Charles Haas   (1913-2011)
Hired to direct the very first Mickey Mouse Club serial, Charles Haas also helmed the first Hardy Boys serial. A bit extra who worked himself up to director, his reputation was largely based on training films and television shows. After leaving Disney, he made a series of "B" films before finishing out his career on television in the sixties.
He was born Charles Friedman Haas on November 13, 1913 in Chicago, the only child of Gus Haas and Cicely Friedman. The family moved to the wealthy suburb of Winnetka, where his father died when Charles was still a young child. Charles attended the private North Shore Country Day School for twelve years. In 1931, he and high school pal Francis Moore entered Harvard, where in their senior year they would collaborate on writing a musical for the Hasty Pudding Club. During 1932-33, Haas studied under T. S. Eliot, then a visiting professor. He also acquired a taste for Wittgenstein, reading the Austrian philosopher's works in the original German.
After graduation, Charles moved to Los Angeles, where he entered films as an extra in the summer of 1935, working at Universal. He married Emilie Dreyfus in late 1936, with whom he has had three sons and a daughter. He had a small part in a Paramount film in 1937, shortly before becoming an assistant director at Universal. He went into the US Army Signal Corps during WWII, where he was assigned to make training films. After the war, he returned to Universal as an associate producer and writer, then switched to making industrial films, before turning to television in the early fifties.
Charles directed episodes of five forgettable television series (Dick Tracy, Big Town, Mystery Is My Business) before coming to ABC to do Paris Precinct in 1955. The network recommended him to the Disney Studio for their new show, Mickey Mouse Club. He was regarded as competent, but his projects were without individual directorial flair. This was exactly the sort of director for whom the Disney folks were looking.
Charles directed the first MMC serial What I Want To Be: Airline Pilot, Airline Hostess, likely with the very active collaboration of writer and production supervisor Stirling Silliphant. This was meant to be a continuing series of serials about future careers for children, but according to Bill Cotter, Walt Disney got into an argument with series creator Silliphant and cancelled the project. The second serial, about a career as a dairy farmer, was instead turned into a semi-fictional story, sponsored by the American Dairy Farmers Association, called Adventure in Dairyland, and was directed by William Beaudine Sr.
The cancelled project didn't impact Haas; for the second season, he was tapped to direct the first Hardy Boys serial, The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure. This was a big budget effort, taking over the entire sound stage 2 at the Burbank studio. The elaborate indoor sets were necessary to simulate night, when most of the action in the story takes place; industry rules and state regulations limited the use of child actors to daytime filming.
Despite the success of the Hardy Boys serial, Charles Haas never again worked at Disney. Speculation suggests the low pay and conservative politics of the Disney organization may have left Haas feeling somewhat disenchanted; certainly the low-brow material itself didn't bother him, as he would direct far worse in coming years.
After leaving Disney, Charles Haas made several minor action flicks: Screaming Eagles (1956), Showdown at Abilene (1956), and Tarzan and the Trappers (1958). He then turned out a series of schlocky "B" movies, with such titles as The Beat Generation (1959), The Big Operator (1959), Girl's Town (1959) and Platinum High School (1960). They became mild cult classics, but its hard to reconcile these cheesy flicks with the cultured, Harvard-educated, multi-lingual director who made them.
Chuck had continued working in television, directing episodes of such series as Bonanza, Rawhide, Maverick, The Outer Limits, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. before retiring later in the sixties. After retirement, he became more active in the progressive Oakwood School, a private academy in North Hollywood that he, actor Robert Ryan, director John Sturges, and other industry professionals had helped found in the early fifties to educate their own children. Charles Haas passed away on May 12, 2011.