Interviewer: We want to thank you very much for speaking with us.
Peter Wooley: Well, it just gives me such a hoot. "What didn't I do?" I think was your first question.
Interviewer: Yes. After reading your book [What! And Give Up Show Business?], and going through a flow chart of what a production designer does . . . you ran the entire art department and worked with everyone.
Peter Wooley: Yes, it was one of those kinds of . . . I have an expression that says, 'No one ever leaves the theatre humming the sets.' Fellow art directors, we always say, 'If they're looking too much at the sets, then the show's in trouble.' And that's absolutely correct. But, occasionally, the sets get to become one of the stars. I realized I had that opportunity on Wizards -- for the sets to become as much a part of the show as any of the actors. That isn't always the case. I did very little research, I must confess. I got more from my childhood memories of my books that I read as a kid. The way we designed that castle, for example. I got my illustrator, Mentor Huebner, and my set designer, Joe Pacelli, and the three of us sat in my office, drawing. And [I] said, 'Now, let's just pretend we're children and let's draw the most fantastic, wonderful, marvelous little castle we can do, without going to any research or anything else. Let's just bring this out of our heads like children.' And so that was the castle we came up with. It isn't often you get to do that sort of thing. But I designed everything in the show, and it seemed like every one had some sort of a pit or cave [or] something. So I got one of the sound stages at Warner's . . . and I started in the corner and built one of those. I built it in such a way that on the next show, I could just add onto it, and the next show, I could add onto it again. And again . . . till, finally, I filled the whole stage up with a labyrinth of things. And it was great fun . . . people would go over on lunchtime, take their lunch, and go in.
Interviewer: [chuckles] Do you have any sketches from that time period?
Peter Wooley: I left everything at Warner Brothers. As a matter of fact, I'll tell you the truth, I went into my files and it was absolutely blank. I didn't have anything in my files on that show. That's what happens when you work at major studios. They glom onto everything at the end of the show. I'm sure it's tossed away by now. But you know, one of these days, I'm going to wander around the lot and see what I can find . . . The only things I didn't do were produce, direct, write and act. I worked closely with the property master and the decorator, who was also part of my direct crew.
Interviewer: Is that Beala Neel?
Peter Wooley: No, Beala was an art director that we brought in for the last couple of shows because I was just out of gas. I wore myself out on that. It was such a labor of love for me, and I tend to do that. Drives my agent nuts. He says, 'It's just another show,' and I say, 'Yeah, but it's my show.' We brought Beala in to sorta spell me, so I wouldn't be running back and forth to the stage all the time and could sit in the office more. Of course, since that time, I've learned to do that on my own.
Interviewer: That's a good thing. You know, it was such a wonderful visual show.
Peter Wooley: Again, I decided that since this was a fantasy, I didn't really have to stick with anything. I could be as fantastic as I wanted. So I chose things out of the prop house . . . certain pieces of furniture and things, and I made a lot of it myself. Or designed a lot of it. I didn't want it to have a dead-on, historical look. I wanted it to be a fantasy. I did a series for PBS, oh, I guess it was after that. You know, I have a great ability to remember things . . . details, but I can't remember dates. Drives people crazy.
Interviewer: [chuckles] I think you talked about that one in your book.
Peter Wooley: Yes, it was called Timeline. We recreated six events that shaped the world, starting with the Viking's defeat in 1066 [at the Battle of Hastings] and going right up to the fall of Byzantium and fall of Granada in 1492. The head of the medieval department of the University of Texas was with me all the time. We had the ability to call other historians and get the facts straight and everything right. So, I have done things where everything had to be dead-on accurate. Somehow, something told me that Wizards didn't have to be, and would be better visually if it weren't, so that was the decision I made early on. I made it during the pilot and nobody disagreed with it, so I just kept going.
Interviewer: Theadora [Van Runkle] designed the costumes, which were wonderful. Did you have any input on that?
