Actor Earl Billings Remembers Movin’ On

Phillip Michael Thomas and Earl Billings

Phillip Michael Thomas and Earl Billings

Thanks to Bill “Amazen” Bazen for connecting with actor Earl Billings and getting Earl to share a great story. Earl Billings played the heavy in the episode “No More Sad Songs”. The basic plot is that Sonny and Will unknowingly carry a small time hustler’s loot to Pensacola. The bad guy, Phillip Michael Thomas, promises his boss that he has everything under control but the boss sends Choo-Choo along with him to make sure either he gets his loot or someone pays with their life. Earl Billings, as Choo-Choo, is a very believable enforcer. Ironically, Earl’s story shows what a sweetheart he is in real life. Here’s Earl’s story with an introduction from Bill, and followed by Barry Weitz’s memory of the episode:

“Amazen’s Introduction:

I have a special treat for our Facebook group members today. Mr. Earl Billings, who appeared in the episode “No More Sad Songs” has agreed to share with us his memories from 1975 of working on the Movin’ On production. This is an exclusive interview for Movin’ On fans. As we all remember, Earl’s character was named Choo-Choo and he was Mr. Flick’s bodyguard and henchman. Take it away Earl!…………..

Earl’s Story

There were two things that have stuck with me after all these years. One had to do with the episode’s guest star, Phillip Michael Thomas, and the other with Claude Akins, himself. I had seen Phillip’s work on TV, so I knew who he was. This was long before “Miami Vice” when he became a household name.

I had brought my then wife up from New Orleans where we were living at the time to the location, which was in Mobile, I believe. The night before we began working, the three of us had dinner together and Phillip asked had I read the last scene, the capture scene. During our escape with the loot we drive off the uncompleted freeway into the Gulf. I said that I had read it and thought nothing of it because it was a stunt and all we had to do was surface from the water and get captured. The worst that could happen was that we would get wet.

All week Phillip kept asking me, “Have you met or seen the Stunt Men who would double us?” I said no, that was not my worry. The day of the scene, I went into my dressing trailer and among my clothes was a full wet suit to wear under my wardrobe. Being ex-Navy, I knew that the wet suit was to help us float. There was a knock on the door. It was Phillip holding up his wet suit and frantically asking, “What’s this for?” I explained it was for our safety, in case something happens. He screams, “LIKE WHAT?”

They drove us to the location, which was under the unfinished freeway. A State Trooper and a Diver took us by boat out into the Gulf. For some reason, Phillip brought along a long tree branch. They shoot the stunt, the car going off the freeway. There’s a big splash and then Phillip drops the bomb. “Earl, I can’t swim.” The State Trooper looks at me, I look at the Diver, he looks at Phillip. And from way up on the unfinished freeway the Assistant Director says, “Okay, Phillip, you and Earl get in the water and count to ten, then let the stolen money float up and then you guys surface and that’s a cut.” Phillip sticks the branch in the water checking to see how deep it is but the branch doesn’t touch bottom. Pandemonium!

The Director wants to know what’s the hold up? The Diver and I finally got Phillip in the water and he was holding onto the boat for dear life. Then the Assistant Director called action and the Diver and I pulled Phillip under with us. I let the money go, the Diver pulled away, to stay out of the shot, and Phillip lost his mind. I’m trying to pull him to the surface and he’s fighting like a crazy man. I’m holding him up when the Director calls cut. The Diver comes back and we get Phillip into the boat and we hear the Director say over the bullhorn, “Phil, that was great, you really looked like you were drowning.” The State Trooper, the Diver, and I could not stop laughing.

I had been a fan of Claude Akins ever since “From here to Eternity” and didn’t know his name until “The Caine Mutiny”. During our shoot I got to ride in his trailer to a different location and we talked for about an hour. We talked about how we got started, family and how black actors were now getting good breaks in the business. When I told him that he was big star in black communities, he was taken aback until I told him that he played bad guys and we identified with his guys. They wanted the booze, broads and money, while the guy in the “White Hat” kissed his horse and rode off into the sunset. What the hell was that? His laugh was huge, and warm, and real, and he understood the compliment.

