May 7, 2008

Doniger Donation

Peyton Place Director Donates Archives to USC

By Mel Cowan

Writer/producer/director Walter Doniger.
Golden Globe nominee Walter Doniger, a creative force behind television classics like Marcus Welby, M.D., Ellery Queen and Night Gallery, has donated his personal archives of film and television memorabilia to the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

The collection will be housed in the Cinematic Arts Library at USC, and will be open to scholars, faculty, researchers and students.

“It’s a fitting tribute to Walter’s incredible body of work that his archives will be displayed alongside collections entrusted to the school by other film and television luminaries like David Wolper, Robert Wise and Frank Sinatra,” Dean Elizabeth M. Daley said. “Members of the USC community and the general public will benefit for years to come from the wealth of detail and information in these documents.”

“I’m so pleased that the materials I’ve collected over the years will now go into the archives of such an amazing school,” said Doniger. “It’s an honor to be placed in such talented company.”

“I had the pleasure of collaborating with Walter on an episode of The Rough Riders from 1958,” said Frank Price, chairman of SCA’s Board of Councilors. “It was fantastic to work with such an experienced writer. He was a wonderful teacher then, and it’s no surprise that he’s made a commitment to let his archives continue teaching generations of young writers.”

Doniger reviewing a scene with star Clint Walker on the set of  Cheyenne.

“The collection’s strong point from an academic point of view is that it’s a virtual textbook of what a producer/director’s collaboration should look like,” said Steve Hanson, director of the Cinematic Arts Library. “If the researcher wants to find out how to become a successful television director, this is the collection to look at because it covers every step of the process from beginning idea to finished program.”

Doniger, nominated in 1950 for his screenplay for the Burt Lancaster-starring Rope of Sand, moved fluidly between film and television projects, working on everything from Westerns like Along the Great Divide with Kirk Douglas to WWII noir-drama Tokyo Joe, starring Humphrey Bogart.

He served as a director in a host of heavy-hitting television series: Kung Fu, Maverick, The Virginian and McCloud amongst many others. Perhaps his most celebrated achievement came when he branched out to a different kind of story-telling on the smash hit primetime soap Peyton Place, which ran for 524 episodes from 1964-1969 and starred Ryan O’Neal and Mia Farrow. The show, based on Grace Metalious’ novel of the same name, connected with viewers all over the world. At its peak, the program had 60 million regular viewers, or one in three Americans.

After the first season, the show was being broadcast in over 30 countries, including Thailand, Korea and the United Arab Republic. In 1971, Peyton Place caused controversy in Yugoslavia as restaurants closed down so people could stay home to watch it. The government eventually banned the production, saying the show’s “petit-bourgeois values” conflicted with Yugoslavian socialist ideals. 

Doniger with Cheryl Ladd during the shooting of  Kentucky Woman.
Doniger’s meticulous sense of preparation is on display in his archives, which include script and storyboard resources from many of his film and television projects. In particular, the assets from Peyton Place are exemplary models of how to organize multiple plotlines and characters.

“The documentation provided in each section of materials illustrates the creative process involved in crafting a story and seeing it develop through successive script drafts until it becomes a finished product,” said Hanson. “Other sections of the collection document other aspects of the production process showing all of the issues that have to be overcome to bring the story into our living rooms.”

“When I was directing, I was figuring things out as I went along, which was part of the joy of it,” said Doniger. “But I’m glad to be able to pass these materials onto students, who will hopefully be able to improve and innovate on the ideas I started.”