Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Fatty Arbuckle

Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was one of America's first silent movie stars.  He dominated the film industry from 1914-1920 often appearing with female co-star Mabel Normand.  Despite his prodigious weight, he was graceful and acrobatic doing somersaults and landing on his feet.  He was a purveyor of the pie-in-the-face slapstick routine that came to embody silent film.  He typically portrayed a country hayseed who struggles in the big city and he co-starred in several films with Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.

Arbuckle was born in 1887. He weighed 13 pounds at birth and his mother suffered injuries during his delivery that would later contribute to her death.  His father was convinced he was illegitimate and named him after the disgraced Senator Roscoe Conkling.  His father beat him throughout his childhood.  After Arbuckle's mother died when he was 12, his father kicked him out of the house.

Arbuckle had a beautiful singing voice.  He won a local talent show and joined a traveling vaudeville company.  In 1908 he married actress Minta Durfee.  A year later he appeared in his first movie Ben's Kid.  He soon joined the Mack Sennett Company as producer/director and became a performer in the Keystone Cop comedy films.

Arbuckle's weight was part of his comedic appeal but he refused to use it to get cheap laughs.  He would not allow himself to be stuck in a doorway or a chair.  He despised his screen nickname and when someone called him "Fatty" he would say, "I've got a name, you know."

Audiences loved Arbuckle and his films were smash hits.  By 1914, Paramount paid him $1,000 a day plus 25% of all profits.  They also gave him complete artistic control.  By 1918, he was signed to a three-year, $3 million contract.  He began living the high life, indulging in heavy food and drink.  His weight shot up to 350 pounds and he developed health problems including a severe infection in his leg that nearly led to amputation.  Arbuckle managed to shed 80 pounds but he became addicted to morphine in the process.

On September 5, 1921, needing a break from his hectic schedule, Arbuckle drove to San Francisco with two friends.  They rented three rooms at the swanky St. Francis Hotel.  Prohibition was in full swing, but the group obtained illegal hooch and invited some girls for a raucous hotel party.  At some point, Arbuckle found himself alone in a bedroom with a 30-year old model/actress named Virginia Rappe.  (She was one of Mack Sennett's "bathing beauties.")

The ensuing details have become the stuff of legend but a few facts are clear. Arbuckle was alone with Rappe.  Rappe became seriously ill.  The hotel doctor examined Rappe and determined she was simply drunk.  Two days later Rappe was rushed to the hospital where she died from peritonitis caused by a ruptured bladder.

The press immediately blamed Arbuckle for Rappe's death.  Bambina Delmont, a guest at the party, told police that Arbuckle raped Rappe.  Police concluded that Arbuckle's weight caused Rappe's bladder to rupture.  Rappe's Manager further suggested that Arbuckle used a piece of ice to simulate sex with Rappe.  By the time the story appeared in newspapers, the object had become a broken coke bottle instead of a piece of ice.  (Witnesses later testified that Arbuckle rubbed ice on Rappe's stomach to ease her pain.)

Arbuckle denied any wrongdoing but William Randolph Hearst's "yellow journalism" machine had a field day.  Hearst's newspapers began running nationwide stories portraying Arbuckle as "a gross lecher who used his weight to overpower innocent girls."  Hearst would later admit that the Arbuckle Scandal "sold more newspapers than any event since the sinking of the Lusitania."

There was no hard evidence that Arbuckle committed rape.  But one of the party guests claimed Rappe made a deathbed statement that "Roscoe hurt me." Arbuckle was subsequently arrested and charged with manslaughter.  He spent three weeks in jail before he was released on bail.

Morality groups called for Arbuckle to be sentenced to death.  Studio executives ordered their employees not to publicly support Arbuckle.  Charlie Chaplin never commented on the incident but Buster Keaton disobeyed studio demands and vocally defended Arbuckle.  Public outrage was so inflamed that during the first trial someone fired a gunshot at Arbuckle's wife Minta Durfee as she entered the San Francisco courthouse.

There would be three trials.  Key witness Bambina Delmont was not allowed to testify after it was learned she'd attempted to extort money from Arbuckle's lawyers.  She also had a long criminal record for extortion and fraud.  The first trial resulted in a hung jury.  Ten jurors voted "not guilty," two voted "guilty." One of the "guilty" jurors was a woman named Helen Hubbard whose husband did business with the D.A.'s office.  She told jurors she would "vote guilty until hell freezes over."

The second trial also resulted in a hung jury.  This time the vote was 9-3 favoring "not guilty."  Two witnesses who previously testified against Arbuckle stated that District Attorney Matthew Brady forced them to lie or they would be prosecuted for libel.

