Dynasty: Part IV

FILMED April-November 1980

Esther Shapiro in her commentary on the DVD of the DYNASTY pilot related an interesting fact that I didn’t know. I had directed John James when he tested for the role of Steven Carrington. When that role went to Al Corley, John did something unusual and inspired. He arranged a meeting with co-creators Richard and Esther Shapiro, went to their home and spent three hours as a champion of the idea that the role of Jeff Colby, at that point not planned to continue beyond the pilot, would be valuable as an integral member of the continuing series. Furthermore he convinced them that he should be cast in the role. As a result one of the added scenes written to extend the pilot to three hours was a scene between John James as Jeff and Al Corley’s Steven Carrington.

By the time we returned from Filoli in November, very impressive sets for the interior of the Carrington mansion had been erected at 20th Century Fox Studio. For the main floor of the home, Blake‘s library was reproduced to the minutest detail on Stage 8. The connecting long main floor corridor as reproduced was remarkably similar to the one in the mansion in Woodside, as was the high curving stairway, although it had been flopped and curved to the right instead of to the left. I selected a living room set for the added scene between the two men. We blocked the scene, and while the crew was lighting, Al, James and I retreated to the set of Blake’s library to rehearse. We closed the door to keep out the noise of the nearby working crew. Now in designing the sets, changes had been made in the relative locations of the rooms. At Filoli when you came out of the library, directly in front of you was the imposing curving stairway. At the studio when you came out of the library, directly in front of you was the doorway to the living room set we were going to film. When we rose to return for the filming, as I opened the library door, I had a weird moment of complete disorientation. I was standing in the Filoli library. As I crossed through the doorway, to my right was the Filoli long corridor, but there was no curving Filoli stairway in front of me. There was an unfamiliar doorway into a totally unfamiliar room. It took me a moment to reorient and realize that sitting comfortably as we rehearsed in the familiar library, I had transported back to Filoli.

I thought the scene was charming, finely written and very well acted. It added interesting facets to both of the men. But I also thought that if things were reversed. If the scene had been included in the original script, and if the script had been long – it would have been cut without a tear. It did nothing to advance the plot. I knew the scene would be more effective if it could be filmed in a different setting, and I knew what that setting was. The scene would have resonated with added emotional meanings if it was staged in the empty ballroom where the wedding had recently taken place, but that room was in Woodside, and we would have had to stay over Sunday and film it on Monday, which of course was an impossibility. I never even discussed this with producer Phil Parslow. I thought if things went exceptionally well, and I completed the scheduled work more quickly, I could add it at the end of our sixth day. But that was just fantasizing. We filmed it in the living room at the studio, and I added it to the short list of scenes that I wished I could have filmed differently.

The original plan for DYNASTY (or for OIL as it was then known) was to present the two sides of the oil industry – the boardrooms and bedrooms of oil baron Blake Carrington and his family and the oil rigs and kitchen of Matthew Blaisdell and his family. That plan was scuttled after the first season, and it is understandable why. That would have been an impressive panoply to cover in a weekly one-hour television series but difficult to accomplish, But its loss was unfortunate. There was a lot of meaningful drama in the Blaisdell home, and the three actors comprising the Blaisdell family (Bo Hopkins, Pamela Bellwood and Katy Kurtzman) were forty carat gold performers. Isn’t it a shame that their story was not spun off into another series rather than being sent to the dead pilots’ graveyard. Why couldn’t they have had their own show? It could have been called THE BLAISDELLS or FORTY SOMETHING or ALL IN THE BLAISDELL FAMILY.

We left Walter leaving the hospital with a loaded gun. I didn’t have time to follow and film him to keep him in the story, but a second unit took Walter and his Jeep out on the highway and filmed shots that were inserted into the script to keep the plot pulsating and his character alive …

… until he arrived at Filoli.

That sequence was comprised of film shot in both April and November. Obviously the November footage with John Forsythe as Blake was used as was the coverage of the wedding guests and Walter. Walter crashing through the gate was filmed in April, as was the attack by the dogs. I needed to be sure that in the shot immediately preceding the attack by the dogs that Walter looked in the correct direction for a match to bridge from his close-up in November to the April dog attack …

look l>r

… so in November I made sure that at the end of his close-up, Walter was looking camera right to see the dogs leaping at him.

