Perilous Times

FILMED February 1965

Come September 2, 2014, it will be five years since I launched the trek that evolved into this website. As I approach this fifth anniversary, I am recognizing the journey has proved to be so much more than I anticipated. In delving into the past, I have, much of the time, found myself back there, reliving a very special part of my life, but with the realization that I was so fortunately privileged to be a small part of a very special era in entertainment history. But there has been an added dimension. I have found a part of me has been as an observer, viewing the past with an interested and mature objectivity. This has been aided to an enormous extent by the response and Comments from viewers of this website. To cite an example: with their encouragement I was able to finally make my peace (if Gene Roddenberry can split an infinitive, so can I) with my negative feelings for the STAR TREK episodes BREAD AND CIRCUSES, RETURN TO TOMORROW and THE THOLIAN WEB.

There has been another interesting conversion. When I started out on this journey, I knew one of the films I directed was going to be ignored — an episode of CHRYSLER THEATRE, filmed in 1965 guest starring Peter Falk. It was my 30th film in the two years and four months since I became a member of the Directors Guild of America, and at that time I felt like a seasoned veteran. But with Peter Falk I found myself in a situation unlike any that I had experienced. I thought revisiting those sets at Universal Studio would be too painful, and I was uncomfortable with presenting what I knew was an unflattering portrait of Peter. But now with the objectivity that has developed in my five-year Internet trek, I realize that I was part of the problem; I see now that it was my inexperience in dealing with that situation that allowed it to have the emotional impact on me that it had. So without any further comment, let’s proceed to the sands in Malibu, California standing in for a beach in Mallorca, Spain.

Ironically and prophetically the title of the film was PERILOUS TIMES.

Filming began early Monday morning on Stage 30 at Universal Studio. Well filming didn’t actually begin early Monday morning. Cast and crew assembled at that time in a sophisticated New York apartment set, which unfortunately didn’t meet with Peter Falk’s approval. Executive Producer Dick Berg, Producer Richard Collins, the art director, the set dresser and I think a couple of associate producers were summoned to the set. Peter’s character of Bara was based on real life wartime photographer, Robert Capa, and Peter pointed out to the assemblage why the set was wrong for his character. I meanwhile stood helplessly by, knowing there were four sequences totaling 9 pages scheduled for the day, that the show was being filmed at Universal Studio on a six-day schedule, knowing time was being wasted, and all I could do was watch the charade of the set being redressed to Peter’s satisfaction. What no one pointed out was that the set was NOT Capa’s apartment. It was the resident of Paul Lepson, a character being played by Gene Lyons. Lep, as he was called in the script, was also a famous photographer, who was out of town, and Capa was staying in the apartment during his absence.

Peter had won an Emmy in 1962 for his performance in THE PRICE OF TOMATOES, an episode of THE DICK POWELL THEATRE. It would be six more years before his career-defining COLUMBO would take to the airwaves. There was a request, I think it came either from one of Peter’s representatives or was relayed to me through the producer, that I stage all of the scenes involving Peter so that in his close-ups, he would look camera right. At the age of three Peter had his right eye surgically removed due to cancer. That was not problem for me, or at least at the time of the request, I anticipated it would not be a problem.

The scene in the restaurant was five and a half pages long and was filmed on the third day. Frankly I think filming the show at Universal contributed to the problem. One of Universal’s stringent laws was that only one print was allowed for a take. Many times in a long scene an actor might not get every speech right, every reaction as it should be in one long take. That happened with Peter’s close-up. As we were filming multiple takes, the assistant director came to tell me the production office was phoning to ask how much longer it would be to finish the sequence. I told him if we could print Takes 4, 7 and 11, we could quit right now. He returned to the telephone and then came back with their reply: “Print them!”

PERILOUS TIMES was the first time I worked with Diane Baker. Eight months later I would direct her for the second and last time when she guest starred on THE BIG VALLEY. She was (and is) a beautiful lady, and the thing I find most impressive in her acting is her intelligence. Her work as the mother in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS was exemplary. I understand that she teaches drama in San Francisco. The fact that she is not performing more frequently before the cameras is a pox on our current entertainment industry.

My friend John Dayton, a talented writer-producer, left the following Comment on my post for BY FIRES UNSEEN, the BIG VALLEY episode I directed in which she appeared:

While shadowing a director on Fox’s “Lie to Me” last season, I mentioned to one of the plethora of young writer/producers how great it was to see Diane Baker playing a Judge on the show, although a small role, she was, of course, brilliant and beautiful – the young producer said, “Who’s she?”

