Fixing Walt Coy’s Timeline Part 1

Fixing Walt Coy's Timeline Part 1

As I mentioned in my Memories post, The Stagehand of the Fifth Avenue, I made the leap of deduction that Walt T. Coy must have been an extra in Charlie Chaplin’s WW1 comedy “Shoulder Arms.” For he described donning a soldier’s uniform and charging about in some trenches, all for two dollars a day and a box lunch.

When I received Walt’s autobiography I eagerly read it to find out more about the things he had told me over talks at the Fifth Avenue. In the pertinent chapter Walt dated his first time down in LA as 1928 (May or later). This timing rules out “Shoulder Arms” as that film was made a decade earlier. He lists in order – the Chaplin Studio, Queen Kelly for von Stroheim, and finally “The Patent Leather Kid” with Richard Barthelmess. This Barthelmess film is a boxing picture set against the backdrop of the WW1. I realized that this must have been the WW1 film that Walt was telling me about. He writes that he heard while down in LA that First National was going to shoot the Barthelmess film at Fort Lewis in Washington State and that the unit manager was to be Otto Lukan.

However, my preliminary research on this title turned up some problems. “The Patent Leather Kid” was released in August 1927, which means, obviously, it would not have been in production in 1928. And there is no Otto Lukan listed in the credits for the film.

I knew that Walt would not give me a bum steer, but he may have confused some dates and details. So I had two lines of attack to research and set things straight. First, find out when The Patent Leather Kid went into production, and second, find out who was this Otto Lukan.

So, to find out when the production was at Fort Lewis (or more properly as it was then known – Camp Lewis), I navigated to the Internet Archive and called up its Variety holdings and beginning with the opening date, combed through its volumes backwards.

And this is what I gleaned (arranged in ascending order):

2/9/1927 – On February 8, Richard Barthelmess broke his foot playing tennis, pushing back the start of production on “The Patent Leather Kid,” 3 or 4 weeks.

2/16/1927 – Though production was suspended on The Patent Leather Kid, Barthelmess was able to work on one scene, in which his character was wheelchair bound.

And here’s the clincher:

3/30/1927 – On March 28th  Barthelmess comes up from Camp Lewis to the Columbia Theater in Seattle to promote his film “The White Black Sheep” (also a First National Picture). About 750 extras were hired in Seattle, many ex-soldiers, for the filming at Camp Lewis. The manager of the theater gave a special preview for the extras before they went to work on the new picture.

4/19/1927 – mentions that Barthelmess was on location in Tacoma. Variety reports that his ex-wife had contacted him there about assuming custody of their daughter, while she went to be with her new husband in Singapore.

I conclude that Barthelmess was at Camp Lewis (near Tacoma WA) from the end of March 1927 through the month of April. This dates the time that Walt was an extra on the film and about which he writes:

“I worked in a Hun’s uniform with a spiked helmet part of the time, then shifted to the warp [typo – should be wrap] leggings of a doughboy. I spent various days in the slop and mud of the movie battle. Later, we would go down to the parade grounds, where they strapped a dummy on your back and we would follow the lead camera. When the simulated explosions occurred, we would fall and cut our dummies loose as the sawdust and brick dust hit us. Then we would get up and repeat the same sequence until the film director was satisfied.” From “My Uncle Sam Don’t Like Me” p. 68

I next tackled the mystery of Lukan. After a few stumbling starts, I learned first that Otto Lukan was L. Otto Lukan. Then after more searches using that clue, I discovered that he was more specifically – Lorenz Otto Lukan. With the full name everything fell into place. Here is his chronological resume:

1884 – born in Carver, Minnesota

1900 – the census shows him living with his parents in Everett, WA

1906 – he marries Evaleigh Smith

1908 – first and only child born – Margaret

1910 – the census for Seattle lists him as an accountant in the Assessor’s Office (either for King County or the city of Seattle)

1917 – Seattle directory – in the Advertising department for the Seattle P-I

And his first job in the film business

1918 – his draft registration lists him as the manager of the Pathe Film Exchange in Seattle

1920 – the census for Haller Lake WA (his residence near Seattle) just shows him as a manager of a Film Exchange (but does not specify), though articles in the Seattle Times for 1920 and 1921 list him as manager for the Associated First National Pictures Inc.

