Dynasty: Part II

FILMED April-November 1980

I learned very early that when doing drama, it is important to look for places to introduce humor into the mix. Fortunately the Shapiro’s also believed this.

We left Krystle in a quandary. There had been a confrontation with Blake …

… followed by a meeting with Matthew!

When Krystle opened the door in April, George Peppard’s Blake, following the directions in the script, held out a little bunch of violets. In November John Forsythe came to me with a request to do it a little differently. I enthusiastically agreed.

On May 8, our 21st day of filming, producer Phil Parslow was concerned with our final scene scheduled for that day.

airstrip1

airstrip2

That was when he told me that George Peppard would not show up to film it. He had been fired. He asked if I could film the establishing shots of the limousine and the airplane, so that later Blake and Krystle’s dialogue could be filmed with them in the car. And that’s what I did. At the conclusion of that day I filmed two shots at the airstrip (a wide shot of the plane with the limousine arriving and a POV shot of the plane from the limo), and two days shy of six months later on November 6 we brought the limousine onto Stage 8 at the 20th Century Fox Studio and filmed the two-shot of Linda and John seated in the car saying their dialogue.

The Chinatown in Los Angeles can’t compare in atmosphere and charm to the one in San Francisco. It is north of the downtown district on a very wide boulevard. But we found a small arcade-like street of restaurants off of that boulevard, and with the insertion of a shot of one of San Francisco’s bridges Blake and Krystle were able to have their dinner in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

I never filmed the scene of Blake and Krystle’s return plane trip with George Peppard. It’s a long scene – the longest Blake/Krystle scene in the film. It’s a beautifully written scene and is probably one of the most unusual love scenes I ever directed.

ANATOMY OF A SCENE

Seldom did I receive a script with a scene so powerful, so beautifully written as one in this teleplay. Even more intriguing was the thorny journey that scene made from the author’s typewriter to the nations’ television screens. To begin with, it was selected as the scene to be used in the tests for the four actors competing for the role of Steven Carrington. As had been done five years earlier when I directed the tests for WESTSIDE MEDICAL, the tests were not shot on film but were taped at the ABC studios in Hollywood. I spent a day in one of the sets for the daytime soap opera, GENERAL HOSPITAL, directing four actors aspiring to play Steven. A character actor was hired for the day to play Blake Carrington in the scene with the boys. I remember directing tests with Al Corley and John James, but since I didn’t keep a record, I don’t remember the names of the other two actors. The tests were shot television style with multiple cameras (either three or four, again I don’t remember), so that with each boy, the scene was carefully rehearsed before being committed to tape. If you’ve been following my journey through the creation of DYNASTY, you are aware that Al Corley was the choice to play Steven Carrington. I mention all of this now to stress the point that beyond the main objective to decide who would play Steven, my involvement with this scene was deepened and enriched.

We now fast forward to the morning of April 25, 1980. We were on the Filoli estate. It was the eleventh day of filming OIL (as the project was still named). This was the scene scheduled for filming that day. I had selected the mansion’s awesome, wood paneled library as the room in which I would film it. I had planned my staging and camera coverage even more meticulously than usual. The crew had assembled. Actors Al Corley and Peter Mark Richman were there, made up and in wardrobe. I was excited, eager to start. George Peppard arrived, strode across the room to behind the desk and announced that was where he wanted to start the scene, and he would be smoking a cigar.

It had been a turbulent two weeks, starting with the Shapiro’s dissatisfaction with George’s performance in a scene on our first day of filming, and his resentment because of this! That was followed a couple days later with the Shapiro’s outrage when George rewrote the script for a presentation scene requested by the network! I had a phone call from him just the night before when he read me the telegram he had sent to Tony Thomopolous, the head of ABC programming, ranting about how insulting it had been for his performance in that first day’s dailies to be criticized by the Shapiro’s. He was giggling as he read the message, and I knew he was high. I wondered if his present behavior wasn’t a further in-your-face rebuke to the Shapiro’s, and an assertion that he knew better than they did how the character they had created should be acted. I knew that the Shapiro’s were no longer contacting George. I still needed to have a professional working relationship with him, and if the scenes were not filmed the way I had them annotated in my director’s script, at least they were filmed. I was not going to return to Los Angeles over the weekend without having completed all of the work scheduled on the Filoli estate.

