I have three cardinal rules for maintaining satisfaction and sanity on the job:

1) never accept responsibility without authority,

2) keep the hot rock in the other person’s pocket,

3) always be willing to quit.

I discovered these while working for Allen Funt, the creator, producer  and co-host of  “Candid Camera,”  the first and longest running reality-based television program. It began in 1948 on ABC, migrated to NBC and then to CBS where it became a hit and then went into syndication making Funt a very rich man.

The format featured ordinary people caught in unlikely and often embarrassing  situations:  a car with a hidden gas tank that just keeps filling up, a mailbox that talks to a passerby, a secretary chained to her desk when the maintenance man comes  to change a light bulb – the situations were designed to provoke strong reactions from  unsuspecting foils and reveal on camera that they’d been duped.

Despite its enormous success and the millions of viewers who thought it was hilarious, I always squirmed with the unsuspecting dupe when the joke was revealed and he was told what was to become a popular catch phrase,  “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera.”

Given my distaste for practical jokes, and my identification with the victim, it was pretty funny that I’d end up working for Funt in the Summer of 1965.

I’d returned to New York City from Canada after making two documentary films for the CBC and was on the street and out of work.  Once a week I’d go to the unemployment office  above the old New Yorker theatre on 89th and Broadway shmooze with the regulars and make up stories for the woman behind  the cage who wanted to know what I was doing to find work in my field  before I’d sign for my check.

It wasn’t all bad — I played tennis in Central Park with Phil Burton, an old California film maker buddy, who was out of work too, saw a lot of movies, worked on my tan and did a lot of  reading. Not a bad life except I was getting bored and increasingly  desperate to find work.

I’d known Phil since college and despite our friendship, we were both very competitive and guarded our job leads jealously. So when he announced before our morning tennis match that he’d landed a job with Allen Funt, producing a pilot for NBC I was green with envy.  Torn between thinking he was a sellout for taking a job with Funt and wondering how the hell he got so lucky, my level of insecurity, already pretty high, shot up to record levels.

I spent the next week moping around the apartment looking, unsuccessfully, for a job and a new tennis partner. Then I got a call from Phil,

“Allen says we need two producers,” he said.  “I told him about you and he wants to meet you.” What could be better, I thought. I’d not only have a job but also get my tennis partner back.  So I sucked up my feelings about Funt and Candid Camera, and trotted off to his office  on west 55th street.  His secretary ushered me into his dimly lit office where he sat behind an enormous marble top desk with nothing on it except a copy of daily Variety.

When he stood up, he looked very much like he did on air: short and stocky,  a hair line that started in the middle of his head  and an expressive mouth with thick lips —  except there was  a heavy feeling about him, like an aging boxer.

He motioned me to a chair beside his desk.  When he returned to his seat he rested his elbow on the desk, cupping his chin in his hand.  But as he started to speak  his elbow slipped off the desk and his chin hit the marble with a crack.

“Jesus. Are you okay,” I said trying not to laugh.

“No. No.”  he  said looking a little stunned.

“Maybe you should have the desk padded,” I joked.

“I’ve never done that before,” he said earnestly, then composed himself.

“Phil’s recommended you very highly,” he said with a heavy New York accent. “Did he tell you about the project?”

“A little, but not much,”  I said.

“ It’s a great idea for a series that I pitched to NBC,” he enthused. “They love it and  want it for prime time. We’re producing the pilot.”

He touched his chin tenderly.

“The idea is  that at any given moment, interesting things are happening to people all over the world — births, deaths, fights, big deals in the making, someone’s first scuba dive, winning the lottery,  all sorts of things. The subject matter is unlimited. There’s humor, adventure, pathos. We’ll have cameras all over the world going at the same time.  And we’ll call the show, “In the Next 60 Minutes.”

I tried to imagine  how we’d  shoot events simultaneously and then edit them to retain a simultaneity that didn’t feel contrived.

“A great idea,” I said with as much conviction as I could muster and too desperate for work to raise any objections.  “What’s the budget.”

“It’s enough,” he said.”

And then he offered me the job without asking me anything about myself or previous experience at considerably more money  than I’d ever made before.   I was to start the following Monday and that was that. The big bucks should have been the tip-off to what lay ahead, but I was so happy to have work I felt like I’d just hit the trifecta at Aqueduct.

Phil and I shared a large office that was bare except for two desks, a phone  and two chairs. No book shelves, no pictures on the wall, no plants or file cabinets. Staff niceties were not in his undisclosed budget.  There was only an intercom that connected directly to Allen ‘s office on the other side of the building.

It was also where the Candid Camera editing suites were.  In talking to the editors we learned why Allen’s office was so dimly lit. The wall opposite his desk opened with the click of a button underneath the marble desk top revealing a rear screen projector setup. The projector was connected to cameras in the editing room strategically placed over the editors’ shoulders peering into the viewing box on their Movieolas.  Allen could check on whether his editors were working and comment via intercom on their work.

