Thursday, August 14, 2014

Actor-Author-Scriptwriter Jim Rosin Discusses Jack Klugman, His Books,and Playing an Alien in "Buckaroo Banzai"

One of the highlights of my attendance at the 2014 Western Film Fair was meeting Jim Rosin. He started in show business as a supporting actor in TV series such as Mannix, Cannon, T.J. Hooker, and Quincy, M.E. He subsequently wrote several teleplays for Quincy and later penned a number of informative and entertaining nonfiction books on classic TV series. During the convention, Jim took a break from autographing his books and talked with me about his career and books.

Café:  One of your most interesting acting credits is in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, which became a big cult film. When you were making it, did you think it would ultimately become as popular as it did?

The closing credits of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.
Jim Rosin: Not really. When I was filming my scenes, it was a very hot day. We were shooting at a power plant in south L.A. and I had to wear a mask because I played an alien, a Lectroid. It took them about an hour to put the mask on me. I remember being very hot and it was claustrophobic. When I did the scene as John Yaya, where I didn't have to wear the mask--boy, that was a joy. That's what I remember most about the filming. It was really an interesting movie. I think they shot it in about 60 days for a budget of about $18 million. It really became a cult movie when I was living in New York. Every Saturday, for years after, theaters would show The Rocky Horror Picture Show followed by The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai. Peter Weller, a very dear friend who later played Robocop, was Buckaroo Banzai. The cast also featured Chris Lloyd, Jeff Goldblum, Ellen Barkin, and Robert Ito who played Jack Klugman's lab assistant Sam on Quincy, M.E. Jamie Lee Curtis was Buckaroo's mother, but I think her scene with Buckaroo as a boy was deleted from the opening. The film was a combination of action-adventure and sci fi...with a hero who was also a musician with a band. It was unique and different. They were going to do a sequel, but perhaps the boxoffice receipts didn't warrant it because they never came out with a second film. But, at the end of the first, you see the name of the second Buckaroo Banzai film. I have fond memories of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.

Café:  You appeared on three classic TV series: Banacek, Mannix, and Quincy, M.E. Who was the best detective of those three?

JR:  I don't know. George Peppard was very good as Banacek. He was cool, able to deduce things, and came up with all those Polish proverbs. It was a well-written show. Jack Klugman as Quincy was also very methodical, unique, and very determined to find out the answer to any problem. Mike Connors (Mannix) was a very nice man; I liked working with him. All three of those characters had a tenacity to get to the truth to find out who the guilty party was. It's hard to delineate who was the best. They were all great and I enjoyed working with all three actors.

Café:  You wrote three episodes of Quincy, M.E. Which one was your favorite and what was the inspiration for it?

JR:  I have a soft spot for "A Test for Living," which is about an autistic child. Jack (Klugman) had done a telethon to raise funds to care for autistic children. When we talked about doing a show, we chose that subject and worked on it together. It was a very worthwhile story line that required a lot of research. Jack sent me out to UCLA to talk with doctors and read books, so I had a huge investment in coming up with the script for that episode. Also, Jack's participation in it was meaningful. Lloyd Nolan, who played the psychiatrist, had a son who was autistic. We did another telethon after the show aired. So, all those things put together made for a very memorable experience for me.

Rosin, Klugman, and Henry Beckman in the 1983 episode "On Dying High."

Café:  What was Jack Klugman like?

JR:  Jack was a very good-hearted man. Very intense. He had a great work ethic. He was very demanding. He had high standards of excellence. You had to be on your toes when you worked with him. As a young actor and writer, I learned a great deal from him and he was very good to me. I was very fortunate to have an association with Quincy, six episodes as an actor and three as a writer. I'll never forget it. The fact it was on for seven years was a testament to him. He fought the studio and the network to do socially relevant material and ultimately he was right, because people responded to it. He really was a very diligent, hardworking, top-flight professional who would involve himself in every facet of the show. The end result is that it was on for 148 episodes.

Café:  You were that rare dual threat--an actor and a writer. Which came first?

With Piper Laurie at the Western Film Fair.
JR:  I started out acting first and then I wrote a play in L.A. In between acting jobs, I was first a bartender in Beverly Hills and then a cab driver. I wrote a play about an actor who drives a cab in Beverly Hills. It was a comedy-drama that Jack read and that ultimately brought me to Quincy. It ran at a theater in Hollywood for about six weeks. That's how I got started writing. I subsequently did some Quincy shows and some soap opera episodes. And I recently completed a screenplay. But I always loved being an actor. The more things you can do in the business, the better off you are because the competition is so keen. If you have a talent for directing or writing, it's very good to explore them because it's harder to depend upon one area because of all the people trying to do the same thing as you.

Café:  You have also written a number of books about classic TV series such as Naked City, Adventures in Paradise, Wagon Train, and Route 66. How did you get into doing that?

JR:  Well, I started doing some books on sports and Philly music. Then, I started thinking about writing about classic TV shows that I grew up with, ones that were popular and enjoyed by millions of people. The first one I did was Route 66, because, to me, that was a wonderful show. It had a great premise of two young men driving in a Corvette convertible all over the country, never knowing what was down the road or around the bend. I knew Marty (Martin Milner), who I worked with on Adam-12 several times. He was great and George Maharis was outstanding. There was a chemistry between them and a contrast. So, I felt I had to do a book on that show. When you combine the aura that they projected on TV, the Corvette, the sense of adventure, the different town every week, the people stories, the backdrop of America--it was just a tremendous show.

