The daytime community is mourning the passing of accomplished director Joseph Behar, who passed away peacefully on June 26 at the age of 94. He was known for directing numerous episodes of ABC's General Hospital and NBC's Days our Lives, including both drama series' pilot episodes in the 1960s.
A native of Harlem in New York City, Behar's interest in the entertainment world was born after he returned home from the Army, where he was stationed in Kochi, Japan. He enrolled in TV school and quickly found that he had a knack for directing, particularly live television. Legend has it that while he was working on a shoot for the 1950s live news documentary program Wide Wide World, the Rocky mountains were unexpectedly obscured by a blizzard, which prompted the quick-thinking director to send someone to the gift shop to buy a picture postcard for the camera to zoom in on, which fooled the audience, impressed the producers, and built his reputation as a director who hit every mark, came in under budget, and always got the shot.
Those talents were what ultimately gave Behar a long and successful career in daytime television, where budgets are often small and filming moves incredibly quickly. One of his first daytime jobs was directing the pilot episode of General Hospital in 1963. He explained in a 2003 Television Academy interview that the early West Coast soap operas had a tough time finding directors experienced enough to take the helm, because most of the daytime dramas were filmed in New York at that time. ABC called him for the GH pilot because of his previous experience with live television and early CBS dramas.
"It's one of those things you have to know how to do, because there's so much material to get in and try to do in one day," he said. "So, they did a pilot for General Hospital... and they had an idea which turned out to be a terrible idea -- they were going to save money on sets and everything, and they were going to do it in their offices at ABC! And they went and did a pilot where the offices were the hospital, and the lighting was atrocious, everything was bad."
He continued, "The script was good, though, so they right away decided to [reshoot it] and build the sets and do the pilot in a normal situation, so then they called me, because I was one of the people who had the experience to do it when there wasn't a lot of people. So, I did the pilot for General Hospital, and that was a complicated thing! Not so much in that the show was complicated, but they had never done a show like that over there. ABC wasn't familiar with that, and we had trouble with sound, we had trouble with radio mics on people... it was really hard to do. And then, after all that effort, I stayed there all day doing that pilot, and they -- the networks always do this -- they said, 'Oh, this has to be in New York by 9 o'clock tomorrow morning,' and I'm saying, 'Now, wait a minute, we just spent 12 hours here, 13 hours there shooting this, and we have to edit it!' So... we spent all night long editing that thing with a razor blade, but we got it done and we sent it, and they loved it."
Unfortunately, Behar was busy with other things and wasn't able to stay on at General Hospital after directing the pilot, but he did return to the soap opera in 1993 and spent the ensuing decade helming countless episodes of the drama, winning four Daytime Emmy Awards for his work on the show (in 2000, 2004, 2005, and 2006; his total number of Emmy wins is five, as he also won in the Outstanding Directing in a Game/Audience Participation Show category in 1990 for his work on Fun House).
In addition to directing the pilot of GH, Behar also directed the pilot episode of Days of our Lives in 1965. "That was a big pilot to do because it was like an hour and a half, a lot of work to do," he recalled in the Television Academy session, where he also touched on taking the helm on a number of episodes of the NBC soap from 1965 to 1987, working with legendary DAYS stars like Frances Reid (ex-Alice Horton) and John Clark (ex-Mickey Horton).
Though arguably most known for his soap opera work, Behar also directed many episodes of the CBS game show Let's Make a Deal, including the pilot for which he famously came up with the idea to have models reveal the prizes from behind doors number one, two, and three. Some of his other directing credits include Chain Letter, Here's Edie, From These Roots, Take a Good Look, and The Ernie Kovacs Show -- the latter of which earned him a Directors Guild of America award in 1962 in the Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Television category.
According to Behar's obituary, published in the Los Angeles Times, the longtime director loved his job and worked until his retirement in 2005, at the age of 79. He is survived by his wife, Carolyn Eberhardt Behar; sons Jeffrey, Steven, and Greg Behar, and their partners, Lori Behar, Tim Jenne, and Jennifer Driscoll; his grandchildren, Alex, Mallory, Niko and Lydia, as well as Alex's wife Ami and their daughter Brooklyn; and his cousins and their spouses, Hank and Phyllis Behar, Allegreta and Peter Blau, Kip and Sonia Behar, and Joe and Kate Behar.
In the close of his Television Academy interview, Behar touched on how he'd like to be remembered after his death: "I'd just like to be remembered as a person who, as far as TV goes, a person who really knew what he was doing. That I was a capable, competent person," he said, adding that he'd also "like to be remembered as being a decent person."
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