|Bonanza: The Boot Wars|
Friday, February 17, 2012
We heard a deep familiar voice rumble in the outer office: "Good morning, young lady. Are my writers in?"
It was none other than our hero, Lorne Greene, friend-in-misery at Galactica 1980, and now star of the unfortunate Code Red.
We jumped to our feet, beaming as he entered our office, ducking to avoid bumping his head. Our secretary, Genevieve, was a small, star-struck presence behind him as she ushered Lorne in.
Extending his hand, Lorne said, "Ah, my fellow Galactica survivors."
There were shakes and warm greeting of friends rejoined all around. Then we got Lorne seated, while Genevieve fetched him a cold bottle of Perrier.
Finally, he steered to the point of his visit. "You know, in my long years in this business, I've dealt with just about everything that can befall a production. From inclement weather, to unprofessional conduct by cast members, directors and producers, to balky horses whose saddles kept slipping off."
He ran a hand through his thick, silvery hair, his bushy brows coming together in one of his patented Lorne Greene frowns. Chris and I felt fortunate that the frown wasn't directed at us.
"But this show," he said. "This show..." He let it trail off. Little imagination was required to fill in the blanks.
The bitter chaos that was Code Dead had spread into every nook and cranny of the show, until even the studio gate guards gave us pitying looks when we came to work. A couple of the old timers told us some you-think-this-is-bad, anecdotes about Irwin (The Towering Toupee ) Allen when he was younger and healthier and could really lay about with his mean stick.
What's worse, the series kept shifting under us. First we were an eight o'clock show, then a 7 o'clock Children's Hour show. And then - well, I whined about all that before. But to add one more whine, the writing quality (ha!) was all over the place.
Irwin had demoralized the free lancers assigned to write the majority of the scripts so much that many of them had abandoned the offices on the lot that he had given them gratis and fled to their homes, where they may or may not have been working on various drafts of Code Red scripts. I know what Chris and I would have done if we weren't under contract and could flee. In a word, FuckAll.
"Don't get me wrong," Lorne continued. "Although this is... well... I don't think it would be too strong to call it an unhappy production."
"We call it a fucking mess," Chris put in.
Lorne laughed, then nodded agreement. He said, "Thank goodness that our little cast of regulars gets along famously. Andy and Sam are wonderful, and Julie, well, she's just magnificent. As always."
We noticed he hadn't mention Adam (The Beach Ball) Rich, but didn't comment.
Instead, I said, "Must be a lot different than your experience on shows like Bonanza. The scripts were usually superior. And everyone looked so pleased to work with one another."
"Oh, it was a joyous experience," Lorne said. "And it was a pleasure to work with Pernell, Dan and Michael." (Pernell Roberts, Michael Landon and Dan Blocker were his costars.)
We looked at him expectantly - what the hell was a boot war?
He said, "On a show like Bonanza, you could really get your macho going. I forget who... maybe it was Michael... started looking at Pernell as a rival. In the show, they were brothers, so I suppose it was only was natural to carry the sibling rivalry over to real life.
"Anyway, Michael cozened Wardrobe into providing him with boot heels that made him as tall as Pernell. Or, almost so. Michael - God love him - was always, well... undertall. Pernell started noticing the height difference during dailies. He was possibly thinking that Michael was trying to steal the scenes they had together. So, Pernell had Wardrobe provide him with heels that put him above Michael again.
"Then Dan got into the action, because both boys were nearing his height. He started wearing boots with bigger heels so he could be taller and go back to towering over his brothers."
Lorne threw back his head and laughed that deep laugh of his. Wiped his eyes. Then: "Well, foolish old ham that I was, I noticed that Dan and the others were getting close to my height. And so, I must confess, I joined the chase. It was like the Arms Race, but with feet involved.
"That went back and forth for a bit - each fellow getting boots with higher heels, and the rest of us retaliating. Until one day, we're shooting a scene where the four of us are walking downhill on a dirt road. We get maybe twenty, thirty feet, when the director shouts: Cut! We turn around, wondering what on Earth could be wrong. We were just walking along a predetermined path - nothing difficult about that.
"And then, boy did that director put us straight. He said, 'You guys are staggering and mincing down that hill like you were four John Wayne 's who just took some Nancy pills. Now, knock it off and go get Wardrobe to supply you with some proper boots.'"
"We didn't quarrel with him, and did as we were told. And, brother were glad we did so when we saw the dailies the following day. The director purposely showed the scene he had cut with the four of us knuckleheads staggering down that damned hill! We looked like four homely women in men's Western wear and out-of-control high heels. It was a wonder we didn't collide with one another and topple over."
After we got through laughing, Lorne became serious. "And now the true reason for my visit today, boys," he said. Then smiling, "Not that I'm not always pleased to spend time in your company."
Lorne drew a script out of a battered soft leather briefcase and we both braced for the worse as he flipped pages.
He said, "I have no illusions on what kind of control you have over the scripts we're getting. But I think you two could be of immensely important assistance on matters of script directions."
Lorne indicated a page and then a line in a script. "Here's a prime example. The situation in the scene is that I have just discovered that Danny, Adam's character, has committed some transgression. I'm furious about it. And my line is: 'I'm going to talk to that boy.'"
He looked up at us. "But the direction on the line is that I'm supposed to shout!"
As if wounded, Lorne pressed a palm against his chest. "That's not like me, boys. I don't mean just my character. I mean my style. I don't shout and I never have in my entire career. In fact, the angrier I'm supposed to get, the deeper I make my voice."
He demonstrated, making the windows rattle with the low rumble of: "I'm going to talk to that boy."
It was the voice of the ultimate Father Figure. Mentally, I shrunk in my seat. As did Chris. That voice made you feel like a naughty child again. Waiting for the punishment sure to come. It was a voice that said you were going to be grounded for, oh... how about the rest of your life?
Lorne said, "Do you see what I mean?"
Oh, boy, did we.
"Death to all shouting references, sir," Chris said, snapping a salute. "At least when it refers to you."
"Thank you, Chris," Lorne said. "But I have a larger point and it deals with directions involving my character in so many other ways. It strips away what I do best, and that's to speak and react with dignity."
"Your complaint about that line says it all," I put in. "In other words, when it comes to your character, less is more."
"Exactly," Lorne said.
And then, once again in that low, glass rattling voice: "Less is more."
NEXT: Julie Adams: The Lady Even Movie Monsters Fell For
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