Friday, August 29, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #38: Ben Gazzara & "Run for Your Life"

Today we salute actor Ben Gazzara and his terrific mid-1960s NBC-TV series Run for Your Life; his 84th birthday would have been yesterday.  The acclaimed stage, TV and screen actor added his serious dramatic chops to this effective series with a dynamic premise: Gazzara was Paul Bryan, a successful young lawyer who receives a devastating medical prognosis from his doctor -- he'll be dead in just a few years.  Bryan faces the prospect of his untimely end with a resolve to start living his remaining time to the fullest . Run for Your Life started as an episode of Kraft Suspense Theatre in April of 1965 and the series started in the fall of that year.  Here is "Rapture at Two-Forty" which served as the pilot:

The series had a wonderful Emmy-nominated theme and score by composer Pete Rugolo:

Produced at a time when some of the best actors around were guest-starring on series television, Run for Your Life found Gazzara as Paul Bryan jet-setting around Europe and soon the whole world, hob-nobbing with hobos, cavorting with kidnappers, mingling with dictators, hanging out in haunted houses, and generally mixing it up with an ever-changing cast of characters.  Run for Your Life was essentially an anthology series, in the vein of  "road" shows like Route 66 or The Fugitive, with only the main character remaining the same but the setting and plot changing every week.  These roaming shows allowed the show's writers license to send Bryan out into the world with no restrictions. No family around to keep ailing Mr. Bryan grounded -- he was a free bird flapping his wings for what might be the last time.

Highly recommended for a long visit is the wonderful website The Ultimate Episode Guide to the Run for Your Life TV Series which is accessed by clicking here.  Beautifully arranged with lots of clips, inside information, and a comprehensive episode guide with special background info which delves into the series' timeline, the TUEGttRfYL site is a delight. I especially appreciate the emphasis on the impressive guest cast roster -- such great names, so many not with us anymore but also so many just on the brink of discovery. (Here's a blog -- click here -- with a nice discussion of actress Barbara Hershey's guest role on RfYL.)

For instance, how about singer/actress Claudine Longet (at the time the wife of Andy Williams, click here for a fascinating article about him and click here for a great website devoted to her) who played Paul Bryan's lover in a two-parter, serenading him:

Or Lesley Ann Warren as another of Bryan's girlfriends:

Ben Gazzara passed away in 2012, lauded as one of the most powerful actors ever, one whose overall career was less about making himself a star but instead giving outstanding performances in whatever roles he did undertake.  It's worth reading some of the excellent obituaries, such as from Time Magazine here, from the Hollywood Reporter here, People magazine here, and The Guardian here. Though evidently he later somewhat pooh-poohed his three year run as Paul Bryan in Run for Your Life as he reflected on his work with John Cassavettes and in other edgier projects, he had nothing to apologize for.  He was nominated twice for an Emmy Award for his work and stands out as a memorable TV figure of the time.

Run for Your Life ran as a weekly series from September 13, 1965 until March 26, 1968 and went into syndication but not to any stunning success.  It most recently ran on the digital channel COZI TV and though no official DVD release has happened yet there are some to be found if you look.

With its dolorous premise but exciting execution, Run for Your Life lives on in TV history as a series which managed to combine globetrotting adventure with an overall sense of mature contemplation of the inevitable.  For television, that's more than enough to make it stick.

With Joan Collins in an episode


Todd said...

I hadn't seen an episode of this show in more than 25 years until COZI became available in my area. Gazzara was a wonderful actor, of course, but, I regret to say this show is pretty awful. Repetitive, pulpy situations and trite dialogue plus static direction are what I've seen for the most part. The one exception was the Gazzara-directed "Carol". Re-visiting this show has been terribly disappointing, especially given the talent involved (not just Gazzara, but also Roy Huggins).

Lisa said...

Hi Todd! Thanks for your comments! I think what might have made this show is its great theme song, like so many other shows! I honestly haven't seen an episode in a LONG time and I wouldn't doubt that your assessment is correct. We tend to be pretty enthusiastic just for the existence of these shows and I guess they don't always live up to the talent, as you say. Oh well...maybe Gazzara was right on the money being churlish about his participation. :-) Again, thanks so much for visiting and commenting!!