We also figured out that using the  intercom, he could secretly listen in on our conversations. Phil and I were goofing,  spit balling ideas of what people might be doing at the same time all over the world.  Stuff we imagined NBC would love.

Phil  said, “How about a first fuck?”

“Or, fucking chickens?”

“How about picking your nose?”

Suddenly Allen’s voice burst into the room,

“What the hell are you guys doing?”

“Just getting organized, Allen,” I said focusing on the little box on my desk.

“I need serious ideas from you boys,” he said, and the intercom went dead.   Phil and I looked at each, not saying a word. The bastard could hear every word we said.   I picked up a phone book and placed it over the intercom speaker.

Within an hour Allen’s accountant whose office was next door to ours came running in hysterically,

“Allen’s trying to reach you,” he said.  Something must be wrong with your intercom.”

“There’s nothing wrong,” I said glancing at the box. “The light isn’t on.”  Then I lifted the telephone book off the speaker and heard Allen’s bark,


“Yes, Allen, something must be wrong with the intercom,” I said.

“Turn up the volume.”

“It’s up as  high as it will go.”

“Good, I’ve asked Maryanne to set up some meetings.”

As soon as the accountant left, I placed the phone book back on the speaker.

The meetings his secretary arranged for us, were every day at six.  “Why every day?” I wanted to know.

“That’s what he said.”

“Why at six? How about five?”

“Because he’s not reachable between five and six except in  an emergency.”

“Should we prepare anything?” I asked.

“No need for that. Just be there at six.”

Phil and I looked at each other. What we didn’t know was that Allen spent an hour every day on another floor  being rejuvenated in his own private spa – a steam in his private Sauna, a massage from his private masseuse and a shower before his meeting. This was his private hour – it was sacrosanct.  When a Candid Camera editor entered his inner sanctum without permission to ask a question, opened the door to the sauna and jokingly said, “Smile You’re on Candid Camera,” he was fired on the spot.

Phil and I arrived  promptly at six along with the Candid Camera Crew and gathered around Allen, who was all fresh and rosy, sitting comfortably on a couch munching on ‘crudites,’  and sipping a soft drink.

We sat quietly in back, eyeing the carrots and celery sticks while the Candid Camera crew reported on the days shoot and their plans for the next day.  When they had finished and he had asked his questions, the meeting was over.  He barely  acknowledged our presence or offered us (or anyone) a peanut much less something to drink. We never understood why he wanted us there except to show us that he could, so after two more meetings we just stopped going.

The next day Allen called us into his office,

“Where were you last night?” he barked.

“We have nothing to do with Candid Camera,” Phil said, “so why should we be there?”

“Because when I’ve finished with them, we can talk about the pilot.”

“We can meet during the day when we’re fresh,” I pushed back.

“And I’ve got two young kids,” Phil added, “Who I’d like to see before they go to bed.”

Allen started to object, then backed off,

“Okay, I’ll have Maryanne set up regular meetings during the day.”

After that we met a couple of days a week to suggest show segments and eventually develop a lineup although most of the time was spent listening to his ideas.

Us: “Someone making their first parachute jump”

Funt: “What about a guy in a small town getting a haircut?”

Us:    “The conversation better be interesting.”

Funt: “The fact of his getting a haircut is interesting.”

Us:  Thinking, “you’ve got to be kidding,” but saying, “We need action and adventure.”

Funt: “Yes, but I like the haircut.”

It became a senseless game of  needing to humor him to  eventually get what we wanted,  sequences that would add depth and pop to the show.

But it didn’t always work that way. A couple of meetings later I suggested  a segment on a farm foreclosure which  Allen nixed as too downbeat. And Phil suggested a  segment in a Harlem bar which Allen said was too exotic.

Two nights later I got a call from Phil.

“I quit”

“What do you mean you quit? the show’s just coming together.”

“I can’t take anymore of Funt’s bullshit. I got a job producing segments on a science show for NET. It’s for a lot less money, but it’s better than this.”

His call depressed me. Even though I had no problem producing the pilot alone, part of me wanted to quit too. But I had too much pride to quit in the middle of a project even if my boss was an asshole. And, I had to admit I was  afraid of being back on the street.  So I decided to stick it out a while longer and see what happened.

My only worry was that Allen would  foist another producer on me.  I needn’t have worried. The next day he called me into his office and told me it was a good thing  Phil’d  quit because, “The network  wants to cut the pilot from an hour to 30 minutes,”

Cutting the show to a half-hour made my life a lot easier, as I only needed half as many segments.  I  went back to my office and prepared a lineup I could present to Funt which included some of his ideas and some of ours — a séance, a guy getting a haircut, someone taking their first parachute jump, the world’s fastest drag car race, a birth, an assembly line of workers repeating the same motions over and over again.  Even though  it only took me ten minutes to complete I decided to sit on it for a couple of days so Funt would feel he was  getting his money’s worth.

