Saturday, August 10, 2013

On Call, Vol. 1, No. 3 - Personnel Profile: Ed Flanders... "Salute to an Everyman"


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, December 1997, volume 1, number 3.


Editor's Preface

As a club, one of our objectives is to celebrate ST. ELSEWHERE and to promote its continued re-broadcast. ON CALL is the vehicle that we use to help achieve that objective. ON CALL is not TIME Magazine or the National Enquirer, and as such, our articles are generally focused on the positive aspects of any given subject. But we remind our newer subscribers that SEAC's other mission is to promote health and social issues in the spirit of ST. ELSEWHERE, so that we too can acknowledge the contributions made in that regard by cast and crew, and that we might, by extension, help to heighten awareness of medical issues and promote prevention and early intervention through education. In a sense, then, Ed Flanders' life (and death) provide a cause for celebration and introspection, helping us to fulfill our dual mission.
St. Elsewhere was funny, and so was Ed.
St. Elsewhere was highly respected, and so was Ed.
St. Elsewhere dealt with life threatening problems, and so did Ed.

Charles Cioffi told us that there was nothing phony about Ed Flanders, and that Ed didn't tolerate phoniness in others...said Chuck, "Ed didn't suffer fools well." And so, had we merely glossed over the parts of Ed's life that defined his very existence, both creatively and otherwise, our phoniness, our foolishness wouldn't have been suffered by Ed.

It was at the urging of Bonnie, Christina, and Norman that we undertook this profile of Ed, and at times, the task was problematic. Bonnie told me "You've got a rough article to write," and she was correct. Nevertheless, the profile did come together, and in composing it, we honor Ed as one of America's greatest actors. This was indeed a labor of love.


Early Years

Edward Paul Flanders was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on December 29, 1934. He had two siblings, sister Rene, and brother Bud. From early on, Ed's first love was hockey.

ELLEN GEER (Ed's second wife)... "He was one of the great, great ice hockey players. He played goalie. When I first saw him in Milwaukee we went skating together. I've never seen anyone skate so fast in my life. He was a beautiful dancer on skates."

But in his early teens, Ed endured a personal tragedy that would have a profound and lasting effect on his life and career.

ELLEN GEER... "Eddie had a rough childhood. His mother was killed in a car accident when he was fourteen, then he had a nervous breakdown. Alcohol was also something that was part of his family."

Suffering inwardly, Ed continued to spend his time and energy as a stand-out on the Henry High School hockey team, and soon, skated himself right into another career as a result.

IAN FLANDERS (Ed's son, by Ellen Geer)..."The school hockey coach was also the acting instructor and needed (Ed) for a role. People took to him so well and he liked it so much that the never stopped acting."

According to the Henry High School Yearbook, Ed was voted "Peppiest"... a trait that would also characterize his energy as an actor.


Early Career

Still carrying the scars from his mother's death, Ed nonetheless capitalized on his outwardly "peppy" persona (and talent for acting) by landing a job with the Old Globe Theatre right out of high school. Almost instantly, Ed made an impression on San Diego theatre goers. His first outing was in 1953's Mister Roberts, then came Caught in the Act, and The Boyfriend... the latter two which allowed him to showcase his considerable skills as an entertainer. The 1953 Playbill Bio noted: "He is locally renowned for his energetic Charleston. Ed also blasts a clarinet, and beats a mean little drum."

While performing at the Old Globe, Ed was making ends meet by working as an x-ray technician at Balboa Naval Hospital (and making him the only SE alum with actual hospital-based medical experience!) There he met Bennye Kelley, a nurse (and accomplished dancer). They married in 1954 and had two children, Scott (born in 1955) and Suzanne (born in 1957).

The family traveled to Europe not long after Suzanne was born, and there, Ed and Bennye performed in theatre (she as a dancer). But while in Paris, Ed decided to join the Army where he also served as an x-ray tech. His enlistment created an estrangement that ended his marriage and also subsequently separated him from his children for the next two decades.

SCOTT FLANDERS... "Dad joined the Army and Mom figured he wasn't going to go anywhere, so she came back to California and divorced him. He was just a young guy searching. My mom kept (Ed's) identity from me...I never knew he was my father. When I was five, she remarried and (my stepfather) adopted me."

Ed in Golden Fleecing
In 1959 Ed won the first of two Atlas awards (the Globe equivalent of the Tony) for his role as Banjo in The Man Who Came to Dinner. He won his second Atlas in 1960 for Golden Fleecing, a comedy.

Though gregarious while performing, Ed had displayed a tendency early on toward avoidance of PR. This from a Playbill Bio 1959... "Ed did not fill out a publicity form, and he is very lucky that we did not pad out his space with lies."

