Monday, September 15, 2014

The Late Great Theodore J. Flicker

Theodore J. Flicker, who wrote and directed the classic comedy The President's Analyst (1967) and created the TV show Barney Miller with Danny Arnold, died in his sleep on 12 September 2014 at the age of 84.

Theodore J. Flicker was born on 6 June 1930 in Freehold Borough, New Jersey. He became interested in the theatre as a child when he played  Jiminy Cricket in a children's adaptation of Pinocchio. He attended Admiral Farragut Academy in Tom's River, New Jersey. He served in the United States Army and then attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Among his classmates were Joan Collins and Larry Hagman.

In 1954 he joined Chicago's Compass Theatre, of which Mike Nichols and Elaine May were a part. Theodore J. Flicker would eventually establish a Compass Theatre in St. Louis, where it was based out of the Crystal Palace. It was in 1959 that Mr. Flicker wrote and directed The Nervous Set on Broadway, with lyrics provided by  Fran Landesman and music provided by Tommy Wolf. The Nervous Set was the world's first (and most likely only) "beat musical" and produced a hit song in the form of "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most", later covered by such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen MacRae, and Bette Midler.

The Sixties would arguably be the height of Theodore J. Flicker's career. He directed the film The Troublemaker (1964) and co-wrote its screenplay with Buck Henry. Starring Tom Aldredge and Joan Darling, the film did not do particularly well at the box office, but has since become well regarded. It was in 1967 that his most famous film was released, the satirical comedy The President's Analyst. The President's Analyst starred James Coburn as the psychiatrist of the title and lampooned everything from the American middle class to gun ownership to the FBI and the CIA. The film received sterling reviews from critics and Theodore J. Flicker was nominated for the Writers Guild of America's Best Written American Original Screenplay award for its screenplay. Unfortunately, The President's Analyst did not fare well at the box office. According to Mr. Flicker the wildly anti-authoritarian film also angered Director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover and others in the government. According to Theodore J. Flicker he found himself blacklisted in Hollywood because of this. He directed only one more feature film in the Sixties, Up in the Cellar from 1970. Prior to The President's Analyst Mr. Flicker had co-written the Elvis Presley movie Spinout (1966) with George Kirgo.

In the Sixties Theodore J. Flicker also directed a good number of episodes of television shows, including such series as Many Happy Returns, The Bill Dana Show, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Rogues, The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and I Dream of Jeannie. As an actor he appeared in his own film The Troublemaker as well as the TV production The Season of Youth and the TV show The Rogues.

In the Seventies Theodore J. Flicker co-created the TV show Barney Miller. The show centred on Captain Barney Miller (Hal Linden), who was in charge of the Detectives' Squad of  the fictional 12th Precinct in Greenwich Village in New York City. Mr. Flicker also wrote episodes of the TV shows Nichols, Night Gallery, Banyon, Mod Squad, The Streets of San Francisco, and Banacek, as well as the TV movies Just a Little Inconvenience (1977) and Last of the Good Guys (1978). He continued to direct as well, directing the TV movies Playmates (1972), Guess Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? (1973), Ann in Blue (1974), Just a Little Inconvenience (1977), Last of the Good Guys (1978), and Where the Ladies Go (1980). He also directed episodes of the TV shows Banyon and Night Gallery, as well as the pilot for Barney Miller. He wrote and directed the fantasy family film Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang (1978). As an actor he appeared in the Night Gallery episode "Hell's Bells" and the film The Christian Licorice Store (1971).

In the Eighties Theodore J. Flicker directed the movie Soggy Bottom U.S.A. (1981) and an episode of The Twilight Zone. In his later years Mr. Flicker took up sculpting. His home included an extensive sculpture garden featuring his work as well as that of Allan Houser, Paul Moore, Tony Price, and others. Mr. Flicker also wrote extensively about expressionism. He also wrote the novel The Good American, one of the very first books to be marketed only online.

If the only thing Theodore J. Flicker had done in his life was to write and direct The President's Analyst he would have accomplished more than many filmmakers. In my humble opinion The President's Analyst is one of the greatest films of the Sixties. Wildly funny, the film lampooned nearly every aspect of American culture in the Sixties, sparing almost nothing and no one (only the spies, hippies, the hero of the title are portrayed sympathetically). What is more, if anything the film is even more relevant in this day and age of the internet and social media than it was in 1967.

Fortunately, Mr. Flicker did more than direct The President's Analyst. He co-created Barney Miller with Danny Arnold. While Mr. Flicker worked no further on the show than its pilot episode, his vision continued to inform the show for the rest of its run. While Mr. Flicker's other works might not be as well known as The Preisdent's Analyst or Barney Miller, many of them are as classic in their own way. The Troublemaker foresaw The President's Analyst insofar as it was a riotous comedy that showed little mercy in the subjects it lampooned. Although based on the book by Mordecai Richler, Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang bears the hallmarks of Theodore J. Flicker Although the film has its flaws (not the least of which are the songs), it still functions quite well as a children's movie with an untamed sense of humour. It must also be pointed out that Mr. Flicker was very good when it came to directing television, including some of the best episodes of The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Running through much of Theodore J. Flicker's work was a strong anti-authoritarian streak. It is most strongly seen in The President's Analyst, but it is also present in The Troublemaker and even to a small degree Barney Miller. And it does seem possible that because of this Mr. Flicker did not get much work in Hollywood--he could be right about The President's Analyst hurting his career. This is sad, as Theodore J. Flicker was a singular talent when it came to creating iconoclastic comedy and biting satire. It seems quite possible that he could have made more films like The Troublemaker and The President's Analyst. As it is, with the few films he made, Mr. Flicker had a much better career than some directors who have made many more movies.

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