I had seen James Olsen in a production at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. He was a powerhouse onstage in contrast to the rather bland actor I had considered him to be based on the roles he was given in films -- feature and television. Working with him on this production, I realized his range was even greater than I had anticipated.
The lesson I learned while directing A DREAM FOR CHRISTMAS certainly came in handy on this production. As I related when I did the posting on that show, there was a scene with a crying baby. The actors in the scene and I did everything short of child abuse to get the infant to cry, but all we got was giggles. The welfare worker on the set (and there always is one when children are working) took me aside and told me how to accomplish the deed. If someone quietly makes crying sounds near the baby, the infant then will start to cry. What I also discovered was that it didn’t work if I did it; it needed to be done by a woman -- I guess it was the higher pitch of her voice as compared to the male voice. So in the baby crying scenes in this film (and there were a lot of them) Shirley Jones inherited the task. She would get the baby crying, then move to her starting position to do her own emotional preparation for the scene. When she was ready, she would give me a nod and I would call action.
I directed many productions with child actors, but never did I have as many as in this production. Not counting Andy, the baby, there were eleven of them. As a result I didn’t really get to give them individually the attention I usually would. The only two that I did connect with were Willy Ames and Ernest Esparza (Donny and Rick), but I had worked with each of them before when they did guest spots on THE WALTONS. The reason I bring this up is even without that special attention, I think the kids did some remarkable work.
I wonder how many of you have realized the similarities between this story and A DREAM FOR CHRISTMAS, which I had filmed just a year before. The next clip is almost a replay of a scene I had directed with Hari Rhodes and Lynn Hamilton in the previous film.
I had a dinner table scene with Carl and all twelve kids. I requested that since the family was so financially strapped, the dinner plates should be varied, not a set. I wanted them all to be different colors. I realized this would add to the chores of the script supervisor, since for editing purposes the action from take to take had to match. I don’t know why, but I took a special glee in planning this. And once again I want to call attention to the young actors. Their discipline, their concentration -- "mob" scenes like the next clip can be frustratingly difficult. This one wasn't.
Beeson Carroll (Mr. Collins) had also guest starred for me before on THE WALTONS. In fact he was in the same episode as Willy Ames; he played Willy’s father.
For all my carping about Universal, I admit this time there didn’t seem to be their usual reticence with the pocketbook; in fact I think we mounted a very respectable production. The setting for the bazaar was on their back lot, and I certainly couldn’t complain about the number of extras to people the festivities.
Lindsay Workman (Judge) was another repeat performer for me. He had appeared in one of my favorite productions, THE MARATHON on THE WALTONS.
It seemed every studio’s backlot had an exterior courthouse with tall stone columns and wide steps. The fact that the Universal courthouse was far more imposing than our small community of Franklinburg would probably have had couldn’t matter. In television as far as courthouses went, one-size-fits-all.
Memo from Producer William Kayden
It is said that art imitates life. Wouldn't it be nice sometimes if it could be the other way around -- that life would imitate art, that everyone would live happily ever after, like in the movies. After the twelve children were grown Helen Doss and Carl Doss were divorced.