I wrote an episode of the TV series “Hart to Hart”, specifically Epsidode 76 titled “A Christmas Hart”. Hart to Hart was an extremely popular drama/mystery show. My episode was about Jonathan (Robert Wagner) and his wife Jennifer (Stefanie Powers) being robbed during a birthday party for Max (Lionel Stander), and go undercover for a singing telegram company called Jingle Grams.
For years this episode was broadcast every Christmas. Interestingly (or non-interestingly) when I met with the producers of Hart to Hart I originally suggested it as a Valentine’s episode, but they already had a Valentine’s episode in the works, so they had me write the premise as a Christmas episode.
I got the assignment to write the script which wasn’t due for about a month. Then, while procrastinating, I got a frantic call from the producers. A stagehand strike was a strong possibility and they had to move up the filming two weeks. I had to finish the script in a week in order to get the show cast, the props built and everything else that was needed to get the film in the can before the possible strike. I never wrote a script so fast, but I got it in and the episode was ready to shoot.
I have written lots of scripts and saw many of them shot. But not always, because shooting a TV show is often long and tedious and can be boring for someone who has written so many episodes. However this was my first “dramatic” script and I wanted to see how they did it.
So I showed up for the filming of Max’s birthday party sequence, which was shot on the Warner Brothers lot (it was a Columbia Pictures Production). It was shot around August but the The Hart mansion was decorated in festive Christmas decorations. I was interested to see how Robert and Stephanie approached my script, how they would discuss their characters, the motivation of the scene, etc.
Well to my bemusement there wasn’t any discussion at all. Before the scene was shot, Stephanie was busy in her dressing room with her charitable organization, William Holden Wildlife Foundation. Robert was schmoozing with his buddies. The director obviously was just studying the script, and saw no interest in gathering the cast together to discuss the significance of the scene with anybody. There were lots of extras in the scene and they were basically coordinating the movements of the extras.
I decided to introduce myself to Mr. Wagner. But what would I say. I decided to mention that my mother always told me I looked like Robert Wagner. I should add, that I wasn’t the only person in my family who was supposed to look like a movie star. My sister, Karen, was supposed to look like Princess Grace. And my cousin Betty was supposed to look like Oscar nominee Ann Blyth. I have a feeling “looking like a movie star” is common in many families, and my family was no exception.
So I walked up to Mr. Wagner and introduced myself as the writer of that episode’s script. He was very gracious and told me that he liked it very much and thought the script was one of the better episodes, and appreciated the touches of comedy I included. Then I mentioned that my mother thought I looked like him. He smiled, and looked at me and said, hey you do look like me — and gathered some of the other cast members and crew and pointed out the resemblance. At this point he was obviously kidding around, and the other cast members were clearly not in agreement with the resemblance. (Years later, looking at pictures of myself at at that age, I don’t see any resemblance at all). But I guess it served as a distraction to the business at hand which was to shoot the Max birthday party sequence.
Stephanie arrived from her dressing room and they prepared to shoot the scene. Again I waited to see the director discussing the motivation for the scene, etc. But it never happened. Robert and Stephanie took a glance at their lines. The camera rolled and they shot the main sequence in just a few takes.
If you look at the old episodes of the Hart to Hart series you will see that Mr. Wagner and Ms. Powers are really not playing characters. They are really not acting. They are simply playing themselves reading lines in a script. They obviously had a good time with the series which went on for several seasons and was syndicated all over the world. It was not great “acting”. But their audience loved them. And that is all that counts.
I should add that my mother was very pleased to hear that I actually spoke with Robert Wagner and that I told him that she said I looked like him.