I did not often receive copies of the memos that the network sent to the producers. Usually the producer would relay on to me those items in the memos they received that pertained to staging. This time I did receive a copy of the memo sent to the producers by the Broadcast Standards Department of NBC. Most of the notes pertain to dialog changes that were made. A scene later in the script where Bara was shot and killed had been eliminated. The suggestion that the following scene be played in the living room rather than in the bedroom was ignored.

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Arlene Dahl was a movie star – a gorgeous movie star. She was an in control actress, totally prepared, perfect line readings, never failed to hit her marks. It’s possible her looks proved a detriment to her career and prevented her from being cast in more demanding roles. I’ve read recently that her never achieved goal was musical comedy.

That was the first time I worked with Nora Marlowe. Our best collaborations would not happen for another decade when I directed her several times as Flossie Brimmer on THE WALTONS. Her last appearance on the series before her untimely death in 1977 was in THE GRANDCHILD, a two-part episode I directed.

Peter was a member of the Actors Studio, having studied there with Lee Strasberg. He was very into The Method. In the few scenes where Bara was seated or lying down at the beginning of the scene and stayed in that position for the duration of the scene, Peter had no objections. But in the other scenes where movement was involved, Peter needed to “find” his own movements, to “feel” them. He would wander in and around fellow actors and furniture, until he felt comfortable with his moves. I want to make clear that Peter was not trying to take over the direction of the scene. Although I was annoyed at the added time this took and my feeling that it really wasn’t necessary, I was able to accommodate and make the necessary adjustments in my camera coverage, except in one instance – in the second scene of the next clip.

When Peter came out of the kitchen, he ended up sitting on the sofa. He was playing the scene with Gene Lyons, who was camera left of him, which meant in Peter’s close-up he would be looking camera left …

peter

… not according to the request that had been made of me at the start to have Peter in his close-ups looking camera right because of his right glass eye. I only shrugged my shoulders. Peter could not object to his close-up looking camera left.

On the sixth day of filming when I camera blocked the last shot in the previous scene of Helen and Lep discovering Bara crouched on the floor, hiding from the photos on the wall, Peter had an objection. He wanted to be found in some other place. I had accommodated him for five days. I had thought if it helped his performance to do it his way, I would adjust. But the impact of the last shot in the scene was purely visual. I was not in an accommodating mood. I told him he could be wherever he wanted — that was where the camera was going to be, and I left the set until the scene was lit.

The packing scene was half a page. It should have been rehearsed, lit and filmed in half an hour. I remember so clearly my frustration as I watched Peter at the bureau. As he took items from the drawer he turned clockwise to come to the bed. Then he returned to the bureau and did the same business turning counterclockwise. This was the final scene to be filmed on our final day. The crew sat quietly waiting to do their job to wrap the production. The assistant director on the show was Wallace Worsley Jr. He was truly a part of Hollywood. His father, Wallace Worsley, had been a silent film director and amongst many credits had in 1923 directed the film classic, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME starring Lon Chaney. Then breaking the hush, from some far corner of the soundstage we heard a couple of the crew quietly chuckling. In one of the most totally defining moments I can remember, Wallace in a loud, unemotional voice called out, “There will be no levity. This is not a happy set.”

The amazing thing for me is that as I view the film now, I see no evidence of the problems that prevailed during production. What also occurs to me is the personal wish the anthology format had not been banished from the networks’ schedules. What would our programming look like today if the goal back then had been to continue to provide the far-reaching stories possible in that genre? And finally I land on the side of the ladies. I think Diane Baker gave a beautiful, illuminating performance in a beautifully written role. Why has Diane and her many talented sisters been relegated to the supporting status that has been their lot?

The journey continues

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11 Responses to Perilous Times

  1. Jim says:

    Another extremely enjoyable article Mr Senensky. I think all your loyal readers are very glad your recollections have provided you a second chance to review and reassess your very distinguished portfolio – but it’s really us, your readers, who benefit the most – and this post is a great example of that.

    Diane Baker – whether playing Richard Kimble’s demure girlfriend, a malevolent alien on The Invaders, or a real mermaid on Route 66, her performances were always pitch perfect. She, and all the other great actors and actresses who appeared on episodic TV in the 60s and 70s are for many of us, like members of an extended family, since they were in our homes so frequently. Your insightful comments really help us understand who they are as people, in addition to the characters we saw them perform. And for those of us who are outside the entertainment industry, your comments on the “nuts and bolts” of making a television episode are always fascinating.

    We are enjoying being guests on your trek, as much, if not more, than you are………

    • Ralph says:

      You have just reminded me of something. I almost worked with Diane Baker two years earlier. I was scheduled to direct the mermaid show in which she guest starred. I did not know at the time who was going to guest star in the film. I was very tired after completing filming NARCISSUS ON AN OLD RED FIRE ENGINE in Texas. I asked if I might go directly to Florida rather than return to Los Angeles before traveling to the location.When that request was denied, I bowed out of the commitment. Which turned out to be to my advantage. I then was reassigned to direct COLOR SCHEMES LIKE NEVER BEFORE, the best NAKED CITY script (by Alvin Sargent) which was assigned to me. Actually it wasn’t an assignment — it was a gift. A belated thank you, Alvin Sargent.

