Charles S Dubin: Television director who overcame being blacklisted and went on to make 44 episodes of 'M*A*S*H'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

One of American television's most prolific directors, Charles S Dubin became familiar to viewers around the world as the credits rolled for crime dramas such as The Defenders (1962-64), Hawaii Five-O (1968-77), Cannon (1972-73), Kojak (1973-78) A Man Called Ironside (1967-74), Matlock (1987-88) and Father Dowling Investigates (1989-91).

But his biggest contribution was to M*A*S*H, for which he directed 44 episodes – more than anyone else – between 1976 and 1983. He was nominated three times for an Emmy Award.

The long-running sitcom featured American doctors and support staff in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit during the Korean War. Once asked what attracted him to M*A*S*H, based on the 1970 film, Dubin replied: "It was a combination of drama about human beings and terrible times, and comedy. What could be better?"

At the time the programme began, in 1972, it delivered black comedy and satirical comment while the Vietnam War was still raging. Dubin was allowed some input into the stories, although that more recent war was over by the time he joined M*A*S*H.

His own political views had earlier been questioned when he was put on the Hollywood blacklist in 1958 by the House Un-American Activities Committee during the era of communist witch-hunts. He refused, on a matter of principle, to testify, invoking his right to silence under the Fifth Amendment. "They wanted me to name names, which I didn't want to do, so I was blacklisted," he recalled. Although Dubin was not cited for contempt, television networks dropped him, but the director found employment on commercials before bouncing back to make programmes four years later.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1919, Dubin was the son of Russian immigrants. His father was a baker who later changed his surname from Dubronevski to Dubin and his mother was a seamstress. Dubin took singing lessons, had operatic ambitions and attended Samuel J Tilden High School, Brooklyn, before graduating from Brooklyn College in 1941 with a degree in English. Rejected by the army for having flat feet, he taught speech and English at Thomas Jefferson High School, Brooklyn, then pursued his acting ambitions by training at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, Manhattan.

He found work acting and singing in various theatres, before making his Broadway debut in the operetta The Merry Widow (1945), followed by a performance in the ensemble of the musical comedy Hollywood Pinafore (1945) and several dramas. He also sang with the Philadelphia Opera Company.

In 1950, after working as a stage manager on plays in New York and co-director of summer stock productions, he was hired as an associate director by ABC. After three months he graduated to become a fully-fledged director on programmes such as the sitcom Two Girls Named Smith (1951), the sci-fi anthology series Tales of Tomorrow (1951-52) and productions in the Pulitzer Prize Playhouse (1951) and Omnibus (1955-57) arts slots.

In 1958, he moved to NBC to direct the quiz show Twenty-One, which was axed that year when the programme was rocked by a scandal. Although it was revealed to be rigged to provide contestants with the right answers, Dubin insisted that he, up in the director's gallery, had no involvement. "I never went backstage," he explained.

This coincided with his appearance in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Dubin did not work in television again until 1962, when he was soon as busy as ever.

His 10 Emmy Award nominations included one for his 1965 production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Cinderella and he won a Directors Guild of America award for a 1973 episode of Kojak.

During his career, he also made two feature films, Mister Rock and Roll (1957), with stars such as Little Richard and Chuck Berry, and Moving Violation (1976), a car-chase thriller notable mostly for its spectacular stunt scenes.

Charles Samuel Dubronevski (Charles S Dubin), television director: born New York 1 February 1919; married 1946 Daphne Smith (divorced 1975; one daughter, and one son deceased), 1994 Mary Lou Chayes; died Brentwood, California 5 September 2011.

Comments