***********

In 1961 Ed moved to Milwaukee to appear in four plays at the Fred Miller Theatre (where he first met Ellen). He then returned to the Old Globe in 1962, honing his Shakespearean talents, and landing two guest shots on TV's The Untouchables. But the lure of Shakespeare soon took him to the University of Michigan-based ASSOCIATION OF PRODUCING ARTISTS, or APA. Prior to Ed's arrival in Ann Arbor, two young women, Christina Pickles and Ellen Geer were already well established at APA. Christina would later become a co-star on St. Elsewhere and Ellen would soon become his bride. Ellen was the daughter of famed actor Will Geer (Grandpa on The Waltons). She was taken with Ed immediately.

ELLEN GEER... "Ed was conventional - I think Pop's hippie ways sometimes bothered him. But they did beautifully together. We worked together on stage in Ann Arbor, and I loved it. I remember when we first "got together" in Milwaukee, and it was my "first time" with Ed. (Afterwards) Poppa brought us breakfast in bed, so I knew he approved! (laughs)"

"We actually met during the production of a musical Six Characters in Search on an Author. Ed was a brilliant actor - always. He looked to me like a beauteous Richard Burton - he was very beautiful. He was so funny in his outlook on life, the way he viewed things, and we had a lot in common. You know we both played guitars together. We loved to drive and take trips together. We loved to drive and take trips together. We were kind of pre-hippy hippies."

Ed and Ellen were married in 1963, the same year Ed appeared as FLUTE in A Midsummer Nights Dream. It was also the year Ellen gave birth to Ian. (Today Ian is an actor and recently himself appeared as Flute.) Ed returned to the Old Globe for one last stint as an actor, appearing in several plays, including A Midsummer Nights Dream again, but this time playing the role of Nick Bottom. Then it was back home to Minneapolis and four seasons with the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre.

SHEILA LIVINGSTON (Guthrie Theatre)... "He was extremely respected as a stage actor here. He had a naturalness - and I was quite taken with him. He treated everyone extremely well, and over the years, everyone was so proud of him - here he was a home-grown person who was on the Guthrie stage. Even now, Henry High School students talk about the tradition of theatre - and when they talk about that, they talk about Ed Flanders."

Ed and Ellen in The Glass Menagerie
In 1964 Ed and Ellen teamed up for a run of The Glass Menagerie, but Ed also displayed comedic talents at the Guthrie, such as in The Doctors Dilemma.

ELLEN GEER... "He had incredible gifts - he was a great comedian. That was his forte, and they never discovered it in filmland...It's their loss. He could play any age - he was one of America's finest actors. You know, I worked in a lot of the Rep companies (Ellen also runs the Will Geer Theatre in L.A.) And when you speak with the great actors, they will speak of Eddie with great awe and reverence."

IAN FLANDERS... "One of his strongest suits as an actor was his comedic talents. In the industry when you do a role and you do a good job as a certain type of actor, you end up getting those roles, that's what you end up reading for - so he never really read for any comedies. He did comedic roles in theatre, but he would have liked to have done comedy in film and television."

William Daniels & Charles Cioffi
It was at the Guthrie that Ed met Charles Cioffi - today known for his many supporting roles on television. Chuck also appeared as head of the fictional Endicott family on a special 3-parter of St. Elsewhere (episodes 82, 83, 84).

CHARLES CIOFFI... "I met Ed though Ellen. I worked with Ellen in 1963 - Ed came along the second year, and then I worked with them both in '64 and '65. I happen to adore Ed Flanders. He and I were always very straight with one another, and had a great mutual respect for one another's ability. (One day during rehearsal) Tyrone Guthrie made a cruel remark to Ed, saying, "You're not in San Diego now," and that just stopped everyone dead in their tracks...I mean even though his name was on the door, there was no call for Guthrie to make that kind of remark. (Little did I know that in television it happens all the time.) So Eddie walked off and just took his script and flung it the length of the room, and with that action told Guthrie what he thought of his theatre. Guthrie went up to Ed later and apologized. I thought Eddie was one of the best actors I had ever seen, and I still have that opinion of him to this day."

But despite the respect of his peers and success on stage, Ed's childhood was still haunting him, and those who loved him realized that his inward pain had manifested itself of alcoholism. Still, early on, his problem seemed to have little or no effect on his career.

CHARLES CIOFFI... "Ed didn't drink while he worked - that was true at the beginning, but not later on."

But his drinking DID have an effect on his marriage.

ELLEN GEER... "Alcohol permeated him. It becomes your lover. It was a bad lover. It cuts you off from your human connection. It was very hard for us to part because we really wanted the marriage to work, but the booze is a beast."

