Day Five Hundred Twenty Eight #DiaryoftheEndoftheWorld

At the end of my time in the special cabin today, I was comforted by the realization that it still looked and felt the same, but then I wondered for a moment was I still the same or have I changed. However I shook the notion off when I realized that I was falling to the temptation to judge myself and not placing my reliance where it should be.

A lesson learned long ago, but needing to be relearned. I am such a leaky vessel.

Tomas was coming in as I was going out. We had a brief exchange – momentous news from the bridge – the radio has sprung to life – a sign that the global authorities are extending their reach.

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].

1928 San Francisco Stage Screen and Radio

San Francisco 1928

1928 San Francisco Stage Screen and Radio

Sometimes when you research you come up with more than you were looking for; some little fact that is odd or interesting and usually completely off topic.

Recently I was trying to find out what film titles were gracing the marquees of the movie theaters in 1928 San Francisco. I found a San Francisco publication that covered the weekly cultural events in the city. A treasure trove.

Garbo, Jolson, and Barrymore (Lionel) were some of the big names on the marquees in that time period. Jolson was in the Jazz Singer, of course. Vitaphone is listed prominently for it, so you knew it was a sound picture (the first as you may know). Gloria Swanson was in Sadie Thompson (try saying that three times fast, and try not to say that Sadie Thompson was in Gloria Swanson). And Rin Tin Tin was starring in the film “Dog of the Regiment,” and also making a personal appearance with his trainer Lee Duncan.

And speaking of personal appearances I was blown away to see that Fanny Brice was performing on stage in San Francisco that year. (Barbra Streisand portrayed the entertainer twice, once in Funny Girl [1968] and the other time in Funny Lady [1975]). And I was amused to see that the Marx Brothers were on the boards, cutting up in their play Cocoanuts.

But there I’ve went and gone off-off topic.

What I wanted to get around to was this, the publication included schedules for the radio stations broadcasting in the area. So I have a list of these stations and their call letters [KFRC, KPO, KFWI, and KJBS] should I need them for my writing project. But what was really surprising were the two radio stations that were completely out of the area, yet received in San Francisco.

They were KJR in Seattle, Washington, and KGW in Portland, Oregon. I knew KJR as a Top 40 station from my high school and college days. Back in 1928 it carried dance orchestras and concert music. I am familiar with the KGW call letters as I live near Portland. Its call letters have disappeared from the radio scene, having morphed into KPOJ (operating now as a sports radio station, a fate that KJR has also suffered).

I am wondering if the denizens of 1928 San Francisco tuned in to KGW Portland to catch Mel Blanc on air in those days before Warner Brothers snatched him up to do voices for their Looney Tunes (Bugs, Daffy, et al).