THE MAN IN THE SHADOWS by Jon Krampner

THE MAN IN THE SHADOWS

Fred Coe and the Golden Age of Television
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A long-neglected pioneer of live TV drama is appropriately praised but not brought to life in this biography by a contributing editor to Emmy magazine. Krampner ably interweaves the stories of Coe's rise in television and the growth of live TV drama in the 1940s and '50s, demonstrating Coe's crucial role in the flowering of that form. It needed both Coe's eye for acting talent (bringing young Grace Kelly and James Dean to TV) and his ability to attract and edit fine writers to produce enduring dramas like The Trip to Bountiful, The Days of Wine and Roses, and Marty, and the understated comedy Mr. Peepers. With the demise of live TV, Coe turned to producing Broadway successes like A Thousand Clowns. But after withdrawing from one of these (Fiddler on the Roof) he began to decline. Some successes, more failures, and serious drinking followed, until his death in 1979. All of Coe's artistic accomplishments serve his contention that ``there's nothing duller than rich people!,'' which became the driving force behind his trademark kitchen-sink dramas. Keys to his inner life are more elusive, however, despite accounts of his failed marriages and his father's early death. Some of the author's conclusions are also unconvincing. Though Coe lacks the cachet of other early TV luminaries, it is untrue that ``today, Fred Coe is forgotten.'' He lives on in the works of those he nurtured--Paddy Chayefsky, Horton Foote, Delbert Mann, and others- -and in TV's continued ability to succeed in the domestic drama. Coe's life may be sad, but it is not--as Krampner labels it-- tragic, at least not as presented here. Similarly, comparisons to underappreciated filmmaker D.W. Griffith, which Krampner makes throughout the book, do not fully ring true. As the only sustained resource on Coe, this book is useful to media scholars, but as dramatic reading, it wants the poetic humanity of Coe's works. (20 b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8135-2359-1
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Rutgers Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1996