By Chuck Ross
“Gene Saks, an actor who switched to stage and film directing in midcareer, winning three Tony Awards and becoming the leading interpreter of the plays of Neil Simon, died on Saturday at his home in East Hampton, N.Y.,” reports The New York Times.
The story adds, “He was 93. The cause was pneumonia, his wife, Keren, said.”
The Times also notes that Saks became Neil Simon’s “go-to director, staging eight of Mr. Simon’s plays on Broadway, beginning with ‘California Suite’ in 1976 and including a female revival of ‘The Odd Couple’ in 1985 that starred Rita Moreno and Sally Struthers as the famously mismatched roommates.”
To read more about Saks’ life and career, we urge you to click on the link above, which will take you to the Times story.
Here are some of Saks’ thoughts about directing the movie version of plays, from a 1967 essay Saks wrote for “Action!,” the magazine of the Directors Guild of America. We first came across this essay in the 1977 book “Hollywood Directors 1941-1976,” which is primarily a compilation of essays by directors that were collected by Richard Koszarski.
Writes Saks: “My feeling is that there is no difference between good screen acting and good stage acting. If a performance is really good it will be good in both media. It may be effective in one medium and not the other, but this does not mean it is necessarily really good acting. Both on the stage and on the screen certain things can be gotten away with at certain moments, but a really first-rate performance can stand up either place. In the theatre I can be reached twenty rows from the stage, though I cannot distinctly see the actor’s face. I can feel his presence and what is happening to him even if his back is to me. He should make me feel the same involvement if the camera is close-up on his face.”
Another observation by Saks from that same essay: “With all its advantages, film has great restriction for someone accustomed to working only in the theatre. The restriction I felt most strongly at first was that of the camera lens cutting off my peripheral vision. If I sit in the tenth row of the orchestra in a theatre, I see both sides of the 32-foot proscenium opening, but the camera sees a picture of much less breadth. When actors are spread more than a few feet apart I must cut back and forth from one to the other (as my eye automatically does on stage). So I had to get used to keeping actors closer together or spreading them apart in depth rather than width. Before long I accepted this and learned to look through the camera before each shot. When I didn’t, I regretted it.”