may be all that the actor and the late Senator have in common.
Trivia: Simon Scott, who would later play Arnold Slocum in TJMD, has a small role at the very beginning of the Army-McCarthy Hearings scene. Roy Cohn, the real-life lawyer portrayed in the film, sued NBC for libel over his characterization; the case went all the way to the US Supreme Court but was dismissed in 1981. ‘Tail Gunner Joe’ had quite a bit of airplay into the early 1990s.
Update, November, 2013: The actual James N. Juliana died on November 18 and, I find in the obituary, was born and raised in New Jersey, just a few miles from where I live – so, what was with the accent on Mr. Siebert’s part, I do not know.
If you read my introduction to the TJMD section, you know I hate this show. September, 2013: The fourth season has been released on DVD and is available on the streaming services, but I have not seen it yet. I did find this screen capture, however. That’s Mr. Siebert in the background, center.
This is one of those shows, like Harry O or The New Mike Hammer, that have a cult following, but are not available. (Note, the complete Harry O series is available on DVD as of February, 2013.)
1976 Deadly Hero
This is a good movie, and a good role for Mr. Siebert. Ambitious and colorful, with interesting photography and editing, Deadly Hero is as gritty as any cop show of the current decade. Please do note, there is some nudity (in the context of a stage show that’s part of the plot, though what sort of show it could possibly be, I couldn’t figure out), and ample though appropriate use of the “F” word, the “M-F” phrase, and one use of the “N” word. Also, the movie manages to show both girl-on-girl and guy-on-guy action in the first seven minutes. There’s a fifteen-minute long abduction scene right up at the beginning that’s rather traumatic to watch. James Earl Jones gets special billing in the role of the criminal who is killed at the end of this scene. The movie is worth seeing, though the ending is unsatisfying.
Mr. Siebert has a substantial role as one of the pair of cynical, sarcastic detectives who are responsible for investigating use of lethal force by police officers. The writing is very realistic; the detectives are shown being polite to the victim, but trashing her behind her back (“Class is class, ass is ass,” as Siebert’s character says in the film), lacking either sympathy or empathy, and being more concerned about the baseball score than about the victim. Mr. Siebert carries it off beautifully, and with a little flair. Watch his posture when he walks the female lead to her interview with the district attorney; his glance and his walk illustrate his disrespect for her. Note his tone (and a nicely underplayed New York accent) when joking with another officer on the phone, and watch him continue acting in the background after his character finishes an interaction with the politician in the story. He gives a whole performance that gives you a sense of a whole person, the character, who has a life outside his brief appearance on screen. (Speaking of background performances, the actress playing a hooker in the scene at the police station is amazing.)
Sorry for the reflections, this is a shot off my TV screen, as I could only find the movie in VHS. (I can’t afford a flat screen because all my discretionary dollars are going to buy these old videos….) The other actor, by the way, is Lilia Skala, perhaps better remembered as the Mother Superior in Lilies of the Field, with Sidney Poitier.
Update, August 2012: Mr. Siebert agrees that this is a good movie, and, astoundingly, tell us that most of the dialog was improvised by the actors.
Further update, August, 2013: There is a short clip from this movie running on YouTube, under an interesting interview with Don Murray about the film and his role; you’ll see a few seconds of Mr. Siebert after James Earl Jones’ character is killed.
September, 2013: Several sections of Mr. Siebert’s scenes in Deadly Hero can now be viewed.
Everything in Life is 3 to 1 Against (Season 2, episode 5)
I’ve only been able to find season 1 of this well-regarded series. Update, December, 2014: IMDB added another episode in which Charles Siebert plays Sgt. Cabe. He appeared in the role at least twice in Season 2. Still no sign of this series becoming available any time soon.
I have not viewed this, but I, and many others (mostly Rene Auberjonois fans) are looking for it. This was a Warner Brothers production, and was intended to be the pilot for a proposed show with a Three Musketeers theme, but wound up as a TV movie. It seems to have been shown on TV as recently as the 1990s, and some people saw it at a Star Trek convention. From what I’ve heard, it’s entertaining. Rene Auberjonois discusses it in an interview published on his website (http://www.renefiles.com/internos.html). Evidently he, as the leading man and Musketeer, dispatches the evil Rochefort, played by Charles Siebert, at the end. Mr. Auberjonois describes the sword fighting with relish and states that the two were competing with one another to meet the standard of Basil Rathbone (widely reputed to be the best swordsman on the silver screen). As a fan of Rathbone’s costume drama work, this only whetted my curiosity.
