Broderick Crawford - Highway Patrol

We had a succession of directors [for Case of the Dangerous Robin]: some really good, some not too good. One, James Goldstone, was just getting started. He was full of energy, imagination, and talent. He was also a hell of a good writer. The first show we did together was excellent — by the standards under which Ziv made its shows. He admitted he’d rewritten it at home (for no extra fee). I went to the producer’s office and said that I wanted Goldstone on as many shows as we had not already committed to. Jim ended up doing ten of our thirty-eight, all of them among the best written and directed.

Once we were filming outside the sound stages at night, shooting a section that resembled a loading dock, which we needed for that scene. One of the sound stage doors opened onto the dock, but we got the Assistant Director on that show to make sure no one would use the door while we were on a take.

A popular series had been done at Ziv called Highway Patrol, starring Oscar-winner Broderick Crawford.

Aside from his bulk, scowling face, broken nose, and raspy voice, Brod was probably one of the gentlest, sweetest, most generous people you’d ever want to meet. He was also a notorious drunk.

Although he came from a theatrical family, the pressure of getting a show in the can could set him off on a two- or three-day binge. He’d finish a bottle of vodka by noon and start on the second after lunch. He could do his dialogue drunk or sober and the audience would never know the difference, because he never slurred his words.

Sometimes about three-thirty in the afternoon, as they were finishing with all his close-ups for the day, in the middle of a take he’d suddenly pass out, falling forward. A couple of guys would rush at him before he hit the ground, pick him up and get him in a car to be driven home. The company would either go on to other shots or wrap for the day.

He was known for lightning fast delivery. He had a reputation as the only American actor who needed an English translator.

After four years of the pressure of two shows a week, Brod got fed up, said he couldn’t take it anymore, so he quit and went to Spain to make movies. The studio held up payment of his ten percent gross. A year or so later he came back to the States.

He’d dried out, hadn’t had a drink in almost nine months, and he wanted his money from Highway Patrol. Ziv cut a deal with him: if he’d do a pilot for a new series called King of Diamonds and sign on for the series, they’d release about two million dollars they were holding and he would only have to do one show a week if the pilot sold. He signed.

A proviso was that the pilot had to wrap by a certain date. He was due back in Europe for another film, and he couldn’t be late. The last day of shooting on Diamonds arrived and production was doing everything they could to finish up with him on time. Brod had plane reservations on the midnight flight, but by eight in the evening they still had four more hours of work. Nobody knows how he got it, but an hour or so later he was swacked to the gills on vodka.

We were outside doing a very complex shot that Jim Goldstone had set up using an entire thousand foot reel of film (four minutes running time) in which no cuts would (or could) be made. We rehearsed it ten or more times. Everybody had his lines down pat, all the camera dolly moves were working. It was about seven minutes to ten and one thing Ziv never allowed was big overtime: it cost too much. We were due to wrap at ten sharp. Don Verk was getting nervous. "Well, Jimmy," he said, looking at his watch, "are we ready?"

"As ready as we’ll ever be," Jim said.

"All right, everybody," Don called out, "We’re going for a take. Quiet aaannnnnnd, roll ‘em!"

From the sound man, in a second or two, came "Speed."

A slight pause, then Jim said softly, "Action." I think all of us could feel the rush of adrenaline. These were those few moments when being in the business made you feel creative, down to each and every crew member. The scene was going like clockwork, we could all feel it. It was like an electric current passing from one member of the company to the other. We were all on a high, three-and-a-half minutes into the scene. Perfect!

The door to the sound stage on the dock opened and in the background a big burly figure appeared. "Hey! Can I be in your movie?" came Broderick Crawford’s voice.

Also see:

"Cut," called Jim.

"Okay, that’s a wrap," said Don. "Everybody back tomorrow afternoon, same call."

We got it in the can the next evening, but it didn’t work like the night before.



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Text copyright 2000 by Rick Jason
Originally published by Argoe Publishing, July 2000.

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