Question: Remember the show House Calls? Why did Lynn Redgrave leave that show? — Wendy S., Arkadelphia, Ark.
Televisionary: I'll take the easy one first: Yes, I do. As for the second, the simple answer is it came down to a contract dispute. Detail-wise, there were reasons given by Universal execs on one side and Redgrave and her people on the other, so the best I can do is sum them up for you.
Let's start with the Universal version. In 1981 Redgrave was dropped from the series, which was based on the 1978 Walter Matthau-Glenda Jackson feature and launched as a hit in December 1979 with M*A*S*H's Wayne Rogers as her co-star. At the time, a spokesman for Universal, which produced the series, told TV Guide the actress wanted her salary doubled and that her manager-husband, John Clark, insisted Universal create a production company for her. They offered her a $132,000 pay bump — $6,000 for each of 22 episodes — and were turned down, they said.
Redgrave and her husband, on the other hand, said the real problem was that Universal didn't want her breast-feeding her newborn child in her dressing room. "That's ridiculous," the Universal spokesman countered. "We were willing to make her as comfortable as possible, the same way we did with Susan Saint James when she became a mother on McMillan and Wife."
Within a month, Redgrave sued for $10 million, charging the studio with sexual discrimination, but Universal insisted it was a money issue. "She played her game and it was greed," the spokesman said. "She wanted to breast-feed her child at double the salary."
Maybe so, maybe not, but I find a third theory to be intriguing. "Wayne Rogers wants to dominate the show," a studio insider told TV Guide at the time of the dust-up. "The breast-feeding business was just an excuse to get rid of Redgrave."
Whether that's true or not, Rogers made no secret of wanting to call the shots — and he called a lot of them. When CBS approached him about doing the show, saying it would definitely make it on the air if he joined the cast, he hesitated. Finally, he agreed after driving a hard bargain. Details were never officially released, but it was said the actor got script and producer approval, plus the right to veto casting changes. He sat in on all the show's production meetings and story conferences, which, as you might imagine, didn't always sit well with the scribes. "Sometimes the writers get rather sensitive and I have to discuss things with them," was how producer Arthur Gregory put it.
Rogers didn't downplay the friction he created. "Insecure people can be enormously protective and proprietary about their work," he said. "But when you're doing a show week after week, you can't afford that. I say to people, 'I'm not interested in more exposure for myself. I'm interested in the quality. We're all trees, and the forest is the important thing.' "
And when the trees weren't to his liking, Rogers had no problem chopping them down. Gregory, who also happened to be Rogers' personal manager and business partner, came on board after what executive producer Jerome Davis conceded "could be called a palace coup." Rogers oversaw the whole process and a rule of the show, Gregory said, was that "the first draft of a script is shown to Wayne first and to no one else." All of which added up to the star being the man at the top. Or, as Davis put it: "I wouldn't want to get into one of those questions of 'He goes or I go.' "
None of which made being a part of the team an easy experience. "He has this militant, got-to-be-right streak in him, and he can be absolutely dogged about saying, 'This scene doesn't work for me,' " Gregory admitted. "Wayne can be a tough guy to work with. He really demands perfection, and he sometimes forgets that none of us is perfect."
All of which made for a tough landing for Sharon Gless (Cagney and Lacey), who stepped in for Redgrave — but only after Rogers approved her hiring, and he didn't exactly give his approval quickly ("I happen to know that he looked at film of 16 other girls," she said in 1982.) And her first meeting with her co-star, in a bar near Universal, didn't go all that smoothly, either.
"He asked how old I was and I told him that's rude," Gless recalled. "He said, 'I think you're 38,' and I let him know I don't tell my age. He just ignored that and told me his manager thinks I'm younger but he figures I'm at least 38. All I could say was: This isn't going very well.... We sparred some more and I was pretty depressed. Then some guy came barging over and said, 'Mr. Rogers, we'd like to invite you to our film festival. Wayne never looked up, just snapped, 'I never attend festivals.' I turned to the guy, gave him a smile, and told him, 'But thanks, anyway.' For some reason Wayne thought that was funny and we began to thaw."
Perhaps, but not that much, apparently. After moving on and accepting her Cagney role, Gless didn't pull her punches. [I]f I could get through House Calls," she said, "this should be a piece of cake."