By 1922 he was the western division manager for the First National Theater Circuit. He was in the same company through the early 1930s, and definitely for the crucial time period in question – 1927 to 1928. Now whether or not he was bouncing back and forth between exhibition and distribution, I do not know for sure. But I am inclined to think that since FNP was a creation of a film exhibition circuit, he probably straddled the fence, with a foot in both domains. He was definitely situated in Seattle, with the exception of possible trips to LA to the Burbank studio and offices of FNP (this company was later acquired by Warner Brothers).

It seems to me then that Otto Lukan in his capacity as the district rep for FNP, was no doubt present for the promotion at the Columbia Theater in Seattle, and it makes sense that he would have stood in as a unit manager for the studio in the matter of hiring extras in the local area for “The Patent Leather Kid.”

Join me next week, when I will share what my research has revealed about what Walt may have seen when working at the Chaplin Studios.

Working For Bill Conrad

When still in his apprentice days at the PGA/DGA in the late sixties, Howard Kazanjian worked on three productions for William Conrad. Most remember Conrad for his distinctive voice and for his turn as the corpulent investigator in the TV series Cannon which aired between 1971 and 1976 and the much later Jake and the Fat Man. That voice got him his start in the entertainment business for a multitude of roles in radio and as a heavy in films.

Howard remembers him for his rather unique directorial style. He caught him at WB directing a TV show some time before these other productions. The scene was on a set with the light from an arc streaming through a window. He set things in play by calling – “Okay, action.” After one or two takes watching the staging, then he turned his back to the actors and just listened to the dialogue. If he liked what he heard he said, “Cut! Print!” If not he would call for the crew and actors to reset for another take. Howard chalks this quirk up to Conrad’s formative years in radio.

[Aside – I queried Howard for more about this process – Howard – “Directors always rehearse with a walk-through so the DP knows where the characters are.  Then the actors leave the set while the DP lights with stand-ins.  When lit, the Director might rehearse the actors one or two times depending on the budget, the shooting schedule, etc.  Then he shoots.  Often with Conrad the first take was a print.   If there was coverage no rehearsal was needed along with minor adjustments with the camera and lighting.   No rehearsal unless the Director wants some change.  Shoot.  Maybe print, or a second take or even a third”].

His first working experience with Conrad, the producer, was on the film An American Dream. A hot property at the time, it was based on the recent novel by Norman Mailer, and setup with a very decent budget of a million dollars. In some markets it was released as “See You in Hell Darling,” a very apt title if you’ve seen it. The story centers around a controversial TV talk show host [Stephen Rojack, played by Stuart Whitman] and his toxic marriage to a spoiled, one might say insane, wealthy heir and socialite [Deborah Kelly Rojack, played by Eleanor Parker]. The way she sadistically goads him, the audience ends up with little sympathy for her nor any wonder that he lets her fall to her death from her thirtieth floor penthouse.

Howard worked closely with the AD and the DP. The director Bob Gist was difficult, personality wise rather gruff, and had a little bit of ego. (Gist debuted as an actor in the film Miracle on 34th St (1947), and may have gotten this project due to his part as one of the soldiers in the film based on Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead (1958). He made the change to the director’s chair under the tutelage of Blake Edwards, when he was running the TV series Peter Gunn)). The AD in question was Sherry Shourds, whom Howard thought a very likable guy. He later inherited a ranch, left the business and lived happily ever after.

The DP was Sam Levitt. Howard calls him a good cameraman, having been in film since the 30’s as an operator, and since 1952 as a DP (i.e. Major Dundee, Cape Fear and Exodus). He had just recently added work in TV (Batman and Journey to the Bottom of the Sea). He was one of those “coat, hat and tie guys” then prevalent in that generation working at the studios.

