The Grandchild: Part I

FILMED July 1977

Again using the new opening format established in the previous fifth season, the show started with a climactic scene from later in the story, which then led into the billboard. The previous practice had been to select the scene in the editing room after photography had been completed and the show was in final cut. However this time the opening scene was scripted. It was a reedited version of a longer scene, and it required a different opening shot and a different closing shot.

That change was minor. The beginning of the sixth season found me returning to Waltons Mountain to face a major change that had taken place. Richard Thomas, his five-year contract at an end, had left. I have read that Richard stated this departure was planned at the time he signed to do the series; he qualified that decision at that time by saying, “If it runs that long.” So John-Boy left for New York City to pursue his writing career and hereafter his character would remain a part of the series by occasional references to his New York advancement and when one of the family would say they had written to tell him of some event at home. The format for the rest of the show stayed the same. It was still the adult John-Boy (voiced by THE WALTONS creator, Earl Hamner) who narrated the opening and closing for each episode just as if he was present to note in detail the weekly happenings in the Walton household.

With Richard Thomas gone, Ralph Waite and Michael Learned, who had previously been co-starred, were now the stars of the show. And where Waite had held the first position for the first five seasons, that slot would now alternate between him and Michael. An additional change: Michael’s credit no longer was Miss Michael Learned.

Another credit missing from the opening billboard was Ellen Corby. Ellen had suffered a massive stroke in early 1977, so Grandma had been temporarily written out of the scripts; she was in a hospital in some far off city.

THE GRANDCHILD was a two-hour episode written by Rod Peterson and Claire Whitaker, Mr. and Mrs. Peterson in real life and the authors of THE FIRESTORM, an exceptional script I had directed the previous year. THE GRANDCHILD had a thirteen day shooting schedule, an improvement over the eleven and a half days that I had three years earlier to film the two-hour THE CONFLICT.

Fourteen years earlier I had directed David Hooks in episodes on NAKED CITY (COLOR SCHEMES LIKE NEVER BEFORE) and EAST SIDE WEST SIDE (AGE OF CONSENT). Now transferred to the west coast David played Ab, Cassie’s grandfather.

The exterior of Ab’s house and the mountain road were filmed on Warner Bros. backlot. It was another first for me on THE WALTONS; in fact it was an only; they were shot night for night. They had to be filmed that way. Shooting day for night we could not have created the lightning effect, and the storm with the wind and rain would not have been as effective. Wind machines. Lightning lighting. Rain. All contributed to the work of John Nickolaus, the third new member of the team, replacing director of photography Russell Metty, who had departed at the end of the fourth season. John had photographed the impressive THE FIRESTORM and THE PONY CART for me the previous year.

The lightning was dramatically effective, but there were restrictions imposed when using it. The lamps that produced the effect made a loud cacophonous noise, so that the effect could be used only when there was no dialogue.

I was a big admirer of the musical, A CHORUS LINE when the national company played at the Shubert Theatre in Century City. I saw it six times. When I realized we were going to need a dancer for this episode, I asked Pam Polifroni, our casting director, to get one of the dancers from that show for our production. But before I continue, I have to take a moment to talk about my reaction to that great musical the first time I saw it. I remember at the final curtain being glued to my seat, unable to move, wiped out by the message I had gotten from the production. Cassie, in order to get a job that she was desperate to receive, had to perform at less than her capabilities in order to qualify. That message really resonated and disturbed me.

Pam brought Trish Garland in to meet me and she was hired. I gave her the script, explained what I was planning, and it was agreed she would create her own choreography. Imagine my shock the tenth morning of filming when Trish arrived at our location — on crutches. She assured me there would be no problem; she would be able to perform. And she did. My admiration for her knew no bounds. It was a known fact that the dancers in A CHORUS LINE constantly experienced injuries. If you’ve ever seen a production of that musical, you know what a strenuous ordeal those performers were put through. But here was one performer who was not going to pass up a job (the IMDB notes this as being her first film assignment) because of a bad gam. A real trouper in the show must go on tradition!

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For the Jefferson Theatre in Charlottesville we used the Mayfair Theatre on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica. Just a few blocks up from the ocean, it was a small theatre that bounced back and forth between being a movie house and a performing arts theatre for smaller productions. I had seen my former classmate, Charles Pierce, perform his one-man show there. Buddy Ebsen had hosted a birthday party for himself there for the cast and company of BARNABY JONES. The small theatre was a charmer.

This show gave me a chance to return to one of my favorite locations — Franklin Canyon with its large reservoir in the hills above Beverly Hills. Luckily we found a shack there we could use for Cassie’s cabin. Our art department did a fine job of embellishing it – a very few articles of furniture, torn curtains at the window and even cobwebs, spun not by spiders but by our artful technicians.

To be continued

 

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2 Responses to The Grandchild: Part I

  1. Michael Brenner says:

    I really like the night for night. If you had not noted the no lightning during dialogue I would not have noticed it.

  2. John Dayton says:

    I distinctly recall having to lay the corner piece of the kitchen ceiling for the low angle up on Judy when she squatted down while mopping the floor. It was not easy. Nor was it easy to light.

    I might be in error, but I believe that was the only time the ceiling was ever shot.

    Rod and Claire were brilliant writers, and Judy really shines as an actress.

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