      • Jim says:

        I just went back and re-watched COLOR SCHEMES LIKE NEVER BEFORE – you’re right – it was a great show – Lou Antonio and Carroll Rossen were fabulous – and a superb story by Alvin Sargent.

        And I certainly agree with your comment in the ALIVE AND STILL A SECOND LIEUTENANT post; “I think there is no direction you can point a camera in New York and not get a wonderful shot”………

  2. Ralph says:

    MY friend, Burton Budd Moss, former Hollywood agent and current Hollywood personal manager, sent me an e-mail regarding this post. With his permission I am reprinting it here:

    AHHHHH..MY BEAUTIFUL DIANE BAKER WITH ‘EYES THAT ARE FULL OF FOUNTAINS’.. WHAT AN OPENING SHOT ON THE BEACH AND THOSE CLOSE-UP’S…..

    DIANE WAS ONE OF MY MOST SPECIAL CLIENTS YEARS AGO.

    I WILL NEVER FORGET WHEN SHE WAS UP FOR THE PILOT OF ‘TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN’ AT FOX WITH CLIFF ROBERTSON, WHEN DAVID TEBET FROM NBC CALLED ME AND SAID, DON’T TAKE ‘TREE’..WE ARE READY TO MAKE A FIRM OFFER FOR HER TO STAR IN ‘LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE’..

    AFTER READING THE SCRIPT SHE CALLED ME AND SAID, “BUDD..DO YOU THINK I WOULD WANT TO SIT ON A FU**&&^^*((^%$ ING COVERED WAGON EACH WEEK WITH THE DUST, HORSE SMELLS AND A LOT OF KIDS..WHY SHOULD I DO THIS………….?

    NEEDLESS TO SAY, ‘TREE’ WENT INTO THE TRASH CAN BEFORE THE PILOT WAS EVER AIRED..

    GREAT FILM AND FOND MEMORIES OF ANOTHER ONE OF MY LEADING LADIES… XOXO

  3. Jan Wahl says:

    Absolutely loved this Trek! It is so rare to have a Director tell the whole story about an actor and challenging moments. Falk was in a movie with Charles Durning called Happy New Year..he was a kick..especially in drag! The description of Diane Baker was wonderful. I have been fortunate to meet her in San Francisco. She is gracious and gorgeous…some women just get more beautiful! The details and visuals of talented Ralph..what a gift to all of us.

  4. GMJ says:

    I understand Bob Hope hosted Chyrsler Theatre. Did he have any say over the anthology show’s creative content? Did you every have a chance to meet Mr. Hope?

    I’ve had a chance to view a few Chrysler Theatre programs, including the one you directed. It’s a shame that anthologies are not being produced these days. Thanks again for the posts.

    • Ralph says:

      As far as I know, Bob Hope had no involvement in the films being produced for CHRYSLER THEATRE. Did I ever meet Mr. Hope? No — but your question reminds me of something from my distant past. When I was still a student at the Pasadena Playhouse, one of my uncles told me that he knew Bob Hope, and that when I graduated and was ready, he would arrange an introduction for me. I didn’t take him up on his offer at the time of my leaving the Playhouse, but four years later after I had spent three years in Community Theatre and a season in professional stock, I decided I was ready. I went to him and reminded him of his offer. Nothing happened. End of that part of the story! The journey continued.

  5. Gilles says:

    I’m a french man who is delighted to have discovered this blog! It’s really fascinating to be able to read the memories of such a famours director! I hope you’ll make a post about the pilot of “Dynasty” (“oil”) that you shot twice (with George Peppard and then with John Forsythe).
    For your information, I do have the shooting schedule of the second version (bought on Ebay).
    Katy Kurztman was interviewed last year about her work on “Dynasty” and she said a few interesting things about you and the crew. She also had kind words about you : http://youtu.be/KPPjz7QVhtM?t=2m41s

  6. Gilles says:

    Great news! 😀

  7. Phil says:

    Someone posted a few eps. of this series on Youtube last month. Two of them (“It’s Mental Work” and “White Snow, Red Ice”) are B&W recordings that include the opening titles with Bob Hope sitting in a director’s chair next to a camera…followed by his introductory monologues. “White Snow, Red Ice” also has a preview at the end for the following week’s episode, “Her School for Bachelors”. Two of its stars handled this, Eva Marie Saint and Bob Hope. Per IMDB, Mr. Hope acted in six eps. of this series.

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