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MARCH 2010

Back in my Warner Bros. TV oater heyday, urban legends abounded. Director Michael ‘Bring On the Empty Horses’ Curtiz was featured in most. If you’d care to hear these ribald doozies, meet me behind the barn; don’t forget the cornsilk.

Two other legends concerned a hapless gaffer who worked the catwalk spotlights beamed down on Busby Berkeley bathing beauties. This goofy gaffer was an obsessive-compulsive. During unguarded moments he found it impossible to resist aping what he saw before his very eyes. One payday a joker accosted our gaffer and tore a piece of scrap paper to shreds. Mr. gaffer immediately imitated the action by ripping apart his paycheck! Another time, he was high up a narrow sound stage ladder. A cruel prankster waved up at him with both hands—Sir gaffer returned the salute, lost his balance and went into his Humpty Dumpty mode. Ouch! To the max.

My favorite legend stars George Brent. When Col. Warner failed to pick up his option, Brent took revenge and delight in buzzing low over the studio in his Piper Cub, thus ruining countless takes while lowering morale and raising blood pressure.

Back in my sweet toes days, we cowpokes never left the premises. We shot all our epics on indoor sets and on the back lot which had been transformed into a jungle for an Alan Ladd flick, “Santiago”. Consequently, the wild west, Warner Bros. style, was uniquely landscaped with trees, bushes and plants from South America. It could happen only in Hollywood.

Will Hutchins.Oft times five or six of us TV western heroes would be feverishly workin’ away at the same time in our cramped outback. I’d say a line—Blam! Blam! Blam!—A “Cheyenne” shoot-out. I’d start to say a line—Crash! Pow! Shmunch!—A “Bronco” barroom brawl! I’d start to say a—whoosh! Hats off! A “Colt .45” posse’s passin’ thru. And so it went.

Later, down the trail, we Bar WB cowboys would gather in the dubbing rooms and say our lines all over again. We did it till we got it right. Never mind the subtle shadings. The dub meisters just wanted the lips in perfect sync with the words. I never quite got the hang of it. More than once I flubbed the dub. I sounded not unlike a munchkin in a garbage can. Ah, yes, I left my Emmy on the dubbing room floor.

But don’t get me wrong. Dubbing can be fun. Years ago, in a Tokyo bar, I found myself watching myself on TV. There I was, above the Sake bottles, my voice dubbed into Japanese. Domo arigato and a deep bow to my dubber. He sure brought an energy and dimension sadly lacking in the originator’s version.

Remember Ol’ Hutch’s adventures in ‘88? April—Babs and I got hitched. June—we drove to Jiggs, NV, on our honeymoon cum movie shoot, “The Great Bar 20”. Well, came September and a call from director Christopher Coppola in Napa Valley. “Come on up! Get your dubbing choppers oiled!” We flew to Frisco and after a fast walkabout Fisherman’s Wharf we boarded a Greyhound bus to the Niebaum—Coppola 2,000 acre vineyards, where Christopher was in the throes of editing and dubbing.

His uncle, Francis Ford Coppola, had set up his nifty studio in the out buildings. Christopher greeted us warmly. He called us ‘family’—to prove it he proceeded to cook up some great spaghet you bet for din din. First and only time a director cooked for me. We washed it down with the house wine. A tour of the manor was called for. Stately is the word. High ceilings and lots of dark, sturdy wood. Plenty of room for the resident ghost to roam. Against a wall stands the armor of Zatoichi, the blind swordsman, a gift from Akira Kurosawa, the great Japanese director. Over the main room mantle is a huge, beautiful, poignant portrait of F. F. Coppola’s son, tragically killed in a boating accident.

Next day we dubbed. Dubbing’s also called looping, and we looped till 9pm on the second floor of the fermentation building. By daze end I was one looped looper. Nicholas Cage, Christopher’s brother, drove up and looped voices for a few Nevada actors who didn’t make the journey. I did double duty dubbing. I used a hybrid Walter Brennan-Gabby Hayes voice to depict an old codger forced to dance to bandido bullets.

Next day we headed south, a few bottles of Coppola wine in our satchel.

—Adios!