Andy's column asked for production memories. As one who has directed more commercials than anyone else in history, I have a tremendous amount of memories in this business.
When I started in television, at WHIZ-TV in Zanesville, Ohio, we did not have video tape. When I got promoted to director, a typical Saturday required directing a live one hour version of a local American Bandstand-type show in the afternoon and all the live commercials.
We would do over 40 live 60 second commercials in one day. Although we didn't make much money, the director got to take home the food from the commercials. Kroger kept my spouse and I pretty well supplied. In fact, I would talk to the continuity lady and ask her to write a commercial about bacon and eggs when we ran out at home. She knew how little we got paid, and was always happy to oblige.
My first directing job, was almost my last. There was a syndicate weekly program titled, "Casey Jones". It starred the Skipper from Gilligan's Island. A perfect match for "Casey Jones Potato Chips" which ran three live commercials in the 1/2 hour.
First; to make the bag look fuller, I took out the potato chips and put a bag of Fritos in the bottom....then put the potato chips back on top. Second; directors also ran audio, so I had to play the record which had the Casey Jones jingle at the end of the spot.
Preparing for the live commercial, I cued the et up on the air, by having the switch in the wrong direction. Cut to the live camera, for the potato chip pour into a bowl and, of course, the bag of Fritos came flying out and blasted potato chips all over the studio. Then, I went to the jingle, which I had set to play at 45 RPM instead of 33 RPM. To add to this
total disaster, the commercial ended sooner than 60 seconds because the jingle zipped through sounding like the Chipmunks.
The call I got from the station manager, he was laughing so hard, he had trouble chewing me
out and finally just gave up and said, "Dump the next PSA and do a make-good.
To read Maurie's Christmas poem, The Mission, click here.
Alan Hale as Casey Jones, before he was "Gilligan's Skipper."
I owe a debt to a guy I never met!
I left Zanesville, Ohio in the fall of 1959 to go into the Army Reserve.
Since Phoenix was the fastest growing market, I knew I wanted to get into television here. My news director/anchor at WHIZ-TV in Zanesville, said he had an old army
buddy who was the production manager at KOOL-TV in Phoenix. He wrote a note to Kent Wilson saying what a great guy I was and some information about Kent's anatomy which shall not be divulged.
When I got out of the army, I went to all the tv stations, and was promptly and quickly rejected even though I had experience as a director in Ohio. I was not easily discouraged and called every week, hoping for an opening. The production manager at channel 12, (nameless on purpose) finally ran out of patience and said, "Maurie, I don't want you calling me again. We never have any turnover. Why don't you go to channels 3, 5 or 10?"
Well, I had been to channels 3, 5 and 10 and they had turned me down. In fact, the program director at KTVK was Don Tuckwood, and he assured me, he was really too important to waste his time with my phone calls. "I have too many pressing responsibilities to be bothered by your calls," he said.
So I went to work in the financial field and became an assistant manager. After a year and a half, when they fired my manager, who, I felt, was a better finance guy than I would ever be, I decided to again try my luck at getting into television. So, I called Kent Wilson, hoping he would remember me.
Kent said, "I just hired a guy who starts Monday. I'll let you know if anything opens up, though."
The next morning, February 4th, I got a call from Kent. "The guy I hired did not show up. When can you start? The hours are 2-10:30 pm." Wednesday, February 5th, I was at the station at 1:30 p.m. to begin the first day of my 25 year career at KOOL TV. I wish I knew where the guy was who didn't show up. I'd like to thank him.
Of course, I was not a director. I was a cameraman on the production crew.
The next best thing to happen was a guy named Bill Miller, came to work at the station just 4 months later. That is, without a doubt, the best thing that can happen to a dream of becoming a producer/director. To be partners with a person of such creativity and vision. The difficult part of that equation is that in 45 years, I have only met one Bill Miller.
I simply was in the right place at the right time, for together we came up with ideas for television shows. Of course, it helped to work for a station like KOOL-TV with Tom
Chauncey, Homer Lane, Jack Murphy, Bob Martin and Bob Davies. When we presented our ideas to station management, the answer was always the same. "That sounds like a good idea..why don't you do it?"
