The Book Fair




It is the home of my brother, Erv, on Manor Drive in Mason City, Iowa. I was visiting from the west coast and was staying with my mother, who lived just a half a block away. My sister-in-law Audie had asked me to babysit my niece, Lisa, so she could go for a hair appointment. I eagerly agreed to the request. On my last visit Lisa had been at that infant-in-the-crib stage, when she slept a lot, and all she did when she was awake was gurgle. I felt the time had finally come for some intense bonding between Uncle Ralph and his first niece. Lisa still wasn’t walking, but she could sit up unsupported, so Audie sat her down on the floor in the center of their bright and comfortable living room, placed a few of her toys around her, told me she would be back in a couple of hours and departed. As the door closed, I knelt down before Lisa, prepared to begin the process of her getting acquainted with her uncle and was greeted by a most ferocious, shrill shrieking. I picked up some of the toys and tried to amuse her; I made faces to try to entertain her. Nothing halted that howling hyena. If anything it inspired an increase in the volume emanating from that tiny virago that didn’t subside until Audie’s return as promised an eternity-seeming two hours later.

The day Marlyn and I stopped by the Monterey Film Commission to see Karen Nordstrand (the day she gave us the suggestion of Toastie’s restaurant in Pacific Grove), she also recommended we check out the library on the campus of California State University of Monterey Bay as a possible location for our Book Fair, a three-page sequence that was very important, because that was when and where our two main characters, Lily and Charles, meet. It was the set that caused me the most consternation. At a studio the set would have been designed by the art director, constructed and erected on a soundstage under his supervision and dressed by the set decorator with furniture and props drawn from their voluminous prop department. I knew that unlike the interiors of Lily’s and Charles’ houses, the cabin, and a restaurant, it was a set with two major requirements: finding a location large enough to house the sequence and then filling that empty space with the necessary furniture and props to create our Book Fair. Grateful for Karen’s suggestion, we relayed to our production staff the names she gave us of the contacts at the university. My knowledge of what happened during the next few weeks is very spotty. I was told our people had difficulty connecting with the university contacts; telephone calls were not returned. As I remember, it was weeks later that one of our staff finally met someone at the university and viewed the library in question. I didn’t get any approval or disapproval of the site, because he was informed that the date we would be requiring it for filming would fall in the midst of final exam week, thereby making it unavailable.

I was told the staff was then checking out the Marina library. Marina is the northernmost community on the Monterey Peninsula. A friend who lives in Marina assured me that there was a room there that would be very appropriate. This all occurred as we approached a weekend, and with new restrictive hours at libraries our staff was unable to establish a contact until the following week. Over the weekend, anticipating the possibility of failure to secure the Marina Library, I remembered attending a performance by my friend, Larry Wilde, at the Carmel Foundation. It was in a very large room with a stage at one end. I suggested that Marlyn and I check it out. We made a call to the foundation and set up an appointment with a charming lady whose name I’ve forgotten, but whose contribution to our film is indelibly imprinted on my consciousness. The date we required for our filming was not available, but she suggested we go one block north to the Church of the Wayfarer, which we did and met Ilona, who took us to a large room a few steps from her office.



There were absolutely no negatives. The date we needed to film was available; the remuneration was agreeable, and Ilona told us we would be free to move anything around to suit our needs, plus we would have access to use any articles of furniture and props throughout the building. I felt as though I had died and gone to heaven, and where better to do it than in a wood paneled room in a church.

To return to that howling monster in my brother’s living room, she grew up, graduated from Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, with a major in art and followed her fiancé to Chicago, where she began her employment dressing the windows and floor displays for Neiman Marcus (she referred to the organization as Neiman Markup). Her work soon caught the eye of a local commercial photographer, who wooed her to come work as his photo stylist. There, with her new married name of Lisa Lupo, she was responsible for everything that went before his cameras: models, make-up, wardrobe, scenery, props. Over time Lisa’s work caught the eye of the producer of a local television show, and she was hired to design the occasional sets needed as supplements for the show’s main standing set. The show was the daily THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW.

It was after I retired and moved from Hollywood to Carmel, California, that Lisa relocated to the west coast. Our professional paths had not crossed – until now. Once I accepted Marlyn Mason’s bid to direct THE RIGHT REGRETS, I asked Lisa to be my production designer. No longer screaming on the floor and happily for me, she accepted.


She became more than my production designer. Lisa took over management of wardrobe. Marlyn and Maxwell had brought many articles of clothing to Carmel, and Lisa met with them and selected their wardrobe for each sequence. She became my prop department; she brought a car load of items from her home and raided mine mercilessly for whatever she saw that she could use to dress the various location sets. But the day she really shone as a star was our eighth day of filming at the Church of the Wayfarer. Pre-filming I went with her to the Church and outlined my proposed staging. My original plan had been to use only the large room, keeping the doors to the other rooms closed, but that day I decided I would open the doors to the church library. It gave an added depth to the set, but there was one possible problem; there was a very large window with Venetian blinds in the back wall with a glaring white building outside. Brandon and his crew took care of that by applying a sheet of amber-colored gel to the windowpane. Monday, April 8, on our day off and two days before we were to film, Lisa returned to the church, and Ilona took her through the many rooms so Lisa could see what pieces of furniture she could use. The only restriction was they could not be moved until the day of filming.