Sitting on it was a waste of time because he immediately challenged any idea that wasn’t his anyway.

“How the hell are you going to film a drag car race?”

“We’ll film the drivers getting ready, their girl friends in the pits, the crowds excitement.”

“No. I mean the race itself, ” he responded

“We’ll work it out,” I vamped.

“Who’s making the parachute jump.”

“I haven’t to found  the person yet.”

“The type of person is important”

“I know, Allen.”

“I mean it’s got to be a regular guy, someone we can all relate to.”

“I know Allen, that’s what we’re looking for.”

“You should have a camera in the plane and one on the ground to get his reaction.”

“I know, Allen.”  ….and so it went through the entire lineup,  Allen wanting to control everything and telling me how to do my job.

The next morning I stormed into his office. He peered over the Daily Variety,

“What’s up.”

“I quit.”

He looked shocked, “You can’t quit.”

“Yes. I can. You hired me to produce this show and now you’re not letting me do it.”

I turned and started to walk out of his office.

“Don’t leave,” he said, almost a plea.

I  turned around.

“Shut the door and sit down,” he said.

I closed the door, came back and sat down.

“You can’t leave.” He looked at me.

I waited for him to continue.

“Everybody thinks I’m a funny, happy guy. People come up to me on the street and thank me. They tell me what a great sense of humor I have. How much they love the show.” He paused for a moment to be sure I was taking it all in.  “But, the truth is,  I’ve never been happy. I was miserable from the day I was born. I was a miserable a kid,  I don’t think I ever laughed a day in my life.”

“I’m sorry you’re so unhappy,” I said, not sure whether he was putting me on.  “But what does this have to do with me?”

“Because I want you to understand, I pay people a lot of money,”  he said with emphasis.   “I pay them a lot of money so I can beat them up.”

“You can’t pay me enough for that,”  I said, starting to get up.

“Wait,” he said,  “You’re different. You don’t have to take this crap. Most of these other guys have no education,  they’re not a college guy like you. You’re educated. So don’t leave.”

Of course his Candid Camera crew were educated. I thought he was either delusional or bullshitting me .

“I’ll stay on one condition,” I said, seeing my opening. “You leave me alone to produce the show.”

He looked at me for a long time. It was hard for him to let go.

“Okay,” he said.  “I’ll leave you alone. But don’t fuck up”

And that was that.

The next few weeks were actually fun. I bopped around the country looking for the right guy to take his first parachute jump, visited mediums and participated in a séance and went to Bristol, Tennessee  to line up the drag car shoot and hired top cinema verite crews to film it.   True to his word, Funt left me alone — until the night before the shoot.

“What happens if it rains tomorrow and  the car race is cancelled?”

“We’ll film with the drivers and their girlfriends in the bar having a good time.”

“But if there’s no race?”

“That’s the premise of the show, interesting things happening to people all over the world.  We’ll see how champion drag car racers handle their disappointment.”

I could tell he wasn’t  listening.  He was chewing on an idea.

“I once got stuck for a segment on Candid Microphone. I had a deadline and  I needed something right away.  So I went into a bar on 3d avenue, found a couple of drunks and paid them fifteen dollars each to have a fight.”  He laughed.

“What  a brawl”, he said, reliving the moment.  “They kicked the shit out of each other. It was a great segment”

I was speechless.  Is that what he wants me to do? It felt like an hour before he finally broke the silence.

“I guess that’s not such a good idea,” he said quietly with reflection.  “I guess it would look pretty bad if the press found out.”

“I guess so,” I said, hiding my sarcasm.

He needn’t have worried, it didn’t rain in Bristol and the world’s fastest drag car race took place as planned. We had cameras in the stands, on the field and mounted on the bumpers of the cars. We took a spectacle that lasted a few seconds and turned it into a slick filmic event.  The final show was just as slick.   We cut between a woman giving birth, a man getting a haircut, a séance, the drag car race and the guy making his first parachute jump. Allen insisted we use the man on an assembly line as the motif for the show, often cutting back to him,  comparing  the tedium of his job to the drama of the other events.

But in the end the show had no soul because we never got to know the people we were filming. Even an original score that Allen commissioned to spice it up couldn’t save it and the network didn’t pick it up.

In the end I’d followed my rules —  I wasn’t afraid to quit, I got the authority I wanted  and I certainly put the hot rock in Allen’s pocket.  But I also learned  another valuable lesson – that I needed to develop my own projects and make my own mistakes. If I failed I had no one to blame but myself.