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Help Support Features Interviews Tales of the Gold Monkey
Tales of the Gold Monkey interview
by Stephen Jared - posted on June 19, 2006

Given that the style of the show was a little more 1930’s than the look, I’m wondering, did the network want you to shy away from too much that looked like the thirties or were the concerns more budgetary? Was there pressure to make it more like Indiana Jones?

Tom Greene: First of all, Don had the number one show in the country at the time with Magnum, and actually the word in the streets on Monkey was that it was a hit. Everyone, and I mean everyone was blown away by Don's attention to detail, and the multimillion dollar look of the show. Again, as I said before it had a look like nothing that had ever been on TV. Don has this ability to not only find the best people to work with in all departments (camera, art direction, costume, music, etc.), but with his passion and intensity, he pushes all of us to give 1000%, and it shows. Therefore, I don't really think the network gave him much pressure. The only pressure came at the last six or so shows when ABC (in an act of insanity which is normal for networks) took our obviously “eight o'clock” show and put it on at ten o'clock. Therefore, they suddenly wanted more “sex and violence.” Remember too, that Don created this show way before “Indy” came out, and the success of Indiana Jones simply helped give the network the “courage” to green light Monkey. Networks are scared, frightened individuals who are more concerned with covering their ass than making decisions, so they have to find a reason to green light something other than their own instincts, which they do not have, therefore if a huge blockbuster movie comes out, and you have something that is sort of like it, they can green light it, and if it fails at least they can say “well 'Indy' was a hit, it's not my fault!” Don fought a lot with the network, I do know that, but he kept most of those battles from the rest of us. He'd go in to his office, fight them like a good warrior, and come out bloody but triumphant, in that he got his way. So I'm not sure of what exactly the wars were about. However, we never shied away from anything.

Were you inspired by serial adventures? Which ones?

Harvey Laidman: I was a big comic book fan! The comics taught me a lot about composition and editing. I loved Blackhawk, which is probably extremely politically incorrect today. Captain Marvel, Batman, The Phantom and Superman.

click to enlarge
Gold Monkey advert
made by Drew Struzan.

Tom Greene: I have always loved any kind of adventure that was from another time and place. Somehow I have never been much for “right now.” In fact, I like to tell people that I only come back to “reality” as a tourist. Therefore the idea of a world totally into itself is much more exciting than the horrid mess we really live in. That is why I've always been attracted to Science Fiction and adventure stories, especially westerns. My father was a writer, and wrote many adventure stories, and in fact is in the Cowboy Hall of Fame for his writings. So I grew up with that. I loved Robert Service from before I can read, and there wasn't a western I didn't know by heart after I watched it. My favorite movie of all time is 2001: A Space Odyssey, more for how it throws you into so many worlds of the past and future (and leaves out the present, in the most amazing “jump shot” in movie history), and how it makes you think, and look at your own life in new and inspiring ways. After Monkey I made a mini-series called Wildside with Meg Ryan, Howard Rollins and Will Smith, which was a western, but frankly was influenced greatly by Don's writing, especially of Monkey. It's sort of like the way Disneyland was originally created. Walt felt that when you went into his “world” it should be airtight, and nothing from the outside world should be seen. He spent hours and hours making sure all “sight lines” were covered, that is, you couldn't see anything outside the park, no billboards or buildings or even mountains. He also sound proofed the borders so you didn't hear horns or sirens from the outside, and made a deal with the Orange County Airport to keep planes and helicopters from flying over the park. That is how an adventure should be as well. You should be totally involved in that world, and a concerted effort by the filmmaker must be made to keep the “billboards” out. And those are the ones I love. Probably the westerns of Sergio Leone, who was a master at the “air tight” adventure, was one of my biggest influences growing up.

Adventure stories produced by Hollywood today seem either inspired by video games or made to inspire video games. Have there been any old fashioned adventure films or series you’ve seen and admired in the last 20 years?

