JANUARY 16, 1970 [written en route] - Boarded 727 United Airlines flight to Chicago at 7:50 P.M. Club Commuter flight. Just think, in a few hours I'll be out of this urban world of phony values and shallow attitudes and I will be in Wisconsin, where life is real and nature beckons.
I peer out of the plane window at a long line of airliners waiting for takeoff in the miserable New York smog. Temperature, 26 degrees. It is warm here in the first class section. Behind us, in the rear of the plane, the peasants in the tourist section (steerage class) are already telling their lewd jokes; babies crying and old ladies complaining fitfully.
Here in first class all is serene. Well-fed ad men bound for Chicago and points West and who knows what chicanery surround me. We are up and away into the blackness, Manhattan receding below, a string of flickering Christmas tree lights scattered in the inky darkness.
I'm lucky! There are probably 40 million guys out there in Audienceland who would give almost anything to go fishing on TV.
I loll back in the soft vastness of my first class seat, counting my blessings. I've
come a long way from fishing for listless, suicidal crappies in Cedar Lake, Indiana, to the magnificence of CBS (full Net, in Color). Well, I deserve it.
Fenton McHugh, the producer of "Fisherman's World," knows a good, character-full face when he sees ones. There's one fly in the ointment, though.
Ah! The stewardess, a thin, nerv-us blonde, is coming up the aisle. passing out the pinkies. Two little green bottles of Martinis and a corn beef sandwich. I feel a tiny glow of pleasure deep inside because I know they are paying for their pinkies back in steerage. Let 'em eat cake, I say. The blighters are getting cheeky anyway. What the heck are these macadamia nuts anyway? I never heard of them before I started to fly first class. They must have been invented by the airlines.
Two ad men in the seat ahead are getting noisy. They appear to be talking about TV. A third, wearing a Tom Jones shirt with tasteful plum and cerise stripes and a 7-inch-wide grape-colored tie that would have made a circus barker cringe, stands in the aisle, leaning over his two henchmen:
"Ed, the numbers boys tell you it': a buy. Don't argue. If it flops they can't hang you. After all, the numbers are what it's about, boy."
He slops a little vodka on the to, of my head as the plane jiggles a hit in turbulence. If they only knew that a real TV star was sitting here, on top of it all, in mufti!
Oh yes, where was I? The fly in the ointment. The last time Fenton had me on TV I pew an assignment in colorful, exotic Manistee, Michigan, a town not without its rough-hewn, rustic charm, if you like diners and Shell stations, but certainly not one of the great watering places of the Western World. Now I'm en route to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and in midwinter! Why do other guys not half as cute as I am get sent to places like Bimini or the Andes, to fish for rare bugle-billed golden dudgeons while I have to settle for ice fishing for the usual minnows the Midwest fishermen have settled on for centuries. Oh well. Maybe you have to work up to the really great shows. Probably Robert Stack started out fishing with night crawlers for bullheads in an Ohio pay lake, on a black-and-white local show. Now look where he is, on all those African safaris, and hunting tigers with Maharajas.
My agent, his shifty eyes glowing with mendacity, his fake Viennese accent redolent of Seventh Avenue strudel, had yelped:
"Veil, ve are on our vay! Ve beat oud two musical comedy stars, a juggler from der Ed Sullivan show und the lead guitar player for a rock group."
It is a choice part, a real plum.
It won't be long before we'll be in Chicago. I sip at my Martini as I read over my typewritten instruc-tions: Meet Production Assistant at O'Hare. He will drive you to Playboy Club-Hotel at Lake Geneva. You should arrive at about 11:30 PM. Fenton McHugh and John Bromfield, the show's host, will meet you there.
The Playboy Club-Hotel! Ah yes, the fabled Xanadu of the Midwest barrens, a pleasure dome I've always wanted to see. Some say Ruble Khan himself pops by from time to time. We shall see.
The No SMOKING sign is lit. We are slanting down through the overcast. Ah, Chicago, City of the Broad Shoulders, the 26 Girls, and my Youth.
January 17 (1:40 ore.) [written in room 5308 Playboy Club-Hotel] - What have I gotten myself into? recount the recent developments as coherently as possible.
I was met at the plane by Lee, the production assistant for Fenton McHugh. He seemed agitated and tense as we struggled through the crowds in the O'Hare terminal and out into the parking lot. It must have been a hunped degrees colder here in Chicago. The screaming wind swept over the parked cars, freezing the film on my eyeballs. I was home.
The hated Midwest winters of my childhood came tumbling back.
We got out on the toll road, heading for Wisconsin, the frost creeping up over the windshield, snow swirling like a Sahara sandstorm over the hood.
"I've been having a time with those Bunnies."
"Yeah?" I muttered, too stunned by the cold to think straight He pounded on the steering wheel.
"Just twenty-four hours ago me and the whole crew were in the Ba- hamas. And now this!" He scratched at the frost on the windshield ahead of him for a slight sliver of visibility.
"You were where?" I asked, not hearing him well the first time due to an Arctic gale that was cracking through the car's insulation and down my neck.
"The Bahamas. Cat Cay."
I knew it! I might have been there!
"Who were you shooting with?" I asked.
"Bong Powell. He's a baseball player or something." I could see that Lee was not a rabid baseball fan.
"Didja ask him how come the Mets knocked them over like that in the Series?"
"Nah," was all he said as we pressed northward, ever northward into the howling gale. After a couple more toll houses his crack about the Bunnies soaked through the ice cube that had somehow mysteriously replaced my brain.
"What's that about the Bunnies?" I asked, shoving my feet deeper into the car's heater.
"Fenton thinks it'll be a great gag to have these Bunnies come out and serve you and John some stuff while you're fishing. You know, this joint is like a big Playboy Club. They got all these Bunnies!" Lee trailed off thoughtfully.
"Bunnies? Serving us while we fish through the ice?" I have always heard of people's minds boggling. Up to that point mine never had.
