Small-screen version of the great man...
Wolfe was in his office looking at television, which gives him a lot of pleasure. I have seen him turn it on as many as eight times in one evening, glare at it from one to three minutes, turn it off, and go back to his book.
-- Rex Stout's (1953) THE GOLDEN SPIDERS, p. 93.
Some reflections on a visit to the set of the tv production of THE GOLDEN SPIDERS
I've almost always found it to be true that if one loves a book, one hates the adaptation. Favourite characters are physically different from how one imagined them, their physical surroundings jar with one's mental images ("What? The globe, in that corner?"), and evil-minded script-writers take unspeakable liberties with the plot. So it was interesting, getting a chance to see a little of the latest attempt to fit Nero Wolfe into 2D.
From the site, Merely a Genius, by Winnifred Louis
It all started a year or two ago when a guy e-mailed me to say that he was interested in making a Nero Wolfe movie, and had found my address through my Nero Wolfe fan site. I thought it was an awesome idea, and we corresponded about which book would be a suitable intro for a modern audience, but frankly I never expected it to materialize. I've always only been a consumer of movies; movie-making seemed the remote activity of an alien world. But suddenly it turned out the film was coming together. This nice guy on the other side of cyberspace, it appeared, was that exotic animal, an Executive Producer. The money had been found. The book (THE GOLDEN SPIDERS) had been chosen. It would definitely be filmed, for A&E. It would be filmed in Toronto. It would be filmed this summer. Maury Chaykin would play Wolfe. Timothy Hutton would play Archie.
"Why don't you come down and see the set?" the nice producer (Mr. Jaffe) wrote.
It seemed like a strange, alien concept.
And then, one day, I got a phone call. "Are you ... the Nero Wolfe expert?," a strange voice asked. "Er ... yes," I said, mendaciously. The strange voice belonged to a new character, the production designer (whose name I promptly managed to lose). It was her job to put together the set of the brownstone. It quickly became apparent that she had an awe-inspiring knowledge of Brownstone detail, harvested explicitly for this purpose. She had read all the books; she had read the Baring-Gould; she had read the infamous Darby; she had read everything, it appeared. What she wanted to know was how I visualized the office, since the books are inconsistent on some points. As you come in the door, on what side of the room are the desks? How are they oriented to each other? I tried in vain to articulate my vision. The conversation went on for about 25 minutes, and then continued in a second call. And what about Wolfe's chair, what did it look like? "Well, big," I replied, weakly. She said, they had sent out to obtain the biggest chair any of them had ever seen, but when it came in, the actor looked ridiculously dwarfed by it. I was taken aback. Now they were trying to build one, or something. And what were the dimensions of the picture that concealed the sliding panel? "Oh, the waterfall!" I said, glad at last to be back in familiar details. "No, no, that was in later books," she replied, sharply. "At this time, it was a picture of the Washington Monument."
It all seemed so much more complicated than I had imagined. But I was very, very impressed by the effort and expertise that was obviously being applied to be faithful to the details of the Stout books.
So we worked out a schedule, and in the last week of August 1999 I took the train down to Toronto. I was staying with friends overnight, and when I got in they hilariously informed me that a guy had left a message that a mini-van would be picking me up the following morning to drive me "to set". No definite article, doncha know, like "to church". Wolfe would have snickered, I felt sure.
With some trepidation, the following morning, I approached my mini-van. A very nice guy drove me out to the studio in Scarborough, where the filming was taking place. I attempted to pump him for scurrilous stories about the cast, but to no avail. Timothy Hutton's shameful addiction to junk food was the only hint of scandal -- apparently he's very demanding about getting regular doses of pizza. It all seemed unlike the Babylon I had imagined. "Er ... and what do you do?," I was asked, for the first time of many that day. "I have a web page," I said, with some confusion. It seemed an inadequate answer.
At the set, I was met by several kind people, who had obviously been told to look after me.