During the trials, it was discovered that Virginia Rappe had a history of cystitis that flared up when she drank.  She'd also undergone several abortions including a recent botched abortion that nearly killed her.  She'd been complaining of severe stomach pains in the weeks before the St. Francis Hotel incident.  Doctors found no evidence of rape and no external cause for the ruptured bladder.

The third trial resulted in a unanimous Not Guilty verdict.  The jury debated for only six minutes before rendering their decision.  They issued a rare public apology writing "Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle.  We feel that a great injustice has been done to him as there was not the slightest proof to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime...Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame."

Although he was cleared of all charges, Roscoe was guilty in the court of public opinion.  The months of negative press destroyed his reputation.  Arbuckle owed more than $700,000 in attorney fees and he was forced to sell his house and his cars to pay for his legal defense.

During the time of the trial, the US Government had been threatening to regulate the film industry with new rules of censorship and guidelines for how stars could behave on and off screen.  Fearing government intrusion, the studios decided to self-regulate.  They created the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) and named former Postmaster General Will Hays as president. This led to the "Hays Code," the first official censor of American movies.

Within a week of Arbuckle's acquittal, Hays banned him from appearing in movies and demanded all his films be pulled from circulation.  Arbuckle, once the most powerful star in Hollywood, was Blacklisted.  The ban was ultimately rescinded, but Arbuckle's career was effectively over.  He'd become the poster boy for the dangers and excesses of Hollywood.  Studios began inserting morality clauses in star contracts and public relations firms arose to whitewash the rumored sins of Hollywood's A-List.

Buster Keaton was one of the few old friends who came to Arbuckle's aid.  He hired him to write and co-direct his movies including the film classic Sherlock, Jr..  (Arbuckle worked under the pseudonym "William Goodrich," a riff on Keaton's suggested name "Will B. Good.")  Though his career resumed, Arbuckle fell into a deep depression and returned to drinking.  Actress Louise Brooks said, "He made no attempt to direct.  He sat in his chair like a man dead."

In 1932, Arbuckle seemed on the verge of redemption.  He appeared in six two-reel comedies to great success.  Warner Brothers offered him a feature-length film.  On the day he signed the contract, an ebullient Arbuckle said, "This is the best day of my life." That night he suffered a severe heart attack and died in his sleep.  He was 46 years old.  (6" x 8", black ink print)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Elliott Smith

This past October marked the ten-year anniversary of musician Elliott Smith's death.  Elliott wrote intensely personal songs about his struggles with depression, alcoholism and drug addiction.  His music was intricate and gorgeous with layered vocals and sweet melodies reminiscent of Brian Wilson.  He possessed a soft tenor whisper in contrast to his weathered face and melancholic lyrics.  He was one of us and his pain was our pain.  As his ex-girlfriend Mary Lou Lord said, "Elliott made music for the sad kids."

Elliott Smith was born Steven Paul Smith in 1969 in Omaha, Nebraska.  His parents divorced when he was 6 months old and he moved with his mother Bunny, a music teacher, to Duncanville, Texas.  Elliott had a difficult childhood saying he might've been sexually abused by his stepfather.  The events later appeared in his song "Some Song" which featured the lyrics "Charlie beat you up week after week and when you grow up you're going to be a freak."

Elliott learned to play piano and guitar by the time he was nine and he wrote his first song "Fantasy" at 10.  At 14, he moved to Portland, Oregon with his father Gary Smith, a psychologist.  Around this time he began experimenting with drugs and alcohol. After graduating from Hampshire College in 1991, Elliott formed the band Heatmiser with classmate Neil Gust.  They moved to Oregon and released four albums.  Elliott worked odd jobs to survive: construction, house painting and transplanting bamboo trees.

In 1994, Elliott released his first solo album Roman Candle.  He followed this up with the self-titled album Elliott Smith in 1995.  The album cover featured fuzzy images of bodies falling from a building.  His third album Either/Or came out in 1996; the album name came from a book by Kierkegaard dealing with existential angst and despair.  (Elliott was a philosophy major in college.)  By this time, Elliott was drinking heavily and taking anti-depressants.  Friends attempted an intervention but Elliott rebelled, moving to Brooklyn.