Now divorced from Ellen, Ed tried his hand at Broadway, landing the lead role in a 1968 production of The Birthday Party.

He returned to the OLD GLOBE in 1969, but this time as a guest director for Playboy of the Western World. Rehearsals were interrupted for a few weeks in December of '69 so that Ed could do a guest shot on Hawaii 50. He then readied the play for a January bow. Reviews were complimentary of the novice director. Critic Weldon Jones wrote: "Flanders has preserved the language all right, but surrounded it with a subtle control of tempo which points the production directly at the climax."

But Ed's career as a director would be short-lived. Acting was his bread and butter, and the 1970s would establish him as an American original, primarily from his made-for-TV movies and mini-series.


The 70's

The Grasshopper (1970) was Ed's first major TV movie, followed by a string of other teleplays, including Goodbye Raggedy Ann, with newcomer Mia Farrow.

Once more, though, Ed turned to Broadway, and this time it would bring him his first worldwide recognition. He won a Tony for his 1974 role as Phil Hogan in A Moon for the Misbegotten.

But TV movies paid the rent, and, fortunately, Ed's talents were in demand. One of his appearances was in the Elizabeth Montgomery thriller The Legend of Lizzie Borden (ABC 1975) co-starring future St. Elsewhere alum Bonnie Bartlett Daniels as Ed's wife.

BONNIE DANIELS... "He was the prosecuting attorney and I was his wife. I came to work on that movie with a black eye - I had hit my face on the side of our wooden bed, and Ed kept saying "Did Billy do that to you?" (laughs)

Ed Flanders as President Harry Truman, with Gregory Peck
as General Douglas MacArthur
The next two years would solidify Ed's contribution to the teleplay genre. In 1976 he appeared in ABC's telecast of A Moon for the Misbegotten, and won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor. Then in 1977 he won an Emmy as Best Actor for his performance in Harry Truman: Plain Speaking. That same year, Ed re-created his role as the feisty President on the big screen with Gregory Peck in MacArthur.

CODY LAMBERT (Ed's third wife)... "Truman was his favorite character...he really didn't talk about his work, but he was very proud of Truman."

Ed was also proud of his children, two of whom he was finally able to know after having lost contact with them for nearly twenty years.

SCOTT FLANDERS... "One day (when I was 23) I found an old picture in my Grandmother's attic...it was Mom and a man and me as a baby, and captioned, "Scott, Bennye, and Ed Flanders." I was in college in Seattle at the time, and a friend said, "Hey, there's an actor named Ed Flanders," so I called the Screen Actors Guild and left word. I got a call back later that night from Ed who began "You sound older" (Scott laughs). So I picked up my wife and son Jason and went to California. As it turned out, Dad and I wore the same brand of underwear, we used the same after shave lotion, and we even kind of look alike. We went sailing on the sailboat together and became really good friends. He's been the best father.

In 1979 Ed appeared in several TV movies including Blind Ambition with future St. Elsewhere co-star William Daniels, and Salem's Lot with Bonnie Bartlett Daniels, once again portraying his on-screen wife.

BONNIE DANIELS... "It was a spooky movie with James Mason. Later when I joined St. Elsewhere, Ed said, "You can't be Bill's wife - you're MY wife. I want to put a picture of you on Westphall's desk"...and I said, "I'd rather have a part that is alive, Eddie" (laughs).

***********

As the 1980s rolled around, Ed continued to appear in TV movies as well as theatrical films, but in 1982 a flurry of offers crossed his desk, and a choice had to be made.

IAN FLANDERS... "He had three choices come all at once (including St. Elsewhere). There was this movie with good people in it, but it wasn't going to keep solid income coming in. He had said he never was going to do a television series, but he was concerned about money, so he ended up doing the TV series - St. Elsewhere."

MIKE LIVINGSTON (Ed's agent)... "We were doing an awful lot of business for MTM at the time, and I believe it was actually my partner Don Wolfe that made the original deal for St. Elsewhere for Ed."

Bruce and his girls
BRUCE PALTROW... "We never show an entire pilot because it was a disaster. Part of the problem was Josef Sommer was very cold for a doctor who needed to reach out and touch people - he was very austere - a wonderful actor, but it was our fault. I knew Ed Flanders' work from the theatre, but I didn't know him personally, and he came into my office and auditioned for us. I wanted to give him the role because I had seen him with Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst in O'Neil's A Moon for the Misbegotten, and he was absolutely extraordinary. I wanted him to play the part of Westphall...The audition was for the other people in the organization who were unfamiliar with him. That's why he read."

Ed's decision to take the role of Donald Westphall would soon bring him another Emmy, as well as star status, and a new wife.

