My dad, James Whitmore, Part Seventeen

Temperatures Rising, according to Wikipedia, was an American television sitcom that aired on the ABC network from September 12, 1972 to August 29, 1974. During its 46-episode run, it was presented in three different formats and cast line-ups. The series was developed for the network by William Asher and Harry Ackerman for Ashmont Productions and Screen Gems. Set in a fictional Washington, D.C. hospital, the series featured James Whitmore as the no-nonsense chief-of-staff who is forced to deal with the outlandish antics of a young intern played by Cleavon Little, and three nurses (Joan Van Ark, Reva Rose, and Nancy Fox).

I was dad’s stand-in. Now, if you don’t know what a stand-in does, it’s exactly the way the job-title sounds: I stand in a spot while the scene is technically set through lights, scenery, et al, while the main actors rehearse the scene elsewhere. Not a terribly difficult job.

My dad’s idea was a good one: To work on his television series as an extra and do a college-sponsored independent study of how a TV show is produced, directed, acted; basically the entire production. I would show this through a written paper, a thesis of sorts, with accompanying documents and photos. Good idea. Callison College in Stockton, California said ‘yes.” I was set to go. Problem was, I took myself along, dragging my drinking into the limelight. Talk about messy.

As mentioned, I was a stand-in. A job where nearly nothing is required other than the ability to stand. Yes, you do have to show up on time. Be dressed. Sure, that’s also true. Really, that’s about all that was required.

Oh yes, I nearly got fired when early one morning after a night of drinking, I set my hair ablaze when I misfired the oven. Or after partying too late one workday evening, showed up late on the set disheveled, unwashed and hysterically crying. Doing my job. Making my pop proud. Day-in, day-out.

I had rented a small studio apartment in walking distance to Warner Brothers studio where “Temperatures Rising” was shooting. It was small but comfortable and furnished. It had a Murphy bed; the kind that came out of the wall. The small room also had a couch, a chair, a dresser and a tiny kitchen. It was the kitchen, or to be more exact, the oven that caused a hair-raising event. Literally.

I was 22 now, and my drinking had progressed to a daily occurrence. I did not have a drink. I was never interested in having a drink. I was only interested in having a drunk. I awoke one morning after a hard-night of such drinking alone. I loved drinking by myself.

For some peculiar reason this morning, I wanted to cook something in the oven. I was pretty rung out and heavily hung over. This was an old oven that had to have its pilot light lit before each use. It was vital to light the pilot because if you didn’t, and you turned on the oven, there would be a gas build-up inside. I knew this. No worries.

Of course, I turned on the gas and forgot to light the pilot. I went about my business and realized my error and opened the oven with a lit match. An explosion of mighty proportions followed.

My hair caught on fire. My eyebrows burned. My face burned. I quickly shut everything off and ran out the door, screaming all the way to the sound stage on the studio lot where my dad’s show was preparing for its daily shoot.

I don’t remember much else. Probably a blessing in that. I do vaguely remember talk of my termination, but that did not happen. My dad was the only reason I wasn’t summarily dismissed on the spot. Obviously.

I kept the job. I had pretty much abandoned the idea of any independent study. I started drinking with other extras on the show, with nicknames like Running Deer and Aces for Braces. Among some others. Actually, they were very kind to me. Always. By way of example, I was drunk one night while playing my guitar and fell through my apartment window. The small studio really only had one window and I had fallen straight through. Broken glass everywhere. Cuts and bruises. Next day, one of the extras came over and replaced the window and his wife patched me up.

You would think that would be enough. Not for me. I had more drama to embrace. One drunken night I almost got another person fired from the show after a strange encounter dissolved into primal debauchery. I was a real joy to have around.

The show wrapped for Christmas holiday and I was not invited back. I was replaced by my younger brother, Danny, who did a great job. I whimpered back to Stockton, California and Callison College only to sink deeper into my alcoholism.

I finally left Callison a few weeks later after spending five years of accomplishing nearly nothing but wreckage, embarrassment and broken hearts.

Next Up: Enlisting in the United States Army takes me off the Hollywood streets and starts to right the ship. Finally.

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About stevewhitmore

Former award-winning newspaperman and broadcast journalist, both radio and TV, spanning three decades. Army-trained paralegal, court bailiff and prosecutor's lead investigator for the 8th Infantry Division's Judge Advocate General's Corp., Mainz, Germany. 1973-1975.
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2 Responses to My dad, James Whitmore, Part Seventeen

  1. James Knuttel says:

    Greetings, Steve.

    On this page you stated you discuss “Temperatures Rising” and state: ” according to Wikipedia”. I wrote that Wikipedia article. “Temperatures Rising” was one of my favorite shows when it originally aired. Your father’s passing in 2009 triggered my memory of the series and set me on a quest to find out as much as I can about it. Any chance that we could correspond in the future?

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