"You know, Lee, this shooting might be more fun than I thought." "Don't bet on it, Dad. This Playboy outfit is stricter with these Bunnies than a nunnery."
"Oh well," I said, "there's always Bluegills." We wheeled on.
We had left the comparative civilization of Chicago far behind. Finally, the Lake Geneva turnoff loomed out of the snowpifts and we headed toward the storied Playboy Club-Hotel, an establishment that is rarely mentioned in the effete East but which has become a major cultural shrine in what Colonel McCormick, the late, beloved publisher of the Chicago Tribune, used to lovingly call "Chicagoland." We were now on a two-lane road, threading our way through total blackness, the darkness that only a mid-winter night in the Midwest can know. Lee hummed to himself; I mused thoughtfully over the strange tricks that showbiz had played on me.
Suddenly, there it was. Like some LSD apparition rising out of the deserted, snow-shrouded hills, the fantastic, far-flung, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired monument to the Good Life, its low-lying windows glowing warmly through the shifting snow, eerie Polynesian-style orange-blue flames flickering hotly before the stone entranceway, Its gates guarded by a security patrol that made the MP's at Fort Dix look like Cub Scouts.
"CBS!" Lee barked at the guard who had stopped our car. At this magic password the guard, his helmet gleaming darkly, saluted smartly and we were in.
What a sight! It at first reminded me of some vast, grounded stone dirigible lying sinisterly on a long, low, rolling hill, but no, more like a Mayan temple, a truly beautiful building of stone, flashing glass and dark, burnished bronze. As I climbed stiffly out of the Pontiac before the spectacular entranceway, a thought flashed through my mind:
My God, what hath Hefner wrought?
Minutes later I was wandering through the corridors that sprawl on and on, looking for Room 5308 where I now sit, my plush apartment; black leather-covered furniture and a vast floor-to-ceiling sliding glass wall opening on a balcony overlooking the whole state of Wisconsin. Five minutes later I am down in the Playroom, one of the innumerable nightclubs that seem to go twenty- four hours a day: The Bunny Hutch, Man At His Leisure, The Cartoon Room. This is the way to go fishing! "Hey boy, it's great to see you. Fenton rose from his table, his showbiz boyish healthy face beaming with joviality and scotch.
"You're looking great, boy."
He playfully belted me in the stomach. Up on the stage, a lady hypnotist with blinding blonde hair was brassily hypnotizing the audience.
"Good to see you, Fenton," I answered, still a little stunned by these wild surroundings. I thought I felt the bends coming on.
"HEY, GANG!" Fenton shouted at his production crew who wre scattered among the tables, ogling the passing Bunnies, their haunches jiggling as they toted potables (a favorite Playboy word) to the reveling key-holders. "Shep here was with us in Manistee last fall."
He laughed wickedly, remembering the luxurious hotel we had stayed in on that one, a hostelry that Willy Loman would have found shoddy. A dapper character wearing a blue cashmere sport coat and white turtleneck sweater, with opaque green sunglasses, sidled up. He had Hollywood written all over him.
"This is Jack, Shep. One of the best cameramen on the Coast." Jack, his glasses glinting mysteriously, cracked his tanned California face into a grin:
"What do you mean one of the best?"
I took off my sunglasses and answered: "Good to know you, Jack. How do you like this weather? It's probably rough on you California guys."
"These people don't live out here," he answered. "In fact I wonder if they are people. Hey Roy . ." he called to his assistant, who was listlessly watching the hypnotist, ".. . here's a guy who takes off his sunglasses to say hello. Let's you see his eyes." He tapped me on the chest. "That's a compliment."
"Let's get away from the show." Fenton took charge. "I want to talk over tomorrow's shooting."
He herded us into another bar, the Living Room, where we sat around a huge table. John Bromfield joined us, looking slightly dazed.
"You were out for forty-five minutes. Do you know that?" Fenton rattled the ice cubes in his glass. "Knocked out colder than a mackerel."
"Oh come on." John looked dubious, far less assured than he was when he was the U.S. Marshall on TV.
"Yeah, that hypnotist chick knocked you right out at the table. You put your head down and were gone for forty-five minutes."
John looked unconvinced. "Did I do anything bad or anything?" "Nah. Just sat there looking stoned."
Bromfield ordered a scotch and water. Introductions went around again. I instantly liked Bromfield, a straightforward, open performer who really enjoys the outdoors, completely virile, a rarity in the business, and a fine fisherman.
"Now look, we're shooting the kitchen scene at 8 a.m. Lee, I want you to put in a cast call at 7. John, you'll be working with the chef. We've got a scene on fancy ways to cook fish."
Fenton, an old friend of mine, is a born producer. He loves to bark out orders. For nine years he struggled to get the networks to do outdoor shows, and at last they were beginning to see the light.
"Now, Shep, you can sleep until 9 o'clock or so because we won't be hooting with you until later."
"What am I going to do?" I asked, eager to get at the ice fishing.
"You and John are gonna play a scene in the VIP Room. You gotta pess formal for this. These Bunnies we lined up are gonna serve you two guys the fish you caught. Prepared by the chef with wine and the works, before this roaring fire."
"You're not kidding, Fenton. This really ain't Manistee, is it?" He laughed.
"Boy, do you remember that rubber steak we got, with those plastic French fries? That night after I caught the only fish, that 6-ounce northern?"
"Well Shep, my boy, you will find the food is considerably better here. We're going first class this time."
And no wonder. The first "Fisherman's World," featuring among other things the coho sequence, Gypsy Rose Lee fishing for muskies, and Clare Conley, the eptor of FIELD & STREAM, looking manly and rugged, had been not only a critical success but a smash in the ratings. It was one of two nature specials to be nominated for an Emmy.
A rock group boomed thunderously from the club next to the bar, totally wrecking conversation.