Now, here is the poetic justice.
Number one: After winning every category we entered in the local tv academy competition, we received a call from Don Tuckwood. He had just taken a position as general manager at a television station in Hawaii and wondered if we would be interested in becoming producer/directors for him.
Number two: Many years later, my boss, Bob Davies, got a call from the former production manager at channel 12. He was looking for a job. Bob told him he would have to talk to me because I was now production manager. He never called. Guess he remembered our last conversation some 20 years before.
The Early 60's and Aquanetta...
When I came to the station in 1962, the production crew at KOOL-TV worked the 2-11 p.m. time slot. The afternoon was made up of getting things ready for any nighttime production and working on a show called, "Sheriff Bill".
We did 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts. The only time to do any commercial production was between 7 and 9 p.m. Not too many people wanted to come to downtown Phoenix in the evening to work on their commercials.
Plus, I hate to admit it, but in Phoenix television, Channel 12 was king of commercial
production. They had a graphic artist, Emmet Lancaster, who was second to none, and their people understood the importance of commercial production. For most of the
engineers and production people at channel 10, it interrupted their television viewing.
Our General Sales Manager, Les Lindvig, wanted desperately to change all that and he spent many hours trying to persuade Jack Ross to bring his Lincoln-Mercury Dealership commercial production to the station. Jack, who was friends with our V.P. G.M., Homer Lane, and President, Tom Chauncey, finally agreed to give us a try.
On the first night of production, a cameraman, Jack Reader, was telling a rather off-colored joke complete with some extremely dirty language when one of the new Lincolns drove up with the window open and Mrs. Jack Ross at the wheel. We drew straws to see who had to drive the new Lincoln onto the patio, because the perfume was quite strong and, fortunately, the married men's spouses soon became aware that they would be somewhat fragrant on Thursday nights.
Now, for those of you who never had the privilege of meeting Mrs. Ross, she was a lovely, refined lady named "Aquanetta". Aquanetta, the star of the commercials, was like many of us, myopic, but she didn't wear glasses or contacts on camera. She insisted
on the camera being close enough for her to read the prompter copy. This resulted in
Cameraman, Bill Miller pushing the camera dolly over her foot.
However, being the trouper that she was, she limped through the commercials with
the automobiles that were on our outside patio. Upon completion of the 2 minute
commercials, she entered the studio where Mr. Lindvig and Jack were sitting on the
sofa. When Aquanetta sat down with them, the sofa collapsed.sending everyone
unceremoniously sprawling on the floor.
While his wife was ready to bid us all farewell, Jack took it all in stride and continued to do his commercial production at channel ten for many years. In fact, as a sponsor of
A movie on KPHO-TV, he was allowed one commercial with no time limit. He and Aqua would ad-lib and it would run anywhere from 4 to seven minutes. On the sly,
we all put in 25 cents to guess how long it would run. The one who came the closest
won the money. After several weeks, Jack found out about it and instead of being mad,
he asked if he could get in on the pool.
As Bill Miller once said, "I wish we had known how much fun it was back then".
A LESSON LEARNED THE HARD WAY!
Dave was an engineer at KOOL TV in the late 1960's. He was the epitome of a liberal viewpoint and a union man through and through. "First of all, we don't get paid enough." Actually, we weren't in great disagreement on that count. But just about everything else.
Management, to Dave, was representative of all that was wrong with this country.
He could go for hours about the great discrepancies between the poor working man and capitalistic big business.
There were countries where people were rewarded with such things as subsidized housing and free medical care, mass transit, equal taxation, etc. Socialistic societies were the only ones to care about the poor working stiff and his attempts to take care of his family, according to Dave.
Never mind that our owners supported virtually every charitable event and cause in Arizona. That was just their attempt to put salve on their guilty conscience, as far as Dave was concerned.
The worst part of his job was that he was the technical director for both the six and ten p.m. newscasts and the latter always ended with an editorial from our general manager, Homer Lane.
