SPECIAL: My Path to THIS SIDE OF PARADISE

September 4, 2016

Almost five and a half years ago as I took off on RALPH’S CINEMA TREK I wrote:

STAR TREK was a phenomenon.

Two days ago the United States Postal Service unveiled 4 STAR TREK United States Postage Stamps they are issuing. Today as I look ahead, I see that in four days the Trekkers and Trekkies in the nation –- no, the Trekkers and Trekkies in the world, maybe even in the galaxy — will be commemorating a special day, for on that day, September 8, 2016, STAR TREK: The Original Series, the series that set out on a five-year mission (the requisite number of seasons a series needed to advance into syndication), the series that had its plans aborted by network and studio lack of enthusiasm which resulted in its cancellation after the third year, the series that then rose from the ashes of defeat to spawn 6 more STAR TREK series and 9 STAR TREK feature films, that series will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of its first airing. And will it stop there? Fifty years from now in the year 2066, will they be celebrating STAR TREK’s Centennial? I think I would bet on it. For me it’s an awesome and humbling but eerie thought that I have been associated with a project seemingly eternal — and I almost missed the ship!

It was the spring of 1966, and my bookings were being made for the 1966-67 season. Two years before I had started working for QM Productions, and in the following two seasons I had directed 11 films for them on THE FUGITIVE, TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH and THE FBI. I was contracted starting in May to work exclusively for QM Productions, directing half of THE FBI.’s 2nd season. 13 films! A strenuous schedule! Starting with my first assignment I would prep for 7 days, followed by 7 days of filming. The day after I wrapped the first production, I would start prepping my second — another 7 days followed by 7 days of filming! For my 3rd — prep 7; film 7! That would continue throughout the season until the 13 films were completed. I would be working deep into the following spring. I had never been booked for that heavy a schedule before. My main reason for feeling I could do it was director of photography, Billy Spencer. By that time we had worked together on 6 films, 3 on 12 O’CLOCK HIGH, 3 on THE FBI. For me it had been an excitingly creative and educational collaboration.

Everything went swimmingly for 4 productions, but then in August Spencer was taken off the series to function as Quinn’s director of photography on his first (and only) feature film for the big screen, THE MEPHISTO WALTZ. Billy’s departure created, at least for me, a major change on THE FBI. There followed 3 different directors of photography on my next 4 assignments. They were all new to the show. Suddenly there were conflicts. Gone was the easy collaboration I had with Billy, (i.e. one of the cameramen would often flatten my planned over the shoulder two-shot into a 50-50 two-shot. Another one said a moving crane shot I had planned on the back lot couldn’t be done. I showed him it could be.) The point is that by the end of November as I neared completion of my 8th assignment (my 4th without Spencer) I was exhausted and very tense. I needed a break. I asked one of my agents to arrange with Quinn for me to sit out one show, to give me a chance to rest and recharge. (Now I have to take you back to the time when my contract was being negotiated. It was known Quinn was paying a select few of his directors a slightly higher fee. My agent negotiated for me to get that fee for my exclusive services on THE FBI.) My agent came back to me with the information that I could have the time off, but that for the balance of the season I would no longer be receiving the higher salary. (That extra fee was $500.00.) I instructed my agent that under that condition, I preferred to cancel the balance of my contract.

I was suddenly free and very happy about it. 1966 had been a busy year. During the early months, previous to the 8 THE FBI productions I had directed since May I had directed 2 episodes of THE FBI and 2 of THE WILD WILD WEST. I was ready for a rest. I made plans to return to Iowa in December to spend the holidays with my family, when I received a phone call from one of my agents. There was a request for me to direct a new show that had debuted the previous September. It was a science fiction show. I had not seen it. My work schedule had left little time for television viewing, and I was not into science fiction. But since the assignment wouldn’t be til after the first of the year and would not interfere with my travel plans, I gave the agent the okay to accept.

The show was STAR TREK, which brings up a couple of interesting what-ifs. What if Billy Spencer had not left THE FBI to film THE MEPHISTO WALTZ? I’m positive I would have stayed on to complete my contracted 13 episodes. Or what if I had been allowed the requested rest without the punishment of a salary reduction? I would have stayed on, and my agent would not have even called me about the STAR TREK offer. He would have turned it down because I was unavailable. But there were no what ifs! I was available to board the USS Enterprise in January for what turned out to be an 18-month journey.

So today I want to amend what I stated  five and a half years ago …

STAR TREK IS a phenomenon

I’m happy I’m still here to celebrate its anniversary. And although the journey after the first few months turned extremely turbulent, I’m glad I was there!