A contemporary review, dated May 15, 1976 but unattributed in the format in which I found it, states that “‘Panache’ is a mixture of Cyrano de Bergerac, Richard Lester’s ‘Four Muskteers,’ and Mel Brooks’ ‘When Things Were Rotten’, drawing from all those sources to create an original. There is some classy acting by Rene Auberjonois…E. Duke Vincent’s script is both literate and funny and Gary Nelson’s direction keeps the film briskly-paced, often tossing the jokes and pratfalls away (instead of belaboring them the way ‘When Things Were Rotten’ did)…”
Panache is not available in any legitimate format, is not offered on DVD by Warner Brothers, and is not being shown on television, so unless it’s shown at another Star Trek convention, I suppose my curiosity will have to continue. I went so far as to leaflet the 2012 Comics Con in Philadelphia, hoping some fellow nerd might have some portion of this, with no luck; however, an ‘industry insider’ with a copy has held out some hope that I may actually see this storied scene, which Mr. Siebert temptingly describes as, “[Auberjonois and I] were terrific and brought the fight choreographer to tears.” (That’s a good thing?)
To mollify poor Mr. Siebert, who never asked to have an appreciation website, you know, I am no longer questioning his hair. (Once he started sending comments written in all caps, I knew I had carried my little joke too far.)
Trivia: Charles Siebert and Charles Frank, who played one of Panache’s musketeers, would work together quite a bit, on Barnaby Jones, Trapper John MD (although this credit is missing from Frank’s IMDB listing), and Tarantulas.
Update, May, 2016: After five years of searching, pleading, and offering bribes and rewards, we finally came into possession of ‘Panache’, thanks to the good nature of a generous donor who will remain anonymous. It’s easy to see why this remains in the Warner Brothers vaults, probably never to resurface. It’s very obviously a pilot, and doesn’t stand on its own as well as ‘Wild and Wooly’ did. However, it has its merits, and would be of interest to fans of Rene Auberjonois, who wears the greatest wig ever and looks good, really good, in tight pants and flowing shirt. How compatible the styles of the 17th century were with 1970s sensibilities (ha, ha)! I understand that Charles Frank had quite a following back in the day, too – he appears shirtless as often as the plot could bear. As in ‘Wild and Wooly’, no expense was spared in sets, costumes, and numerous extras; unfortunately, the quality of the dupe that I saw was pretty poor, with muddy color and a ‘tape’ quality (as opposed to film quality). The tenor of the show was lighthearted slapstick and swordplay and lots of male eye-candy. Amy Irving played the Queen of France, including a very modest bathtub scene. Interestingly, though Irving had a respectable film career and appeared in a mini-series or two, she wouldn’t have a recurring role on a regular television program until 2002 (‘Alias’). If the ‘Panache’ pilot had been picked up as a series, I assume that both she and Mr. Siebert would have continued in their roles.
In ‘Panache’, Charles Siebert brings us another flavor of heavy, the swashbuckling Duke of Rocheford. He looks graceful and at ease in his costume and in the sword-fighting scenes, no surprise given the amount of Shakespeare and classics he had played in on stage. He and Auberjonois were a treat for the eyes, though the Rochefort character got a rather inferior wig. Perhaps this was because the character was fated to get a pastry in the face at one point.
Auberjonois certainly had a stunt double for some of his more dangerous moves, like diving between a horse’s legs. Siebert appears to have done some, if not all, of the stunts in his last fight scene – possible not the tumble over a barrel, but certainly some of the falls.
Mr. Siebert’s anecdote about the effect ‘Panache’ had on his life and career is in the biographical section of this site.
Trivia: Mr. Siebert believes this is the only time his name was mis-spelled in credits.
1976 The Adams Chronicles (TV mini-series)
There’s quite a story behind this production. Intended to be America’s answer to all those wonderful BBC shows running on public broadcasting, as well as a tribute to the county in our bicentennial year, the thirteen-part historical drama ran 1.5 million dollars over budget, ran behind on production (filming wrapped in September, 1975, with a planned air date of January, 1976) and, a real slap in the face, was refused by the BBC for air in the UK because they didn’t think it was good enough.
The series was a huge hit, comparatively, for public broadcasting, gaining a 14% share of viewers. It was a prestige production, well-publicized, and aired in 1976, after all.
