1974 TV Series "Sierra" Filmed in Yosemite Valley

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bhilden

Trad climber
Mountain View, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Aug 21, 2009 - 02:03am PT
In 1973/1974, Universal Studios, whose parent company MCA also owned the Curry Company, filmed a TV series called "Sierra" on location in Yosemite Valley. The premier episode featured a climber falling and having to be rescued by tyrolean traverse off of the Lost Arrow Spire. If memory serves, Roger Breedlove did the stunt work for the fall and that is a story in it's own.

I heard lots of stories, all second or third hand, from the Valley climbers pertaining to working on the film crew and/or messing with the shooting locations to cause a bit of grief for the production crew. I would love to hear any stories from those who were involved in this little slice of Yosemite Valley history. Post up!

Bruce
ß Î Ř T Ç H

Boulder climber
the ground up
Aug 21, 2009 - 03:33am PT
I remember it was pretty scandalous that they had painted rocks etc in production . Anything climbing related (tho) was not yet on my radar .
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Aug 21, 2009 - 11:38am PT
Hi Bruce,

The TV pilot movie to the shortlived weekly show included me and Dave Bircheff as climbers who had to be rescued by Wayne Merry whose character was a ranger. Wayne was responsible for getting climbers to play the climbing parts. We had an 'audition' in the lounge at the Awahnee Hotel.

Rock climbing was still pretty new to everyone in the movie business, and, obviously, the movie business was new to the folks in the Valley, so the filming had its own jolting charms. Universal Studios asked Dave and me what we would charge for our 'services.' We thought that we just had the stunt fall so we said something like $1000 for the contract (a number that we thought we would split). I think that they realized that we were completely clueless and gave us more; $2,000 apiece sets in my mind. We ended up with several acting scenes and a few climbing scenes in addition to the stunt fall. Although the people were very nice and helpful, Dave and I ended up having to hang out on the set more than we initially thought; we didn't like the 'job' part of the work.

I remember one funny moment when Wayne came running into the parkeing lot asking if any of us had a blue Edelrid rope. He explained that they had filmed a scene of his character cutting up a rope to signify the end of his climbing (I think the back story was his wife died in a climbing accident. I think we made jokes about Cindy being his second wife.) In any case they had to shoot some scene with Wayne that occurred before the rope cutting scene but couldn't find another blue rope.

Bev Johnson had a romantic relationship with one of the stars, who did a little climbing and spent some time in Tuolumne. The movie people were very curious about the strange world of climbers and worked to understand it.

I sort of remember the story that Universal Studios painting rocks, but I vaguely remember that it was related to a script where kids wrote graffiti on some boulders and "Rangers" make the kids wash it off. In any case, anything Universal did was supervised by the NPS.

For the pilot movie, I don't remember any other climbers working as porters or riggers, but there may have been. However, when Universal started filming the weekly series, there were lots of jobs for climbers to help. I only did a little of that work since it otherwise came out of climbing or guiding time.

On the first day of shooting that included Dave and me, the scene was set in the Tunnel View turn out on Highway 41. We had scripts but had not really spent a much time learning our lines. We were lulled into complacency by all the assurances that we just had to show up and everything would work out fine. When we got the set, one of the assistance directors asked us if we had our lines memorized. I don’t know what we told him, but we scurried off and desperately worked to memorized them.

Universal had set up a ‘park entrance’ kiosk in the turn out and the scene was Dave and me entering the park in our little pickup with gear in the back. The ranger—one of the stars—questioned us about our gear and experience. The lines were natural enough so we could more or less respond the same way we would if a no-nothing ranger had sharply questioned us in real life. Everyone on the set was watching closely, and nervously, to see if we could pull it off. I suppose thinking back on it, it was a huge risk to rely on Wayne’s word that they could count on us.

I don’t know if we actually did the job well or not, but the director didn’t call for any retakes and the entire crew burst into applause. Dave and I were a little stunned. The star actor complimented us on our acting and said it was very believable. Of course, we were just responding to the real ranger's uniform he was wearing and acted like ourselves. In the break after the first scene, the cameramen and lighting crews were setting up the next scene and needed someone to stand in for Dave and me to get the settings right. I automatically stepped back into position only to be politely told that that wasn’t my job and someone whose job it was soon stood in.

Unbeknownst to Dave and me, we had ‘become’ talent. It made us and everyone else laugh at the whole notion of talent in the movie business’ wacky world.

