The Game Of Terror

FILMED August 1971

THE GAME OF TERROR was another first for me. Most of my bookings had been for series in their first or second season. There was an attrition that normally set into long-running series that made me want to avoid doing them, although I had directed two episodes of DR. KILDARE’S fourth season. My return to THE FBI occurred in the middle of their seventh season. THE FBI had an advantage. It was really an anthology with a new cast of characters each week (except for the bureau’s agents) and the anthology was a form that had unfortunately disappeared from our television screens. It had been five years since I had directed for THE FBI, so it was not surprising to find changes in the company. Producer Charles Larsen had left the previous season and was replaced by Philip Saltzman. I had never met Philip, although I had directed DETOUR ON A ROAD GOING NOWHERE for THE FUGITIVE, which he had written. Stephen Brooks had left five years ago with William Reynolds replacing him as Efrem’s sidekick; and to my disappointment, director of photography William Spencer was temporarily away, replaced by Harold Wellman.

Because of the inferior quality of the film clips, I recommend viewing the small frame

Another first: I would be filming my first two days at the legendary Vasquez Rocks, a large scenic area in northern Los Angeles County, noted as a frequently used location for westerns. The jogging sequence was the first scene we filmed on our first day. It was very early morning, it was August, we were north of the San Fernando Valley, far from the ocean breezes, and already at that early hour it was hot. I had planned a half a dozen camera angles of the boys jogging, which meant that off and on for the better part of two hours the group of extras and our two guest stars would be jogging in ever increasing heat. When we completed those set-ups, Ray Barons, the sound mixer, whom I knew from five years before when he had been the sound boom man on the series, asked if we could have the boys run one more time so he could get a good sound track of their feet hitting the ground. (When we shot film without sound it was called MOS. I guess this one was called MOF – mit out film.) I hated to ask the joggers to do it again, and I did tell guest stars Richard Thomas and Jerry Houser they wouldn’t have to run for that sound only take. We picked a clear area of the road, set the distance the boys would be running, and when sound was ready, I called for “action.” The boys ran the distance, and as they reached the end, just as I prepared to yell, “cut,” Ray Baron’s shrieking, plaintive voice filled the canyon. “Jesus Christ, I forgot to turn on the (expletive) switch.” I really believe that was the funniest moment in my twenty-six years directing film.

And finally, this was the first time I worked with Richard Thomas. Richard had recently filmed a movie-for-television, THE HOMECOMING: A CHRISTMAS STORY, which would air the following December. The success of that airing gave birth to the series, THE WALTONS, which debuted in September 1972. I did not know then that two years hence I would be directing John-Boy Walton in some of my favorite productions.

The welcome news on my return to the series was that art director Richard Haman was still with the show. Usually for sets to be filmed at the studio, I would be presented with floor plans. For the sequence in the deserted mine Richard Haman did much better than that.

The set was built at the studio, and all of the sequences in it were filmed on the seventh and final day of photography.

The feature film SUMMER OF ’42 was released in April 1971. Jerry Houser, one of the three young boys starring in the film, told me as an eighteen-year old he had had no training as actor, no aspirations for a theatrical career, but his close friend did. When his friend told him he was going to an open audition for the film, Jerry, as a lark, decided to go with him. Jerry was the one who ended up being cast in the film. I think THE FBI was Jerry’s first audition for a television role, and he ended up with star billing on his first outing on the smaller screen. That coupling of events was no fluke; it was the beginning of a long and successful career.

I never had a copy of this show; this was three years before I had my first VCR machine, so I had not viewed it in many years. Recently I was graciously provided a dvd of the production. I had forgotten that Claudia Bryar appeared in it. I was reminded that a casting director at that time said it was easy casting character women for me; just take your pick of Claudia Bryar, Amzie Strickland, Adrienne Marden or Arlen Stuart.

I was usually very flexible if an actor wanted to alter my blocking of a scene. I don’t remember what it was that Dabney Coleman (headmaster) wanted to change in his blocking, but I do remember that I had to insist that we stick to my staging. He had to pick up the magazine on the floor so that (1) the boys could react with concern to his holding it, and (2) I needed to have him leave it on the desk near the window. This dorm scene was filmed on the fifth day. On the third day I had filmed exteriors at the Harvard School for Boys and had started a sequence with a shot from the courtyard to the window of the boys’ room, and the boys had to be in positions to match what I had filmed.

That scene plus an establishing shot of our Mt. Verde Academy, totaling less than two pages, were the only exteriors at our Harvard School location.

Since there were no other location sites that could be combined with Harvard School, we chose to avoid the expensive time consuming option of moving back to the studio for the balance of the day’s work and filmed our three other Mt. Verde Academy interiors in live locations at Harvard School.

Alex Nicol had replaced Ben Gazzara in the Broadway production of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. I was very impressed when I saw him play Brick in the national tour company when it played the Hartford Theatre in Hollywood, and I was eager to work with him. Sadly this was our only collaboration.

There was a plus and a minus for Philip Abbott in his nine-season association with THE FBI. The plus was that the money got better with each renewal for another year, but by the seventh season his involvement with the week’s case had noticeably diminished, as in the others I directed which followed, when his role was limited to phone calls taken while seated at his desk.