Now, Homer didn't write all the editorials, but he did pen most of them. Still, he often gave the opposing viewpoint of a disgruntled viewer. However, to help relieve the burden, those of us in the creative field often submitted editorials that were read by Homer. And, I must confess, the vast majority of the editorials were of a rather conservative, capitalistic nature. This, of course, irritated Dave no end and as soon as the newscast was over, he would venture into a tirade about the evils of the U.S.of A. Those of us who were raised in an entrepreneurial atmosphere argued with him many times.
Now, Dave was not one to be content with being discontent and eventually he gathered up his family and moved to New Zealand, where he landed the same kind of work as an engineer for a television station. We assumed, a socialistic society was the perfect idiom for Dave and we would probably never hear from him again.
It was, perhaps, a couple of years later, we were surprised by an unsolicited letter from Dave, who was still an engineer at the TV station in New Zealand.
The first line of the correspondence told us about all we needed to know.
Dave wrote, "I just needed to write and apologize for all the mistaken concepts I had when I worked at channel ten. I had no idea that free enterprise and democracy were so superior to any other form of society and government."
Dave went on to say how difficult, if not impossible, it was to get anything accomplished without mountains of paperwork and layers upon layers of bureaucracy. He longed for the good old days of simply telling his boss what would be the best solution to a problem and having him either take care of it at once or take it to management where it was quickly resolved.
His apologies rambled about poor health care and inferior doctors, lousy equipment where he worked, etc. He even asked us to convey his feelings to Homer for the many times he disagreed with the conservative view.
Dave learned that hard way, what many of us, somehow, already knew: The grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence..or even the other side of the planet.
A MOST UNFORGETTABLE CHARACTER...
As a local television director for over 40 years, I have seen my share of celebrities and, thus, I am not easily impressed by the rich or famous. Occasionally, there was the exception.
He was the formidable statesman and senior United States Senator from Arizona. He was also the former Republican candidate for the highest office in the land. He was the icon for the western gentleman. Ruggedly handsome and extremely successful as a photographer and U.S. Airforce Pilot. His name was a household word.sometimes in vain.sometimes with reverence. He was Barry Goldwater, of course.
I was a director at channel ten, when I first met Senator Goldwater. His campaign manager was Steve Shadegg, (father of Congressman
John Shadegg). Steve asked me if I would direct the commercials for the Senator's return to the U.S. Senate. I was honored to do so.
Steve was also the campaign manager for Senator Paul Fannin and I was recommended by his son, for whom I had directed real estate commercials.
We took our film crew to the Senator's home and with a hand-cranked
TelePrompTer; we set up the camera on his patio.
Once we were set, we brought out Senator Goldwater and ran through the copy once, then rolled the film to record the 60 second spot.
At the end of the first take, I said, "That was fine, Senator. Now if we could just do it again so I could change the shot for editing".
The Senator motioned me to step closer. "Young man", he said, "I will do it for you this time, but in the future, you need to understand, I do these things one time."
Being the experienced and worldly director that I was, I replied, "Yes Sir"!
I did several more sessions with the Senator and we had a wonderful working relationship. This simply meant, we did one take at every session.
A couple years later, President Johnson gave his final State-of-the-Union address and because of the equal time stipulation, the republicans were allowed a rebuttal.
Senator Goldwater was the obvious choice since he had been defeated by Johnson and had since won re-election to the U.S. Senate.
The Senator was in Phoenix at the time and the networks asked us to
tape Goldwater in our studios. CBS sent a producer to handle the chores for the networks. I was to be the director, since it was at our station and the Senator was comfortable with our crew.
We set up the camera and in the office of our president, Tom Chauncey, and the script was sent in advance for the TelePrompTer.
We had a time limit for the presentation and several minutes into the Senator's speech, the producer, who had worried about the session running long, now began to get nervous about the script being too short.
Knowing the Senator, I said, "Don't worry. If he runs out of script, we will give him time cues and he will simply ad-lib until we count him down to the correct time."
Now, the producer from CBS, New York, did not really believe me, but he had little choice than to sit back and watch it happen.