The stunt fall was on the East side of the top of the Rostrum. The horizontal cracks that form the roof on the North face form a ledge on the East side, and there was a nice vertical crack that could be seen from the rim. A small group, including the director, a camera man, and a sound technician all got out on the top of the Rostrum to run the scene, while the main crew shot the scene from the rim. Dave and I did a Tyrolean traverse out to the top and then dropped down to the ledge at the base of the crack.

Wayne’s handiwork setting up the shot may have been a first of sorts in the Valley.

Rap bolted.
Led on sight for film purposes only.
One fall for effect.
Not seconded.
Not repeated.

Very modern.

Credits for the movie include 'Dave Birkoff and Carl Roger Breedlove.' Neither Dave nor I know how he became Dave Birkoff or I acquired the first name of Carl. (Maybe they were preparing us for stardom and thought that Birkoff was more American than Bircheff and that my middle name of Myron should never be revealed. I always appreciated the ancient Greek origins of my middle name—not that I can throw a discus very far.)

Wayne and I have tried to find a way to get a copy of this movie. It was aired a couple of times in the US and South America--we got royalty checks for a few years. But Sony’s Beta VCR tapes were not introduced in the US until late 1975, and I have never been able to find a copy. I wrote and asked Universal and Jack Webb studios about it but didn’t get very far. I have suggested that Ken Yager try to get a copy for the climbing museum. They got some good climbing footage including shots of Dave and me climbing the South Face of Rixons.

This is my account of the stunt fall taken from an old ST post

“Why I started wearing a harness,” or "Macho is Painful."
By Carl Roger Breedlove (aka Buzz)

As for swami belts, it took a long time before I wanted to wear a harness--the early ones did not fit very well and would get out of position. Also you couldn't move the rope off to the side while working in cracks.

However, I had a self inflected awakening when I did a stunt fall for a movie filmed in the Valley.

Dave Bircheff and I were picked to play two smart mouthed climbers who had a problem with the authority of the park rangers (we were naturals). We get our comeuppance when I take a fall, injury myself, and the rangers have to rescue us.

Anyway, we are wearing really nice knickers, long socks, and rib sweaters as costumes for the "big day." I still climbed with a swami, so I carefully tied it on over the top of my sweater using one inch tubular webbing in a nice purple shade to go with the blue ribbed sweater. I also tied it tightly at my waist.

Dave and I both had mikes pointed to us. Everyone can hear what we are saying. So, we don't say much.

Wayne Merry had worked out that we would climb a crack on the east side of the Rostrum that could be seen from the rim. He had rapped down and placed a bolt halfway up this off-width that I was supposed to fall out of.

The director is at the top of this splitter and looking down at me though the crack. He is giving me instructions and asking me questions. I am trying to get up this off-width, on-sight, without grunting, cursing, or falling onto Dave before I clip the bolt.

I get about six feet above the bolt and the director says "Okay, fall!"

Every cell in my body; every DNA strand; every impulse; every logical thought is resisting.

A silent, visceral cacophony: no, no, no, no…

This has to be spontaneous, I remind myself.

I start with the "Watch me's" with increasing panic in my voice.

They thought I was acting.

I ordered my body to let go.

Nothing.

‘Hey, I'm in charge here. I said let go,' my cash hungry mind orders my body.

Body responds with a whiney 'we get you the damn part and now you want us to follow orders?'

Damn it. 'Let go.' I order.

I was off.

A steep fall on a short rope. I jerk violently to a stop.

The crowd on the rim gasps in unison--there are a lot of people on movie sets. The director gasps, after which his crew, confident of the correct response, gasps.

I am passing out.

Director: "That's good. Now, try to move."

Climber: "..."

Director: "That's good. Really good. Now your lines are "I think I am hurt."

Climber: ".............."

Director: "Okay, now that's good. That's good, good. Now try saying it a little louder.”

Pause.

With just a hint of ‘are you listening to me,’ he repeats, "I think I am hurt."

Climber: Coming back into the world. "I think I am hurt."

Director: Getting excited, “Great. Great. Really well done. Now try saying it a little louder.”

Climber: Barely audible. "I think I'm hurt."

Director: "That's really super, really great. Fabulous. Just fabulous. Now, if I could just get you say it louder. With some intensity. Intensity.”

Climber: With intensity and a true projection of pain. "It feels like my back is broken."

Director: Pause. “Okay, okay. That might work. Can you try the ‘I think I am hurt’ with the same intensity." Turns to aide, “This is really good. Just fabulous. It looks so real.”

