In 1963, I was hired in the dual role of Sound Effects Editor and Assistant Mixer on the black-and-white television series that was produced in Vancouver. Two or three months into the first television series, an opportunity came to move up to the job of Film Editor. I accepted.
Why was there a 5-year hiatus between the 1958 feature film and the television series? Was it a matter of finding the financial backing for the production, which can be a slow process for makers of television shows without guaranteed U.S. network broadcast?
Yes, it was those things. In addition, the co-creators of the feature film- Dorrell McGowan, who wrote the screenplay for the movie, and his brother, Stuart, who was very much involved in the movie but uncredited- did not plan to do a television series. They intended to do a follow-up (or sequel) feature-length film.
What were the reasons for production of the 1963-5 television series to be in Vancouver?
The producers, Dorrell (known as Buck) and Stuart McGowan, could save money by filming there. And remember, that decision was not based on currency exchange as it would be today. The Canadian dollar was at par or slightly higher in value than the U.S. dollar at that time. The laboratory which processed the 35-millimetre, black-and-white film offered to them a good deal, and they accepted it. The locations were favourable to the kinds of scripts being written, and the unions were in their infancy in Vancouver then and very cooperative.
Were you Film Editor for all 65 episodes of the 1963-5 Littlest Hobo? What did this job entail?
No. The television show started with a Supervising Editor from Los Angeles by the name of Jim Leicester, who hired a local editor from CBC Vancouver as his number 2. After 10 or 12 episodes had been done, the local editor left, and I was offered the job. From then on in Season 1, Jim Leicester and I edited alternate episodes and received alternate credits. In Season 2, he received Supervising Editor on all episodes and gave to me Editor credit on all episodes, even though we continued to alternate on the actual editing. The job entailed not only actually editing each episode but also supervising the Music Editor, the Sound Effects Editor. And in my case, it also meant being one of the 3 Audio Mixers.
Was a 65-episode number for direct sale to television stations (syndication) the initial intent for the 1963-5 Littlest Hobo, 65 of course translating into an optimal 13 weeks of Monday-to-Friday runs? Or was the total of 65 episodes incidental when production ended?
I was not aware of any "magic" in the number of 65 episodes at that time. I could be wrong, but I think that the concept of "stripping" shows came along at a later time. Besides, as an editor working in the darkness and solitude on my little cutting room, I did not have much to do with the gentlemen in the front office who made these kinds of decisions.
How did the prospect of a return to production of The Littlest Hobo come about in 1979? Did CTV commission a new Hobo series, or was the network approached to do it?
The best way to answer these questions is to go back in history a little. The television show ceased production in 1965 because of a legal dispute between the McGowans and the financial/distribution company, Storer Programmes. The parties went to court but were unable to resolve their differences. So, a judge (in Los Angeles, I believe) put a stop-work order on future production and instructed that all revenues generated by episodes currently in distribution be placed in escrow pending the outcome of what was to be a 7-year legal battle.
During that time, 1966 through 1974, I kept in touch with Stuart McGowan and his late wife, Dorothy, on a personal level, and I would pay a social call whenever I travelled to Los Angeles.
A few years later, 1976 or 1977, I was looking around for a project to launch my career as a producer- and I thought of The Littlest Hobo. It seemed like a good possibility because it was extremely popular when it ceased production, I knew the television show and why it worked, and I knew the owners. It is worth noting that the legal case had been settled in 1974, and the courts decided in favour of the McGowan brothers. The funds were released from escrow- and the McGowans had no plans to revive the television series.
So, in 1977, I approached the McGowans with a business proposition and a plan to revive the television series. Following about a year of contracts and agreements being established, I was ready for the next step- making an agreement with Charles P. "Chuck" Eisenmann, who still had the best-trained German shepherds in the world. That done, I went in search of financing and a broadcaster.
I contacted Alan Chapman, who at that time was general manager of a company called Glen-Warren Productions, one of the Baton Broadcasting companies. Baton also controlled CTV, which had originally broadcasted The Littlest Hobo and whose reruns had long since expired. It was a very popular television show with the network.
So, I pitched the new Littlest Hobo to Alan Chapman, who liked it immediately. It was a 3-part presentation: the rights, a contract with Chuck Eisenmann and his dogs, and me as producer. They were quite willing to accept the first two parts and less willing to have a relatively inexperienced producer in control.