Peter Wooley: We got together in terms of color and intent, and Theadora agreed with me that we didn't have to stay historically accurate. She could go as nuts as she wanted, like with the hats . . . [and] keeping that sort of look in mind, she did it. I remember once . . . I don't remember the show; I just remember this incident. She was designing this costume for a monster [the Grox], and she had these huge shoulders on him, and I had designed this set for him, but he couldn't get through the door. Theadora said, 'What do you think?' and I said, 'How are we gonna get him through the damn door?' Well, we got hysterical over that. So we had to work something out. I think I widened the door, and she shrunk the shoulders down, and the actor went in sideways. We worked very closely together, but she did her own thing, because she's such a brilliant designer.
Interviewer: What was your favorite part of working on [the show]? You said it was a labor of love, although it sounds like you got tired . . .
Peter Wooley: But that's part of the process, isn't it? If it's a labor of love, you should labor. And that's exactly what I did. It's hard to say. You know what was really my favorite part? I think it was just letting go. I think it was not having to be historically on the nose, and just having fun with it.
Interviewer: Then you can really let that imagination go.
Peter Wooley: We didn't have a lot of money for the pilot. I don't know whether you noticed or not, but I had to do the castle by painting more than sculpturing for the pilot. By the time we got the series, we inherited a bunch of walls from some big feature that had just finished, so I was able to make it a little more realistic for the entire series than it was for the pilot.
Interviewer: I was going to ask you about the castle with the two stairways coming down and the firepit in the middle. That was a really cool set, but I think it was only in the pilot.
Peter Wooley: Yes, it was only one set. And that was probably the reason why . . . as I recall, it was very stark and modern. I probably decided to do that because it was pretty easy to do, and again, I had no rules.
Interviewer: So you could do whatever you wanted.
Peter Wooley: Yes, it was fun . . . Iím sure I did it that way because of the money, and it was sort of fun to play with the future.
Interviewer: And the sparking swords [technique used in that episode] would be done in CGI now.
Peter Wooley: Yes, but just about everything [in Wizards and Warriors], except for a matte shot a week, was in the camera at the end of the day. So there wasn't any CGI, there wasn't any of that sort of thing. We did it real time, because that was the technology then. James Frawley [director of the pilot] did a great job, I thought. But again, we weren't sure where we were headed with this thing. I did the pilot and then went off to Kansas to do The Day After. And believe me, doing The Day After was the toughest thing I've ever done. Bryan [Hickox, Supervising Producer of Wizards and Warriors] sent me a bunch of scripts coming off the press. So I had just gotten those from Bryan, and one day Bob Papazian, the producer [of The Day After], and I went to some lake and rented one of these floating platforms, got beer and chicken and all the fixin's, and just took off . . . out into the middle of the lake. He had something he wanted to read, and I wanted to read, so I read [the scripts] out there, in the middle of the lake, just sitting. We hardly spoke the whole day. It was just so nice to get away from The Day After, and I could get away from it by reading Wizards and Warriors. That's where I found my name in the script. I don't know who did that. I have no idea how that got there. I don't know whether it was Hickox's way of making sure I came back and did the series [or not]. We're sitting there reading, and I said, 'Oh my gosh, listen to this,' and I read Bob the line. He said, 'That's in the script?' and I said, 'Yeah, I don't know how it got in there.' After The Day After, this was such a welcome change because of its absolute insanity and everything. I didn't have to play by anybody's rules anymore, and I could just go out and have a good time, which is what I did -- and probably why I wore myself out. [chuckles] I was having too good a time.
Interviewer: Well, that's not too bad of a thing, if you're having too good of a time.
Peter Wooley: No, no, it isn't. It was the perfect balm for the emotional wounding that we all took by making that movie. That was a toughie.
Interviewer: You had said the pilot didn't actually have a very big budget. Did the budget come into play when Warner decided they were going to do more shows?
Peter Wooley: Yes.
Interviewer: And was that like, 'Wow, I've got all this money, I can go do these things'?
Peter Wooley: We never say, 'Wow, I've got all this money.' Never.
Interviewer: [You] say, 'Could we have some more?'
Peter Wooley: 'Please sir, may we have more gruel?' [both laugh] No, we never have enough money. That's part of the creative process. I think it's good that you never have enough money. That's perfectly acceptable movie making business, and I've always agreed with it. I've always said, 'Any damn fool can do any damn thing he wants if he has enough money to do it.' But to be creative, take some of that money away and say, 'Now, dummy, go out there and do it.' That, to me, that's part of the process. So no, you always want more money. But some of the sets, as I look back now . . . was it the pilot? What was the show that had the first pit?