Filmmaker Gus Van Sant used Elliott's music for the soundtrack of Good Will Hunting.  The song "Miss Misery" was nominated for an Academy Award leading to the surreal scene of Elliott, in a rumpled white suit and greasy hair, playing live at the 1998 Oscars.  He was terrified until fellow nominee Celine Dion told him, "You're going to do great, sweetie."  This calmed him down and Elliott enjoyed himself saying, "I wouldn't want to live in that world but it was fun to walk around the moon for a day."

In 1998, Elliott signed with Dreamworks Records.  Around this same time he fell into a depression and spoke openly about suicide.  His first Dreamworks-era album was XO, written over many nights at the Luna Lounge in Manhattan. XO would be the best-selling album of his career but Elliott was suspicious of commercial success and he disliked his experience with a big label.  "I threw myself into it because it seemed to make my friends happy."

In 1999, Elliott moved to Los Angeles settling in Silverlake.  He released the album Figure 8 in 2000, the last one completed in his lifetime.  His condition deteriorated as he began using crack cocaine and became addicted to heroin. Neighbors reported seeing him walking the streets alone at night mumbling to himself.

By 2001, Elliott displayed signs of paranoia, believing a white van was following him wherever he went.  He also believed Dreamworks was trying to steal music from his computer.  He began having difficulties performing live, forgetting lyrics. He rarely slept and barely ate, living on ice cream.  Elliott demanded that Dreamworks release him from his contract or he would take his own life.

In 2003, Elliott tried to turn his life around and began treatment for his addiction with a technique called neurotransmitter restoration (injecting amino acids as a form of detox).  He also started work on a new album Basement On A Hill.  He moved in with his girlfriend Jennifer Chiba and the relationship gave him a sense of optimism.  His life seemed to be improving.

On October 21, 2003, Elliott and Chiba had an argument at their Silverlake home. As the argument worsened, Smith threatened to commit suicide.  Chiba locked herself in the bathroom.  She heard a scream.  She returned to the living room and saw Elliott with a knife sticking out of his chest.  Elliott died 20 minutes after arriving at the hospital.  He was 34 years old.

The coroner's report on Elliott's death stated "...several aspects of the circumstances are atypical of suicide and raise the possibility of homicide." Notably, there were no "hesitation wounds" prior to the stabbing and there were lacerations on both his hands and under his right arm that could be "possible defensive wounds."  The toxicology report revealed he was clean of illegal drugs at the time of death; only non-abusive amounts on anti-depressants and medications for ADD were found in his system.

Though some fans blamed Chiba for Elliott's death, she was never charged.  A few years later she tried claiming money from Elliott's estate for managing his career but the State of California ruled against her since she was an unlicensed talent agent.

Though Elliott lived in Los Angeles and played all over town, I never saw him play live, but in 2006, pianist Christopher O'Riley performed a tribute at the Getty Museum.  My wife and I attended and after the performance, my wife pointed to a middle-aged man in the lobby.  She said, "He looks just like Elliott.  I bet that's his dad."  I urged her to approach him and despite her shyness, she agreed.  The man was, in fact, Gary Smith and for the next half hour he and my wife talked like old friends.  He explained how much he appreciated the love shown his son.

Every October on the anniversary of Elliott's death his fans turn out in droves to Solutions Audio in Silverlake where the album cover of Figure 8 was photographed.  They write farewell messages on the wall and leave flowers, candles and empty bottles of alcohol.  At some point someone sings the song "Waltz #2."  The lyrics provide a perfect coda for the sad day.  As Elliott sang so beautifully, "I'm here today and expected to stay on and on and on...I'm never going to know you now but I'm going to love you anyhow."  (5" x 7", black ink print)

Thursday, October 31, 2013


"Man is not made for defeat.  A man can be destroyed but not defeated."
--The Old Man and the Sea

In 1954, Ernest Hemingway took his fourth wife Mary Welsh to Africa.  He chartered a sightseeing plane to show her the Belgian Congo and the glorious Murchison Falls.  While flying low over the trees, the plane struck a utility pole and crash landed in heavy brush.  Hemingway suffered a concussion.  His wife broke two ribs.

That night they camped in the bush waiting for a response to their distress call.  A passing plane saw the crash and reported no survivors.  Word spread around the world that Hemingway was dead.  The next day, Hemingway and his wife were found and picked up by a bush pilot.  Amazingly, the second plane caught fire and exploded during takeoff.  Hemingway slammed his upper body and head against the exit door to escape.  He suffered serious burns and a concussion severe enough to cause leaking cerebral fluid.