Tom Greene: That's a hard one, since you sort of hit the nail on the head. Adventure movies, especially these days, are not story driven, they are all CGI driven. It's all about the effects and has nothing to do with character or plot. One of the great adventure writer-director's, John Milius, created some terrific work and it all came from character, and virtually no computer generated garbage. When you look at Troy, or Alexander the Great, or even Gladiator, I defy you to tell the difference between each one, especially in the battle sequence. When you used to watch Ben Hur or Spartacus, or Lawrence of Arabia, you had a feeling that you were part of an “event”, since you realized that they really did have 1000s of people on that field that day. When you saw the famous “fly over” shot in The Longest Day, or one shot high-crane battle of the village in Bridge Too Far, or for that matter the landing of the hundreds of paratroopers in Bridge, something happens inside you, since you know you are part of an “event”. To think that some geek, high on Jolt and half-watching the Pam Anderson-Tommy Lee Video while working on his computer, created the digital soldiers, kills it for you, and there is no emotional response. Even if you don't know how they are “stamped out” on a computer screen, subconsciously there is an emotional disconnect. It's interesting that Spielberg himself makes this point in his great interview on the DVD of Lawrence of Arabia, and recently he has been quoted as saying that if he makes another “Indy,” he will concentrate on “in camera” effects, and real stunts, and keep the computer stuff to a minimum. Probably the best adventure film of the last twenty years was Mountains on the Moon. A grand mixture of true adventure with intelligent dialogue, characters and story. Actually, for me, the best adventures series on TV are the ones created by Michael Palin in his true-life travel series. They are the true classic adventure TV series of the last twenty years. Again, Michael's own enthusiasm and deep emotions carry these programs to classic status. I don't think that drama TV, with its present executive brain-drain is capable of anything like it.

Harvey Laidman: A lot of the new shows are so laden with special and photographic and CGI effects that I can’t seem to identify with the hero. Destination Moon by Robert Heinlein and George Pal (1954) is my favorite movie. I liked Tom Jones and 2001 a Space Odyssey, Dr. Strangelove and Failsafe. Oh, whoops! Were some of these made for adults?

Stephen, given that you are also a published novelist, and Richard Hatch was granted the rights to work on Battlestar Galactica novels, I am wondering if you ever entertained the idea of writing your own Tales of the Gold Monkey novel.

Stephen Collins: It never crossed my mind. But I did write a pretty good script for the show. It's about Jake finding Amelia Erhardt, who, it turns out, was an old girlfriend of his. If I thought there were a wide enough market for a novel, it would be fun to write it.

Getting back to the show, the use of voice-over narration and flashbacks are discouraged in most film circles and yet they were so effective on Gold Monkey. Any idea why? I seem to recall Tom Selleck doing the same on Magnum.

Tom Greene: Again, you can credit Don with that. He felt that was a bit of his trademark and an enormous amount of time was spent both in Magnum and Monkey to get them right. Magnum did, however use them more at times to clear up plot points, since those shows could get very convoluted, whereas Monkey really did use them for self examination and to create mood and atmosphere. I think that, especially in Monkey, the reason they were so effective was because the nature of the voice-overs had an honesty to them. They would reveal things about the character you didn't usually hear, especially from the star of a TV series. Remember too, that you had Steve Collins reading them, and there are very few actors of his caliber around! The other reason they worked so well, was that, for about 95% of the time, they were written in the script at the time we were writing them. Voice-overs are usually created after the fact, and are used to clear up something that is confusing, or at least something the executives think are confusing, so they seem false, forced, and patronizing. You find yourself a little pissed that they have to tell you something you were already thinking. Remember the great key to good writing is to let the audience think they are discovering something. If, in a voice-over, you slam it down their throat like force feeding a goose for Foie Gras, it rings false. A good case in point of that is the difference between the director's cut of Blade Runner and the studio cut. In the studio cut, Harrison Ford was forced to go back into the studio and record all this voice-over to explain everything. In the director's cut, there is no voice-over. Look at them both, and you will find that the power of the director's cut is so much stronger. And if you watch the director's cut first, and then the studio version, you'll realize that you didn't miss anything without the voice-over. You got it all, and in fact it had much more impact, especially at the end.

Harvey Laidman: A voice-over can make the plot easier to understand, and the viewer feels that the hero is speaking directly to her/him. I think it’s great.

What's the biggest difference between Hollywood today and 25 years

click to enlarge
Jake & Corky with
a big monkey.

Stephen Collins: Executives don't trust genuine creativity as much as they used to. They're scared of quirky, real voices in writing. The blockbuster mentality is like a virus that has diminished the quality of the average studio movie. As a result, the audience has dumbed down. If they made All The President's Men or Midnight Cowboy today, they wouldn't find a wide audience because the studios would be afraid of them and wouldn't give them a wide release. Ironically, with cable, there are more original voices working now in TV than ever before. There's a lot of junk, but also a number of wonderfully written and acted shows.

