Back To Nature

Filmed August 1970

On Friday, August 7, a day after I wrapped production on THE INDIA QUEEN at the Fox Ranch with the filming of the raft sequence, I went back to the ranch to commence filming BACK TO NATURE, the second of my consecutive three-episode commitment on NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR. Our schedule had us begin by filming the second half of the new episode, but there was a legitimate production reason for doing that.  Since we were going back on location the next day, the trucks returning to the studio  did not have to be unloaded. With the addition of the props required for the new episode and cans of fresh film, they were ready to roll. Good scheduling! Time and money saved! But to start this post, let me take you back to the beginning of our story which we filmed on the third day!

Now who was less qualified to direct an episode about campouts than me? I had never been on a campout!

As I’ve stated a couple of times, I almost never met the authors of the teleplays I directed, but John McGreevey, the author of BACK TO NATURE, and I shared an unusual collaboration history.  He wrote the story for THE ASSASSIN, an episode of THE FBI I directed. He co-authored A DREAM FOR CHRISTMAS, a movie-for-television I directed. He wrote THE NEW ADVENTURES OF HEIDI, another movie-for-television I directed, and he wrote PROFESSOR PYGMALION PLAYS GOLF, the final episode of NANNY I directed that will be posted here soon. Amazingly since he was a regular contributor of scripts to THE WALTONS, I never directed one of his scripts there. The point of all of this is that activity covered a dozen year, and in all that time I NEVER MET JOHN McGREEVEY!

The laryngitic professor was played by versatile Roger Perry, an actor with talents very similar to Richard Long’s, but he could also sing and dance. I had directed Roger seven years earlier when he was Ben Gazzara’s detective assistant on ARREST AND TRIAL, and we would work together again two years later when he guest-starred on THE FBI in the episode ARRANGEMENT WITH TERROR. There he had an affliction worse than laryngitis: he was a drug addict.

I liked filming on the studios’ backlots and ranches. There was a convenience because of their accessibility, but that’s not to say they didn’t have their limitations. My main gripe was that their metropolitan downtown streets were too narrow, probably because when they were built in the 30’s, cars were smaller. I remember seeing a film (which shall remain unnamed) in the 70’s, when it had become the “thing” to go on distant locations to add authentic reality to the filming. I thought that film looked like it had been shot (and badly) on a backlot. It wasn’t the location or backlot but how the location or backlot was filmed that counted. I remember filming on the streets of Manhattan (and that CAN’T be duplicated on a back lot) when the producer objected to what I was filming. It was a dolly back two-shot of a walking couple, seeing the magnificent New York skyline behind them. The producer felt my shot should be raking the moving couple to feature the Fifth Avenue stores they were passing. That would add authentic reality and prove we had gone to New York to film. I explained that with a little assistance from the art department in creating signs for our backlot buildings, I wouldn’t have needed to travel across country. I could have filmed that shot on our backlot. I persisted and filmed it my way.

I could never have filmed that night scene that way at QM Productions. Quinn forbade filming day for night on location. I never minded filming night scenes in urban locations at night. The lights from buildings and streetlights provided interesting and justifiable light sources. But on a riverbank or a beach, the main light source was the moon. I thought filming day for night created that effect.

The interior of the tent was a set on stage 11 at the studio. That was the beginning of our second day’s filming.

No, our special effects department was not responsible for the rainbow. Charlie FitzSimons had it added in postproduction. In anticipation we locked the camera off for that one shot. It was my first experience doing that. Eight years later when Charlie and I did THE NEW ADVENTURES OF HEIDI I had the camera locked off on several shots filmed in Los Angeles. Then in postproduction Switzerland mountains were added in the background.

I liked the block booking of filming three episodes (or four) without any breaks. Prep for a half hour was much simpler than for an hour show, so it was no problem, and working with the cast for that longer extended period I felt added to the ease of communication between them and me.

The journey contdinues

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3 Responses to Back To Nature

  1. Jim says:

    Another very enjoyable post Ralph. I meant to mention in your previous Nanny posts how much I enjoyed the show, primarily as you mention due to the scripts and the two leads. I always thought Richard Long was under-rated as an actor, and Juliet Mills had (and has) a special appeal.

    I was glad to see you mention Roger Perry – another familiar face on 60s TV who I thought always gave a great performance. He reminds me of Don Dubbins, very versatile as an actor, both of whom if you picked any night in the 60s and turned the dial could be on three different programs on three different networks at the same time. I didn’t know he was also a song and dance man – nice to know he was even more talented than I thought……

  2. Phil says:

    Here are some snippets I clipped out of the online ‘Variety’ archive on the TWO pilots of ‘Nanny and the Professor’:

    At ABC-TV, development deal has been made for “Kiss My Nanny,” a comedy about a British one.

    ABC, for instance, has something in the works called “The Nanny”, (previously “Kiss My Nanny,”) about a British governess with certain marvelous

    Producer James Fonda of 20th-Fox TV’s ABC-TV pilot, “Nanny Will Do,” is temporarily off the project due to illness, and associate producer Charles B. FitzSimons will rein the pilot meanwhile.

    Frank Mitchell is being tested today by director Alan Rafkin for role in 20th-Fox’s tv pilot, “Nanny Will Do,” for ABC-TV. James Fonda will produce.

    Juliet Mills has been signed to star in 20th-Fox TV’s “Nanny Will Do” comedy pilot for ABC-TV. British actress, daughter of John Mills, won out over seven femmes tested in London, plus a number tested at the Studio

    Fred Beir has been signed to star in the 20th-Fox pilot, “Nanny Will Do,” which James Fonda will produce and Alan Rafkin direct.

    Director Alan Rafkin has tapped Johnny Jensen, Eddie Frank and Dawn Nervick for roles in “Nanny

    Director Alan Rafkin yesterday added to cast of “Nanny Will Do” Romo Vincent, Owen Bush, Ceil Cabot and Eric Shea. Juliet Mills and Fred Beir top-line show, 20th-Fox pilot for ABC- TV, now being filmed at L.A. Zoo. Producer is James Fonda.

    ABC-TV: “Nanny.” Studio piloted this comedy last season, with Juliet Mills starring, but will turn out another pilot with a slightly different concept and basically different cast. Miss Mills may be in new pilot.

    Producer David Gerber has signed Juliet Mills, daughter of John, to star in “Nanny Will Do,” 20th-Fox pilot for ABC-TV. Peter Tewksbury will direct script by A. J. Carothers. Charles B. Fitzsimons is associate producer

    on the half-hour comedy series, tentatively titled “Nanny,” produced by David Gerber Productions In association with 20th. Pilot, which has been finished, stars Juliet Mills and Richard Long. A pilot of same project was made by 20th for ABC last season. Starger said that, while that one “didn’t come off,”

    adding Richard Long as the professor opposite Juliet Mills’ original lead and replacing the first batch of kids with a new set.

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