Saturday, November 30, 2013

Al Ruscio, a.k.a Raleigh Morlin, dies at age 89

The veteran character actor who played St. Eligius Maintenance Supervisor Raleigh Morlin has passed away.

Al Ruscio, St. Elsewhere's Raleigh Morlin
Al Ruscio only appeared on three episodes of St. Elsewhere, but for me, he stands out for playing a character who has a significant place in the mythology of the show--St. Eligius's ill-fated head of maintenance, Raleigh Morlin.

Variety reports that Ruscio passed away at his home on November 12 at age 89. Ruscio came to Hollywood in the late fifties, already a respected actor, and served on the Board of Directors of the Screen Actors Guild while appearing in numerous television and film roles.

He took a hiatus from Hollywood in the mid-sixties and worked as an acting teacher, director and producer of plays at Midwestern College in Iowa, the University of Windsor in Ontario, and Oakland University in Michigan. He returned to the screen in 1975 and worked steadily in character roles since, as well as continuing to work on stage and as a teacher. The Variety article has a good rundown of his long life in the dramatic arts.

On St. Elsewhere, Ruscio first appears as Maintenance Supervisor Raleigh Morlin in the season two episode, "Vanity". He plays the heavy to Austin Pendleton's kooky janitor Lyle Brubaker, known to most as "Mr. Entertainment". Raleigh has had enough of the unreliable custodian, who, instead of performing his maintenance duties, prefers to entertain patients with his earnest-but-talentless renditions of popular songs.

In season three's "Breathless", doctors discover that Raleigh's lingering cough is a symptom of asbestosis, which he acquired from his thirty-plus years on the job, where he had both installed and removed asbestos from the hospital's walls and ceilings. He decides to keep his job though, and later in the season, he seems to be in good health and good spirits when he returns in the episode, "Bang the Eardrum Slowly". Unfortunately, it turns out St. Eligius isn't done with him--Morlin is killed when a furnace (or something like that) he is inspecting in the hospital's basement explodes.

There's one more great callback to Ruscio's character in the classic season four episode, "Time Heals". In the flashback to 1965, when the Emergency Room is being built, we see a maintenance man's legs on a stepladder; he's working on the E.R.'s ceiling. Dr. Auschlander, walking by, makes a comment to the worker, praising Raleigh for his good work in installing the new asbestos insulation.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

St. Elsewhere Emmy Winners - Doris Roberts and James Coco for "Cora and Arnie", 1983

The first in a new series of videos featuring St. Elsewhere's Emmy winning performances and episodes.

Inspired by the article from On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club that told the stories behind St. Elsewhere's performance at the Emmy Awards, I am preparing video clips showcasing these great moments from the show's history.

The fourth episode of St. Elsewhere's rookie season turned out to be a special one--it featured two of the three acting performances that would be honored at the 1983 Emmy Awards (the third will be featured in the next post). Doris Roberts and James Coco, both veterans of stage and screen and old friends, played homeless couple Cora and Arnie. Their relationship comes to a crossroads when Cora learns that her feet need to be amputated, and she won't be able to look after the mentally ill/challenged Arnie anymore.

Doris Roberts & James Coco in "Cora and Arnie", Part 1:



Doris Roberts & James Coco in "Cora and Arnie", Part 2:



As was mentioned in the recent On Call post, there was an uproar from the St. Elsewhere camp come Emmy time because regular cast members were cut out of nominations and the win by guest actors who were featured for just a single episode. It wasn't until 1986 that the Outstanding Guest Actor categories were reinstated, but by that time, guest stars Roberts and Coco took home awards, guest Piper Laurie earned a nomination (in 1984), and Hill Street Blues guest stars Barbara Babcock (for Lead Actress, 1981) and Alfre Woodard (Supporting Actress, 1984) would win Emmys for St. Elsewhere's MTM competition.

If you're a fan, I highly recommend purchasing the official St. Elsewhere season one DVD release, which includes a commentary track of "Cora and Arnie" featuring Mark Tinker and Doris Roberts. The featurette and stories about Tim Robbins (in his first professional acting job) are worth the purchase price (to a fan like me, anyway).

I've never seen a clip of the awards ceremony, but according to Roberts, she won hers first, and gave her purse to her friend and fellow nominee to hold while she accepted it. When Coco was announced as the winner in his category shortly thereafter, he had no choice but to carry the purse with him and explain to the audience it wasn't his.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

On Call, Vol. 2, No. 2 - Personnel Profile - Tom Fontana: Rebel With a Cause... The Story of Easy Writer


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, volume 2, number 2, July 1998.