Today, the program looks like it was shot on videotape in 1975. It’s a bit stiff and dry, deferential and dignified. (There is a charismatic portrayal of Henry Adams by Peter Brandon). Despite all efforts to use authentic set dressings, the sets look a bit barren (maybe aiming for a New England sparseness?), and the scene on the docks in Chapter XII looks like it came right out of Playhouse 90, 1957.
Great care was taken to make the actors look as much as possible like the historical individuals they played. Mr. Siebert, playing Charles Francis Adams II, labors under a large amount of facial prosthetics. His bearing and line reading are stiff, but Charles Francis Adams seems to have been a stiff and formal man. The part was certainly not written with much expressivity. Men weren’t very expressive in those days, I suppose.
In Chapter XI, the Charles Francis Adams character is played, as a somewhat younger man serving as an officer in the Union Army, by Mr. Siebert’s brother, Ron Siebert (listed in the original credits on the episode, but not listed on the IMDB entry or anywhere else). This is puzzling. I don’t find that the two Sieberts bear much resemblance (Ron Siebert is still quite active in regional theater), and this made it confusing to figure out who, exactly, that Union officer was (two of the Adams brothers were serving at the time). Just removing the character makeup would have left Mr. Siebert looking like his character’s own younger self. I suspect that the location shot was an issue, either with Mr. Siebert’s schedule or the shooting schedule. Or maybe it was just payback for Mr. Siebert’s addition to the cast of The Changing Room (see entry in Theater).
In 1975, when the Adams Chronicles was filmed, Siebert was a New York-based stage actor, as were most of the rest of the cast of the program. This, combined with the concept for the production, lends to the feeling that we are watching a filmed stage play. I’m sure Mr. Siebert was very pleased when offered this role, as it is both lengthy and substantial. He appears in Episode XII, “Henry Adams: Historian” and is the lead, and almost continuously onscreen, in Episode XIII, “Charles Francis Adams II: Industrialist”. We are offered the opportunity to see the actor’s stage technique at length and in detail. His line readings and use of stage business are very fine, as they will continue to be throughout his career.
Among the defects of the production are some really terrible makeup effects and wigs, which sometimes border on the comical. Mr. Siebert escapes the bad wig (look at the unfortunate actors playing John Quincy Adams II and Brooks Adams, in Episode XIII, for an example) by eschewing the comb-over that can be seen in the film Deadly Hero, which probably filmed just prior to The Adams Chronicles.
If you merely wish to sample the actor’s performance in this role, I recommend Episode XII, in which Siebert is unhampered by facial prosthetics. Note, toward the end of the episode, the location shot (the Adams picnic), in which both Peter Brandon and Siebert have been aged with facial applications. You can clearly see the adhesive glistening in the sunlight, or possibly (it looks like a summer day) the actors were perspiring from underneath the putty. It does appear to be putty, and not an appliance, as Siebert’s face shape will change from scene to scene in Episode XIII. By the end of that episode, poor Peter Brandon looks like a tragic burn victim and is unable to generate any facial expression whatsoever.
The costumes are very good. Mr. Siebert appears often in an Inverness. I would imagine he would have appeared in a similar costume in 1970’s ‘Collette’ (see Theater section), and he does look quite imposing, which would explain Walter Kerr’s comment. Peter Brandon appears amusingly hobbit-like in the actors’ scenes together.
Despite the faults of the production, the episodes are well-written and well-acted; there are plenty of notable performances. Episode XIII is a poignant, though far from gripping, illustration of a notable family whose ideals have been passed by ongoing historical developments. The actor brings this forth with dignity.
It’s interesting to note that if we wish to see Charles Siebert in a sustained dramatic role on film, we can only choose among The Adams Chronicles, The Miracle Worker, and his role in an extended courtroom scene in an episode of the TV show Dallas. Note my comments on that episode: he is appropriately stagy as a flashy prosecutor. The Miracle Worker is, of course, famous as a stage play, but the television version in which Siebert plays Captain Keller avoids looking like a filmed play. Still, it is, I think, no coincidence that the actor, in an era when he was transitioning from stage to screen, was given some of his best filmed roles in stage, or stagy, parts.
Update, April, 2015: we spotted a photo posted online by one of Mr. Siebert’s family members. With Mr. Siebert’s permission, and his explanation: “Some time before Adams Chronicles we did a pilot for the series. Steven Joyce was John [Adams] and I was Sam. We shot exteriors in Newport, R.I. …[A]ll my kids were extras on one day’s shoot. At the end if that day [my] son, aged 8 or so said, “This has been the happiest day of my life!” The pilot never aired…”
Update, February 2013: Season One of Harry O is now available. Charles Siebert’s actual prime time network debut is in the final episode, Season Two, not yet available but can be pre-ordered, so presumably will be available soon. An episode list on the pre-order form shows this episode as mid-season, not the last episode.
