WILLERT IN TERVIEW
JOE KREIN : CAN YOU FIRST TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF , WHERE YOU WERE BORN AND GREW UP? WHAT DID YOUR PARENTS DO?
WILLIAM SCHALLERT : i grew up in l.a , i was born and raised here and my father before me , which is not all that unusual. i have a couple of grand daughters who live her in town who are forth generation Angelino's which is really rare. but my father was the drama editor for the l.a times for about forty years and my mother used to write for various fan magazines , picture place ,play modern and things like that. she was also on the air for a couple of years in the thirties doing an interview show , short interviews . it was on the nbc blue network which was there un sponsored network basically . but once in a while someone would get lucky , she did not . but she was on for a couple of years. she did some interesting interviews many of the major stars in Hollywood , she would review there new picture and then talk to them about there lives. something like what we are doing now. these were everybody who was anybody in Hollywood and my father was a newspaper man , he wrote a daily column and a sunday story and reviewed about three plays a week , so he was very busy and so that was my back ground. there was a lot of music in the family , that's what i was interested in. i studied composing at ucla. but i figured out i could not do it fast enough to make a living. so i kind of stumbled into acting while i was at ucla. after i got out of the army i joined a small group that was just starting then. it was called circle theater and it was kind of the beginning of small theater in l.a. it was the first of serious theater in town. we could seat one hundred to one hundred and twenty five people . it was theater in the round which was the same thing we were doing in ucla. after about four years of working in the theater i started to work in the business. it was gradual, a slow climb upward. meanwhile i had gotten married and had a couple of children. i had to work to support the family. i never did anything else . i tried a couple of things but they didn't work out at all. so this was the only thing i was fit for.
JOE KREIN : i am looking at what you have done. you have done a lot.
yeah , i certainly have . its always been a volume business for me. most people knows me as patty dukes father and i worked on the dobie gillis show as a teacher. but i was under contract to the duke's show as her father. then the nancy drew series and the new gidget and then finally the last series i did was called "the torkellson,s" that was rather short lived but it was a nice show . i liked doing that . mean while i worked in movie's over the years . my favorite picture i did was "lonely are the brave" which i did with kirk douglas and walter mathow. back in the early sixties. i was also in "the heat of the night" i plyed the mayor in that. i worked for don seagal a couple of times . i did charlie varick .i did a twilight show the movie format. i did a lot of science fiction films.
that's something i like.
i was the "the man from planet x" which was kind of a cheap knock off of a science fiction Chandra .
its a classic.
it was put out just before "the thing" which was really a quality picture so we got the benefit of there advertising so i did reasonably well .i worked for the same guys a lot. so any way i continued to work on stage and i still do. i,m eighty five now . I'm doing a lot of voice over for the same commercial agent . I'm the oldest person there because of my age and time in the business. so i have started to work again. i did four or five shows this past year. 'my name is earl" things like that . i have a very good agent now david moss. i feel like I'm back in the business in the way that i wasn't for a while. when i left it i continued doing voice over work. i did a variety of stuff over the years.
i remember you doing disney movie's.
"the strongest man in the world ' and "the computer wore tennis shoes"
that's right with kurt russell.
yes both with kurt russell. nice guy , good young actor. he wasn't a child at that point , he was a teenager. a great actor.
his first movie for russell was an elvis film. "it happened at the worlds fair" he got to kick elvis in the chin twice.
really (laughing) he probably would have enjoyed that .
so when did you find out you were going to do an elvis film?
well that was in 1968 , right after i stopped doing the patty duke show. that was off , i just started to work in the voice over field. where i made most of my living for the next twenty years. i was still working in television.
i am not sure what commercial voice over is .
when you see a commercial , you will hear some one narrating or telling you the punch line. i was the voice of milton the toaster. milton was the animated toaster that sold pop tarts. (laughing) (doing the voice of milton) hey kids its milton the toaster here. be sure to eat your pop tarts!
did you do any other ones?
oh yeah i have done thousands commercial over the years.
oh i think that's almost more interesting then some of Elvis's films.