–Earl Billings

Earl also had something nice to say about Barry and Phil, “Weitz and D’Antoni are some of the best in the business. Great guys!”

 

Movin’ On creator Barry Weitz’s memory of “No More Sad Songs”:

I don’t have any special behind the scenes memories of “No More Sad Songs” other than that we never shot in New Orleans or Pensacola. There may have been some second unit done in New Orleans, but we never shot there with Claude and Frank. The opening shot of the New Orleans harbor was stock footage that we bought and cut in to “establish” the location.

I had a vague recollection of shooting in Mobile, AL. Bill “Amazen” Bazen confirmed that we did use Mobile to “double” for New Orleans and Pensacola. Bill also states, and I believe him, that we used Daphne, AL as the location for Aunt Bess’ house. Bill further states that in a later episode, “Sing It Again, Sonny” we again used Mobile to double for Nashville.

After viewing the episode… 40-years later, I’m comfortable talking about what just might be my biggest problem with the series as a whole. It has to do with edginess, or lack thereof. Our pilot, In Tandem, was edgy. It was raw. It was rough and it was tough. We made In Tandem to appeal to a 10pm audience. Network TV in the seventies was a different beast than today. Nowadays, almost anything goes at any time during prime time. In the seventies, raw, adult themed programs did not air at 8pm or even at 9pm. I created and always saw Movin’ On as a 10pm show but NBC wanted it at 9pm and that is when it ran in season one.

To accommodate the more genteel 9pm audience we had to take out a good deal of the edge and grit. In season two, NBC wanted us on at 8pm and all the edge went away. Did someone say Disney Movie? I was happy to have a show on the air, but I sure wish we could have had the 10pm show that I had imagined.

“No More Sad Songs” is an example of the soft, family style content we were forced into by our time slot. You may notice that “No More Sad Songs” is the second story of a precocious, gambling child. In season one we did an episode called “Roadblock” with Mackenzie Phillips. Mackenzie played a similar role to Maggie, the girl in “No More Sad Songs”. Maggie is younger, sweeter, and more innocent than Chessie, Mackenzie Phillips’ character. That’s the difference an hour makes on network television. My preference would have been, if we were doing another child older-than-her-years episode, to do it more like Jodie Foster in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. But I knew it would never fly with the network.

–Barry Weitz

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Bill “Amazen” Bazen

Bill “Amazen” Bazen is Movin’ On’s most dedicated fan. His head and his Facebook page are so chock-full of Movin’ On facts we named him Official Movin’ On Historian. Though Bill loved receiving the honor, he certainly didn’t need it to motivate him. Bill has been a fan since the original run of Movin’ On on NBC between 1974-1976. Bill has wonderful memories of watching the show with his truck driving father. Bill has an impressive collection of Movin’ On memorabilia and an unbelievable recollection of every episode. Bill reaches out to other fans, actors, and crew. He pulls information out of them and shares it with his followers. Lately Bill has been tracking down Movin’ On shooting locations using Google maps. Here, Bill’s own words describe the hard work, dedication, and determination Amazen Bazen applies to Movin’ On.

Episode…..”The Good Life” – After much digging [pardon the pun] I have finally located Harry Larimer’s oil well. I received info from a Boise, Idaho resident that worked with the Movin’ On crew in ’74 that the well was in Mountain Home, Idaho. This town is about 39 miles from Boise. With that info in hand I started my search but could not pinpoint the exact location. After one week of searching with google street view and finding nothing I decided to come at the problem in a different way. I searched Facebook and found a Mountain Home, Idaho group. Once I was accepted as a member I posted, asking if anyone knew the oil well’s location. Last night I got a hit! A local resident told me her father worked at the well while filming was underway. She gave me the address and it checked out. After almost 2 1/2 years of searching for Movin’ On filming locations, I have just about finished this project. This oil well location was one of only a handful left to find. This location is off of Old Oregon Trail Road. The sign at the road entrance reads, County Landfill. A building can be seen just down this road on the left. Harry’s oil well was behind that building. I have a satellite view here [the oil well is 50 miles from Hillcrest Country Club where the costume party was filmed.