***********

Two New Families

St. Elsewhere and Donald Westphall proved to be the perfect showcase for Ed's unique style of acting. In surveying assessments of that style, ON CALL spent several months conducting interviews with Ed's St. Elsewhere "family". Here is a sampling:

JOHN TINKER... "Flanders for me was Spencer Tracy. I don't know of another actor who was as natural as Ed. Ed could make you applaud in dailies, he could make you cry in dailies, and I'm not just waxing because he's no longer with us. He was really phenomenal, and later, when it just got to be too much for him working, he was still head and shoulders above most other actors."

DAVID MORSE... "I think there are a lot of actors who would like to see themselves in the mold of Spencer Tracy, and Ed is one of the few people who truly was from that mold. He truly had a substance to him and an honesty to him which was transcendent in a way."

CHARLES CIOFFI... "Billy Daniels and I both agree - Ed Flanders was the best listener I've ever known...a man who could listen to you say your lines and act like he was hearing them for the first time - and react to it accordingly. Nobody did it better than him. Not even Spencer Tracy listened as well as Eddie Flanders."

DAVID MORSE... "Our characters had a rapport from the beginning. There's something we all strive for in the show, and I think what we strove for, he kind of embodied - which was that rock honesty."

JOHN TINKER... "I loved watching Ed Flanders act - it was such a joy. He would take your material and make it ten times, a hundred times better than you ever dreamed it could be."

BONNIE BARTLETT DANIELS... "I can't think of anybody that I more enjoyed working with as an actor. - he kept you very very honest. He never pushed - he never indicated...it was just a joy. And yet there was great freedom - you could do anything and he would respond...he was extremely responsive. I mean, he was just a joy to work with."

CHRISTINA PICKLES... "He was one of the finest actors in America. He always knew how to speak about a character in very few words. He knew how to nail it very quickly. One day I turned to him and said something like, "I think Helen Rosenthal would do such and such," and Ed's response was "Oh no, she's a woman who pays her own rent."

MARK TINKER... "Ed was great to direct because you really didn't have to direct him. He had ways of doing things that I couldn't have even imagined."

TOM FONTANA... "Ed was an actor that I loved because he always made the scenes better than they were - with a kind of an ease that was awe-inspiring. Once a year or so, Ed would come to me and say, "I can't play this scene," and yet he always seemed to make it work because he understood the character, and he understood the point of the series perfectly."

FRANCE NUYEN... "What I have foremost in my mind (about Ed) is an extraordinary presence. He was a power point within the scene, and his presence always involved you - he drew you into the scene as a viewer. As a viewer my attention could not wander to anyone else when Ed was on the screen. So he had an extraordinary magnetism and power which matched his talent, but it was always understated - he was so quiet. And whenever there was a variation to that quietness, you really got transported. He was a remarkable actor."

WILLIAM DANIELS... "Ed and I worked together more than any other two actors on the show. Ed was a troubled human being, but he was a great actor. To this day, I have never been so comfortable working with anyone as I was with him."

NORMAN LLOYD... (to Gary Yoggy-Television Chronicles) "Ed Flanders was one of the best actors in America...you couldn't find a better actor. I would watch this guy or do scenes with this guy, and say, 'that's as good as it gets.' I used to tell young actors 'watch this guy, you don't have to go to school, just watch this guy.' There was the most direct communication between mind and words that I've ever seen in an actor and I've acted with some great actors...he was wonderful."

And it was Ed's considerable talent that caught the attention of his number one fan, and someone who would become his family away from St. Elsewhere.

Ed and Cody at the Emmys
(courtesy of People magazine)
CODY LAMBERT... "I fell in love with Ed Flanders the actor when I was 12 years old. I don't remember what show, it might have been Hawaii 5-0, and I took one look at this man, pointed to the TV set and said 'that's the man I'm going to marry.'

"The first fan letter I wrote to him I was 18. He answered every single letter I ever wrote to him. He was my absolute number one hero. I had started writing to him before St. Elsewhere, then I was so thrilled when I got to see him every week.

"After the first season I wrote to him and said 'It was marvelous, thank you very much... can't wait 'til next season.' And he answered by saying 'Perhaps you'd like to visit the set someday?' I wrote him back saying 'Yes, I would love to. Here is my phone number.'

"That weekend there was a phone message: 'Lambert-Flanders. Call me.' He invited me to his house for 4th of July, and I think he was expecting some starstruck, giddy little kid to show up with her parents. But a 22-year-old girl showed up with a crush, and never left. It was pretty magical-it was marvelous. It was a wonderful fairy tale."

In the beginning of his run on St. Elsewhere, Ed was challenged and invigorated. He won an Emmy in 1983, and Cody bore him a son (Evan) in 1984. But his bout with alcoholism slowly took its toll, having more and more of an effect on his work and on the lives of his two "families".

