Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Week in the Life of The Julie Andrews Hour

(Or What It Took to Put on a Show)

What did it take to create a weekly episode of The Julie Andrews Hour? In 1972 and 73, viewers may have taken for granted that Julie’s show was fantastic. She was a great star; of course, her show was going to be fantastic. Yet viewing the episodes now, the accomplishments of Julie and the entire creative team working under producer Nick Vanoff are truly amazing.

Each week this team of talented people produced a top drawer show. In fact, they produced quality shows that would have taken months of rehearsal for a Broadway show of the same caliber, and the same for a film. Yet, week after week, they did it again and again.

Talk to anyone who was involved in the show and the first thing they’ll tell you about are the long hours they worked. The second thing they’ll likely tell you is that working on The Julie Andrews Hour was one of the highlights of their career and one of their fondest memories.

For this very reason—and especially for the professionals and aspiring professionals out there— I have created this “chapter.”


For those involved in the creation of The Julie Andrews Hour, each week there was a big production meeting. John Monarch, the Unit Manager on the show, believes that these meetings took place on Monday mornings.  Each Monday, around 9:00 am, everyone involved in the creation of a show including: producer Nick Vanoff, director Bill Davis, Musical Director Nelson Riddle and, of course, Julie Andrews, along with all the tech people met on the stage of Studio E.

During the meetings they’d discuss the upcoming show, who was going to be on it and what they were going to do. The ABC executives came because they wanted to know what was going on. They also brought people from the publicity department who needed to know this information in order to start planning the promotion for that episode.

Hollywood and Vine in the 1970s
Sandy Vanoff recalls that every Monday there was script reading at Nick Vanoff’s office on Hollywood and Vine. Sandy, Nick’s youngest sister, came on board as Nick’s Production Assistant in January of 1973, after Nancy Heydorn left. The office at Sunset and Vine was on the third floor and had been rented strictly for The Julie Andrews Hour. Nick had a receptionist, Phyllis, a secretary, Carol Warrian, and a bookkeeper, Darla Ramsey to help run things. Along with Nick’s office, there were offices for Al Simon, Bill Davis (Sandy recalls that Bill only visited his office once a week), John Aylesworth and Frank Peppiat. The writers also had offices there, and all but Lila Garratt, who was the only woman writer on the show, paired up:  George Bloom and Jay Burton, Hal Goodman and Larry Klein. Writer Bob Ellison would join the group late in the season.

There was a nice sized conference room in the back of the office which also contained a piano. Sandy recalls that Dick Williams like to come in periodically and play some of the music he was working on. Producer Nick Vanoff was constantly in and out, going back and forth from his office to the rehearsal hall or the recording studio.

After the script reading, Julie Andrews and guests went off to a rehearsal hall in downtown Hollywood. Dancer Jerry Trent remembers: "The rehearsal hall was an old NBC stage on Vine between Hollywood Blvd and Sunset Blvd. The building is still there but is called something else now." 

It would be an intensely busy few days; there were skits to be rehearsed, dances to be learned and music to be practiced, with the immoveable deadline of Friday when it would be taped; the results of which would be viewed by millions all over the globe. The pressure was on.


“Tuesday was the quietest day” for music arranger, Ian Fraser. That was the day he went into the studio to meet with the engineer and see about recording the orchestral tracks. If the Dick Williams Singers were going to sing any background music on the show, they also did their recording on Tuesday.

Of course, Tuesday was a full day rehearsal for Julie Andrews, Rich Little, Alice Ghostley and the guest stars for that week.


Sometime between 8:00 and 9:00 am on Wednesday, the orchestra’s tracks   arrived for the rehearsal with Julie and her guests. This rehearsal began at 9 am and ran until lunch time. 

Meanwhile, Julie usually had costume fittings on Wednesday morning. That way, if there was a problem, there was plenty of time to fix it. In addition, if there was a period gown or something unusual that she needed for a sketch, she’d go to Western Costumes where they had a huge storehouse of costumes for rent. (Apparently, Jack Bear did not make every single dress she wore on the show, only the contemporary clothing.)

Around 11:00 am, there was a “clean-up” rehearsal with Julie, her guests and, possibly, the dancers. This rehearsal was noted on one script as being conducted by Ian Fraser (Music Arranger) and Dick Priborsky (Music Coordinator).

At 12:00 noon, there was a complete run-thru of the show. After that, everyone went to lunch.

Looking down Sunset Boulevard at the RCA building
Late in the afternoon, around 3 or 4 pm the cast met in Studio B of the RCA building on Sunset Boulevard. Although Julie and her guests didn’t pre-record everything, as she once explained to a studio audience, she recorded certain songs which she thought might sound better if done in a recording studio, under greater control. In addition, in order to make the best sound or have the best tone on some songs, as a singer, Julie needed to position her mouth and face in a certain way. These expressions were not necessarily something as attractive on a close-up camera shot as might be, so it was easier to pre-record the vocals, knowing they were perfect, and then look pleasant while she taped the song. Julie’s fellow performers recall that on the set she was very exacting about her lip-syncing, making sure it matched the recording perfectly. As you can see, Julie and everyone involved with the show worked very hard to make it the best.

The pre-recording session took anywhere from six to thirteen hours. Sandy Vanoff recalls that the recording sessions sometimes went as late as 2 or 3 in the morning. Blake Edwards was in attendance for many of these sessions.

 Thursday was the day for staging. With everyone involved in production onboard, they met in Studio E, where the show would be taped.

In the morning, from 8:30 – 10:00 am, Bill Davis met with the cameramen and went over all the shots for the show.

