James Sheldon

Director


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his three-hour Archive interview, James Sheldon (1920-2016) speaks about breaking into the business as an NBC page, and, after a few years in advertising, turning his attentions to directing for television. He describes his work on several shows from the 1950s including such diverse fare as: the sitcom Mister Peepers, daytime variety series The Eddie Albert Show, military anthology West Point, and the drama The Millionaire. He tells stories of memorable guest stars on the radio-turned-television-show We, The People, and also speaks in great detail about his relationship with then-budding actor James Dean. He discusses directing "live" television productions of Armstrong Circle Theatre and Robert Montgomery Presents, as well as his work on the anthology series The Twilight Zone, including directing the classic episode "It's A Good Life" starring Billy Mumy. Other series he discusses included Family Affair, My Three Sons, Route 66, Cagney & Lacey, and M*A*S*H. B-roll consists of photos from shows Sheldon worked on and Sheldon himself at work. Karen Herman conducted the interview on April 6, 2005 in New York, NY.

"I remember I was doing ['Today's FBI'] for Dave Gerber, and he asked me afterward, 'Why are the actors better with you? What do you tell them? Because I'd like to be able to tell my other directors.' And I said, 'I don't know, David.' So I asked one of the actors, I said, 'What do I tell you that's different from the others?' And he said, 'No, you don't tell us anything, Jimmy, you just make us feel comfortable and loved.'"

Interviewee(s)
Highlights
James Sheldon on a nearly disastrous appearance by Billie Holiday on We, The People
James Sheldon on not being allowed to cast Eddie Albert on an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre because of the Blacklist
James Sheldon on nearly casting James Dean on Mama and helping him get an agent
James Sheldon on the birth of his son being announced on The Eddie Albert Show
James Sheldon on why he enjoyed directing Route 66 and Naked City
James Sheldon on directing Clint Eastwood in an episode of West Point, and finding out at an inopportune moment that Eastwood could not ski
James Sheldon on advice to an aspiring director
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his childhood and early influences; on studying theater at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and becoming an NBC Page in New York after graduation
On working in NBC's International Division during World War II; on becoming a radio director

Chapter 2

On getting a job at the radio station, WOR-AM; on directing the radio show "We, The People," which was then simulcast on television and radio and became a regular television show
On working with sponsors; on becoming the producer-director of We, The People

Chapter 3

On directing a teleplay for Philco-Goodyear Playhouse; on being hired to direct the pilot of Mister Peepers  by producer Fred Coe
On directing the first season of Mister Peepers; on directing The Eddie Albert Show; on his relationship with James Dean 

Chapter 4

On directing Robert Montgomery Presents; on moving to California and working in Hollywood
On directing West Point; on the Hollywood Blacklist

Chapter 5

On directing The Millionaire; on directing The Fugitive 
On directing The Twilight Zone; on working with Rod Serling, George Clayton Johnson, and Billy Mumy

Chapter 6

On directing The Twilight Zone; on directing various other shows, including The Virginian, M*A*S*H, and Cagney & Lacey
On his decision to retire; on his approach to directing; on career highs and advice to aspiring directors

Chapter 7

On the total number of shows he's directed (perhaps 1,000); on how he prepared to direct shows; on how he would like to be remembered
Shows

Anna and the King

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James Sheldon on directing Anna and the King, and being reassigned to direct M*A*S*H instead

Armstrong Circle Theatre

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James Sheldon on not being allowed to cast Eddie Albert on an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre because of the Blacklist
James Sheldon on James Dean's behavior on an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre: "The Bells of Cockaigne"

Cagney & Lacey

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James Sheldon on directing one episode of Cagney & Lacey

Eddie Albert Show, The

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James Sheldon on directing The Eddie Albert Show and working with Eddie Albert
James Sheldon on the birth of his son being announced on The Eddie Albert Show

Espionage

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James Sheldon on directing Espionage in London

Front Row Center

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James Sheldon on directing Front Row Center

Fugitive, The

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James Sheldon on filming an episode of The Fugitive and getting a shot in despite the fact that there was a fire burning nearby
James Sheldon on directing The Fugitive

Holiday Hotel

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James Sheldon on directing Holiday Hotel

M*A*S*H

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James Sheldon on directing Anna and the King, and being reassigned to direct M*A*S* H instead

Mama

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James Sheldon on nearly casting James Dean on Mama and helping him get an agent

McMillan & Wife

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James Sheldon on trying to connect with Rock Hudson over James Dean on the set of MacMillan and Wife

Millionaire, The

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James Sheldon on directing The Millionaire