Climber: "No, no. It feels like my back is broken.”

Director: Looks confused. "Hey, Roger, you okay?" said with genuine concern.

Climber: "I need to go down."

Director, with alarmed look: “Yeah, yeah, go down, go down."

So Dave lowers me the ledge. Once I have the weight off my swami, I realize the pain is in my ribs. The adrenalin kicks in, and the pain subsides.

I look back at the rim. There are one hundred people staring in shock. I look up at the director and his crew, who are looking down at me. We both realize that neither of us wants to come back here. I do a quick calculation that once the adrenalin rubs off I am going to be one hurting, slow dog, with no swagger.

The prospect of failing swagger steels my resolve.

I stand up, drop my knickers and step into a figure eight sling. Dave hands me a pocket knife, and I cut two small holes, one in the knickers and one in the sweater (boy was it a nice sweater).

I run a smaller sling from the figure eight up through the hole in the knickers and out the hole in the sweater. I run the rope through the hidden sling and tie into the swami. Now my weight is on my legs and off my waist and ribs.

Climber, swagger intact: "I am okay. I'll climb back up to the place where I fell. Let's finish the scene."

(Hey, Valley climbers have a long history of public swagger to uphold, especially when there are lots of people watching and our pay checks are on the line.)

Director: "That's really super great. Fabulous. Just fabulous."

Limited vocabulary.

We finish the scene.

The producer has driven up. He and Wayne meet us on the rim. We ride down to the hospital. The producer tells Dr. Wally Laborde to send any bills directly to him.

After checking me out, Wally says that I have ripped the lower ribs off my sternum. They push out against my chest. It hurts like hell.

He puts a wide elastic bandage around my chest to increase the pain to searing white hot.

Wally asks, “How does that feel?”

No need to put on any airs with Wally.

"It feels fine," I tell him.

When I get out of eye sight of Lewis Memorial, I loosen the bandage to the point that it is only for show ensuring that the tear will not heal properly.

It hurt for about four more years. My ribs still stick out.

The producer gave Dave and me each a $500.00 bonus.

I never made another movie.

I started wearing a harness.
rmuir

Social climber
the Time Before the Rocks Cooled.
Aug 21, 2009 - 11:45am PT
Two pretty-clear memories:

Many of us climbers hanging around Swan Slab watching them film a scene were two guys were supposedly trapped on a ledge hundreds of feet in the air. The only problem was they were about five feet above the ground on a flattish boulder next to the slab nestled among some trees. Much hilarity from the peanut gallery that day...

Down near El Cap, sorting gear for something, we witness a tiny pickup truck carrying three or four GIGANTIC boulders tied down with some thin cord. Twice the size of the truck; improbably lashed together. Crossing El Cap Bridge, a most incongruous sight.
Brian Hench

Trad climber
Laguna Beach, CA
Aug 21, 2009 - 12:21pm PT
Bravo, Roger, that's a great tale!
Michael Golden

climber
Mountain View, CA
Aug 21, 2009 - 12:42pm PT
Wow. Best-told story ever on SuperTopo.
Radish

Trad climber
Seki, California
Aug 21, 2009 - 12:59pm PT
Nice story. I remember the show, my old girlfriend who worked in Yosemite hung out with the film crews and went to lots of "snow" parties in yosemite village housing. It was that time ......the 70's
Carolyn C

Trad climber
the long, long trailer
Aug 21, 2009 - 02:07pm PT
There's no business like show business. Hilarious!
the Fet

Supercaliyosemistic climber
Tu-Tok-A-Nu-La
Aug 21, 2009 - 02:12pm PT
I read about this show a few months ago. Great story Roger.



This page has the theme song
http://www.tv-nostalgie.de/sierra.htm

"Sierra majesty, beneath the skies.
Sierra wilderness, where eagles fly.
She is my Life to me, she is my Home.
Her Children comfort me, when I'm alone.


Sierra come with me, to meet my Friend,
Sierra learn with me, where Life began.
There is so much to Know, so much to See.
Come share my Mountain home.
Come share my Life with me."
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Aug 21, 2009 - 03:06pm PT
The IMDB page on Sierra lists 4 episodes
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071053/
although the ones listed are numbered 3, 10, 13, 14.

and that it was followed by The Rangers (90 minute TV movie), where Carl Roger Breedlove and Dave Birkoff are credited as actors:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072065/

Although The Rangers is also listed as episode 14 of Sierra with the same air date.

Roger - you could probably edit your profile there!