Café:  What about some of your other books?

JR:  Herbert B. Leonard, who produced Route 66, also did Naked City. It featured the same approach; it was filmed in New York with a stark look. It was not about police procedure, but more about the ordinary denizens of New York. After the book on Naked City, I wrote one on Wagon Train because I wanted to do a Western. Ward Bond and Robert Horton were great together. Again, it was a series about people. In fact, The title of every episode was a person's name--"The Horace Best Story," "The Malachi Hobart Story," and so on. It had wonderful actors and was about their characters' experience along the prairie from Missouri to California. I loved Adventures in Paradise because it was pure escapism. It took us to a part of the world where we never went. James Michener said it best that we all go to work, wake up, go to work, wake up, we drive the same route back and forth--then we turn on the TV and see Gardner McKay on the Tiki in Tahiti in this exotic part of the world. It was a great source of entertainment and Gardner McKay was very good on the show. He was an expert sailor who had sailed across the Atlantic. The other two books I did were two Quinn Martin shows because I had worked on some of his series. The Invaders starred my dear friend Roy Thinnes, who gave a very believable, honest, edgy portrayal as David Vincent, trying to prove to a disbelieving world that aliens were among us. Quinn Martin wanted to do a show about paranoia. It ran for only two seasons, but everyone loved the show and it was different for the time. The other Quinn Martin series, The Streets of San Francisco featured one of the prettiest cities in the country as a backdrop. Karl Malden and Michael Douglas were a fine team. I think Karl saw Michael as his son, because he and Kirk Douglas were close friends. Michael grew immensely on the show and was very willing to learn. He really put his feet to the ground and absorbed all these things about acting and production. After the fourth season, he produced One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and became an Academy Award-winning producer. John Wilder, another friend of mine, produced it for three years and wrote some of the episodes. Quinn Martin just had a great organization. When you put everything together--the backdrop of San Francisco, the chemistry of Karl Malden and Michael Douglas, the writing, the guest stars, the breezy music score--it was just an excellent series.

Café:  I'm a huge Route 66 fan and have read varied accounts as to why George Maharis left the show. Based on your research for your book, what was the reason?

George Maharis and Martin Milner.
JR:  I know why he left and in my book, he talks about it. There's a misconception that he left because he wanted out of the show, was getting movie offers, and wanted to be a movie star. That wasn't true. Geroge Maharis left because he contracted hepatitis. He missed four episodes at the end of the second year. He came back for the third season because Herbert Leonard said: "If you don't come back, we might not get renewed." The show could not stand alone with Marty. George Maharis was a very vital part of Route 66. And when he left, he proved to be irreplaceable. The show only lasted another season. His replacement, Glenn Corbett, was a competent actor and a handsome guy, but he was too much like Marty Milner. He didn't have the edge that George had. There was a stark contrast between George and Marty. Their characters were sometimes at each other, which heightened the drama of the show. They didn't always see eye to eye. Yet, there was a bond and chemistry. George was not someone you could replace. Unfortunately, when he came back for the third year, he was promised he would only work so many hours a day because the doctor said to take it easy. He came back in three weeks after having hepatitis. He had a relapse midway through the third season. He went to the doctor, who told him he needed to walk away from the show. He didn't work for a year. It took him that long to recuperate. There was acrimony between Bert Leonard and him. The press made something out of it that wasn't there. George regretted leaving the show because he enjoyed it. He and Marty had a great relationship--it's another misconception that they didn't get along. They were two different individuals, but there was never a bad word between them.

Café:  Lastly, do you have any upcoming projects or appearances that you want to share with our readers?

JR:  I did a book on Philly music history, Philly Pop, Rock, Rhythm & Blues. It's dear to my heart because I'm a Philadelphian. It covers the rock'n'roll and R&B eras of Philly from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s--with all the great performers from the golden years of the rock'n'roll and the doo-wop era, then the R&B era that came after. I have a lot of commentary from the performing artists. I have some discographies and biographies. I've got Hall & Oates on the cover and Gamble & Huff on the back. I love the book and thought I owed it to Philly because it's got such a wonderful music history. I scratch my head as to why the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland and not in Philadelphia--with no disrespect to Cleveland, which is a nice town. There are so many performers both nationally known, as well as local and regionally known, that came out of Philadelphia, South Philadelphia in particular.

Café:  It's been great talking with you, Jim.

JR:  Thanks, Rick.


You can order Jim Rosin's books at his website: www.classictvseriesbooks.com. He will be appearing at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in Hunt Valley, Maryland, September 18-20, 2014.

5 comments:

  1. Rick, I absolutely loved this interview with Jim Rosen! He tells great stories and is obviously very passionate about classic television. I have his book on Route 66 and may have to look into the one on The Invaders. It is especially interesting to hear how he kept working while wearing hats as both an actor and a writer. Thanks for an awesome interview and thanks to Mr. Rosen for stopping by the Cafe!

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    1. Please accept my apology for misspelling Rosin.

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  2. "Quincy" is one of my all-time favorite TV shows. Jack Klugman was terrific in it. I'm not surprised to learn of his heavy involvement. I've watched episodes multiple times. I think I recognize Jim Rosin.

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  3. Rick, thank you for sharing your wonderful experience with us... I remember Jim Rosin from the show Quincy.

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