Date: Fri, 1 Nov 1996 11:24:44 -0500
Subject: Re: Tales of the Gold Monkey
In a message dated 96-10-21 13:33:16 EDT, you write:
>"noticed that you wrote Last Chance Louie. My favorite ep, for
>obvious reasons. But I missed seeing Cooked Goose! The series hasn't
>been shown in Manila since 1983 :(. BTW, is the Winrich Kolbe who
>directed some of the episodes the same guy who directed Star Trek:
>Generations? "Thanks again. --Mel email@example.com >>
REPLY:::::::>>>>>>>From: Tom Greene
Hello! Finally I have a chance to get back to you. Just finished my pilot for my new series and now it's in the hands of the gods. Literally! First off thanks for the wonderful words about "Last Chance Louie". It's one of my favs as well, and as you will see in the enclosed "memories", I have some funny stories to tell about it. As for Kolbe... yes, the same one. We always called him Rick Kolbe, and for a time, he was directing everything in site at Universal. He also did a whole bunch of Knightriders for me, when I was producing that show... usually he'd do the "two-parter" ones... for some reason. Back then he was rather young... if I remember... but he's German, and had a voice like a German commander in an old WW2 movie! I think he now does most of the Star Trek type shows.
But on to my memories of Roddy:
Well I finally have a few moments to answer all your questions, or at least try to answer them. If you don't mind, I'll also send my answers over to the GOLD MONKEY web site since my only contact with Roddy was one wonderful year of working with him on Gold Monkey.
In my business you work with many of the "big stars" all the time, and it's no big deal... but let's face it... we're all fans in our hearts... which is why were in the biz to begin with. On a few occasions you are allowed to work with someone that you have admired from "afar" and suddenly there you are working with them! I mean the great legends...not just great stars. In my case that has happened only a few times. I did get to work with Hitchcock in a very peripheral way during the shooting of his last movie: Family Plot. To actually be on the set talking to "the master" was something that will stay with me the rest of my life. I also had lunch with him in his office (you didn't order lunch with "Hitch", it was assumed you wanted a steak sandwich along with him, and it just came). I mention that because several years later Don Bellisario's (creator and Executive Producer of Gold Monkey) office was Hitchcock's old office. Anyway, the other legends who I actually got to work with was Roddy McDowall who I had always admired, Roy Rogers (when he called my office I thought it was a joke and was a second away from saying: "Hey, have you mounted Dale yet!", when I heard his voice and almost fell off my chair... I was talking to God and was suddenly seven years old again!), and the great Patrick Macnee (of the "Avengers" fame) who has remained a dear friend. These are legends in my book, and to work with them, to be their "boss" as it were, to have them say my lines, after so many years from childhood up of admiring their work is the great gift we get occasionally from this strange world we work in.
Roddy was an amazing case in point. What they all have in common is summed up in two words: "class and professionalism". Roddy was someone who literally was in the business his entire life. He has a million classics under his belt, has worked with every great star, director, producer... knew the Moguls during the golden era... I mean the guy carried with him the whole history of Hollywood... yet you couldn't meet a more real, genuine, lovely person! No ego, no pretense... he would walk around the lot with his ever-ready camera clicking pictures away as if he was a tourist from Missouri. He always had a child-like wonder of the business, yet an amazing professionalism when it came to his craft. When you have someone like that in your cast (of course give Don credit for casting him, after "removing" Ron Moody from the original pilot), you find that your writing improves a thousand percent. Knowing that someone of Roddy's caliber was going to say the lines, knowing there wasn't anything you could throw at him, that he couldn't catch, no nuance of thought, no subtlety of action, no subtext too complex... it allowed you to be as creative as you could possible be! As soon as I knew I was doing the show, I was planning on doing an episode like LAST CHANCE LOUIE to allow Roddy the full range of his acting talent. It was his show from start to finish (though everyone else was sensational). If you read the script, or watch the episode you will marvel at his performance. There is one scene in particular, where Roddy is on the balcony of the Monkey Bar telling Jake why he shot at an old adversary that is, in my opinion perhaps the best performance you re likely to see on television. TV hates speeches, yet I did the unthinkable and wrote a two page speech for him, knowing that he would keep everyone's attention from start to finish. I remember even Don, who always taught us to keep words short and to the point... to learn to make every line count, and mean something, so you don't have to ramble on and on... even he agreed that the speech should stay, and that only Roddy could pull it off. The point was, if any other actor was playing that part, you could bet I wouldn't have written it. I wrote a bit of business in that scene which was both an in-joke to Roddy and a nod to his amazing skills. At one point in the script I say that "a tear forms in Louie's eye and goes half way down his cheek... it lingers there for a moment and then almost as an after thought, Louie wipes it off )." When Roddy read the first draft I remember he called me with his wonderful laugh. He then said: "Tell me... you want the tear on the right cheek or the left cheek?" I told him that was up to the director, depending on how he stages it! Sure enough, take after take, Roddy let a tear drop from his eye, right on cue... and yes... if you watch the scene it does go half way down his cheek... linger and then it's wiped off!
