Principal photography on Camelot commenced in Europe. The director, Josh Logan took his key cast members and some of the key crew on the expedition, and filled up the balance of the crew (a larger contingent) with Europeans. It was a quick trip over there to set the big locales against the backdrop of real castles and landscapes. If you remember Lancelot “singing” his way down to the sea to take a boat for England, that was all shot at that time.
While they had been busy shooting in Europe, the carpenters back at the studio were busy constructing the sets based on production designer John Truscott’s vision of Camelot. Under his direction the largest building on the lot, called The Mill, was buzzing. It was the facility where all the props, large and small were fabricated. And besides “dressing up” the sets they supplied the actors with most (not all) of their hardware. They were called upon to supply the armor and swords for those filling the part of knights. [Howard – some chain mail and boots were brought back from London].
So when Howard drove his 1966 GTO onto the WB lot that day when photography began at the studio, he found the Casablanca street converted into King Arthur’s mythological England. [A side note – this standing set was later converted for use on the TV series Kung Fu starring David Carradine].
First up before the cameras was Laurence Naismith, who had the part of the wizard Merlin. His costume, Howard says, was a marvel, with all manner of strange critters, slugs and bugs woven into it. In fact it was more striking in person than what the camera was able to capture. And the actor was fitted for a pair of contact lenses that had a mirror-like surface that gave a striking cast to his appearance on screen – lending a air of mystery, fitting for a character who was living his life backwards in time.
A winter scene was set up for the arrival in Camelot of Guinevere, Vanessa Redgrave. The stage was decked out with a blanket of snow, and nestled in the background was Camelot castle. Of course, no snow was harmed (or melted) in the filming of this picture. Lots of salt stood in for that wintry substance. It was replaced in close ups, when the actors needed to fall back onto a “snowy” cushion, by ice that was ground into a fine powder. In that instance the doors were kept closed and the AC on the set boosted, prompting the crew to don parkas. And that castle in the background was actually a miniature. This miniature also had been made at the Mill.
This winter scene was the showcase for the title song – “Camelot.” As was the form, Redgrave lip synched her part, but Harris had other ideas. [Howard – “Harris wanted to sing live, not on pre-recorded track – – because Rex Harrison (who could sing) was over at the Fox lot singing/filming Doctor Doolittle. Logan and the music department were against this. And it showed in the movie. Harris couldn’t sing. Have you ever watched American Idol or heard a friend who THOUGHT he could sing, but really sounded terrible. Well……”].
Though Howard was given an office on the lot he spent little time in it. Instead he had a “stand up” office on whatever set he was working. [Howard – “it was a little stand up desk 3’ by 3’ on wheels. A high stool came with it. The top was tilted, higher at the back than the front”]. There he kept his records and tended to an important facet of his job – co-ordinating the orders of director Logan and the director of photography Dick Kline.
Join me next week for “Josh Logan – Director” the next post in The Adventures of Howard Kazanjian.