Interviewer: Where there was actually water on the set? That was the pilot.
Peter Wooley: Yes, we used Styrofoam to build that set, and I got into a real big problem. They came up with another kind of Styrofoam [to use] after that, [but] I used a Styrofoam that was absolutely flammable, and not only flammable, the fumes that it emitted if it burned were toxic. So Warner's made me put a guard, a fire marshall, on the stage 24 hours a day: all the time we were building it, all the time it was sitting there waiting to be shot, all the time we were shooting it, and all the time we were striking it. So obviously, we had to come up with another sort of Styrofoam to use after that. That was the only set like that I struck until the end of the show. As I said, I just kept adding onto it. You've tweaked my memory . . . Going back to the show where there's a tree with a piece of fruit . . . Anyway, my friend Richard Colla, he's the director. . . [We] are definitely playmates, [and] we have played together forever. He has a ranch, so I went out to his ranch and I said, 'I gotta have a special tree.' I found that tree out on his ranch, and I cut it down. It wasn't very big at all. It only had one piece of fruit on it [in the episode], I think. But I found one and I said, 'This is it,' and he said, 'Well then, take it.' [both laugh]
Interviewer: Gee, and I thought it was manufactured . . .
Peter Wooley: Well, it was manufactured in my brain.
Interviewer: And you found it on his ranch.
Peter Wooley: Yeah, right! It's good to have friends with ranches.
Interviewer: I was going to ask you about the map. Did you paint that?
Peter Wooley: The property master took care of that. The only thing that was actually written was the overall shape of it. That was actually in the script -- the shape was partially of a dragon. He went off and had it done. Well, now, wait a minute. Mentor Huebner may have given him a sketch for that. Mentor was responsible for a lot of the looks because we could sit around and talk, and he would sketch as we talked. [He and I and] Joe Pacelli would sit around and jaw about these things and say, 'What'd'ya think of this? And no, make that [different].' We'd look at a sketch and I'd say, 'Make that wider over there,' and then I would ultimately choose the idea. Like the black castle [of Blackpool's]. I decided he should be very monolithic and very black. And of course, a lot of that was in the script. He was the black knight and Theadora picked up on that, [she] put him in those black leather things. His place was more modern in terms of architecture. And that just grew out of sitting around the art department figuring out what we wanted to do next.
Interviewer: So you could go get props from some kind of storage?
Peter Wooley: Yes, Warner Brothers has a marvelous prop house, with things that are just to die for, you know. There are a lot of things there. What wasn't there, we built. As I recall, we even built plates and spoons just to have them look a little off the edge.
Interviewer: What happens to the costumes and props?
Peter Wooley: Usually a lot of them are just destroyed.
Interviewer: Did you also build the weapons, too?
Peter Wooley: There was a special weapons designer for the hand weapons. Remember the big cannon? I designed and built that one. That was my baby.
Interviewer: I loved the cherub faces [on it]. Those were great!
Peter Wooley: I couldn't resist that. I remember at the time thinking, 'Oh, this is wonderful. I'm going to do it.' But that was another thing about that show, those kinds of things could be thrown right in there. I mean, Don Reo [Creator, Writer, Director] just went ballistic laughing [about the cannon]. And the directors . . . Bixby, God bless him . . . I miss him. He was wonderful. He was just a neat guy. No pretensions, no airs. He really worked hard on the shows. He had specific things he really wanted to do, and I think his were always our longest, you know? We always put in more hours with Bill than we did [with] anybody [else]. He was such a big booster of mine. He was always complimenting me . . . 'Well, you've done it to me again. This is marvelous. I just can't wait to play in here.' Oh, he was just lovely. You know, so was Frawley.
Interviewer: Was the makeup and special effects sort of tongue-in-cheek? Did you try to make them look fake or real?
Peter Wooley: We didn't try to make anything look fake, but . . . and this will really get you . . . we didn't try to make anything look real. You know what I mean?
Interviewer: [laughs] Yeah. It just was what it was?
