The Dog Who Knew Too Much

FILMED November 1983

As I reported some time ago on my post for HIGHLAND FLING, when I directed HART TO HART in the first season, filming was on the 20th Century Fox lot. When I returned in the fifth season, the series was affiliated with Columbia Pictures and was filming at the Burbank Studio, which was the former Warner Brothers Studio renamed and now co-occupied by Warner Brothers and Columbia.

There is an expression, to go to the dogs, which means that things aren’t as good as it was in the past. The origin of this expression is believed to be in ancient China where dogs, by tradition, were not permitted within the walls of cities. Consequently, stray dogs roamed the areas outside the city walls and lived off the rubbish thrown out of the city by its inhabitants. Criminals and social outcasts were often expelled from cities and were sent to live among the rubbish – and the dogs. Such people were said to have “gone to the dogs”.

There is no subtle way to say this. In HART TO HART’s 5th and final season the series had gone to the dogs.

Our shooting schedule was very optimistic, since it was November with shorter days and the always present possibility of inclement weather. The 7-day schedule broke down as follows: 2½ days local locations, 1 day exteriors at the Columbia Ranch, ½ day on the Burbank Studio back lot and 3 days on the soundstage.

The dog show was filmed on the 4th day at the Columbia Ranch, which was a short distance from the Burbank Studio lot, and unfortunately that was the day the inclement weather chose to drop in. If the forecast had been ‘rain’, the schedule would have been changed, but it wasn’t, so we ended up filming as scheduled, and true to the forecast, it didn’t rain; it just misted. All day! We kept filming, but we did have a problem. The misting was not heavy enough that the two cameras would register it, but our large company of hairy four-legged stars had to be continually toweled down. By the end of the day when our canine cinema was in the can, the clouds started watering and we brought out our umbrellas for the two-legged performers.

On the original shooting schedule a 1½ page night scene between Troy (James Luisi) and Clavell (Mary Woronov) took place in Troy’s Penthouse Office, which would have meant a company move from the Columbia Ranch to Stage 6 at the Burbank Studio ….


… but on November 9, the second day of filming, revised script pages were issued with the scene rewritten to take place in Troy’s car and to be filmed on the Columbia Ranch. That saved the time consuming move, so we were able to wrap by our normal quitting time. Actually there was a bonus to this change. It was finally raining, and I thought the raindrops on the car windows gave an added sinister touch to the scene.

William Lanteau (Peter Strick, the dog-owner) was another in Hollywood’s pool of talented character actors. He worked on stage, film and television. A decade earlier he guest starred in an episode of BARNABY JONES that I directed. Two years earlier he appeared in ON GOLDEN POND with the Fondas (Henry and Jane) and Katharine Hepburn, after having also appeared in the Broadway production of the play. Lanteau was adept at playing quirky characters like 2 of my favorite character actors, Woodrow Parfrey and Vernon Weddle.

The sequences at the motel, (the 4 exterior sequences and the long interior scene between Strick, Clavell and Grayson) were filmed on the 1st day at a motel in Toluca Lake near the studio. The very first sequence filmed was the interior motel room. After that half a day’s work, we moved to a Warehouse in Burbank, which I will discuss later.

Our busy 3rd day began with three sequences at the Hart gate on the back lot. From there we moved to another site on the back lot and then to Stage 9 for a scene (just viewed when Strick came to pick up his dog) in the Hart home.

I think if this script had been filmed in the 60s, it would have involved nefarious espionage, Communist spies and a plot to overthrow the government. But the Berlin wall had fallen, and those plots were no longer au courant. When I was directing THE FBI for QM Productions, it seemed a third of the films were involved in those kind of shenanigans. I was lucky. I never had to direct one of them.

Kudos to the Burbank Studio (the former Warner Brothers) art department for that laboratory set! All of the set dressing, hanging lights and props had to be brought from the studio, If this script had been filmed in HART TO HART’S first year, I ‘m sure we would have filmed the three people entering an isolated building on location and the interior lab would have been a set on the soundstage. Was the change to creating the lab on location because HART TO HART was now a Columbia production? I could only think the question. I didn’t have the answer.

When actors were involved in anything dangerous, we (almost) always had stunt people do it. That’s what we did for the business of Freeway’s dognapping. That was a stunt double on the motorcycle and a stuffed animal on the table.

