(In his booklet, this is how Robert Drew described building his team at Drew Associates.)
ABC News President John Daly resigned, protesting that his management had not consulted him on Yanki No!
The sponsor, Bell and Howell, wanted more programs. ABC wanted more. Time, Inc. looked to me. I wanted to get organized.
I had been a lone producer with help from talented freelancers. I had researched the stories, outlined shooting, hired crews, field produced, taken sound and managed the editing. My business department had been the extension number on my telephone – 333 – which I gave out as a purchase order number when I needed to buy equipment.
This had seemed justified in the midst of a war, a one-time all-out emergency effort, which I considered making the candid breakthrough to be. But each film seemed to require a new breakthrough of some kind and together they suggested a need for continuous breaking through. Even if I were up for that, it would require organization and additions of very considerable talent.
The stakes were high enough. We had tapped into something television among the media could do uniquely and best. So, let the print magazines describe, analyze, and render pictures on Life Magazine-sized pages. Let the nightly TV news program summarize in words with picture illustrations. For ourselves, to engage the big television audiences during prime evening hours, let us develop television’s absolutely unique ability to transmit strong experience of the real world.
To begin to deal with these potentials, we would have to produce in volume – maybe 52 hours a year. Talent would be the name of the game. I formed Drew Associates. Early talents and associates included documentary cameramen Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles, D.A. Pennebaker; correspondents Gregory Shuker, James Lipscomb, Lee Hall, John MacDonald, James Goode; still photographers Abbot Mills, Bill Ray, Howard Sochurek; journalists Hope Ryden and Tom Johnson. Later talents included Mike Jackson, Tom Bywaters, Sidney Reichman, Anne Drew, Coulter Watt and Marc Curtis.
At an ABC pitch meeting, a producer had just completed an exhaustive report on sewage treatment. “And what have you got, Bob?,” came the question. I laid out some topics.
They were assigned and I produced a documentary series: “X-Pilot” – testing the X-15 jet airplane; “Adventures on the New Frontier” – inside JFK’s White House, “Kenya” – two half hours on its independence fight; “The Children Were Watching” – a mother and daughter who refuse to boycott an integrated school in New Orleans and are hounded by white parents with babes in arms.
For the next eight hours, I decided to produce candid dramas on real people. Hope Ryden came up with “Jane,” for Jane Fonda’s star turn on Broadway in a play that critic Walter Kerr rated one of the five worst he had ever seen.
Next came “The Chair,” which started when Greg Shuker was shouting from a phone booth in Chicago: “The condemned man asked his best friend, warden Jack Johnson, to throw the switch on the electric chair!” Paul Crump was going to be electrocuted for murders he committed 19 years before, unless a parole board hearing panel recommended a last-minute reprieve. Lawyers Louis Nizer and Donald Moore pleaded for Crump and won commutation on the grounds of rehabilitation, a first in U.S. law. Paul went back to his cell for 30 years. At Cannes, “The Chair” was awarded a Grand Prix.
Then came “Nehru.” I told the Prime Minister of India that I would like the camera to live with him for three weeks. The look he returned was disapproving. Then he viewed some of my film on JFK, and smiled.
Greg Shuker and Ricky Leacock returned to shoot a portrait of a great leader losing out to the greater inertia of India, but only the beginning of a family saga I would continue recording over 30 years.
In “Mooney vs. Fowle,” two football coaches clash in the Orange Bowl for the Florida state high school championship. Jim Lipscomb went back to his alma mater to record coaches making and destroying teams before our eyes. It won “Best Foreign Film of the Year” at the London Film Festival.