Going Fishing with Bill Conrad

Bill Conrad wrangled another 1.2 million budget from Warners for his next project – Chubasco – on which Howard Kazanjian would continue his DGA apprenticeship. Besides being the name of the lead character, the title refers to the heavy thunder storms at sea along the Pacific Coast during the rainy season, a fitting metaphor for the troubled, mercurial young rebel (portrayed by Christopher Jones) who becomes involved in a star-crossed relationship with Bunny (played by Susan Strasberg), the daughter of a Portuguese tuna fisherman (played by Richard Egan).

The director Allen H. Miner also wrote the script. It was a passion project for him. He had covered the lives of tuna fishermen before in a documentary for which he wore all the hats – producer, cameraman, director and editor – The Naked Sea, released in 1954 by RKO. Bill Conrad’s connection to Miner dates back to this film. He provided the narration for it, and a few years later he appeared in a western directed by Miner, entitled The Ride Back.

According to Howard “we had a very strong cast for the day, basically all names.” And many deemed Christopher Jones a rising star. He was being boosted as a successor to James Dean. Miner brought Jones with him as his choice for the lead, having directed him in a couple of episodes in the TV series, the Legend of Jesse James. At this time Jones was married to his co-star Susan Strasberg, and a lot was made of that fact in the ongoing promotion for the picture.  Articles appeared in the press asking the question could they be as successful together as Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. Sadly, they split the year that Chubasco was released. Strasberg remained in the acting profession, but Jones, after appearing in David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter, dropped out of sight for a myriad of personal reasons.

Originally Robert Burks was tapped to be DP. He was Hitchcock’s favorite cinematographer, teaming up with him beginning with Strangers on a Train through Marnie (only missing Psycho). Howard does not recall Burks on Chubasco at all. So for whatever reason, Burks must have left the production prior to Howard’s involvement with it. Two DPs are listed instead. Between Paul Ivano and Lew Jennings, I am not sure which was his replacement. Howard tells me that when you see two DPs, one of them is usually responsible for a specialized type of photography.  In the case  of Chubasco this was most likely for the underwater sequences.

The AD on the project, Fred Gammon, handed Howard the usual assignments. [Howard –  “Checking in actors into make-up in the morning, seeing that they get breakfast if needed.  Getting them to the set.   All paperwork, time cards, call sheets, production reports, etc. etc. etc.”] He also set the extras for the scenes on shore, notably the confrontation between Jones and the motorcycle gang that was crashing a party under a pier and Jones’ subsequent arrest. Howard placed extras for the bits when the fishermen brought their catches in.  [Howard – “I remember watching the tuna being unloaded and moving up a ramp bumping their heads on the wooden sides.  And then seeing huge piles of tuna in the warehouse.  I loved tuna sandwiches until I saw how they were handled”].

The first phase of the production was tough. The home port for the story was San Diego. So that is where principal photography commenced for the exteriors. [Howard – “I think we were down in SD only two weeks. I stayed at the El Rey Hotel, that was the place to stay at the time. While on location I got the crew and cast to the harbor and sent them out to sea.  I stayed back on shore doing whatever needed to be done. Shooting on water is always difficult.  Always the fewer at sea the better”]. There were more vessels than one involved. Besides fishing vessels upon which the cast performed, another was set apart as the crew vessel. It also acted as a camera platform for master shots focused on the fishing boats. The studio hired a huge yacht to act as courier between the ships at sea and the company base on the mainland.

Just because Howard was land bound by his responsibilities, didn’t mean that he didn’t get to go out on the water. [Howard – “I recall being taken to dinner by Joe Cramer at the Coronado Hotel on the weekend. Joe was one of the best and nicest guys I met in the business and he took me under his wing. He was the assistant to the head production manager at WB, Dutch Meyer, to whom we all reported]. (Aside – The following year Cramer was the unit manager on “Bullitt” and AD on “The Green Berets”).  Cramer arranged for Howard and a few others to have a short cruise and a meal that Sunday. On location the production was shuttered on Sunday, and this yacht sat idle (you can see it in the above video, beginning about the 10 sec mark). It was paid for, so why not use it. Prior to this Howard’s experiences on the water had all been less than pleasurable (even outings to Catalina with his dad when younger, or on fishing expeditions with his uncle). And so it proved again. He became sick immediately upon the yacht casting away from the dock and had to lie down. Someone suggested a meal. In the dining salon a gigantic table (20 foot long) had been set up. It was on gimbals, so it could move but stay level. The chef brought out the meal. The blood from the meat moved around on the plate ever so slightly, but it was enough to send Howard up on deck to the rail.