"Let's have another pink all around, then get up to bed. We got a long day," Fenton bellowed, as Bunny Sandy, her massive structures inches from my eyes, took the orders. The outdoors sure are a'changing.
January 18 (2:14 A.M.) [written as I soak in the tub]--How about that, sport fans? This day reminded me of nothing so much as living through an avant garde film made by a demented Swedish director. What a day!
For ten minutes after my wake-up call at 9 I staggered around the room trying to figure out where I was. It is not easy to fully believe the Playboy Lake Geneva Taj Mahal when yanked out of a sound sleep. I spent the next half-hour lost in the maze of corridors, trying to figure out how to get to the ground floor where the complex of shops, restaurants, chi-chi boutiques specializing in $50 slacks, $25 shirts, and $15 ties was located.
I finally found Fenton in the Living Room, sipping a cup of coffee before a vast panoramic window about the size of an upended tennis court. Outside, the chill, white Wisconsin hills rolled to the horizon. The waitress poured my coffee. Hefner has the decency not to hit you with Bunnies before Martini time. I looked around, amazed at the motley crowd that occupied the other tables, as wholesome a gang of family types, complete with 5-year-old chilpen and motherly wives, as had ever taken out a subscription to Readers' Digest and went to a Billy Graham revival meeting.
"Hey Fenton, what is this? I thought this was a den of pure debauchery!"
"Shep, this place makes the Howard Johnson look like a hotbed of depravity."
Elfin chilpen darted about the room, chortling, just like they used to on the covers of the Saturday Evening Post. Moodily I sipped my coffee. Another illusion shattered. My Aunt Clara wouldn't have been out of place here, I thought.
Lee dashed up to our table, his eyes glinting brightly. In broad daylight he was pure beaver, all bushy-tailed and eager. "The chef wants to know if you want the vegetable plates shot separately or with the fish."
"Is John down there?"
"Yeah, and he's getting restless. Jack keeps changing the lights." Fenton glanced at his watch.
"They been on that scene for two hours! Have they got anything yet? Tell 'em I'll be right down."
Lee shot away, trailing smoke. We finished our coffee and Danish.
"Let's go down to the kitchen and get that chef on the stick."
We descended through the bowels of the vast complex down to the kitchen, a spectacular study in stainless steel, fluorescent lighting, radar ovens; one of the most modern plants I've ever seen. The chef, a short, elfin Frenchman wearing a high Chef cap and what looked like a Doctor Kildare surgical coat, was arranging fish filets on a silver plat- ter, garnished with parsley and shaved radishes. Jack, surrounded by his henchmen - a crowd of laconic, bearded Revolutionaries - stood on a ladder adjusting a sinister-looking reflector that threw a peculiar yellow glow over the whole kitchen. Everywhere were cables, microphones, lights, and miscellaneous pieces of gear. In the midst of this complicated hodgepodge the chef looked like a tiny midget, lost and forlorn. John, his hair neatly combed, his makeup fresh and bronzed, sat on a frozen food chest. They had been working on the scene for some time now, it was obvious.
"Look John, don't mention what kind of fish it is," Fenton said to John. Like most producers, he is Jekyll and Hyde character who is completely jovial and in fact hilarious off the set but maniacally serious and involved when at work. He was working now.
"Don't worry," John said, as re- laxed as ever, "it's going good."
"I don't want to even imply that these are the fish we caught. Let 'em think it, but I don't want us to say
"We already shot that scene," John said, "and it's fine. The cook didn't mention a thing."
The chef was ready. "How iss zes?"
I was astounded. He really was French. Jaok squinted through his eyepiece.
"Move it just a shade to the left." Someone slid the tray a millimeter or so to the left.
"Hold it. Let's shoot."
Everyone instantly became silent and tense as the camera whirred, shooting closeups of the tray of golden filets. Jack straightened up. "Okay. Strike it." His green glasses glinted malevolently. A pro at work.
"Well, that's it for the kitchen scene." Lee, Fenton's assistant, was taking charge. "Let's get set up in the VIP Room. That's gonna be a bugger."
Jack, Roy, Billy, and Lee banged around with the cases of equipment, knocking down the lights. The chef, no longer useful, had suddenly be- come invisible. He stood sadly by his fish, hoping someone would say something to him.
"That looks pretty good," I said, for want of anything better.
"Eet iss cold. She also iss cooked too much." He shrugged his shoulders in that special way Frenchmen have, radiating both disdain and confusion simultaneously.
'Look, Fenton, I gotta get a hat for my scene."
''Don't tell me you don't have that fantastic green hat you wore in the first show!"
"Fenton, I was so rushed that I not only forgot my hat, I also forgot a spectacular scarf I have. Let's go into town. I gotta pick something up.
"Okay." Fenton seemed glad to get away from the Playpen for a bit. "While they're setting up in the VIP Room we can drive in to Lake Geneva.
An important part of these out, door shows is costuming. Every guy who does them regularly has his own style. Some wear African veldt hats, others go for Stetson ten' gallon jobs, buckskin shirts, Indian beaded headbands; it's all part of the game. In the first "Fisherman's World" I had worn my favorite fishing hat, an Effanem Crusher made by Martin Cantor of Bangor, Maine. They are great hats and I wore mine with the side brims pinned up Australian style. It had been a smash hit on the show. It even got fan letters. I had stupidly left it at home. It was like Charlie Chaplin forgetting to bring his cane, or Groucho leaving his false mustache on the dresser. Without a costume an actor is just another walking-around Joe. Make no mistake. Everyone who works these outdoor epics is an actor and had better have his costume ready. This show was in color, so I needed something that would really reach out of the screen and grab 'em. This is subtler than it sounds. You don't just pick up a red deer-hunter cap or something ordinary that any straight fisherman would wear. It has to sap something. Joe Foss without his hat would look like a tall insurance man.
