The 104 Voyages of Ray Didsbury

Richard Basehart's stand-in and extra and dialogue coach
on television's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

Part 3

             SSRN Seaview

Ray Didsbury and Richard Basehart

     It was during Voyage's second season that the job of dialogue coach fell to Didsbury.  "The dialogue coach helps the actors rehearse their lines, watches the scene rehearsals and gives them their lines if they forget.  In the olden days when an actor played two parts and they had to use split screen, it would fall to the dialogue coach to be on the half of film that would be thrown away . . . this happened a few times on Voyage." 

     Coincidentally, it was also in the second season that the move was made to restrict extras to as few lines of dialogue as possible in order to save union-dictated dialogue fees.  This is why much of the dialogue allotted the extras was not actually in the script, but inserted on the spur of the moment.  As Didsbury explains, "Actually, extras never had dialogue; if they were given dialogue, they would immediately graduate from the Screen Extras Guild (SEG) to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).  If someone in the cast (usually Basehart) or the director felt that a simple head nod or smile was not sufficient, and insisted that the extra speak, the extra immediately converted from SEG to SAG. Also, once a stand-in was given dialogue, he could no longer stand-in that day because of his new status as a member of SAG, not SEG.  Now, when I would do voiceovers in post-production, the rule did not apply because it was a different production number."    

A smiling Ray Didsbury seen with familiar Voyage prop. Is it a failsafe buoy or is it a bomb? Depends on the episode.
Ray Didsbury and familiar prop.

     In addition to functioning as the star's stand-in and series extra, voice talent and dialogue coach, Didsbury served in an number of other capacities on the set; whatever needed doing, he was ready to do. "I did hand inserts if an actor was not available the day inserts were being filmed for post-production.  I also acted as liaison between Richard and some of the on-set powers that he did not like or would not deal with.  He had no patience for incompetence."

The black and white seasons of both Voyage and Lost in Space were the best.
Winton Hoch's photography made  season-one Voyage a visual standout.
     When Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was well written, it made for exciting television; this occurred most often in the series' first season.  Episodes like "Submarine Sunk Here" and "Mutiny" made the most of new and preexisting effects footage and featured standout photography and editing plus Voyage's fine cast, led by Richard Basehart.  Although, for example, the visual effects in "The Sky is Falling" are spotty, the story itself is tightly written, and the episode was one of Voyage's few flirtations with real science fiction, making it also, a knockout first season episode.  From later seasons, hot episodes like "Jonah and the Whale," "The Day the World Ended" and "Man of Many Faces" come to mind.
     As a participant in the production of these shows, Ray Didsbury has his own personal take on them. "The episodes that really strike a resonance with me," he says, "are the ones in which actors I had seen and admired, or perhaps only read about, appeared. Francis X Bushman (The Terrible Toys) is a good case in point, he was a dear man and everyone on the set handled him almost with reverence. And as I am sure you know he died shortly after doing Voyage. The shows with Carol O'Connor (Long Live the King) and David Opatoshu (The Price of Doom) also come to mind."
Vincent Price and Nelson puppet--The Deadly Dolls
"Vincent Price's guest shot was also a lot of fun," says Ray Didsbury.

Two Baseharts for the price of one.         "The shows where Richard played two parts were most interesting," says Didsbury. "He worked so much harder on them and when he worked hard so did I. In those days we would do split screen and I would be on the discard half of the shot always having to be careful not to cross the line. Then we would re-shoot the scene with Richard on the side that I had just occupied and I on the other. They were fun as well."

     "I can remember the hard work and very long hours and many members of the crew as I ended up staying at Fox for nine years and worked with many of them again. Likewise, I remember some of the scripts as they became increasingly repetitious and ridiculous--eventually the focus of daily mini-battles." It is interesting that Didsbury's memories, as with much of the baby-boomer public in general, are of Voyage's poorly written shows from later seasons. As he told Mark Phillips in the Oct/Nov FilmFax, "There was sorrow by everyone when we began doing stories about monsters. I, like everyone else, felt Irwin was really missing the boat by cheapening the show with these inexpensive rubber-suited monsters. Richard and David, in particular, felt that we had the premise of a submarine and a flying sub that could go anywhere in the world, and yet we were doing the same show, week after week, with interiors only and no production values."      
You like my sandy claws?
Victor Ludin played one of those offending rubber- suited monsters.

