Lesson of Joe: Leaping Before You Look

Tonight I was reminded of a lesson my friend Joe Connolly taught me back when he was Propmaster of the long-forgotten Aaron Spelling series “Savannah”. That fabulous, opulent saga of murder and intrigue by the rich and powerful was actually being produced out of the drafty old storefront of a disused lumber yard more than half an hour north of Atlanta’s state capital . It was so far out of the way that I sometimes wondered if the owner (referred to by some as “Secret Squirrel”) was actually paying Aaron Spelling to use the building.

Amusingly, the site of all that serialized primetime lust and carnage was acquired by the Providence Christian Academy, a burgeoning K-12 Christian school with college preparatory classes.

The site of Joe's Leaping - Aaron Spelling Atlanta stage for the series Savannah (view looking south)

Back in 1995 the facility was bare bones, and quite tiny compared to the stage requirements of today’s episodics. There wasn’t enough room for anyone but costume to have offices inside the building, so the rest of us (including the producers) inhabited a line of smelly old construction trailers just outside of the back of the building – this was the open-air portion of the property that had formerly housed all the lumber.

Our trailer was next to Producer Betty Reardon’s trailer (what a neat lady).

We didn’t even have a prop lockup like you would find on any other legitimate episodic! Our stuff either had to go into our truck or into our tiny construction trailer, and we quickly ran out of room there.  A month or so back Joe had purchased some lumber and tacked an ersatz shed onto the end of our trailer closest to the “stage”.

It was by no means “secure” by any definition of the word as you know it. First of all, it didn’t even have a roof. Joe simply relied on the overhanging roof of the building to protect our stuff from direct rainfall.

Since it didn’t have a true fourth wall (kind of like this blog post, dear reader) it was really wobbly. Any crazed prop burglar worth his salt could have bypassed the hasp and lock and simply pulled one of the walls away from the trailer and gone inside.

That would have our course been a terrible mistake.

Because, in addition to lacking a fourth wall, our lockup also lacked shelves.

As a result, everything that we “stored” in our lockup ended up in a pile occupying most of the “floor” of the lockup. I seem to recall us having several specialized piles, but those specialized piles kind of looked the same after a while. It wasn’t much of a problem during the day, because the inside of our lockup had fantastic light during daylight hours (due to its lack of a roof).

You didn’t want to go into that place at night because you could get tetanus or slimed, depending on what was on top of the pile at any given time.

One chilly November morning in advance of an approaching weather system Joe decided that he wanted more out of life. He wanted to be somebody! He wanted to go places! He wanted to see the world! But mostly he wanted shelves and a roof and a heated spot inside the building in which to store all of his crap.

And he wanted it right over there along that wall.

I think it was Producer Chris Seitz who gave Joe thumbs up on the new Prop Lockup project. The problem was, he was unable to give Joe any money for the project. Joe would have to make it happen himself.

And that’s when Joe taught me a new lesson: LEAPING BEFORE YOU LOOK!

Like a crazed prop-burglar, Joe went outside and began peeling the plywood walls off of our embarrassing excuse for a lockup. Before you knew it, our horrible pile of dummies and bicycles and tubs and brooms and vats of goo & glue and left-handed Finster wrenches were laid bare for the world to see (heck, even Betty Reardon could see it from the vantage of her smelly construction trailer).

I was working set that day so I only saw Joe in snapshots over the course of the afternoon as he moved grimly back and forth between inside and outside, determined to beat the bad weather before it arrived.

By tearing down his only place of storage Joe had committed himself to the completion of his task – there was no looking back, it was sink or swim. And being an actual award-winning swimmer, Joe swam, and he persevered.

If I was any good at remembering movie quotes I would have paraphrased this line from Star Trek III and told Joe:

“You did what you had to do, what you always do: turn a really crappy outside prop lockup into a fighting chance to have a slightly less crappy inside prop lockup.”

Sometimes we must step out on faith, or we’ll never accomplish anything of signficance.

If you are a student or a teacher from Providence Christian Academy I would urge you to add the Lesson of Joe to your curriculum. Heck, his new lockup may still be in use over there.

I mean, it had shelves and everything!!

 

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