Update, July, 2014: I acquired the Harry O series on DVD a couple of months ago. It’s a well-made and amusing detective series, a must for the David Janssen fan. In this episode, which concerns a counterfeiting grandpa, played with aplomb by J. Pat O’Malley, Siebert plays a low-life bartender who plays an ancillary role of some sort in the crime world. He is satisfyingly sleazy. Mr. Siebert kindly informs us (via our Charles Siebert Appreciation Facebook page) that the episode was filmed on the Santa Monica pier and took half a day.
While appearing on the New York stage in shows such as Sticks and Bones, Jimmy Shine, The Gingerbread Lady, and The Changing Room, Mr. Siebert supplemented his income with the traditional soap opera work. Soap opera is, or at least was, very like live theater. Episodes were needed every day and were shot quickly, with a minimum of time for rehearsal. And the performances were as ephemeral as a stage performance; never rerun, earlier episodes were rarely archived.
I have sought contemporary accounts and publicity; I know these things are out there somewhere, but I haven’t found them yet.
We see a recurring trend here; Mr. Siebert would play a lot of doctors in the course of his career.
1972-1974 As the World Turns (TV series)
Dr. Wally Matthews
1971 Another World (TV series)
Dr. Stuart Philbin
1969-1971 Search for Tomorrow (TV series)
Dr. Peter Murphy
Mr. Siebert’s longest run on a soap opera. A brief mention on one of the online Search for Tomorrow fansites informs us that Dr. Peter Murphy was a regularly recurring character, and at one point was involved in an extended romance plot on the show. (How could a character could appear on a soap opera for a length of time without being involved in a romantic intrigue!) The Peter Murphy character obviously had his fans, as the actor is featured in the July, 1971 soap opera fan magazine, TV by Day. It’s an odd and awkwardly written interview that either left the subject scratching his head and wondering, “Did I really say that?” or possibly indicates, what with it being 1971 and all, that the artist had been partaking of medicinal herbs. The article contains some very sweet pictures of the Siebert family, and more about Mr. Siebert’s personal than professional life. His comments on his work as an actor veer between the mellow-yellow and some indications that he may have been quite a handful. “I like an easy-going atmosphere at work. It’s hard for soaps to be relaxed because there’s so little time to get things done. For a while, the director of Search for Tomorrow thought I wasn’t serious about my work because I appeared so relaxed. On the contrary, I was very serious about it…He was continually calling for ‘quiet’ and ‘let’s get to work’ and I couldn’t deal with that…I do not let myself be stepped on. I want to be treated with the same respect with which I treat other people.” There may have been a hot time on the set for Mr. Siebert after the article appeared. In his later directing career, Mr. Siebert was very popular with his actors, so we can assume that he did, in fact, treat them with the respect that he had wished for himself.
Though not included in the actor’s IMDB profile, other sources state that he also appeared on the soap operas The Nurses and One Life to Live around the same time that he was appearing on Search for Tomorrow.
Actor’s Company series for public broadcasting, Channel 13 (New York)
This is on my most-desired list. A five-hour production of ‘the Scottish play’ that included rehearsals. I saw some of this in high school English class; I know there are tapes out there (this was well before home video, but better-equipped schools had the capacity to tape from air, and I’m sure commercial tapes were available for educational purposes). Even the Channel 13 archives don’t have a copy.
All I have is the tantalizing contemporary accounts in the media. The actual play was panned, by the way. Reviewers particularly had a hard time accepting the director’s (Barry Boys) concept of Lady Macbeth as a sweet young thing (Lois Nettleton).
John Keating visited the set for a NY Times article, June 4, 1967, and records a conversation among director Boys, Mr. Siebert, preparing for the role of Malcolm, and the actor playing MacDuff – presumably Colgate Salsbury, who is identified in the Variety review of the completed production (4/24/68) but not in the Keating article. (The Variety review states that Mr. Siebert’s performance was ‘most notable’; this was in contrast with the list of performances that were ‘weak’. See the Theater section for other reviews of Mr. Siebert’s theatrical performances).