We drove into town. Lake Geneva is really just one street; two rows of single-story buildings and a lot of sky. Essentially a summer resort, in the winter it is almost a ghost town. The first place we went into had a magnificent 6-foot orange-and-black fringed scarf. The instant I laid eyes on it I knew it was right. It would look good with my Spanish corduroy shooting jacket which I would wear over a turtleneck hand-knit fisher- man's sweater that I had picked up in the South of Portugal on another showbiz jaunt.
"Y' got any hats?"
The clerk, a dead ringer for Harold Lloyd, looked blankly at the two of us, obviously non-Lake Geneva types.
"Just them stocking caps."
I glanced at them. Nothing.
We crossed the street to another place, more woodsy and hipper.
"Wouldja look at that, Fenton! There's the hat!"
Marked down from $10, a magnificent loden green Robin Hood-style topper with a spectacular red-and-yellow feather grabbed me where I lived. I jammed it on my head.
"Great. You're right out of Charles Dickens!" Fenton laughed. "You look like Scrooge's partner."
I admired myself in the wavy mirror. With the orange-and-black scarf wound around my neck and billowing up to my eyes, my Robin Hood hat pulled low, I was ready for the color screen. There was also a shelf full of wild yellow-and-green stocking caps with big embroidered "Packers" badges on them. With a jolt it reminded me that I was back in the Midwest, where pro football is almost a religion. Packer fans look upon Chicago Bear addicts as infidels who need converting. Two stringy high school kids with lank blonde hair and that high-cheekboned look that you often see in the upper Great Lakes region watched surreptitiously as the two of us admired my hat. For an instant or two I thought there'd be trouble, but it passed. We drove back to the hotel. I felt better about the whole thing now. My costume gave me confidence.
Lunchtime. Do they ever feed around this joint! Like most professional film crews, pinking is fairly liberal, never to excess but just enough to keep the spirits up. A black bread/baked ham sandwich, with a slice of Bermuda onion. As we sat around the crowded dining room I could feel the curious eyes of the paying customers. Midwesterners never react to film crews the way Easterners do. Easterners always secretly hope to get in the movies and are always nosing around, showing you their teeth, hoping they'll get in a scene. Midwesterners pretend that they couldn't care less what was going on. There wasn't much to do after lunch because the crew was laboriously setting up for the VIP scene. Starr, the hotel manager, a jovial giant with a Henry the Eighth fringe heard who breeds Morgan horses on his Wisconsin farm, shuffled around looking worried, with his little telephone call unit beeping constantly in his jacket pocket. There was a Bunny crisis and he was in the mid- dle. The Bunny Mother (this is no joke; there is a Bunny Mother, There is even a Bunny Grand- mother) had assigned girls other than the ones Fenton wanted to our scene because of "the schedule," whatever that was. Apparently Bunnies live under an iron dictatorial system and they are assigned to jobs, like bomber crews. Starr was sweating profusely.
"We got these rules. I don't make 'em. They come from The Man himself."
Again he spoke earnestly into the telephone, amid the dining room hubbub. From time to time Lee would appear, his glasses glinting malevolently. Obviously the VIP scene was a bugger.
I knew better than to get involved. They would call me when I was needed. I wandered in and out of the maze of this fantastic resort. It really is like nothing I've ever seen, anywhere. I watched three spectacular girls and a skinny guy with knock-knees swimming in the wild, heated pool, which is glass-enclosed and gives the impression of swimming amid the snowdrifts. All the while, unfortunately, in my mind was the nagging knowledge that I was not here for fun and games; was not part of the scene. It was just a job and I hoped it would go well. When you're seen Coast to Coast as a professional it changes things.
Time dragged by. John and I sat in the Cartoon Room looking at the snow, sipping hot chocolate. He reminisced about his old Hollywood friends; his life since he left South Bend, Indiana, as a boy. People working together get very friendly on these jobs.
"About 1963 I just decided I'd retire."
"That's pretty young to hang it up." I said.
"Oh, I don't know. After eight years of a TV series you get pretty tired. And anyway, I wanted to do more fishing. My wife felt the same way, so here I am."
He is now completely involved in outdoor shows of one kind or an- other, because he loves doing them: the big Sportsman's Show in Chicago; "Fisherman's World"; making appearances at trade shows. I told him about a Broadway play I was going into.
"I've never really done any Legit - a little Stock. It's too tough for me. Too much like work," he said.
It was beginning to get dark outside. Snow had begun to fall. The hills on the horizon were fading in the gray mist of winter twilight. We talked on.
"Okay, you guys. They're ready to shoot."
From nowhere Fenton appeared, highly charged as he always gets during actual shooting.
"Let's get up there. They're about ready to go."
John and I hurried to our rooms to dress as formally as we could; ties, dark jackets. After all, this was the VIP Room.
I went down the hall to the room itself. They weren't actually using the VIP Room but had taken a suite and moved a few things about so that it looked exactly like the real thing. Inside the room, a fantastic tangle of cables, tripods, light banks in orange, red, blue, gold, white, made the room look like some Dr. Strangelove laboratory. Two Bunnies - Bunny Nancy, a tall, languid brunette, and Bunny Pert, a short wispy gamine, honey blonde and disturbingly intelligent - fussed with the special VIP Room table settings, which are absolutely unchangingly rigid. Great crystal goblets, heavy massive pewter dishes, glowing candlelight.
"Now look, girls. Pert, you're serving the fish. You move to Jean's left. Serve him first, and then move around the back of the table and serve John. Okay, guys. John, you sit on that side...." Fenton was in charge. ". . . you take the other, Shep. And cheat. Cheat left."
The crew milled about, eating peanuts. The sound man played with his huge earphones. Jack, always silent on the set, lurked in the background, his green glasses glowing in the candlelight.
"Hey what's with the white baby spot? We lost it." Jack glared around, looking for the light man. The sliding glass windows opening out on the balcony stood ajar. Outside on the balcony a glowing spot that had provided a highlight had somehow shifted position in the wind. All the while, I forgot to mention, a bitter Wisconsin glacial breeze blew through the voluptuous scene.