After the two weeks in San Diego, the production moved up to the studio in Burbank for interiors. [Howard – I was on the film exactly 30 days.   I don’t recall if I saw the wrap or not.   I know I went onto Cool Hand Luke the next day].

Cold Hands Howard

https://www.youtube.com/embed/q111bDVYNXk” target=”_blank”>Link to DVD trailer

Back in 1966 when Howard Kazanjian was in the assistant director training program with the DGA, he was called up to the Stockton California area to work on a film with 1st AD Hank Moonjean. Moonjean had been in the business since the mid-fifties, and had a solid reputation. Notably, he had been associated with Paul Newman projects since his 1956 MGM film “Somebody Up There Likes Me” based on the life of prizefighter Rocky Graziano, and was on four of Newman’s next five at the same studio (Until They Sail, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Sweet Bird of Youth, and The Prize).

They were now in Lodi, California doing a night time shoot on a new Paul Newman feature, “Cool Hand Luke,” this time for Jack Lemmon’s production company to be released by Warner Bros. Hank Moonjean kept Howard by his side, right next to the camera, and mentored him. He gave Howard sage advice –  “Never sit down” with the further explanation – “you’re not in control.” And this night as Paul Newman’s character Luke Jackson was lopping off the heads of a line of parking meters, Moonjean further admonished him “Take your hands out of your pocket.” [Howard – this despite the fact that it was freezing out there].

They spent two solid months in Stockton, California to get all their exterior shots. Daily Howard rode the bus with the cast and crew from the hotel to the camp. The only exceptions were the actors J D Cannon and George Kennedy, and Paul Newman of course. [Howard – Paul Newman was nice – he would order Coors beer for the crew every night. But he kept quiet and to himself – distant really. Other people’s radar detected that, and gave him his space].

It was a high testosterone cast. Besides the actors mentioned, this prison tale’s landscape was populated with familiar faces: Strother Martin, Clifton James, Morgan Woodward, Luke Askew, Dennis Hopper, Wayne Rogers, Harry Dean Stanton, Ralph Waite and Anthony Zerbe. Of the cast’s thirty-seven members only two were women – Jo Van Fleet, an actress who played Luke’s mom, and Joy Harmon, whose car washing scene raised eyebrows among the cast and after the film’s release. [Howard – the scene was not planned in advance].

The lop-sided proportion was reflected in the crew also. Here too there were only two women, a hair stylist and the script supervisor. This fact was overlooked on occasion and led to some ticklish problems. In one instance the female script supervisor was put in a very uncomfortable position. In preparation for an important scene, the one in which Luke was to be punished by being placed in solitary, a small box the size of an outhouse – all unnecessary crew and cast were moved well back from the camera setup (about a hundred feet). The only ones allowed close were those required to be there –  the director and his staff, the cameramen and this script supervisor. She had no idea what was going to happen. The script read:

          Luke steps forward, pulls off his shirt and jacket. He steps
                behind the latticework screen to take off his pants as the
                Captain speaks.

When Newman stripped off all his clothes, the script supervisor burst into tears. Howard watched as Hank Moonjean leapt into action, suddenly aware of the problem, he stepped up to comfort her, and apologized profusely that she had not been filled in completely beforehand.

Howard relates that the DP, Conrad Hall, (“Connie” to cast and crew) was an excellent cameraman, and that he wished he had been able to work with him more.  The director, Stuart Rosenburg had worked mainly in TV and at that time had only one film to his credit (as co-director on Murder Inc in 1960).  Howard remembers him as a nice, quiet individual, a smoker. And perhaps because he was riding herd on such a huge cast – he let Connie select all the camera positions and lenses, controlling completely the look of the film.

When the exteriors were complete, the company moved back to the studio for interiors. But with a week and a half still to run on “Cool Hand Luke,” Howard was taken off and put onto Camelot, (the principals were just back from shooting exteriors in Europe). Howard Kazanjian’s training was over.