Friday, December 4, 2009

NARCISSUS ON AN OLD RED FIRE ENGINE - March 1963 (Route 66)

Right after "...THE TRUNK", the company sent me to New York -- twice -- to direct two NAKED CITY’s, which I shall tell you about later. But for now let’s stay on the road and travel Route 66 back to Texas for a rather strange adventure -- before and behind the camera. The script was NARCISSUS ON AN OLD RED FIRE ENGINE by Joel Carpenter. Naturallly when I reported to the studio, it was still being written. Joel Carpenter, whom I never met, was not a screenplay writer. I think he was a novelist. I know that he was writing very slowly, because at a meeting with Bert Leonard and Stirling Silliphant I was told that. Because of his inexperience at writing for film, Stirling was rewriting him, but Joel didn’t know that. Stirling could have gone ahead and finished the script on his own -- that was mentioned at the meeting -- but they wanted Joel’s original input. They were waiting patiently for Joel to turn in pages, which Stirling would immediatelly rewrite; and I was leaving for Texas with fewer pages of script than when I left the last time.


I flew from LA to Houston, where under the direction of James Sheldon the company was completing filming the first show to co-star Glenn Corbett, the actor selected to replace the departing George Maharis. From Houston the company moved down to Galveston, again on the Gulf. I neglected to mention that when I directed ...THE TRUNK, it was the Gulf of Mexico that turned me into a fish eater. Coming from Iowa I thought fish was either canned salmon, canned tuna, or lox. In Corpus Christi I would buy fresh red snapper on the beach, take it back to the motel where they would prepare it for my evening meal.


Joel and Stirling had obviously been in Galveston when this story was conceived. They had found a Greek night club that became an important ingredient in the story. But that club was too small to accommodate filming. So they found another larger club, which was then turned into our Greek night club. And that was where our story begins.


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Another first: filming a working factory where Tod and Linc are employed. Establish it, don’t just film the dialogue.


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The following scene was scheduled for our first day of filming.


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The word from Hollywood when they saw this scene was that they thought Glenn needed more ‘energy’. I wasn’t sure just what they meant by that, but I talked to Glenn and we reshot the scene -- but in a different location because we had left the Cotton Baling plant. Again they complained in Hollywood that he lacked energy. We reshot the scene for the third time, this time back at the original location. I didn’t really know at the time what they wanted. Later in hindsight I knew what the problem was. They wanted another George Maharis. Well Glenn wasn’t George Maharis. Glenn had a limited range, but within that range he was a very appealing actor.


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And here we find the crux of Janie’s problem. She wants to be able to respond to love -- but she can’t.


The live locations I had shot up until now did not prepare me for shooting in a motel room. Alma’s house (in IN THE CLOSING OF A TRUNK), which had been small, was three times the size of Linc’s motel room. You will notice there is never a master shot that includes all four people. The room wasn't large enough to film it.


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Linc and Tod return to the Greek club.


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And now let’s talk a little more about Janie. I felt she had strong sensual desires, but she was unable to release them when relating to a man. This sensuality was evident on the dance floor. When we filmed this sequence, we used as a sound track the Nelson Riddle ROUTE 66 theme song. I’ll tell you, the music was HOT! And Janie was HOT! I thought the music they replaced it with subdued the sensuality of the scene. I don’t know if this was deliberate or not. But what is on the screen is not nearly as exciting and sexual as what we filmed.


Tod ends up in jail. And thank goodness I only had one shot to film there. The stench was unbearable.


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I haven’t mentioned that we still did not have the complete script. The pages arriving from the west coast just managed to keep ahead of our shooting schedule. Anne and I had also decided that Bill was a figment of her imagination, a phantom lover.


And now the culmination of the collision of Linc’s libido and Janie’s problem. I staged the following scene between Linc and Janie on a miniature golf course with strange, exotic animal figures. When Janie said, “Who are you not to listen?” that was a challenge that Linc accepted. He embraced her, holding her tight as he nuzzled her neck, while she kept on talking about Bill. Behind them was the head of a large black whale with a white eye. It was very sexual and Daliesque, with nothing that I felt the network censorship could object to. It never got to the networks. Bert wanted it reshot, and as you will see it ended up just a lot of florid words. Now I wonder if the reason for their objection might have been, "That's not the way Maharis would play it."


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A nice revealing scene. And I think director of photography Jack Marta did some exceptional work.


About the fifth or sixth day of shooting Anne came to me, all excited. She had had a chance to read the new script pages that had just arrived, which I hadn't seen yet. “Guess what! There really is a Bill. He shows up.”


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The stunt double for Linc in the fight scene was not a very good likeness, especially in that first shot of him at the top of the stairs. A more experienced director would have shot it from further away.


