Though nominally a "director for hire," Vancouver native Daryl Duke occasionally transcended the boundaries of that categorization. When Duke died on October 21, 2006, he left behind an extraordinarily diverse resumé, with content in the telemovie, theatrical feature, miniseries, and prime-time series categories. As for quality of work, Duke hit a few zeniths that most directors never dream of, but also fell flat on many occasions, suggesting that unlike some of his contemporaries (such as, say, Hal Ashby or Robert Altman), his ability to make a project soar may have been largely contingent on the quality of the script at hand. In the end, Duke left behind an occasionally exciting yet maddeningly uneven body of work.
Born October 21, 1929, Duke spent time laboring at a Canadian sawmill as a young man. At the age of 24, he joined Vancouver's premier CBC affiliate, CBUT, where he helped produce the network's first television programs in December 1953, then transferred to the Toronto branch of the CBC in 1958. From that seat, Duke produced additional television specials and documentaries, including episodes of This Hour Has Seven Days and Wojeck. When the late '60s arrived, Duke parlayed the success of his Canadian endeavors into a Hollywood-based television career. He helmed episodes of weekly prime-timers for NBC, including The Bold Ones, The Psychiatrist, Night Gallery, Banacek, and Ghost Story, which carried him through the early '70s, then made a stunning (and brave) leap into feature films, enlisting the notoriously volatile and colorful Rip Torn to play booze and pill-addled country singer Maury Dann in the road picture Payday (1973). Though the picture is now largely forgotten, it remains the archetypal "critical darling," justly lauded by the press for its remarkable craftsmanship but virtually ignored by the public, who shied away given the manically depressing nature of the material. Even more problematically, the film didn't receive an official studio release until 1975. Variety wrote of it, "Duke's feature debut is outstanding...[and] co-producer Don Carpenter's first-produced screenplay neatly captures the grit and the sweat of a poptune idol's barnstorming life. The girls, the pills, the payoffs, the cynical flackery, the hollow sentiment, and the desperate flight from poverty all are integrated deftly and superbly in concise, meaty characterizations."