Tuesday, May 19, 2020


Last week’s musings regarding The Taxi Cab Murders brought to mind yet another film of mine that was way under length. The difference was that this one could not be easily corrected with something as simple as stock footage.

It was late in the 1960’s on an episode of the NBC television series, Daniel Boone, starring Fess Parker in the title role. I had been warned that the timing of this particular episode was running fast and by the morning before the final day of shooting, the script supervisor was able to predict that the episode would be about two minutes shy of the required running time for any hour-long Network series.

Back in the day, an episode of Network television had to be a specific length… no more, no less. In the case of an hour-long show, that length was 46 minutes (plus I forget how many seconds). The rest of the 60 minutes was filled with opening credits, closing credits, and commercials. So… good, bad, or indifferent, it had to run to time.

To be as much as two minutes short was unusual and having it happen on Daniel Boone presented an even larger problem than it might for other competing shows of the time such as The Rifleman, The Virginian, Cimarron Strip, Have Gun Will Travel, and the like. Those were all Westerns, taking place in the American West of the mid-to-late 19th century. Daniel Boone was television’s only Eastern; its setting was “the dark and bloody ground” of Kentucky in the 18th century. That fact alone eliminated most standard western plot devices like the fast gun, the arrival of the Stage Coach, the railroad coming to town, the community dance hall saloon, the cattlemen versus the sheep men, and the farmers in opposition to just about everyone else.

It made the use of stock footage as filler all the more difficult. Heck, in a Western, you could fill 20 or 30 seconds alone by adding to the beginning of the train’s arrival in town simply by going to the “library” for 19th century train footage. The same was true for the arrival of the weekly stage coach or the dance hall girls hanging around the saloon. On Daniel Boone we did not have that luxury.

What I did have was Jack Guss, a very facile, flexible, and talented story editor. All I had to do was walk the less than 50 feet to Jack’s office, tell him the problem, let him know what sets from this episode were still “hot,” which actors were still available, and how many pages were required to fill out the time needed. All that remained was for me to sit back and wait for Mr. Guss to create this last minute, additional scene.

In less than an hour Jack was back in my office with three pages in hand. Besides the character of Daniel Boone, the only others in the new scene were that week’s guest-lead, portraying a warrior chief of the Delaware tribe of American Indians, and the 10-year-old boy who played his son. All were still under contract to us for this episode so there were no hidden costs, no extra wardrobe needed, nor any casting concerns. The whole thing took place around a campfire (an easily put together setting for us).

In the scene, Boone and the chief were having a private moment away from the tribe (good story clarification dialogue by Guss and no need for any background players which we didn’t have available and couldn’t afford). Unbeknownst to the pair, the chief’s son was stealthily approaching his father’s private campsite. The young boy, who has yet to be won over by Boone, draws his tiny bow, aims at the alien white man, and lets his arrow fly, narrowly missing its target.

Angered by his son's inhospitable act, the chief moves quickly, raising his arm to punish the lad, but Boone intercedes. The frontiersman looks his contemporary in the eye, smiles, and says: “My
friend, the Delaware have a saying: 'Friendship without warmth is a waste of beaver.’”  Recognizing the wisdom of these words, the chief nods knowingly, returning his friend’s smile. End of scene.

This was the 1960's. There was no double entendre. A beaver was a furry little animal one made hats out of and/or used as a form of currency. That was it.

I called Jack back to my office. "Great scene, Jack. But tell me something: what does 'friendship without warmth is a waste of beaver' mean?"

"I don't know," came the reply. "I just thought it sounded kinda Oriental and mystical. I like it."

"Just curious," I said, then added, "I like it, too."

The scene was given to mimeograph and sent to the set to be filmed the next day, the last day of photography on the episode. 48 hours after first reading Jack’s new scene I was in the screening room looking at what had been committed to film the previous day.

There was Boone and the Delaware chief. There was the hostile boy reaching for his weapon and "zap," there was the near miss. (Nice job by the prop department). The chief quickly moved toward his son to strike him, but true to form…and script… Boone stayed his hand. "My friend," he said, "don't punish your son. There was no harm done."

"What!!?!" I screamed. "What happened to 'friendship without warmth is a waste of beaver’?”

"Fess wouldn't say it," the beleaguered director confessed, “said he didn’t know what it meant.” I stormed down to the set. It was the first day of shooting on yet another episode. I waited patiently for a break in the action, then motioned to Fess to please join me outside the stage.

"Mr. Parker," I began, "you are no doubt one of television's finest actors; there are even reports that you are a fairly decent director. But let me tell you something, sir, you are one awful writer, and if you ever again change another line of dialogue on one of my scripts without calling me, I will---in the future---have all scripts delivered without dialogue for your character, coupled with a notation that 'Mr. Parker will make up his words as he goes along.'"

The hair on the back of Parker's neck was curling. "What are you talking about?" he said through gritted teeth.

"I'm talking about 'Friendship without warmth is a waste of beaver.’”

"I didn't know what that meant," he was now talking as loud as I.

"Of course you didn't, you big donkey, but Daniel Boone would know! I don't give a damn if you 'understand' a line or not. What's important is that Daniel Boone knows and appreciates his friend's culture and customs."

At 29 years of age, I was then the youngest working producer in Hollywood, having only recently been promoted to this job. Fess was 6’7” tall and a major television star. He loomed over me. I am sure a debate was going on inside his head whether or not to squash me like a bug. (I am not mystical. All you had to do was be there and you could read it on his face.) But then his expression changed. I believe that he must have thought something like: "I own 30% of this show. This kid doesn't own diddley squat, but if he cares this much, I am not going to discourage him.” What he thought is, of course, speculation. What he said. was: "You’re right, Boss. It won’t happen again."

…And it never did. We were together for 78 episodes, shot over a three-year period, and that one line of dialogue was our only argument.

I was going to tell that story as part of my eulogy at Jack's funeral. His bereaved widow, Maggie, called and asked me to speak at the services. Then, in her confused state, she gave me the wrong time. I showed up 15 minutes before I was told to arrive, only to learn I had missed the funeral by one hour and 45 minutes. It was painful to miss the opportunity of bidding goodbye to this very special friend and comrade. All that I could think of was the final words I had planned to say that day:

Friendship without warmth is---indeed---a waste of beaver.

Barney Rosenzweig

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