Even with the replacement of John Forsythe, there continued to be drama behind the cameras. There was a moment in the scene in the carriage house when Blake told his attorney to write a check …

… and the attorney (Peter Mark Richman) continued the business of writing a check as the scene continued. After I called “Cut and print,” John came to me. He said, “Did you see what Richman was doing during that scene?” If that scene had continued to be played in the master shot, it would have been a no-no for that activity to be performed while the main actor in the scene was speaking. I assured John I had seen it and was not concerned, because the coverage as the scene continued would be Blake’s close-up with the check writing occurring off-camera.

When I signed in early March to direct OIL, I was also contracted to direct four episodes if the project continued into series. If George Peppard had not been replaced, filming on the pilot would have wrapped on May 24. When the pilot was extended to three hours, the extra hour became the first of my four-episode commitment, and the remaining three episodes would have been completed long before the end of the year. But that was not the way it worked out. We completed filming the pilot on December 1. I was supposed to start prepping the first of my three remaining commitments the following day. I asked to be relieved of that assignment so I could work with the film editor on my director’s cut of the pilot. That was no problem. I then was assigned to what became known as Episode #5. During filming, I received an offer from Norman Rosemont Productions to direct a pilot. I had my agents request that I be released from the additional two commitments, so that I could accept. That was not an unusual request. Years before Michael Anderson Jr. had been cast in an episode I was to direct of 12 O’CLOCK HIGH, when he received an offer to appear in a John Wayne movie. We willingly released him and recast. Later that year Geraldine Brooks had been cast in an episode I was to direct of THE FUGITIVE, when she received an offer to star in a movie, JOHNNY TIGER. We willingly released her and recast. That also happened with director assignments, but in reverse order. Earlier director Jack Shea was contracted to direct an episode of ARREST AND TRIAL, when he received an offer to direct a feature film. He was released, and I replaced him. The DYNASTY release was given to me, but I don’t think happily. I never worked again with the Shapiro’s. I did work again for Aaron Spelling on HART TO HART, but it was the fifth and last season of the show, which had been bought and was then a presentation of Columbia Pictures. It was filmed at the Burbank Studio (formerly the Warner Bros. Studio, which was now jointly owned by Columbia and Warner Bros.). There was no contact then or in the future with Aaron Spelling. And that’s what can be summed up in those famous words, “That’s Show Biz!”

The journey continues

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10 Responses to Dynasty: Part IV

  1. John Dayton says:

    Ralph, was there any hesitation with the gay angle – that was a wrenching scene between Al and John James, and you note it was written over the long break. I find that interesting, the fact the Shapiros approached it head-on.

    I would have loved to have seen the scene between Blake and Steven where Blake confronts Steven regarding his sexuality. I believe it was shot in the dining room? I had stopped by the set, but never saw the scene on film.

    Also, I had forgotten Lily was your Script Supervisor — at the end of every day after everyone else was wrapped you could always count on seeing Lily sitting in her chair, typewriter in lap, typing out the notes for the day. I don’t think there was a Script Supervisor in Hollywood that could have handled the show.

    • Ralph says:

