Monday, August 23, 2010

THE NEW ADVENTURES OF HEIDI - Part Two - June/July 1978

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The evil Luzern cousins were played by two of my favorite and favored actors -- Walter Brooke and Amzie Strickland.  I had known Walter Brooke since 1952 when I was an assistant director at the Chevy Chase Summer Theatre in Wheeling, Illinois -- just north of Chicago.  You can read about Walter in the archives to the right in the DETOUR GOING NOWHERE episode of THE FUGITIVE.  I had known Amzie since 1955 and you can read about her in the AN APPLE A DAY episode of THE FUGITIVE -- again in the archives to the right.

Another favorite and favored shows up next as secretary to Elizabeth’s father;  Marlyn Mason and you can read more about her in the archives in THE FBI episode, THE ESCAPE

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On the way home, they stop off for Heidi to be enrolled at the Catholic School For Girls where Elizabeth is a student.  We selected one of the old mansions in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles to be our school.  Ironically the establishment was in fact a nunnery.  

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My friend and producer, Charlie 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.”

The Mother Superior was played by a wonderful actress and my friend, Molly Dodd, whom I met in 1954 when I did the lighting for a production in which she appeared of THE ROSE TATTOO 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 Pasadena 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; he wrote under different names in different genres.  This was a Grand Guignol thriller -- WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?.  Yes, Bud was Henry Farrell.  He had sold the 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.

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?  Do you remember what that idea was?”  Molly’s replay was, “No.  Why?”  Bud said, “Well he called me today and he wants to buy it.  And I can’t remember what I told him.”   Well somehow Bud remembered.  The idea turned out to be HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE, the successful followup to BABY JANE.

As they arrive at the Wyler home in Zurich, I must emphasize we did not go to Switzerland to film it.  Our Wyler home was in the elegant Hancock Park section of Los Angeles, one of my favorite areas in which to film.  The mountains behind the mansion were matted in later during post production.

The butler in the Wyler home was actor Bartlett Robinson, whom I had directed before 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 go act, avoiding  the rat race.  He had retired to one of the beach towns south of Los Angeles; his reason for retiring -- the profession just wasn’t fun any more.  According to the IMDB, Bartlett made only three more film appearances after this in episodes of LOU GRANT.

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Let me tell you again how the musical numbers were done.  Buz Kohan had been recorded playing the song on the piano.  Katy and Sherrie each had a small receiver in one ear and they sang to the accompaniment they were hearing.  Take by take, these scenes were filmed live singing performances.  The orchestration was added later in postproduction.

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Shooting schedules were planned logistically.  There was the option of building a cave set at the Selznick studio for the Grandfather-Wild Man scenes  or finding a live cave to film.  Since there was not a full day’s work in the cave, a live cave would necessitate a company move during the day.  Moves took time.  The finding of our School for Girls in the Los Feliz area lessened the problem.  That location was very close to Bronson Canyon, where I had filmed a cave sequence in BREAD AND CIRCUSES on STAR TREK.  So that’s what we did.  We filmed all of the scenes at the girls’ school (exterior and interior) on the first Monday back in Los Angeles after our Colorado sojourn; and then we moved to the nearby Bronson Canyon cave for the remainder of that day’s work.  The following day we reported to the Selznick Studio in Culver City where we completed filming the production.  

We were scheduled to complete all of the scenes in Daniel’s office in one day -- the first Friday of our schedule in Los Angeles.   We started the day in the outer office doing Marlyn Mason’s song.  That went off without a hitch.  Then we moved into Daniel’s office, where we started with John Gavin’s musical number.  That took the rest of the day to complete, leaving a lot of work still to be filmed in these offices.  Wonderful Charles FitzSimons was right there on the front line with me to rearrange our schedule.  We were already booked to film the Hancock Park house on the following Monday and Tuesday.  Wednesday and Thursday we were booked for the Columbia Ranch to film the Dorfli village sequences.  Some cuts were made in the script, which we knew was already running long, to free up the following Friday to finish off Daniel’s office.       

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The exterior of the school with the ground covered with snow turned into a funny problem.  The special effects seemed more like soap bubbles than slushy snow, almost like the effect 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 were faced with the challenge of not letting it show.

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Buz’s song for Mady had another beat beyond what you’ve seen where she softened and sang of her private dreams.  I wanted to keep Mady angry at Dan for the scene that followed, so I delayed that final bit of music; and here is where we used it.  

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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 July day.

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I thought the sequence in the kitchen with the mad chef, Andre, could be a very funny scene.  But I knew it needed some help.  I didn’t feel the collapsing souffles alone were enough.  I wanted someone reacting to them to punch up  the joke.  But 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 pleaed with Vernon’s work, I used him again in episodes of YOUNG MAVERICK and TRAPPER JOHN, M.D. and the pilot of DYNASTY -- all within the next two years.  And those times he got to speak.

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Again, if this were a feature film, we would probably have taken the two girls to New York for their THIS IS CHRISTMAS musical number.  But under the circumstances I think the art department deserved credit for what they accomplished with a few hanging stars and a treadmill. 

I overheard girl talk conversations between Sherrie and Katy regarding the scene in the toy shop.  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 was more like Jane Withers than Margaret O’Brien -- well she certainly deserved an A for effort.

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John didn’t have the problem doing the lovely ballad Buz had written for him that he had later in the schedule with the WOMEN number.

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Now you didn’t think I would end this epic without milking the final tears out of Katy (and you) or without giving Allyn Ferguson a chance to come front and center with his background music finale.

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