I adjusted my camera coverage to George’s roaming around the room, and I talked privately with Al Corley. I told him, “You know this scene. Remember how you played it in the test? No matter what George does, you play it that way!” Al understood the situation. We got our master shots. We got George’s coverage. Then we started filming Al’s close-ups. I was standing next to George beside the camera as we filmed Al’s first close-up. I heard George say, “If I had known he was going to play it that way, I would have played it differently.” George hadn’t noticed that Al’s playing of Steven was the same way he had been performing in all of the master angles and in the scenes when he was off camera for George’s close-ups.

We fast forward again to early November! I am in the same magnificent room, but I am not in the Filoli mansion. Since DYNASTY was now officially going to be a series, the room had been reproduced on Stage 8 of the 20th Century Fox Studio, and I mean reproduced down to its minutest detail. I was told the art directors took molding impressions of the wood paneling of the room at Filoli and had them reproduced for the studio set. The one minor concession was the room was a few inches smaller. It was our 2nd or 3rd day at the studio after six days on the Filoli estate, and I was getting my final chance at the scene!

Steven was a fascinating character, and Al Corley was brilliantly bringing him to life. Steven was also providing an intriguing mystery to the plot.

The mystery was about to be solved.

Where do I start? FINALLY – the scene not only as I envisioned, but far beyond because of consummate performances by two extraordinarily gifted artists! Beside his performance, Al made what I considered a major contribution to the scene. Way back at the beginning when we rehearsed the scene on the GENERAL HOSPITAL set, at one point in the rehearsal, Al stopped and said to me, “He (the father) should be looking at me.” That was impossible, because at that point the father needed to be looking away. I suggested, “Say that to him.” Al did, he said, “Dad, look at me,” and that was what we taped. I pointed that out to Richard Shapiro when we returned to the studio, and he added the line to the script.

I think Al’s actor’s instinct added a breathtaking, painfully poignant moment to the scene!

The range John Forsythe brought to the role was I think even beyond the conception by the Shapiro’s. He projected the toughness, the oil baron image, but the father’s love for his son, the father’s pain was also there. At the first screening of the completed assemblage for the producers, in the darkened screening room at the conclusion of this scene Aaron Spelling called out to John Woodcock, the film’s editor, “How long was that scene?” John responded, “Seven minutes.” Aaron said, “Amazing!”

On July 11, 1980, when the revised script came out as we were preparing to go back into production, the producers threw another curve at me. A new scene was added to follow the one just viewed.

end

I realized that the conclusion of that scene was the place for another commercial break. But that scene was powerful enough to be the second act closer of a three act play. Why add another scene? As it turned out, it was more important than dealing with a commercial break. That was before Esther Shapiro’s campaign for a three-hour pilot, when the length of the DYNASTY pilot was still set at two hours. That was where the pilot was going to end, and the pilot was not about Steven’s sexual preference. It was about a major event – the wedding of the century! The added scene had to be shot, and it had to top the scene between Blake and Steven.

With Bill Conti’s evocative music, I think it came close. When the three-hour pilot aired, TO BE CONTINUED did not flash on the screen at that point. Only nine years later when the show went into syndication was the original three-hour pilot no longer shown. That was when TO BE CONTINUED was added there. Which reminds me, it’s time for me to write …

To be continued

 

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11 Responses to Dynasty: Part II

  1. John Dayton says:

    Flat out brilliant, Ralph. I do not recall why I was on the 20th lot, but watching that scene had a deep impact on me…you could have heard a pin drop on the set….reminiscent of the ‘green bean scene’ on THE WALTONS.

