IN THE PREVIOUS EPISODE: Frank Lupo, co-creator and creator of such fare as The A-Team, Wiseguy, Hunter, and many more, told us he'd sold a new show to the Fox Network. Titled, Werewolf, it starred John J. York (Eric Cord) as the reluctant Werewolf falsely accused of murder; Lance LeGault, Aka Alamo Joe - the cop hunting him with a pistol loaded with silver bullets; and Chuck Connors (Janos Skorzeny), as the King Werewolf that York must track down to rid himself of the curse and clear his name. Frank asked us if we'd like to head up his Story Department. To which Chris replied, "Is the bear Catholic? Does the Pope shit in the woods?" Which I translated for Frank: "Damn straight, boss." A few days after we'd joined the show, Frank came into our office and perched on Chris' desk.
Chris said, "How can we help you, boss?"
Frank said, "I want you guys to fucking kill Chuck Connors for me."
Now, Chris and I weren't aghast at this request. Although, if we'd had a little rum and nutmeg, we might have been agog. But we were - loosely speaking - surprised. (In reality, nothing surprises in Tinseltown. Except, maybe, the occasional Buckyball of Brilliance that somehow sneaks through Studio Interference.) We'd previewed the pilot and thought that Chuck (The Rifleman) Connors had done a damned good job of portraying an evil, scary, villain with no moral compunctions whatsoever.
We said as much to Frank.
Frank said, "It was fucking typecasting."
"How so, boss?" Chris asked.
"Everybody warned me not to hire the son of a bitch," he said. "And it turns out everybody was fucking right. Nobody would touch the guy. They thought he was a fucking time bomb. And that when he blew up any show he was associated with would be buried by the fucking paparazzi."
This was getting interesting. Pray tell us more, boss, we urged.
"Holy shit!" Chris said. "Gives you a whole new way to look at The Rifleman, doesn't it?"
"Nobody'd touch him with a fucking ten-foot pole," Frank said.
"Until you came along," I said.
Frank sighed. "We had a heart-to-heart," he said. "Swore he never had a problem. If anybody said so, they were lying. And even if he did have a problem, he got fucking help."
"So, did he slip, or something?" I just had to ask. "Is that why you want to get rid of him?"
Frank was clearly disgusted. "The guy is trying to fuck us," he said. "I told him at the start that I was going out on a financial limb with this show. Maybe it'll be a go. Maybe not. I told him not to fucking hold me up when the show went on the air and try to force a new deal. I said, let me get my negative costs back, then we can make a new deal if you want." (The show cost roughly $700,000 per half hour episode. Which, according to my handy-dandy inflation calculator would be $1,492,243.83 today.)
"He didn't listen," Chris said.
Frank grimaced. "He wants to break his contract. Make a whole new deal."
"But the show hasn't even aired, yet," I said.
"Yeah, but Chuck's getting all kinds of publicity," Frank said. "The saintly Rifleman-Knows-Best comes back as a gore-spattered werewolf. They're all loving it. Entertainment Tonight. The Tonight Show. He's all over the place giving interviews and doing a fucking Robert Blake."
(Frank was referring to THE Robert Blake of Baretta, In Cold Blood, and Did He Really Murder His Wife, infamy. Blake, a former child star, was a notorious asshole. Periodically he'd make a comeback. Get on Johnny Carson, and confess his Son Of A Bitchedness. All would be forgiven and he'd go back to work, only to repeat the whole cycle again. Never fear, I'll tell you all about Bad Boy Bobby Blake in a future Misadventure.)
"I saw Connors strutting his stuff on Arsenio Hall," I said. "I sort of thought that his ego was running away from him."
"I don't give a shit about ego," Frank said. "Comes with the territory. I've worked with some of the biggest ego-freaks in the business. But this son of a bitch is trying to hold my show hostage." He tapped his chest. "My fucking show."
"Consider the mother fucker dead," Chris said.
"Without killing the show," Frank cautioned.
"That's easy," I said. "Maybe Skorzeny is just a werewolf prince. Maybe the guy who bit him is the real King Of The Realwolves."
Chris jumped in. "So, after Eric (our hero) kills Skorzeny, he finds out that the curse hasn't been fucking lifted. There's another furry asshole. A guy who maybe goes way, way back in time."
"Like Cane and Able, far back," I added. "Was the first werewolf really Cane?"