"Hey Billy, get that spot, baby."
The spot swung in the darkness.
"Hold it. That's it. Now lock it." Jack peered through his viewfinder.
"Shep, you follow that spot. Can you find it?"
I nodded. The TV fisherman of today has got to know how to play the lights. He may not know a Royal Coachman from a Hawaiian Wiggler, but he better know sight lines and amber spots or he isn't invited back.
"Nancy, you serve the wine. Y'got it, baby?"
Bunny Nancy smiled, her brilliant VIP Room velvet Bunny suit undulating. Bunnies wear special costumes in the VIP Room, purple velvet, sometimes dark red, trimmed silver.
"Now look, baby, you show the wine to John, y'know, the label. Then pour a little in his glass. John, you sip it and nod. Got it?"
"What if I refuse it?" John was playing for laughs.
"Then, Nancy, you come around the back of the table and pour some for Jean. Y'got it?"
Fenton, ever the master of pamatic scenes was in the saddle. "Jean, John, are you guys listening?"
We weren't. We had been drifting off into some inane gabble about the wine we were being served. Nancy was faking it by using an empty Coke bottle in rehearsal.
"Hey? Where's that ice bucket?" A note of alarm from Fenton.
"Oh no!" Lee, a note of terror in his voice, rushed around the room looking for the ice bucket.
"I refuse to pink wine unless it is properly chilled. Even on TV," I quipped brilliantly.
Nobody laughed. This was costing about five-hundred-thousand dollars a minute, so every flubbed ice bucket meant more red ink. Finally everything was set. Silence descended on our tiny band of serious artists.
"All right, at my cue - Billy, you start the fireplace. Roy, hit the lights and we'll roll."
We all stood in position tensely, John and I seated like a pair of embalmed bon vivants amid spar- kling glassware, the two Bunnies crouching nervously just out of camera range. Lee stood before us with his official-looking clapboard, slating the scene.
"VIP scene, shot one, take one."
CLAP! went the board. Clapboards actually do that. A faint hum filled the room as the expensive color film whirred through the sprockets. The tape reels spun. Just out of camera range I could see the sound man hunching tensely over his V.U. meter.
I felt Bunny Nancy moving up from behind. She undulated past my chair. I grinned up at her as she began to pour wine into John's glass. "Hold it! Cut!" We relaxed.
"Look, Honey, can you pop your shoulder? We got a fantastic shot of your shoulder." Fenton injected kindliness into his voice in spite of the wasted film. Bunny Nancy looked a little nervous.
"Did I do it wrong?"
"No, honey. Just hold your left shoulder down when you pour. I know it doesn't feel natural, but it'll look right on the film."
She fiddled with the wine bottle. "Like this?"
"Okay. Fine. That looks a lot better. You ready, Jack?" Jack nodded. We went back to our places. John and I again faking casual Playboy sophistication, two gentlemen at their leisure. I straightened my tie.
"VIP scene, take two, shot one."
Again Nancy snaked past as only a Bunny can. Gracefully she poured wine. John nodded approval. She circled the table. I grinned. She poured. She replaced the bottle in the ice bucket and drifted out. John and I raised our glasses in a toast.
"Beautiful. Wrap it up. Great" Fenton beamed.
A few lights were shifted. I watched Bunny Pert rearrange her spectacular tray of fish. Since the fish had been cooked hours before, they looked great but were about as edible as deoderant soap. Garnished with sprays of parsley and potato rosettes, they would look luscious on screen. I felt my stomach growling. It had been a long time since that black bread sandwich, and all this pretending to eat had started the juices flowing.
"Now remember, Pert, serve Jean first. Nod to him and then serve John. Now watch your shoulder." "VIP scene, shot two, take one."
It was a fiasco.
"Hey, where's that rock band coming from?" The sound man was picking up extra sounds. None of us could hear it.
"Shh!" He held up his hand for silence as he concentrated on listening to the earphones.
The phantom rock band apparantly was just tuning up somewhere.
"VIP scene, shot two, take two."
Bunny Pert, her gamine face lit with an incandescent smile, laid an icy slab of fish on my plate. I grinned dumbly at it; trying to look elegant as across the table John was doing likewise. Behind me the gas fireplace roared menacingly. It wouldn't look right in the scene if my coat was on fire. This could turn into a Marx Brothers picture very easily.
"Beautiful, beautiful. Wrap it up!" Art had triumphed again.
"Okay, gang, all I need now is a couple of reaction shots. We'll take you, John, first."
Jack and his minions focused the camera full-face closeup on John.
"Shep, you sit out of range and give him something to react to."
Again the clapboard routine. John smiled casually into the camera, grizzled pro, something he had done ink:, countless lenses.
"Wrap it up. John, give Shep something to work on."
We reversed places. This time the faint blue glittering lens focused on me. CLAP!
My lip curled casually, a man enjoying a fish dinner amid Bunnies. I, too, have faced many a camera. I turned my cute face on, full camera.
"Beautiful. Wrap it up. Strike it, boys. That's it. That went real good."
The VIP scene was over, a full day's work for a crew; actors, cameramen, Bunnies. Who knows how much it cost. It would last maybe forty-five seconds on screen and would look so easy, so natural. We went downstairs to the Living Room again. By now I had no taste for fish. I had a steak. John ordered ribs, Fenton had London broil. By unwritten protocol the crew eats at a different table from the producer and stars. A deafening rock band made conversation impossible. We shouted back and forth for a while but our hearts weren't in it. It had been a tough day. Outside, the temperature was popping. It was now near zero and as black as the inside of your hat, but here in the Playboy Hotel it was all golden and warm and totally affluent. John went up to bed. Fenton and I lingered for a while and then called it a day. For some reason I was tired. To- morrow will be a real bummer, to use Lee's phrase, especially in this cold. They're calling me at 6:30 a.m. That means maybe four hours of sleep. I'd better grab 'em.