i made a lot more money doing voice overs then i did on the elvis film. so anyway i got a call they wanted me to play a character abel easterlake. i would not normally know that but last year i was in memphis at there invitation. so i have kind of re connected with the character. i worked on "speedway " with elvis. i had one quite interesting experience with him. some of the film was shot on a speedway . they used what they call a process shot. now in a process shot . they don't do this anymore. its all computer generated know. but in those days they would film a race track from a car as it was going around and as cars were going past it. they would have a record of that on film. which then they could project. then they would set the camera up and there would be a shot of the race track as seen from the race car. but in order to coordinate that they had to have a mock up car that was sitting in one place. they would zero in on that with one camera and then in the background on a screen you would see these cars racing by. it would look like this mock up car was in the middle of this race. so they could get a lot of close up shots during the race . its what they used to do in films any time you saw a couple of actors in a automobile driving along. that was a process shot and some time if you watch closely you can see the same car pass three times. it took about two hours to set that up , so meanwhile elvis and i was stuck in the car. so we kind of got to know each and other. (laughing) he was a real sweet guy , a real nice guy. warm and friendly . he was very differential to me i was older and he would always call me sir. when he was talking to me. he was a real nice guy , i had a lovely two hour chat with him about various things. partly on how he started . he told me the story that he started in sun records . he went there to record a song for his mother for mothers day . i think that's what it was. he said how they were playing for sam phillips , while they were resting they were playing around and were doing songs they knew from the black area. sam asked them what they were doing , elvis told him and he said for them to do it again. that became his first hit .
yes it was that's alright mama.
any elvis fan would know a lot more about this then i , but this story was straight from the horse's mouth. the main thing was he was a very warm and gracious guy. he was very relaxed no pressure in him like that . didn't seem like the kind of guy that would die young. he was a very happy relaxed guy is what i thought.
it was a terrible shame.
yes it was , it was quite a shock.
how was it working with Victoria? it has to be hard when your working with kids.
i think that was one of the reasons they chose me , i had worked with patty dukes and she youngest , there was also a young boy on the show. i was kind of a nation wide father figure for a few years. working with her was a delight , she was a very talented girl. i knew her mother she was also an actress.
yes jean baird.
yes that's right . she and i had worked together and i knew about the girl . but i did not know how talented she was. she was terrific. she was well just a very talented child actress. i guess she has gone on , she she showed me a film her and her husband made. she is now older , well she is not a child anymore . she and elvis got a long fine.
she was eight years old when she did that .
yes she was , i have a grand daughter who is nine. we raised four boys and we have seven grand children . Jeannie was a real talented kid , its not easy to do that kind of work. it helped that her mother was an actress . but either you have a knack for it or you don't. so i guess that's why she is still evolved. she was very sweet. the director for the film norman taurog was suppose to be a great child director. well i don't like to speak ill of the dead but i did not feel he handled the kids very well. he was very harsh with them and kind of like a child wrangler. in fact he kind of deferred to me , get them ready . i didn't have any problem with that , we had kids. i was used of dealing with young boys but young girls are not that much different. i had a lot to do on the show bedside's act , so that was kind of fun. i got to know them and i liked them , they were sweet kids . they weren't bratty or out of control. not like some of the kids that work in the business get very full of themselves.
how was elvis as an actor?
he was a natural actor , i don't think he had to work at it much. he seemed to have access to his emotions which is a key thing to an actor. if he was suppose to be angry or upset , that was easy for him. i don't know if he was ever called upon to cry but if he was . what ever he did it was very real. he was as natural at his acting as he was at his singing. singing just came out of him with out any effort at all. even thou he was remarkable. he was an icon then and he still is today. he had a terrific voice. he got that "there's no tomorrow " which is o sol a mio. they played that in a play i was doing . i heard it every night and i got to study it. he produced his voice very well . i don't know if he ever had professional training. he had a natural voice.
he never had training.
everything he did was top notch.
now bill bixby was in that film too.
yes and nancy Sinatra.
yes she was beautiful and bill kind of played the guy that got elvis into trouble. how was everyone on the set . was there any fooling around?