At 10:00am, the rehearsal began. While there were some exceptions, most of the show was taped on Friday. Thursday’s rehearsals were scheduled until 6:00pm or so, but like all things with the show, usually went longer.


Overview of the ABC Prospect Studios
in the 1970s. The helicopter pad
would have been in the back, near
 the parking. Studio E, center right.
From 8:3010:00 am, once again Bill Davis went over the camera shots, angles and close-ups. Meanwhile, upstairs on the second floor, the Tony Charmoli Dancers were warming up. When the guys heard the sound of a helicopter overhead, they’d say, “She’s here! Time to get our costumes on!”

On Fridays, Julie often arrived by helicopter. ABC Prospect Studios had its own helicopter pad which was used a lot by the ABC news team. Since Fridays were long and arduous days for Julie, taking the helicopter from Beverly Hills to Hollywood was a much quicker, traffic free, ride. Of course, once Julie arrived, she had to have her hair and makeup done.

Meanwhile, on the stage, the sets were being put up and lighting set and tested. Sometimes, the sets were not completely finished on Friday. I remember arriving outside Studio E to the smell of paint, and on some occasions, someone would be spray painting items and carrying them inside.

While Julie was getting ready or resting in her dressing room, her stand-in, Sharri filled in for her as they tested lighting and camera shots on her. Wearing a “Julie” styled wig, Sharri was very close in height, coloring and weight to Julie. She’d stand patiently in one spot for an hour or more Sharri’s job was really on an “as needed” basis. Often during the taping, if they needed another body in a scene, the producer would call her to fill-in.


During the taping of the show, Director Bill Davis spent most of his time upstairs in the control room. Situated on the second floor, just above Julie’s dressing room, the control room was a long (about 15’), narrow room. It contained a bank of monitors and just enough room for a row of chairs. There was also a PA system for the director to communicate with the people in the studio.

Also in this room for the long hours of taping on Fridays were the Assistant Director Lee Bernhardi, the lighting director, script girls and Broadcast Standards and Practices person. In the 1970s, there were much stricter standards for what was broadcast. The Broadcast Standards person watched the costumes on the show; the ladies gowns could not be too low or revealing. They also listened closely to the language; certain words could not be used.

Another person in the control room on Fridays was John Monarch, the Unit Manager. It was his job to keep track of the hours for the ABC crew– which included the technical director, lighting men, camera men, video, makeup person, hairdresser for Julie, stage managers, etc. Since the show was being produced by ABC for Lew Grade, these expenses were billed to Grade, along with anything extra needed for the production. By being in the control booth, John Monarch could also account for any time lost due to a camera being down or audio not working properly. These would be taken off Lew Grade’s bill.

As Mr. Monarch remembers it, Lew Grade owed ABC a licensing fee for airing The Julie Andrews Hour; however, he doesn’t believe any money exchanged hands, at least on a week to week basis. Whatever Lew Grade’s bill for a show was, it was then subtracted from his profit, as was a portion of the licensing fee, and he would receive the balance. John Monarch’s job involved keeping track of all hours and expenses and then turning them over to accounting. The Julie Andrews Hour was a big and complex show, and during the seven months of taping on the studio lot, it was the only show John Monarch took care of. One magazine of the period suggests that each episode of The Julie Andrews Hour cost approximately $220,000. (According to measuringworth.com this figure translates to $1,180,000.00 of purchasing power in 2012.)

Choreographer Tony Charmoli remembers that while working with Julie, whether she was rehearsing in  the dance hall or on the set, almost as if by radar, at 4pm sharp Julie would suddenly announce, “Tea time!” and off they would go to her dressing room to have tea.

When there was a studio audience, the audience was let in after dinner (or tea), usually around 5:30 or 6:00 pm. Eventually, live audiences were discontinued completely. With perfection the goal, each musical number and sketch was redone until they were satisfied. Audiences grew bored watching the technical details of taping and the producer soon decided to replace them with laugh tracks and canned applause. This also saved time and took certain pressures off Julie.

On very few occasions, the show rapped by 8 or 9 pm. Usually, however, they did not finished until midnight. Many of the dancers and others recall Friday nights that went far beyond that, as late as 3 or 4 in the morning.

Saturday – wee hours of the morning

As soon as the show was in the can, director Bill Davis and his assistant, Lee Bernhardi, went directly to the editing room. Although this probably meant they were working more than a 24 hour day, it was necessary. As Lee Bernhardi explained, for some reason, Canada got the show a week before the U.S. which usually meant they had only the weekend to get it in the can and get it to Canada by Tuesday for airing on Wednesday. Thus, there was not a spare moment to be had.  

Of course, some shows only required simple editing; others were far more difficult. Take Episode one in which Julie plays herself, Mary Poppins and Eliza Doolittle in the same scene. The editing on this was very tricky. Other shows involved speeding up the action in a scene so it looked like an old slapstick movie, intercuts of outside comments with Julie in the studio, and merging studio footage with vintage Disney film, as they did with the Disney music tribute show.

And so, with another show was completed; they were ready to begin anew! The Julie Andrews Hour taped three weeks in a row and then had a week off. Although Julie may have had something of a break during this time, the creative team was hard at work preparing for the next two shows. This break week was really a necessity for the creative team, allowing them some time to catch up.  

As arranger Ian Fraser told me, “It was an amazing operation.”

For a list of all the blogs on The Julie Andrews Hour, please visit:

Stay Tuned for more about the creative team!

If you think The Julie Andrews Hour should be released for the public on DVD, along with music releases of Julie and her guests, please e-mail a polite request: dan.gopal@itv.com
If you prefer, you may look up ITV in London or Los Angeles, and send a letter there. 

Please note: All photos used here are for entertainment purposes only!

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