Mister Peepers

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James Sheldon on being hired to direct the pilot of Mister Peepers by producer Fred Coe
James Sheldon on casting Tony Randall as "Harvey Weskit" on Mister Peepers
James Sheldon on Marion Lorne as "Mrs. Gurney" on Mister Peepers
James Sheldon on directing Mister Peepers and Wally Cox's humor on the show

My World ... and Welcome to it

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James Sheldon on My World and Welcome to It being his favorite piece of work

Naked City

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James Sheldon on why he enjoyed directing Route 66 and Naked City

Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse

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James Sheldon on directing a teleplay for Philco-Goodyear Playhouse: "A Softness in the Wind" and the challenges of being a director in the early years of television

Red Buttons Show, The

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James Sheldon on being fired from The Red Buttons Show

Route 66

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James Sheldon on why he enjoyed directing Route 66 and Naked City
James Sheldon on the first episode of Route 66 that he directed

Twilight Zone, The

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James Sheldon on working with writer George Clayton Johnson on The Twilight Zone: "A Penny for Your Thoughts"
James Sheldon on the two Twilight Zone episodes he did with child actor Billy Mumy: "Long Distance Call" and "It's a Good Life"
James Sheldon on directing child actor Billy Mumy on The Twilight Zone
James Sheldon on directing The Twilight Zone
James Sheldon on directing The Twilight Zone

Virginian, The

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James Sheldon on directing The Virginian

We, The People

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James Sheldon on directing the radio show "We, The People," which was then simulcast on television and radio and became a regular television show
James Sheldon on the challenge of making We, The People visual, since it had started as a radio show
James Sheldon on the first time he heard of the Blacklist: when he tried to hire Madeline Lee Gilford on We, The People

West Point

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James Sheldon on directing West Point
Topics

Advice

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James Sheldon on advice to an aspiring director

Hollywood Blacklist

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James Sheldon on the Hollywood Blacklist 
James Sheldon on nearly being fired because of a mix up involving another man named James Sheldon during the Hollywood Blacklist era 
James Sheldon on why he doesn't remember many details of the Blacklist era

Industry Crossroads

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James Sheldon on the Hollywood Blacklist 
James Sheldon on nearly being fired because of a mix up involving another man named James Sheldon during the Hollywood Blacklist era 
James Sheldon on why he doesn't remember many details of the Blacklist era

Pivotal Career Moments

View Topic
James Sheldon on moving to California instead of staying in New York and directing the musical "West Side Story"

TV's Golden Age (1940s & '50s)

View Topic
James Sheldon on directing the radio show "We, The People," which was then simulcast on television and radio and became a regular television show
James Sheldon on changes in the television business in the 1950s that led to directors becoming freelancers rather than employees of advertising agencies or networks

Technological Innovation

View Topic
James Sheldon on the television exhibit he would show to visitors as an NBC Page in the early 1940s

Television Industry

View Topic
James Sheldon on changes in the television business in the 1950s that led to directors becoming freelancers rather than employees of advertising agencies or networks
James Sheldon on the Hollywood Blacklist 
James Sheldon on nearly being fired because of a mix up involving another man named James Sheldon during the Hollywood Blacklist era 
James Sheldon on why he doesn't remember many details of the Blacklist era
James Sheldon on advice to an aspiring director
Professions

Directors

View Profession
James Sheldon on changes in the television business in the 1950s that led to directors becoming freelancers rather than employees of advertising agencies or networks
James Sheldon on the challenges of being a director in the early years of television
James Sheldon on working with cameramen as a television director who had "live" television experience
James Sheldon on how he approached directing an episode or two of a preexisting show
James Sheldon on his approach to rehearsals
James Sheldon on advice to an aspiring director
James Sheldon on the fact that scripts for shows were often not ready with enough time to allow him to prepare to direct
James Sheldon on how he prepared to direct a show
Genres

Adventure/Espionage Series

View Genre
James Sheldon on directing an episode of The Fugitive and getting a shot in despite the fact that there was a fire burning nearby
James Sheldon on directing The Fugitive
James Sheldon on why he enjoyed directing Route 66 and Naked City
James Sheldon on the first episode of Route 66 that he directed

Classic Anthology Series

View Genre
James Sheldon on directing a teleplay for Philco-Goodyear Playhouse:"A Softness in the Wind," produced by Fred Coe, and the challenges of being a director in the early years of television
James Sheldon on not being allowed to cast Eddie Albert on an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre because of the Blacklist
James Sheldon on directing The Millionaire
James Sheldon on directing child actor Billy Mumy on The Twilight Zone
James Sheldon on directing The Twilight Zone
James Sheldon on directing The Twilight Zone
James Sheldon on directing Espionage in London
James Sheldon on James Dean's behavior on an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre: "The Bells of Cockaigne"

