Part III

FILMED June-July 1978

The evil Luzern cousins were played by two of my favorite and favored actors — Walter Brooke and Amzie Strickland, both of whom I had known for what seemed like forever – Walter from 1952 and Amzie from 1955.

One of my favorite stories about Amzie: sometime in the mid-sixties she was booked to play the girlfriend of Danny Kaye’s character in a skit on the Danny Kaye Show on CBS. A few weeks after the show aired Danny phoned her and asked, ”Do you sing?”

“Not really. Why?” she asked

“Well you’re going to, because our comedy scene was such a success, they’re now writing a whole show for those characters, and this time it’s going to be a musical.”

And so they did. When the time came, Amzie reported to the CBS studio on Beverly Boulevard and was in a session in the rehearsal hall at the piano with the show’s composer, rehearsing a duet she was going to sing with Kaye. Danny entered the room, and his first words were, “What the (expletive) key is that?”

The composer calmly answered, “It’s the only key Amzie sings in, so it’s the key you’re going to do the song in.” The show, like its predecessor, was a huge success.

This was the last time Marlyn Mason (secretary Mady) and I worked together professionally; the first time was sixteen years before in an episode of CHANNING, which I will be belatedly discussing soon.

For our Catholic School For Girls we selected one of the old mansions in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles. Ironically the establishment was a nunnery.

My friend and producer, Charles FitzSimons, was a black Irish, devout Catholic with a Satanic sense of humor. He said of the impressive building we were using, “Isn’t it interesting that the residents here have taken the vow of total abstinence in order to live in such magnificent opulence.”

I met Molly Dodd (Mother Superior) in 1954 when I did the lighting for a production of THE ROSE TATTOO in which she appeared at the Players Ring Theatre in Hollywood. Molly later acted in productions I directed, first in 1958 in THE ICEMAN COMETH at Gilmor Brown’s Playbox at the Pasadena Playhouse and in 1960 on the main stage of the Playhouse in a production of THE GOLDEN FLEECING. Molly was married to a writer, Bud, and I spent quite a bit of time at their home in Laurel Canyon. When we were doing the latter play, Bud gave me a copy of a pulp fiction novel he had written; it was a Grand Guignol thriller — WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?. Yes, Bud was Henry Farrell, the novel’s author. He told me he had sold the film rights to the novel a couple of years before, and he knew that it had been resold a couple of times since. When Robert Aldrich acquired the property for his great Bette Davis-Joan Crawford production, Bud did not get to do the screenplay, but he was closely associated with Mr. Aldrich. In 1962 he took me on the set once on a soundstage on one of the small lots in Hollywood. They were filming the scene backing the car out of the garage.

Bud told me a remarkable story. He spent one evening with Robert Aldrich, socializing and drinking. Weeks later he came home one day and said to Molly, “Do you remember the night several weeks ago when I came home and told you I had told Robert Aldrich an idea for a film?” She did. “Do you remember what that idea was?” She didn’t. She asked, “Why?” Bud said, “Well he called me today and he wants to buy it.” Molly enthusiastically said, “Great!” Bud added, “But I can’t remember what I told him.” Well somehow Bud did recall, and the result was WHATEVER HAPPENED TO COUSIN CHARLOTTE, later retitled HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE, the successful follow-up film to BABY JANE.

Our sixth and seventh days of filming in Los Angeles were at an elegant house in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles. Just as we moved the Columbia Ranch village of Dorfli to Switzerland in postproduction, we transported our Hancock Park-Wyler home overseas and set it down with the Alps in the background.

The butler in the Wyler home was actor Bartlett Robinson, whom I had directed in THE NIGHT OF THE DRUID’S BLOOD on THE WILD WILD WEST. Casting director Jimmy Merrick, suggested him for the role, and I hastily agreed. Bartlett told me he was totally surprised but pleased when the offer came. No casting call; no audition — just a chance to act. He had retired to one of the beach towns south of Los Angeles; his reason for retiring — the profession wasn’t fun any more. According to the IMDB, after this Bartlett made only three more film appearances in episodes of LOU GRANT.

Let me tell you again how the musical numbers were filmed. We recorded composer Buz Kohan playing the song on the piano. Katy and Sherrie each had a small receiver in one ear, and they sang to a playback of that accompaniment, which they were hearing through that receiver. Each take was a filmed live singing performance with only the singer’s voice being recorded. The orchestration was added later in postproduction.

Film schedules are like blue prints; they plan the schedule for the entire production, day by day, but they sometimes require revisions. Here is the overly-ambitious 11 6/8 page call sheet for our fifth day of filming in an office on the twelfth floor of the Global Marine Building in downtown Los Angeles.

We were scheduled to complete all of the scenes in Dan’s office on the first Friday of filming in Los Angeles. We started the day in the outer office doing Marlyn Mason’s song. That went off without a hitch. We then moved into Dan’s office, where we started with John Gavin’s musical number. Things slowed down, and at the end of the day we had only completed the first five of the scheduled scenes, leaving five unfinished. Wonderful producer Charles FitzSimons was right there on the front line with me to rearrange our future schedule. He planned that on the next Friday (our tenth and final day of filming in Los Angeles before leaving for Colorado) we would return to the office location and complete the scenes we had dropped. The work that had been planned for that day, the Catholic girls’ school and the cave, he rescheduled for the first Monday after we returned from Colorado.

