The Curmudgeon


Saturday, September 23, 2006

Beach Wart

Contrary to the floating urban myths which have gained ever more ground in the public mind since their airing on the internet, the entire series of Beach Wart, consisting of twenty-six half-hour episodes, was never in fact broadcast on television. After the disastrous showing of the first and final episodes for Lorimar executives in 1985, when producer Beltran Murch was repeatedly kicked in the navel, the series was sold to Brazilian TV as part of a package deal including The Jimmy Swaggart Story and the popular soap Troubles of the Very Rich. Episode four of Beach Wart, "I Got My Lumps", was reportedly broadcast in the northern areas of Brazil between 3:30am and 4:15am local time on 23 September 1986, but no documentary evidence exists to substantiate this claim and it has not been possible to trace reliable witnesses who will admit to having watched it.

The series was the brain-child of independent producer Beltran Murch and writer Cleavon Stringbean, whose previous collaboration Canned Laughter, a sitcom about the problems and triumphs involved in producing a state-of-the-art canned-laughter track, had amused several Hollywood personnel. Although the series never progressed beyond the "pitch" stage, Murch and Stringbean were sufficiently encouraged to write a pilot for a new project, to which they gave the working title Hairy Situations.

Numerous basic elements of the finished series, such as the tragic personality of the warted hero and the strikingly original stroke of having the crusty senior character with the heart of gold killed by falling masonry after the first six and a half minutes, were already in place in the original draft; but considerable changes had to be made before the concept evolved into Beach Wart. As originally conceived, the series was to have been an urban comedy-drama, with the hero constantly trying to compensate for his affliction by solving mysteries, helping distressed persons, and hitting criminals. One draft of Hairy Situations even made the character an ex-cop, who had been thrown off the force as part of a public-relations drive and who was engaged in an obsessive crusade to demonstrate to his ex-colleagues the triumph of his own "inner beauty, warts and all".

However, the pilot script failed to elicit the response for which Murch and Stringbean had hoped. One executive at Paramount, who Stringbean claimed had been "quite appreciative" of Canned Laughter, called in person at Murch's home and smacked him fourteen times with the rolled-up manuscript. Another executive, who may have been from Viacom or possibly Fox, returned his copy of the manuscript by hurling it through Murch's window wrapped around a dead rat. Not content with this perhaps slightly over-emphatic rejection, the same executive subsequently threw xeroxed copies of the manuscript, also wrapped around dead rats, through Murch's window on a daily basis until Murch threatened legal action.

Because of this and similar responses, Murch and Stringbean gradually came to the conclusion that they needed to re-think their concept; and over the next few months they refined the pilot script into the basic scenario of what was to become Beach Wart. The location was moved from the city to a summer holiday resort; the central character, Marvin Culpepper, evolved from a troubled ex-cop turned amateur detective into an ex-hairdresser turned troubled professional coastguard; and, perhaps most importantly for what little success the series did have, the extent of his wartedness was radically reduced. In the original Hairy Situations draft, Culpepper is described as "extensively warted", and the size, texture and position of the warts on his nose, forehead and chin are carefully thought out and meticulously detailed for the benefit of the make-up and/or casting departments. In the end, Murch persuaded Stringbean that only a single wart was necessary, incorporating the best elements of the warts in the draft and situated with sufficient prominence to ensure audience response. Also, the number of lines of dialogue given to the wart was drastically cut.

Among other changes, the most significant had to do with the character of Darcy Pilbrow, Culpepper's long-suffering female friend. Originally a faithful long-term lover who sticks by Culpepper despite all his problems, Darcy's role was made more subtle and poignant by making the relationship more abrasive and platonic, turning her into a woman unable to reveal her depth of feeling for the hero in case he should interpret it as pity for his wartedness. On the negative side was an alteration which both Murch and Stringbean regretted, but felt necessary to improve the project's chances: the demise of the crusty but warm-hearted senior character was discarded, and the falling masonry changed to a collapsing sand castle.

There is little purpose in rehashing the endless controversies over how Beach Wart eventually got the green light for filming. Murch, who died in 1992, always maintained that the thirst for originality and controversy which brought Lorimar behind productions such as Dallas motivated them to produce Beach Wart, but "somewhere between filming and distributing, it just fucking dried up." Stringbean, who is still alive behind barbed wire in the Connecticut Vultures of Mercy nursing home, says that Lorimar's original interest was the result of Murch's leading them to believe that a number of prominent actors had shown enthusiasm for the project. Murch did in fact approach both Tom Selleck and James Arness for the role of Culpepper, but their responses are no longer on record. Murch also tried to entice the young Tom Cruise into playing Culpepper's wart, but for reasons of his own Cruise chose to make the film Top Gun instead. It is intriguing to consider the possibilities for his career had Cruise chosen differently.


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