TITLE: The Lady, or the Tiger?
MEDIUM: Short story/short film
DIG SITE: Episode 1.29 of Gidget, March 31, 1966
I’m telling you, I stumble on the most interesting things in the most unlikely places.
The Gidget TV show is one of my favourites. I love it for many reasons perhaps the biggest of which is that it serves as a wonderful bridge between summer and autumn.
I was watching the episode “Ask Helpful Hannah” in which Gidget joins the school paper to write the advice column and gets involved with two students who obviously are fond of each other but can’t get together. The girl in this scenario is played by the school paper’s editor, pretty Candace Howard (also spelled Candice). She intrigued me so I grabbed my pickaxe, donned my pith helmet and started my test pit.
Between 1965 and 1969, Howard appeared in a total of ten television episodes on six different shows; in only five of these episodes did her character have a name. Eleven years went by and she showed up in Hopscotch, the 1980 Walter Matthau film, playing – stay with me, now – a minor character’s receptionist. I could spend days digging up info on Candice Howard and so many actresses like her. But what really interested me about this actress is an obscure credit of hers that appears after her last TV appearance on Gomer Pyle, USMC on March 7, 1969 and the release of the Matthau film in the fall of 1980.
The Lady, or the Tiger? (and I hate that comma after “Lady”; seems grammatically incorrect but everywhere I look it’s there) is a short story by Frank R. Stockton that was published in 1882. Believe it or not, Stockton was born in Pittsburgh. My regular readers will know that I have been shocked by how many of my recent subjects hail from Pennsylvania. The only work Stockton is remembered for today is the piece we’re looking at today.
The Lady, or the Tiger? is about a king and his kingdom. This king punishes crime in a unique way. The accused enters a vast arena where many spectators are gathered. He is faced with two doors and has to choose one. Behind one door is a ravenous tiger who will devour the accused moments after that door is opened; instant funeral. Behind the other door, is a lovely lady-in-waiting that the accused does not know. If he chooses this door, a preacher comes out and the accused and the young lady are married and sent on their way; instant wedding. Now, the princess has been seeing a commoner on the sly. When the king finds out, he is none too happy and this commoner finds himself in the arena facing the two doors. Seated at the king’s side, the princess looks down at her lover who looks up at her. The princess faces a conundrum as well; see her lover devoured by a tiger or see her lover married to another. The princess has found out ahead of time behind which door the tiger waits. She gestures to her lover, telling him which door to open. He turns to open that door and…..the story ends. Has the princess accepted her lover’s wedding to another? Or would she rather see him dead?
They tell me that the phrase “the lady, or the tiger?” has entered the lexicon “as an allegorical expression, a shorthand indication or signifier, for a problem that is unsolvable” – much like “Catch 22” – although I have yet to hear it. Interestingly, Stockton did write a sequel. Now, what on earth has this got to do with our friend, Candy Howard? Glad you asked.
Stockton’s story was adapted into a short film in 1969 and Candice Howard is in it. The film was made by the Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corporation’s film unit, Encyclopedia Britannica Films. We should stop right there as there is a wealth of info to be processed about EB Films and their history. The short form version of the story is that EB Films was the top producer and distributor of 16mm and later VHS educational films that were intended to be viewed in classrooms and libraries. EB bested their competitors in their heyday and their films have aged much better than films by other companies; EB Films made it a point to use very little music in their films as this would date them. They also seldom made “social guidance” films knowing that these could become laughable as social mores changed through the years. Here’s the thing, though; I couldn’t help but wonder how and by whom these films got made. Here is a whole industry that had to be populated by artists of many stripes.
I did learn that Larry Yust, who’s father was an editor at EB, directed many of these educational films, including Tiger. I discovered that Yust also directed mainstream films; two, exactly. And these are interesting, too, as they feature virtually no name stars. 1972’s Trick Baby (set and shot in Pittsburgh!) stars no one you’ve heard of although “Melvin the Pimp” is played by Ted Lange, Isaac the Bartender on The Love Boat. Inexplicably, Yust was given money to make another film 10 years later called Say Yes. It “features” a raft of people you’ve never heard of and Jonathan Winters. This one must’ve been really bad as it wasn’t unleashed on the public until 1986, four years after it was made. Say Yes sounds like a rip-off of Brewster’s Millions.
Anyways…the 1969 EB Films version of The Lady, or the Tiger? stars Ivan Triesault as the King. This is Triesault’s last of over 120 credits. You may have seen him in Notorious, D.O.A., The Bad and the Beautiful, Viva Las Vegas and Von Ryan’s Express. The other “stars” in this short film? Well, three of them have 17 credits between them and one, Sandy Descher, played a young girl in Them! (1954). Much like the current Hallmark-type/made-for-TV movie industry, the cast of this short film sets me to thinking about the disparity that exists between “Hollywood” and everything else. The actors in this film do or did the same work as Steve McQueen but the results are an animal of a different stripe. Just how did this work? How were they cast in such films? And Candy Howard? I haven’t yet spotted her in The Lady, or the Tiger. And by the way, Billy Beck (?) is in this short and he was born in Pennsylvania, as well.
The Lady, or the Tiger? is shot in a very strange, psychedelic manner. Lots of stock footage used, lots of crazy colours and lots of Moog synthesizer-sounding music. It’s an educational film so I don’t mind sharing it here. See for yourself.
So, let’s survey the material remains found at our site. I went from my beloved Gidget to a minor television actress to a 19th-century short story to a drugged-out short film made by the leader of a tertiary film industry with a stop at an obscure ’70’s crime film and the legendary Encyclopedia Britannica along way. Ah, the joy of discovery.