At the end of the script, Goldwater began adlibbing for nearly five minutes and finished the taping a few seconds short of the time allowed.
"That was o.k.", said the producer, "Save that and we'll do it again."
"Sir", I said, "He has done it once and he won't do it a second time."
"Hey", said the producer, "We're talking the networks, here. This is going to the entire nation."
At that, he marched to the front of the building and into the office where the taping had been done. The Senator had removed his microphone and looked up at the producer.
"Thanks, young man", he said. "Say hello to Walter when you get back to New York."
He turned to the rest of us and thanked us individually and promptly walked out the front door, leaving the producer speechless.
He was one-of-a-kind and a pleasure to know.
It would be accurate to say he made the people with whom he worked, better at their job. He was extremely unforgiving of others when he felt they fell short of their potential. He simply expected everyone to do what was necessary to make and keep KOOL-TV NEWS, number one in the market. No sacrifice was too great. No detail too small. No one's opinion mattered except one. And that one belonged to him and him alone. As I recall, Bill Close was wrong a good number of times.
It was easy to admire Bill, because, as a double amputee, he asked and received no special treatment. I don't believe he had a handicapped sticker on his car and certainly never requested a reserved parking place.
He went to every Arizona State University baseball, football, and basketball home game for many, many years. He voted in every election: national, state, county, city, school board, primary and general. It was "his duty as an American citizen". And he didn't mind reminding anyone who would listen, what a privilege it was to live in this country.
When Joe Billy Gwinn came into the news studio with a gun and held our station hostage for several hours, he expected to be in touch with the control room and be able to read
his rambling, idiotic, mindless, pointless, useless, senseless, worthless statement.
Close never relinquished the communications with the control room, or the microphone. He remained calm and in-charge, or so it appeared to the viewers. Every station had it live on the air, except ours, because Joe Billy, although crazy as hell, wasn't stupid, and brought a battery operated portable tv. Finally, when it became evident that this madman would start shooting people, Close read the statement. The police, who, unknown to Gwinn, were on the scene almost from the beginning, said Bill handled the situation perfectly with extreme composure.
When people later asked me about it, I stated, "Close was simply being Bill Close."
He was cool under pressure and not about to lose control. It was not in his nature to turn over command to anyone else.
When I read his autobiography, I was happy to see he gave considerable appreciation and affection to his adoring wife, Joy. The Bill Close I knew was certainly viewed as a chauvinist to every female at work, and it was heartwarming to realize that he was a different person at home.
In fact, his autobiography really didn't spend too much time on the women with whom he worked. I am happy to say, because of the negative bent he put on many of those he did mention, he omitted me in the book, though we worked together for over 20 years.
One of the reasons may have been that, according to my memory, we disagreed on most every aspect of our business. Fortunately, I never worked under Bill. Good thing: If I hadn't been fired, I surely would have quit. I was in production, and Bill was strictly news. However, I did direct the 6 o'clock news for several years.
This was back in the days when very little was on video tape. Commercials often consisted of slides and audio tape or film and the director had to call the shots. The news stories usually required rolling the "b-roll" film in sync with the sound bites. Two different projectors were often used and a five second cue was normal. This meant, the video and audio could come from a variety of different sources and you couldn't relax for two minutes during commercial breaks. It was, needless to say, 30 minutes of being in a pressure cooker.
At the end of one particular newscast, Bill poked his head in the control room door and asked, "What was that one second of black in the third segment"? If I had answered, I would have regretted saying what came to mind, so I simply picked up my stopwatch and walked out of the station, got in my car and went home for the day. They told me later, the sound of my hand slapping the desk could have been heard a few blocks away.
Bill called me into his office one day and said, "You have a problem. Your production office is in the same building as news and KOOL Radio". (an alley separated them from the rest of the station.) "Your assistant, Pam Stevenson, has been wearing slacks to work and we don't allow women in this building to wear slacks."
"Bill", I said, "I don't have a problem. You have a problem". And I left his office.