"You must be security?," I gauchely enquired of one young man, eyeing his formidable looking collection of headset, radio, and obscure black gadgets. No, it appeared he was a trainee director. Then I met the 2nd assistant director, who showed me around a little, and at lunch I met the 3rd assistant director, whose job seemed incredibly stressful and involved constantly ringing a hideous buzzer to warn people the cameras would soon be rolling. Everyone was remarkably polite, if obviously unable to figure out what status to afford me. ("Er ... what do you do?" "I have a web site." "A web site? You mean, like nerowolfe.com?" "Not exactly.")
I'd never been on a set before, so the physical layout itself was of interest. It was a huge warehouse, with trailers out front for the cast plus the food people; they had vats of coffee laid on, which I appreciated. In front of the doors was a card table set up for the cast to play cards -- I instantly recognized Orrie, I'm proud to say, and later found that I had observed Horan also. (Needless to say I forgot to write down everyone's name -- with any luck the IMDb will have the details, closer to the show time.)
Inside the warehouse smelt of plywood, and, when we were on the set itself, flowers. I was thrilled to see that there were actual orchids decorating the "office".
They set me up in a chair behind the director's chair, so that I could watch the tvs onto which the camera views are projected. It seemed an odd system; we were actually out of the line of sight of the 'office', in the 'front hallway' of this ersatz Brownstone. So the director, Bill Duke (whom I know only as the director of HOODLUM) would leap around the corner into the office, set up the shot, then leap out into the corridor, shout 'Action', and watch the events on the two little tvs. ("Cut! Print that," he would say menacingly, after a successful shot.) Between takes, I wandered around the other 'rooms', mostly filled with cables and crew doing crossword puzzles. The dining room contained some revolting statuary (Wolfe would never have such bad taste!), but also some very satisfying framed menus, wonderful to see.
From the angle I saw, too, the office looked all right -- shelves of books, looking great, and the globe (though there will obviously be no spinning of it, since the back was cut away to lodge a huge light). I was amused to see a large portrait of Holmes on the wall, along with one of Austen, and other authors whom I couldn't identify. (One of the set direction people kindly but unsuccessfully ran around trying to find out for me -- it was actually kind of distressing, that no one else could ID them.) I couldn't see Wolfe's chair clearly, but the yellow chairs all in a row were there, and the carefully placed red leather chair also. Later in the shoot, when the office filled up, they kept sending out for more yellow chairs, in an eerie 'art-imitates-life' moment.
Apparently the budget of this show was about us$4.7 million, of which a fair chunk would be salaries. With furnishings and everything the set was about us$400k, which apparently was high for a tv production, but has been justified because they hope to make a whole series of these Wolfe movies. THE DOORBELL RANG and THE MOTHER HUNT are being considered as the next in line, but whether or not they get made depends on the ratings for THE GOLDEN SPIDERS.
The scenes which were being shot that day were, as I said, the finale. Mr. Jaffe had warned me that the original dialogue had been deemed "too complex" for television, so I was prepared for the worst. But what I heard didn't horrify me too greatly -- really, most of it sounded authentic. The most disconcerting thing was hearing Wolfe, who of course in the books always speaks flatly & without raising his voice, orating in this production with the absurd prosody of a tv news anchorman. "By now of COURSE I was a moral IDiot, an egotistical SOW with boar's TUSKS." (I was pleased they kept the original line, though. And I suppose (hope?) the outrageously exaggerated intonation actually sounds normal when filtered though the mikes.)
The worst thing in the scenes I saw was a little bit of kitsch involving cookies -- in a most un-Wolfe-like way, when the people file into the office for the final scene, Wolfe comments "and my chef, Mr. Fritz Brenner, has prepared some delicious cookies". The effusiveness grated on me. (I commented to the producer on this line when I got back to Montreal, and he ruefully e-laughed and said he would try to cut it -- apparently, in one of the first set of "dailies" from the set, he had been appalled to see they'd had Chaykin drinking beer from -- oh! the horror! -- a bottle. But being executive producer has some perks, apparently. He gave them a detailed memo on why it was Wolfe would never do such a thing, and ordered them to reshoot the scene with a glass. ;) ) (And while we're on the whiny details, it annoyed me that Chaykin was pronouncing "Pfui" "Phooey". Pfui to that!)