Jeff MacKay: I think as in most things, Hollywood has become more and more a commercial enterprise situation than it was when I started. I know it always was, but it seems to have become more of a corporate venture than an undertaking of imagination. Of course, that's what they told me when I started, but I really do think that creative decisions such as those made over the last few decades, made by uncreative people, is like hiring Rembrandt and then telling him how to paint. It seems to me there is no risk taking any more. No room for it. It's the bottom line that counts. The studios are run, not by people with ideals, but by number crunchers who seem much more mercenary than they once did.

Stephen, what’s your favorite memory from Gold Monkey?

Stephen Collins: There were three Gooses. One was real and actually flew and they kept it in Hawaii to shoot the extraordinary second unit aerial footage, which gave the eventual scenes inside the Goose a tremendously real look; a second Goose was on the lake in the back lot at Universal. It couldn't fly, but it could taxi on the water. We used that one to film arrivals and departures at the Monkey Bar dock. The third Goose was on the sound stage where we filmed the aerial scenes. Jeff and I spent a lot of time in that one. It was so difficult to get in and out of it - a lot of ladders and climbing involved - that we often stayed inside it while they were lighting the scenes, instead of getting out and having stand-ins sit there during the lighting, which would be the usual way. Jeff and I would run our lines and just hang out and laugh a lot. He's one of the funniest people on earth and my favorite memories are sitting in the cockpit with him and laughing our heads off. One other great memory. There was an episode in which Jake and Corky rode an old motorcycle with a side-car. I had to practice on it because it was hellishly difficult to drive. It had what they call a "suicide clutch" because the clutch was where the brake would usually be and vice-versa. They were lighting a scene and Jeff and I just took off on the bike. We rode all over the Universal lot, and all through the labyrinths of the back lot. It was like we'd busted out of school. We'd been working incredibly long, difficult hours, it was a gorgeous day, and we were like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. That ride, which probably lasted less than an hour, was one of the best vacations I ever took. When we got back, the assistant directors had flipped out because they had no idea where we'd gone.

Jeff, favorite memories?

Jeff MacKay: The moments of delirium at the end of a long day when we got the giggles. They are always my favorite moments. Uncontrollable laughter is the best medicine on the planet for whatever ails you. My friendship with Stephen was a complete pleasure. The opportunity to play an unusual character on popular TV was also a privilege. The cast, the crew, the producers and the writers all combined to make the show one big very happy family. I had worked with some of the crew before, making the daily set experience a genuine pleasure. They had never seen me do a character like this before and the gained respect plus the respect I have for those who are behind the scenes made it so rewarding for me in so many ways. These are real people who are doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. Those crew members who did not 'fit' into our family were soon gone. I remember the most affecting scenes I did in the series include a show called “Cooked Goose.” It's a long story, but the person who gave me my first professional acting job wrote the show. We were great friends and when I insisted that he write a 'spec' script, he wrote one that had a number of problems. There were, however, a couple of scenes that were wonderful acting scenes. He began as an actor and we had worked in many stage productions together, so he knew how to write for actors, specifically, me.

click to enlarge
Stephen Collins with
Caitlin O'Heaney.

Stephen Collins: Jeff's friend, Jay Huguely’s script for “Cooked Goose” was brilliant, but show runners don't like to hire outside writers very often, especially in the first year of a series. We pushed Don to read it. He could see that Jay clearly "got" the show; his script was brilliant and Don, who was exhausted from doing double duty on our show and Magnum, saw the value of the script, and hired Jay. Jay went on to become one of Don's main stable of writers for many years. It was obvious to me that Jeff had depth and range as an actor that hadn't yet seen the light of day. He's so funny that a lot of people didn't see more than that. But his performance as Corky could break your heart.

Jeff MacKay: When Jay submitted the script, the two regular staff writers on the show thought these two particular scenes needed to be 'softened' or at least made to be less dramatic. I read their rewrite and took the two versions to Steve, and we decided to make it an issue to restore what my friend had written. Actorially, they were strong; the rewrites were watered down. Steve and I prevailed and the scenes in that episode were restored. They remain my favorite – selfishly - my favorites. There were many other scenes that stand out to me and always they involved Steve. He is a consummate professional and works with total humility, so am I. It was always a pleasure and a privilege to work with him. I'm not surprised at all that his series 7th Heaven has been on for so many years.



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