End Of A Hero

FILMED September 1971

After I published my last post, A SECOND LIFE, I decided that since I had written about thirteen of the sixteen episodes I directed of THE FBI, it was time to move on. But then I learned that Zimmy (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) had died, and I decided this was not the time to close up shop – this is the time to continue remembering. So fasten your seat belts, and let’s go commit a robbery.

The opening scene with the brazen breaking of the jewelry store window for the robbery was filmed on the New York Street of Warner Brothers backlot, but the backlot did not give us what was needed to complete the sequence. The only place in the immediate area to film cars racing through a busy metropolitan business district would have been downtown Los Angeles, but we could never have secured the permits to stage what ended up in our final film. So a day was scheduled to film in Long Beach, where we were able to secure the required permits, and with stuntmen behind the steering wheels, I got my shots of cars speeding through busy traffic. To my utter amazement, there were no police officers controlling traffic as we filmed. Even more amazing and thankfully, there were no accidents. While in Long Beach we also filmed the continuing chase through a more industrial area, and (I’m almost positive) the car racing across the bridge. The more rural area with the roads leading to the warehouse where the car was stashed and the field where the helicopter waited was filmed on another day. Finally the scenes involving dialogue of the two criminals in the moving car were filmed on yet another day, when we shot in process on Stage 3 at the Warner Brothers Studio. The more than forty camera setups that made up that four minute forty-five seconds sequence were filmed on four different days.

I had filmed scenes with helicopters before, but never as extensively as in this production, and I was always on the ground with the choppers flying above me. As you will soon see, this would be my first time flying in the helicopter with the cameraman as he filmed.

In person Efrem Zimbalist exuded a warm, intelligent, and very elegant charm These qualities had been utilized very effectively by the Warner Brothers Studio the preceding six seasons, when he starred in the highly successful 77 SUNSET STRIP. I was amused when I recently read an old interview with Zimmy, when he spoke of those years under contract to the studio. He said that although he was less than thrilled with the role of detective Stu Bailey, he was grateful he had not been put into a western series. He was however pleased to be cast as Lewis Erskine in THE FBI, and J. Edgar Hoover and the ABC network should have been ecstatic to have him headlining the series.

That was the first and only time I worked with Ed Nelson. Ed is another in that vast army of performers who might not be known today, despite the fact that his very successful career spanned close to half a century. His list of credits is endless. He appeared in more than fifty motion pictures and hundreds of stage productions. He guest starred on almost every successful television series. Between the years 1964-1969 he appeared in 436 episodes of PEYTON PLACE. And yet that elusive superstardom didn’t come. Why? I’ve asked the question before about so many like Ed –extremely talented, attractive and deserving people, and again my answer is: I really don’t know.

This was the third time I worked with Lee Meriwether, and all within the space of a year. She appeared in THE SEVEN MINUTE LIFE OF JAMES HOUSEWORTHY on INSIGHT and as Walter Pidgeon’s daughter in THE LAW on DAN AUGUST. Two years later we would work together again when she was Buddy Ebsen’s daughter-in-law on BARNABY JONES. Lee was a beauty, both physically and in talent. She won the Miss America pageant in 1955, the first year the event was televised. The thing that impressed me about Lee was that as an actress she didn’t rely on her beauty. In fact in this production she downplayed it, she deglamorized herself with an unattractive hairdo. But mostly she was a gutsy actress.

James McCallion was another versatile actor like Mickey Rooney and Bill Quinn who was almost born in a trunk and then appeared in every phase of show business – well almost every phase, I don’t think he worked in a circus. He made his Broadway debut at the age of nine in a play with Irene Dunne. He acted on radio. In Hollywood he was a prolific supporting actor, under contract at various times to RKO, Warner Brothers and Universal. In television he guested on almost every television series and starred in MGM’s NATIONAL VELVET. He had recently appeared for me in DEATH CHAIN on DAN AUGUST. I knew Jimmy and his wife, Nora Marlowe, socially. I had also directed Nora, but our most successful collaboration was still in the future, when she became Mrs. Brimmer on THE WALTONS.

The metropolitan skyline with the tall building as seen through the window was Denver, Colorado. Of course we were not going to go to Denver to film that building. You’ll see in just a bit how we brought that building to the west coast.

END OF A HERO was a caper film. In most caper films the emphasis was on the detailed activity of the crimes to the exclusion of the personal story of the criminal. To their credit, the producers of THE FBI (Charles Larson followed by Philip Saltzman) still managed to include those bits of humanity in their scripts. I think that’s why actors were so eager to appear on the series. That’s why I like to direct there (and let’s forget about THE DEATH WIND); good roles attracted good actors. SIDE NOTE: Because her character only appeared in one set, Lee Meriwether’s fine performance in END OF A HERO was completed in only two days of the nine-day shoot.

