MATT LINCOLN: Charles
FILMED June 1970
My transformation from dramatic director of hour-long shows to comedy director of sit-coms had been very abrupt. In August of 1968 I was the former; in December of the same year after a four-month work-free hiatus I was the latter. The road back was more transitional. I directed an episode in Arizona of THEN CAME BRONSON during one of the breaks between filming episodes of THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER. In June of 1970 just before reporting to the Columbia Ranch for my first THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY I returned to Universal Studio to direct THE SHARPSHOOTER, an episode of MATT LINCOLN, a new series starring Vince Edwards. If you don’t remember seeing a show entitled THE SHARPSHOOTER, don’t fret. When it was released it was retitled CHARLES. If you missed viewing CHARLES, there’s even less reason to worry; the series was cancelled after a mere sixteen episodes, so CHARLES aired only once on October 1, 1970.
Since my tape of the episode has long since deteriorated, it has been eons since I have viewed the film. I remember almost nothing of the show itself, but I do remember what happened on Monday, June 22, 1970, at Point Dume, our location for the fourth and fifth days of filming. Point Dume is a rocky promontory with a State beach at the north end of Malibu. As I remember we entered the area at its north end. Facing south there was a wide sandy beach with the ocean to the right and a high cliff to the left. There was a road with an expansive area for parking at the base of the cliff. Proceeding south the beach narrowed as the cliff wall curved toward the shoreline, eliminating the parking area and reaching the water to end the beach at its southern extremity At that south end there was a steep path to reach the top of the cliff, which I planned to use in my staging. An advantage to filming on that southern section of the beach without a parking area for beach visitors was that we would be isolated from normal beach activity. We notified the transportation department at the studio that ALL TRUCKS SHOULD STOP AND PARK IN THE PARKING AREA. None should drive beyond where the parking area ended.
Monday morning we arrived at the location as usual before daybreak. The early arrival gave the crew time to unload the equipment in preparation for the day’s filming, which would begin with the coming of daylight. The catering wagon was there with doughnuts and hot coffee for cast and crew. I went to review my planned work for the day, to revisit the location site I had scouted the previous week, when I discovered the Honeywagon, a very long vehicle of dressing rooms, had ignored the parking order and had driven into the forbidden territory. Once there, in trying to turn around it had become embedded in the sand. To add to the difficulty it was stuck exactly in the spot at the base of the path where I planned to film. Production offices stayed in constant contact with the assistant director on the set as to the progress of the filming. This was true whether the company was shooting on a soundstage or on location. I always found it expedient to get on the books as early as possible — when on a soundstage at the studio to get the first shot completed and logged as soon after the 8:00 am shooting call as possible. Therefore I couldn’t wait until the vehicle was out of there before beginning my day’s work, so I planned a simple establishing shot across a motorcycle toward the cliff that could be filmed away from the activity of the rescuing crew. Hopefully by the time that shot was completed the Honeywagon would have been removed.
That was when Problem #2 arose. Martin Sheen was playing Charles, a motorcycle-riding, disturbed young man with a penchant for shooting people. His weapon that the prop man presented to me that morning was a long-barreled handgun that was larger than I had anticipated. There was no way he could carry it on his person, so I decided that we would need a large leather pouch attached to his motorcycle, so that when he wanted the weapon, he could reach back and retrieve it from there. I explained the problem to the prop man, described the size of the pouch I needed and and asked him to get it for me. In the meantime to save time so we could begin filming, I had them roll up a small blanket in the shape and size of the pouch and it was attached behind the seat of the motorcycle. In the early morning light all that was needed for that first shot was the silhouette of the pouch. The prop man notified the Prop department at the studio of our need, requesting that they send it out to the location with the next driver heading our way. We continued filming scenes that didn’t require the leather pouch. Soon the prop man came to me and told me he had received an answer from the studio. Their response to his request: “We don’t have one.” No “We don’t have one like that here, but we’ll find one and get it out to you as soon as possible.” Just a blunt, “We don’t have one.” That to me was like a drowning man in the ocean asking for help from a passing ship and being told, “Sorry, we don’t have any life preservers.” Thankfully the prop man at the location was more ingenious than the prop department back at the studio and when I eventually reached the scene where the leather pouch was going to be needed, he had somehow procured one.
Many moons later like maybe the following year Martin Sheen told me he had been called back to the studio after the series’ cancellation to do some added looping. With only sixteen completed episodes in the can there was no chance for the revenue of syndication. Universal was not a studio to let that stand in the way of their retrieving some of the money they had invested in the product. They had filmed an episode, SHEILA, guest starring Patty Duke. Obviously SHEILA and CHARLES must have been two of the best shows in the series because they were selected by the network to lead off when the show debuted on the air. SHEILA ran the first week followed by CHARLES the following week. Now realize that these were two separate, unconnected characters in two separate scripts written by two different writers and directed by two different directors. Somebody at the studio had created a new mythical script in which the two characters, Sheila and Charles, were romantically involved. However since there were no plans to film any additional scenes showing them together, new speeches were written for both characters having to do with their relationship. Martin and Patty were brought into the studio, where they vocally recorded those speeches. These were then laid in over previously filmed close-ups, attempting to match the lip sync where possible, ignoring it when it was not. Some re-editing was done to develop this new story line and the final production was retitled THE CLIFF, which was then released to television as a movie.
Once I knew of the existence of this new film, I checked the TV Guide schedules weekly to see if there were any local airings. Finally months later I saw that an airing was scheduled on a local Los Angeles station in the wee hours of the morning of a show titled THE CLIFF. I set the timer on my VCR machine and recorded it. The following morning when I viewed the tape, I discovered it was indeed a reworking of the film CHARLES that I had directed. I called the residual department at the Directors Guild and reported the facts that I hoped would lead to my receiving a residual payment. The Guild said they would check out the matter, which they were very good at doing. Soon they came back to me, needing detailed information on the dates that I had filmed the original show, which I was able to provide. Then Allen Reisner called me. Allen had directed the other half of our show, SHEILA. The Guild had contacted him after my call to them and requested the dates of his involvement. He asked me what they were. I had to tell him I only kept track of my own schedules. The happy ending to this story was that since the original material had been reconstituted into a new form, there was an initial payment due the director (in this case directors) of $8,800.00, which Allen and I split. And he and I later each received additional residual payments of $8,360,00 when the film continued to air. Suddenly the problems with the sand-embedded Honeywagon and the leather pouch seemed miniscule.
The journey continues