After viewing the film, two of the exteriors stood out in my mind, so I asked Howard for more information about them. The first was the skyscraper from which the wife fell, and the subsequent multi-car pileup. [Howard – “The high-rise building was in downtown Los Angeles once owned by Occidental Oil, now ATT.  We shot exteriors only. Interiors were sets at WB.  While we were shooting the “accident” a fire broke out on the (approximately) 20th floor.  We pulled our equipment back while the fire department handled the situation.  Fortunately sprinklers put out most of the fire. The broken window from the fire and heat didn’t hit us as it crashed to the street.” And about the staged pileup itself. “No storyboards.  Just staged by the director and stunt driver, and extras filled in by me.”].

Another building in LA was utilized for the rooftop safe place called “the Treehouse” by Rojack’s girl friend from the past (Cherry, played by Janet Leigh she sings the Oscar nominated song “A Time for Love” linked above). There was one 360 degree shot from the top of a building, that revealed it was nestled in the middle of the LA freeway system. [Howard – That building was in downtown LA close to the convention center surrounded by freeways.  Anytime a film crew shoots on a roof, expect the owner or landlord to complain about damage.  We had to replace the roof for him]. I was able to find this location on Google maps – I started with the LA Convention Center and looked for the nearby freeways, which turned out to be the conjunction of the Santa Monica and the Harbor Freeways. From the street level view, the building situated on Wright Street is still recognizable as that which was filmed to represent Cherry’s apartment.

There were two other Bill Conrad productions on which Howard Kazanjian apprenticed. I will cover them in future posts.

[Aside – when watching the film, I thought the maid “Ruta” played by Susan Denberg looked familiar. IMDB gave me the reason, she was in a famous Star Trek episode “Mudd’s Women,” (season 1, episode 6). And there is another Star Trek connection to the film, series regular George (Sulu) Takei plays an assistant DA].

Finian on the Disney Ranch

Coppola states that for Finian he purposefully kept the cinemacality down. Yet it is interesting to note how he opened up some of the dance numbers to a bigger “stage,” working in fields and shooting with a camera from a helicopter. For these numbers he decided to move from Burbank out to the Disney Ranch up in Newhall, California. This decision meant a few more wrinkles for his assistant director, Howard Kazanjian.

Normally, Howard would put out “call-ups” for extras – but in the case of Finian the call was to SAG members who could dance, with the further qualification – that they have a Southern look.

He also had to have buses on hand for transportation. The extras may have driven to the Warner Brothers lot and parked there, but no one was allowed to drive their own vehicles out to another location. If any of the cast members were to be transported on a bus to a location, the clock started when they left the studio. Thus more records to be kept and submitted to the payroll department.

Besides the large scale dance numbers, “The Begat” number was also done out on the Disney ranch. Or more particularly in the area between the Disney Ranch and the Oxnard area. This was Coppola’s ideal situation, to be out of the studio, on the road, in real places. It gave him the opportunity for those chance discoveries that he longed for. (There was one fantastic instance – a field of red flowers near Malibu that made a beautiful backdrop for the singers to drive through).

After the antagonist Keenan Wynn had been changed on the outside by Petula Clark’s wish/curse, and having been “made good” on the inside by Tommy Steele’s spell, Keenan falls in with a quartet, the Passion Pilgrim Gospeleers (Roy Glenn, Jester Hairston, and Avon Long), who are in need of a fourth.

The number takes place all within the vehicle, a 1939 Plymouth P7 Roadking (a convertible coupe with a rumble seat), tooling along through the countryside, broken down alongside the road, chugging up a hill and then coming down the other side and hitting a tree. All ending by being towed away.

Coppola handles it all masterfully. The camera seems everywhere. Planted beside the road, panning. Running along beside. Mounted on the hood, shooting through the windshield. In the air above.  And whenever the cast is clearly in view (a good deal of the time), their lips can be seen to be in perfect sync with the music.  (Remember the track was all recorded beforehand).

There was one major disaster that had to be overcome. Filming on the segment spanned over the weekend, stopping on Friday and recommencing on Monday. Sometime during the weekend, the report came in that a fire had damaged the vehicle. A similar replacement was found, but this car had one big difference. It had a single full windshield in front, unlike that model’s standard split windshield that was set at a deep vee, and very noticeable.

Fortunately the vehicle with the split windshield can be seen only in the section when Wynn first meets the Gospeleers. Since the camera angle is from the side, and the actors focus your attention on them. You can only see it if you’re looking for it.

