Hit And Run

Filmed March/April 1977

When THE WALTONS debuted on television in 1972, it created an outpouring of series centered on family lives. Lorimar, the producer of THE WALTONS, contributed to the floodgate in 1974 when their production of APPLE’S WAY debuted for a two-season run. They tried again and more successfully in 1977 when EIGHT IS ENOUGH debuted midseason for a five-season run. I got aboard that time.

There were two reasons (beyond the employment) that I was eager to accept an assignment on the series. Robert Jacks was producing. Jacks had produced the first four seasons of THE WALTONS, and I had directed six shows for him, and Diana Hyland was starring as the mother of the eight. I had directed Diana in 1964 in WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS on THE FUGITIVE, and later in the early seventies, I directed her in episodes of THE FBI, DAN AUGUST and BANYON. However there was a surprise awaiting me at the studio when I reported.

Did you notice something missing? Jacks told me that Diana was not currently working.

She had appeared in the pilot and three episodes, when she discovered she had cancer. The series was currently keeping her character alive by having the mother away, but phoning home each week. He told me a sound team had been going to her home and recording her end of the telephone conversations for each episode.

Did we actually break a church stained glass window? I don’t think so. Don’t forget, this was being filmed on a television budget, not feature film. I had planned and filmed an establishing shot to be used before Tom, Willie Aames’ character, fired the fatal pellet.

bullseye

The first part of that shot (the can backed by the sky) was used, and then the final frames (the zoom into the window) was edited in as the point of view of the boys looking up at the window. The busted window was created on the film at the lab in postproduction.

The duties of the scriptperson are infinite. They keep track of every shot filmed: scene number, take number and length of time of shot. They log the takes to be printed. They are the final responsibility for “matching”: wardrobe, props, actors’ physical actions et al. And they are the final check that dialog is spoken as written in the script. That is why the error in the previous scene is so unusual. Here is the script:

phone

Mary addressed the caller as “Mr. Brown.” Should I have caught the error? Many times I would have, but this was the first scene I was filming on my first day of a new series for me. The error could have been caught later in the editing room or the screening room where the producers viewed it. The actress playing Mary was a regular on the series. She could have wild-lined the speech on the set, and it could have been dubbed in during postproduction.

Tommy’s problem was problem #1 for this episode.

Where did those kids get it? Little Adam Rich was like a clone of Danny Bonaduce of THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY. Adam was blond and 8, and Danny had red hair and was 10 the first time I worked with him, but they both were remarkably focused actors for kids so young. And both of them had remarkable comedy timing.

HIT AND RUN was the third time I worked with Willie Aames (Tommy). In 1974 I cast him in THE BEGUILED on THE WALTONS, and later that year I cast him as the one Caucasian adopted child in THE FAMILY NOBODY WANTED. Posts of both productions can be accessed through the archival index to the left of this column.

That was the foundation for problem #2.

You know, we didn’t dent the fender. Some red shards of glass from Joanie’s car on the ground and a little dark paint sprayed on the fender of Blair’s car accomplished the deed. That was our problem #3, the major problem for the episode, with all of them needing to be resolved in forty-seven minutes.

When I directed my first episode of THE WALTONS, I remember spending a lot of time in prep on the 7 kids. I knew Richard Thomas; I had directed him the year before in an episode of THE FBI, but I needed to know who of the other six actors played which of the other six children. I was facing the same problem on HIT AND RUN. I knew Willie Aames; I had directed him twice before. But there were seven more. The other two boys did not present a problem; there was a big spread of age between Grant Goodeve (David) and Adam Rich (Nicholas). But there were five girls, and to me they all seemed to be about the same age. Since I only directed one episode, I never did get them totally sorted out – well, I did one of them, which I will discuss later.