But we "got around that", and production began in late 1979.
Was production on videotape rather than film an artistic decision, or was it a network directive?
Neither. It was a decision made by Glen-Warren Productions. They were in the videotape production business and had no interest in going into the film business. They were even unreceptive to my strong recommendation that we camera-shoot on 16-millimetre film, transfer to videotape, and edit on tape. Their decision to camera-shoot on tape would have far-reaching consequences in financial terms. Because the show was camera-shot on tape, it always "looked different" to the buyers in the U.S. and was never well-received technically by broadcasters there. It is worth noting that a year or so after The Littlest Hobo went into production, Glen Warren Productions entered into a contract to provide post-production services on Night Heat, which lasted for several seasons. Night Heat was camera-shot on film, transferred to tape, and edited on tape.
How many of the production staff for the latter television series had prior experience with the 1963-5 Hobo?
None. Chuck Eisenmann and I were the only "originals".
Was the original plan to redo all of the 1963-5 stories, or was the 1979-85 Littlest Hobo intended to be mainly new stories with a few remakes?
It was never my intention to redo the 1963-5 stories. I set out to write all new scripts.
Why were "Trouble in Pairs" and "Silent Witness" chosen out of all of the 1963-5 episodes, to be remade? Why was "Trouble in Pairs" changed in title to "Double Trouble", and why was the victim of the hit-and-run accident in "Silent Witness" killed in the original but not in the remake?
In the first season, I had a great deal of trouble finding Canadian writers who: a) knew how to write for half-hour episodic television; and b) could write stories which were real Littlest Hobo stories and not just an old script dusted off in which the character of Uncle Charlie (or whoever) was replaced with London. Besides, "Trouble in Pairs" and "Silent Witness" were really good stories. In addition, we could locate the original writers and pay them what they were owed as writers of the original story. The title of "Trouble in Pairs" was changed to "Double Trouble" because I liked it better, and the change in "Silent Witness" was made because the story worked just as well without anybody being killed. You should add "Little Girl Lost" to your list of remakes. Because we were "breaking in" many new writers, reusing existing scripts and updating them saved time and allowed us to stay on schedule of one script polished and ready to go before the cameras per week.
Were there concerns about violence in the first season that led to a reduction of the violence in the later seasons?
Yes, and it became a significant issue between me and Glen-Warren Productions. I felt that London, who represented the forces of good, was a more interesting character and did more good when he was required to overcome the forces of evil. Though I personally deplore violence, and especially gratuitous violence, this good-versus-evil tension was at the centre of most of the Littlest Hobo stories which were, after all, morality tales. To my regret, the stories became softer and softer as each season began.
Was there a particular type of story (e.g. London foils criminals) that was favoured, or was a variety of storytelling desirable? Were there many scripts submitted that were rejected? What were some of the reasons for a script to be rejected? Did Mr. Eisenmann have the final say over whether a story was "do-able"?
My story department and I always looked for the greatest variety of stories possible. There would always be "cops and robbers" stories for sure, but human interest stories, stories with a moral and set in the city, in the country, and usually an indoor story (in case of rain).
From time to time, an eager writer would submit a finished script, unsolicited. As a matter of course, it was returned unread to the writer. This was purely a legal decision because if my story department read the script and by pure coincidence we had a story in the pipeline with a similar theme, the writer could claim that we stole his/her idea, and that would cause problems for all concerned. If a writer with reasonable credits approached us, we would invite her/him to submit one or two story ideas, two pages, double-spaced. If my story editor and I liked a story, we would contract with the writer to write a first draft, then a second draft if the work was of sufficiently high quality.
The main reason that stories were rejected is that they were not really Littlest Hobo stories. Usually, they were stories with human characters at the centre of the action with the dog "thrown in" with a view to making it acceptable to the story editor. This device never worked. It was and is extremely difficult to write a believable story in which the principal character is unable to speak. Unlike human faces, which can register a wide range of emotions or responses to a given situation, London cannot. He just sits there and you, as the audience, read into his expressionless face whatever you think he is feeling or thinking. This is called anthropomorphising and was a dramatic cornerstone of each and every script.