MARK TINKER... "At first the drinking wasn't too much of a problem, we learned to work around it. It was like when somebody is always late for work. Maybe you need him there at 10, so you tell him to be there at 8am, hoping he shows up at 9. The problem got worse over a period of years."

STEPHEN FURST... "I knew that when I would read the script and I saw that I had a scene with Westphall - I would not be looking forward to it because I never knew what I was going to get. I knew I would always get a pretty good performance to work off of, but he could make you feel very, very uncomfortable if he was intoxicated. He was (sometimes) drunk at 7 in the morning."

As time wore on, Ed's drinking increased, and so did his intolerance for the demands of episodic television.

CODY LAMBERT... "He loved the acting, it was the waiting he couldn't stand, it was the waiting and sitting there in costume."

But in 1986 the wait was over for at least one part of Ed's life... he was finally able to realize a long-time dream to own a ranch in the mountains. A place where he and Cody and little Evan could escape the pressures of Hollywood.

CODY LAMBERT... "I was terrified because I was a city girl, but he was my husband...I was going where he was going. It was a beautiful place, a special place to raise a baby boy. Ed would wake up in the morning - he'd stand out on the deck with his cup of coffee and he would enjoy the beauty of the place - just looking out at the expanse of something marvelous that he had really chosen for his children - all of his children... something to leave them."

Ed's three sons, Scott, Evan & Ian
SCOTT FLANDERS..."Dad always thought if you can grow your own food, you're OK. And one of his long time dreams was that he wanted a piece of property that was self sufficient."

And so, once again Ed was invigorated as he made a new home for his family. The commute from L.A. to the ranch some 280 miles north took its toll, but to Ed it was well worth the effort. He began making improvements in the property and blending in with the local community.

MARK ROWLEY (neighbor)... "I would see Ed weekly - he had an old flatbed truck or Datsun pick-up that he was driving. He had a small hydroelectric plant on his property that he was proud of, he produced all of his own electricity for the ranch. His place was way up in the hills - 27 miles from the main little town of Denny, and it was quite an adventure just to get up there. It was a gorgeous piece of property with an old log cabin... I know Ed was real proud that he had refurbished the cabin.

"Ed would wear old Levis, work boots and a baseball cap, which was almost a uniform in our area, especially among the woodworkers and loggers...they would also wear flannel striped shirts, I'm sure it was Ed's intention to (dress that way), I think it was important for him to integrate."

And like Donald Westphall with his commitment to the under-privileged, Ed became known as a friend to those in need.

GENE HARPE (local businessman) "He loved to help people less fortunate...transients would come through in the Spring and Ed would help them. Ed detested "the system". He thought government was ineffective in helping less fortunate people, a lot of tax money wasted. Ed was a fair listener, but he loved to talk. He was as common as an old shoe. If you hadn't known he was an actor, you wouldn't know he was an actor... he was a soft touch."

Ed's rural retreat also reinforced his justification of and need for shunning the Hollywood scene.

MIKE LIVINGSTON... "He was gifted. He took acting very seriously, but he didn't like the business side of it - he didn't like the publicity... he was a very quiet, bashful person."

Soon, the long commute, the responsibilities of managing a large ranch, and the demands of St. Elsewhere all combined into what some observers felt was a catalyst to an escalation of his drinking.

MARK TINKER... "The problem got worse over a period of years. We were shooting a scene in the lobby where Ed had a speech to the staff and couldn't get his lines right. I tried retakes, but finally I said to the A.D., "that's it - go home."

Following Westphall's famous "mooning" scene, Ed departed St. Elsewhere for a while, but the accounts of that departure vary.

GARY YOGGY... "the plot device was necessitated by Flanders' desire to spend more time with his family in Northern California."

IAN FLANDERS... "One reason he left the show was because the writers were getting tired and things were getting a little stale, and it was getting soap opera-ish. But the show as still good as far as I'm concerned."

ED BEGLEY... "he was upset about the show as a device. He was also having a lot of personal problems and wanted to leave... I think they allowed him to leave."

BRUCE PALTROW... "I would say the first couple of years he was great (but) Ed was an alcoholic and so it became clear to us that we had a ticking time bomb on our hands. We tried to schedule his work early in the day, because beyond lunch he wouldn't be all that good. He was a mean drunk - he was bad to the other actors (when he was drinking). So if they had a scene with him in the morning, they didn't know what they were going to be met with. His was a very unsettling presence, so it was very problematic until ultimately we excused him from the show."

MARK TINKER... "we had to let him go for his sake and ours."

But whatever the reasons, Ed's sabbatical allowed him to spend more time with his children.

