Albert Heschong: Wizardry on a TV budget

Albert Heschong-designed set for the 1968 pilot of Hawaii Five-O

One in an occasional series of unsung figures of television.

Albert Heschong (1919-2001) labored for years in the art department at CBS, working on the network’s in-house productions.

During Heschong’s career, that meant designing sets on a more economical budget compared with motion pictures.

Heschong succeeded. He received on-screen credits for live television dramas (Playhouse 90), filmed dramas, Westerns (including Gunsmoke) and sitcoms.

On occasion, Heschong could stretch his budget to create some memorable sets.

One of his best efforts was for the pilot to the original Hawaii Five-O series. That pilot, in effect combined spy-fi with police drama.

Villain Wo Fat has a futuristic laboratory housed inside an oil tanker. Wo Fat has devised a form of torture. Victims are deprived of the use of their senses while suspended in a shallow pool.

The laboratory is the first thing viewers see in a short pre-titles sequence. Toward the end of the sequence, viewers see what happens (the victim mindlessly screams) when they finally are let loose.

Naturally, the climax of the pilot takes place in the same set when McGarrett (Jack Lord) undergoes the same torture. Unknown to Wo Fat, however, the lawman has been programmed to impart false information.

Albert Heschong’s title card for The Night of the Raven on The Wild Wild West

Heschong also frequently worked on The Wild Wild West. For that series, which combined spies with cowboys, imagination was a must for the art department. The series frequently depicted “modern day” technology in the 1870s.

A major highlight for Heschong was the second-season episode The Night of the Raven. Arch villain Dr. Loveless has succeeded in shrinking his nemesis James West. Thus, Heschong and his crew had to create  sets where the miniaturized West (Robert Conrad) is menaced by spiders and cats.

Heschong’s work on the series meant he’d be brought back for the 1979 TV movie The Wild Wild West Revisited. For that, he retained his art director title.

However with the 1980 TV movie More Wild Wild West, he got the spiffier title of production designer, which more accurately reflected his contributions. Heschong’s credit also appeared in the main titles instead of the main titles.

Heschong’s career extended from the early 1950s into the 1990s.

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