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Friday, January 27, 2012


"I don't care if cock-a-roaches are watching my show, so long as they have a Nielsen box." (Irwin Allen)

Hawk Leader Tony La Torre And Adam Rich
In Code Red's 'Framed By Fire'

Chris Was Studying the location sheet - the daily list of locations where Code Red was being filmed.

"They're shooting at the LA Yards today," he said.

I looked at my own sheet. "It's a night shoot," I noted. "The Great Train Robbery, Beach Ball Style."

The shoot in question involved the story mentioned in the previous episode where Adam (The Beach Ball) Rich is cozened by a gang of juvenile delinquents - The Hawks - into raiding a boxcar stuffed with small, expensive electronic gear favored by the young of that era - Walkman, mini-stereo gear, hand-held Pac-Man devices, and other early 80's high tech stuff.

Chris chuckled nastily. "You mean the Not-So-Great Train Robbery," he predicted. "Hide and watch. Tonight's gonna be a cluster fuck of the first order." (A cluster fuck is GI slang for a bunch of Grunts clustering together during a firefight, presenting a single easy grenade target for the Bad Guys.)

I picked up the script in question and thumbed to the scene. "What's the problem? Other than being at night, that is. Kids can only work so many hours. And night hours count double... Or something like that."

"You see the stars, Grasshopper," Chris said in a very bad Bruce Lee imitation "But you do not see the moon."

I thought a minute. Let's see...The Hawks... Beach Ball in tow... they're supposed to hop abroad a stationary boxcar... then loot it. I circled back to the word "hop."

The light dawned.

"Shit!" I said. "These kids are really, really - REALLY, short. And doors to boxcars are..."

"...Way the hell up here," Chris said, raising his hand well over his head. How are they going to get up there - with ladders? Grapnels? Anti-gravity devices?"

"Maybe the director has already figured it out," I said. "Made arrangements. Got Props to cut down the boxcar, or something."

Another laugh from Chris. "Ha! I say to you. Ha! And Ha! once again. Look who's directing."

I looked. Damn, and double damn. I won't tell you the director's name, but he'd screwed up two of our scripts over at Universal.

Chris said, "The guy's IQ probably equals Irwin's sperm count. All single digits."

Couldn't argue with that. I reached for the phone. "Maybe we ought to warn somebody."

Chris snorted. "Fuck 'em," he said. "Let them figure it out their ownselves."

You are probably noticing about now that our morale was rather low. This had less to do with the awful show we were working on - which, despite all its flaws, had a really nice cast and crew - and everything to do with Irwin Allen 's management style. If you look up Shitheel Boss in The Dictionary Of American Slang, you'll find Irwin's picture residing there.

Irwin, it turned out, liked to manage by making everybody mad at each other, creating such chaos that only he could bring order. We'd just found out, for example, that Irwin had been telling Larry that we'd said nasty things about him - disparaged his talent, and so on. Meanwhile, he'd been telling us - a warning, as he put it - that Larry was out to get us fired. And telling terrible lies about us.

Now, I'd been a boss of people ever since I was 19. Restaurant personnel when I was a young chef; a newsroom full of reporters and photographers in my later newspaper city editor days. I'd even been to management school. (Don't worry. The bullshit didn't stick. Much.) And so I had realized what was going on the first time Irwin started bad-mouthing Larry. The second time, I went to see our story exec myself to prick the balloon, if there was one. Or clock the prick, if that proved to be the case.

Larry denied saying anything at all against us. In fact, he said, he'd been impressed with us from the beginning, and nothing had happened to change his opinion. Then I asked him if Irwin claimed we had been bad mouthing Larry.

"Absolutely," Larry said. "I was just getting ready to ask you about it. I thought it was bullshit. I've worked with Irwin on other projects and that's his style."

Within a few weeks the entire cast, crew and all the other people it takes to put on a weekly show were either at each other's throats, or creeping up behind their colleagues with knives aimed at their backs.
Attitude Check
Things were so bad that when we were summoned to Irwin's office, we'd sally through the banks of secretaries and other personnel and Chris would cry, "Attitude Check." And every single person in the place would raise their middle finger to indicate their attitude. (Chris had schooled them on this Army lower-ranks tradition early on.)

And so it was that I withdrew my hand from the phone and told Chris, "You're right. Fuck them."

Not long after we were summoned to Dailies. That's where you get to see rough cuts of what was shot the day before. It's not just rough, but raw as hell, and you can hear the director cursing when things go wrong and crewmembers accidentally wandering into the shot, actors blowing their lines and missing their marks. It's like watching Bloopers, but if you dare laugh, the Suits, who are watching Dailies along with you will order some stuntman to punch you in the larynx.