         Voyage was a special effects-laden series, brilliantly so in the first two seasons when there was more money available in the budget.  Although Didsbury's interests extended to post-production and special effects, he was too heavily involved in the day-to-day work on the set to learn much about them.  "Special effects were being built and shot at the same time we were shooting the show, so I couldn't get away from the set to observe. I did once ask a director if I could watch a show through completion -- cutting, dubbing, scoring, etc. -- and he said yes. But again, it would have meant leaving the set for a number of days, and that would have been difficult to do, as well as costly personally."

      During Voyage's first season, virtually all of the scenes shot in the observation Nose were accompanied by undersea footage of one sort or another, rear-projected on a large screen just beyond Seaview's observation "ports." The rear-screen projector was kept in-sync (electronically) with the camera filming the actors and the sights beyond the ports. Thus, when the shutter to the projector was open, the shutter of the camera was open and recording the actors with the projected underwater scenes behind them. The system worked great for Voyage, bringing a sense of the sea, right onto the set, but when the show went to color, Irwin Allen wanted something cheaper and quicker to set up.

Rear-screen projection system for observation nose.
Rear projection screens at left.  Man in blue at right is Ray Didsbury

     Twentieth's construction team built huge Plexiglas bubble assemblies, in essence big aquariums, but just several inches front-to-back. "They were huge," Didsbury points out, "and heavy, especially when filled with water. There was one for each of the front facing windows. While I do not know the measurements I will make the following 'guesstimates!' They were on very heavy-duty rollers and the actual water tank started just below what would be the windowsill of the sub. The water tank, much like a huge aquarium extended above the top of the windows and well past the left and right of the frames. They were only about 6 to 8 inches front-to-back, and across the bottom of the tank were air jets to create the bubble effect. I think these were devised to save money as they were cheaper and faster to use than the old back screen projection. With plenty of bubbles and the right lighting one could not see through them. They were noisy and I would GUESS that the actors had at least occasionally to go to post production and re-record their lines if the bubbles made too much noise. "

     For the regular viewer, cutting between the bubbler windows and rear-screen footage, with their very different textures, could be jarring. Of course, in reality, there would be no bubbles, but Irwin liked the movement and the look of them. And the bubble assemblies were cheaper and quicker.

Nelson in Apple One. 
Note the bubbles beyond the portholes provided by a small bubbler tank, here shot from within the diving bell set.
     From the second season on, viewers were also occasionally treated to point-of-view shots from outside Seaview and the diving bell looking in. These were achieved by shooting through the water and bubbles at the actors and set beyond. Didsbury recalls, "I think it is possible that there was a very small water tank used in front of the diving bell port holes but I do not recall anything like that used for any of the other camera set ups. I do not recall if the diving bell was cut in half so that you could shoot from 'inside' the bell but if it was and the porthole was behind the actor they would have to have had a small water tank." Today, such effects shots might easily be accomplished using computer generated imagery in post production. Fine and good. But the old fashioned mechanical methods used for voyage looked pretty darn convincing too.

     Aside from the visuals created by the miniature effects people, there were plenty of on-set effects as well, most involving pyrotechnics.  Didsbury recalls, "Oh Lord, I don't think a segment went by that someone wasn't burned by the flying sparks, including yours truly.  I still have a scar on my ankle where one burned through my sock and embedded itself.  Folks also occasionally got hurt when we were being thrown from one side of the sub to the other.  The first season, they attempted to use a whistle to signal the cast to fall left or right.  The whistle was really nerve-shattering, and none of us liked it.  Richard asked that they not use it, so instead we reverted to hitting a can on the bottom with a hammer.  It made a much duller sound and was far less shrill . . . we went through lots of cans."  
Missile room rock 'n roll.
 Down, but hopefully not out for the count are extras Ray
 Didsbury in blue and Scott McFadden in Red as rock 'n 
 rollin' David Hedison (Crane) and Bob Dowdell (Morton)
 hold on for dear life.  Watch our for flying sparks, boys.

     As Didsbury points out, during Voyage's run, they "went through a lot of cans."  But not before some superb episodes were committed to film, plus many that were just plain fun and of course, towards the end, quite a number of stinkers.  For his part, Ray Didsbury still receives residuals on those episodes where he did voice work or had a speaking part.  As he expressed it to Mark Phillips, "It's nice to know they are still being shown somewhere."  Thanks to cable and satellite delivery, Voyage continues to be seen worldwide.

Get this man a razor.    Witness the transition of David Hedison from mild mannered captain to hideous werewolf and the threat he posed to poor Ray Didsbury  Click Here

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