That was my first time working with Peter Coffield. I thought his approach to this role was intense, humorless — in a word, he was not charming. When I asked him to lighten up, to smile, he confided something to me. An acting teacher in his earlier years had told him NEVER TO SMILE. She told him his smile was unattractive. I convinced him that had been a ridiculous instruction, and it pointed out to me the dangers and harm that can be caused by bad acting teachers. He lightened up, he was charming, and he was NOT unattractive.

HIT AND RUN was the first of three films in which I directed Molly Dodd, (Mother Superior), but it was not the first time we worked together. I met Molly in 1954 when I did the lighting for a production of THE ROSE TATTOO at the Players Ring Theatre in Hollywood. Molly played one of Serafina’s Italian neighgbors. She later acted in stage productions I directed; first in 1958 she played one of the prostitutes in THE ICEMAN COMETH at Gilmor Brown’s Playbox at the Pasadena Playhouse, and in 1960 she appeared on the main stage of the Pasadena Playhouse in a production of THE GOLDEN FLEECING.

In 1978 I directed Molly in two films: She again played a Mother Superior in THE NEW ADVENTURES OF HEIDI, and she appeared in a film that I don’t discuss, but I think I will now because of the unusual circumstances revolving around her role. Molly played Olive Glover, a member of the PTA board and one of the recipients of the revenge doled out by Stella Johnson, played by Barbara Eden. The revenge? To have a truckload of manure dumped on her. The executive producer thought we should dump real horse manure on Olive. He said it would be great publicity; that Molly would be able to go on talk shows and relate the experience. I said absolutely not. He kept pressing the point of the great publicity it would generate, but I was adamant. When I told Molly of his suggestion, she was indignant and agreed with me. She said there was the danger of possible infection, and she absolutely wouldn’t do it. Came the day of filming the sequence, and as preparations were being made to shoot, I didn’t see the truck that was going to dump it on her. I asked the executive producer where it was. He was very evasive in answering. I finally got him to admit he was going to have manure added to the hay and debris that had been loaded on the truck. I think I went ballistic. I demanded the truck be brought to the set immediately and without the manure. It was, and I was assured horse manure had not been added. But that didn’t stop the producer. Publicity for the show claimed the dung or “poop” was from the 10th triple-crown horse, Seattle Slew. Seattle Slew won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes in 1977.

The rooms of the first floor of the Bradford house were all connected in one giant set. I decided I wanted to do a continuous shot that went through every room, and I had just the scene that could be done that way. But because of the doorways and the speed with which I wanted to do the shot, doing it with a crab dolly was not an option, and it would be another year before I would be able to use a steadicam. I discussed it with director of photography Richard Rawlings, and we worked it out.

That shot was one minute and twelve seconds. The camera operator was seated in a wheelchair, hand holding the camera. The dolly grip actually was pulling backward for most of the shot, and as you noticed, they were really moving. Director of photography Richard Rawlings and I had a long history together, starting fourteen years earlier when he photographed the first film I directed in color – A HERO FOR OUR TIMES on SUSPENSE THEATRE.

HIT AND RUN was the second time I worked with Dick Van Patten, and he was another of those show biz wonders like Mickey Rooney and Bill Quinn who seemed to have been born in a trunk. He made the first of his 27 Broadway appearances at the age of 7. I cannot count the number of film appearances (movie and tv) he has made since his debut in those media at the age of 21. And it sure must run in the genes. I would say it is rampant. Dick has relayed those genes on to his three sons. I worked with his youngest, Vincent, five years before I worked with Dick when Vincent appeared in an episode of NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR. The first time I worked with Dick was on WELCOME HOME, an episode of INSIGHT. That was in 1975, the same year I worked with Vincent again when he was one of THREE FOR THE ROAD. I never got to work with Dick’s younger sister, Joyce, but she too has been just as prolific. And Dick could play anything – drama or comedy. His was one of the standout performances in a production of William Inge’s PICNIC at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.

I was very impressed with both Laurie Walters and Grant Goodeve, so that a few months later when I was directing an episode of INSIGHT (I WANT TO DIE), I cast the two of them to again play brother and sister, but in a much darker, starkly dramatic story.