i didn't get to act with them much. there was one crowd scene that i did and they were both there. but we didn't work together very much. i worked almost entirely with elvis and most of it was when we were in that mock up car during the race. bill bixby was a real nice guy and he was a good actor. nancy sinatra i wish i had paid more attention to her. she is such an interesting person. we were in separate worlds. the stars in pictures don't have much to do with the people who are farther down the ladder. one exception to that was when i worked with walter mathow . we did all are work together and we became best friends to the day he died. he lived just around the corner from me, i convinced him that this was a better place to live then Beverley hills. he agreed so he stayed here. i am close to the pacific ocean , we are a little bit back from the edge. seventy five years to the present rate of crumble. every now an then we have a earth quake and we get a little closer then we like. (laughing) so walter and i were really good friends . nancy was very friendly and a sweet girl in person. she had just had a big hit. these boots were made for walking. she was kind of a star herself. she was a descent singer , she recorded a couple tunes with her father .no body could match her dad , he was as big in his field and no one was bigger. i would say he and elvis was at the top of there profession. Sinatra was also a good actor .
did you ever act with frank?
briefly in a movie called "some came running" what i had to do in that picture got mostly cut out. i remember one scene we recorded. frank was helpful to me. the director was on my case . it always took a while to get familiar with them. i am a pretty flexible actor , and over the years i have done a lot of stuff. so nothing really bothers me much. in the early days in the fifties i was still learning and i took a while to get used to certain people. but frank was very helpful actually . he was a nice guy. i didn't know him well but the brief encounter was pleasant.
did you ever run into the memphis mafia ? they were the guys that were always with elvis.
in between shots elvis and the memphis mafia would hang around on the set and kid around. they weren't doing anything disruptive or outrageous. he just felt comfortable with them . so that was a very supportive atmosphere for him. i think it was good for him to have friends around . it kept him tied to his roots. Hollywood is a very deceptive place for people if they become very big . its easy to lose your bearings and wonder off. those guys were with him on the set . he made sure they had small roles in the movie. it was either elvis or colonel parker that set that up.
did you run into colonel parker?
if i met him , he didn't make a big impression on me. i don't think i did. he might have been around the set , he most likely was . but it might have been a day that i wasn't working. we had one set that was quite large , it was the night club. so if someone was visiting it would be on that set. i imagine he would have stayed off the set and if he needed to talk to elvis it would have been in his trailer.
so when the film was finished , did you get to say goodbye to elvis?
it doesn't really happen like that.
oh no i mean i don't remember. i may have , i probably did . but i don't have a memory of it. its quite possible he was already finished and i was still working. or i was and he was still working. so i am sure i said goodbye at the end of the day.
because the film does not happen the way you see it. i think that's what confuses me , I'm not an actor. sometimes the ending may be done first.
the key point is its possible in film to juggle time. you can do whatever you want in any order that you want and then put it all together. however the way you structure it when you put it together seems to be the real time. its quite right that things that appear in the beginning may have been shot on the last day. that's why film is such a interesting medium.
did you ever get to see elvis in concert?
no i didn't , elvis came along after i had already grown up with my own idea's of music. i was a big band follower. i also like the small trio's like artie shaw. I've seen some memorable concerts at the Hollywood bowl.
can you remember when you heard that elvis had passed away?
no i didn't , i guess i seen he had gained some weight. it was a shock heard around the world. elvis has millions and millions of fans. but i was not really an elvis fan or an elvis junkie. by then i didn't listen to music a lot. i was working all the time trying to make a living as an actor. raising two kids and it wasn't my type of music. rock and roll did not appeal to me. afterwards i have listened to elvis and i can hear what a remarkable performer he was , but that came later on. i hope I'm not breaking to many people's hearts. its a generation thing.
so after speedway you did a lot. so did you retire after a while?
i didn't retire i had an agent that wasn't working for me . they got bought out by a bigger agency and there was a time that they were not sending me out on anything. acting is the only thing i know how to do , i still get great pleasure working in a work shop where there is no pay. but once you reach my age of eighty i am lucky just to be alive. i have my share of ailments . i still look the same except i have white hair. i used to dye it but i got tired of the act of doing it.
was there one role that you did that you would say to yourself. i was good in that?
yes it would be lonely are the brave.
you never played a villain?
well in the fifties i did my share of villains like in "gun smoke" but I'm not very threatening and my look is well pleasant.
sir i want to thank you for doing this interview for me.
your welcome joe.