      As far as I knew, there was no hesitation about the gay angle. It there had been, it would have occurred when the script was being written and approved by the network. John, I’m confused about your reference to the scene between Blake and Steven where Blake confronts Steven regarding his sexuality. I don’t remember there being one like that in the dining room — only the BIG one in the library.
      And you are so right about Lily La Cava. (Did you know she was related to the famed director, Gregory La Cava?) I had know Lily FOREVER. My first contact with her was long before CBS. It was my first Christmas in Hollywood, and I was working in a men’s clothing store next to Musso Franks on Hollywood Boulevard for friends of my Aunt and Uncle. Lily had purchased a sweater as a gift for a friend and brought it back for a refund, and there was a bit of a to-do about that. It of course did not include me. I had turned the matter over to the lady who owned the shop. We officially met several years later when I worked on PLAYHOUSE 90 at CBS. I eventually had to remind Lily of our first encounter. It was Lily who recommended me to Father Kieser and resulted in my directing fifteen episodes of INSIGHT for him. The first time we worked together as director and script supervisor was on THE NEW ADVENTURES OF HEIDI. I asked for her, producer Charles Fitzsimons, another who had worked at CBS back in the good old days, knew her and approved. I again requested her for DYNASTY (but back when it was OIL). By then Lilly was one of the esteemed script supervisors in Hollywood, had been the president of their guild, and her asking price was more than our budget allowed for that position. Phil said he would find the money somewhere, he did, and she was a joy to work with — really a collaborator.
      Lily co-owned a home up here on the Central Coast in Pacific Grove. She planned that would be her home after retirement. Some time in the 80’s her friend wanted to sell. Lily called me and asked if I would l buy the co-owner’s share. I had never been to the area and had no thought of ever leaving southern California. I passed, and the house was sold. Years later when I made the rash decision to move to Carmel, I remember Lily saying, “You dog!” I was moving to the area where she had dreamed of spending her final years. But by then she had cancer. There is a stone statue Cupid that sits in the bird bath in my backyard that she sent me as a housewarming. She never got to come visit my home here. Lily died less than a year after I moved to Carmel.

  2. John Dayton says:

    The memory fades with the years — yes, the big scene in the Library, that’s the one

  3. John Dayton says:

    Me again — it’s MY memory that fails — thank you for the background on Lily.

  4. Tony says:

    Great commentary Ralph. Did you all have any indication that when you made the pilot that Dynasty would last for 9 seasons? Also, are you surprised that Al Corley and Pamela Sue Martin, both excellent actors, left the series so early?

    • Ralph says:

      GREAT QUESTIONS! When you ask, ” Did you all…?” Let me say I can only speak for myself. I’m sure the Shapiro’s had hopes it would. I hoped it would succeed, but I had no financial stake in the length of that success. Was I surprised that Al and Pamela Sue left the series so early? Yes! But I am now viewing the continuation of what happened after the pilot. (I was working and didn’t follow it that carefully at the time.) And seeing what was done to the two most original characters in that large cast, NO, I’m not surprised!

  5. Jim says:

    Fascinating as always Ralph – I also really enjoyed Al Corley and Pamela Sue Martin’s performances and was disappointed when they left the series.

    On a different subject, don’t know if you read the New York Times but they have an article on Robert Osborne and in it he mentions that TCM will be having a retrospective of films featuring Beulah Bondi – no time frame but thought you might be interested.

  6. Phil says:

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

    Bo Hopkins has many interviews on Youtube. The one above covers his work in ‘Dynasty’, which included this clip that must have been about the 6th video:

    BH: “When John Forsythe and I…you know, uh…George Peppard and I had good knock-down fight, but I couldn’t hit Forsythe.”

    Interviewer: “That was brutal, that was a bit of a dark moment of the series, I remember that-”

    BH: “Well, yeah, but then I couldn’t hit John, he was too old.”

  7. Philipe Lopez Rocque says:

    Dear Mr Senensky,
    it was a pleasure to read all your comments and memories about your Dynasty experience for the pilot. I was a kid in France when Dynasty was first shown on TV (now I am an adult living in Spain…) and I was impressed, dazzled from the first minute. It is a piece of TV History and it surely is a piece of my History. Thank you so much for sharing all the details of what happened during these months. I loved watching all the scenes with your personal insight. So many years after, it is a privilege to look back to this brilliant filming this way. And now I will take my 1st season DVD again and watch the entire pilot again: great filming, great acting… and I totally agree: Pamela Sue Martin and Al Corley were two pure gems! Sorry you could not collaborate in more episodes. Again, thank you Mr Senensky for this… guilty pleasure and for making our lives more glamourous! My warmest wishes, Philipe Lopez Rocque, Madrid (Spain)

  8. Phil says:

    A recent broadcast on tvconfidential.net includes a 2011 replay of the Shapiros regarding ‘Dynasty’. Richard S. told this story about the 4th video dog attack:

    …and the script says ‘Blake puts the dogs on them’, and John Forsythe said “I’m not putting any dogs on anyone.”

    …when we got into the editing room…there was a shot of John standing on the porch and he just moved his eyes to the left and I said “that it, that’s the signal”…John never forgave me!

    …It was John who brought the decency to a man of power, which was his contribution, and a good one.

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