Most directors achieve major professional renown in feature films; this is a fact of life even for those who've made most of their mark on television. For all of the series and miniseries that a Joseph Sargent, a Boris Sagal, or a Marvin Chomsky might have directed, and the Emmy nominations they racked up, it's their movies, such as Sargent's superb The Taking of Pelham, One, Two, Three, Sagal's not-bad actioner The Omega Man, and Chomsky's well-intentioned but ultimately ludicrous Tank, that define the level of respect they achieve. The exception to that rule was Marc Daniels, who managed to become a giant among his colleagues, based on a career confined exclusively to television. A director for 30 years on the small screen, he was there long before the likes of John Frankenheimer or Fielder Cook, writing the book that would make their jobs as dramatically acclaimed television directors possible. He helped invent, develop, and perfect a lot of the techniques that became standard to the industry. And he was one of the few directorial giants to make his career exclusively in television, never setting foot on a feature film soundstage in a career of more than 40 years.
Marc Daniels was born Danny Marcus in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1912, and attended the University of Michigan, earning a B.A.; he later studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, where he trained as an actor and director. Daniels began his career in New York theater as the assistant stage manager on the Sidney Kingsley drama Dead End and later played small roles in that production and became a director in a stock company run by Jane Cowl. During World War II, he served in the United States Army and was the company manager on Irving Berlin's This Is the Army, as well as spending two years in combat. He worked as a publicist and in various other capacities in entertainment after the war, but his most important relationship was at the American Academy in New York, where he and also studied the new technology of television.
In 1948, following his successful direction of a stock theater play, Daniels was asked to direct CBS's first one-hour Dramatic anthology series, Ford Theater. In the years that followed, his specialty was in the staging for television of cut-down versions of classic Broadway shows, such as Twentieth Century, On Borrowed Time, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Arsenic and Old Lace (the latter starring William Prince), and Little Women. In those days, because the film rights had long since been sold on such works, the television productions had to be done live to circumvent legal problems. In many instances, to avoid conflict with the holders of the film rights, they couldn't even be preserved or reshown on kinescope. Through working on such telecasts, Daniels mastered live Dramatic broadcasting early, and well.
In 1951, Daniels was brought together with Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, and veteran cinematographer Karl Freund to work on I Love Lucy. Between them, Arnaz, Daniels, and Freund devised the three-camera technique that helped make I Love Lucy a technically revolutionary production, retaining the sharpness, clarity, and longevity of film and the spontaneity of live performance (with a studio audience present), which helped make it one of the most successful sitcoms in television history. Daniels directed the first 38 shows in the series, and was also responsible for getting Vivian Vance, a longtime friend, onto the show as a co-star. His relationship with the show ended with the conclusion of the first season. According to some sources, he chose to move on to two other series (I Married Joan, The Goldbergs), while others say that Daniels and Lucille Ball had a parting of the ways professionally.
In the mid-'50s, Daniels was a senior vice president of Theater Network Television, presenting closed-circuit broadcasts featuring the ranking executives of corporations such as General Electric and General Motors, and also for the Strategic Air Command. Because I Love Lucy had utilized facets of so many different shooting techniques in its three-camera system, Daniels was a multiple-threat creatively, in demand for live broadcasts and filmed productions, as well as more three-camera shoots. He was equally adept at comedy and drama, and in subsequent decades would show himself well able to handle such varied genres as Westerns and science fiction. In the 1950s, however, he divided his time between serious drama and situation comedies, as well as the occasional special. For the latter, he worked with producer David Susskind on many broadcasts, including The Power and the Glory, starring Laurence Olivier, which earned Daniels an Emmy nomination.
Daniels was one of the first directors to truly master the logistics of sending out a technically seamless live Dramatic performance, and he did it from the confines of facilities in New York, which he always regarded as prohibitively small. He favored shooting from the West Coast and on film, where one could do more with performances than rehearse everyone almost to exhaustion before going on the air. He'd done that and he hated it for himself and his actors, even though he'd become legendary within the field for his cleverness in getting performances and devising shots that worked under such circumstances. It was on the filmed programs of the following decade that he showed what he could do directing actors rather than just cameras.
During the early '60s, Daniels directed Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, Burke's Law, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Bonanza, and Gunsmoke, among other series. His most enduring work to the public, however, may well have been Star Trek. Daniels directed 14 episodes of the series, including "The Man Trap" (the first episode ever broadcast) and "The Naked Time," two key early episodes from the first season, in which the program's characters and setting were established, and "The Doomsday Machine" from the second season. In the best of those shows, one can see a mix of graceful, sweeping camera movements (including very effective and totally unexpected dramatic crane shots, and highly mobile tight close-ups, both of which keep the action moving and make the sets for the starship Enterprise seem much larger than they were), and also a firm grasp of the dramatic content, with particularly fine acting by the regular cast in the first season shows. Indeed, the last quarter of "The Naked Time" was probably the best 13 minutes of Dramatic science fiction ever broadcast up to that time. Thanks to syndicated and cable reruns as well as home video sales, those programs have become as well known as the best episodes of I Love Lucy.
Daniels also worked on Hogan's Heroes, The F.B.I., Marcus Welby, M.D., The Name of the Game, Love American Style, Kung Fu, and The Man From Atlantis, and reunited with Lucille Ball (any differences between them long since resolved) for one television special and for her final attempt at a new series in 1986. Although he never aspired to direct feature films, Daniels did occasionally return to the stage, directing Phoenix 55 and Copper and Brass -- both musicals -- in the 1950s, and 36 in 1980. In the 1980s, he directed episodes of Fame, Private Benjamin, and Mike Hammer. In his final year, at age 77, Daniels was still working as a creative consultant -- he died of congestive heart failure on April 23, 1989, just three days before Lucille Ball passed away.