More on the series, with many screen captures:
http://www.emergencyfans.com/episodes/sierra.htm

Some things haven't changed much...

and the theme song:
http://themes.wavethemes.net/themt-s3.htm
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Aug 21, 2009 - 03:26pm PT
What would I say? "I spoke, I fell, I hurt." Very few people have seen the movie. It was shown in the US on Christmas eve, 1974. It is not a Christmas story. Wayne told me that he has never seen the movie, just bits of the series. I only saw it becuase I was at my parents house visiting and they had a TV.

Walleye, I cannot come to the 40th reunion. If Wayne is there, get him to tell you stories about the filming.

The movie, The Rangers was made before the series, but it may have been shown after the series started. I don't remember.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Aug 21, 2009 - 03:49pm PT
Thanks, Roger - great story!

A climbing friend, who got into movie rigging, on seeing for the first time big name actors doing their bit: "Even I could do that!"

The inevitable comeback: "Yeah, but would anyone pay to see you do it?"
Anguish

Mountain climber
Jackson Hole Wyo.
Aug 21, 2009 - 04:56pm PT
Saw them film a car crash sequence. They babied the car up to the tree with the front wheels on some blocks. They opened the hood and wired it to the tree.
Action!
They zoomed the car backwards so it dropped off the blocks and the hood slammed shut. Then they played the film/video backwards and had a respectable looking crash.

I walked into the motel room where the Big Cheese was in the fall of 74 (I think), wearing knickers and a T-shirt, hair near my shoulders and a beard, looking for a job.
Little Cheese: Do you think he looks like a Tuesday Night Climber?
Big Cheese: Yea.
Little Cheese: Show up tomorrow at 9 a.m.
Next morning they were gone - the show had been cancelled.
the Fet

Supercaliyosemistic climber
Tu-Tok-A-Nu-La
Aug 21, 2009 - 06:46pm PT
Seperated at birth?

Bear 46
and Cruncher
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Aug 30, 2009 - 10:01pm PT
Tyrolean traverse out to the top of the Rostrum. Polaroid shot of me taken by someone on the movie crew.


Fuzzywuzzy

climber
Aug 30, 2009 - 10:32pm PT
Roger - great tale. I remember it all. Falkenstein and I auditioned for a part. Reading the lines in the same room we were rolling around crying we were laughing so hard. They did not understand how canned it all seemed. Thanks to Wayne and Jan Herbert I got a weeklongrole and was the guy "stranded" atop Swan Slab (3-6" off the deck)!

Charlie had soaped up the cracks hoping to make it impossible to climb. The crew had to bring in a fire-engine to hose it off (suds everywhere) and shooting commenced!

Remember Porter hucking off huge chunks of MUNGE going out the roofs to Horse Chute when we were filming on Little John? - the shoot got canceled that very day. Good thing too - it was pathetic!!

I remember after the week of shooting one of the photographers asked me what I was going to do with all the $$$. The MOST $$$$ I had ever made. I said, " I don't know maybe climb in Kashmir". He goes, "Cashmere, oh I'll bet that would be cozy".!!!! Hilarious.
The Wolf

Trad climber
East SF Bay Area
Aug 30, 2009 - 10:36pm PT
IMDB cast list


http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072065/fullcredits#cast


Opening title sequence from German TV
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1J7PKP72hc&feature=related
WBraun

climber
Aug 30, 2009 - 10:41pm PT
I was there that day too Tom at the base of Little John when the show got canceled. Me and Kauk had been working as riggers for the whole summer on that show.

The producer even fired us at one point in time thinking we were the ones stealing all the climbing gear. It was grips that took it all we found out later at Olmsted point during one day filming up there.

I called the producer every name in the book and then some more. I threatened to kick his ass too. I was so fuking pissed off at the that stupid retard I threw him a total verbal flogging.

I told him why in hell would we steal the rigging equipment when we need it to rig?

Fuking retard!!!!!!

Two days later he calls me and Kauk back in and rehires us.
Fuzzywuzzy

climber
Aug 31, 2009 - 12:47am PT
It was an interesting time in the Valley eh Werner?

They pulled the plug - super quick.

All that spring it was a circus.

But that show is what allowed Wayne to leave and head up North.

martygarrison

Trad climber
The Great North these days......
Aug 31, 2009 - 04:39am PT
of course we all remember this. A bunch of were pissed because the nps allowed them to use their units for the show, as well if I remember right they closed Ranger Rock down for a few days. I for one was not happy.......
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