On the Trail of a Martian
EVA Magazine, Chile: Feb 12, 1965
Journalist Carmen Merino describes her visit to the set of "My Favorite Martian" in January 1965, in this article which appeared in EVA , a magazine published in Chile, South America. The translation from Spanish, provided here, gives a peek at the behind-the-scenes routine on "My Favorite Martian."
Sharing the daily life with a Martian forcefully detained on Earth, due to failure of his flying saucer, causes the reporter Tim O’Hara some funny and complicated situations (the actor Bill Bixby at left) and also to the landlady of Tim’s apartment, called Mrs. Brown (Pamela Britton in the TV show). In the center of the photo, is Uncle Martin, (Ray Walston) the Martian in the TV show "My Favorite Martian", which enjoys great popularity in the USA, Europe and Latin America.
by Carmen Merino from Hollywood
Feb. 12, 1965
Living with a Martian is something that doesn’t happen to just any woman. It brings its own complications, particularly when the space visitor, detained on Earth by a breakdown of his flying saucer, falls in love with the lovely landlady who rents an apartment to the Martian-protecting reporter.
These adventures have been filmed for television in the series titled "My Favorite Martian" Today, it has turned into the most popular show in the USA and it has won millions of fans in Europe and Latin America.
"EVA" magazine had the opportunity of being accepted to visit Desilu Studios in Hollywood, to witness how "My Favorite Martian" was being filmed for CBS, a national network in the United States.
These studios were built by the cinematographic company, RKO. President Kennedy’s father was the one who reorganized it, and after a while he sold its rights. All this was explained while we walked in the small streets that divide the great constructions, painted white, which are the "studios".
Upon the dismantling of RKO, the movie actress Lucille Ball bought the buildings to turn them into filming studios for television. Actually, several groups rent these studios to produce TV movies. While we walk under the tepid sun of the Los Angeles winter, which forces us to use dark sunglasses, I recognize certain names painted on the plaques. There is Bing Crosby’s, who films his movies there, and "Ben Casey", a TV series well-known by the Chilean public.
We enter the CBS sound stage after waiting several minutes, until the red light located on the side of the door disappeared. It’s the warning that they are filming inside, and demands absolute silence. Whoever knows the spectacle of any theater believes he finds himself in one of those worlds upon entering a TV studio. There are houses perfectly built, with windows with glass boasting joyful curtains and solid wooden doors. But their depth is a few centimeters. Behind are the planks that serve as support. The green lawn, the trees, and the flowers are artificial.
A few steps further, three walls contain the living room, comfortably furnished, and with real books upon the shelves. On the other side is the stage which serves as bedroom in the same house. Neither is the interior patio missing, or, the garage where is being guarded and hidden--in the show--the Martian’s flying saucer.
Hundreds of strong reflectors are located in the horizontal posts of the high ceiling of the immense sound stage. Two cameras register the scenes upon celluloid, and a microphone, lengthened by a mechanical arm near the characters, records the actor’s voices.
They hand me a 38 pages mimeographed notebook. It’s the story of the episode of the series that is being filmed: "Stop, or I’ll Steam", written by Burt Styler and Albert E. Lewin. On top of that, I receive a booklet. The TV show is being produced by Jack Chertok, which is the same as saying he put out the capital. The director is a man of short stature, thick, and from his baldness there remains enough hair on his temples to say he is almost a redhead.
The booklet indicates that the episode began filming on the 17th of December, 1964, to be completed on the 12th of January, 1965.
Bill Bixby portrays the reporter who invites the Martian stranded on Earth to his bachelor pad. In the show, his name is Tim O’Hara. He wears discreet light gray pajamas since it is supposed that the scene happens at night, in the living room of his apartment.
The Martian, whose friend Tim calls him "Martin", is the famous stage and film actor, Ray Walston, winner of prestigious prizes for his acting on Broadway, in 1949, in the Tennessee Williams play, "Summer & Smoke". On the New York stage and in the film, he portrayed the devil in "Damn Yankees".