The crew call for Wednesday was 8:00 am. I went to the Church with Lisa at 7:00 am, as she took a lamp, some paintings, many books (and several small artifacts that I didn’t realize were used until I viewed these photos) from my home and with art director Ryan Gibson she turned that large empty room into a charming Book Fair. She was meticulous; each table, each chest, the large bookcase  — all were dressed with the same precise and artistic detail as her Nieman Marcus windows in Chicago and her hundreds of stills for commercial and fashion photography.





The meeting of Lily and Charles took place at his table.

All of the dialogue in the scene occurred at that table, but I wanted to see more of the Book Fair, so I filmed some establishing shots to introduce the sequence, but again because of the restricted time, one of them ended up on the cutting room floor.

The previous Friday when we had filmed at the Potigian house, Lilliana Potigian had prepared lunch for cast and crew. At the end of the day she informed us that she wanted to do it again. When she found out the church had a large professional kitchen, the day we filmed the Book Fair was the time she selected. She arrived early in the morning with all of her supplies, and by the lunch break she had a complete meal, soup to dessert for a very appreciative cast and crew.



lillianaLilliana and Marlyn

And finally photographer David Potigian, having missed the previous day in Salinas, was back with us with his powerful camera and incredible eye. He filmed all of the film clips and stills.


The next day, our ninth and final, we returned to the lake where we had been aborted on our second day. This time there were no problems. We stopped at the cabin, where Marlyn and Maxwell were wardrobed and made up and shot two exterior scenes; we then proceeded to the lake, where by midafternoon we completed our film.

There was a reason for the laughter after the slate was called out with all of its 69 references. Early in our schedule assistant director Hope Garza started asking me midafternoon, “How many more setups?” At first I’m afraid I very rudely ignored answering her; but I soon started answering, “69.” It wasn’t too many days before if she so much as caught my eye without any intent to ask , even if it was the middle of the morning, I would say, “69.” I wasn’t aware that so many people on the set were aware of our interchange.

As photography came to an end, I realized the confusion on that second day about permission to shoot at the lake was really a gift. Had we stuck to our original schedule our final day would have been filming Maxwell’s telephone calls at Dino Cocalis’ house. Filming the beautifully scenic exterior lake truly was a more fitting end to an exciting and rewarding experience.

The journey continues

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10 Responses to The Book Fair

  1. Judy LITMAN says:

    Thanks for the inside look. Good story with the reconnection with your niece. Btw, I think you misunderstood what she called her ex-employer. We call it “needless mark-up”.

  2. Leslie Kirkpatrick says:

    Thanks for sharing all the marvelous moments and behind the scenes perspective.
    Bon Appetite!

  3. Harvey Laidman says:

    Beautiful stories.
    I stopped asking you how many set-up’s. I just counted the colored lines on your script.

  4. detectivetom says:

    Off topic: your Naked City episode of “No Naked Ladies in Front of…” will be shown on METV at midnight Sunday night/Monday morning.

  5. maxwell caulfield says:

    It has been a joy reliving a fine artistic experience courtesy of your thoughtful essays. When’s the screening in beautiful Carmel, California?

  6. Diana Bedell says:

    Hello Ralph, Thank you so much for including me in this filming journey. What fun it’s been to see you and your efficient crew bring Marlyn’s story come to life. Each posting on line with it’s background story and film clips has put a big smile on my face. I know it’was the right choice you made by saying, “yes,” in directing The Right Regrets, for Marlyn. Finally, I felt like I was there at the closing moments hearing Marlyn’s speech and witnessing the touching moments of your friendship with it’s completion. Tears were in my eyes.
    Congratulations to you all.
    Hugs, Diana

  7. Marlyn Mason says:

    Due to an Elvis event in England I’m late in commenting on this post…but better later than never, eh?
    I’ve been waiting anxiously for Ralph to write about his neice, Art Director Lisa Lupo. Not enough kudos for this Wonder Woman. And a wonder she is. A ‘one man band’ and then some. I truly think she could make a movie all by herself and play all the parts! And without sleep! It’s true, the woman never sleeps. So attentive to detail sleep is a waste of time for her. And she see’s everything at once; a chair not set quite right, my scarf not tied properly, a hanging plant not showing it’s best side, a piece of equipment needing to be shoved out of sight….and in a blink it’s all taken care of. On top of this she shows up at work each morning looking so friggin’ fabulous; hair up and moppy, so adorable, with a cap, loopy earrings, leather jacket (see Ralph’s photo of her above)…normal stuff by themselves but she has that knack to “make it all work”.
    How does she do it? It’s surely a gene in the Senensky bloodline. The ‘attention to detail’ gene. Nothing goes unnoticed.
    How sweet it was to see her sitting next to her ‘Uncle Ralph’, the two glued to the scene being shot, payin’ attention. Yeah, it’s a Senensky gene.
    Here’s to you, Wonder Woman!

    • lisa Lupo says:

      AHHHHHHHHHHHHH….. Thank you sooooooooo much!!!!!!!!!!!!! What a awesome comment from you and such a beautiful honor from my beloved Uncle!!!! ( I look like *&*%##*** ) in that photo though! I had such a amazing experience working on this
      film and Love you both so much!!!…. Let’s get cracking to make another asap! What I brought to this project, I bring to anything I am a part of. Just how I see it I guess. The Senensky work ethic!!! Can’t wait to see the finished project…. when is our screening in Carmel????? 🙂 All my Love and Devotion… You are such a talented lady and truly a inspiration for me!!! xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxooxxooxoxoxox

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