1967, I was assigned by producers Fred Brogger and Jim Franciscus
(through their Omnibus Productions) the happy task of adapting
the children's classic Heidi as a movie for television.
Johanna Spyri's book is of interest mainly to little girls. Fred
and Jim's one requirement was that the script be written and the
characters modified so that it might appeal to the entire family.
It's risky to fool with a classic, but I proceeded with caution
-- hoping, as in the oath all doctors take, "to do no harm."
What guided me were the basic characters Spyri had created so
beautifully. So rather than changing them, I dug deeper into their
characters and supplied motivation that was not always spelled
out in the original. Heidi's grandfather is a recluse in the book.
In the movie I provided reasons for his having retreated from
the world. I softened Fraulein Rottenmeier's character, made her
a bit more human, making it plausible that a love story could
develop between Fraulein and Heidi's father.
Brogger and Franciscus were dedicated producers, involved in every
step of the production. Under their guidance and that of director
Delbert Mann, an extraordinary cast was developed. Jennifer Edwards,
daughter of director Blake Edwards, was a magical Heidi. Some
of Europe's finest actors signed on: Maximilian Schell, Sir Michael
Redgrave, and Walter Slezak. Jean Simmons completed the cast as
the now-more sympathetic Fraulein Rottenmeier.
To their credit, the producers always sought outstanding talent
and were extraordinarily lucky to interest the fabled John Williams
to write the music for the film. With an excellent script, a splendid
cast, and a legendary director, the producers made another sound
-- if somewhat challenging -- decision. They would shoot the film
The writer, at this point, is usually shunted aside unless some
rewrite is required. (I once had a producer, after turning in
my script, refer to me affectionately but candidly as "last
I was lucky. Fred Brogger invited me to explore locations with
him. We met in St. Moritz and found lodging at a grand old hotel,
Hotel Waldhaus, located in the nearby village of Sils-Maria. We
arrived there after dark; and to wake up at first light, go to
the window, and discover the towering, close-by, snow-covered
Alps was an occasion for awe.
Cut now to Sunday evening, November 17, 1968. At seven o'clock,
my family and I turned on the television set to watch the film.
Not being much of a sports fan, I was not aware that in order
to start Heidi on time, NBC had cut away from a game between
the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets before it was finished.
And while the beautiful shots of the Alps and John Williams' soaring
score filled the screen, all hell broke loose back at NBC. So
many outraged football fans flooded the network with phone calls
that fuses in the switchboard blew out. When callers could not
get through to the network, they called the New York Police Department,
The New York Times, and the New York Telephone Company.
When it was learned that two touchdowns and two extra points were
scored after the game was taken off the air, the anger soared
and continued all night and all week. Steps were taken at each
of the networks to ensure that such an interruption to a football
game would never take place again. The president of NBC, Julian
Goodman, issued an apology. Later in the week, the network ran
an ad featuring the excellent reviews our movie had earned. The
ad provoked a quote from Joe Namath of the losing New York Jets:
"I didn't get a chance to see it, but I hear it was great!"