***********

As St. Elsewhere wound down and the writers finally reached consensus on how to bow out (see ON CALL issue #2), Ed was called back to appear in the final episode.

JOHN TINKER... "you couldn't have the series come to a close without the 'center' of the hospital being there."

Much has been made of Ed's impromptu, unscripted soliloquy on "death" which he delivered in lieu of Westphall's scheduled address to staff. But despite reports that the producers were angry with Ed's ad libs, the speech was finally edited and left in, serving as a fitting tribute to the passing of Auschlander. Also, according to son Ian, Ed was pleased with the bizarre "snowglobe" ending.


Life After St. Elsewhere

Following St. Elsewhere, Ed returned to films and TV movies. But in 1989 he was involved in a near fatal automobile accident. At first report, some who knew Ed feared that alcohol might have been involved.

ED BEGLEY... "He went off an embankment and injured himself terribly, and put himself in a great deal of physical pain, which became a huge problem for him right up to his death. But to be quite honest, all of us were glad it never happened during the show...we were nervous about that happening because of the way he would drive while intoxicated over Canaan Road. The fact that it never happened was miraculous all those years....it was like waiting for the other shoe to drop."

But drinking played no part in the crash - instead Ed was a victim of reckless driving - just as his mother had been nearly 40 years earlier.

IAN FLANDERS... "he got pretty banged up in that accident. He was driving up on that dirt road (299) and from what I understand, there was a logging truck coming one direction, and this guy in a red Porsche swerved out to pass him, and swerved out to pass him, and my Dad had to cut in, then out of his lane and cut across, and got into some dirt and he tried to turn. As soon as he hit the dirt it was all over. He spun - he went up the ledge of this cliff - he teetered, then started going down backwards (he was in a convertible) and he was blasted out of his safety belt and blasted out of the top of the roof. The impact shot him out. It was like a 200 foot drop, but at an angle. And the car went into the bottom and he hit a rock in kind of a sitting position, and that crushed three of his vertebrae.

"They totally rebuilt his back, they took bone out of his hip, out of his pelvis. It was pretty devastating. He was pretty close to losing the use of his legs. It took a long time to heal."

CODY LAMBERT... "that was a horrible time. I was sitting in the living room watching television and I heard a car pull up to the house. I thought it was Ed pulling up so I rushed over to turn off the TV. (Ed hated television...he thought so much of it was insipid and silly.) It turned out to be a California Highway Patrol officer. What I wanted to do was to get hysterical...but I had this 3 year old baby in my arms, so I said, 'OK who's driving me to the hospital?'

"When they finally allowed Evan and me to see Ed I started to cry, seeing him laying on that gurney - I started to lose it. And Evan takes my face in his little hands and said 'it's OK Mommy - Daddy has an owie.' Primarily because of the accident he really wasn't able to do much physically at the ranch, but he had a good crew running the place."

In pain and debilitated, Ed nevertheless returned to acting, making a film with George C. Scott in 1990.

IAN FLANDERS... "After Ed's accident his first job was Exorcist III. He had to work in a back brace - it was really tough on him, but he got back into the business."

But if Ed's five foot, six inch frame had become somewhat diminished, his huge talent had not. John Tinker and Bruce Paltrow (who had previously dismissed Ed from St. Elsewhere) recruited Ed for a new television series they were producing for NBC. Titled The Road Home, the family drama (set in an and filmed on location in North Carolina) also starred former SE alum Terence Knox.

Flanders and Knox in The Road Home
JOHN TINKER... "I had the good fortune of working with Ed again in N.C. on The Road Home... he was BACK!!! He was at a new place. He really had wrestled with a lot of demons, that we all wrestle with, and he was terrific. I didn't see anything but a guy who wanted to do the work and do good work, and cared about the work and cared about the people with whom he was acting, truly, and he seemed great. The only thing he didn't like about doing the show is that he was too far from his farm - he missed it - he loved it up there. We talked at great length about what he would do up there, and how much he loved it."

BRUCE PALTROW... "I loved Ed - I thought he was incredible. We had an incredible time together down in North Carolina. He was trying to turn his life around, and at that period he had."

***********

Final Curtain

The Road Home premiered on March 5, 1994 and lasted for just six episodes. Some who knew Ed believed that the cancellation was a blow to him, and that it started him down another dark road. Other dispute that. In any event, his talents were still in demand. In 1995 he appeared in Paul Reiser's Bye Bye Love. It was to be his last film.

TOM FONTANA... "I had called Ed to do a part on Homicide, and he had said to me that he didn't want to do it because his son Evan was starting school, and he wanted to be there. And I thought 'that's great' (that he didn't want to leave his son)."