There is an old Hollywood quote that goes something like this: “A tree’s a tree, a rock’s a rock. Shoot it in Griffith Park.” When it came to filming our Denver tall building, we might have added: “A building’s a building; shoot it in Century City.” Because that’s what we did! Our first shot when we reported that morning was:

We were on the roof of one tall building with the camera, communicating by radio with one of the assistant directors on the ground, who was cuing the two actors to cross and enter the building across the way, as we were also communicating with the pilot in the helicopter so the chopper would be arriving at its correct position in the sky when our camera tilted up. Again I was amazed, as I had been in Long Beach with the speeding cars, that we were doing what we were doing. This shot ended up not being completed in Take One. It took four or five tries before the timing worked out so that the actors on the ground, the helicopter in the air and the camera on the roof all coordinated to deliver the 14-second shot I wanted. Each time we missed, the actors had to return to their original position, and the chopper had to circle back to its starting place for another attempt. With the helicopter flying fairly low as it circled over Century City, there was concern that authorities might become aware of our activities and stop us. But they didn’t, and we finally got our shot.

Although it looked like Ed Nelson was piloting the helicopter, he wasn’t. On the shots inflight showing all three men, the chopper was not flying. It was on the ground, sitting on a raised platform, with the camera filming from below to see the rotor blade revolving with a clear blue sky above. That was also the way the inflight close-ups of Ed and the two-shots of Kaz Garas and Joe Hindy were filmed. For the shots of Ed inflight circling the Century City buildings, Ed’s hands were on the control stick, but a pilot in the co-pilot seat our of camera range was the one flying the chopper.

Because this was a Quinn Martin Production, the schedule was made to film the script, not an unrealistic fantasy ruled by the budget. Two days preceding the seven-day schedule were assigned as “2nd Unit.” The first of those two days was the day at Century City. The second was for all of the inflight sequence from the time the helicopter left Century City until it landed for the final arrest and epilog in Big Rock Canyon. As reported above I directed the Century City sequences on the first 2nd unit day. The second day was memorable –both pleasantly and unpleasantly. It was exciting because I spent the entire day in the air. It was a whole new adventure for me. But there was a minor glitch. The pilot of the helicopter I was flying in was also a 2nd unit director, and he was not happy that he was not directing. We got through the day, and I got most of what I wanted.

The next day we commenced with principal photography. And where did we start? At Big Rock Canyon, where I filmed the ending of a show I had not yet filmed.

The journey continues

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8 Responses to End Of A Hero

  1. Jim says:

    Mr Senensky,

    Great article and episode. I share your sadness on the passing of Efrem Zimbalist Jr. I also happen to be a very big fan of Ed Nelson – another “always gave a great performance” actor – I thought he brought just the right amount of strength and compassion to his role of Dr Rossi on Peyton Place, and was a key reason for the success of that series.

    Looking forward to seeing the remaining two of your FBI shows……..

  2. Jeff Burr says:

    Hey Ralph, great post as usual. Do you have any memories of working with Kaz Garas? I always liked him in the Henry Hathaway movie THE LAST SAFARI, and he starred in a TV series in England called THE STRANGE REPORT. Did you cast him or was it a Quinn martin decision? And that tilt up/zoom from the guys walking into the building to the helicopter was GREAT!! I could feel you and the AD sweating after each take!

    • Ralph says:

      I really don’t have any memories of working with Kaz. There were no problems. I don’t remember how his name came up. I think Bert Remsen was casting at that time and he was either suggested by him or John Conwell.

  3. Scott Weaber says:

    Ed Nelson is truly a houshold face from his work on TV shows such as “Boris Karloff’s Thriller”, “Barnaby Jones” and my personal favorite, “The Rockford Files”. I hope that actors such as Ed know how much audiences around the globe appreciate their work.
    Fortunately, some of that communication is happening via Facebook, where you can locate these wonderful people who worked so long and hard to entertain. For example, many of the actors from “The Walton’s”, “Hawaii Five-0”, “Alice”, etc., are communicating with their fans. It’s a great feeling for both the fan and actor, especially for the so-called secondary cast, to know that the are appreciated. Thank you Ralph.

  4. Mark Swartz says:

    Mr. Senensky, I too was sad to hear of the passing of Mr Zimbalist, Jr — it was easy to see that he was a fine gentleman — I’m glad he enjoyed such a long life. I thought you might get a kick out of a couple of video’s that I posted on Youtube. One is a rework of the first season opening and credits where I created a widescreen version and remastered the sound – use headphones for the best expience. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGE1QADkpVE The other is a breakdown of the first season credits where I used photo forensics to show the filming locations. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9Bn7QLoXCw Again, thanx for creating this site. Mark Swartz

  5. Mark Speck says:

    Regarding the scene where they apprehend Richmond Tate (William Bryant)…I always wondered…why is it every time a scene is set near a pool, the crook and the lawmen almost always invariably end up in the pool?

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