In one aspect it was a happy accident, for that single windshield gave the camera a clear and unhampered view of the singers in the car when it was mounted on the hood.

The Education of an Assistant Director

Having just finished one musical – Camelot – Howard Kazanjian was now being put aboard another – Finian’s Rainbow. But instead of a veteran director, he was being teamed with a young film school grad, who had only one other film under his belt – Francis Ford Coppola.

This production marked the end his trial period with the DGA. On his own time, Howard took in all the PGA / DGA seminars he could, seminars that addressed the rules and regulations of the SAG, the Teamsters, IA, etc. As a result, he became quite knowledgeable in these matters, often knowing more than the first ADs, men that were often 25 years his senior. (Aside – Howard was once in William L Schaefer’s office, the executive assistant to Jack Warner himself. A question arose about one of the SAG regulations. Howard explained to him what the rule was and how it would benefit the production. Schaefer had to call the SAG to confirm what Howard proposed. They did. Schaefer who had worked at the studio since 1933, was completely unaware of this particular regulation).

So on the set, as an AD you had to have your fingers on the pulse of all the situations before you, so as to not fall afoul of any of the SAG or other union regulations and incur unwanted monetary penalties that were charged against the production. Chief among these regulations were those governing work hours and meal times.

First, you had your 8 hour day, at your regular rate, but overtime did not kick in until after 10 hours. Overtime would mean time and a half on the pay scale. That means you could work your people 9 plus hours before multiples of their rates kicked in.

If the production did go into overtime, the AD had leeway to send certain crew members home – like a greensman or a certain number of electricians or even unneeded extras. In these instances they were people that had already finished their work, having prepped the set, and were only on standby for emergencies.

And then there were the meal rules –

Beginning the day, actors in for make up at 6AM would be offered a bite of breakfast. Then counting from 7AM the next meal (lunch) had to be offered within the next 5 and half hours. Counting from the end of their meal period their next meal had to be offered within the next six hours. As AD you had to keep all these things in mind and watch your clock, for there were penalties when these time frames were exceeded.                                                                                                                                          

 If they failed to break for a meal within the prescribed time the meal penalty kicked in – the first half hour meant a rate of time and a half – the second half hour double time.

At the end of the day, Howard took his time cards, made all the calculations and handed them in to payroll.  For his attention to detail, he earned the respect and approval of the studio.  They liked him, and he was being groomed for bigger and better things.

On the other side of the coin, Howard Kazanjian was well liked by the actors and the extras. He tried to have answers for the questions they came to him for. If he didn’t have an answer, he told them he would try to get one, especially for the extras.  Howard knew that as extras, if they were not working, they needed to be looking for work. And they did not want to move on, if there were any chance at all there would be something for them. It was the considerate thing to do.

Come back next week for the continuing Adventures of Howard Kazanjian in “Meeting Francis Ford Coppola.”

Howard’s Friend Joel Freeman

Howard's Friend Joel Freeman

Camelot as a Warner Bros. project was Jack Warner’s baby. But he only put in a couple of appearances on set. Joel Freeman, listed as the “associate producer” (and Howard Kazanjian’s friend), actively produced the movie.

Howard Kazanjian was at a good age – fresh from the DGA training program and full of questions and wanting to excel in his craft. He found a willing mentor in Joel. Howard learned more from Joel than anyone else in the business.

Joel Freeman is now 93, and still active.  (In fact, Howard talked to him recently about some projects that Joel was trying to launch).   At the age of twenty, Joel started as a messenger at MGM (where his uncle, Dore Schary then worked).  During WWII, he served in an Army Air Force film unit. After the war he became an AD at two of the smaller studios, RKO and Selznick. In the late 40s he made the move back to MGM, where his uncle Dore had taken over the reigns from Louis B Mayer. Later in the fifties, Joel became an independent supervisor for film and TV, then followed his uncle to WB  for two projects – Sunset at Campobello and the Music Man.

