Dora! Dora! Dora

FILMED June 1971

And thus began what I thought was a very funny script. It was entitled DORA! DORA! DORA! (a play on words of the Twentieth Century Fox war film, TORA! TORA! TORA!) and was written by Lloyd Turner and Gordon Mitchell, the pair who had written the previously excellent script for A PARTRIDGE UP A PEAR TREE.  As usual I had not met the authors.

Alvina Krause was a magnificent acting professor at Northwestern University. When I was a student there, she stated something in one of her acting seminars that I found useful throughout my career; people under emotional stress take refuge in props. In the following scene (with that lovely four-poster bed just sitting there waiting for its close-up) I innocently suggested to Shirley that she use the bedpost as a refuge for her nervousness.

The following day after dailies the producer phoned me on the set to tell me how funny he thought that scene was. My response? “Phallic, wasn’t it?”

I completed filming FORTY YEAR ITCH on a Friday (the show was scheduled to shoot in four days), received the script for DORA! DORA! DORA!, prepared it over the weekend, had a production meeting for the new show on Monday and commenced filming it on Tuesday. Welcome again to the world of shooting back-to-back sitcoms! We didn’t film Dora’s singing until Thursday afternoon, the third day. I don’t know who recorded that marvelous off-key song to which Robyn Millan lip-synced. I also don’t know but did assume that Robin had been given a copy of the recording to use rehearsing, because she was absolutely letter perfect. What I do know was the identity of the person doing the dreadful hand choreography. I was I!

I have commented several times on the vast abundance of character actors in the Hollywood talent pool. It was impossible for a director to know ALL of them. That was why casting directors were so important; it was their responsibility to know. Millie Gussie, casting executive for Screen Gems, the television subsidiary of Columbia Pictures, was a Hollywood veteran in the field. I don’t know if it was Millie or Shelley Ellison, casting director assigned to the series, who was responsible for casting Jack Burns, an actor I did not know. He was an actor, writer, producer — a jack-of-all-trades who had started out as half of a comedy team with George Carlin. I thought he was proof of that adage about directing — 90% is in the casting.

Once again I returned to the set where the Partridges performed weekly, a set I abhorred, but it was totally unrecognizable. Studio magicians — the set designers, the set dressers and the crews that did their bidding — had been at work. Window and door flats had been changed where needed; the round chandeliers of FORTY YEAR ITCH were nowhere in sight, stored away with the red shiny drops from A PARTRIDGE UP A PEAR TREE, so that the same platform stage was now in a room that was a place to perform for Air Force troops.

Shirley Jones was the star of THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY, but the box-office draw was co-star David Cassidy. Teen-age girls would wait outside the Hollywood Way gate to the Columbia Ranch at the end of the day anticipating his departure from the studio. Most of the time they waited in vain. David usually exited the studio via one of the less known truck gates. And I think the story lines tended to favor David and scene-stealer Danny Bonaduce. One day I realized Shirley was anxious and edgy. That wasn’t like her. She told me she had just found out her oldest son, Shaun, had arranged a performance of his band for that very night. She was totally amazed that her twelve year old had arranged all of this without her knowledge and she was scared, nervous, behaving like a typical backstage mother. I don’t remember whether the performance was going to be a concert or an appearance in some club, but here was this star of one of the most popular shows currently on television, winner of an Academy Award, a bundle of stage fright. It was charming. And it was an example to me of her worth to the series. She was the spine, the glue that held things together. That same maternal concern I witnessed that day was something she brought to every encounter with her onscreen offsprings.

The journey continues

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2 Responses to Dora! Dora! Dora

  1. Phil says:

    Ralph, are the demands on the cinematographer less when doing a comedy, instead of a drama? I noticed that you almost never mention them in the comedies you did. I would think that some of artsy techniques Gerry Finnerman used on ‘Star Trek’ would look like overkill on a typical sitcom.

    Earlier this week, I watched one of the earliest (1962) color episodes of ‘Hazel’ on TV. The colors were bright and accurate, but I’m guessing they used “flood the zone” lighting, because the show could have passed for a Sunday comic strip. About 90% of the action took place in the living room, dining room, and kitchen sets on a soundstage. Fast forward to this 1971 episode of ‘The Partridge Family’ – the living room lighting in the first video is muted compared to ‘Hazel’.

    • Ralph says:

      I think it boils down to different directors of photography work differently and also work differently depending on what the project is that they’re assigned to. Jerry Finnerman worked differently on STAR TREK and the Sidny Poitier features he photographed. I directed differently on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER.

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