THE EARLY YEARS


"No profile could ever be completed on Tom - start your article with that, because Tom is an ever-evolving person"... so proclaimed JOHN TINKER, Executive Producer of Chicago Hope and former St. Elsewhere writing partner with Fontana. But the more Tom changes, the more he also stays the same, and to understand that, we begin at the roots of this every growing phenom.

Tom Fontana first "evolved" in 1951 to Charles, a Buffalo wine salesman (and renowned rowing coach) and Marie, who ran the OBGYN office at Millard Fillmore Hospital where Tom was born.

MARIE FONTANA ... "Tom was very pleasant and easy to raise, and seemed to abide by our wishes. We really never had a problem with him. He helped his Dad shovel snow in winter time, and dig up weeds when his Father would take care of the garden. He was also a paper boy. One time we had a terrible snow storm, and his route was about five blocks away from where we lived. We had to drive him in the car because his wagon just couldn't go through the snow."

But whether it was delivering papers in the snow or attending chores, Tom, displayed early on a work ethic beyond his years... something that family and friends attribute in part to the Catholic influence on his education, first by the Sisters of St. Joseph at Cathedral School, and later by the Jesuits at Canisius High. His disciplined manner ever translated to his boyhood hobby and future career... writing.

On Call, Vol 2, No. 2 - Updating Charts: News of Cast and Crew


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, volume two, number two, July 1998.

DAVID MORSE can be seen in the feature film The Negotiator, which opens in theatres later this month. The police drama also stars Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson.

CHANNING GIBSON (former St. Elsewhere writer) has written a great screenplay for this month's Lethal Weapon 4. According to Entertainment Weekly, Gibson was constantly rushing from set to trailer, banging handwritten notes into a computer. Said Gibson, "I've worked with Richard Donner six times before - it's the most fun you can have standing up."

NORMAN LLOYD is still everybody's favorite mentor. the $10 million pilot for Seven Days, a Time Tunnel-like drama in which he plays the science team elder, has been picked up by UPN.

CHRISTINA PICKLES wrote ON CALL a nice thank you note for her profile article, and to let us know she just completed work on a movie of the week which was filmed on location in Kansas. "I'm playing Helen Keller's mother - I really AM everybody's mother!"

HOWIE MANDEL is hitting sride with his new syndicated morning talk show. His on-location bits aren't as good as Letterman's... they're BETTER!

ED BEGLEY was recognized by PETA for his campaign to make McDonald's improve living conditions for the chickens and pigs that eventually end up as fast food.

BRUCE GREENWOOD stars in the high school comedy thriller Disturbing Behavior which opens in theaters August 21.

JOHN MASIUS' new series Providence was picked up by NBC for mid-season. Maish told ON CALL "It's about a female plastic surgeon who goes home" (after operating on Thomas Wolfe no doubt). St. Elsewhere veteran MICHAEL FRESCO directed the pilot.

Originally produced by Longworth Communications.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

On Call, Vol. 2, No. 2 - Hospital Sound System: The Music of St. Elsewhere


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, volume 2, number 2, July 1998.

It is not whistled nearly as much as the opening cue from the Andy Griffith Show, nor does it have memorable lyrics such as those from Gilligan's Island, but the St. Elsewhere theme is, nonetheless, one of the most recognized in the history of dramatic television. Still, the music of St. Elsewhere is a story that is less about theme, and more about the daily grind of scoring and production, and of the creative people (one in particular) who helped make the show great.

J.A.C. Redford
Jonathan Alfred Clawson Redford (known as J.A.C.) was born into a "show biz" family. His grandmother was a Ziegfield girl, his mother a classical singer, and his father an actor. After graduating from BYU, J.A.C. and whie LeAnn (his childhood sweetheart) moved to Los Angeles where Redford picked up work as a ghost writer. He assisted on Starsky and Hutch, and other series, but he was destined to make his mark for scorin emotional, dramatic music in the classical tradition.

Redford's agents arranged for him to meet with Bethany Rooney (then Beth Hillshafer), who was Bruce Paltrow's Associate Producer for a new medical drama. Soon after, Redford met directly with Paltrow and the St. Elsewhere brass.