I've never been able to see the use of Dailies. Everybody wants Dailies privileges, so they are always packed with execs and exec wannabes. As knowledgeable an expert as our producer/mentor Al Godfrey once opined: "Maybe three people in this town understand Dailies... And I'm not one of them."

Anyway, we were at Dailies. And they were screening scenes from the episode where The Beach Ball is wooed by the evil teenage gang - The Hawks.

If you recall the previous episode, there was a great deal of concern expressed by the Suits at the Anything But Class (ABC) network. They feared "grittiness." Injury to Adam Rich's pristine reputation. His mother's wrath. And most of all, they wanted Irwin's casting company to seek out All American Boys, who were no taller, or menacing than The Beach Ball.

Okay, so up comes the Great Train Robbery scene.

Picture this: It's night and we are at the LA Train Yards. There's a box car with wide open doors. And then we see a half-a-dozen kids, trailed by a reluctant Beach Ball (Gee, Officer Krupke, his character isn't bad, just misunderstood.) All the kids, except the Beach Ball, are wearing expensive padded - and I mean, padded - jackets for gang colors, with "The Hawks" embroidered (Actually embroidered!) on the backs.

The kids rush to the open doors. Which, just as Chris had predicted, are way above their heads. The leader and the others grab for purchase and try to haul themselves up. Giving it the old Middle School try. They keep falling back on the ground. One of the kids tries to give the gang leader a boost and they both tumble over.

We hear the director shout, "Aw fuck!" Then, "Cut, cut, fucking cut!"

The Beach Ball turns to face the camera, presumably to address the director. "If we're gonna do this again, somebody's has to fix my hair." He brushes at some locks that have strayed from his Prince Valiant do.

Beside me, I heard Chris chortle. I gave him the elbow to shut up, but mainly to keep myself from laughing with him.

They try again. Same result. "Cut, cut, fucking cut!"

Finally, the director strides into the shot. Looks around, scratches his head. Somebody OS says, "Maybe we could use some boxes." The director finally gets it. "Yeah, boxes. That'll work." Then, "Okay, everybody, break for dinner." (An expensive decision, since the clock was tick-tick-ticking close to everybody's union Golden Time. Plus the problem of kids working at night. In and out fast as a jackrabbit is best.)

The next scene rolls and we see that during the dinner break some wooden boxes have been artfully stacked by the prop guys to make a stairway to the boxcar opening. The kids appear again, along with the Beach Ball, whose hair is perfect, and they all trot easily up the boxes and hop into the boxcar. End Sequence, then the lights came on while the reels were changed. There was a buzz of unhappy Suits around the room. "That was fucked." And, "Didn't he fucking realize...?" Also, "Why didn't somebody warn him?"

At that, Chris and I slid down low in our seats until - Thank the Gods - the lights dimmed and the projectionist rolled a new set of stomach churners.

The scene unspooled: The Beach Ball and the Gang Leader, complete with padded Hawk's jacket, are talking in the school hallway. The scene was shot on the lot, where we had a permanent school hallway set, including some faux stairs leading up to the hallway, where we could see a closed classroom door and a water cooler.

Remember that water cooler.

Gangland Terror
The Gang Leader makes an impassioned pitch for the Beach Ball to join him and his kiddy gangsters on a train yard raid that night. (Scenes on TV and the movies are almost never shot in order.)

He's supposed to end his speech with: "The Hawks take care of their own." Except his 13-year-old voice is in the middle of changing, so it comes out like the squeals of a choirboy escaping a horny priest... The Hawks (screech) Take Care Of Their (screech) Own!

"Aw Jesus!" I heard Chris groan.

Then the Beach Ball turns and sidles to the water cooler, pretending he needs a drink to get some distance between him and the mini-Satan gang leader.

And... And... And...

"I knew it, I knew it! He can't fucking reach it!" Chris blurted.

And sure enough, the water cooler is so high that the Beach Ball has to stand on his tip toes just to get to eye level.

Chris is starting to say something, but he's drowned out by the sounds of pissed off Suits. Never mind it was their idea to cast Adam Rich, and their idea to get Beverly Hills Middle School kid actors to play the gang members in this episode. It was all everybody else's fault.

I grab Chris by the sleeve and we duck down and slide out, then up the aisle and through the door before all hell (excuse me, Ms. Futterman - all Hades) breaks loose. We were standing there, blinking in the sunlight, and Chris said, "We'd better get off the lot for a couple of hours. We are about to get a whole trainload of shit rolling down our personal hills."

Maybe I was shell shocked, but I still thought it was funny. "What's to worry about, partner?" I said. "Didn't you hear the guy?"

And in my best imitation of a goosed castrati I squeak, "The Hawks take care of their own."



The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 (we're now knocking at the door of 110,000) I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort. However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out. Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think? And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


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