January 19 (10:40 P.M.) [written aboard United Airlines 727 flight Chi./NY]--Never again will I consider ice fishing a sport that real human beings indulge in. Masochists, yes. Idiots training to join Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, yes. Guys writing books who want to experience firsthand what the Panzer divisions went through in the frozen wastes of Mother Russia, yes. As for me, if dem warm breezes ain't blown', old Dad is gonna get all the fish he needs at the nearest A&P.
I should have known, after that nightmare. What a buster! I had this dream where I was trying to buy a ticket at the box office that they had set up next to a trout stream in Montana. There were two hundred thousand wildly cheering fans in the stands, watching Elvis Presley and Bob Hope fish for ram-bows while Fred MacMurray played the saxophone. I couldn't get a ticket It was sold out, and the next thing I knew I was trying to climb under the fence at this stadium they had build entirely around a North Woods lake, where the cast of "Ohl Calcutta!" was fishing for northern from red, white, and blue kayaks. They were in costume, and it was being televised by Telstar around the globe, on some show called "Interplanetary Sportsman," choreographed by Gene Kelly, with an original score by Henry Mancini. A giant neon-encrusted blimp sailed overhead, emblazoned: ROONE ARLEDGE PRESENTS
Just at the point when the cast, in costume, was singing a salute to Curt Howdy to the tune of "Old Black Joe" I woke up in a cold seat.
For a minute I lay there not sure whether it was a dream or not. After all, I was about to go ice fishing with a couple of Bunnies and a TV Marshall.
During the night the temperature had popped to around zero and a steady snow was falling, causing camera problems. After a breakfast of scrambled eggs done Playboy style, which naturally includes vast copper pots and twenty-seven different varieties of muffin, we got to work.
Fenton was dressed in an exceedingly expensive Abercrombie & Fitch-style cowled Arctic coat. It seemed designed for film directors. Unfortunately he didn't know how to work the complicated belt buckle, but that was only incidental to the dashing hood, which was more photogenic than practical.
John wore earmuffs and a dogged look. His heart was still in the Bahamas, but his backside was in Wisconsin. I pulled my Robin Hood hat down over my ears, wound my scarf around my neck, and we waddled out into the bracing atmosphere of the tundras, which we would battle through a long, miser- able, numbing day.
Jack had set his camera on the highest balcony of the hotel, pointed out at the distant hills. Below the hotel the land angled steeply away to a great hollow, at the bottom of which is a man-made pond. There are no houses, telephone poles, or signs of habitation to be seen from the balcony, just a great valley of snow, dotted with sharply etched black trees right out of a Japanese print. A steady 18 m.p.h. wind out of the north set the snow swirling in rolling clouds. Jack was excited by the desolation and beauty he saw through his viewfinder. He hopped up and down and slapped his hands together, his green sunglasses dotted with snowflakes.
"Look, they make real stars!"
He was from California, and like many members of primitive tropical tribes, he had never seen snow.
"Yes they do, Jack, and when you get a lot of those stars piled up you can make a snowman, Jack, or even roll a Bunny in the snow."
He couldn't get over the snowflakes. He kept looking at one that was stuck on the end of his thumb. It was so cold our breath hung steadily in the air. A tall, thin, weather-beaten man, beanpole rather, right out of Central Casting plodded up the hill, wearing a' dark-green Arctic thermal suit. It was Slim Lechner, "Fishing Technical Advisor" on our expedition, operator of the Fox River Bait Store and classic Midwestern outdoorsman. He was instantly likable, a born PFC, which in fact he was.
"Yep, I was a private for two and a half years, which ain't easy to manage," he told me when we began reminiscing about the Army. "They only made me a PFC 'cause they put out some rule that they hadda give you a stripe when you went over
"You didn't start throwing your rank around then, Slim, did you?" I asked.
"Naw, I demanded respect, but I wasn't too hard on the boys."
"We're gonna open with a Doctor Zhivago shot, with a vast Arctic scene of snow," Fenton explained the he scene to John and I while Slim shifted from foot to foot in the snow.
"Now this is gonna be the first thing they'll see on the screen. They got no idea that you guys are fishing at the Playboy Club. We come right out of the Bahama sequence into this scene that looks like it could be Greenland or some place. We see two tiny figures struggling through the snow, just two dots, y'got it?"
We nodded, blowing steam in great clouds. It really would be a spectacular sight on a color TV set. It was genuinely a good idea.
"Then we cut to you two guys actually fishing and the aupence meets you, Shep. You are showing John how a hip fisherman operates, first class. He doesn't know that you are at the Playboy Club. Neither does the audience, and then, suddenly, out of the snow, come these Bunnies serving you coffee with rum in it. John is amazed, but you play it cool because that's the way you live. Okay?"
Slim grinned at this showbiz talk. Ten minutes later John and I alone, pulling a sled behind us with our "gear," were far out down the valley, in knee-deep snow, tracking through virgin pifts, getting colder by the second. A half mile away, the cameras ground.
"You fall down, Shep, and I'll reach down and pag you out of the snw," John said.
I flopped over sideways, my arms flailing like semaphores. Snow trickled down my neck. John reached down and grabbed my scarf, pagging me to my feet. We pretended to struggle forward. He stumbled and fell headlong. I reached down and pulled him to his feet and the two of us, bowing into the wind (which was real, very real), tottered onward, pagging our little sled behind. Through the sigh of the wind a distant shout pifted down into the valley. It was Fenton, letting us know the soene had been shot.
"Fantastic! You guys looked like something right out of the frozen Yukon, like the Mounties were after you.
"Wow, is it cold!"