On the whole, though, I felt optimistic. It looked as though Wolfe's intelligence and presence was actually coming across, in Chaykin's depiction of him. Archie, as I've said, looked great to me - I recognized the character by his fabulous clothes and jaunty demeanour before I put a name to the actor's face. And Hutton had a wonderful sardonic smirk during the scenes I was watching -- just like I've always imagined Archie to have. I was impressed by Cramer -- another familiar face (Bill Smitrovich), and perfect for the role. (I positively chortled aloud when I saw him whip out the cigar, roll it between his palms, and start chewing on it.) Saul, of course, far less bizarre-looking than the books implied (they'd need to redo a Cyrano to get the nose right); to me, he looked too slick, instead of scruffy, but he'd no real lines in the scenes I was watching, so I'm not sure I'm judging fairly. Orrie looked way, way too young for the part, and not nearly annoying enough, but again I didn't get to see him deliver any lines. I didn't get to see Fritz, I didn't get to see Theodore. Jean Estey didn't look intense enough, in the scenes I was watching, and neither did the Horans, but I'm not experienced enough to know whether it will look all right when the film comes out. They were certainly carrying the crew right into the spirit of the finale, I must say: after a take of the scuffle that breaks out after Horan's soliloquy, I heard cries of "You go girl!" and "Kill 'em! Kill 'em!" breaking out right and left.
And that's about it, really! I don't know how the final production will look, but by and large I was impressed by what I saw, and am very much looking forward to the this latest Wolfe incarnation. I hope it's the first chapter of many! [Note: And of course, my hopes were justified! See my notes on the A&E series.]
Many thanks to Mr. Michael Jaffe for extending to me the invitation to visit the set. Many thanks to Michael, Tim, Andy, Kelly, Kim, and Patricia for demonstrating that a guest is a jewel in the cushion of hospitality -- that is, for answering my silly questions so politely!
The television was still on, and Fritz was sitting watching it, yawning.
Wolfe was leaning back with his eyes shut ...
-- The Doorbell Rang (1965), p. 73.
Notes on the A&E Television Series featuring Nero Wolfe
I am a big Nero Wolfe fan.
By Winnifred Louis
I was also involved tangentially in the production of The Golden Spiders (TGS), the first Wolfe tv movie in this latest incarnation, through the courtesy of Michael Jaffe, the producer for that show. That was exciting enough, and you can read elsewhere online my notes about my visit to the set of TGS. However, this particular page is oriented to the followup Braunstein/Jaffe tv series dedicated to Wolfe, and specifically to the first season.
The Facts I Have Gleaned re: the Series
Timing: Filming started September 11th and is due to run until February 2nd. The series will air on A&E, at the earliest in March; more likely April 2001.
Episodes: I'm not sure if they will run in this order, but the schedule for shooting is: #1 The Doorbell Rang (TDR); #2 Prisoner's Base (PB); #3 Champagne for One (CFO); #4 Over My Dead Body OMDB); #5 Xmas Party Murders (CP); followed by Door to Death (DTD); Eeeny Meeny Murder Mo (EMMM) [Does anyone else think that Stout lost it when he selected that title?] and Disguise for Murder (DFM).
Cast Notes Excitingly, all of the main guys are back with the exception of Saul Rubinek as Saul Panzer. Apparently, Rubinek is in heavy demand, and Saul's role qua role is actually kind of low-key: Saul is in a lot of scenes, but he doesn't have a lot of lines. So, weirdly, Rubinek is shifting over to play Lon Cohen in this series: fewer scenes, more lines; fits in better w. his schedule, etc. I was disappointed to hear the news, but excited when I met Conrad Dunn, the new Saul. Rubinek was wonderful in the Hungarian DP scene from TGS, but he was way more cuddly than I pictured Saul; Dunn is much more aloof, and struck me as eeriely like the Saul I had imagined. Thus, in summary: Wolfe = Maury Chaiken; Archie = Timothy Hutton; Cramer = Bill Smitrovich; Fred = Fulvio Cecere; Orrie = Trent McMullen [All the same as TGS]; Saul = Conrad Dunn; Lon = Saul Rubinek. I didn't get to see Mrs. Bruner on my visit, but she is apparently to be Deborah Monk.
