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.

Boeing Takes Off on Airport

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Certain films had scenes which were fun for an usher to check out again and again. Not only to just enjoy the vibe, but also to observe the reaction of the audience to what for them was a brand new experience. I liked to slip into the back of the theater when Airport was winding down to its conclusion, when George Kennedy, as his character Joe Patroni adverted disaster by driving a stranded 707 out of harm’s way. He succeeds despite dire warnings that structural damage to the plane was imminent. The young man in the cockpit with him exclaims, “The instruction book said that was impossible.” To which Patroni replied, “That’s one nice thing about the 707. It can do everything but read.”

This remark brought the audience, in many cases, to their feet. Some even danced in place, a little victory jig. For you see, many of them worked for the biggest employer in Renton.

Historically speaking, Renton Washington had always been a transportation hub. The railroad tracks around town gave you a clue that it was once a railroad crossroads. Now, in the seventies, the railroad connection lived on in Paccar – a manufacturer of railcars, trucks, and a supplier for parts for the even bigger company Boeing.  Boeing’s Renton plant was turning out (they would argue, and the dancers agreed) the best commercial airliners in the world. All three models were churned out on their assembly lines – the 707s, the 727s, and the latest the 737s.

It is for this reason that Art Silber, the GCC West Coast film buyer, was keen for this Universal release, based on the Arthur Hailey bestseller.  He wanted to acquire it for the Renton Cinemas. And he did better than just getting one “leg” of a wide release in the Seattle area. He put up a guarantee of twenty-five thousand dollars for an exclusive run and got it.

And it seemed like the entire population of Seattle, near and far, tried to get into the theater its first weekend. (Don’t tell anyone, but my dad pulled the last show of Anne of the Thousand Days, playing in the other auditorium, and ran Airport on both sides.  All to accomodate all those people standing in the line wrapped around the building). Airport remained at the Renton Cinema for the next 20 weeks.

Boeing also looms large personally, with many family members who have been or currently are on their rolls. My brother (the racer) is a machinist there, in fact the lead in the prototype department. My sister’s husband for many years was involved in their “blackbox” projects. Two of my wife’s brothers have each been there over thirty years; and her dad, when there, had headed up their audio/visual department (aside – Jeff Probst, host of Survivior at one time worked for him).

Somehow I missed being swept up into the Boeing conglomerate. But then again it’s just like the saying goes, “There’s no business like show business.”

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