"It's a great time to be a sexy young actress in Hollywood," said one independent TV producer, discussing his and others' sexy series pilots currently in production for the networks. "We saw nearly 300 girls during casting for our show. With all the other girlie shows being done, I'll bet every good-looking actress in town has been looked over at least twice."
"I think the reason they're doing all these t-ts and a-shows," said "Laugh In" producer George Schlatter, "is not because there's an audience waiting to see them, but because the producers and executives are having such a good time casting them."
Whatever the view fromthe wings, some of the young actresses who have been tapped for stage front-and-center are saying they are both surprised and upset to find themselves providing TV's new trend with its key ingredients.
Six young women who appeared in the recent ABC TV movie, "The Initiation of Sarah," have said they objected to the "exploitative" nature of camera angles, lighting, costuming and set decorum during that show's production.
"It didn't start out as a sex-oriented show," said Kay Lenz, who starred with Shelley Winters and Tony Bill (Kathryn Crosby, Bing's widow, had a cameo). "But I could see it changing as we went.They kept adding stuff that wasn't in the original script.You could see what they were going for, it was obvious: more sex."
Written by Don Ingalls and produced by Stonehenge / Charles Fries productions, "Sarah" featured Lenz and model Morgan Brittany (Milk White) as sisters with polar physical appeal who arrive for their freshman year in college and wind up pledging opposing sororities. In the title role, Lenz played the non-sexy sister who possessed strange psychic powers not at all unlike Brian De Palma's "Carrie."
Writer Ingalls said there were "stark differences" between his final draft of "Sarah" and the aired version. The "flashes of leg and all that" weren't in his version, he said.
It was flashes of more than leg, however, that some of the women found to be more than they bargained for.
"When I signed to do the part, it was agreed that I would do the shower scene wearing a body stocking," said Morgan Fairchild, who co-starred. "On the day of the shot, it was suggested that I do it nude. It was going to be filmed through a foggy shower door and nobody would see anything.
"I wasn't too thrilled with idea, but you don't feel much like arguing at 9 p.m. after a whole day of shooting. You don't want to hold up the show when everyone wants to get home."
Fairchild said she partially acquiesced and performed bare to the waist. She would not comment further.
But the scene touched off bad feelings among the cast and crew. "There were visitors on the set," fumed a veteran costumer who worked on the show, "gawkers and friends of so-and-so. It was a circus at best. They didn't even have the decency to close the set."
"People were pulling up chairs," said Morgan Brittany, who estimated the number of individuals who gathered to watch at "around 25."
The costumer said that at one point during filming of the scene, a cameraman issued the instructions, "Now press your bodies up against the glass for the boys at ABC." Upon hearing the remark, the costumer walked off the set. "There was no reason at all to do that scene nude. We all know what can and can't be shown on TV."
What was finally shown was Fairchild's bare back and a quick flash of her bare front pressed against the foggy shower door.
Producer Jay Benson said that Fairchild performed topless voluntarily. "She didn't have to do it," he said. "If she had said no, we would have shot with the body stocking."
Benson admitted that there was a problem with "gawkers" on the set. "Apparently some people invited their friends in to watch. The women have a perfect right to have their noses out of joint about that. And I feel badly. But from where they were sitting, the visitors couldn't see anything."
All the women interviewed were effusive in praise of Benson and director Robert Day. The consensus among the women was that the two men were under pressure from the network to provide the show with more skin.
Benson, however, denied network pressure. "I didn't get any orders from the network. Nobody ever said 'you must do this.' People from ABC saw the dailies every night, but most of their comments were on story line.
"There were some suggestions, sure. They wanted to see pretty faces and nice bodies; they wanted to see more legs; they wanted to show as much as they could within the boundaries of TV."
According to several of the women, the first indication of how much more leg the network wanted came three days into shooting when word came of a complete wardrobe revamping for some back-to-campus scenes.
"We were supposed to be the girls in the wealthy, chic soroity," said Jennifer Gay, daughter of TV writer John Gay. "After three days of being dressed up in blazers and nice outfits, we were told that the people from ABC who had seen the dailies wanted us in tube tops, tight T-shirts, short shorts and cut-offs. That's not necessarily exploitation, but it was supposed to be fall."
To go with their new summer fashions, several of the women said they were issued oversized bras which were then stuffed with foam rubber.
"It got down to stripping literally," said the costumer. "We want more tight jeans, more flesh, more t-ts and morea-.' Those were the instructions per ABC." The costumer said such instructions were received in telephone conversations with ABC's Lou Rudolph and Esther Shapiro.
In a joint telephone interview, Rudolph, formerly the network's vice president of motion pictures and novels for TV and currently "producing for ABC," and Shapiro, an executive in the ABC programming department, denied the characterization of the remarks attributed to them.
Rudolph said the wardrobe change was ordered after he and Shapiro agreed, after watching the dailies, that the girls' clothes "didn't look contemporary enough."
During interviews the women expressed suspicions that some of the more titillating footage was being filmed for the edification of persons other than the prospective audience or, as one put it, "so the guys in the editing room could get their jollies."
According to one actress, Morgan Fairchild was given a thin, jersey blouse, "the kind of material that disappears when wet," to wear in a scene in which she was to be dumped fully clothed but braless into a large fountain.
"When Morgan came up out of the water, they held the shot for the longest time. They just kept her standing there, all exposed. The entire cast and crew was standing around watching, and we all knew they couldn't show it on TV."
In the aired version, Fairchild was seen full front and dripping wet for only an instant before she was cut to a facial closeup, exactly as planned, according to producer Benson.
"Of course we overshot some scenes," he said. "That's only normal. You have to make sure you're getting enough of what you need. We were selective in the cutting room. We knew we weren't going to use it all."
"There's another consideration here," he said, "the possibility of foreign theatrical release. In Europe you can show some of the things we edited out for American TV."
Legs seemed to be the focus of one of the show's most elaborates scenes. Writer Ingalls said he was asked to rewrite the climatic unitiation ceremony in which the rich sorority girls were further terrorized by Lenz's power. Where he had used fire in the scene, the producers wanted wind instead, he said, "for productions reasons."
Prior to the filming of the wind scene, several actresses said they were asked by an assistant director not to wear anything under their initiation robes. The women said they balked at the request, and so did the costumer, who sent out for T-shirts to be worn underneath and told the women to wear pantyhose also.
The assistant director's alleged request was paralleled in the script when one of the sorority girls wondered aloud why they weren't supposed to wear anything under the robes. "You'll find out later on tonight," replied another girl.
They all found out later on when a wind machine promptly blew their robes every which way, including up and over their heads. Benson acknowledged that the zippers of the robes had been torn at the bottom to insure that the garmets blew up and over rather than just against the women's legs.
"It was ludicrous," said Elizabeth Stack, the 21-year-old daughter of actor Robert Stack. "In the middle of what was supposed to be a very dramatic scene, there was all this emphasis on legs: 'You're not showing your legs enough, could you step up' . . . I enjoyed working on the show, but I felt the emphasis on sex interfered."
Benson said he was surprised to hear of the assistant director's request. "Nothing like that ever came from me," he said. "I was on the set most of the time. I wish the women had come to me with some of this. It's hard to control side remarks like that because we had a very large cast and crew. But if the problem had been brought to my attention, it would have been dealt with."
Each of the women interviewed expressed concern that her remarks might prove detrimental to her career. At the insistance of her press agent, one actress asked that she not be iddentified.
"We all want to work again," another said.