The Beguiled

Filmed November 1974

I directed twelve episodes of THE WALTONS, but so far I’ve only done posts on eleven of them. The missing one is THE BEGUILED. Why has it been overlooked? Was directing it such an unpleasant experience that I resisted returning there, like I did with RETURN TO TOMORROW on STAR TREK? Au contraire! It was a very pleasant show to steer; I might add, I enjoyed doing it. Was the final film a disappointment, again like RETURN TO TOMORROW? No. Although I could add that the script (originally titled THE WHIRLWIND) had a plot that lacked a flaming issue comparable to the ones in either of the two episodes I had directed earlier in the season – the two-hour THE CONFLICT and THE MARATHON. Maybe that was it. Maybe I assumed directing THE WALTONS meant guiding the family as they faced a major crisis brought on by the difficult time they lived in, that the current venture was simply more that than a misadventure like those earlier two.

See what I mean about issues! THE CONFLICT had been about an elderly relative being evicted from her mountain home to make room for a national highway. THE MARATHON had shown the desperation of young people coping with the great depression. The year before in THE GIFT the young of the Walton family experienced their first major contact with death, when Jason’s close young friend was diagnosed with leukemia, and in THE CRADLE Olivia’s pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. Here in THE BEGUILED, as it had been retitled, I had shell games and a young prankster playing Houdini tricks.

This was my first time directing Willie Aames. He was fourteen years old, but had been acting in films since he was eleven. And he was a solid pro that belied his age. Willie came to the set with lines learned, his character established, and he was prepared to do the shell and pea trick. There were no fancy camera cuts there or with the disappearing item he was doing in the opening shot with Jim Bob, and he did all of the tricks with such ease.

The Walton home had two porches: one on the backlot as part of the house’s exterior structure and one on Soundstage 26 attached to the interior set for the lower floor of the home. Usually porch ‘Day’ scenes were filmed on the backlot and porch ‘Night’ scenes were filmed on the soundstage. The scene with Elizabeth was tagged as ‘Evening’ and it could have been more easily lit and filmed on the soundstage porch. But our 4th day of filming was scheduled for the site of the house exterior on the backlot, and there were only 5 1/8 pages of Day scenes, which was not a full day’s work. By scheduling the porch scene with Elizabeth and another Evening porch scene with John and Jim-Bob (a total of 3 pages), we were able to plan a full day’s work at the backlot location, saving a move on that day (which took time) back to a soundstage.

People think actors’ preparation is just learning the lines and developing the character. But there can be added extra talents needed. Another trick Willie had mastered involved moving a quarter across the knuckles of his hand. Unfortunately the only time that shows up in the final film is when he drops it in this scene with his father. That’s similar to the situation Beulah Bondi told me about. When she was cast in SO DEAR TO MY HEART (and I think that was the film), she read in the script that in one scene she would be playing it while seated at a loom. So she had the studio send a loom out to her home so she could learn to weave, which she did. Her disappointment came the day they filmed that scene when the director didn’t require her to use her recently acquired skills.

I thought the city streets on the backlots were too narrow. I came from a small midwest town, I’m positive similar to the town near where Earl Hamner lived, and our downtown streets just weren’t that narrow. My normal solution when filming was to avoid showing both sides of the street (as witness in the previous clip the wide shot with the stop light in the foreground), but there were times when in order to show the action (as in the shots that followed) that was impossible.

The red brick building that was part of the university John-Boy attended was no stranger to me. I had filmed it years before as another university building on THE ASSASSIN, an episode of THE FBI. I’m not sure, but I think years before that it was part of River City, the small town in THE MUSIC MAN. It may even have been designed originally for that production. Just a reminder: River City was Meredith Willson’s depiction of his and my hometown, Mason City, Iowa.

I was going to write, “This was the first time I worked with Darleen Carr,” but before I did, I checked her credits on IMDB and discovered that six years earlier she had played a waitress for me in THE LIBRARY CARD, an episode of THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER. Now I wonder if she too had forgotten. Of course, the fact that she looked different may have been the reason for my amnesia.

darleen

I discovered something else that was interesting. Three years earlier in 1971 she appeared in a film starring Clint Eastwood, THE BEGUILED,.

See what I meant before about flaming issues? My shell games and Houdini prankster have been joined by flat tires and lost notebooks.

That was the other porch scene moved to the 4th day’s filming on the backlot to fill out that day’s work. It was also another of the Andy Hardy/Judge Hardy kind of scene that this series did so well, slipping in a little message about everyone in a family needing to help.