The exterior of the school with the ground covered with snow turned into a funny problem; the slushy snow seemed more like bubbly soap, almost like the result of a giant washing machine overflowing and spewing out gallons of soap bubbles. Since it was not feasible to bring in other equipment to correct the problem, we had to hope it wouldn’t show.

Our original request to Buz Kohan was for a song for Mady expressing her exasperation with Dan, but what he delivered had another beat beyond that. She softened and sang of her private dreams. I wanted to keep Mady angry at Dan for the scene that immediately followed her song, so I delayed that final bit of music and used it later. I was pleased that it made such an effective curtain for the act.

I recently asked Marlyn what was it like singing without an orchestra, singing with just a piano accompaniment, and possibly a poorly played one, coming through a small receiver in her ear?  Her response:

 

It was odd at first; mainly, because I knew the crew couldn’t hear what I was hearing, the music, and that I must’ve appeared loony. But I quickly adjusted, as actresses do and/or should be trained to do. However, I remember hearing a full orchestra and not just a piano. Ha! “I could’ve sung all day”, to paraphrase Mr Lerner. You gave me full rein in that tiny “office” space and I loved the little piece of business I worked out with the gloves, jamming them on to the beat of the music…and the hat, too.

I was never one to like my looks but Director of Photography John Nickolaus stunned me with the close-up he filmed when I sang the reprieve of THAT MAN. To this day I still think I’m looking at someone else!

The day we did the exterior of the Hotel Bonaventure, again with snow on the ground, did not present the problem we later had at the school. Our snow effect that day looked like real slushy snow. In fact we stopped traffic in downtown Los Angeles, as cars driving by were astounded at the snow surrounding the hotel on that warm June day.

I thought the sequence in the kitchen with the mad chef, Andre, was a very funny scene; but I also thought it needed some help. I didn’t feel the collapsing souffles alone were enough. I wanted to add someone reacting to them to punch up the joke. I knew it would require more than an extra doing special business. It was going to require a very good actor. But there were no lines to the role. I presented my problem to casting director, Jimmy Merrick. He found me rubber-faced Vernon Weddle.

I was so pleased with Vernon’s performance, I used him again in episodes of YOUNG MAVERICK, TRAPPER JOHN, M.D. and the pilot of DYNASTY — all within the next two years. And those times he got to speak.

I overheard girl talk conversations between Sherrie and Katy regarding the approaching music box scene. Sherrie was concerned that she would not be able to produce the tears she felt the scene required. Katy was coaching her on how to approach the problem. Now let’s face it; Katy was not the singer that Sherrie was, and Sherrie was not the actress that Katy was. So if Sherrie’s final effort ended up more like Jane Withers than Margaret O’Brien – well, I’d still give her an A.

I first met Marlyn Mason at the Players Ring Theatre in Hollywood when she was fourteen years old. She was starring in a children’s musical production of HEIDI. She was playing Heidi.

John Gavin’s ballad was filmed on the third day of filming. There wasn’t the problem doing it that we had later in the schedule in the office with the WOMEN number.

When we began production, we contemplated we were going to have to build a cave set on a soundstage for the two sequences with Grandfather and the Wild Man. But once we settled on the Los Feliz mansion for Elizabeth’s school, our problem was solved. There were five sequences (three exterior and two interior) to be filmed at the school for a total of 2 2/8 pages. That was not a full days work, so a move was going to have to be made. Bronson Canyon was very close, so a move there would be more expedient than a move back to the studio, where we would have to build a set. Bronson Canyon had a ready made set with which I was familiar.

I had filmed the cave for BREAD AND CIRCUSES. The school and the cave were the scenes rescheduled from the last Friday before leaving for Colorado to the first Monday on our return to Los Angeles.

As we neared completion of filming, Charlie told me our costume supervisor had come to him with a request; John Gavin had asked for the gray flannel slacks he wore in the production. Charlie didn’t tell me why, but he said he had refused to give them to him. That was not the end of the story. After we returned to Los Angeles and were based at the Desilu Culver Studio (the old Selznick Studio in Culver City), our costume supervisor came to Charlie a second time. John had been booked for another production, coincidentally filming on the Culver City lot, and the costume supervisor for that production had contacted our costumer. He said John had told him about the gray slacks he had worn in our production and suggested he secure them for this new production. When he told me this, Charlie just shook his head in disbelief. I don’t recall his decision.

The Journey Continues

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One Response to Part III

  1. Phil says:

    Watch how Mady’s car moves through the snow in the 8th video from 0:08 thru 0:10. The verdict is soap suds!

    Ralph, you have a big fan in Katy Kurtzman. She set up a Youtube account called ‘KatyKurtzmanActingUp’, which has videos from her various projects. Check out her comments in this clip from your episode of ‘How the West Was Won’:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UuJAzNtbH04

    Her Youtube profile has a link to an engrossing 138-minute interview she did last year at blogtalkradio.com.

    I didn’t know she was a regular in Season One of ‘Dynasty’ (‘Dallas’ and a tiny bit of ‘Falcon Crest’ were the only primetime soaps I watched). Are you planning to write about ‘Dynasty’? I assume it would be a Herculean task. I saw your amusing discussion of the Pilot in your American TV Archives interview – and that was the SHORT version! Has any of the film shot with George Peppard ever been seen in public? I hope it was saved; that’s TV gold!

    ‘Dynasty’ episodes can be watched for free online at Comcast’s Xfinity website. I need to schedule time for “Oil” – 2 hours & 20 minutes, plus commercial breaks you can’t avoid!

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