Many of the supporting cast are also going to come back, and are also going to be recurring through the episodes. This recycling struck me as odd, but apparently it is a "repertory" set-up, which allows for higher-caliber supporting people generally, but in particular allegedly allows the producers to retain those actors who seem to understand the spirit of the Wolfe stories. (More on this spirit in the commentary section; the whole explanation was very interesting, though the system did remind me of the 30s Hollywood.)
In re crew: The most startling news, for me, was that Timothy Hutton is to direct TDR, and every second episode thereafter, including Champagne for One. More on this role clash in the comments section. Neill Fearnley will direct Prisoner's Base (PB), which will start filming October 16th. The executive producers are Jaffe, Braunstein, and Hutton; the producer is Sue Murdoch; the production manager is David Till. Lindsey Hermer-Bell is the production designer; I particularly want to single her out because she is the person I wrote about in re The Golden Spiders who organized the beautiful Brownstone set. This time I didn't lose my notes. ;)
Comments on the choices for the stories: If you are curious about the prevalence of novels versus stories: it was explained to me that many of the stories have unfilmable aspects to them, because of Stout's habit of describing key plot moments in summary paragraphs. This is a problem that can be resolved with extra writing, but in the short term they just went with novels which are easier adaptations.
Regarding the specific stories: TDR & PB I think require no justification; they're great novels, and EEEM, DFM, and DTD are all IMHO great stories. CfO was handpicked by Timothy Hutton, presumably because he likes the Archie moments. OMDB and CP were selected in part because they fill in Wolfe's background and the Wolfe-Archie relationship for novice fans. This is particularly important because -- get this! -- the producers are feeling very good about the prospects for a second and even third season of the show! *Muahahahahaha!* This is not at all written in stone, since it would depend on ratings for the first season, but apparently the cumulative viewers for TGS -- around 4.3 million -- puts it in the top five ever of A&E tv movies. So: the classic novel The Silent Speaker and the Zeck books are all being saved for later on in the series, in the hopes that season 1 will set viewers up to understand the full intensity of Wolfe's reactions. All I can say is, if in fact the series bombs after year one I will bitterly regret not getting to see TSS and The Second Confession brought to the small screen.
Two- vs. One-Hour Format: Now this is a saga! Apparently, A&E insisted on the one-hour format, so all the novels will be filmed as two-parters, while the stories will be solos. Accordingly, in North America the series will be run as 12 one-hour time slots. Meanwhile, in Europe they are insisting on only two-hour slots, so the stories will be shown two at a time. Furthermore, in Europe somehow they chronically luck out and have 2 minutes' fewer of advertisements every hour. So: not only will Europeans get to see all the novels in 2-hour movie formats, they actually (if I understood this right) get an extra 4" per show. Hilariously, for the one-hour stories Braunstein/Jaffe will use the 4" to put in connecting scenes for the Europeans -- tentative plans are to have, for example, Archie playing poker with the guys, going "Do you remember that story?" (first story); then "What about that one?" (second story). Who knew life was so complicated? ;)
A look ahead: The PB script was written by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin. Sarah Jessica Parker is lined up as a possibility for Sarah Jaffe. The OMDB script is written by Janet Roach. I got to read these scripts, along with the one for "X-mas Party Murders", for which I did not note down the author name; the most striking thing to me about the scripts is their length. From what I could see, a two-hour movie script runs to only 100 or 120 pages, so even a two-hour version of the novels requires a drastic amount of editing out of material. Given that in general I regard every word of the books as precious and fulfilling, this editing provides me with a clear explanation of why I tend to be irritated by adaptations ... With that caveat out of the way, though, I have to say I was excited by the scripts. These are really some of my favourite stories, and I can't wait to see how they play in 2d.