John blew his nose into a mitten. Icicles hung from the brim of my Robin Hood hat. This job was rapidly ceasing to be fun. We trudged on down to the site they had set up on the surface of the pond where we were to "ice fish." As a gag Fen- ton had had the crew lay a red carpet on the ice. Two holes had been bored through the ice and through the carpet. We were to fish through a red carpet for elegance. Behind us, a two-man green tent leaned into the wind. A table and two chairs on the red carpet was where we would play out our dramatic scene.
Now began the process of delay, backing and filling, bitching, recrimination, and total boredom that accompanies every shooting sequence in the film world, whether it is a monster Biblical epic or an in-nocent one-minute commercial for disposable baby diapers. It is this predictable yet unavoidable period which causes film stars to take up all manner of vice, from heady gambling sprees in Las Vegas to forays into politics. The intense boredom that a performer feels while the crew endlessly battles the elements and the equipment, while delay piles upon delay until there is nothing left but a dull buzzing in the head as the hours meander by, can be tolerated, but barely, in the confines of a warm studio, even mildly enjoyed when shooting in the tropics, but on this day on the ice at the pond within snowball range of the most luxurious pleasure dome in the country it became sheer, frigid torture.
First the camera froze solid. Then the heater which had been brought down from the hotel refused to work. The wind was causing bad noises in the sound man's earphones, and the holes which had been cut in the ice for fishing kept freezing over. The camera was wearing what looked like a little Arctic parka, under which Jack would peek from time to time, swearing delicately. Roy, his assistant, fiddled with the cables. John and I sat at the table, pretending to fish, rehearsing our lines.
"I GOT IT!" Jack shouted into the howling gale. "WE GOTTA GET WARM FILM CARTRIDGES AND SHOOT BEFORE THEY FREEZE
It was the cartridges and not the camera that were causing us trouble, apparently, so a party was sent up to the hotel to get cartridges. We were using a big snowmobile which roared up and down constantly, sending up clouds of fine snow. We were racing against time, as the Wisconsin January night comes on fast. We still had no clear idea of what to say or do on screen, even if the camera did work.
Simultaneously all three of us, John, Fenton, and myself, arrived at a "story line." The camera would open on John fishing alone. He would call me out of the tent, after introducing me. I would appear, sit down, and we would have a short, snappy scene. This was Take One.
"Let's go, you guys, before this magazine freezes up. It's working!"
Roy and Jack huddled over the camera protectively. I crouched w the icy tent which was loaded with film cans, reflectors, spare cables, and props for the next scene. This would, of course, not be visible to the audience. Slim had set up our fishing gear, complete with tip-ups and tiny ice bobbers. Fenton took charge.
"You guys know what you're gonna do, now," he shouted. "Let's go. Slate it."
Lee popped up with his board. Meantime, I crouched in the tent, waiting for my cue. My nose began to run from the cold. The tent flapped and groaned all around me. I heard the clapboard distantly, and then silence. Then came my cue:
I stuck my head out of the tent, as we had rehearsed.
"What do you want?"
John swung his arm toward me. I left the tent and trotted across the ice, conscious of the camera and the crew lurking about tensely. They were as tired of the frozen North as I was and wanted to see it over and done. I squatted on my ioy chair. The dialogue began:
Shep: How you doing, John baby? Any action?
JOHN: Nothing. (He peers at bobber disgustedly.)
Shep: No wonder. They're not due here yet. (Delivered with look of superior knowledge, an on-top-of-it look.)
JOHN (looking up, look of confusion): What do you mean they're not due yet?
Seer (chuckling in superior fashion): Look, John, a gentleman doesn't waste his time fishing when there are no fish around. I only appear when action is imminent.
JOHN: But how do you know ...?
Shep: Don't worry. I know. Just watch your bobber. They're about due.
JOHN: (in amazement): Well I'll be darned! I've got one! (His bobber dips. He struggles with a fish. Shep watches in satisfaction.)
JOHN: Well what do you know, a catfish. (He pulls catfish out of hole. Catfish had previously been attached to line by Slim Lechner, who took it out of a tank for that purpose.) Ram (holding up fish delightedly): How do you like that, a catfish!
SHEP: It's a bullhead. (He snorts.)
JOHN: What do you mean, a bullhead? It's a catfish!
SHEP: (laughing): It's a bullhead. Juno (holding up fish so camera can catch it): Let me tell you, they're mighty fine eating.
SHEP (in closeup, lip curling sardonically): John, a gentleman does not fish merely to eat. (John does take; looks at Shep with reproach.)
SHEP: Oops! Well what do you know. (He hauls out bluegill.) SHE, Now there, John, is an elegant fish. Notice the subtle coloring. Inch for inch this is the most fighting fish found in the fresh waters of America. (Shep pips superiority, holding fish in palm of hand for camera.)
JOHN: Yep (playing Good-guy role to the hilt). It shor is. Let me tell you, though, I'm really cold. It was a struggle getting up here. I could use something hot ...
SHEP: Ah yes. It shouldn't be too long now. (Shep glances at watch mysteriously.)
JOHN (in astonishment): What do you mean, shouldn't be too long?
SHEP: Just be patient. (He looks over John's shoulder into distance.) SHEP: Ah, yes. Here they come now! (Joan turns head to look in direction Suer indicates. Jaw pops in astonishment.)
END OF SCENE
Amazingly, it went off like clockwork. Even the crew laughed at our frigid buffoonery.
"WRAP IT UP. PUT IT AWAY," Fenton shouted in delight.
In quick succession we shot two "reaction" shots, closeups, of my face listening to John and his face listening to me. These would be intercut in the final version. The now frozen fish lay at our feet, forgotten, their job done, forever immortalized on film.
Two Bunnies had been brought from the hotel by snowmobile, and they clung together in the tent. They were central to the next scene. Bunny Bonnie and Bunny Moe, looking almost identical in their coats and boots, their black velvet bunny ears flapping in the Arctic wind. Incidentally, Bunnies never have last names and, in fact, many of the Bunnies have aggressively masculine first names: Bunny Sam, Bunny Lenny, even Bunny Irving. I will leave this manifestation to psychologists to ponder.