Joel was extremely cautious – he would call on Howard to supply him with numbers, lots of numbers.  If extras were used – how many? How many hours did they work? When did they start the day? Could extra crew be sent home early? What time did they go to lunch? Howard learned to count everything, right down to the amount of lunches consumed.  [Howard – (on their next project together – Finian’s  Rainbow) – “buses were used to transport extras to off locations – seats on one bus numbered 32; on the other 33 –  how many empty seats were there? Remember there were no vans in that day. You recorded what time you left one stage and what time you arrived at another, and what time you started shooting.  Optimally you would move around lunch time. All this was recorded in the Production report, from which you could see your money savings”].

But there was another side to Joel.

Once, when they were still in the midst of shooting Camelot, a big press junket was announced for the studio. Joel took Howard aside and told him he was invited.

Howard replied – But I’m not dressed for it. And that he’d have to go home to get a proper change of clothes.

Instead, Joel ordered him to the wardrobe department.  There they fitted him on the spot – selected a suit, marked  and pinned it up and told him to come back. When he did, they were just pressing it. They supplied him with socks and proper shoes and he was off to the junket.

Howard noticed that on the suit there had been a tag with an actor’s name. He attended the press junket in a costume originally made for Christopher Plummer for his role in another recent WB film –  Inside Daisy Clover.

Be sure to return next week for the last Camelot post – The Iconic Ending –  in The Adventures of Howard Kazanjian.

Josh Logan Director

Josh Logan Director

Howard Kazanjian called him Mr. Logan. And to Josh Logan, Howard was Howard.

Logan was not only a respected director, with lots of credits on stage and in film, he was also a writer and producer in both mediums. Josh used to talk to Howard about personal things – the difficulties in his life – stretching back to losing his father to suicide when but three years old.  Though, now happily married and with children of his own, he hinted to Howard that challenges and struggles dogged his steps.  (A couple years later Logan talked in public more freely about his bipolar disorder and the relief that lithium was bringing him).

Mr. Logan was 58 at that time, which was probably the median age of those who made up the crews at WB. The studio made the choice for first AD on Camelot.  It was a poor one – there were quite a few projects at the time that were tying up the best. Howard was given the second AD slot. With his get-up-and-go, can-do attitude, Logan came to depend very much upon Howard.

Howard was the only one from the crew (except for perhaps DP Dick Kline) that was invited out to the home Logan had rented in Beverly Hills. Howard came with his girl friend. When the butler, towel over his arm, answered the door, and greeted them each by name, a small mystery was cleared up. Josh when on set was always impeccably dressed in a dark suit and tie. And highly polished shoes. And this was despite what type of setting they toiled in. At times it was downright gritty. For instance, when working in the “snow” scene which I have noted before was actually salt – all the shine had worn off those shoes by the end of the day. The next morning when Logan arrived on set, the shoes were restored to their glossy glory. And here greeting them was the reason why they were always pristine.

There are sometimes uncomfortable chores handed out to ADs by their directors. Two weeks into shooting, preparations were being made for the “It’s May” scene that called for lots of extras. Howard was charged with arranging their auditions. It seemed that Logan interviewed every male extra in Hollywood. He would have Howard line them up for review en masse in the street – different groups – knights – street musicians – townspeople etc. Logan would walk the line like a general reviewing his troops. One group he wanted to have a second look at, and ordered Howard to assemble them again, but this time just in their underwear. Shades of Erich von Stroheim, but understandable when considering this group needed to look fit – no unseemly bulges in the tight leather jerkins or other close-fitting garments that these extras would be wearing for the lusty month of May number.

Logan had an office on the lot (the one currently occupied by Clint Eastwood and his Malpaso Company). His secretary administered things for him there. From this HQ, he would drive over to whatever set was scheduled for that day, (sometimes visiting a couple) and after a review with Howard and Kline, Logan would tell them what needed to be done, and return to his office until the preparations were complete. One afternoon when they called the secretary to relay a 10 minute warning, she informed them that Logan wasn’t in. The associate producer Joel Freeman called down to the studio gate, and the guard there confirmed that Logan had indeed driven off the lot. Logan had visited the set, but upon leaving there, he switched to auto pilot and drove home. Thereafter Joel left a standing order with the gate guards – that if it were only midday they weren’t to let Logan off the lot.

On tap for next week – Dick Kline DP, the next installment in the Adventures of Howard Kazanjian.