Making a Musical for Bill Conrad

 

The next time Howard Kazanjian worked for producer Bill Conrad, the budget had been bumped up to 1.2 million. Warner Brothers was looking to cash in on the new craze sweeping the young teen audiences in America, represented by the success of such musical variety shows as Shindig and Hullabaloo.

The studio saw potential in a script penned by the first winner of the Samuel L Warner Memorial Opportunity Award, Joyce Geller when she was there for her internship. (I mentioned this in passing on my post entitled “Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree”). Geller’s script told the story of a talented but unsuccessful singer Cliff Donner (played by Gil Peterson) and an ambitious go-go dancer Hallie Rodgers (played by Debbie Watson), who are paired up by a millionaire rock’n’roll entrepreneur Tony Krum (played by Roddy McDowell). The story pivots around Krum’s plan to generate PR for the duo by engendering a perception in the teen audience that they are falling in love – complications, of course, ensue. Geller preferred her title “The Wiggy Plan of Tony Krum,” but the studio wanted something they considered more meaningful, hence “The Cool Ones.” She salted her dialogue with words such as “Ratfink” and “Dingaling,” jargon calculated to resonate with the target audience.

Conrad also put together his team with an eye to this end. For director he selected Gene Nelson, who most recently had helmed two Elvis Presley films – “Kissin’ Cousins” and “Harum Scarum.” Nelson came from a dance background, notably having played the part of Will Parker in the film version of “Oklahoma.” Howard found him to be a very nice guy.

For DP Conrad tapped Floyd Crosby. He had extensive experience working on teen projects, including four of the beach party movies and several Roger Corman horror productions. He had a couple more musical connections of interest, he had been involved with the production of Oklahoma in the 2d unit, so he may or may not have been acquainted with Nelson already. And most interesting of all, Floyd was the father of David Crosby, at this time a member of the rock band, the Byrds – (Crosby Stills and Nash and (sometimes Young) was in the near future).

For choreographer, they brought in Toni Basil. She had assisted her mentor David Winters, the choreographer on both Hullabaloo and Shindig, (she would appear later in Easy Rider; and did choreography for American Graffiti). She brought along her friend and fellow Shindig dancer Teri Garr, whom you can catch in the background in some shots. Both Toni and Teri had appeared in front of the lenses of Floyd Crosby before, in the film “Pajama Party.” Another Shindig member, a guitarist for the Shindig house band was given a small speaking/singing part – Glenn Campbell.

Three garage bands were tapped to appear in the film – The Leaves, The Bantams, and T.J. and the Fourmations. In the main, the music was supplied by Lee Hazelwood, the composer propelling Nancy Sinatra to the top of the charts (“These Boots Were Made for Walking”). He scored ten of the twelve tunes for “The Cool Ones.” One of these – “This Town” has had a long life afterwards. Hazelwood brought in Billy Strange for the arrangements. Strange was a guitarist and a member of the Wrecking Crew, the famous group of studio musicians (utilized by many of the rock groups of the day, including the Byrds). He also supplied one song. The twelfth song slotted in was the 1957 tune “It’s Magic” by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne which was warbled by the novelty pop personality Mrs. Miller.

Howard reported to Assistant Director Gil Kessel. Gil was an old timer at WB, having got his start as a set decorator in 1941 on The Maltese Falcon. He made the switch in 1958 to AD. Howard says he was a little slow, and envious of the younger people coming up. He looked askance at them, not viewing them so much as assistants but rather as his replacements.

The Cool Ones was shot mostly at the studio. For exteriors they travelled to the nearby San Fernando Valley and over to Palm Springs. Most of the scenes shot in Palm Springs were around the town, both day and night exteriors. There was one challenging bit – a musical number staged inside the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and up on the observation platform. The tramway begins at an elevation of 2,643 feet and climbs the Chino Canyon wall up to a level of 8,516 feet. Howard says that the shoot was further complicated by limited time up on top.

The Cool Ones had one more “musical tie-in” of note. When at work on one of the sets, Howard tells me that Lee Wilson the WB lighting gaffer pointed out to him that the carpet on the floor was the same one that had been used in the Ascot race scene for “My Fair Lady.” At that time there were sets for that film still around the lot, notably the one for Covent Garden – the flower market standing set. (The Cool Ones had a market scene too, but it was on location over in Olvera Street).

The Cool Ones should be so famous.

Rebel Treasure fifth post

Rebel Treasure fifth post

EXT. BEN’S DRIVEWAY – DAY
Ben emerges from the house, dressed for action and packing a metal detector.

RILEY
You’re not bringing that old clunker are you?

BEN
What do you mean clunker? Not long ago you were salivating all over this model yourself.

Riley reaches for a bag in the trunk and slides out a futuristic looking metal detector.

RILEY
Your turn to drool, my friend.

He flicks a switch and steps out onto Ben’s lawn. An audible HUM rises and falls as he waves it over an area. Ben steps over to take a closer look.

BEN
You’ve got a visual monitor?

RILEY
Yup.
(he points at the screen)
It looks like a beebee there about a foot down.

BEN
What’s that line running from side to side?

Riley twists a knob and the image becomes more focused.

RILEY
I think you’ve got cable.
(he twists another knob)
Let’s see if we can raise ESPN.

A flickering video image appears on the screen.

BEN
I’m a believer!

Riley snaps it off and folds it up. Ben takes it from him.

BEN (CONT’D)
You’ve got a WiFi connection here?

RILEY
Oh, yeah, I forgot. I can send the signal over to my laptop, and map everything it comes up with. And this other connection is for the GPS unit.

BEN
Riley! I’m awed.

INT. WILL ROGERS WORLD AIRPORT, OKLAHOMA CITY – DAY
Ben and Riley move along with their fellow passengers from the plane.

RILEY
So you think this map might lead you to that submarine?

BEN
That’s the hope, and maybe head off some other problems. Which reminds me.

He takes out his cell phone and punches a button.

ABIGAIL (ON THE CELL)
About time you called me! You got there okay?

BEN
And I love you too. Sure, we’re fine, they just held us up long enough for the tornado to pass through.

ABIGAIL (ON THE CELL)
Well, funny guy, could you make any sense of that map?

BEN
Nothing yet. But I think that’ll change when I get on site.

As they approach the main concourse, he notices TOBY waving at him.

BEN (CONT’D)
I got to go, love. I think I’ve spotted Toby.

ABIGAIL (ON THE CELL)
Okay, I guess. Thank Riley for me. Call soon.

BEN
You know I will.

As he hangs up, his short, oily cousin extends a pudgy hand.

TOBY
Cousin Ben, I’d know you anywhere.

BEN
(motioning to Riley)
Let me introduce you to my friend, Riley Poole.

Riley steps forward with an eager smile, only to be met by coolness on the part of Toby.

TOBY
(to Ben)
I didn’t know that you were bringing any one else. If we do find something, it stays in the family!

BEN
Don’t worry. My friend is here only out of the goodness of his heart.

RILEY
Besides, I’m independently wealthy.

Toby nods but doesn’t look totally convinced.

[next pt 6]