In Keating’s article, we get a tempting glimpse of what we’d see on those tapes, if we could get our hands on them. Mr. Siebert talks about his physical movement during the scene and discusses the rhythm of the language.
There were a series of plays filmed in this manner, and I was under the impression that Mr. Siebert appeared in most of them, but I have only found Macbeth and A Winter’s Tale cited.
Prior to 1967, exact dates unknown, not listed in any source of credits: Various Playbills from this period mention Mr. Siebert appearing on the television programs The Nurses, N.Y.P.D, and Hawk.
1966 Hawk (Season 1, episode 10)
This one-season series, which starred Burt Reynolds, finally made an appearance on Mr. Siebert’s IMDB listing. The actor adds to the long list of medical personnel that he has portrayed.
1966 Directions 1966
ABC met the then-obligatory religious programming requirement with the Directions series of nondenominational uplifting message drama. No other information about Mr. Siebert’s role is available on-line, so here is the actor’s own memory of the show: “…on my Directions ’66 I played a young rabbinical student in 19th century Poland who had a problem of some sort who had camped outside the home/palace of some official in order to air a grievance of some kind that I have no memory of. I only remember that it was live, not taped, and at the end of a duologue with an actor named Dan Frazer, later to co-star as Kojak’s boss, Dan spoke his final dialogue, had his back to the camera, looked at me and crossed his eyes. I wrestled somewhat unsuccessfully to keep my composure and struggled to make my spasms of laughter appear to be deep emotional distress. I wanted to kill him afterwards but was laughing too hard to do it.” (to the author, April 24, 2015)
1965 Like Father, Like Son
I haven’t found any information at all about this show or movie. (Update, October, 2012: a plot summary of what was evidently a TV movie has appeared on IMDB)
Update, November, 2013: I certainly had not expected to find this movie, which turns out to be a theatrical film that was re-released under the title “The Young Sinner’. It is available under that title on Netflix or on DVD. Although originally released in 1965, it was filmed in 1960, and is thus the earliest filmed role for Charles Siebert. This black and white movie with a strong moral overtone was directed by and starred Tom Laughlin (better known as ‘Billy Jack’), a Milwaukee native, and was filmed in part on the Marquette campus; judging by the cast list, quite a few Marquette theater students participated. Mr. Siebert, then still a student, plays a bit part as a lifeguard and displays quite a bit of native charm, among other assets. In the scene pictured below, Siebert’s character joins in with what we would call harrassment in 2013, but in the 1960s and well beyond, was just boys being boys.
The film isn’t bad, in context of the low-budget black and white movies made in the late 50s and early 60s. Some of the photography is very good, especially the early scenes of the two principals walking through the fields. Tom Laughlin looks pretty old to be a high school kid, but most of the extras pull it off quite well, and in some scenes, Charles Siebert looks remarkably like the pictures from his high school yearbook. It’s very amusing to watch for him as he pops up among the rowdy group of boys surrounding the lead character (and who, I fear, were intended to represent normal, average teenagers of the time period). Siebert catches plenty of flies, keeping himself busy in the background even though he has only a few lines in an early scene. Late in the film, Laughlin and Stefanie Powers (quite good in this, by the way, thankless though the female roles are) have a conversation with a small riot going on in the background. Watch for Siebert showing up everywhere in the crowd, including leaping into the air to become visible over the heads of the main actors. In the reverse angles, we see that Siebert is both in front of them and behind them at the same time. You can also see the same extras running past as if on a cyclorama. (I am tempted to add some snarky comments about the film’s attitude toward women and sexuality, but, well, watch it and see for yourself.) There are some clips on YouTube.
Mr. Siebert very kindly sent some comments on this, his first film experience:
“Tom Laughlin had grown up in Milwaukee, went to Marquette for a while, had something to do with Fr. Walsh [of the Marquette University Players] for a while, went to Hollywood, started a movie career, came back, got hold of some local money and made this movie…He came to Fr. Walsh and asked if he had any kids who he could use and a number of MU Players wound up in the movie besides yours truly. Dick Colla who went on to have a substantial directing career, Bob Colonna, son of the comedian Jerry Colonna and a roommate of mine, Marlene Kelly, my girlfriend at the time, Harry Zumach, a local interior decorator who had worked with the Players a lot.
“Laughlin brought a lot of people from Hollywood, most in the early days of their careers, many of whom did quite well in succeeding years, Stephanie Powers probably the most successful…
“So there was a lot of Hollywood talk, all pretty dazzling to a kid from Kenosha. Stephanie was particularly nice and it was there that I learned that her early professional name was Taffy Paul. Always loved that. She also talked about being hired as a dancer and gang girl for the film “West Side Story” but was fired when there were personnel changes in the choreography department.