Contractually, Chuck had technical control over the action. For example, he would request that, for "Trapper", a harness be made for the little puppy that London would pick up and carry rather than having the hapless puppy carried by the scruff of the neck, camera-shoot take after camera-shoot take. On occasion, a prop would be slightly modified to fit in the dog's mouth (e.g. the baby carrier in "Guardian Angel"). His input in these matters was invaluable. As to what the character could or could not do in a given story, I was the ultimate arbiter of that, and we rarely disagreed.
How did your own story, "The Locket", come into being? Were there any other episodes for which you wrote scripts that were not produced, or produced under a pen name?
I wrote "The Locket" one winter while the television show was on hiatus. In order to ensure impartiality on the part of my story editor who reviewed all submissions, I gave it to her under a nom de plume. In order for it not to be returned for legal reasons, I told her it was written "by an acquaintance". I revealed the name of the true author only when she insisted on meeting him and offering to him a contract as writer. Her comment at the time was. "Who is this guy? I'd like to meet him. He sure knows how to write for The Littlest Hobo!" As writer, I was particularly pleased with the casting on the leads: Chris Wiggins as the grandfather and the marvellous Wendy Crewson as his granddaughter.
Why were there no attempts in the 1979-83 Littlest Hobo years to portray London as being in foreign locales (e.g. Hong Kong, France)? Was this just considered unfeasible in the Ontario production location?
We actually considered camera-shooting in foreign countries. A co-production with England, France, or Australia was discussed at length. England was eliminated immediately because there was no way that Bo was going to sit in quarantine for 6 months. The idea never "took root" because there were lots of stories that could be done right here in Canada. We also considered returning to British Columbia, where the first television series was lensed, but that idea did not make economic sense in the final analysis. It was generally too costly and too complicated to try to fake foreign locations in and around Toronto. We did from time to time give stories an American spin (and accent), "Manhunt" for example.
Was it true that actors, especially child actors, could not return to the television show for a further appearance until after a couple of years had passed, in order to prevent the dogs from becoming emotionally attached to them?
Absolutely not. The only person to whom those dogs were attached was Chuck Eisenmann. The only reason that the same actors were not used over and over again was because at its centre, The Littlest Hobo is an anthology, and as such, the nature of the stories (comedy, action; simple or complicated) must change from week to week. And so did the cast. That noted, there were many actors who were brought back from season to season but always in a role very different to the one before.
Did you or someone in your office correspond with guest actors on a regular basis to keep them updated on the editing, broadcast status, and audience response to their episodes?
I cannot honestly say that it was on a regular basis. More like whenever time permitted. I would send to them press clippings as appropriate and when available.
Did Keenan Wynn and Henry Gibson (guest stars in both Littlest Hobo television series) enjoy their return to the world of The Littlest Hobo?
Keenan Wynn certainly did- and he did a wonderful job in "The Balloonist".
How were American actors contacted to appear on the show?
On a weekly basis, our casting director would send out a casting notice to the big agents in Los Angeles. The agents knew what the money was (not much), that their artists would be treated very, very well, and that they usually had fun. We never had any problems attracting "names" to the show.
Why were there no American guest stars after Season 3?
This was a political decision made by the executives at Glen-Warren Productions. They felt that it would make the show somehow more Canadian. Again, an unfortunate decision that would ultimately have a negative impact on sales in the U.S..
How was Jacques Urbont hired to compose music the series? Was he recommended on the basis of prior work?
I do not remember how the introduction came about. He was- and is- a superb musician who has a great sense of dramatic scoring. Not only did he write and record all of the dramatic cues, but he would also edit the music to fit each sequence in each episode. We spent many challenging and happy hours in the music editing suite.
Why was there a drop in numbers of episodes per season from Season 1's 24 to 18 in Season 3 onward? How quickly was the typical 18-episode Littlest Hobo season made?
It became evident that there were always preemptions in every season; and so, 18 episodes each played twice satisfied the broadcaster, CTV. On occasions, an episode from the previous year was rebroadcast to fill the time if there were fewer preemptions than anticipated. In the first 2 seasons, we spent 5 days camera-shooting an episode. And in Seasons 3 and 4, we did them in 4 days. I do not know about Seasons 5 and 6.
How often were you present to monitor the location shooting? Were there any disagreements with directors and with Mr. Eisenmann over locations and the logistics involved?
