Friday, May 11, 2012

Carroll O'Conner

In 1988 “All in the Family” came to Louisiana in the form of “IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT” starring Carroll O’Connor. Confused? Well, I’ll Unconfuse you. I had been cast in the role of Harry Giles for 2 episodes of the pilot for this series and O’Connor and I became good friends. I asked him if he missed his Archie Bunker character from “All in the Family”? He said he really did miss doing that show. He then said “you might notice some of ‘Archie’ in my character as Sheriff Gillespie.” I did notice the resemblance. Maybe you did too. Thus “All in the Family” had indeed come to Louisiana.

In one of my scenes my character, Harry Giles, answered his front door to Gillespie and his Chief of Detectives, Virgil Tibbs (played by Howard Rollins Jr.). The scene involved an inquiry into my daughter’s activities during a prior evening. Because my daughter had been witness to a terrible event and thus traumatized by it, I was being very protective of her, trying to discourage Gillespie and Tibbs from bothering her. Of course they were insistent, promising to go easy on her. 

This little scene was one of the toughest I had ever encountered because O’Connor kept “re-directing me” in contrast to the direction I was getting from Director David Hemmings. When I tried O’Connor’s direction, Hemmings would politely say “No, Jerry, that’s not the way I want it.” When I followed Hemmings’direction, O’Connor would put his arm around me (out of sight of Hemmings) and quietly say “Don’t do it the way David tells you, just do it the way I’ve told you.” I’d say to him I had always been taught to listen to the director. He’d say “I know, but just do it the way I told you.” This rug-of-war went on for about 5 takes. O’Connor would never admit to “re-directing” me and I was not going to rat him out even though I really wanted to. 

Then Hemmings, himself, escorted me away from the set and said “Is Carroll trying to direct you?” Thank God he asked me that. With great relief I was able to say “yes”. David grinned and said “OK, I do understand. He does this all the time. Just do it my way. I’ll handle Carroll.

The final take worked and O’Connor didn’t say a thing. I think he knew that I had admitted to Hemmings that he had been kibitzing, but, thankfully, he didn’t hold it against me. What he did do was put his arm around my shoulder again saying: “Let me introduce you to our boss.” He then escorted me over to a craft service table and introduced me to one of the most brilliant and influential television network executives to ever hit the TV network scene: Fred Silverman. If that name rings no bell, then perhaps you’ll remember the original Charlies’ Angels, The Waltons, Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show and, of course, All in the Family…. to name but a few Silverman creations.

Silverman was gracious, but It was quite obvious that he had no interest in small-talking with me, but was anxious to continue discussing some serious production matters with O’Connor. 

I felt like George Gobel did on Johnny Carson’s Tonight show back in the late 60s. Preceding George’s guest appearance on the show was Dean Martin, Bob Hope and I think Sammy Davis Jr. They had completely taken over the show with Carson saying “ … when did I lose control of the show?” These three had brought the house down, the laughs were out of control as was the audience. Carson himself was practically on the floor. Then finally, upon composing himself, Carson introduced George (Lonesome George) Gobel.  Poor George was to follow these three!? When Gobel came out, all viewers (myself included) wondered what he could possibly do to follow those three show-stoppers. When the audience finally calmed down and Carson calmed down and the 3 guests calmed down, then George, upon taking a deep breath, unloaded with “Have you ever thought that the whole world was a tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes?” Wow! That did it. The show was again out of control, but clearly within George’s control. What a master!  Sadly, taped footage of this show was accidently recorded over and thus lost forever.

My awkwardness in the presence of O’Connor and Silverman allowed me no such outlet or opportunity. I just quietly excused myself and meandered over to my dressing room.

The reason I knew their discussion was serious is because I managed to catch a few syllables of the conversation. It dealt with budget and union issues. It would be about 4 episodes later that the entire production team would move out of Louisiana and resume production in Georgia. Too bad ….. Louisiana’s loss.

1 comment:

  1. Another great one Jerry! Thank you for sharing. From where did you coin "MUSTARD SANDWICHES"?