I could have done without the laugh track, there and everywhere!

During my prep period, Robert Jacks gave me Diana Hyland’s phone number and I called her. She sounded fine. We exchanged pleasantries; I told her how disappointed I was that she wasn’t going to be available to appear in the episode I was directing. I wished her well.

Diana Hyland died a couple of days after I spoke to her, a day or so before I commenced filming. She was 41 years old.

Robert Jacks had told me they were sending a sound crew to her home to record her telephone call home each episode, but there was no scene written in HIT AND RUN of a call from mother. I did not see any of the previous scripts in which a call would have been made, so I don’t know if those scripts included such a scene. I wonder if the production company might have been sending the sound crew for Diana’s emotional benefit. I like to think so. So how about a little curtain call of an opening billboard that only played three times, but might have been.

diana

The journey continues

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16 Responses to Hit And Run

  1. Ralph Senensky says:

    If I had been able to direct Diana in an episode of EIGHT IS ENOUGH, it would have been such a different experience. The four shows we did together were so much darker. I never got to direct Diana in a scene where she was smiling like in that picture.

  2. Vinnie Vinson says:

    Hello, Ralph. This Iowa lad has a question about doors on TV and movie sets. I’ve noticed that the interior doors on old shows like “Dennis the Menace” touch the floor on the inside. On some shows, like “Two and a Half Men,” the doors seem to end about an inch above the floor. I even notice that in “Breaking Bad.” When Walter White was hiding out in the cabin, the fake snow was coming in from under the set door, which didn’t touch the floor. I don’t understand why the doors are so unconvincing. One person had the theory that it eliminated the possibility of an actor tripping. What’s your take?

    Thanks,

    VV, planetiowa@hotmail.com

    • Ralph says:

      Hi Vinnie: I”m afraid this Iowa lad doesn’t have an answer to your question. I not only don’t understand about the doors in today’s television sets, I understand little of what’s coming off the screens of today’s television sets.

  3. John Dayton says:

    Speaking of doors, that door that divided the back area from Dick’s Office and had a window in it — only there was no window because of glare. Ralph, I don’t know if you recall but that was me in the b.g. – and the student playing the scene with Joannie — back to the door — with no glass in it — Dick was forever resting his hand on the frame, therefore putting his hand through the glass — I remember not being able to stop laughing!

    The pilot was shot by our WALTONS crew — we were on Stage 26, EIGHT IS ENOUGH on Stage 27 — Mark Hamill (STAR WARS) had Grant Goodeve’s role. When the series got picked up, poor Mark had to go face to face with Lorimar Execs and ABC. The word had gotten around that STAR WARS might be a nice little feature. Both Mark and Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) kept us up on the bru-ha-ha. Carrie’s Uncle BILL REYNOLDS was our Make-up man on the WALTONS. Mark let me take the STAR WARS script home to read over a weekend (I couldn’t make heads nor tail of it) and Mark decided to go for STAR WARS. I can only imagine the war between Lorimar/ABC – I do recall ABC threatening to cancel EIGHT IS ENOUGH if they couldn’t have Mark – but they backed down and our WALTONS crew was called in to re-cast and they ended up with Grant Goodeve, he was wonderful. We also found ourselves doing screen tests with just about every available woman in town to replace Diana, a tough, tough job. Betty Buckley got the job. not known for her friendliness. One one episode which Harry Harris was directing they got into a little disagreement on how to play a scene and Betty jumped into nearby swimming pool thereby ruining her had, makeup and wardrobe. Harry came to our set (“You won’t believe what she’s done now.”) and settled down with a cup of coffee while Ms. Buckley dried off.

    I didn’t mean to write an Epistle here, but after all these years it’s fun to look back — I recall you gave me a nice close-up on “Hit and Run” – I think it hit the Editing Room floor.