    I never asked …did ABC resist the homosexual aspect at the time? If they did, I’m pretty Aaron would have gone to the mat for it.

    Thank you, Ralph. I always leave your posts feeling uplifted, remembering there was a time when there was brilliant television…DOWNTON ABBEY in many respects reminds me of DYNASTY.

    • Ralph says:

      I don’t think there was any resistance from ABC. Esther Shapiro had been an executive at ABC, so I’m pretty sure she was aware as she and Richard created the series that there would be no problem.

  2. Gilles says:

    It’s absolutely fascinating to read your memories about the filming of “Dynasty”. You provided so many interesting details that I just don’t know what to comment! The pilot is undoubtedly the best part of the show, not only because of the script top-quality but also because of the way you filmed it. Even 35 years after, it still has the quality of a movie rather than the quality of a tv pilot.

  3. Phil says:

    While watching the opening credits of a 1975 ‘Matt Helm’ episode (below), it hit me that I might have seen that Chinatown street before (0:53 thru 1:03):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMiO64rc_3g

    After reviewing the 5th video with Blake & Krystle, I think I’m right…the same green building with red trim and the big red vertical sign with white Chinese characters. The main difference is that the camera is pointed in the opposite direction. As for that ‘Matt Helm’ episode, it’s got Pamela Bellwood.

  4. zona says:

    I saw Dynasty Ralph when it first came to our screens & loved it. at the time I started watching because I was a huge fan of John Forsythe & I can never imagine anyone else as Blake. the Steven scene was powerful & good to know Al saw John late in his life.

  5. Jörg says:

    Dear Ralph,
    I want to thank you for writing this phantastic memories here for us. I agree with every word Gilles wrote. I always wondered why the Pilot looked so much more like a movie then the rest of the show. Now I finally got all my question answered that I never expected it will happen.
    Many of the fans of dynasty are disapointed about the fact that they never filmed on location at Filoli again. At least they could have done it maybe once every season. ? Dou you know the reasons why? Money could not be a problem after Season 5… ?

    Regards from Germany
    Jörg

    • Ralph says:

      I wish I could answer your question, Jorg, but I really don’t know why they didn’t film again at Filoli. I think money was probably part of it, but beyond that–?????
      Loved the comments you left on my Facebook page today!
      Regards from California
      Ralph

  6. Earline says:

    HI Ralph, I now have proof that “Dynasty” first aired in “November of 1980”. At least the pilot did. Many people believe that it first aired in “1981”. It may have in some areas. I was living in Chicago then. I was very young with three very young children and I was in college. I had taken that “Fall” off. I don’t remember night time television so much from 1980, but I could never forget “Dynasty”. I think I may have come in on it, while flipping through channels. I mostly stuck with the show, coming back to it throughout its run. I’m just happy that I’m not crazy! LOL! And I’m so happy for this article. I can now refer people to this, if someone doesn’t believe me. THANKS!

    • Ralph says:

      Hi Earline: I don’t know what your proof is, but the facts are that I was still filming the pilot in November, 1980.

  7. Earline says:

    HI Ralph, Perhaps I was misunderstood. I saw the Pilot in November of 1980. And then the Pilot along with the rest of season one aired in 1981. I can’t be mistaken. Why, because I kept telling people I had seen the pilot ( at least ) in November of 1980. I had not seen or read this Article before last year. And unless I’m clairvoyant, which I’m not then I saw the Pilot when I said I saw it. In 1981, when “Dynasty” did its full first season run, I happened onto it again, except it was further into the season. It caught me because I recalled those same Actors: John Forsythe, Linda Evans, John James, etc. I don’t tune into a show just because everyone is so beautiful to look at. I tune into a show because it interest me. Even if I hadn’t seen the pilot ( or some of it ) I may have still been interested in the show.

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