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Francis M. Nevins


If your first exposure to television was as a child in the early 1950s when your parents bought their first set, you probably saw the words “Directed by Paul Landres” on the screen several times a week. You might not know what a director did, but his name became familiar by sheer repetition of the end credits of episode after episode of what youngsters watched in those days: The Cisco Kid, Boston Blackie, The Lone Ranger, Sky King, Cowboy G-Men, Ramar of the Jungle.

One of the thousands of kids in this category grew up to be me. As an older adolescent I continued to encounter his name in the credits of other series—The Rifleman, Law of the Plainsman, Bonanza, 77 Sunset Strip—but still had no idea what a director did and not the foggiest notion that someday I’d get to know him well. A few decades later and a few years into my second half-century I had the immense good fortune to meet Landres, who was then in his eighties, and it didn’t take me long to realize that I had discovered a human mother lode. He’d been working in Hollywood since 1931, as a film editor for more than 15 years and as a director for almost 25, and yet no one had ever tapped his vast fund of memories, memorabilia, insights and professional know-how until chance put me in touch with him. The result of our conversations was PAUL LANDRES: A DIRECTOR’S STORIES (Scarecrow, 2000). This introduction is no substitute for my book, but for those of you who have never heard the name before it may help.

He was born in New York City on August 21, 1912 but when he was a few months old his father’s tuberculosis caused the family to move to southern California. Paul was six when his father died. His mother then married Harry Landres, who adopted Paul. Paul graduated from Belmont High in 1929 and completed three semesters of college before landing a job with the editorial department of Universal Pictures thanks to his stepfather’s connections. During the 1932-33 season the studio was filming a Western series with Tom Mix.

“He had to have a script and I was called to bring him the script. When I got over to the house, he was dressed in a cowboy outfit. I remember the brilliant-colored shirt that he had on. Over the fireplace there was a round wagon wheel, and he had projections from each of the spokes, and on each of these projections was a six-shooter of a different caliber.”

More than 65 years later, as he and I were being shown around the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, Paul saw a photograph of that wagon wheel and the memory of that afternoon returned to him as vividly as if he’d seen Mix that morning.

. . .


Paul quickly developed a unique way of preparing his work that he stuck with for the rest of his career.


“When I got a script I would read it, break it down, get an idea about it. Then I would draw schematic sketches of what I visualized the sets would be....I would sketch out where the door would be, where the telephone would be if it was not a Western. Whatever I was using, I would place those props where I wanted them for the camera....By doing this I could actually shoot the film on paper. I could lay it out for movement. I could indicate on my schematic when we dollied back, when we went sideways....With the plan I knew how many set-ups I was going to use. I rarely had to vary from that....Most of my films were very fluid films....If it was in a room, instead of having the actors stand up and talk face-to-face with each other, I conveyed to the actors that they should think of it as a pursuit in a room.....It worked beautifully. There was constant movement that fit.

 “I’d come home from a day’s shooting..., say at seven o’clock at night, have dinner, work at home until twelve, get up around five or six o’clock in the morning, work for a couple of hours preparing and get on the set. I didn’t even have time to look at any of the shows as they were edited. But I knew that everything went together because I shot it for the cutting room....My background as an editor was of tremendous help to me.”



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