Janie disappears. Linc goes looking for her.


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I learned another first lesson on the pier. It takes less time to write an action sequence than to film it. The length of the scene on paper from the time Linc exits the amusement center through the shots of the two stunt doubles diving into the water was three eighths of a page. By my normal allotment of an hour a page that would allow about twenty-five minutes to film it. It took four and a half hours.


Both Glenn and Anne had to go into the water for the rescue part of the sequence. When we did the final scene of them on the beach, they had to be watered down before each take. We had a fire nearby and lots of blankets to keep them warm between takes. But it was COLD.


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The film took ten days to shoot, which was not surprising because of the scenes that were reshot and the fact we didn’t begin filming with a completed script. No one was disturbed by this. The film was in essence a pilot, presenting a new leading man to secure a renewal of the series for another season. CBS did renew ROUTE 66 for its fourth season. But I have always felt how much finer a film could have been made if the script could have been completed and revised BEFORE photography began. Isn’t that true of any project? This script though had so much about it that was original and unique -- what a shame!



We completed filming I think on a Wednesday. The company was scheduled to leave Texas and go to Florida for another group of episodes. I was booked to direct the next episode in Florida, the start date of prep to be the following Monday. I was exhausted. I had directed four shows (two ROUTE 66’s in Texas and two NAKED CITY’s in New YORK) in about nine weeks. Factor in the travel, and I think I was entitled to be tired. I requested permission to go to Florida from Texas rather than returning to Los Angeles. I figured the three or four days of down time was necessary. For some reason or other the production office refused. I then asked to be released from the commitment to direct the next show because of fatigue. They agreed, and I returned to Los Angeles, ready to give myself a break. Catch my next posting to find out how short that break was.


Four years later Glenn Corbett guest starred in my favorite of the STAR TREK’s I directed, METAMORPHOSIS. I have been interviewed by the Star Trek History website. It is an audio interview with slides and film clips and you can view it at: http://www.startrekhistory.com/interviews.htm



6 comments:

  1. this has to be the greatest blog any TV director has ever done :) Keep em coming..... amazing :)

    ps- Joel Carpenter was really blacklisted Arnold Manoff who wrote Casbah and the big break.

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  2. Recently some behind the scenes footage of the filming of Narcissus has been located and restored. It has been posted on the Texas Archive of the Moving Image website.

    It was shot by Mr. Henry Freudenburg who was a member of the Galveston Chamber of Commerce at the time and was instrumental in getting the Route 66 production company to film an episode in Galveston.

    Here is a link to the film:

    http://www.texasarchive.org/library/index.php?title=Behind-the-Scenes_at_Filming_of_Route_66&gsearch=route%2066%20filming

    Perhaps Mr. Senensky could look at it and identify himself.

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  3. My wife and her family lived on the Pleasure Pier. My first job was there (age 14). We "evacuated" Ball High School to watch the shoots at the Seahorse Hotel and Pleasure Pier.

    What a treasure this is!

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  4. I forgot to mention (above).

    The horse-drawn red fire engine belonged(s) to the City of Galveston. The Pleasure Pier was effectively destroyed and closed as a result of Hurricane Carla (1961). A hotel, the Flagship, was built on the site of the Pleasure Pier. It was recently destroyed during Hurricane Ike. The current owner announced he is going to put a Pleasure Pier-like amusement park on the pier.

    We local high school kids thought it was funny that behind the Seahorse Hotel, Route 66 had a car carrier with several identical Corvettes.

    An actual Galveston policeman is in several of the scenes.

    We were impressed by the camera dolly that shot the hotel scenes from the exterior of a room the 2nd floor of the Seahorse (which is today a vacant lot).

    But when the double dove off the Pleasure Pier and into the water, I think many of us yelled, FAKE!

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  5. The bar used in this show belonged to my Mother-In-Law Mary Alice Carter Nicholson Serman. The Bar was called The Buoy. My husband and his mother were in a scene with a Shoe shine boy. I did not see it in this video it may have gotten cut from the actual show. He was very young then so he really does not remember if he was in the show when it aired on TV. He was so excited to see the bar of his childhood that his Mother owned for many years. He remembers all the great gifts he received from the sailors who came to Galveston from foreign countries.

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  6. To the previous poster: I remember The Buoy. It had red Buoys at the entrance. Where was it? I always thought the "Greek bar" was at the Greek bar on 20 & Strand. It sure looked liked it (with the nets, etc.). The police station was a half-block away. The jail scene was the old county jail a block away. It was a terrible dungeon (although I would have no way of knowing). During the Splash Day riots, they stored the arrested kids there.

    We "took the day off" from BHS to watch the filming at the Seahorse. That's mostly us in the background.

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