This evening I caught the video of actress Kirstie Alley strutting her stuff in bra and panties to show off her “new body” to Oprah, God and Everybody. Nice job Kirstie, you’re elbowing your way back onto my list of sexy actresses. All this celebratory hooplah has nearly made me lose the remaining guilt that I harbor over my part in your breakup from Parker. What? Didn’t I ever tell you guys that story?
The year was 1995, the first season of filming on the Aaron Spelling series ‘Savannah’, and we were on our first set of “stages” (a defunct home repair/lumber center) in breathtaking Lilburn, Georgia. You might not be aware that episodic television is shot with multiple directors who rotate in and out. While one director films a show another director is prepping the next one so that he’ll be ready to shoot when his turn arrives.
I remember being mildly excited when I found out that our next director was going to be Parker Stevenson, one of the actors from the 1970’s television series ‘The Hardy Boys’. I’d grown up reading the books and then watching the show. As we started working with Parker the chances of my being starstruck rapidly faded as he simply became someone we worked with, just another director. And he did a good job. While he wasn’t as Hollywood-wise as Richard Lang, as enthusiastic as Harvey Laidman or as fart-joke happy as Stephen Scaini, Parker was professional, pleasant and it was very embarrassing for us when his Wizard went missing.
It was on a day when the prop department was spread thin, everyone was taking care of business. Joe Connolly, the Propmaster, was prepping the next episode. He was either out in the trailer that served as our office or in his truck driving around town to find the zany stuff the writers (the Stanleys) kept poking into their scripts. Kevin, our third, was outside straightening up the prop truck. And I, as second, was inside, supposedly working set.
Except I wasn’t.
We were nearing a scene that involved the popping of a bottle of champagne and as any filmmaker worth his salt knows, a scene that involves a “gag” like that is all about resets. A “reset” is exactly what it sounds like. It’s placing everything, props, special effects, wardrobe, camera, actors, cars, whatever, back to the beginning position to shoot another take. We’ve all heard AD’s yelling “Back to One!” so many times that it’s burned into our forebrains. You say it under your breath, unconsciously, autonomically, it’s part of filmmaking.
So I knew that we were going to be doing a lot of resets. Joe had made sure that I had enough Rolaids to get off a good number of takes – that’s how you get fake champagne, often just ginger ale, to really erupt from a bottle. You “juice” it with some Rolaids by crumbling up some of those antacid tablets and dropping them into the carbonated water. It’s entirely like the Mentos and Diet Coke reaction, just not as instantaneous. You have time to drop in the tablets, jam the cork back into the bottle, slip the pre-formed black wrapper around the neck of the bottle, set the metal bail and be prepared to shake the bottle up just before the cameras roll.
We used Perrier Jouet exclusively, and by the time the show had really been going we were receiving shipments all the time. Every time it showed up on camera we received another case like magic. Not exactly product placement, not really payola, it was just an understanding we had with the Perrier Jouet folks because their stuff was the best. Guys, if you’re not sure what kind of champagne to buy go with the Perrier Jouet (waiting for a case to show up at my house now). So, while the Perrier Jouet looked great onscreen we couldn’t use it because one of the rules of the road is that it’s a Very Bad Idea to have Real Alcohol onset while you’re shooting. Some productions don’t care, some do.
The next scene immediately up was in the set that we simply called Tom’s Office, a little side room at one end of the riverboat set. It was pretty bare, just a desk, an executive chair, a phone and some guest chairs. The scene was all about Tom (Paul Satterfield) being on the phone talking to someone. I can’t remember who it was because I was outside on the main riverboat set playing alchemist with the fake champagne to figure out the best ratio of ginger ale to antacid tablet.
Pour, pour, pour. Cork. Shake, shake, shake. Uncork. BLAM!!!!
Meanwhile, inside the little room about 25 feet away, Parker decided to play propguy by giving Paul his own personal Sharp Wizard, an electronic organizer, to use during the telephone shot… a bit of business to make things a little more interesting.
Twenty minutes later it’s cut, print, moving on, and everyone started rolling over to the riverboat cabin set. Joe showed up, I think that Kevin showed up too, and we began working that scene. From the rehearsals, moving into the actual shots. I remember we had a tub full of towels or diapers for cleanup and that our dolly grip showed Parker that he could use one of the pushbars from the dolly to make a cork-popping sound which he began doing.
At some point, I think it was after that scene was done and wrap was called, Parker came over and said “Oh hey, did you guys pick up my Wizard?”
We had no idea what he was talking about so he explained all that had transpired in Tom’s Office. Naturally we all went back over to that set to look but the Wizard wasn’t there. The search expanded to no avail. The Wizard was missing. I think that was a Friday.
The next Monday the folks in production had plastered signs all around the building offering a $500 reward for the safe return of “Parker’s Wizard”. They said that it had his credit card info, telephone numbers and the like on it… the 1995 equivalent to losing a laptop computer, and we felt responsible because it was lost in the propping of a scene (unsupervised of course).
To my knowledge that gizmo was never seen again, except in little inside jokes by the Set Decorators. I still remember seeing the sign they hung up in a deli set in the middle of Porterdale. It listed all sorts of delicatessen sandwiches and their prices. Buried in the middle of that menu sign was a listing for “Parker’s Wizard…… $500”.
So that same year Kirstie Alley and her husband Parker Stevenson announced that they were getting a divorce. Joe Connolly surmised that it was probably our fault, that once Kirstie found out that Parker had been so inept as to lose his Wizard that she had no other alternative that to toss him out on his ear. Of course Joe was joking, but the very next season when Parker returned to shoot another episode I was walking up to tentatively greet him when another Joe, Joe Thomas, our 1st AC, stepped up and loudly inquired “So Parker, didja ever find your Wizard?”
I remember standing there with my mouth open, cringing.
So, Kirstie, or fans of Kirstie, or people who found this page by accident but read all of this because you are incredibly bored, I would just like to say that I’m very happy that you’re getting trim again and would just liket to apologize for any problems that Parker’s Wizard might have played in that whole “Fat Actress” business and would be happy to take you out to lunch one day so long as you wear that bra and panty set. That’s hot.
Postscript: A couple of months ago I found my own little 32K digital organizer from that same time period and bought some batteries for it so I could go back and see if there was any old information that I mightn’t ought to move over to my laptop. Unfortunately the liquid crystal display has gone wonky on the thing and you can’t really read the information. I left a message saying as much on Joe Connolly’s voicemail but I must not have been especially clear with what I left him because the next time I checked my own voicemail I found a reply from him (a message that I’ve kept because it cracks me up every time I hear it) where he breathes dangerously into the phone and says “So help me Drew, if you have Parker’s Wizard I’m going to fly to Atlanta and KICK YOUR ASS.”
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