"I'm somewhat of an idealist and an optimist," said George Schaefer, "and the state of TV and film and theater is far from healthy, far from living up to its potential."
Schaefer was reflecting on the latest development in a career that began nearly 50 years ago when he directed the Pastime Players in Oak Park, Ill., and now finds itself on the campus of UCLA, where he has been appointed chairman of theater, film and television.
In between he has directed 240 plays, movies and television programs (his production of James Prideaux's "Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry," with an all-star cast headed by Katharine Hepburn, airs March 30 on CBS). There's hardly a major actor or actress of the past 30 years that Schaefer hasn't worked or toasted with, beginning with Maurice Evans in a U.S. Army production of "G.I. Hamlet" (he later directed Evans in "Macbeth" on Broadway).
He's directed in virtually every theater form (Los Angeles most recently saw his direction in "On Golden Pond" and "Another Part of the Forest" at the Ahmanson). He was one of the leading directors during what is now referred to as the Golden Age of Television, when he did classics for the "Hallmark Hall of Fame." He's won eight Emmys and an unprecedented four Directors Guild of America awards for television dramas, and President Reagan has assigned him to a six-year term on the National Council for the Arts.
"We feel that this is one of the most important appointments ever made in the history of the college," said Robert H. Gray, UCLA dean of the College of Fine Arts.
Schaefer feels he's gone about as far as he can go--or would even want to go for a while--in directing full time, and that the appointment means he might help young people to persist in doing their best work in less-than-inspiring conditions.
"I've spent my entire life in entertainment and directing, and over the past few years I've begun to wonder if there was any more I could do in that direction," he said recently at his office in Studio City. "I especially thought about it while doing 'Stone Pillow' with Lucille Ball in New York. Getting up at 5 in the morning in New York City and dealing with Port Authority will give you those kinds of thoughts.
"The UCLA appointment came as a complete surprise. The more I thought about it, the more appealing it seemed. I'm not from the academic world; I thought it'd be healthy to bring in a fresh overview. I've already received dozens of offers from very talented people who are willing to lecture. I expect to just observe for a few months, but eventually I'll be looking into the curriculum to see if, when a student comes out, there's been something he's missed.
"There's a tricky line between what you can teach and what a student can do; invariably, it's the shy student in college, the one nobody notices, who goes on to greatest success. I think school is a good place to find specifically where your energies can go. Sometimes somebody who starts out to be a director winds up being a better art director or cinematographer. I'd like to help people develop clarity about the future. I'm always unhappy for talents like Peter Bogdanovich, for example, who have had astronomical success without being prepared for it, and then get an undeserved reputation for being a flash in the pan."
Schaefer is just as concerned about industry conditions as he is about academic matters. He sees in its new blood one of the few sources of hope for improvement.
"The public wants and deserves better than special effects, car crashes, in-one-ear-and-out-the-other shows," Schaefer said. "In days of live TV, we had people who worked out of personal conviction. Now that impulse is diluted through network departments until it's lost. You'll have scripts bounced up through echelons and rewritten at each stop; by the time they get to the head man, they're stripped of the harshness and excitement of the ilk of Paddy Chayevsky. Everyone says, 'Well, the money's great,' and leaves it at that.
"Whether it's networks, movies, cable or theater, that shouldn't be. It's a shame that people can't take advantage of their talent. What's Julie Harris doing on 'Knot's Landing' when she should be on Broadway every year? I know it's easy to come out of school and accept the standards. I'd like to do what I can to see that that doesn't happen."
Schaefer plans to advise--more than teach--and hopes to do some directing as well ("I would hope to do something at the Doolittle. I love Shaw, and I haven't done Shakespeare in so long"). "Today," Schaefer concluded, "65 is not for hanging up your hat."
Vincent Dowling is no longer artistic director of the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts. The Allan Hancock College board, under whose aegis the PCPA Theaterfest operates, voted on Tuesday night to name Jack Shouse acting artistic director.