Peter Wooley: There was always that line that we walked. The actors could perform absolutely dead on the money and the directors could direct that way, but as far as the look was concerned, it was always supposed to be just a little off-center. We really didn't want to say, 'This is absolutely the facts' or [this is] 'absolutely serious' -- we just didn't want it that way. It was neither fake nor real. It was whatever just tickled us at the time. We didn't want it to be outright cheesy, we always wanted to have a look, but we never really wanted to say, 'Oh, this is the way it really is.' That embarrasses all of us.
Interviewer: So you were just having fun with it, and that's how you came up with the look. What kinds of books did you use from your childhood? The mythologies and fairy tales?
Peter Wooley: Yeah, even comic books. Books on creature studies and monsters. I would get these books, and they'd have pictures of monsters, and of course they'd have them in the woods or a cavern or someplace. . . . I remembered those, where they were. It was one of those things that gets you started in art direction, production design . . . being able to keep a sort of mental catalog of things that you've seen over your life, and [being] able to call them back when you need them and draw them again. Everything from A Child's Garden of Verses . . . I'm sure there was something in there we used at some point. That particular edition of A Child's Garden of Verses, I cannot find anymore. It was done in the 30's, I'm sure. I'm always checking bookstores and used bookstores for it. The greatest drawings in the world were in that book.
Interviewer: I would think that the brinker [cave creature] was animated or painted. And what about the invisible dragon?
Peter Wooley: Yes, we were budgeted to do one matte shot a show, which is partially painted and partially real life [like the brinker]. We didn't have any of the things they have now, like blue screen to hide things. [As for the dragon], it was a very difficult thing to do, just come up with flames coming out of noplace.
Interviewer: Was it two flame-throwers and a couple of guys on a scaffold?
Peter Wooley: Yeah.
Interviewer: I think if I were [Jeff] Conaway (Erik Greystone) and [Walter] Olkewicz (Marko), I'd have been a little nervous.
Peter Wooley: Oh, they were. Especially Walter. He wasn't all that quick on his feet. Jeff, on the other hand, figured he could get the heck out of the way. Walter was a little slower.
Interviewer: You did a lot of innovations with things.
Peter Wooley: We were always out at the edge of our expertise. Again, that's always a fun place to play. It's easy to do living room, dining room and kitchen. But when you're out there on the edge of what you know, and you're trying to do new things, and you're coming up with new ideas . . . Blue screen was being used in television then in the newsrooms for the weather reports, but not nearly like they do now. And with computer generated stuff now, it's a whole different game.
Interviewer: When you made the sets [for Wizards and Warriors] . . . was that like a traditional theatre set, [where] you build the background and build on with foam or whatever else you would use?
Peter Wooley: No, because in most cases they have to be full 360-degree sets, because the cameras move, the actors move, and you have to take points of view from every actor. So generally, they're not theatre sets. The audience is sitting, sometimes out there, and sometimes backstage, sometimes stage right, so you have to do the whole thing. A lot of times, I'll do those [sets] working with the director and say, 'OK now, what do you really need here? Maybe we can get by with just three walls instead of four, can we do that?' in order to save money so that I can go nuts someplace else. And Bix[by] was great at that. He always said, 'I can do this with just these couple little flats . . . I'm only gonna do this, then I'm gonna move the camera and they're gonna stand still.' So there were ways we worked together so we could save money and time and all that kind of thing, but, my God, the hours were horrendous.
Interviewer: How long does it take to shoot one episode?
Peter Wooley: I think we shot it in four days. Then we'd turn around right away and go to the next one. There was never any time to stand back and take a breather. You'd just go from one to the next, so while they were shooting one, I was building the next one. That's just the way it goes. My hours were just as long as everybody else's, although I didn't have to be on the set all the time. I was quite a bit on that show because of all the goofiness that was happening.
Interviewer: It sounded like everybody had a very good time.
Peter Wooley: We really did. We did long hours, lots of overtime, [but] we just went ahead and did it. And we mostly did it on the stages -- very rarely went out. We went out to Bronson Canyon once for something. There were also caves there that we could use . . . they were very accessible. And we shot the castle out [just] northeast of town. We got this very green meadow that was beautiful to shoot in. On the same road was a great grove of trees where we shot a sequence . . . I think we shot a chase or something, coming down through the trees. It was so pretty. But, for the most part, we just stayed on the stages and improvised. When I think back on it, very rarely did we ever go out and do anything.
