Saturday, December 15, 2012

December 15th - Closed Set with Julie and Keith Michell

The final episode of The Julie Andrews Hour taped in 1972 was to be a show to end all shows. Keith Michell was the only person on the show with Julie Andrews, except for the opening “Two on the Aisle,” where the dancers appeared as ushers.

Keith Michell, best know for the PBS series, The Six Wives of Henry the VIII, would receive his Emmy Award for this PBS series on Julie’s show. During the previous six months, he had been too busy to pick it up.

The creative team had created a show where the pair would perform everything from Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde to re-creating an A.A. Milne children’s verse, “The King’s Breakfast,” along with some modern scenes and a few musical numbers. Julie and Keith Michell were well paired; both were multi-talented, and this show would reveal far more of Julie Andrews’ capabilities than the pubic had seen previously.

Yet, as wonderful as the show idea was, it put a huge burden on the two stars. They were going to cover the history of theater in one hour, and they had only a few days to prepare for this huge task and one day to shoot all of it. Julie was leaving for Gstaad the next day, so they had no choice. No one who worked on The Julie Andrews Hour would ever forget that twenty-four hour shoot.  

After class, I rushed off to ABC. I got there at 11:30 am but was stopped at the gate by the guard. This show as a “closed—closed set.” He told me he had to call someone to see if I could go in. That person, I found out, was “head of production.” I was relieved when the guard told me I could go through. When I arrived at Studio C, there was no sign was up on the door, but a page let me in.

They were taping “Mack the Knife” when I came into the studio. It was a street scene with Julie and Keith, during which, suddenly, they turned on these machines that made clouds of fog (probably dry ice). The fog came out in waves, rolling across the stage with such density that the floor disappeared, and one of the camera men tripped over the camera cables!

I loved the clouds of fog. They came billowing down over the edge of the stage to Vivien and I. I didn’t want the men to turn the machine off; I wanted to see what would happen if fog kept coming down to us in the audience. (This fog never showed up in the final take.)

In taping the scene, they had to cut some parts to match what they had done before. Julie had to sneak up like a shadow behind Keith, then lie down behind what was supposed to be the sidewalk and peek her head up. After doing that, she couldn’t remember the steps she was supposed to do up and down the stairs.

“What happens when your kneecap moves from one side two inches out to the other?” she asked.
“I hate to tell you, Julie,” said someone.
Julie pulled up her pant leg to show everyone how sore her knee was.
After that, she lay down on the floor to rest. Meanwhile, everyone was busy talking. After lying on the floor a few minutes, Julie sat up and said impatiently,
“Come on, I have to catch a plane!”
“Is she’s leaving today?” I asked Vivian. ‘No,” she told me, Julie wasn’t leaving until tomorrow at 3 o’clock.
“The Swiss government called to say “hurry up, Julie,” said the director.
Julie laughed and said, “No more talk about leaving.”

 Julie and Keith rehearsed and tape the “Mack the Knife” dance scene for the next three hours. At the end of the number, they had to climb up on top of a tall platform held up by what appeared to be an open framework of iron bars. Julie was terribly frightened.
“It’s not safe,” she said, “Really! I’m afraid of heights.”
When someone asked how she got on a plane if she was afraid of heights, she said, “I’m not afraid of looking down on land… only here.”
When Julie looked at us from her high perch, she was so scared, that I got scared too and had to look away. Keith wasn’t afraid, but Julie was so frightened, she was unable to come done, or even reach for the ladder to get down.
“Do you need help?” one of the stagehands asked.
“Yes, please.”
The man had to practically hold her all the way down.
After “Mack the Knife,” they took a lunch break.


During the three hours of taping this number, when I wasn’t watching Julie and Keith, I was studying a book about cameras and filming that I had gotten from the school library. I let Vivien borrow my “Julie’s Favorite Things” article while I studied the book and she became so engrossed in it, she hardly even looked up at Julie while she was reading.

Vivian told me that she had been there the night before until 12 midnight.  I was rather surprised as I didn’t know people could go on Thursdays. She felt she wasn’t going to see Julie for a while and she wanted to see her all she could this week. Later I would learn that going to the studio on Thursdays was a definite no-no.

On this day I didn’t go home on the break because I was afraid of missing something. I was also afraid that that if I left I wouldn’t get back in; I had had such a difficult time getting in to start with.


The next scene they set up was a garden scene with a silver tree. Julie came out wearing what looked like a little girl’s pink dress with knee socks and funny little girl’s hat with ribbons on the back.

The scene was about the future; a time when everything, even trees, would be made in a factory. There was a part when Julie said that a bird insisted that she say “moo.” Then, she had to eat an apple. After rehearsing the scene a few times, she finally took a bite (not a lot of bites) and said her lines with her mouth full. It was very funny.

During the scene, Julie also did these funny jumps and landed in a ballet fifth position. She and Keith practiced and taped this scene for an hour. Then, while he sang a song about ‘what will we leave the children,’ Julie sat down in the audience, just the other side of the apron from us. When Keith finished she said,
“That was super, Keith. You know what I mean? I mean it really was super. Just wonderful. Marvelous! I mean it!”

As Vivian and I watched Julie, wearing that little girl’s dress and hat, trying to enforce her thoughts, we couldn’t help giggling. She looked so funny.

Now that Keith was finished with his song, Julie got up and went into the band room (stage right, behind a glass window just off the stage) to practice her next number, “On a Clear Day.”
“Is she going to change,” I asked, thinking about the little girl dress.
“Not in the band room,” said Vivien.
At that, the two of us broke up laughing. From there on, for the rest of the day and that night, Vivian and I made each other laugh.

Meanwhile, the crew had finished setting up another scene. In this scene, Julie was supposed to play a grouchy woman, but she got so silly, she couldn’t play it straight. (I believe this was The Applicant by Harold Pinter)  

To be continued….

(c) Michelle Russell

Note: All photos used on this site are for entertainment purposes only.

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