    • Ralph says:

      I had forgotten that you were on camera. But I knew you were at Lorimar and hoped you would add some additional comments; they’re always so informative and colorful. And yes, I had heard about Miss Buckley. And now that you’ve mentioned it, I had been looking at the rehearsal scene on my computer small frame. I’ve just looked at it full screen, and I can definitely see it was you. I like that scene. I think Laurie Walter, especially in the back lit close-up is very Tennessee Williams. She would have make a great Laura in GLASS MENAGERIE.

  4. GMJ says:

    Re: The Laugh Track

    I agree with you on the use (or misuse) of a laugh track. Who decided that a laugh track was needed? The producers? The network executives?

  5. Phil says:

    Ralph, it looks like your copy of “Hit and Run” has the wrong ending credits (18th video).

    What would I do without Google Maps?! The church (3rd video) is in North Hollywood…the façade is the same, but the overgrown bushes have been replaced by well-manicured landscaping. The ‘Erwin St’ sign is now attached to the top of a stop sign; Willie’s pole is gone.

    According to Dick Van Patten in his American TV Archive interview, he tested for the part of Tom Bradford and didn’t get it. But, after shooting one day on the pilot with another actor (he can’t remember who it was), Fred Silverman told them scrap everything and get DVP (“he was better, he makes you laugh”).

    Yes, Danny Bonaduce was good, but in terms of star power, NO ‘70s child actor was bigger than Adam Rich. Even people who didn’t watch ‘EIE’ (like me) knew who Adam Rich was. Even if you didn’t know his name, you knew there was a little mop-top phenomenon on TV…he was HUGE! That’s why it was especially shocking when his private life went over the cliff in the ‘80s.

    • Ralph says:

      Regarding the credits, I have viewed all of the episodes of Season One, and they all carry the same end credits. That may have been contractual.

  6. detectivetom says:

    Was not the ice cream man, Frank Cady, he of Mr. Drucker fame in Petticoat Junction and Green Acres? As well as movies of course. I missed his name in the ending credits.

    • Ralph says:

      That was indeed Frank Cady, and the reason you missed his name in the end credits was because it wasn’t there. Read about the end credits in the Comment above. I still don’t understand the situation.

  7. Phil says:

    Ralph, you got your signals crossed on the Van Patten clan. It’s Vincent you worked with on two different shows. James did many shows in the ’70s, but not as many as Vincent.

  8. Mike says:

    I’ve read elsewhere that ABC actually didn’t back down re: Mark Hamill. They had a meeting with him and told him that that were holding him to the contract. Driving home from the meeting, he got into a bad car accident and badly injured his face. Filming was supposed to commence just a few weeks later, so his part was recast after all.

    Re: First season opening credits. Originally, the opening with Ms. Hyland was used for all those episodes, even those episodes in which she did not appear (in several of those, she had a voiceover). When ABC reran those first-season episodes during the summer of 1977, they only reran the episodes in which she did not appear, and pasted the new “pyramid” opening onto it. They did this to get the audience used to the show without her. The excised the phone call scenes and in some cases shot new material to replace them. They also had to recreate the closing credits over the shot of the family in their “pyramid” and they got sloppy – that’s why you sometimes see the wrong guest stars listed. Unfortunately, those summer 1977 edits are generally what have rerun in syndication and been released on DVD, not the original versions.

  9. John Dayton says:

    So it’s a year later since my above comment. I’ve just gone through the blog again and felt like it was my first time. Alas, during this time we lost Dick Van Patten.
    Ralph, how about sharing your HARPER VALLEY PTA experience with us – you give it a glancing blow in the “dumping the manure on Molly Dodd” revelation here.
    You’ve been very up-front about your not-so-positive experiences, so why not tell us about HARPER VALLEY? I see you are listed as uncredited, your choice I assume. But after all it couldn’t be worse than THE THOLIAN WEB, or could it? And if so, we deserve to know.

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