To see all of Bill’s location maps go to his Facebook page.

On behalf of Barry Weitz and myself, I want to thank Bill for his tireless efforts on behalf of Movin’ On. But knowing Bill, he would say that it is no effort at all. That it is a labor of love.  Movin’ On loves you too, Amazen Bazen. Keep on Doing it like Pruitt!

Meet The Man Who Saved Movin’ On

Movin' On original negative

Inside this pizza can lives an episode of Movin’ On original negative

According to Television Obscurities, a website dedicated to “Keeping Obscure TV From Fading Away Forever”, I, Mark Rathaus, am the man who saved Movin’ On! Thank you, Robert, you got it right and make me sound like a hero too.

Read “Meet The Man Who Saved Movin’ On“, the very complimentary article about how I rescued Movin’ On.

Television Obscurities is a great website and it’s obvious that Robert puts a lot of time and effort into it. There’s a vast amount of content there, with all kinds of references to TV shows that you have forgotten. But I promise, you will happily remember them thanks to Robert. I urge all fans of vintage television, not only Movin’ On fans, to visit Television Obscurities often.

Meet The Man Who Saved Movin’ On

Merle Haggard Nails It

Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard and I spoke a few times after the In Tandem screening. We went over the lyrics and his thoughts about the pulsating sounds for the Movin’ On theme song. I had represented many musicians and singers prior to coming to Los Angeles in my early days at the William Morris Agency and I was very comfortable having these kinds of conversations with him. But after all was said and done, creating the song was in Merle’s hands, and I awaited the “first draft” of the song eagerly.

Well, when we received the tape, I played it for the entire creative team: producers, writers, editors, and our office staff. Without fail, everyone was knocked out with Merle’s work. We laid it into the film and watched it on the big screen in the same room where Merle had seen In Tandem. It was a goose-bump moment. The song worked perfectly with the picture. Were absolutely thrilled. Merle had nailed it…. and so did we!!!!

Judge for yourself. You can hear the theme song while watching the credit sequence at the beginning of every episode at proclassictv.com.

— Barry Weitz

More On Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard in Sonny Pruitt's semi

Merle Haggard in Sonny Pruitt’s semi

Merle Haggard and his guys came down from Bakersfield, CA to meet with me at the Movin’ On offices at the MGM Studios. We had put together a screening room…. with big, lush, soft cushioned sofas and a great sound system so Merle could sit comfortably and “absorb” our pilot, In Tandem. Our editors, appropriately, had refreshments sent in and Merle and his crew indulged in the libations set before them.

As I recall, it was early afternoon and we planned to take Merle to lunch at the MGM commissary once the screening had concluded. I sat beside Merle in that dimly lit screening room before the movie began and wondered if Merle would find In Tandem exciting enough to write and perform the title song. Our Head of Production, Bill Snyder, chatted it up with Merle while I sat quietly by…. hoping for a good reaction. I know I was nervous because I don’t normally sit quietly by. I remember thinking, “Maybe I shouldn’t have caught so many bass!!!” But what the hell, it’s about the film after all. Either In Tandem speaks to Merle or it doesn’t.

Well, In Tandem did speak to him! Merle and his guys laughed at all the right places and were absorbed in the drama of the movie. They were with it! My secretary quietly came in…. while the film was rolling. She whispered in my ear that I had a call from Larry White, the Head of Production for NBC-TV…. and could I take the call? Well, it’s not smart to refuse a network head’s phone call. I told my secretary to put the call through. The phone was on a small table between Merle and my seats. Also on the table was an intercom to call the projection booth and controls for the lights. I fumbled a little trying my best to not to break Merle’s concentration. I certainly didn’t want to turn on the lights!