"I like that," Frank said. "Put that in. But as a question. You know, the guy tells Eric: 'Do you think it was I, who slew Able?'"
"Here's another thing," I said. "The Connors character is pretty much of a lowlife. Total scum. Cruises the docks and the slums. Maybe the new Werewolf King is somebody really classy. Educated. Sophisticated."
"In World War Two," Chris said, "He would have been Hitler's buddy. A general in the SS. Liked to keep slaves and torment them."
"It would be nice, but not absolutely necessary," I said, "if we could get Connors to appear in the episode." (Chris and I had a rep as skilled hit men. We'd killed off many a major character, all of whom liked their exit scenes so much that they'd filmed their demise.)
Frank raised a finger: "Three episodes," he said. "Make it a three-parter so we can give the new Werewolf King a big buildup."
Chris and I did not object. For us, three episodes would equal a resounding Cha-Ching!
It should be explained that prior to this point, Chris and I had been aware that something kooky had been going on with the Skorzeny character. In the episodes we'd written, Frank had instructed us to minimize Connors' appearances. He'd explained it with vague references that, Chuck's got other commitments... or, his deal at this point is only for XYZ number of appearances in the season... or, save him for the shock value - we don't want to overdo it. That kind of thing.
We hadn't pressed for an explanation, thinking it really wasn't our business. In our first script - The Wolf Who Thought He Was A Man - the plot hadn't called for a Skorzeny appearance. The only werewolf in the episode, which was spooky as all hell just the same, was that of our hero - Eric. In the second episode - The Black Ship - the whole point was that Eric was imprisoned by a Skorzeny slave in an abandoned freighter at the docks. We twisted the screws up to the last minute, when Skorzeny finally arrived. (When it was shot later, they used Connors' double, who bore a striking resemblance to Connors when viewed in profile. But head on, he had this huge friendly - almost goofy - face, sort of like Chuck Connors' good twin.)
In Let Us Prey, there was no Skorzeny appearance. Instead, there was a monk who had been "infected" by Skorzeny, and we got a cool Werewolf fight between Eric and the lycanthrope monk.
For those of you interested in such things, the Werewolf costumes were by Rick Baker, whose credits are way too numerous to mention. There were three complete Werewolf costumes: two were fully operational, with short(ish), muscular stunt men inside, who were assisted by hydraulic operators on the outside. A third consisted of separate motorized parts for scary closeups of claws, fangs, etc. They cost about five hundred thousand dollars each. ($1,065,888.45 in today's money.) Suspenseful music for the series was supplied by Sylvester Levay, which added greatly to the transformation scenes.
Now, let's return to our office, where Frank was giving us a License To Kill Chuck Connors. After reviewing our suggestions for TWEEPing old Chucky-poo, he said he liked how we were thinking.
"Okay, guys, you got it," he said. "But put it on the back burner for a bit and let me see if I can still work something out with Chuck."
As he started to go, Chris and I exchanged looks. We'd been waiting for the right time to ask Frank an important favor. Should we, or shouldn't we? Chris shrugged. What the fuck?
"Uh, boss?" he said.
Frank turned back. Quickly caught the looks on our faces and said, "What's up guys?"
Chris said, "Well, see, before we came on the show, we got this... you know... invitation."
Frank smiled and nodded - go on.
"We've been invited to the World Science Fiction Convention," Chris said.
"It's in Brighton Beach," I elaborated. I named the date, then added, "It's for a week."
"Brighton Beach as in Brighton Beach, England?" Frank said.
Chris and I said it was that very place. I noted optimistically that the friendly smile remained.
"We're pretty much caught up around here," I said.
Without a second's hesitation, Frank said, "Sure, go."
Chris said, "We wouldn't expect a paycheck for the week."
Frank snorted. "Fuck that. Just take the pilot with you and show it to the fans. I'll get John to strike a couple of PALs for you." (PAL is the British video standard - different from ours. The John, he referred to was the late John Ashley, his right hand man.)
Many thankyous crowded into a few second later, Frank exited.
Chris said, "We're shitting in tall cotton, Cole."
"Thanks to Frank," I said.
"I knew he'd go for it," Chris said.
"No, you didn't."
"Sure, I did."
NEXT: TWO AMERICAN WEREWOLVES IN BRIGHTON BEACH