I remember Steve Martin’s first directing job. As Executive Producer of the anthology television series the George Burns Comedy Week (on which I was a one-day-a-week consultant), Steve Martin assigned himself the Director’s Chair for one episode.
I recall the ironic bemusement with a soupcon of hostility – Steve’s signature reaction to everything – after his first day on the set. It seemed, complained Steve, that everyone – assistant directors, prop men, set decorators – was constantly coming up to him with questions and expecting definitive answers to all of them.
Having no idea what those definitive answers were – Steve’s tone intimating that in the final analysis they did not make a whole lot of difference – Steve Martin admitted to contriving on-the-spot “definitive answers” to every question he was confronted with:
“How far should we park the car from the corner?”
“How many roses should we put in the bouquet?”
This made for an amusing anecdote. For it to be funny, however, the listener had to identify with storyteller’s perspective, an arrangement, since it was “Master Raconteur” Steve Martin relating the anecdote, and since he was also my boss – I had little trouble accommodating.
Harried Neophyte Director –
Which I also personally understood, having found myself in a not dissimilar situation myself.
As Executive Producer of Best of the West, I was regularly required to appear at the “Wardrobe” facility for a “Fashion Parade”, during which I was shown numerous options of dresses and asked which of them I preferred as the “show costume” for the Leading Lady.
And I had no idea. To the point of one time inquiring,
“Why are you asking me?”
Fortunately, Best of the West had another Executive Producer who actually knew which dress to select. Or at least he knew better than to admit openly that he didn’t.
The thing is, I never thought of that predicament from the question asker’s perspective. To complete their assignment, those people required definitive decisions. Since they were unauthorized to make those definitive decisions themselves, they inevitably solicited the “Person In Charge” for the answer.
It is possible they may have also thought it was important.
Which – who knows? – it may actually have been.
I considered this recently while recovering from dental surgery and had the occasion to call Veronica, the dour oral surgeon’s considerably more upbeat Dental Assistant. (After taking my pre-surgical X-rays, she volunteered that I had “really good teeth.”)
The “Post-Op” instruction sheet I was sent home with mentioned that the patient should begin rinsing with salt water, though it did not specifically mention when. When I queried Veronica concerning this matter, she rat-a-tatted her answers. The concerned patient hanging attentively on every word.
EARLO: “When should I start rinsing with salt water?”
EARLO: “How often should I do it?”
VERONICA: “Twice a day.”
EARLO: “For how long?”
VERONICA: “A week.”
EARLO: “Okay, so for the next week, I should rinse twice a day with warm salt water…”
EARLO: “‘What’s that?’”
VERONICA: “The water has to be ‘luke-warm.’”
I could feel myself quivering. Veronica’s precisitude was authoritative. I could not rinse with just warm salt water. It had to be “luke-warm” salt water, the implication being “Or else.” Or else what? I had no idea. But I knew one thing.
I did not want to find out.
The problem was, like with all sinks, you’ve got “Hot” water and you’ve got “Cold” water.
“Luke-warm” water – you have to create.
And there is no way I am aware of of doing “luke-warm” water accurately.
I mean, “nailing it” dead-on.
There are other calibratable temperatures: Two hundred-and-twelve degrees Fahrenheit is boiling. Thirty-two degrees is freezing.
What temperature exactly is “luke-warm”?
And what are the consequences if you get it wrong? Are we talking “permanent injury” here?
I was entirely on my own with this thing. No yardstick to measure eleven feet from the corner. No mathematical formula to obtain twenty-seven roses.
“The water has to be ‘luke-warm’,” instructed Veronica, sounding like she really knew what she was talking about.
So did Steve Martin.