Spirit: One of the most interesting parts of my visit to the TDR set this year was when the producer, Michael Jaffe, was explaining his views on the nature of TV, and what makes the Wolfe series special. There are two kinds of television, he said, 'representational' and 'presentational'. Part of the difficulty of filming the Wolfe books is that in some ways they are contrary to the spirit of most TV now, which is very much in the representational mode: focused on realism as the ultimate goal; focused on grit, plot, "noir" dramatics; cf all the police & hospital dramas there are around. But bringing the Wolfe books to the screen is not a project aimed at representing a 'reality' of events in the 1950s, but on creating a world that is self-contained; presenting a vision of Wolfe's world, involving its own idealized code of honour and affection. The plot is secondary to the characters and the dialogue, because the world being presented is not events, but rather about Wolfe, Archie, their relationship, and their values. When we're casting for the parts, he said at one point, everyone comes in with this method acting, sense memory attitude: reading the lines as if the goal is to express emotional intensity. But the lines have to be read lightly, in a way -- they have to be read with wit and humour, rather than grim emotionality.
Finding and retaining people who appreciate the true point of the stories is part of the reason the producers appear to be into this 'repertory' system, whereby the supporting cast appear in a variety of minor roles throughout the series. For example, I ran into Peter Mensah on the set of TDR, looking spiffy as one of the Evers security guards who tosses Archie out into the street; he was also one of the gangsters in the Lips Egan scene in TGS. Viewers I suppose can be distracted by trying to id the familiar faces, but the crucial advantage is that actors who appreciate the Wolfe spirit can be conscripted into the long-term project.
Speaking of supporting cast: I have to say, on Day 2 of my visit the main focus in the morning was the Evers scene, and I was totally impressed, in my non-film-expert way, with the supporting guy for that role, David Schurmann. This is one of the rare scenes in which, as Hutton put it to me, Archie totally fails to achieve his goals; it was great fun to see filmed and I hope it comes across as well in the final cut. I can testify that it really is Hutton being hurled down the steps; it was an impressive sequence, and provoked mild wonder from some of the makeup & hair people I was hanging out with at the time that he hadn't used a stunt guy.
Role Clash: [Timothy Hutton as Director] And speaking of Hutton, periodically I asked the crew I was talking to whether they had any views about Hutton as director; they seemed unfazed by the issue. As a layperson, I would have thought that the roles of actor and director are (a) both individually so much work that together they would be overwhelming; (b) conflicting in their demands: boss vs colleague; manager vs participant. But in fact I received a great deal of positive commentary re the overlap: (1) Timothy Hutton has in fact directed before, a film called Digging to China, so some experience is there; and (2) he is a huge fan of the novels, and so is better able to appreciate the importance of nitpicking details fans obsess about [Hutton assured me he is fully invested in the concept of Wolfe's yellow shirts]. So this bodes well.
But actually just being on the set was reassuring, in terms of the new vision of the series. I boggled mildly when I was told by the director that he wanted to bring out the "cinematographic qualities" of the novel (TDR). I had no idea what he meant by this ominous phrase, though naturally I told him I approved fully. ;) But as I saw it over the next 2 days, and in conversations with crew, this focus on "cinematographic qualities" was a positive development. One of the things that most struck me was that care was being taken to bring out the bright colours of Wolfe's life: not just with the yellow shirts, but even with details like Fritz's clothes (Fritz is not a butler!, I said to the costume designer, Chris; he laughed and said he was aware of the issue) and even the colours of the cars on the street. So that was exciting. And on other levels as well: there was a whole drama, as Hutton explained it to me, with the Evers building set -- he told me that he had personally selected as a set the brick factory where the scene was being filmed, and seemed excited to explain the vistas that would be afforded to the camera by the brick facade, and the black-and-grey walls, and the old freight elevator. It was nice to observe his level of excitement and commitment to the project -- but then, as he reminded me when I asked him whether he was happy with how things were going, it was only Day 2 of the filming. ;)
So, once again, I left after two days with a positive view of the project. So far so good!
|The Wolfe Pack goes to the Production Set
In March, 2002, the Wolfe Pack accepted an invitation from the producers to visit the Toronto Set. Click the links below to read and view the account of the adventure.