But something was wrong, and to this day, friends and loved ones can only speculate as to why Ed was despondent. Though now divorced from Cody, Ed still had his kids to live for, and that beautiful ranch to enjoy with them. His talents as an actor were still in demand, and he still enjoyed the respect of his fellow actors and friends. But it wasn't enough to prevent him from allegedly taking his own life. He died on February 22, 1995 at the age of 60.

IAN FLANDERS... "I spoke with him a couple of days before the incident - he had a cold - (he didn't say anything was wrong)."

SCOTT FLANDERS... "Dad had a hard time dealing with his injuries. He was in pain a lot, and his eyesight was going. A couple of weeks before he died, he said 'I just had this laser surgery done on my eyes, and I can't see...it didn't take.' He was afraid he was going to lose his eyesight. But he didn't sound suicidal."

ED BEGLEY... "The word was he had stopped drinking, so that was very good news. But when he took his life, it was very, very sad."

JOHN TINKER... "I had the wind knocked out of me when I heard. It caught Bruce and me by surprise - we had just seen him - he was great."

BONNIE BARTLETT DANIELS... "Bill loved Ed a lot and misses him terribly - and was very, very angry when he killed himself. Bill has not commented publicly, and I think it's because he was so angry and because there was a great identification between the two of them."

TOM FONTANA... "I was on a place recently and I looked up at the movie that was playing, and there was a close-up of Ed. And it just completely tore me to pieces. I'm not, as you know, a particularly sentimental guy, but his death is still very troubling and upsetting to me."

MIKE LIVINGSTON... "The sad thing is Ed had everything going for him, but his demons did him in. Part of it was I think the conflict between his talent in acting and his persona. He'd be happy to be out in the woods - and yet he chose a profession that was so public. He would say to me several times that he didn't want to act anymore - he didn't like it."

BRUCE PALTROW... "He was a brilliant actor - it was an awful shame that he killed himself, but I think he suffered so - I think the demons took over."

CODY LAMBERT... "At the time of his suicide I hadn't spoken to him in weeks. He had a lot of hurt in his past that I knew nothing about - he had a lot of childhood hurt that he was never taught to deal with. I just think it caught up with him. He was so in love with Evan - this baby boy, and that was the shock - everyday of his life, Ed had lived for Evan."

As ON CALL was reflecting on Ed's life and death, we were compelled to confront his St. Elsewhere "family" with a painful irony. Theirs was, after all, a medical drama. Their words and performances helped to bring awareness and education to millions of people. Their courage to tackle tough issues helped to change and even save lives. Why then, didn't Ed's St. Elsewhere family conduct an intervention that might have helped HIM to manage his problems?

DAVID MORSE... "I don't think I even knew what an intervention was at that point. I know what it is now. But I had decided if he came to a scene drunk that I was working with him, then I wouldn't do it - I would leave - and he never did it again with me."

STEPHEN FURST... "you know, nobody ever came to me and said, 'Steve, why don't you lose weight?' You can't do that because a person is not going to quit something unless THEY want to."

BONNIE BARTLETT DANIELS... "I never tried (an intervention). He would have screamed at me and called me (names) which is what he did when he was drunk - you couldn't get close to him. People, actors wouldn't have the nerve to interfere with someone else's life, and frankly, they think they'll lose the love of the person. I think that's what stops everybody from being honest. It's because you love them that you can't (interfere)... you're afraid."

TOM FONTANA... "We all knew that whatever anger, rage or demons that possessed him came from a vulnerability. He was an incredibly sensitive, vulnerable human being - so you kind of looked past the superficial Irish macho bullshit, and could see that his soul was really quite a wonderful thing. And so, whether we enabled him or not, I don't know, but we certainly forgave him whatever trespasses he had."

NORMAN LLOYD... "Ed wouldn't permit (an intervention), he just rejected anything like that. Totally in denial. He had a savagery about fighting people off or attacking people when he was approached in this respect, so that you couldn't say (anything) to Ed."

WILLIAM DANIELS... "Ed was terrific at alienating people if you tried to approach him other than with the acting situation - you would very often get repulsed in a very strong way."

CHRISTINA PICKLES... "I don't know how much we can help other people except to be there for them, and we were all there for Ed if he needed us. Nobody should feel any kind of remorse that they didn't do enough, because if he had turned to any one of us and said "help", we would have been there 199 percent."

Flanders with O'Shea
TOM FONTANA... "the one thing we DID try to do, and not successfully, was we wrote an episode (#103) in which Milo O'Shea played an alcoholic, and that episode was our intervention. That was the writers and the producers of the show saying 'Ed - look at yourself - here's a mirror.' Eric Overmyer actually wrote the script, but the point of it was we were troubled by Ed's drinking. And it was the only way we as writers felt we could reach out to him in a way that he could understand. That's the best we could do."