Interviewer: There weren't a lot of what appeared to be exterior shots. One of them that would've been fun was the carnival scene.
Peter Wooley: That was in the courtyard of the castle. I just got some blue backings to cover for [us] shooting up in the air.
Interviewer: So you had all these [sets] that could be used for something else?
Peter Wooley: Yes, I was constantly dressing sets in the middle of the night till the next morning. I couldn't be pounding away on a set when we were working, so we had to do things in the middle [of the night], then drag them in at the last minute. We had at least two stages working all the time, so it was a constant battle, as are all series that are single-camera series like that. Now, with the sitcoms, [they] have their three-camera, four-camera, multi-camera sets . . . and they're wide open. They're proscenium style, and usually shot in front of an audience in real time, but that was a one-camera show that was not shot in front of an audience, obviously.
Interviewer: Thank goodness. I couldn't imagine a laugh track to that.
Peter Wooley: No, nor could I imagine those kinds of sets in a sitcom form where you take a couple of rooms, spread them out, put four cameras down and go to work. I've done those, and find them not very satisfying for a designer. I'm sure they are to some people. It's like doing theatre in many ways, because once you do it, it's done. Your work is over. Then you might do one set a show where they go out and do something, like Seinfield or any of those. They have their regular sets and what they call a swing set, a set that would just work on one show. Then they get it out of there and put something else in for the next show. I really didn't enjoy doing that. As a matter of fact, Wizards was the last series I ever did.
Peter Wooley: Yes. I just wore myself to a frazzle, and now I keep to features and movies of the week. I leave those shows to the younger people now. [chuckles]
Interviewer: Were there any favorite folks that you worked with?
Peter Wooley: I didn't have a favorite person on that show. Whoever was directing was in over their head, whoever was designing it was in over their head, and whoever was writing it was in over their head. It was that kind of a show, so we all kind of giggled and laughed our way through it.
Interviewer: And we're so glad you did! Did you have a favorite episode?
Peter Wooley: I'm really sorry, but it's just been too long. I can't get there from here, you know? I retired a year ago and have done two pictures since. [both laugh] I say being in the movie business is like being in the Mafia -- it's very difficult to get in and impossible to get out. I just keep on going, and have worked almost constantly since [I retired]. Let me see, after [Wizards and Warriors], I went off to Florida and did Porky's Revenge.
Interviewer: That must have been fun, too.
Peter Wooley: A friend of mine called me, the production manager on the show, and I said, 'Where are you?' and he said, 'I'm in Miami,' and I said, 'What're you doing?' and he said, 'I'm doing Porky's Revenge.' I said, 'Oh, Kurt, you have no shame, how could you do that?' He said, 'Wait 'til you hear what I'm gonna offer you. We have a local designer on it, but we've re-written the ending and we need to build a riverboat that actually cruises. Then we need to be able to put it under a bridge and destroy it at the end of shooting it. We need to shoot inside and out.'
Interviewer: And you said, 'Gee, I'm in.' [laughs]
Peter Wooley: I was born on the Ohio River, and I watched those things go up and down the river all the time and thought, 'Gee, that looks like a fun thing to do.' So he said, 'Come on down and do this boat. You can do the picture, but you have to do the boat. The picture's gonna take care of itself. Just come down and build this boat for us.' I said, 'OK, I'm on my way.' It was really a fun time for me again, because I got to build this boat and then . . .
Interviewer: Destroy it!
Peter Wooley: And check every drawbridge in the city of Miami to find one that was the exact right height. There was really only one that worked, and only at the exact low tide. So I not only had to figure out how to shoot it, but when to shoot it, and how to aim it at that bridge, because I powered it with two outboard engines. I built it on a barge and powered it with two outboard engines. [both laugh] You could water-ski on the back of the darn thing, but you couldn't steer it very well because it didn't have a keel, so we had to put cables underwater to pull it, like [at] Disneyland.
Interviewer: Well, it sounds like you've had so much fun over the years doing all these things.
Peter Wooley: That's why I wrote the book -- I have chosen to have fun. When I first started in the business, I started with guys like Danny Thomas, Sheldon Leonard and Aaron Spelling -- old pros, and they were funny people. They taught me funny. Then, of course, all the Mel Brooks stuff.