Reverie of Mr. Wolfe's Display of Ire
Chaykin was very gracious to us. He
seems to be a naturally shy man who nevertheless sincerely
extended himself to make us feel welcome.
And he has a great sense of humor, which showed when "Mr.
Wolfe" walked back into the office after lunch to find
it overrun with Wolfe Pack members. All of a sudden we heard
this roar, "Confound it, who are you people and what
the devil are you doing in my office??!! Archie! ARCHIE!!!"
I thought I'd die, especially since he busted CactusJulie
sitting in his chair! It brought the house down and was probably
the high point of that amazing day.
He then proceeded to sit patiently (after Julie fled his chair)
to have his picture taken about 10,000 times, with individuals
and then with the entire group - over and over, with everyone's
awfully nice man.
Langford's Toast to Nero Wolfe
Pack Toronto Banquet, Sunday March 17, Sutton Place Hotel
Lords, ladies, gentlemen, fellow Pack members, honoured
It is with a sense of humility that I rise to propose
this toast. When it was suggested I make the toast
to Mr. Wolfe, I must confess that, at first, I took
the complement personally. It must be, I thought,
that reports of the brilliance of my university lectures
had crossed the Atlantic, paving the way for this
honour. Of course, it was only a few moments later
that I realized the principal reason I was chosen
was the distance I'd traveled to be here - so it was
as well for me that no Australian Pack member was
able to attend tonight.
However, if deep appreciation of Rex Stout and his brilliant
creation, Mr. Wolfe, provide eligibility, then I'm certainly
eligible; I've been enjoying and collecting Wolfe books
for, uh, many years. Unfortunately, though, there are
considerable problems facing a UK-based Wolfe enthusiast. Not all books were printed there, and even some which
were do seem impossible to find. After many years, though,
I managed to accumulate all but one title - Three
Witnesses. I guess it's safe to tell you this
now, but I eventually found a copy in Oxford Public
Library, and when it was time to return the book, I
just couldn't do it. So, guiltily, I reported it lost,
and asked to pay for it. For a week it sat on my shelves,
while I wondered just how much I'd be asked to contribute
for this priceless text, when a letter from the Library
arrived, saying I didn't need to pay anything - someone
had handed the book in...!
A further problem facing us UK people is, of course,
a baffling lack of Wolfe on television. Although for
some reason my UK television cannot yet pick up A&E,
I'm happy to say that, thanks to tapes from friends,
I've watched and really enjoyed the new series. Long
may it continue; and, with high ratings and seventy-two
potential sources, there seems to be no reason why it
Nero Wolfe has been an example and an entertainment
since his first appearance in 1934, and, nearly seventy
years later, he is giving pleasure to the great-grandchildren
of those first readers, not only through the timeless
novels and short stories, but through those brilliant
A&E television realizations we have watched, and
will watch - and I hope to see tomorrow!
Mr. Chaykin has provided a physical embodiment of Mr. Wolfe
so successfully that I have no hesitation in coupling
his name with that of the great man; so I ask you now
to raise your glasses to Nero Wolfe - and Maury Chaykin.
Langford's JOURNAL of the Sojourn
Dinner (Sunday March 17, Sutton Place Hotel)
In hotel bar met with director Michael Jaffe and Timothy
Hutton - both making only brief appearances due to early
calls the next morning - and Bill Smitrovitch, also
an early leaver. Maury Chaykin was also there, and left
just before the dinner began, but after the toast to
Mr. Wolfe - unfortunately for me, as I had to give it!
