Thursday, April 3, 2014

RIP Cliff Bole: Modern Trek's prolific, hard-working director—and blue-guys namesake

I've been meaning to share a few thoughts these past busy weeks about prolific director Cliff Bole, 76, who passed away Feb. 15 and may well go down in history amid a long career best known as the most prolific TNG director of all (25 hours)—with 42 hours of Trek in toto, with 7 more on DS9 and 10 on Voyager. Cliff died at his home in Palm Desert, Calif., after a long battle with cancer. 

As a sign of his impact, no other Trek director is also the namesake for a species (the Bolians, debuted in the episode "Conspiracy" he directed) or a landmark (the Cliffs of Bole, from DS9's "Invasive Procedure" that he did not direct).

Atop that long list of Trek credits, of course, will always and forever be "The Best of Both Worlds"—both parts. When I first met Cliff during my second trip to L.A. in 1993 (above), settling in to do research over two weeks as a "tourist" and not under the gun of a cruelly close deadline, Cliff eagerly returned my call for an interview—Trek had not been done to death by then, and no Internet yet!—and he invited me out to his house in the Valley. As I recall now, that was actually my first "trip" there, outside the Glendale/Hollywood "axis" my two annual book research trips had revolved around so far.

Car-crazy Cliff and the '41 Mercury
he showed off to me in 1993
That's where we snapped the shots I share here, including his then-current car project ... and all in Cliff's no-nonsense, plain-spoken, gruff-around-the-edges language that didn't hold back on the honesty or the fun memories at all. He was upfront about his resume, called a dog a dog as well as a hit a hit, and took the blame or credit as much as anyone in TV directing can do. He threw a lot of insights at me that I was only then beginning to appreciate, and going back through that first, long interview I'm reminded of how much Treklanders like him taught me about not only the well-oiled Trek machine, but Hollywood in general.

Along with the "BOBW"s, too, he also admits to the "Aquiel"s of the bunch, as well. For TV directors, it's always a mixed bag and a bit of the "luck of the draw" when scripts are being cranked out in a long season. Here's some of what he told me about that upon our first meeting back in March 1993:
“There were a couple I thought might be my last! The crew works so damn hard and you try, but you just can‘t come to bat every time and hit a home run. You try to at least get on base, first."

"It was one helluva ride!"

He began all the way back with only the series’ seventh show, "Lonely Among Us": "I managed to survive the first year—which in itself I’m proud of! The most dangerous thing about episodic directors: if you stay around too long you‘re going to fall through some of the cracks. I don’t care how good the writers are, there’s going to be one episode that doesn‘t have it all. But you’re going to fall through the cracks and the chances are that they’re going to say, ‘Well, get rid of this bum!’ It’s going to happen and it‘s happened to me on a lot of series, and it’s dangerous. The best thing to do is hit a couple of episodes and get out.”

But not so with TNG, and he praised onetime Warner Brothers contact Rick Berman for the stability he brought to the production—even the "regular irregulars" like himself were made part of the family. Flight enthusiast Michael Dorn convinced him to get his own license again after a 20-year lapse in the air; special effects man Wil Thoms once towed Bole’s restored 1940 pickup truck to a friend who bought it in Seattle, using a trailer loaned by one of the set grips.

“We had so much fun. We had some uptightness, but God, this was a family; we had marriages, divorces—I got divorced in the middle of it; people had kids and family. More than anything I’ve ever experienced, there’s major family stuff going on here.”

Cliff had thoughts on all his TNG shows for me, but of course everyone wants to hear about BOBW—as he told me, in 1994:  “Mike Westmore (makeup designer) called me up one night and he said, ‘I‘ve got this idea for a laser’ and I said ‘Jesus Christ, that sounds great! Do it! Do it! Do it!’ He said, ‘where do you want to put it?’ And I said, ‘Right here, man, on the side of the head—and every time he looks in the camera it’s there.’ I went to grammar school with Mike; we started out in kindergarten together! 

And then this, about the pre-sir Patrick Stewart: “I remember once I said ‘OK, we’re finished for the night—I don’t think I need this close-up of Patrick’...And he looked down at me—we’re all dead tired—and gave me one of those great English eye looks, from up on his pedestal in the lab. And then I said,  ‘Well, I guess I’ll shoot a close-up of Patrick here!’ ” 
According to his full obituary biography as submitted by family—where you can leave your own thoughts on his work, online—Clifford John Bole was born in San Francisco on Nov. 9, 1937, but grew up in the San Fernando Valley of north L.A., turning his interest in the biz into a life as a "set rat," sneaking in with friends to watch productions in progress on location or the nearby studios.
Bole (left) consults on-set on DS9
with script supervisor Judi Brown
and Rene Auberjonois

"I've been here since I was 4; my dad in vaudeville, ran theaters in San Francisco, and he always said 'Don't get into this end of the business!' In the old Valley, we had studio backlots bigger than Burbank—Universal, Warners, Republic...9, 10, 15 streets. They used to shoot on Saturdays, and at 6 o'clock Saturdays we were on our bikes, crossing the LA River on a raft to watch 'em." Breaking in as a script clerk and starting out as the on-set script supervisor for McHale's Navy, Cliff has credits as a director on Baywatch, Charlie's Angels, Fantasy Island, MacGyver, M.A.N.T.I.S., Matt Houston, Mission: Impossible, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Spencer for Hire, Strike Force, The Six Million Dollar Man, The X Files, T.J. Hooker, and Vega$

In 2005, Cliff was recognized with a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars, and turned to his car crush to complete Cars Under the Stars, a documentary showcasing the popular El Paseo Cruise Night event there. He was also an avid pilot, boater, golfer and dirt bike rider, where he shared close ties with the stunt community and counted Ronnie Rondell, Roy "Snuffy" Harrison and the late Hal Needham as close friends. He was also an Army vet and was stationed in Korea; survivors are his wife, son, daughter, and two grandchildren.

The family suggests that friends wishing to honor his memory contribute to a cancer research organization of their choice, or visit his star in Palm Springs. A celebration of life will be held later in the year; I hope to be able to go, and share some of the mentions from the day with Trekland.

Official had a memorial post with reflections on Cliff and his work by many of his Trek colleagues.

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