Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Fox In the Henhouse

Via TV Party, here's a strange little promo for the 1969-70 television series "Bracken's World", a soapy drama about behind-the-scenes life at a major motion picture studio.

"Bracken's World" was produced by the TV division of 20th Century-Fox, and made liberal use of the Fox lot (and sometimes Fox contract players) for authentic studio atmosphere. It's therefore valuable as a time capsule of what Fox was like at the time when the Darryl Zanuck regime was falling apart. Fox's productions from the late '60s and early '70s are oddly fascinating because they reveal a studio that (unlike some of the other studios, which had already downsized) retained all the machinery and resources of an old-fashioned big studio -- standing sets, old-school technicians, contract players -- but where there was a behind-the-scenes war going on about how to adapt to the changing cinema culture. So you had the kind of huge, glossy, super-expensive productions Zanuck loved, like Hello, Dolly!, but you also had movies that were sort of greenlit behind Zanuck's back, like M*A*S*H. A studio that could put all its resources behind Myra Breckenridge -- a bizarre combination of Old Hollywood gloss and sheen with a lame attempt at New Hollywood with-it-ness -- is a studio that doesn't quite know what it's doing or where it's going, and it's interesting to see some of the results.

I think the emblematic Fox contract performer of this era is probably Linda Harrison, the spectacularly beautiful Fox contractee who was in Planet of the Apes and "Bracken's World," never really found a niche at the studio, and is mostly remembered as a stunning walk-on who almost never had a line of dialogue. (She also briefly married Darryl Zanuck's son Richard, who apparently was abusive toward her.) Somehow, in any of her appearances in Fox movies or TV shows, she comes off as a '50s starlet lost in a late '60s/early '70s cinema world, which is probably how Darryl Zanuck felt too. More about this in the book "The Fox That Got Away: The Last Days of the Zanuck Dynasty at Twentieth Century-Fox," by Stephen Silverman.

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