Tuesday, January 24, 2017

TV/Movie Set : Father Goose ( 1964 )

It is easy to praise the art directors who create visually stunning sets, those that are opulent ( Anastasia, The King and I, The Sound of Music ) or creative and modern ( Top Hat, Grand Hotel, The Thief of Bagdad ).....but the work put into designing a set that perfectly complements the film's story without being noticeable is just as, if not more, difficult to create. 

Alexander Golitzen was a master at creating beautiful but unobtrusive sets. He designed hundreds of sets for westerns, comedies, mysteries, sci-fi classics, and melodramas from the 1940s-1960s, primarily at Universal Studios. We'll be covering this talented man's work in further detail in a future post, but for today we wanted to spotlight the sets in one of the films he worked on - the 1964 comedy Father Goose. 

The Royal Australian Navy base headquarters

Golitzen was assigned to create two sets for this classic Cary Grant film : an island hut designed for use by a WWII plane spotter, and the interior of the command post where Trevor "Frank" Howard was stationed. Working with him on this project was Henry Bumstead, another veteran art director, who actually was still making films as late as 2006. 


Father Goose was probably a very simple assignment for Golitzen and Bumstead, but they managed to design these two sets in such a way that the audience is unaware that there is only two sets. They blend in so well, and look so authentic, that it is easy to just assume that a location scout found these buildings on a deserted island and sent the cast and crew to film them. 

Walter wonders why booze is not among the RAN rations

First, let's take a look at Father Goose's island hut. Cary Grant portrays boozy bum "Walter" who has no interest whatsoever in taking part in the war effort.....that is, until Captain Frank Houghton ( Trevor Howard ) confiscates his boat and his liquor, holding them as ransom until Walter agrees to investigate the whereabouts of their missing spotter ( since Walter knows the islands like no other man in the Pacific ). Once there, he finds the spotter had died at the hands of the Japanese, and he asks to be picked up again by the Navy, but Houghton refuses, wanting Walter to take the place of the spotter instead, since he served such a vital job. 

Catherine considers Walter's eating habits "revolting"....but at least his bed has no bugs

The hut he inherits from the former spotter is stashed with all the supplies you would imagine a spotter would be equipped with : radios, charts, a simple bunk, and loads of canned food. When my sister and I first saw Father Goose ( this was a good fifteen years ago ), it was the "decor" - if you'd call it that - of this hut that really caught our attention....and my imagination. I use to fantasize about being stranded on a Pacific island with just a little shack like that to live in. 

In a rainstorm, Walter's hut lets in a little water....

John McCarthy Jr. and George Milo can take credit for the set decor. 
Each of these men had hundreds of television and film titles to their credits as well as numerous Oscar nominations. These set designers really did their homework to make Walter's temporary hut-home an authentic looking spotter's pad. To emphasize this: 

After a recent re-watch of Father Goose several years ago, I decided I wanted to purchase a plane spotting chart just like Walter had in his hut. I searched eBay, WWII memorabilia forums, and even auction homes such as Sothebys...and I discovered something interesting: spotters were never issued plane spotting charts! 

Was that a Type 99 dive bomber, or a Type 0 fighter?

During the war, the government distributed enemy identification manuals to spotters, but never charts. McCarthy and Milo had cleverly created these solely for Father Goose to make the audience understand just what a plane spotter's work entails. Walter could have been shown hurriedly flipping through a manual to make an identification but the scene when he spots that Jap plane flying overhead and quickly darts into his hut scouring all of the charts plays out so much better with visual charts.

I wonder what became of those props......

Instead, as the old adage says - Necessity is the mother of Invention! I decided to make my own, duplicating the design that McCarthy and Milo had created for the film. A few days ago Diana and I launched a Kickstarter campaign - The Spotting Chart Project - in order to fund this endeavor, and lo and behold! there are other WWII plane spotting enthusiasts just like us. 


A sample of our newly created Father Goose inspired spotting charts!

We still have 15 days left on the campaign, so if you happen to fancy owning your very own Father Goose inspired plane spotting chart, please check it out ( or better yet, spread the word to your friends! ). 

Click Here to Check out The Spotting Chart Project on Kickstarter!

To see more posts about TV/Movie Sets, click here! 

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