I can’t state this for sure because I have not viewed all of the episodes that preceded this late entry in the series’ 3rd season, but I think Sis Bradford may have been John-Boy’s first romantic relationship.

I want to state here that I thought Darleen Carr was absolutely terrific as Sis Bradford. It was a deceptively difficult role. She needed to be attractive enough to stir John-Boy’s romantic feelings while at the same time inviting the viewers to like her, all the while she played a spoiled little rich girl with absolutely no scruples, willing to do any nefarious deed that served her purpose, and she had to do it all with a total demeanor of innocence that was provocatively sexy.

I refer often in my posts to “first times,” but there were also “last times,” although I didn’t realize those at the time. THE BEGUILED had three last times connected to it. It was the last THE WALTONS that I would direct with Robert Jacks as producer. He remained on the series for the 4th season, but I didn’t direct any that year. When I returned in the 5th season, he had moved over to produce EIGHT IS ENOUGH, also for Lorimar. He was one of television’s best producers. He had been a producer in feature films at 20th Century Fox and really understood film production. It was also the last THE WALTONS I would do with story editor Carol McKeand. She was an extraordinary writer. I never knew for sure just what she had written or rewritten. What I did know was that the scenes in the scripts worked, and I knew some of the responsibility for that lay on her shoulders. That was also certainly affected by what Robert Jacks and Earl Hamner had established as the routine for the series. On the 3rd or 4th day of filming on any episode, a lunch hour was set aside for the 5 principals to come to Jacks’ office to read through the next episode. At that time any suggestions and objections any of the actors had about the script would be aired, and when filming commenced a few days later, the scripts would have been amended to reflect those changes. I knew it was mostly Carol’s responsibility to make those changes. Fortunately I would work again with both Robert Jacks (on EIGHT IS ENOUGH) and Carol McKeand (on FAMILY and BLUE SKIES). I would never work again with director of photography Russell Metty. He too had left by the time I returned in season 5. Russell was one of the old-timers from feature films with whom I was privileged to work. He had won an Academy Award for SPARTACUS, but I was more impressed by the fact that he had been a contract cinematographer at RKO Radio Studio in the thirties and had photographed Hepburn & Grant in BRINGING UP BABY, John Barrymore in THE GREAT MAN VOTES, Henry Fonda & Lucille Ball in THE BIG STREET, Fred Astaire in THE SKY’S THE LIMIT. Later as a freelance cinematographer he photographed the incredible and superb TOUCH OF EVIL with Orson Welles. He was one of Hollywood’s greats!

And another ‘Judge Hardy’ scene, this time adding a dose of accountability.

And there we had what I thought was an intelligent and for the series so many dubbed as homespun a sophisticated scene of a young boy sharing with his parents his first pangs of love. Did you notice the different responses of his mother and his father? And did you notice what Olivia was doing, and how she used that activity as part of her response to what her son was telling her? She was using a darning egg to darn  a sock. Does anyone remember when that was done? And do you young ones even know what I’m talking about?

That was my first time also directing Beeson Carroll (Danny’s dad), but not the last. A month later both Beeson and Willie Aames appeared in the movie for television I directed, THE FAMILY NOBODY WANTED. Although they did not play father and son, they did appear in a scene together.

When I attended Coe College for my sophomore year, my major was music; my instrument was piano, which I had been playing since I was seven years old. Most of those twelve years had been studying with Ruth Swingen, a music teacher in Mason City. She was an excellent teacher, an exciting performer on the instrument. I remember vividly her performance at one of the monthly recitals she held for her students, when at its conclusion she played Liszt’s dynamic 8th Hungarian Rhapsody. I was blown away. That was what I wanted to do, and eventually I did play that Rhapsody. Her approach to the instrument was attack. My piano professor at Coe was Max Dahler, and his approach was diametrically opposite. He stressed getting the fullest, roundest sound from the softest ppp tone. It was not the volume of the sound that mattered – it was the quality. That was a challenge for me, and since I was only there for six months before being called up for active duty in the war, a challenge I never totally conquered. After the war, as readers of this website have learned, my career choice went down a different path, but music had a great impact on my new work. Max Dahler’s approach to the piano became my approach to drama. I believed the fullest emotional reaction should be expressed at far less than full vocal throttle. Scenes needed to be performed as quietly, not as loud as possible. If a scene needed to erupt emotionally, the emphasis must be on the character’s inner turmoil with the sound emanating from him or her reflecting that. It must never be mere bluster. And NO scene, not even a scene without dialogue, was immune to emotional involvement. When a look, a change of expression would suffice, there was no need for dialogue. On camera the two most deadly weapons an actor possessed were his eyes.

