Jul 252017

King Paul I and Queen Frederica

Before portable electronic cameras, before computers, before digital editing—when television was young—we were strung together on the Parthenon by three cameras connected to the control truck by long cables.

The first camera established the Parthenon from the front. The third would take close-ups of the royal couple.  The second camera was a long shot down the colonnade of Doric column clearly showing entasis. The minister of fine arts would know I had listened to him about curving the columns for the human eye. Donovan started with a few seconds of the first camera, establishing the front view. Then the long shot down the colonnade.  Then he cued the correspondent to ask the first question:

“What would Socrates have thought about the Parthenon?”

In my for instance script, I had written:

He would have disliked it immensely. To Socrates, Athens had become an imperial militaristic state, and the Parthenon was an example of hubris, overwhelming pride.  Remember, the same people who built it put him to death.

That is part of what I had written for King Paul and Queen Frederica and sent in black binders across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean in diplomatic pouches. Eric Sevareid asked the question as the three of them stepped into long shot. On camera, in plain view, the king of Greece responded by opening the black binder and turning the pages, looking for the answer.

My second Greek tragedy had begun.

In short, neither of them had done the research Mrs. Kennedy had done. They knew some things, but not others. They were friendly people, but less than monarchial and less than learned about Greece history. I had to go to an emergency plan, feature film trickery.

I stayed up all night rewriting the script and putting it on teleprompter. The next day, I seated Their Majesties and had them read the script three times to get some change in intonation. Then Tom Donovan shot them in very long shots as the walked through the Parthenon. At a future time we could dub their readings over their meanderings. The long shots were intercut with extreme close-ups of the one Royalty who was supposedly listening to the other Royalty.

At a reception that night, Frederica was anxious about how she looked.

“You are a beautiful woman, your Highness,” I said. “And King George did very well.”

“Am I? Did he? Tell me a bit about yourself, Mr. Wolff.”

“I should tell you that after the war, I helped guard the castle where you grew up. Hanover Castle.”

Queen Frederica was so pleased that she went upstairs and brought me a spoon, topped by a small coin of the Hanseatic League. I still use it to put sugar in my coffee.

I went to New York and pieced it together in two months.

The American Ambassador to Greece requested a copy, which was duly sent. I received word that Their Majesties were sorely disappointed. So were the TV critics.

The king died the next year. The Monarchy was overthrown two years later and the new, deposed king, Constantine, became a Rolls Royce salesman in London.

I learned there was not much moral difference between chutzpah and hubris. I had committed both sins.

There was one pleasant dissent from disgust.

Tuulikki and I were invited to a large White House dinner with hundreds people we did not know. One was the President of the United States, John Kennedy. He saw us and came over quickly to take my hand.  He said specifically: “I saw that show on Greece and learned a lot from it.  It was excellent, and that New York Times critic is a potato.

“Jackie is in Greece and I wish she had seen it too!”

Then he took my wife’s right hand with his left hand and smiled at her.



King Paul I and Queen Frederica: https://www.pinterest.com/hazelrhea7/house-of-hanover/


  One Response to “The Turkey, Continued”

  1. Perry,

    Wonderful writing. I’m inspired by everything you write. I hope this note finds you well. If you’re able, send me a note. I’m still making my students at the University of Oregon read your writings and follow you. I’d still like to stay in touch. Please write back and let me know how you are. Kris and Mojo say hello as well.


    Bob Rickert

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