“We were hired without signing a contract of any kind and then began to hear suggestions that we would be paid something so we went to talk to Laughlin who told us that, in spite of what appeared in the cast budget line, he didn’t have any money. So, although the idea of receiving some big “Hollywood salary” was exciting, we just said, “okay” and got on with the thing. It was interesting, fun, and I suppose we learned a little.”
1964 The Presidency: A Splendid Misery
Aired on 9/23/64, and based on a 1960 book by Jack Bell, ‘The Splendid Misery: the story of the presidency and power politics at close range” , this featured such luminaries as Frederic March and E.G. Marshall . Mr. Siebert tells us, “My very first professional job. When CBS came to Milwaukee to tele-record The Play of Coventry, the producer, Richard Siemanowski, actually said the famous line to me “If you ever come to New York, look me up.” I did and he gave me two lines in this production which was created by CBS News as an event during the 1964 presidential campaign… Fredric March was one of my heroes, he having grown up in Racine, WI, just 10 miles from Kenosha. Wisconsin was very proud of him. In later life I came to know a nephew of his at the Bohemian Club and we became fast friends linked by our mutual admiration of ‘Uncle Fred’.” (to the author, April 23, 2015)
To give you a better idea of this production, as so little information is available and some of it is incorrect, here is a longer excerpt from Mr. Siebert’s communication: “In keeping with its pomposity and over-all lack of entertainment (CBS News, remember) all of the actors playing presidents appear in contemporary business suits & ties. The supporting players are in costumes appropriate to the period in which they lived. I played Gen. George McClellan, ergo, in a Civil War Union General’s uniform. The set was just a group of areas & levels and lights came up and went down on those various areas as appropriate.
“Fredric March was the host/narrator. The other stars were Dana Andrews, Ed Begley, (not called senior because his son was not yet a known actor) Sidney Blackmer, Macdonald Carey, James Daly (Tyne’s father), E.G. Marshall, Herbert Marshall, Gary Merrill, Dan O’Herlihy, Jason Robards, and Robert Ryan. The supporting players were Phil Bosco, Staats Cotsworth, Dana Elcar, David Hooks, Addison Powell, Lester Rawlins & c.s [Charles Siebert]. I did not yet have an agent, having been cast directly by the producer who had noticed me in the Play of Coventry, knew nothing about negotiating a contract, dealt directly with the producer’s office and, therefore I am the only one on the show who received no billing. I’m amazed I even received a check. (I think I received a check).
“I had 2 lines as McClellan opposite Robert Ryan as Lincoln. Ryan was a tall, dark, and handsome, brooding Irishman whose eyes blazed in anger in the scene and impressed me mightily. My two lines; “I need more men.” and “My horses are sore-tongued and fatigued!” Good, huh?
“Aside from the fact that it was my very first job as a professional and I was in very distinguished company, the most notable thing about the experience was that they wanted to tape it in one take. This was a time when video tape editing was in its infancy and very crude, it was literally done with a razor blade and scotch tape and that would leave an electronic glitch on the screen the director wanted to avoid.
“The show involved many light cues (area to area) much choreography of actors, cameras, microphones & set pieces, all of which required a fair amount of rehearsal. A problem arose with one actor, Herbert Marshall, a dignified old fashioned stiff upper lip kind of British actor who had lost a leg in WWI. He read George Washington and was to be seated at a desk on a platform perhaps 6-8′ high. This entailed a 1-legged actor having to climb stairs up to that level every time we rehearsed, then down again, then up again, etc. until we got that one take on tape. Well, the climbing seemed to tire and exasperate this 75 year-old man (he was dead within a year and a half of this production) and he became increasingly rattled. That meant he couldn’t remember his lines which meant that eventually he couldn’t even read his lines after that option was conceded. That meant that we never got the taping done in one take (all the other elements conspired against that too) and what was to be perhaps a normal 8-10 work day turned into almost 24 hours of continuous effort. We began work on a Sunday morning and didn’t leave the studio until early the following Monday morning. To a young actor on his first job perhaps the most important consequence was a check brimming over with overtime money!”
All of the Coventry Mystery Cycle is available for viewing at the Marquette Library, and Mr. Siebert has posted a clip on his YouTube channel, as noted in the Marquette University section of this site.