I rarely spent time on location for two reasons. One, it is the director's domain, and the presence of a producer can serve to undermine the director. And two, I was invariably too busy. You must remember that on any given Monday, there was one episode starting to go before cameras, another for next Monday in casting (which I always attended) and location survey with a script still needing polishing (usually right up to the last minute), two episodes in editing (one in rough cut and another in fine cut), another episode in the Sound Effects and Music Editors' hands and yet another being readied to mix on Thursday. Not much time left to spend on location. There were rarely disagreements between Chuck and me. But I did have to play referee from time to time between Chuck and the director. A telephone call to one or the other usually solved the problem.
Why was there more of a youth element in the fourth season? More stories in that season had young principal characters than ever before. Was this a conscious effort to give child actors an opportunity to perform, or was it incidental?
I would say that it was just one of those coincidences and not a conscious effort. Remember, the three-part "The Spirit of Thunder Rock" was shot in Season 4, and it starred the entire Follows family of whom 3 were yet to reach adulthood.
Bringing back characters from earlier episodes was something attempted in the fourth season, that is the return of Bobby Martindale and Danny McLean in "Finders Keepers" and of Milos the Bulgarian in "Winner Take All". Was this considered successful?
Yes, I think so. It is vitally important to keep a weekly television series fresh, and I felt that the Bulgarian, Milos, and the child actors in "Finders Keepers" were worth visiting again. Also, because of the use of flashbacks, "Finders Keepers" was finished camera-shooting in 3 days.
There were more multi-part episodes in the later seasons. What was the reason for this, if any?
Two reasons really. First, the need to keep the show fresh, and second, there are always great stories which take more than 24 minutes to tell. In the case of "The Spirit of Thunder Rock", it is a broad, sweeping, and complex story that could not possibly be told in 24 minutes. "The Five Labours of Hercules" is just a great romp which could have gone on forever!
What were the circumstances surrounding your departure from the television show two years before its end? Did you believe that the television show had "run its course"?
Quite simply, I became tired and burnt-out. Running a television show like The Littlest Hobo is a daunting task under the best of circumstances- and I found that the schedule had a toll both physically and emotionally. The result was that compromises were being made in the creative process. In addition, there were some management changes at Glen-Warren Productions, the result being views on the television show that differed from mine.
What are your impressions of the final two seasons (1983-5)?
I have never watched any episodes from Seasons 5 and 6.
Have you remained in contact with Mr. Eisenmann? If so, perhaps you have specific information on the time (i.e. year) and cause of deaths of the dogs?
Yes, I have- and we speak on the phone three or four times a year. I have no specific details about the fate of the dogs. He did not offer that information, and I have not asked. He currently lives in Oregon with at least one dog, and is semi-retired.
Who now owns the broadcast and commercial distribution rights to the television show and its music? Is there a chance of it being released in "sell-through" media like videocassette, compact disc (CD), or digital videodisc (DVD)? Have the videotape masters aged well?
Glen-Warren Productions owns and controls all distribution rights to the six seasons that they financed. Glen-Warren may have been folded into the new CTV family of companies. They also own all music rights, both to Jacques Urbont's music and the theme song by Terry Bush and John Crossen. I have heard of no plans to do videotape, DVD, or CD releases. I do not know for sure, but the videotape masters have probably aged well. The technicians at Glen-Warren are excellent.
Were you one of the people ahead of whom London was walking in a visual in the original title sequence to the 1979-85 Littlest Hobo?
Yes. The pedestrian in the tan slacks was me. That was when Chuck and I were in English Bay in Vancouver, experimenting with using radio transmitters and receivers to cue and instruct the dogs. Remember that if we were going to do a scene in which the dog would walk along for a couple of hundred of yards in a crowd, Chuck would first have to bring the dog to the starting point 200 yards away and say, "Stay here until I call you." Then he would have to run the 200 yards to where the camera was located, and cue the dog by hollering at the top of his lungs. Sometimes, in a thick crowd, the dog would lose contact with Chuck and just stop, or walk in the wrong direction, or a pedestrian, unaware of what was going on, would walk directly in front of him. So, Chuck would have to run back to the dog, return him to his starting point and then run all of the way back to behind the camera to cue him on my call of, "Action!" As you can see, four or five camera-shoot takes, and Chuck is exhausted. He always worked terribly hard. Anyway, the experiments with the radios failed totally. The dog(s) did not recognise or respond to Chuck's voice as it emanated from the tiny speaker which he was carrying. Too bad. Poor Chuck.