And now we return to my ambivalent feelings about THE BEGUILED. It was not the film that had me on the fence. It was the perception of the film, and it was not my perception, but the perception by the industry in which I worked. THE WALTONS opened a floodgate of attempted family-style clones. I know. As a director of THE WALTONS I was involved in many of those attempts. I directed THE FAMILY NOBODY WANTED, a movie/pilot about a family of multi-racial adoptees. It was not picked up. I directed THE FAMILY KOVACK, a movie/pilot about a Polish family. It too was not picked up. I directed two episodes of THE FAMILY HOLVAK, a lovely series about a minister and his family. It lasted only for half a season. I directed one of the five episodes of BLUE SKIES, a limited-series family show –not picked up. And there were a slew of them that failed without my assistance. The truth of the situation was that family shows were soft shows and were perceived as weak, and despite the protestations to the contrary, they were not what the networks were really seeking. In the mid-80’s my agents asked me to provide them with a demo disc of my work. It seemed that they needed one to give to producers when they submitted my name for employment. I prepared one, and it included some of my best scenes from THE WALTON episodes: the green bean scene from GRANDMA COMES HOME; the book-burning sequence from THE FIRESTORM; the elimination rabbit-run from THE MARATHON. Soon after receiving it, the agency had a further request. They asked me to redo it and eliminate all of the sequences from THE WALTONS. I now realize that my feelings about THE BEGUILED are similar to those I had with WHEN THE WIND BLOWS, THE FUGITIVE episode where Kimble was involved with the young blond Kenny. Both were soft, gentle, sensitive stories that were very different from the other episodes I had directed for those series. But being soft, gentle and sensitive didn’t make them inferior. Audiences seemed to love them, even if studio and network execs didn’t. And to tell you the truth – so do I!

The journey continues

This entry was posted in The Waltons. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to The Beguiled

  1. Kami says:

    I always learn something when I visit your page. You miss a lot when you are only a kid! Darlene Carr reminds me of Debbie Reynolds here. And it kills me to think the Mr. Metty worked on Bringing up Baby and I was too young to understand what that meant.

    • Ralph says:

      And for you viewers, the incredibly talented Kami was Elizabeth Walton. Kami, you were always great, but never more than in the jail scene in THE WARRIOR. Young actors like you always intrigued me. How could you be such knowledgeable actors so young?

      • Bill Boyle says:

        “Richard. You’ve just finished a Chemistry paper. Before you know it You’re dancing with Grandma. You’re Hamlet–not where he is eating, but where he is consumed,…by giddiness. You’re Hamlet, channeling Snoopy, channelled in on suppertime in the springtime!”

    • John Dayton says:

      I don’t know why I missed seeing this episode – probably sitting there filing a Production Report Thursday night. Kami beat me to the punch – Darlene was absolutely Debbie Reynolds. In fact the first two shot of her and Richard (she was at the wheel) reminded me of the scene in SING’IN IN THE RAIN when Debbie drops off Gene Kelly at “Sunset and Camden”. Darlene’s hands are in the same position on the wheel and her wardrobe was strikingly the same!

  2. Vinnie Vinson says:

    I had never heard of a darning egg, although I’ve darned a few socks. I never saw Mom use anything like that. She put her hand into the sock to hold the hole closed. When I chose to darn a sock, I used the same method.

  3. Donald L. McVey says:

    I was 84 years old this last January and despite my age, well really maybe because of my age, I loved, and still do, the Waltons. Maybe it was because I actually live through the days and similar circumstances as portrayed in the Waltons. Growing up in a family of five boys during the latter years of the great depression I experienced, in large part, the closeness as well as the trials and tribulations that were experienced by the Waltons.

    I yearn to see the standards and kindnesses, as exemplified in the Waltons, return to the families of this great country for I know in my heart we would be better for it.

    To me the Waltons was a real, living family and I cherished my visits with them. Thank you for making us aware of your contribution to this great series.

    • Ralph says:

      I will be 92 in 5 weeks, and I AGREE with everything you wrote!

      • Peggi says:

        Early Happy Birthday to you, Ralph. My dad turned 94 last October. He has fond memories of the depression. He always says if there was a depression going on, he never knew it 🙂

      • John Dayton says:

        I might have worked “behind the scenes” but I also AGREE – I think I realized that what was being shot was indeed special.

        “Soft” doesn’t sell today either. Witness Pat Heaton’s THE MIDDLE – every family member is psychologically unsound – if there are any “soft or quiet” moments they are apologized for in dialogue. This is diametrically opposed to THE WALTONS where problems are worked out within the family – much closer to real-life in my estimation.

