by Sandra Grabman
One of the most important dramas of 1953, perhaps of the whole [live TV] era, was a hurriedly-written fill-in.
The Philco Television Playhouse was originally to present a different story, but the script had been terrible, so they asked Paddy Chayefsky, who had already proven himself a very talented author, to finish a script he was in the midst of writing so they could perform it. “Marty” was the result.
It was a simple story – a plain butcher, who had been rejected by women again and again, but was nevertheless nagged by his mother to get married, meeting a young lady who had been deserted by her date because of her homeliness. His heart goes out to her but she, having been hurt once too often, is afraid to trust him at first. His sincerity and basic goodness eventually win her over. This was one of the most influential dramas ever. In Harold V. Cohen’s regular TV Digest column, he lobbied for a repeat of this performance, stating, “Chayefsky’s study of a couple of little people was a touching thing full of tenderness and pathos, and Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand gave the kind of performances that would be Oscar candidates if they had been played in the movies.”
Rehearsals took place all over New York in rented halls before studios were made large enough for such things. Recalling their preparation for “Marty,” Betsy Palmer, who played Marty’s cousin, says, “There was a Scandinavian restaurant that was down below (the rehearsal hall). This was upstairs and it was a hall that I bet (director) Del Mann picked out and, when he found it, said ‘This is perfect,’ because it was for men and women to meet. A dance place. The girls would stand on one side of the hall and the guys would be on the other side. It was one of those clubs, a friendship club, I think it was called. I remember going into the girls’ bathroom and there would be signs on the wall, ‘Remember men have feelings too, girls,’ not to be rude to them. And it really worked because it was the right space to be in for this particular show. And, of course, Nancy Marchand has always been a great actress.
“I remember learning a big lesson from dear Del Mann, because he said to Rod (who kept crying during rehearsal because he felt so sorry for his character), ‘Will you stop with the tears? If you cry for yourself, your audience will never cry for you.’ He was absolutely right. You can’t cry for yourself because then the audience pulls away.” Steiger gave it a mighty effort, and the result was exactly as Mann had hoped. “It was the best-controlled performance he has ever given in his life,” he said.
Since cameras weren’t able to move around easily during a scene, the actors would do close-ups nearer to the camera, like in Marty’s dance scene. When Rod’s character was talking, he’d be positioned so the camera would see his face. Then they would turn so Nancy’s character could be seen as she spoke. They had very little room for the dance floor because the studio was cluttered with sets, so there was space for only one camera.
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