Thirty people who are busy in the different tasks that filming a show demands, suddenly silence themselves upon the director’s orders. The two actors were rehearsing their parts with the script on hand. Bixby leaves his on the desk of his living room, where he rests upon one hand. They rehearse one page and three quarters. I look at the time, and realize in surprise that only a minute and a half has gone by.
The script girl takes note of the actions, and indicates that Bixby must lean on the table after speaking such words, and not before, as he has done. She is the one who must observe the details to jot down in the booklet and verify the continuity of the scenes that are being cut between the intervals. If the day before the actor was wearing a dark shirt, she is the one in charge of making a note of this fact, in case he will show up in a light colored shirt.
The rehearsals of series for television are in general brief. The ones for movies sometimes last several weeks. In this occasion, the director gauges that they can film. A man measures with a retractable tape-measure the distance between the cameras and the reporter standing and the Martian sitting down. I surmise that he is the assistant photographer. The imposed silence prevents me from asking.
A woman approaches Bixby and passes the comb over his hair, which has lost its styling during the rehearsal because of the enthusiasm he has put into his part. She is Jean Udko, the hair stylist, who has the honor of appearing in the list of those who contribute to the TV series and whose names we always see without reading at the end of each episode. A man also approaches Bixby, and, to my astonishment, I see that he paints in orange the top button of his pajamas. Afterwards, I found out that it was to tone down the shine of the mother of pearl generated by the reflectors. Bixby accepts these rectifications, in a detached manner. He neither gives them importance, nor attention.
An assistant director approaches the stage after the order of "SILENCE, CAMERA…ACTION!" and conceals the vision. He joins two tables that read "Section 24" and the number that represents the title of the show they’re filming. And the cameras start rolling.
BILL BIXBY GIVES THANKS FOR THE LETTERS
FROM FEMALE FANS FROM CHILE
The filming lasts less than a minute. Later the actors disappear through the doors of the living room. They walk me through the same path, and when I believe I am entering the other stage, I see that I am in the sanctuary of Bill Bixby. He rests while he memorizes his next scene. He receives me with extreme cordiality upon learning that I am Chilean.
"I receive dozens of letters from Chile each week", he tells me. "I regret not having the time to answer them. I would love to do so in Spanish, but I am going to confess something terrible…They flunked me three times in that language…"
Even though I am not from the generation of those young angry men I must admit that Bill Bixby has an extraordinary niceness to his demeanor.
"I receive thousands of letters from Argentina, Peru, Venezuela and numerous South American countries and each time I think that I would so love to go visit them. But as "My Favorite Martian" goes…with the success it has had…I believe I have no possibilities of taking a leave."
He only had a few days of holiday on Christmas and New Year’s. His contract forces him to film 39 shows and take three months of vacation.
"This year they went by the wayside, because I had to act on Broadway during the three months of vacation", he says, with the simplicity of any young man.
"My Favorite Martian" is based upon the literature that invades the current world: science-fiction. The man from space, Uncle Martin, who is confined on Earth, possesses certain powers that man has not developed. These captivate the public because of their resemblance to magic.
"I am not an avid reader of sci-fi", Bixby affirms, "But I am interested in the advancement of man in space and I follow the plans that are tried out to send man to the moon."
Of the episodes that he films for "My Favorite Martian", he only declares:
"I believe they are good. I watch them on TV in my house each Sunday evening, since I have no other opportunity of watching them completed. They are generally broadcast eight weeks after we have finished filming them."
While he signs a portrait dedicated to the female readers of EVA magazine he pleasantly requests, "It’s for all my Chilean female and male friends who have written me such emotional letters. Please, translate in Spanish: "my best wishes". Really, I want them to be happy…"
…."How can one win a chess game against a Martian?" thinks Tim O’Hara, the reporter who brings the visitor from space into his home and who jealously guards the incognito of his guest’s extraterrestrial origin. The Martian, called "Uncle Martin" on Earth (Ray Walston) possesses a great mental strength, which allows him to perform actions which resemble magic. Furthermore, his people have acquired great mathematical knowledge, more advanced that those of the inhabitants of Earth.
My deepest appreciation and gratitude to Eva Hawk who very kindly translated this article.
Photos © Jack Chertok Productions, Inc.
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