I managed to pick up the telephone and talked to Larry in a hushed voice about my plans for the series. When I told him that Merle Haggard was sitting next to me watching the pilot as we spoke, Larry said, “Merle Haggard, No Way!! Do you really think he would do the title song”?

“Yeah, I think he will, but I’ll let you know later, when he’s done watching the pilot.”

“Damn Barry, that would be great if you could get him.”

When the lights came up, Merle and crew applauded enthusiastically and Merle announced without hesitation, “I’m in.”

I was thrilled!

We went to lunch at the MGM commissary as planned. Keep in mind; the MGM commissary was the place…. all the stars that were working on the lot would dine there.  We had made a reservation for the big table at the back of the vast room and when we entered the Maître d’ immediately recognized Merle, as did many others. Many actors, directors, producers came up to him to shake Merle’s hand and acknowledge his enormous talents. A sprinkling of spontaneous applause broke out and Merle was a tad embarrassed…. but was gracious to all that wanted autographs and a handshake.

As you know, Merle did write and record our title song. That song helped put Movin’ On in the world of an iconic truckin’ show…. a world we will always share with Merle…. an icon of the Country and Western world. It was an experience I will never forget. Thanks, Hag…. R.I.P.

–Barry Weitz

Big Rig Tees to roll out Movin’ On apparel at Mid-American Trucking Show

Big Rig Tees ad for Movin' On merchandise on sale at Mid-Atlantic Trucking ShowThe Mid-American Trucking Show

MATS, is the largest annual heavy-duty trucking industry event in the world. The show attracts over 1,000 exhibitors from around the world and 70,000 visitors to Louisville, KY for the three-day party from March 31 – April 2. Big Rig Tees will be selling several styles of Movin’ On shirts and hats from their own booth #60224.

Truckers Care

Everything I have heard about MATS sounds great. I’m not a trucker. I’ve never been involved in their world. But since reviving Movin’ On, I have been paying close attention. Through the Movin’ On Facebook page I have met some wonderful people. They are either truckers or family of truckers and they form a very close-knit community. They care about each other and they go out of their way to help one another, not unlike Sonny and Will. They also care deeply, about all things truck related.

Truckers are powerful fans

I know they’re passionate because I see their love for Movin’ On, a forty-year old television show. At first it amazed me, but after watching the episodes more closely, I do understand. The shows stars, Claude Akins and Frank Converse really captured the spirit of truckers. And of course there is the un-credited third star, a big green Kenworth. But the truth is that outside of their own community, truckers get very little recognition. Us four-wheelers don’t think about the good that truckers do every day. We don’t see the risks and hard work and service to our country. That’s why they stick together and when a TV show or movie represents them in a positive way, they take it into their hearts and hold it tight forever.

Pride in truckers and in Movin’ On

I’m very happy that I can give something back that pleases truckers. That’s how I feel about the work I’ve done restoring Movin’ On and getting it out in the world to be seen again. I’m proud to wear Movin’ On tee shirts and hats and I hope the fans appreciate them as much as I appreciate all the truckers.

Big Rig Tees makes a great partner

I wish I could be at MATS handing out the shirts myself but I feel good about our partners at Big Rig Tees. They have been serving the trucking community for years. I’m still new to the game. But hey, maybe I’ll see you there in 2017.

Listen to Barry and Mark on The Jay Thomas Show

Jay Thomas

Jay Thomas

Jay Thomas Show logoYou asked for it and here it is! We spoke to Jay Thomas on his SIRIUSXM radio show on Monday March 14 and we had a blast. Barry was in great form, bantering with Jay. I especially get a kick out of the two of them improvising Jay’s audition for a part in the hoped for Movin’ On reboot as either a dispatcher, truck owner, or angry restaurant owner. I, on the other hand am not yet comfortable as a celebrity and could have been better. But I wanted it to be Barry’s moment, so I’m very happy with the way it went.

Big thanks to Jay and Cristina!