Colin Fox was happily able to stay for the whole dinner,
and as he was seated next to me I was able to have a
really lengthy and interesting discussion, ranging from
his role as Fritz to the part played by theatre in civilization
- fascinating! He and his wife plan to visit us in Canterbury..
to the Set (Monday, March 18)
Coach full of enthusiastic Wolfe Pack..
production offices and sets were in an old factory,
and from outside looked nothing like a film set - but,
after passing through the offices and corridors lined
with racks of costumes, the large indoor open spaces
provided the familiar look of a film lot. The Wolfe
sets are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle which, instead
of being fitted together, are spread out - so a door
from one set leads nowhere; but another door on a different
set some distance away provides the 'other' side. The
established sets were of all the main rooms of the brownstone,
together with the outside front with stoop - even half
a car! Office, hall and dining room are fitted together
as a unit; kitchen, plant rooms, Wolfe's bedroom, and
lasting impressions were of the solidity, reality and
size of these sets - from outside, raw new plywood;
from inside, richly painted solid walls. It was exactly
like being inside a very nice, very large house, which
was beautifully furnished with good quality antiques;
only the views from doors and through windows spoiled
the illusion.. oh, and the absence of a roof!
viewing, the group of 22 was split into two groups of
eleven; and Gina and I were fortunate enough to be in
the first group to be shown the set. Fortunate, because
Timothy Hutton decided to show us around himself - so,
as we went from room to room, people rushed around setting
lights for us, while he gave a personal take on what
was what. This meant that not only did we see all the
sets - the office, the kitchen, the stoop and
hall, Wolfe's bedroom, the plant rooms, the dining room,
and the basement room (complete with antique snooker
table!) - but Mr. Hutton told us what had been filmed
where; so the dining room brought a story about Julie
Jaquette in 'Doxy'; the basement had doubled for a gangster's
club, a restaurant, and a night club; and so on. It
was totally fascinating. I can't over-emphasize the
'genuine' feel of the sets; it really was like being
inside an actual house - and, to a Wolfe enthusiast,
it actually did feel like the real thing. The set designers
and dressers had clearly worked their magic after close
scrutiny of the books...
The groups then swapped, and our group were shown costumes
(including yellow Wolfe pajamas!) followed by a look
at props, and set dressing. This time we were without
Mr. Hutton, but a personal guide from the production
company was a mine of information. Incidentally, props
included specially made plastic Cramer cigars (he apparently
got sick after chewing real ones in the first series)
and numerous bottles of specially labeled beer...
We then had a really good lunch, followed by another
all too brief visit to the set, to watch filming of
the final scenes of 'Silent Speaker'.
And then Jonathan announced the coach had to leave,
as someone had a plane to catch. However, we didn't
have a plane to catch, despite having flown 4000 miles
to get there... so I asked Mr. Hutton if we could stay
on. "Yes, of course!"
And the most magical part of the whole day began.
Briefly, I spent around 5 hours tucked into a corner
of the set, watching as the production team and actors
worked to finish the last two scenes of 'Silent Speaker'.
Mr. Hutton was absolutely incredible; had he been a
lifelong friend, he could not have been nicer to me.
For example, in the prop. room we'd been shown the flat
leather embossed sheet which was the prototype of Archie's
wallet, that gift from Wolfe described in LFM. Mr. Hutton
asked me 'Do you know what this is?', pulling the actual
wallet from Archie's desk. He opened it, showing me
it contained a note book 'When I have to take notes
for Wolfe I use this; I pretend to write, but production
have written in it what I would have written, if I'd
actually made notes of the conversation' - and they
had! The wallet also contained his driving license and
two different detective licenses, together with some
Representing Nero Wolfe
257 West 35th Street
New York 5, New York
I know this, because he GAVE me one of
those cards! (And later signed it, both as himself and
'AKA Archie Goodwin'!) The depth of authenticity of
the props was stunning - Mr. Hutton also gave me an
envelope from Wolfe's desk, which was stamped and addressed
correctly - but it was also franked, and contained an
actual letter to Mr. Wolfe... how realistic was that?!!
Finally, one scene being shot included Archie waving
a $100,000 reward check from the National Industrial
Association... and, yes, he gave THAT to me, too! It's
an actual printed and typed check, and, if it wasn't
dated March 18 1954 and my name was Nero Wolfe,
I'm sure I could deposit it.