  4. Anneke says:

    This is one I’d not seen before, though it is likely in the long list of episodes waiting on my DVR. I love the older episodes when Grandma and Grandpa (I want to add a “w” on the end to make their names how I think of them) were still alive.

    I grew up without grandparents in my life (or aunts and uncles) and watching The Waltons makes me feel both sad at not knowing grandparents and happy at having experienced them vicariously.

    There are also the little things… The screen door squeaking open and slamming shut, the sound of the chickens, of crickets in the evening (always sad, here in Canada because it means summer is almost over), the sound of the mountain.

    And my Mom used to have a darning egg, egg-shaped. She never taught me to use it though. Mom is 90 and has Alzheimer’s, so it is a bit late, now.

    The acting was so genuine and the relationships so real. I watched the special event celebrating Ralph Waite and it was interesting to hear some of the stories about how close the actors were.

    Thanks so much….

  5. Patricia Anne says:

    Thank you for your latest edition to your blog, Ralph! I have thoroughly enjoyed all of your stories and this one was no exception. I still watch The Waltons every day. I loved it as a kid but I appreciate it even more now. I’m blown away when I watch Kami and David, knowing they had no formal training…just natural actors. And of course the rest of the cast was top shelf as well. You directed some of the best episodes. Thank you so much for sharing your insights and experiences with us. Happy birthday and God bless!

  6. Bart says:

    Thank you Sir for sharing this!…As a viewer…it is the soft scenes that I remember most…which seem to be lacking in these modern times!…the Waltons…just may be the last of that gentle…serene…resting in the shade near a running stream feel…that you get from those moments!…God Bless you…and thank you for the memories!

  7. Christine says:

    I remember Walton night. My parents, 3 slibings and myself would all sit in the living room together and go back in time to a more simpler life. My father knew an elderly man just like grandpa, while growing up, which caused lots of comments and laughter from him. Those fun family memories pop in my mind every time I see the Waltons. I have the DVD’s and have collected a few keep sakes, but the best part is my own childhood memories. My father passed away in 2010. It left a hole in our family, but his Christian values and good clean living, but just like the era of the Waltons, will stay with me for my life time. Best show ever….

  8. Lyn Larsen says:

    So glad you wrote about this episode. I loved the scenes about Jim-Bob trying to “steal” the onion from Ike’s store and his discussion with his dad after getting caught. Thanks for your wonderful work.

  9. Ralph says:

    To all of the above comments, I have been overwhelmed at the response to this post. There were just under 900 visits yesterday. The second day was even higher: just under 1300 visits. And it certainly adds up to a voice asking, “Why can’t there be shows like THE WALTONS produced today?”

    • Shirley says:

      I loved the Waltons. I like the older ones the best. I grew up like the Waltons I think that is why I love them so much. I wish they made shows like that again. still watch them when I find a rerun on TV.

  10. John Dayton says:

    Well Ralph, you’ve done it again. For an episode you put off writing about there are an abundance of replies! Yes, it touched me also. What an amazing Richard was, still is. Having seen him on stage he’s wonderful, and yet the quiet and closeness of the camera captures it oh, so well.

    What I do remember about this episode was that there was an abundance of scenes to be shot at the back lot House. the sets were built against a burm. On the other side were homes on Catalina Street. One day the owner of one of those houses decided he was going to mow his lawn with a VERY LOUD mower. How he knew when we would be out there puzzled me. A few dollars (I think it was $25) in his hand, he decided he’d mow later. Unfortunately when you pay someone like that off, you find him mowing the grass when there was no need to!

    Btw – you were right about the exteriors at Warner Brothers – Robert Preston led the band down the street in “Seventy-six trombone, and stopped right in front of that red-brick “Boatwright University” building. I wasn’t there in 1962, but my friend Rance Howard was – look closely and you’ll see him.

    As I get older and share memories with our Walton Family, especially you and Earl, I realize that the world of Stage 26 and the Back lot was an entirely different world than that of the Front Offices.

    I do recall the fun of trying to shorten the length of time it took to return to Stage 26 from the Back lot, I believe we allowed 45 minutes or an hour. One time we wrapped at the house and were back on 26 ready to shoot in 20 minutes – unheard of today. Pre-lighting was the key. If possible the sets were pre-lit before the actors and crew arrived — it was good for the actors, the less time they had idle the better –right Kami?

