Editor on ‘I Love Lucy’ and movies
Using a newly developed editing machine that he dubbed the “three-headed monster,” Dann Cahn pioneered multi-camera editing on sitcoms in the 1950s while helping to craft a classic, “I Love Lucy.”
“Lucy” broke ground in television by employing three cameras instead of one for filming, a then-novel system that allowed an episode to be filmed as though it were a stage play -- continuously and in sequence.
But the abundance of footage overwhelmed editors, who quickly sought out a cutting-edge contraption that was being created for the game show “Truth or Consequences,” Cahn later recalled.
“It was a Moviola with four heads -- three for picture and one for sound,” Cahn told Editors Guild Magazine in 2006. “When they wheeled it in, I said, ‘Boy, that’s some monster!’ And the name stuck.”
Cahn, 89, the last surviving member of the original creative team behind “I Love Lucy,” died Wednesday of natural causes at his West Los Angeles home, said his son, Daniel Cahn.
A second-generation film editor, he was the son of Philip Cahn, who in 1937 co-founded what is now the Motion Picture Editors Guild. Dann Cahn’s son, who is also a film editor, is president of the guild.
“The amazing thing about ‘I Love Lucy’ is that they were making up things as they were going along, and Dann was a big part of that,” said Gregg Oppenheimer. His father, Jess Oppenheimer, was the creator-producer behind the wildly successful comedy that starred Desi Arnaz as a bandleader and Lucille Ball as his wife.
Earlier this year, Dann Cahn told CineMontage magazine that when “Lucy” started out “television was a live medium related to radio” so they learned to apply “the rhythms and tempos of filmmaking” to TV.
But when the demands of production soon caused Cahn to hire more editors, he said that Arnaz remarked: “Danny, you want a crew bigger than my band?”
Eventually that was exactly what happened, according to Editors Guild Magazine, as Desilu Productions expanded along with Cahn’s role in the company owned by Arnaz and Ball. Cahn rose to supervising editor of all productions, staying until Arnaz left Desilu in the early 1960s.
Cahn’s contribution to “I Love Lucy” was “immeasurable and his generosity of energy and spirit to the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center and museum has been unmatched,” said Journey Gunderson, executive director of the center in Jamestown, N.Y.
“Fans would literally come from around the world,” she said, “to listen to Dann Cahn regale them with stories about what it was like to be part of the creative team on one of the most successful television shows of all time.”
Daniel Richard Cahn was born April 9, 1923, in Los Angeles. His mother ran a dress shop on Hollywood Boulevard that catered to silent movie stars, according to a biography by the American Cinematography Editors, which gave Cahn a career achievement award.
After raising chickens on property near Universal Studios, his father joined the studio in the 1930s after a power outage put an end to his ranching. With two associates, he later founded the editors guild.
The younger Cahn started out as a child actor, appearing in the 1938 Jackie Cooper movie “Newsboys’ Home” and other films before working as an assistant editor on the 1942 movie “Pittsburgh.”
While in the Army Air Forces, he honed his editing skills at “Fort Roach,” the nickname given the old Hal Roach Studios in Culver City when it housed the First Motion Picture Unit during World War II. He worked on training films and spent a year at the Pentagon editing combat footage into newsreels.
“Most of us got a world of experience,” Cahn told The Times in 2005, the year he hosted a gathering at Warner Bros. for 19 surviving members of the unit and screened a short film he made about Fort Roach.
He served as an assistant editor on the 1948 Orson Welles film “Macbeth” and the next year was given his first chance at full-fledged editing when a fellow soldier, producer Stanley Rubin, hired him for the NBC dramatic anthology “Your Show Time.”
While editing the 1951 movie “The Lady Says No,” Cahn was interrupted by his friend, director William Asher, who told him that he had declined an offer to edit “I Love Lucy” -- and had suggested Cahn for the job.
Talented and a quick study, according to the reference work “Lucy From A to Z,” Cahn edited “I Love Lucy” until it left the air in 1957.
Often called “Danny,” he wanted a more distinctive name for the “Lucy” credits and decided to drop the “y” from his first name, Oppenheimer said.
At Desilu, Cahn oversaw a slate of TV shows that included the 1950s sitcom “Our Miss Brooks” and the crime drama “The Untouchables,” which debuted in 1959. His nearly 100 television and film projects also included such shows as “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Police Woman,” and the 1970 film “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.”
After he married Judy Baker, a former professional golfer, in 1953, the couple had two children. His daughter, Dana, died in 1973 and his wife died two years ago. Diagnosed with dementia, he had moved in with his son, Daniel, his only survivor.
“He was a raconteur who just had an overwhelming personality,” his son said. “He was a Type A who mentored a lot of people. He had an incredible life.”
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