Interviewer: Now, that must have been fun!
Peter Wooley: Oh, it was. Mel was having a good time then, because that was his first Hollywood movie. He had done The Producers in New York and The Twelve Chairs in Europe, then he came out to Hollywood with Blazing Saddles under his arm.
Interviewer: The stories [in your book] from that were just great, too.
Peter Wooley: It's so cute though . . . when I got the galley of the book back, I sent them to Mel and he was in preview in Chicago, on The Producers [musical]. I said, 'I don't expect you to read it all, but there's a couple of chapters I thought you'd be interested in.' I was doing a movie, and he just coming out on Broadway. I come home from working on this movie all day, [and] it's about eleven o'clock at night. I was sitting in the kitchen, eating a bowl of cereal, and the phone rang. It was Mel, and he said, 'Is it too late to call?' I said, 'Where are you?' [and] he said, 'I'm in New York.' I said, 'Christ, it's two o'clock in the morning.' He says, 'I just finished your book, and I love it. Get a pencil,' he said, so I got a pencil, and he gave me the quote for the back of the book. Then he proceeds to sing me all the songs from The Producers [both laugh]. We talked for forty-five minutes on the phone, and just howled and laughed about things we did in Blazing Saddles and all the fun we had. He invited my wife and I to come and see The Producers in New York, which we did. It was fourth row, aisle seats, and it was marvelous! Best show I've seen on Broadway, I think ever. It was just a magnificent show, so I'm very pleased for him. He's Mr. Broadway now. [The Producers] was just an epic. It's his finest hour as a writer. He wrote all the music and all the lyrics -- he did it all, but he did take time out to read my book and give me a blurb for the back, God bless his heart.
Interviewer: What's been your favorite project so far?
Peter Wooley: Over my career?
Interviewer: Yes. I know there's probably a lot to choose from, but . . .
Peter Wooley: Yeah, there's a lot. I would say my favorite project is . . . I guess it could be called a failure because it hasn't really gotten the play it deserves. That's the one I did with Richard Colla and Katharine Hepburn, that I talk about in the book.
Interviewer: The Balloon Race?
Peter Wooley: Its real title is Olly, Olly Oxen Free and they changed it to The Great Balloon Race thinking . . . I don't know what the hell for. I mean, it had nothing to do with a race. I don't know what the hell they were doing. [both laugh]
Interviewer: That's marketing for ya.
Peter Wooley: Yeah. They had a bidding war on it when we finished it. We had a screening, everybody bid on it, and for some reason or another they decided to give it to . . . what's that Japanese firm? I forget the name of it. And they didn't know quite what to do with it, [since] it was a G-rated picture. That undoubtedly is my most favorite picture. Doing it was just a joy from the beginning to the end. Getting to know her [Katharine Hepburn], having her relate directly to me and call me by name. She's a giant, you know?
Interviewer: Oh, yeah!
Peter Wooley: She and I had a wonderful relationship. If you came in my house, you'd never know I'm in the movie business. I don't have paraphernalia around. It all kind of embarrasses me a little bit, but there is a framed letter from her that I quoted in the book. That's about the only thing that would even indicate that I have anything to do with the movie business -- and of course, now my book.
Interviewer: Are you going to be doing book signings anywhere besides California?
Peter Wooley: Nothing in your neck of the woods yet. Maybe my next book.
Interviewer: Maybe. Well, again, we appreciate this so much.
Peter Wooley: Oh, it was such a lovely piece. I wish it would have gone on another year, but they probably would have carried me out on my own shield, I'm afraid.
Interviewer: We're trying to get in touch with as many people as we can to let them know what a wonderful show it was. Hopefully they can continue to enjoy it on the web.
Peter Wooley: I think everybody's going to react exactly as I have.
Interviewer: So far everyone has said, 'Wow, you remember it? You like it? How cool!'
Peter Wooley: Yeah!
Interviewer: Long live Wizards and Warriors! [both laugh]
Peter Wooley: On that happy note . . .
Interviewer: It was very enjoyable to talk to you. Thank you again, so much.
Peter Wooley: My pleasure.
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