From the time of the silents and continuing into the talkies movie stars had an aura. They were gods and goddesses up on that silver screen, alluring, awesome but distant. They were not the boy and girl next door. They were superstars! Think of Pickford, Swanson, Fairbanks, Valentino, Garbo, Gable, Crawford, Hepburn, Harlow, Bergman, Bogart, Cagney, Cooper. But starting in the 50s that changed. Via the small television sets stars came right into the living rooms. Weekly! They became almost like members of the family with a familiarity that had not been present with stars of the big screen. Some of the movie stars who had not achieved superstardom earlier did achieve it in the new medium. Lucille Ball! Robert Young! David Janssen! Raymond Burr! Ann Sothern! Andy Griffith! Danny Thomas! Eve Arden! There were even a couple of superstar goddesses of the silver screen who eclipsed their former fame: Barbara Stanwyck and Loretta Young. Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers are right up there with them. Here are some COMENTS left on previous posts of my website:

Robert Wagner? Possibly the man I envy the most. He was married to the woman I had the biggest crush on in my life.

…absolutely LOVED Hart to Hart. I had a crush on RJ for years before he got that role.

the chemistry between RJ and Stefy was so good they made it work for years.

My point is it was their star power that drew viewers weekly and was possibly even more important than the plots they played and the words the spoke

Earlier when scouting locations in Griffith Park for another production, I saw an area unfamiliar to me – Travel Town. It was special and I filed it in my mind for future use. That opportunity cropped up in this dog show. There was a sequence with good suspense, good action. I knew that location would visually add excitingly if I staged there.

In case you haven’t noticed, those two four-legged actors are giving fine performances. I would tell the animal trainer what I needed them to do, and when I called “action”, they did it.

Location scouting I was taken to a park in Burbank. It was close to the studio and not only gave me the necessary grounds for playtime for Freeway and Watson, there was a fine maze for my finale.

I directed 3 episodes of HART TO HART the first season without staging a single fistfight. Oh there were confrontations. In one episode Jonathan was attacked by a  student garbed for dueling and he responded by picking up a rapier and meeting him head on. Classy! I loved the line he uttered when asked how did he learn to fence like that. He said he had learned it watching Errol Flynn movies. Somehow that elegance had vanished. During the 5th season there was at least one fistfight in each episode. In this one there were 3, but that didn’t make HART TO HART different from the other shows on television. They were all doing it. That satisfied the networks’ request for more action!

The journey continues


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6 Responses to The Dog Who Knew Too Much

  1. Jim says:

    Great to see more of the superb memories of your long, storied career Ralph – always fascinating and enjoyable.

    Certainly agree with your comments on the “star power” of Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers – always enjoyed seeing them, even when the material was less than adequate.

  2. Phil says:

    Ralph, I’m glad you continued the journey!

    Older TV watchers will recognize the dog show setting in video #1 as the “Dennis the Menace” park. Younger readers of this blog will spot the fountain and background facades (0:21) from the opening credits of ‘Friends’.

    Travel Town looked cool. It was also used in a 1975 ep. of ‘Columbo’ called “Identity Crisis”.

    • Ralph says:

      Sorry Phil, the dog show setting was NOT Dennis the Menace park. It was at the Columbia Ranch in Burbank which I knew well. I had filmed there for THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY and THE NEW ADVENTURES OF HEIDI.

  3. Steve Z. says:

    Ralph, In creating the laboratory set on location was probably due to the budget being higher by the fifth season. The one common denominator for the first and fifth seasons was art director James J. Agazzi. For much of the show’s run he was one of the two art directors who worked on the series. Paul Sylos worked with Agazzi as an art director until Columbia took over. Ross Bellah replaced Sylos when it moved to the Burbank studios in 1982. Bellah became the show’s supervising art director.

  4. David L. says:

    My first on-screen credit was a co-writing credit for an episode of “Hart To Hart.”

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience, insight and knowledge. And thank you for all the great hours of entertainment you have given us. Your blog is like having access to a time machine. More, please.

    • Ralph says:

      It sounds like you were just starting when I was winding down! With a little detective work on IMDB I know who you are!

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