Comedy Series

View Genre
James Sheldon on being hired to direct the pilot of Mister Peepers  by producer Fred Coe
James Sheldon on casting Tony Randall as "Harvey Weskit" on Mister Peepers
James Sheldon on directing Mister Peepers and Wally Cox's humor on the show
James Sheldon on Marion Lorne as "Mrs. Gurney" on Mister Peepers
James Sheldon on nearly casting James Dean on Mama and helping him get an agent
James Sheldon on directing Anna and the King, and being reassigned to direct M*A*S*H instead
James Sheldon on My World and Welcome to It being his favorite piece of work

Cop/Detective/Mystery Series

View Genre
James Sheldon on directing one episode of Cagney & Lacey
James Sheldon on why he enjoyed directing Route 66 and Naked City
James Sheldon on trying to connect with Rock Hudson over James Dean on the set of MacMillan and Wife

Drama Series

View Genre
James Sheldon on directing West Point

Music Shows & Variety Shows/Specials

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James Sheldon on directing Holiday Hotel
James Sheldon on directing The Eddie Albert Show and working with Eddie Albert

Talk Shows

View Genre
James Sheldon on directing the radio show "We, The People," which was then simulcast on television and radio and became a regular television show
James Sheldon on the challenge of making We, The People  visual, since it had started as a radio show
James Sheldon on the first time he heard of the Blacklist: when he tried to hire Madeline Lee on We, The People

Western Series

View Genre
James Sheldon on learning how to direct a Western television show while directing Zane Grey Theater
James Sheldon on directing The Virginian
People

Eddie Albert

View Person Page
James Sheldon on directing The Eddie Albert Show and working with Eddie Albert
James Sheldon on not being allowed to cast Eddie Albert on an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre because of the Blacklist

Don Ameche

View Person Page
James Sheldon on directing Holiday Hotel

Fred Coe

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James Sheldon on directing a teleplay for Philco-Goodyear Playhouse:"A Softness in the Wind," produced by Fred Coe, and the challenges of being a director in the early years of television
James Sheldon on being hired to direct the pilot of Mister Peepers  by producer Fred Coe

Wally Cox

View Person Page
James Sheldon on casting Tony Randall as "Harvey Weskit" on Mister Peepers and Randall's onscreen chemistry with Wally Cox
James Sheldon on directing Mister Peepers and Wally Cox's humor on the show

Bing Crosby

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James Sheldon on directing Bing Crosby

James Dean

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James Sheldon on nearly casting James Dean on Mama and helping him get an agent
James Sheldon on James Dean's death
James Sheldon on trying to connect with Rock Hudson over James Dean on the set of MacMillan and Wife
James Sheldon on James Dean's behavior on an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre: "The Bells of Cockaigne"

Clint Eastwood

View Person Page
James Sheldon on directing Clint Eastwood in an episode of West Point, and finding out at an inopportune moment that Eastwood could not ski

Billie Holiday

View Person Page
James Sheldon on a nearly disastrous appearance by Billie Holiday on We, The People

Rock Hudson

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James Sheldon on trying to connect with Rock Hudson over James Dean on the set of MacMillan and Wife

George Clayton Johnson

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James Sheldon on working with writer George Clayton Johnson on The Twilight Zone: "A Penny for Your Thoughts"

Dorothy Kilgallen

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James Sheldon on almost being fired from his job at the radio station, WOR-AM, because of a mix-up with columnist Dorothy Kilgallen

Marion Lorne

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James Sheldon on Marion Lorne as "Mrs. Gurney" on Mister Peepers

Quinn Martin

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James Sheldon on directing The Fugitive and working with Quinn Martin

Billy Mumy

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James Sheldon on directing child actor Billy Mumy on The Twilight Zone
James Sheldon on the two Twilight Zone  episodes he did with child actor Billy Mumy: "Long Distance Call" and "It's a Good Life"

Paul Newman

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James Sheldon on Paul Newman's appearance on a show he was directing

Tony Randall

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James Sheldon on casting Tony Randall as "Harvey Weskit" on Mister Peepers  and Randall's onscreen chemistry with Wally Cox

David Sarnoff

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James Sheldon on seeing David Sarnoff when he was an NBC Page in the early 1940s

Rod Serling

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James Sheldon on directing The Twilight Zone and occasionally working directly with Rod Serling

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