Here are a few of the footprints I left out in space!

The journey continues

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8 Responses to SPECIAL: My Path to THIS SIDE OF PARADISE

  1. Ralph, the stars must have been aligned in your favor regarding Star Trek. When trekkies celebrate its centennial, your contribution will be part of the fun. Congratulations on being an ultra-trekkie.

  2. Josh Lee says:

    Ralph,
    I just wanted to tell you that I am looking forward to The Roddenberry Vault that will be out this December. They’re also doing a complete boxed set of all of the series and films with the classic (and still the best) cast but it’s an awful lot of money to spend for the Animated Series on Blu-ray, which is the only new thing in the set other than packaging. Most of us already have multiple versions of the series. But the Vault is different. They’ve picked 12 episodes from the first two seasons based on importance to the show coupled with new behind the scenes material they found – and three of them are yours! I know Return to Tomorrow was not one of your favorites but it had great stuff in it (Leonard as Henoch springs to mind). But no one argues that This Side of Paradise and Metamorphosis are classics. 50 years. Wow. I can remember it when I was just a little kid. It sure has affected my life. Anyway, I always appreciate your insights and am glad you got to participate in this project. Take care and, of course, Live Long and Prosper.

    • Ralph says:

      I have made my peace. You’ll notice I closed the film montage with the “risk” speech.

      • Josh Lee says:

        The risk is our business speech pretty much says what Trek is all about. And it’s still great. 🙂 Trek is also about love and there’s no better illustration of that than Metamorphosis. (Well, maybe Wrath of Khan with Spock’s sacrifice.) I was wondering how to celebrate the big day this “weekend” and I think I’ll watch your episodes. (Bread and Circuses is always fun and exciting to watch and The Tholian Web is still my favorite ever.) They do stand the test of time and I appreciate them even more each time I see them. Which is kinda nuts since I could probably recite many of them from memory. I even turned in a vacation this week but it was turned down. Well, missing one day won’t hurt. I won’t be here for the 100th. Besides, it’s important to me. Thanks again.

  3. Lisa M. says:

    Thank you for sharing all your Trek memories and all the other great TV memories you’ve brought to us! They are the most comprehensive and intimate looks into behind-the-scenes TV that we’ve ever had — truly remarkable and so entertaining!!

    Classic TV wouldn’t be what it is — beloved and immortal — without your contributions!

  4. Fred Hamilton says:

    Hi Ralph,

    History is full of these coincidental chains of events without any one of which something magical (or sometimes something terrible) would never had existed. My two favorite transcendent phenomena that I spend way too much time thinking about are Trek and The Beatles. I’m very happy THE MEPHISTO WALTZ demanded Billy Spencer!

    I got the Roddenberry Vault for Christmas and have to say it’s a mixed bag – maybe 30 minutes of “vault” clips (and it is worth the money just for that), but so much filler (like 9 episodes for the 20th time with nothing new except isolated music tracks). I enjoyed seeing you in the interviews, but was disappointed that you didn’t appear in any of the commentaries (and with three of your episodes represented, there seemed to be plenty of opportunity). Great to hear DC Fontana on Paradise, but even there, it often felt more like they were talking *over* the episode than talking about it. I would have loved to have heard you, even if much of what you might have said had already been captured on this blog. Seems like a wasted opportunity to make the box set that much better.

    I guess that’s all I have to say – thanks again for everything!

  5. Aidan O'Connor says:

    Hi Ralph,

    I only discovered your site recently. Very very interesting.

    My particular interest is The Fugitive. Do you know of any plans to remake the original series? (I have no interest in the 1993 movie or the Tim Daly series.)

    I am a university lecturer in Dublin, Ireland. At retirement age. Attempting to write. Would be interested in working on a re-make of The Fugitive. Faithful to original story, including setting in 1960s, Pete Rugolo music, David Janssen type persona, b&w, etc.

    Can you suggest any contacts for me to take this further?

    Thanks Ralph! Keep up your fascinating work!

    • Ralph says:

      Hi Aidan: Welcome aboard. To start with I must warn you, I wish I could be more optimistic in replying to your questions. I know of no plans to remake THE FUGITIVE. But my connections to America’s film industry are as remote as yours. It has been almost 30 years since I was professionally involved with any Hollywood activity. But as I see it, today’s film activity is no longer as centralized in Hollywood as it once was. England film production (both big screen and Tv) I find much more adventurous. My suggestion? WRITE! Create something original, possibly a novel, maybe a screenplay. That is something concrete to peddle. And I do think there is independent financing, even in Ireland, that might be available. I wish I could be more helpful. Good luck!

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