Quite apart from these stunning gifts, Mr. Hutton constantly
returned to chat, talking about the filming, his fascination
with Stout's work, and much else. Over the many hours
I was there, numerous members of the technical crew
stopped to talk, too. I was keeping a low profile, for
obvious reasons, but was treated exactly like a crew
member. Even Michael Jaffe, who was directing, did this;
he often paused to explain to me what he was doing,
and what effect he was going for - it was just like
a personalized director's commentary! He even once apologized
for moving in front of me...
I also chatted for ages with Bill Smitrovitch (Cramer)
- a very funny guy, who apart from everything else went
out of his way to find out things for us to do in Toronto
during the rest of our stay - notes which he wrote on
the back of a script. Conrad Dunn (Saul Panzer) was
also incredibly friendly; but so were camera people,
assistant directors, producers- indeed, everyone.
And after the wrap, when we asked if we could call for
a cab - we were instead given a ride back to the hotel
in a production company car.
What a day - and those were just some of the highlights...
Maury Chaykin was friendly, too, but
I saw much less of him, as he spent most of the time
in his dressing room, while a 'stunt Wolfe' stood in
Wolfe's chair is actually quite uncomfortable; the red
leather chair is much more relaxing.
The office set has a removable wall (where the safe
is); they plan on removing another wall (to Wolfe's
left) for the next series, to make more interesting
Outside the window behind Wolfe is a brick wall with
ivy; this was moved twenty feet back to make room for
a through-the-window shot.
The camera when running on rails has eight wheels; special
bogies with lots of small wheels are added for long
tracking shots, to smooth out the bumps.
Wolfe's yellow shirts fade in the wash, and need re-dying.
Two cameras were used, although not every scene had
Filming was for HD-TV, and was therefore digital; state-of-the-art
equipment was used - but, sadly, it wasn't filmed in
With sincere apologies for the memory
On arrival at the hotel, we were given a large brown
envelope from the Nero Wolfe production company...
It contained an 8x10 personally signed colour glossy
of Maury Chaykin ('to Duncan and Gina...') A welcoming
letter, plan of the brownstone, production schedule,
and an actual copy of the script for 'Death of a Doxy',
SIGNED by both Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton... and
a black hat*, with 'NERO WOLFE' on it in red capitals!
was a stunning and totally unexpected gift, and ALL
visiting Wolfe Pack members were given one... I said,
'thank you!' at the time, but would like to publicly
say so again - to Timothy Hutton and his production
company, a very sincere THANK YOU for this gift, and
for all you did to make us so welcome.
Chris Grady's 35" Nero Wolfe Globe
I am the proud owner of the globe that was used in the A & E TV series. My wife and I joined other Wolfe Pack members and toured the set in March 2002. Then later that year I successfully bid on it when the show's props were auctioned off.
I was surprised how big it was - it is 35 inches in diameter. Everything on a TV set is slightly bigger than normal. But this large globe presented a logistical problem. How do I get a 35" diameter globe through my standard 32" interior door to my library? The issue was resolved by crafting a sling and hoisting it up outdoors to the deck off the library- and then through, barely, the standard 36" exterior door.
I globe is too old to be specially made for the show- unfortunately there is no mention of the manufacturer on the globe itself - but it is not particularly old since some mid-twentieth century countries are displayed. Finally , any real value of the globe was destroyed when the production company sprayed some kind of masking paint on the globe's surface- undoubtedly it was deemed too bright to be used in TV filming.
Pictures of the globe, and its journey to the library, are here.
|Jesse Strader's Nero Wolfe Series Props (thanks Jesse)
Mr. Wolfe's Check
Death Threat from Help Wanted, Male
NYC Brownstone Location Shots
44 West 76th Street
The glass on the door and light fixture over the door were changed sometime in the past five years or replaced temporarily for the shoots to match the brownstone facade on the set. The "914" number was appended just for the shows.
Click any image below to view an enlargement.
Browstone with 7 Steps
Tim on the Stoop
The NYC Brownstone
Tina & Peter track down the NYC Brownstone
On the scene at W. 76 Street
On the scene at W. 76 Street
On the scene at W. 76 Street
On the scene at W. 76 Street