I stuck my head in the tent and introduced myself. The two Bunnies grinned in spite of their chattering teeth. Bunnies are creatures of the indoor life.
"What are you guys supposed to be doing?" Bunny Moe asked.
"Fishing through the ice," I answered as I crept into the tent with them. John's head appeared through the flap, blowing steam.
"I gotta get in! I'm freezing!"
He crawled in. There were now four of us in a tent designed for two small Cub Scouts (vertical).
"Gee, are you guys on TV?" Bunny Bonnie, who looked a little like old Lauren Bacall stills, said with what I was sure was a put-on.
"Yeah," John answered, fishing out a cigarette from among his sweaters. This sparkling conversa- tion continued for several minutes. Bunnies are meant to be seen, not heard. They were cute, though, like kittens or something. They radiate a strange aura of perpetual Senior Prom-ishness even in the snow. The snowmobile roared outside the tent, Lee's head shoved it's way into our tightly knit group.
"Let's go, girls. I want to shoot you in the snowmobile." For the next fifteen minutes the girls roared back and forth in front of the camera, Bunny Bonnie expertly piloting the snowmobile while Bunny Moe waved from behind.
The time had arrived for our next big scene. It began where the last scene had ended, with John's amazed look.
"Okay, let's slate it."
Lee clapped his trusty clapper. A fresh, warm, film magazine began to turn. For an instant a thought
flashed through my mind: What is this al/ about, anybody? We're grown-up people!
The Bunnies, wearing fur boots, their velvet ears outlined sharply against the white hills, ambled into
camera range, carrying silver trays with prop pewter mugs, dishes of mixed nuts, napkins, and gleaming silverware.
BUNNY MOE (to me, placing mug before me) : I'm your Bunny, Bunny Moe.
ME (grinning foolishly) : Yessiree: Hello, Bunny Moe.
BUNNY BONNIE (to John, placing mug before him): I'm your Bunny, Bunny Bonnie.
JOHN (picking up mug): Thank you, Bunny Bonnie (John looks at me in amazement, unaccustomed to such elegance while ice fishing.)
ME: This is the way to fish. This is the way a gentleman ice fishes.
JOHN: You're right! This is more like it! (We clank mugs.)
ME: Say, how do you like this hat?
ME (assuming superior air): This hat is the escutcheon of the most exclusive fly-tying club in the Scottish Highlands. (John snorts in disgust, glances at MN' bobber.)
JOHN: Yeah? Well, put another worm on; you're cleaned. (I do a take, first at him, then down at my cleaned hook.)
The crew laughed in appreciation. Only one thing was wrong. During the shooting some kids on the distant tobaggon slope began shouting, at just the wrong moment.
We played the scene over, the Bunnies' noses a little redder than before. This time it worked.
"Great! Wrap it up! It's in the can."
Fenton clapped his mittens together. The great ice fishing scene was over. It was all up to the cutting room now.
Bunny Bonnie appeared at my right.
"My tail is gone." she said mournfully, with a touch of fear in her voice. Even though I was half frozen I was still capable of faint surprise.
"My tail blew away."
Sure enough, her big, fluffy, white cottontail had blown off and was now rolling down the ice a quarter of a mile away.
"Never fear, Bunny Bonnie, I'll rescue your tail."
Gallantly I slipped and slid over the rough pond ice, chasing Bunny Bonnie's tail. I thought, Too bad they couldn't film this scene. Now this is what I call Hunting!
Twenty minutes later we were all back up in the hotel. John was upstairs in his room, on the phone to Chicago, and left almost immediately for a rehearsal of his big Sportsman's Show that was opening the next week. The tight-knit camaraderie of our little unit was rapidly dissolving. We were beginning to be strangers again who would probably never see each other until professional chance might throw us together. Jack was busy in the tailor shop buying a Swiss knit suit. Lee had disappeared with his clapboards. I never saw him again.
I sat in the Cartoon Room pinking hot chocolate with Bunny Moe and Bunny Bonnie, making small talk. They got up and left. I went upstairs and packed. Dinner that night was somewhat strained and hurried. We were all anxious to be on our separate ways. Fenton drove me to O'Hare through the beautiful Wisconsin countryside. We talked- about a feature he was planning and decided to meet in New York two weeks hence and discuss it further. O'Hare is a cold airport with a keening wind sweeping out of the prairies with a steady monotonous beat. Luckily I got a plane earlier than I'd planned.
Back in good old first class, among the sleek, well-fed expense-account people. I wondered for a moment whether Slim even suspected they existed, or whether any of them could have imagined The Aquarium Lounge that Slim did business with. He had said:
"Yep, I seine my minnows out of the Fox River."
"Yeah" I said, "but how do you get along in the winter? There aren't many fishermen."
"Well, I do all right" he answered solemnly." I supply the Aquarium Lounge with minnows."
"You do?" I was surprised. "What do they do with minnows at the Aquarium Lounge?"
"They got an aquarium on the bar. And these guys come in and scoop up shiner minnows with their hand and swallow 'em. They wash 'em clown with beer."
"They swallow' em? Live?" I was astounded.
"Yep," Slim answered matter-of-factly," and other people come in and sit in the booths and watch
I could imagine the scene! Again my mind boggled, for the second time in two days.
"Is that the biggest show in town, Slim?"
Slim detected my sarcasm.
"Well, you ain't never seen 'em." As the tray of Martinis and the inevitable macadamia nuts was passed before me in the warm, comfortable glow of first class, I reconsidered. Yep, that probably would make a good act on the Ed Sullivan Show, the boys swallowing mud minnows Coast to Coast and washing them down with the sponsor's beer. The crowd would love it. Probably up Ed's rating, too. At least in the Midwest. I wonder how our little act will go over? Maybe next time I'll draw Bimini. Who knows?