Monday, September 17, 2012

Shogun and More

Shogun is back. The mini-series based on James Clavell’s novel encores, starting tonight, on the pay-cable channel Encore - nearly 32 years to the day that it was first broadcast on NBC.

The series, starring Richard Chamberlain was a huge hit at the time. It certainly was with me. I had read the novel and thoroughly enjoyed the television version. I am interested to see how well it plays three decades later.

Chamberlain, as James Blackthorne, is a British navigator shipwrecked in Japan. Blackthorne, who comes to be known as Anjin-san (Pilot in Japanese) immerses himself in Japanese culture becoming a Samurai and assisting Toranaga (Toshiro Mifune) in becoming Shogun.

The series was indeed a huge hit. I even remember seeing Toranaga For President bumper stickers, at the time.

Clavell wrote a number of novels set in Asia, including King Rat, about a Japanese prison camp in Singapore; and Tai Pai and Noble House both set in Hong Kong. he also co-wrote the screenplay for The Great Escape.

I met Chamberlain, after he returned from shooting the series in Japan. He was doing a play at the Solari Theatre in Beverly Hills and I was helping my friend Steve shoot publicity stills for the show. We each worked house left and house right with cameras, firing away through rehearsals.

The play was Fathers and Sons by Thomas Babe (there are a number of plays titled Fathers and Sons). The play is set in Deadwood in the 1880s. Chamberlain is Wild Bill Hickok. The story revolves around an attempt by Jack McCall – ostensibly Hickok’s illegitimate son - to kill Wild Bill because he abandoned Jack and his mother and somehow causing Jack to sleep with his mother.

It is Oedipus in the Old West.

Directed by Robert Alan Ackerman and featuring what seemed like every western character actor in Hollywood, it also starred Dixie Carter as Calamity Jane. She was terrific. I had not met her before, but we spent a good part of the afternoon together having a long lunch while we waited for some tech issues to be dealt with before another run-through at which I would again be shooting photos. I think I was a little smitten. It was a great afternoon.

Steve and I shot a number of plays for Rudy Solari, including Simon Gray’s bleak comedy, Otherwise Engaged with William Shatner. It was odd casting and I don’t think it quite worked. Captain Kirk as an urbane London publisher who only wants to spend the afternoon listening to classical music: I think you see my point.

The Solari Theatre is no more, it is now the Beverly Hill’s Canon Theatre and Rudy Solari, who had a long career as an actor on television, passed away in 1991. He was only 56

1 comment:

Steef said...

Thanks for this great memory. One of my favorite picture from my days as a photographer is of Chaimberlain and Carter. Wild Bill, with his big handlebar mustache is holding up a finger of warning as Dixie looks over his shoulder. I have a sepia print hanging in my studio. I had Richard sign it during the run, and years later had Dixie sign it whan I did an internship on her popular tv series, Designing Women. By the way-- I made those Torinaga for President bumper tickers. I also made some with this Shogun nod-- I'd rather be pillowing! I think I sold about 20 in all.