    Russ Metty was replaced later by Emil Oster, Serge Haignere, and “Johnny Nick” (John Nickolaus, Jr) another Hollywood veteran. I wish I could remember the order in which they worked, just can’t.

    Thank you, Ralph. What a treat!

    It is a shame that the beautiful Walton Flats is now an asphalt street, ironically that street houses the suburban street on which THE MIDDLE is shot. I’m sure the cast, with the exception of Pat, have no idea the beautiful memories which lie below the asphalt.

    Oh to have that experience again – wonderful crew

    • Ralph says:

      I ddn’t work on THE WALTONS with Emil Oster (I think I did FAMILY with him) but John Nickolaus photographed 5 of the 6 shows I did after Jacks left and Serge Haignere did my last one, THE PORTRAIT — just like the one in Dorian Gray’s attic.

  11. John Dayton says:

    An interesting note: The “Bosses” at Lorimar switched from Kodak 5247 film stock (which was warm/toward the red) to Fuji (which was cold/toward blue-green) to save money – the Fuji film stock episodes don’t convey the warmth of the show – no matter what the lab did, they could not match the quality of good old Kodak. I believe Fuji was used mid-season 1975 to middle of ’76. I was aware of the change as I had to report all short ends (film left in the Panavision magazines – it was necessary to switch magazines before the film ran out thereby avoiding the nightmare of running out of film while shooting a scene). Lorimar had me tally the shot ends of film in feet each day, an accounting of what was left in magazines. They then sold that unexposed film.
    Someone finally gave the okay to go back to Kodak stock. Imagine that – choosing “art” over money. What a difference!

    Here’s a link to a clip by a contemporary young film maker who “discovered” 5247:

    https://vimeo.com/53712798

    Shame on Warner Brothers for not spending the money to restore The Waltons prints before they went to DVD – there’s always hope in the future!

    • Tim says:

      Thanks John, that note about the film stock was very informative. I have noticed that some of the DVD episodes look quite degraded, the video quality being way, way too warm (“The Wedding” is a good example). You’re right, it is a shame that Warner Bros didn’t bother to repair these, especially since it’s quite easy these days to fix such problems digitally.

      Why is the lighting on some episodes is so much better than others? Some episodes are lit so beautifully throughout and others look like someone lit the actors with a single spotlight, complete with harsh shadows cast on the walls.

  12. Roger Neal says:

    beaitiful work loved reading this thank you

  13. Shirley says:

    I’m enjoying your site. You have lived such a exciting life. I love reading about it.

  14. Mark Lemon says:

    Hi. I came across this great site over a year ago and always look forward to new posts.
    I am from England and have enjoyed most of the shows that you have worked on and which made it to our shores. You really were/are a talented director Mr. Senensky and you should be proud that work you did some years ago carries on entertaining so many years later, so thank you for that. This I’m sure you’re agree go’s for the actors/actresses and technicians as well.
    John Dayton makes some interesting posts I must say. Having been on the Warner Bros. studio tour at Burbank back in 2004 I can relate to some Warner related info. When me and my family were there it was the time of the Gilmore Girls and we were taken onto the interior set and porch set and one of the houses out on the back lot. Would that interior and porch set have been on Stage 26 I wonder?
    I also agree with John that the warm look of the Kodak film stock was more suited to the Walton’s over the Fuji stock. Cutting corners is seldom for the best.
    Again thank you for this site Mr. Senensky and I do hope it continues for many years to come.

  15. Phil says:

    Fascinating story about your demo disc…this is how ‘The Waltons’ ranked in the ratings during its first six seasons: 19, 2, 8, 14, 15, and 20. It’s as if “the industry” didn’t know its own industry.

    Blame teens like me for the demise of ‘The Family Holvak’. It was up against ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’, which included three eps. with the bionic woman, two eps. with Andre the Giant in a Bigfoot costume, and one ep. with at least seven past or present NFL football players. ‘Holvak’ was DOA.

  16. Tim says:

    Great site Ralph! I recently saw some current photos of the “Midwest Street” set where the Waltons school house is located; has the school been moved since the 1970s? Episodes show the school on a dirt road and the playground to the right of the building is larger with more trees and vegetation in the background. Current photos show the school to be in the middle of town (so to speak) surrounded by buildings.

    Related question: were the “trees” seen in the background movable, i.e. fake trees mounted on wheels perhaps so they could easily be moved around to block buildings and such in the background?

    • Ralph says:

      Hi Tim: I wish I could answer your questions, but I haven’t been on the Warner backlot Walton locations for over 37 years. The only one I can answer is the trees, at least in my day, were real, not movable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *