The Scavengers: Part II

FILMED November 1978

During its first two season on the air as a regular series, when the format was a continuing story week to week, HOW THE WEST WAS WON started each episode with a lengthy recap of the story so far. Well I’m not going to do that here. For new viewers who missed my post on the first part of THE SCAVENGERS and for those who viewed it but want to refresh their memory, it is very easy to navigate to that post and read and see what happened. I’m just going to say Clay has proposed marriage to Molly earlier, and she is in her room contemplating her decision.

THE SCAVENGERS was an unusual reunion for me. I had worked with director of photography Edward R. Plante a dozen years before when he was the camera operator for William Spencer on the seven episodes of THE FBI that Billy photographed with me, before he left to perform the same function on Quinn Martin’s theatrical film, THE MEPHISTO WALTZ. Ed went with him. Checking the IMDB I see that the following year Ed moved up to director of photography on THE WILD WILD WEST. He too photographed color with the cross lighting of black and white cinema. He too painted with his lights. His photography showed that he paid attention during the time he spent with Spencer.  And in that distant past that was the way great cameramen were created.

I was concerned as we prepared to film the next sequence. I remembered what Katy had told me when we worked together on THE NEW ADVENTURES OF HEIDI. I was fascinated with the remarkable concentration and emotional involvement of that twelve-year old, and I asked her how she approached doing a scene. Her answer was brief and simple: “I just believe.” What we were about to do was pretty heavy material. Lee DeBroux (Larch) was very sympathetic and cooperative as we carefully rehearsed and then filmed.

In the first post of THE SCAVENGERS I wrote about the make-up room antic I set up for Jack Stauffer, but after checking with Jack, I realize my facts were a little distorted. So in the interest of veracity and also because the real facts are far more amusing, let me retell it correctly. Jack had been hired to play Lieutenant Bojay in an episode of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, and in that original script Bojay was killed. Jack told me that as they got down to the last couple of days of filming, he was summoned to producer Glenn Larson’s office. Glenn told him that everyone connected with the show was delighted with his performance, and that he wanted to add Bojay as a permanent character. The scene where Bojay was killed would be changed to his just being wounded, and a scene would be added of his being brought back to the ship and put in the hospital. In that there was only one more two-part episode left to shoot in the first season, he would do some rewrites and add Bojay to that script. Then during hiatus he and Jack’s agent would finalize a contract making Bojay a permanentcharacter for the second season.

A few days later a script was messengered to Jack of the two-part WAR OF THE GODS, the last two-hour BSG episode. I ‘m going to let Jack tell the next part of the story:

“I ripped open the envelope and there I was on page one — Bojay flying in his Viper. Danger approaches. Looks like a great aerial combat scene. I rise to the challenge, spewing great Glen Larson dialogue at my foe. On page eight a blinding light appears behind me and envelops my fighter, leaving only darkness behind. I thumb through the pages of the script. Where the hell is Bojay? For 102 pages the rest of the cast battles to save the universe. On the last page Dirk Benedict says “Hey, where’s Bojay?” and I walk back out of the light. SOME STARRING ROLE!!!”

Jack told me that story the morning he reported for his first day. I couldn’t resist, so the following morning I set up the make-up room gag, but I wasn’t there when it happened. I was off setting up the first shot. So here’s Jack again to tell the rest of the story:

“The next morning I have an early call. I go to the make up trailer in the grey dawn, and it is locked. I knock on the door, Nothing!! I know someone is in there because I can hear giggling. I pound on the door. That’s when the door opens a crack, and Fionnula’s hand reaches around and tapes the “Stars only” sign to the front. I got made up with the extras. You (me, Ralph) also got the teamsters to move my dressing room trailer away from all the others and put it behind the catering truck, surrounded by garbage cans. All day long nobody spoke to me, and when they saw me coming would quickly turn and walk in the other direction. Finally in the afternoon you let me off the hook. Putting your director’s chair up the tree was my revenge”

A little frivolity helps to keep a set relaxed, friendly and happy.

John Mantley told me during my prep period that there was a photo double for James Arness. Arness had been severely wounded in the leg and foot by German machine-gun fire at the invasion of Anzio, and at 6’ 7” there was a lot of weight for that injured limb. Mantley asked that when possible during filming of an extremely violent action or even a long walk, I should plan to photograph the double.

I brought Jack Stauffer out to MGM to meet the producers and read for the role of David. Being the pro that he is, he read well, charmed the group and was hired on the spot. As he was leaving, someone in the group (I forget who) said, “Jack, I know this is a stupid question, but you do ride, don’t you?” Jack slowly turned back into the room, and without so much as a quiver of the chin he said, “Oh, absolutely!”

Actors instinctively when asked if they can do anything (fence, dance, ride a horse) automatically say, “Oh, absolutely.” I did not know this, but Jack spent the two days after he wrapped BSG and before he was to report to HTWWW sitting on a horse out in Glendale. His sister, who was an accomplished rider, had those two days to train Jack to look like he belonged on a saddle.

Again because there were things that happened on a set that the director was not aware of, I’m going to let Jack tell of the morning we were set to film the riding scene:

“One of the reasons the plot of Scavengers evolved the way it did was because Katie was a horsewoman and wanted to be seen riding. Here’s what happened.

Katie and I met at the barn. She got on her horse. I attempted to get on my horse. Now due to my weekend class I at least knew enough to put my left foot in the stirrup and swing my right leg across the saddle. I approached from the left, and just as I put my left foot in the stirrup, the horse very slowly turned its head and looked right at me. That horse immediately knew I had no idea how to ride. I did get my foot in the stirrup, but every time I tried to swing my right leg over, the horse would just move it’s hind end to the right so I couldn’t get on. Finally the wrangler had to grab the bridle and hold the horse steady so I could mount. Katie walked out of the barn. I walked out of the barn. Katie spurred her horse and jumped beautifully over the rail. My horse did not wait for me. It just charged after her. It also beautifully jumped the rail. Unfortunately I was no longer aboard.  After the third or fourth stride, I was heaved from the saddle over the back of the horse, and ended up sprawled in the dirt and manure. You rushed to my side. I thought you were going to give me comfort or at least ask me if I was hurt. You leaned down and whispered “You son of a bitch. You said you could ride!” 

Here’s where Jack’s memory and mine go down separate lanes. I remember looking down at Jack and saying, “You can’t ride!” He with a grin on his face responded, “That’s right!”

I immediately called for a wagon, had the horse hitched up, and that’s the way we filmed the scene.

THE SCAVENGERS was the only time I worked with Davis Roberts (Douglas). He was an elegant man, but like all black actors at that time his roles were restricted to playing African savages, handymen, derelicts or servants. Clarence Muse, a black actor and truly a Hollywood veteran, told me on the set of A DREAM FOR CHRISTMAS that he had come to Hollywood in the early thirties heading his own classical theatre company. He appeared in over a hundred and fifty films in a film career that spanned fifty-eight years. He was a highly educated man, Phi Beta Kappa, but when he auditioned for the movies, he had to learn to talk and sound less educated in order to be cast.

THE SCAVENGERS was the third and final time I worked with Dorothy Meyer (Hattie, the black servant). Here she too was playing a servant. Hattie McDaniel (Mammy in GONE WITH THE WIND), like many of her contemporaries, was criticized for playing maids. Her answer: “l’d rather play one than be one.” Dorothy’s best role for me was Cousin Clara in A DREAM FOR CHRISTMAS. That was a full characterization with several fine scenes. That was a filmed pilot for a series. Lee Rich at the final screening said it was a brilliant film, but it didn’t sell as a series.

Worth a mention because it represents something special about our business! The last scene James Arness did in the episode was the brief scene between Zeb and David in the bushes just before they charged the pirates. It was late evening at dusk. The fight had been filmed earlier. And here again I’m going to let Jack tell what happened:

“We were crouched in the reeds peering at the pirate camp. As I remember James had all the dialogue. I just nodded my head and said terribly important things like “Right” “Okay” or “Got it”. We then stood up and charged forward. We had shot the master and the close up of James. All that was left was to turn the camera around and get my short replies. We ran out of light. James was scheduled to go right to the airport because he and his family were leaving for a long anticipated vacation to Japan that night. I remember thanking him for everything and telling him to have a great vacation. You (me, Ralph again) came to me and said we could just pick up my dialogue first thing in the morning so we could match the light. I arrived the next morning very early before dawn, got made up and in costume, and went down to the spot where we filmed the evening before. This was a simple shot to do. The script girl would read James’ lines and I would just say the appropriate responses. I looked to camera left, and there was James. We did it in one take – – maybe five minutes. As he left I asked him why he was there. He was supposed to be in Japan. He looked at me and said “You said your lines to me for my close-up. I would never not be there for you. There are plenty of other flights to Japan”.

A classy actor! A classy man! Ironically because of time, that scene ended up on the cutting room floor.

The night we filmed that final exterior scene, with the mansion burning in the background, Dorothy and Davis (the two servants) moved around, pleading with the crew: “Please, please find us another plantation … or at least a television series!”

The journey continues

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One Response to The Scavengers: Part II

  1. Jim says:

    Very enjoyable article Ralph. I’m familiar with Jack Stauffer from his early daytime drama days on All My Children – I was one of those college students in the 70s that for some reason was hooked on the soaps……. I thought he was a superb actor even then.

    It must have been a real treat to work with Jim Arness – I believe he still holds the record of tallest lead in a major network series.

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