It’s both amazing and amusing what things can distract us. By being distracted we lose sight of our goals and dreams and somehow get caught in weird stuff. I recently was reminded of an intriguing example of distraction and what it can take to overcome it.
You may recall that last week’s blog was about a Christmas my family spent in Vancouver, Canada while my dad was producing the Littlest Hobo TV show in the early 60’s. One of my readers wrote and said that she had loved that show. In responding to her, I was reminded of one the odd, behind the scenes things about the show.
The Littlest Hobo was about a German Shepard who traveled from town to town helping humans. The only character that stayed the same each week was the dog. Each week new actors flew up from Hollywood to be in the show. There was a five day shooting schedule to produce each 30 minute show. With those constraints there was little room for doing things over and over again. Each evening my dad and the director would watch the “rushes”, which means the scenes that were shot that day. I sometimes was able to watch them too. I also got to read all the scripts, hang out on the set, and even was an extra on one show. Pretty cool for a pre-teen!
The dogs all belonged to and were trained by a man named Chuck Eisenman. There were three dogs that played the one part, London, Toro, and Thor. My recollection is that London was the sire of the others. Each dog had specific talents and was used for different tasks. One was really good at close-ups, facial expressions, tilts of the head, etc. Another did more ‘tricks’ like picking up things, and another was a really good runner. Two of the dogs are in the photo attached here, and the handsome dude is my dad.
Mr. Eisenman was certainly a remarkable trainer, and these were remarkable dogs. They knew colors. Dogs aren’t actually color blind. They have receptors for blue and green shades, but not for red shades. So they see like humans. Eisenman would tell London to go shake the hand of the lady in the green dress and he would. He would tell the dog to “improve the illumination” in the room and the dog would go find and turn on the light switch. It was very remarkable. And of course, all this training and talent meant that the dog really could carry a TV show, and even out-Lassie Lassie.
There was just this one little distracting problem. It didn’t actually affect the dogs or the trainer. It was a problem for the actors. It was actually a VERY distracting problem for the actors. The dogs were all trained exclusively to verbal commands.
On top of that, Mr. Eisenman was an aggressive, somewhat impatient man, with what one might call ‘colorful’ language skills. This made for a great deal of distraction for the actors, and really amusing rushes for my dad and I.
Imagine the scene if you will. London has saved Marsha from a horrible fate, in some remarkable and athletic canine way. John is so happy to have her back! John and Marsha embrace. The sound track is:
“Marsha, I love you, I’m so happy you are okay”
“John, I love you too, I’m just glad to be alive”
“LONDON, DAMN IT…LOOK AT THE PEOPLE, NOW!”
That’s what was heard in the rushes, in every scene, under the dialogue of the actors. All that had to be cut out in production. It was really funny to watch and hear, sort of like some wacky Saturday Night Live script.
The thing I never even thought about until the other day was how incredibly distracting it must have been to the actors. As an actor you are trying to “stay in character”, express certain emotions, and ignore what isn’t supposed to be in the scene. Challenging under normal circumstances but with this loud guy yelling and swearing at his dogs, it would seem to be even more distracting.
And yet, they did it. The “show went on”. Some of these actors were old pro veterans, others were new kids in age and or experience. They all found a way to ignore the less than subtle background noise and do their part in the scene.
It says something about those constant nagging naysayers in our head, doesn’t it? If actors can do it, so can we. We can choose to just “go on with the show” and ignore their judgments and criticisms. We can be effective in spite of the distractions.
That would be a pretty hard act to follow, wouldn’t it?