Wednesday, 24 April 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

From Hollywood extra to Hot Water Beach local

Hot Water Beach local, Bob Noe, is no stranger to Hollywood. He spent many of his younger years in the mid-1960s appearing as an extra in various television shows and movies in and around Los Angeles.   

A Los Angeles native, Bob worked as an extra to afford the tuition and books for his undergraduate degree at the University of Southern California. “Some were attracted to stardom. Me… I just wanted to pay my way through university,” he says.

Throughout his time at university, Bob got regular work in a cavalcade of roles, frequently appearing in TV series “Bonanza” as a cowboy, barman, man about town or whatever the producers required. He calls “Star Trek” a weird set where he was forced to wear a costume sporting a pair of pants with a bell bottom on one leg and stretchy leotard on the other. In “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” he drove a submarine while sobbing during a nuclear holocaust and he played a knight in “Sir Lancelot.” He was also an extra in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” 

Bob was called up for extra roles in “The Graduate” a couple of times. The first scene he was to appear in conflicted with his final exams. He got called up again and was told to appear in the desert east of Los Angeles in a suit. A surfer, he reluctantly donned a blue suit, only to sit around and sweat in the heat all day. When he was finally requested to act, he was so testy that when the scene was filmed, he buried himself in a newspaper and can only be seen as a blue arm behind a paper.

In the 1960s, getting work as an extra in Hollywood was no easy task and although Bob’s sister, Lynn, was married to Michael Landon, who at the time was playing Little Joe Cartwright in Bonanza, Bob had to make his own way into the Screen Extras Guild, which was tightly knit and stringently unionised. Nepotism and using connections were frowned upon in the Screen Extras Guild, so Bob went through the normal channels, which entailed monthly casting calls with interviews where he found himself with little to say.

To his good fortune, Bob soon came across a casting agent called Bob Crosby who knew and liked Lynn. When Bob Crosby asked what Bob could do, he told him he could “do everything,” including riding a horse, although his experience with horses was limited. Bob soon got an offer of his first extra role in a TV series called “Mr Novak,” about a young, tough-minded high school teacher, starring James Franciscus.  Although already in university, a blonde, younger looking Bob was hired as a high school student and got himself a union card.

When the Bonanza producers found out that Bob was in the union and “could ride horses,” they seized the opportunity to take him on as a “man about the set.” He got thrown quite quickly on a horse. Luckily some very talented cowboys were happy to train him and Bob became a familiar face in various roles in Bonanza. He was in the series so frequently (always non speaking), that the producers even sprayed his blonde hair black and gave him a moustache just to stretch his versatility.

Shooting horse chases with lots of rough and tumble rifle wars was tricky. Bob speaks of a time when all of the cast and crew were transported to Ponderosa Ranch on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. The substantial team of actors, stuntmen and crew were housed at the ranch for two weeks to film many of the external stock shots. Bob had to get accustomed to riding a horse while turning around to shoot blanks in the right direction, at the same time not scaring the horse he was riding. Because the Lake Tahoe horses were not as accustomed as the Hollywood horses to the noisy experience of blanks, it often got problematic.

In one scene where a mad chase of riders and horses needed to go over a steep hill while being chased by the bad guys, one self-avowed “stuntman,” who turned out to know little about horses, panicked and stopped cold on the hill.  Due to all the dust, no one behind him saw that he had pulled up, which caused one of the other cowboys to ride into a tree so hard that he had bark in his teeth.

There also was an incident where Bob had a bad feeling about the horse he had been assigned to ride. He declined and grabbed another horse. An experienced cowboy took the first horse and got on. The horse panicked and rolled over to get the cowboy off. The cowboy escaped serious injury, but the horse ran off with some expensive gear and was never seen again.

Bob describes the Bonanza cast of Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker and Michael Landon very fondly, saying they were as nice in reality as they were on the show. He says one of the other cast members, Pernell Roberts, who played Adam, the eldest, university-educated Cartwright son, did not appreciate the “assembly-line” mindset of serial television and often fought with the writers. When he resigned after the 1964/1965 season, attempts were made to replace him, but none were successful and the series continued on with the original three Cartwrights (Greene, Blocker and Landon) signed to new solid contracts. The ratings went up when Roberts left.

Bob speaks of the 1960s in Los Angeles as being the “halcyon” days of the city where he got heavily into the surfing scene. He remembers a beach party where someone offered to contact a band they knew who could play for free. The band turned out to be The Beach Boys and they did play for free.

Bob went on to become a successful corporate lawyer, building his “dream home” off the grid in Santa Barbara. When oil and gas was discovered just off the shore and spoiled his beautiful view, he opted to sell his property. Still a keen surfer, he expected to move to Australia until two of his surfing buddies introduced him to the Coromandel. He gained New Zealand residence, moved to Hot Water Beach in the late 1980s and has been a local ever since.

Picture: Hot Water Beach local, Bob Noe, with his puppy, Uno Mas (“One More” in Spanish), and his Combi van.

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