The second show I did as producer needed a total re-write, and I was feeding pages to production literally hot off the typewriter. I would write a few pages, and they were sent to the set to shoot! This was a very rare way of doing a show, but they were in trouble with the original script, which was one reason I guess I was brought aboard. I, of course, was concerned if what I was writing was making any sense, or if anyone liked it.
There was a scene where a man is killed, and discovered the next morning. Roddy has a scene with Jake in which he talks about perhaps having some kind of eulogy for the poor man. I went on the back-lot to bring over some more pages. At that time I hadn't really talked to Roddy yet. To let you know the kind of man he is... when I walked on the set, a whole bunch of people were there, including a group of Executives both from Universal and ABC. Roddy did the scene where he eulogies the man and then while the cameras were still rolling he looks up and says: "Who wrote these new lines... this is wonderful stuff!" Of course I was then introduced as the new writer/producer to everyone's favor. It was obvious that Roddy had seen me running back and forth with pages, and he could also sense my concern if I was pulling it off. Only he had the class to make a deal about it... while the cameras were rolling... he knew it was a time when everyone would be silent... all eyes and ears would be on him, and it would have the most potent effect to compliment me. I shall never, ever forget him for that magnanimous gesture!
Another time, when we were shooting the Cooked Goose episode, we had a sequence in which the "Goose" catches on fire. The "first unit" was shooting over by the Monkey Bar set, and I was out on the dock, shooting the burning of the plane. For some reason I was actually doing a bit of "second unit directing" setting up the shot and all. My Mother and Father had come to visit the set that day, (lucky for me... I now direct all the time, but then, this young kid producer didn't get to scream "action" very often!). Again, the amazingly perceptive Roddy saw instantly, without anyone telling him, that these two visitors were related to me. My Father especially was a total fan of Roddy's and was being "polite" not to go up to him and make a fuss. But again, somehow Roddy knew. First off, he came over to the pier and in front of my parents went on and on about my re-writes on the scene that he was doing, and then asked my advise about some line-readings. Roddy needs my advice about line readings like the "Shaq" needs my advice about basketball. He did it was such abloom... that even I didn't realize until the next day what was going on. Naturally I introduced him to my parents, and he took them aside while I "blew up the Goose", and just gushed about how wonderful the scripts had become since I came aboard. Obviously, Roddy could see that these were my parents, and wanted to "introduce" himself, and "make the fuss over me" in front of them. My Parents talked about that day for years to come. Again, this is a man of such class, such talent... such a joy to work with! Ever since then I have wanted to work with Roddy again. When the times have been right, he has been busy (I don't think he's ever not working on something, whether it be a book, a photo shoot, or movies and TV!). If my Jason and the Argonaut project goes forward, perhaps I will finally have the right situation to work with this living legend again. For now... at least I could say I had the opportunity. I guess I'm blessed!
Speaking of his camera, I know he was always taking pictures so perhaps someone could ask him if he has any of the behind the scenes to put up as gifs. God knows I'd love some. My biggest regret to all the shows I worked on is that I never took any pictures of me on the set. I never know why I didn't do it... sometimes you're just so busy that you don't think of things like that.
Anyway... I'm sure more memories will come to me. When they do I will rush them off to you. In the meantime, if you or anyone on your web site has any specific questions, please don't hesitate to e-mail me!
Best, Tom Greene