In the next clip if you realize you have seen the actress playing Chill’s girlfriend before but can’t remember where you saw her, let me put your mind at rest. She played Dora, the girl with the dreadful voice, in DORA, DORA, DORA on THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY.

I thought Richard Thomas with his baby face created a Richard Widmark type character, a stunning portrait of evil that could have propelled his career in that direction. Wasn’t it ironic that his fame came from playing someone at the other end of the character spectrum.

As was normal on a Quinn Martin production, there were four days of location filming and three days at the studio, but since there was not enough location work for a full fourth day, we started that day at the Burbank airport (which I will get to shortly), returned to the studio to film a sequence on a soundstage and then filmed a night sequence on a set created by Richard Haman on the studio’s TV parking lot.

Three years later when I was directing THE CONFLICT on THE WALTONS, we needed stock footage of grounds being cleared for a big highway in the mountains. The editing department brought in loads of such footage, and I recognized from the slates a couple of shots from this sequence in THE GAME OF TERROR. They were used in that film.

For a young actor, looking clean-cut enough to be an FBI agent proved a boon to employment. James Sikking appeared in ten episodes during the series nine-season run with a different agent’s name each time. This was the second time he was an agent for me. Ten years after his appearance in THE GAME OF TERROR he landed a role as a regular in what proved to be a hit series, HILL STREET BLUES. My big gratitude to Sikking is that his wife, Florine, gave me her recipe for Jewish chicken soup. The secret ingredient? Dill.

It was fascinating working with the pairing of Richard Thomas and Jerry Houser. Nineteen-year old Jerry by his own admission was a novice; he had no training as an actor and had appeared in only one film, while twenty-year old Richard had started acting in the womb, played his first role on Broadway at the age of seven and live television and film appearances followed. But veteran Richard Thomas approached his work with the avid, intense enthusiasm of a kid with a new-found toy, and novice Jerry Houser, with that same enthusiasm, performed like a seasoned professional.

The area where we staged the digging was another section of the 905 acres that included Vasquez Rocks. The land and rock formations were acquired by the Los Angeles County government in the 1970s, I think after we had filmed there. The digging area had no trees, there was no shade for protection against the sun. I remember the temperature in the afternoon of that second day filming hit 114 degrees.

Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction or in this case at least as interesting. Gary Tigerman (the young kidnap victim) worked three of the seven days of the schedule, so I hope to be forgiven if in the intervening forty years I forgot his name but not his performance. When I moved to Carmel twenty years ago I knew only one person who lived here, Laurie Schumann, and I knew her only very casually from that period in the fifties when we were both involved at the Players Ring Theatre in Hollywood. Through Laurie I met Richard Tyler and Dino, and I have always referred to the three of them as my Carmel family. When I recently received the dvd of THE GAME OF TERROR, which I had not viewed in close to forty years, I was startled to see the name Gary Tigerman. Tyler was a name that Richard, under advisement, took as a young performer. His legal name, which he never gave up, was Tigerman. I immediately asked if there was a Gary Tigerman in his family and was told that there was, and that he was involved in the entertainment profession. Gary Tigerman was Richard’s nephew, but I was not able to pursue the matter further, because I could not question Richard. He passed away six months ago. As I said, real life can be just as interesting as reel life.

The Journey Continues

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6 Responses to The Game Of Terror

  1. Phil says:

    In the 14th video, a guy with his back to the camera starts talking to Erskine. In one-tenth of a second I knew that voice…William Bramley!!! This time, he offered no rides on his bulldozer.

    My parents watched ‘The F.B.I.’ on Sunday nights when I was little. When an episode started, I would run up to my bedroom, where I had magnetic colored block letters on a board. As the opening credits began to roll, I returned and laid out three letters on the coffee table in unison with the video: F-B-I. I don’t remember why I started doing this, but it was my ritual. After that, they probably sent me to bed. I don’t remember any episode details.

    It’s so cool that you got a chance to film at Vasquez Rocks…but where were the rocks?! I’m talking about the famous slanted rocks climbed by Capt. Kirk to push the boulder over the ledge and down on the Gorn in ‘Star Trek’. Perhaps that particular area looked too barren to be useful for the story.

    Can you share any insight on how tunneling scenes are filmed? I assume the actor is in a tube with one side cut out, but maybe there’s more to it than that.

    • Ralph Senensky says:

      Richard Haman designed and had built dynamite sets.The tunnel was much like the bigger set that they walked through to get to the explosive room and of course open on one side so it could be filmed.

  2. Kathy Tasich says:

    Totally, Terrifying Thomas was absolutely amazing and chilling as Chillton. In the last scene as he gets in the police car he had a smirk on his face that made me cringe.
    Great acting and directing made this a real exciting episode in the series. Thanks again for the great commentary, Ralph!

  3. Peter White says:

    “Dill” in Jewish Chicken Soup??!!!!!!!
    How wonderful!!!!!…as was the episode!

  4. Mark Swartz says:

    Can’t thank you enough for this wonderful site. I have to ask, why do you suppose that they switched the part on Erskine’s hair from the left side in earlier episodes to the right side of his head in later episodes? Also, as an avid amateur videographer I find the technical information most fascinating and useful. Hope all is well.

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