ON CALL... "what was Ed's reaction?"

TOM FONTANA... "He got very angry, he was very angry at us, but he played it, because, again, he was the consummate trooper. But he knew what we were doing. That was our attempt at intervention, and we tried to do it in the most creative way we possibly could. To me, the traditional kind of intervention is not something that I personally feel I have the right to do."

DAVID MORSE... "I don't feel that we're off the hook. I DO wish I had done something...I wish we had ALL done something. I often wish that the producers, somebody had said, 'We're not going to write for you as long as this is happening.' But truly, we all kind of had a responsibility there, and I'm sorry we didn't."

But though an intervention never took place, Ed's St. Elsewhere family would be pleased to know that he began to make some changes on his own toward the end of his life, including going without a drink for one three and a half year stretch... then taking only a few drinks in moderation in the days before his death.

In face alcohol was NOT a factor in Ed's death. (Remember Scott's observation that 'he did not seem suicidal.') Moreover, Ed did not leave a suicide note, and only days before had talked of working the ranch with Scott. These and other factors led Scott to break his silence on Ed's death telling ON CALL, "I have my doubts as to whether it was a suicide." Among Scott's doubts are the precise trajectory of the supposed suicide bullet, and the fact that witnesses heard not one, but two shots fired on that February morning (around 10:00 am).

SCOTT FLANDERS... "I came to find out that there was somebody there just before (the shooting). Also, the police never found the bullets, but I did, and the fragment of one bullet entered through the bathroom window from the OUTSIDE. It was a .22, different from the 30.06 that I found. The area outside the bathroom was a perfect spot for somebody to shoot somebody. One scenario is that the (assailant) shot Dad from the outside, then came in and used Dad's rifle to make it LOOK like a suicide."

Because of these and other revelations (including specific leads and motives), Scott may re-open the investigation of his Dad's death, which had been immediately dismissed by the police as a suicide. But whatever the causes, Ed Flanders' death left a void in the lives of those who knew and admired him, both as an actor and as a man.

BRUCE PALTROW... "I think about him all the time - all the time. He was a very special man."

CODY LAMBERT... "I want more than anything for his fans to remember Donald Westphall and all the marvelous characters that Ed did. I remember him as a fan, and as the little girl at age 12 who fell madly in love with this handsome, blue-eyed dimpled thing. To have been blessed, to have had the time I did have with him - in spite of the problems - in spite of the hurt....I think it's important to remember Ed as the brilliant talent and the gift he gave his audience. He was the epitome of an actor - giving a performance and giving of himself, and that's why he was there. He was a special human being...I miss him."

JOHN TINKER... "What I really want to remember is what a brilliant actor he was, and he was a caring, kind person. He may have had his problems like the rest of us, but those of us who worked with him day in and day out didn't just see someone who had flashes of anger, we saw a real full person, and had the privilege of seeing him in quieter moments. I think about him frequently and I think about him fondly. I wish I could see him, both as a friend and as a performer. If I could work with Ed again today, I'd do it in a heartbeat - there's no question. He was a thoughtful man - he was phenomenal."

TOM FONTANA... "He comes to my thoughts more often than I would have thought. He was such an amazing actor, and the loss of him from the "Team" is very hard to accept, and yet probably the thing that made him as brilliant as he was, was ultimately the thing that brought him to his end."

CHARLES CIOFFI... "I don't think Eddie set out to be a star...I think he set out to be a very fine actor - and he certainly accomplished that."

BONNIE BARTLETT DANIELS... "(His legacy is) his humanity and exposing his humanity through acting. He was an Everyman."


Originally produced by Longworth Communications.

2 comments:

  1. Ed Flanders was my second cousin, first cousin to my mom, Carol. When I was 12, we took a family vacation and stopped by his house in Malibu. St. Elsewhere was about to debut. We were there all of 5 minutes and left because he was a mean drunk to my mom. When I was 13, he hugged me so hard at our family reunion in Canada. He told me I was full of s%it when I compared acting to news anchors. I was 13 and never pursued my own dream of being an actor because he scared me so much.

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  2. I can't thank you enough for this undertaking and getting stories told about Ed Flanders. I adored St Elsewhere and the work of the cast, crew and those that wrote, produced and directed it.
    It surprises me as a viewer of the show that the soft-spoken and caring Dr Westphal, was played by a man that seemed to keep others at arm's length. He seemed like the kind of man that we'd all want for a father, a mentor, a confidante. I adored his portrayal of Donald. Thank you to all of those who gave their thoughts on Ed in this article. It offered invaluable insight into a wonderful actor and one that was respected for his art.
    Louis Perez, Chicago Lakeview

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