Director of a S*M*A*S*H hit
Published 10/09/2011 | 05:00
Charles Dubin, who died this week aged 92, made more episodes of the popular 1970s television comedy M*A*S*H than any other director, having earlier been blacklisted during the witch hunt for Communist sympathisers supposedly infiltrating the Hollywood entertainment industry.
His early television credits included the Omnibus series (1955-58), in which he worked with artists such as Leonard Bernstein, Agnes de Mille and George Balanchine. In 1959 he filmed the Bolshoi Ballet for television during its first American tour.
Dubin was nominated for an Emmy three times for M*A*S*H, including for the celebrated episode 'Point of View', which was shot entirely from the viewpoint of a wounded soldier.
Although the show portrayed life in a M*A*S*H (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit during the Korean War of the early 1950s, it was shown in the 1970s as America was losing the war in Vietnam.
Shot on film and using the bespoke, sprawling set left over from the 1970 hit feature film M*A*S*H (made by Robert Altman), the television series maintained high production values throughout its 11-year run. Its enduring popularity owed as much to talented directors like Dubin as it did to stars like Alan Alda, Loretta Swit and Harry Morgan.
Charles Samuel Dubin was born in Brooklyn, New York, on February 1, 1919. At Samuel J Tilden High School he decided to be an opera singer, going on to Brooklyn College and graduating in 1941. Having studied directing with Lee Strasberg, Dubin began as an actor, performing in comedy, drama and musicals in the Catskills, but was asked back as a director the following year.
In 1950, ABC hired Dubin as a television director to work on Tales of Tomorrow, a science-fiction series, and a comedy series, Two Girls Named Smith. He also became adept at organising actors and bulky, unsophisticated equipment for numerous drama series that were being broadcast live.
Dubin earned his first feature film credit for the Alan Freed jukebox picture Mister Rock and Roll (1957), featuring Clyde McPhatter, Chuck Berry, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers and a host of other early rock and roll and R&B stars.
By the mid-1950s he was directing the top-rated television quiz show, Twenty-One, based on the rules of blackjack. But in 1958 he was sacked by NBC after refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was investigating alleged Communist infiltration in the television and theatre industries.
After invoking his right to silence under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution no fewer than 22 times, he later explained that he was not, at that time, a Communist Party member and while he had been unaware of any activity contrary to the interests of the United States, he also believed in his right not to testify.
He was never cited for contempt, but NBC and the producers of Twenty-One dismissed Dubin the next day, and it was another three years before he worked in television again.
The Twenty-One series later became the centre of a fixing scandal (later filmed by Robert Redford as Quiz Show), but Dubin said he was ignorant of the backstage rigging and allegations of cheating that led to the show's demise.
He returned to television in 1961, directing The Defenders series, an episode of The Virginian, followed by The Nurses. In 1965 he earned an Emmy nomination for his direction of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Cinderella, starring Lesley Ann Warren.
Over the next 25 years Dubin became one of the busiest directors in American television, working on series such as Ironside, Cannon, Hawaii Five-O, Kung Fu, Kojak, The Rockford Files and Lou Grant as well as M*A*S*H.
In the mid-70s he also moved into miniseries and made-for-television features, among them an episode of Roots: The Next Generations. Although he also directed another feature film, Moving Violation (1976), most of Dubin's work was confined to television, and by the mid-1980s he had 10 Emmy nominations to his credit. He retired in 1989 at the age of 70.
Charles Dubin is survived by his second wife, Mary Lou Chayes, and a daughter.