About twenty-five years ago, I worked on my first tv series. It was a weekly crime drama, popular among the older set, called In The Heat Of The Night. We shot in the little town of Covington about thirty miles east of Atlanta. This last week, the movie I'm presently working on shot in that little town and that, along with the sudden death of one of my coworkers from that show, got me thinking...
I had signed onto the show as an extra hammer. The grip crew consisted of an LA key, dolly grip and best boy and all local hammers. The hammers were all guys who had been in the fledgling Atlanta film industry for years. I was a wide eyed young grip, still learning the ropes as well as the politics that invariably accompany film crews. I met a future Business Agent of the local, several future key grips, and a cast of actors that to this day still all hold a special place in my memory. Of course the leader of all this was Carroll O'Conner. Most of us knew him as Archie Bunker even though he had by this time been a movie star for the better part of forty years. Carroll, or Mr. Carroll, as I called him, was the executive producer as well as the star and writer of many of the episodes. Many of the cast and crew called him "Pops." I for some reason never did. Maybe it was because I was still trying to fit in and didn't think I had yet earned the right to call him by this familiar nickname. "Mr. O'Conner" was too formal. "Carroll" was out of the question. So I resorted to the Southern tradition of mixing formal with casual, yet still showing respect for my elders, and calling him "Mr. Carroll." Mr Carroll was the heart of the show. A gentle, friendly man, he ruled the show fairly and graciously, yet there was no question who the boss was. He loved his cast and crew and was loyal to those who deserved it. I have many great memories of Mr. Carroll and those long days in Covington. He always had a joke or an observation. In my twenties, I was a smoker. Seeing me with a cigarette hanging out of my lips one day (I think, being around 24 years old at the time, I thought it made me look older.) he pulled me to the side and said, "Darryl, I wish you would quit those things. I smoked for years. I even had a cigarette when I was taking a crap. They're no good for you." by now, he had had his famous heart surgery wherein Joe Don Baker had been recruited to fill in for him. It's these types of moments I remember. He gave me my first dolly job. He was a good man.
Another person I met in those days was a blustery, swaggering electrician named Carl Johnson. Carl was a huge presence on the set. His big personality filled any room he was in. He worked hard and played hard and I learned a lot from watching him and working beside him. Carl was from the small town of Willacootchie, Georgia. He had gone to Vietnam as a soldier and come home to somehow find his way into the film business. I learned this week that Carl has left us. Although I hadn't seen him in a few years, not many days went by that I didn't think of him, mostly inspired by some saying I'd learned from him. Carl was also a good man. A big hole has opened up in the Atlanta film industry. I wish I had taken the time to keep up with him for all those years.
Anyway, I'm rambling. I just started thinking about those days and felt the need to write about them.
Rest in peace, Carl. And you too, Mr. Carroll. I'm a better person for having known both of you.
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At some point, memories will be all any of us have left -- and you've shared a couple of good ones here. The people we meet and work with in this business make all the difference. The idiocy, boredom, bad-planning and pain we all suffer through on the job are made tolerable by them, and the things we do -- the big sets-ups and difficult shots we occasionally pull off -- are all the sweeter and more satisfying for having been accomplished by good people determined to do good work together.
Although we're making movies and television -- not war -- there's definitely been a "band of brothers" dynamic at work on every good crew I've worked with. Thanks to the reality of geography, I never had a chance to meet or work with Carl, and judging by what you've written here, that was my loss.
I'm sorry for yours...
Thanks, Michael. They, and he, were good men. I was honored to spend those long nights and days with them.
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