Sometimes, I think it was a very good thing that I didn't work for Bill. As Vice President of News, he had a lot of power because we were a strong number one. And, I probably choose to remember only the times I was right and he was wrong. Hey, he could have turned the tables in his book, but this is my column.
I suggested using music for a news story on the White Mountain Railroad to liven it up.
"Music has no place in a newscast", he said.
When I aked him to interview a female friend, Megan Dye, for consideration as a sports reporter, I thought he was going to try to have me committed. I got the lecture about there never being a woman sportscaster because she couldn't get into the locker rooms..among other reasons.
We were looking for a female co-anchor for the 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts and we had auditioned quite a few. I happened to direct a 30 minute political with one of the people from the public television station. I was very impressed and suggested to Bill that he audition her for the co-anchor position. "I know who she is, and I don't think she is right for the job", he answered.
Well, once again, Bill and I didn't agree, and I went to my best friend, Bill Miller, who, at that time, was manager of the news division. Bill said, "Let's bring her in for an audition."
She auditioned with Bill and was hired before she got out of the station. Mary Jo West became the most well-known person in Phoenix television within a year. It appears she
was right for the job.
As I said, at the beginning of this column, I admired Bill for his patriotism and his courage. I once was at a black-tie dinner and made a point of telling him so. His answer was, "You've had too much to drink."
I have been a teetotaler my entire life. Mr. Close was wrong again.
Bill Close today.
THE RICH AND/OR FAMOUS
When you have been in and around the TV business as long as I have, you meet, and often work with celebrities. People really don't seem to care that much about the wonderful people who really made television and broadcasting what it is today, as much as they do about the famous folk in front of the cameras.
I have had the privilege, or, sometimes, laborious task of meeting and working with some of the most well-known people in the film and television industries. While I won't go into detail on every one of nearly a hundred, I thought I'd share with you some memorable ones.
Keep in mind; these are merely my own personal impressions. Others might see these people entirely differently.
Most impressive: Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater. Both commanded a sense of leadership that could immediately take over a room full of people regardless of the size of the room.
Most talented: Orson Welles, Bill Cosby, Jackie Gleason, Wayne Newton, Dick VanDyke, Roger Miller, Glenn Campbell. (Not in any particular order.)
My idols: Mike Nichols, Kevin Kostner. It was a great day when I was able to interview them. Guess because, in addition to what they did in font of camera, they are great directors.
Smartest: Sandra Day O'Connor, Claire Booth Luce, Governor Jack Williams
Nicest: Don Rickles. Yes, I know you think it is a misprint. But when the camera was off he was the kindest man you will ever meet. When the camera was on, Katie bar the door.
Prettiest: Vonda Kay VanDyke, Mary Hart, Linda Carter. (Toss up)
Most Congenial: Dick VanDyke, Peter Yarro. Yes, I know, I've already got Dick in a category. But truth is, he could be in most of the categories. Peter of Peter, Paul and Mary should also be in the most talented list. Went to Wisconsin where they were giving a concert and interviewed Paul afterward. He said to film as much of the concert as we wanted and then he would be available for the interview. As unlike a celebrity with a household name as you could imagine. Directed two different public service announcements with Dick for the Phoenix Symphony and Better Business Bureau. He was creative and cooperative on both shoots.
Most obliging: William Shatner, David Hartman. I filmed Shatner for a video of Biosphere II where he was directing a movie. He assured me that he would do the narrative exactly as I wanted. I was the director and he was just the actor. Hartman did exactly the same thing on a shoot in Seattle.
Most flamboyant: Liberace. (Who else?)
Most interesting interview: Ed Ames. (I, of course, remember the Ames Brothers)
Most aloof: William Holden
Most unassuming: Inglebert Humperdink. We walked around the state fairgrounds filming him and no one even noticed him. (Maybe he wasn't quite famous yet.)
Most pleasant: Walter Cronkite. Treated everyone exactly the same.
Most unpleasant: Orson Welles. Fortunately, his daughter had written the script or he probably would have been a lot worse. However, the old @#@#%@$ was absolutely amazing in his delivery and the commercial was terrific.