The injured travelers were taken by road to an Entebbe hospital.  Hemingway joked with journalists and spent weeks recuperating and reading his erroneous obituaries.  Restless and bored, he left the hospital and took Mary and his son Patrick on a fishing trip to Kenya.  A bushfire broke out and Hemingway fell into the fire to help extinguish the flames.  He suffered burns on his legs, torso, lips and arms.  He was ultimately diagnosed with two crushed vertebra, a ruptured liver and spleen and a broken skull.

Hemingway was no stranger to accidents and illness.  In 1918 he enlisted as a World War I ambulance driver on the Italian front.  While bringing chocolate and cigarettes to the front line he was struck by mortar fire.  Despite serious shrapnel wounds to both legs, he carried an Italian soldier to safety earning him the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery.  He underwent an operation and spent six months recuperating.

In 1927 while honeymooning in France with his second wife Pauline Pfeiffer, Hemingway contracted Anthrax.  A few months later in Paris, he pulled a skylight down on his head thinking he was pulling on a toilet chain.  This left him with a permanent scar on his forehead.  In the early 1930's, Hemingway took writer John Dos Passos elk hunting in Montana.  After dropping off Dos Passos at the train station, Hemingway crashed his car and broke his arm.  The surgeon bound the bone with kangaroo tendon.  Hemingway was hospitalized for two months and it took more than a year for the nerves in his writing hand to heal.

In 1933, Hemingway and Pauline went on safari to East Africa.  The trip would inspire Hemingway's short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro and his story collection Green Hills of Africa.  The trip also gave Hemingway a bout of amoebic dysentery causing a prolapsed intestine.  He was evacuated by plane to a Nairobi hospital.

In 1944 while in London to write about World War II, Hemingway was involved in another car accident.  He suffered a concussion and a head wound requiring 50 stitches.  He traveled to Normandy with a head bandage to witness the D-Day landing from an ocean borne craft.  He also found himself under fire at the Battle of the Bulge.  The stress caused him to be hospitalized with pneumonia.

In 1945 he returned to Key West, Florida.  Guilty about his failed marriage to third wife Martha Gellhorn, he began drinking heavily.  One night after too many daiquiris, he had another car accident.  He smashed his knee and suffered the third of many concussions.

Hemingway fell into a deep depression as his literary friends began to die.  He'd lost W.B. Yeats in 1939, Scott Fitzgerald in 1940 and Sherwood Anderson and James Joyce in 1941.  Gertrude Stein died in 1946 and his long-time Scribner's editor Max Perkins died in 1947.  Hemingway began to suffer headaches, weight problems and tinnitus.  He was subsequently diagnosed with diabetes.

From late 1955 to early 1956, Hemingway was bedridden.  His doctors urged him to stop drinking to heal his damaged liver.  He disregarded the advice.  He became ill and was treated for high-blood pressure and arteriosclerosis.

By 1959, Hemingway was having trouble organizing his thoughts.  Always the master of brevity and concise prose, he lost control of his writing.  He was commissioned by Life Magazine to write a 10,000 word article on bullfighting.  He submitted a 40,000 word opus.  He asked writer A.E. Hotchner to help him trim and organize the piece.  Hotchner found Hemingway to be "unusually hesitant, disorganized and confused."  His eyesight was failing him, he'd become anxious about money and he was paranoid that the FBI was monitoring his movements. (J. Edgar Hoover had in fact opened a file on him during WWII.)  He drank more heavily to combat the pain from his lifelong injuries.

In 1960, hearing that Fidel Castro wanted to nationalize property owned by Americans, Hemingway and his wife Mary left their beloved Finca Vigia ranch in Cuba and moved to Ketchum, Idaho.  Hemingway became seriously ill and retreated into silence and despair.  He checked into the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Doctors diagnosed him with a psychiatric illness and treated him with 15 rounds of electroshock therapy.  In early 1961 he was "released in ruins."

Hemingway had always been plagued by suicidal thoughts.  His father Clarence had committed suicide with a gunshot to the head in 1928.  Hemingway commented at the time, "I'll probably go the same way."  Like his father, Hemingway had been diagnosed with the genetic disease hemochromatosis. This caused the inability of the body to metabolize iron resulting in mental and physical deterioration.  Hemingway's sister Ursula and brother Leicester also committed suicide.  Years later, Hemingway's granddaughter Margaux would take her own life.

In the morning hours of June 2, Hemingway awoke early, careful not to wake Mary.  He donned his favorite dressing gown that he called his "emperor's robe" and entered the basement where he kept his guns.  He removed his favorite gun, a double-barrel 12-gauge Boss & Co. shotgun.  He inserted two shells into the gun, walked into the upstairs foyer, put the barrel into his mouth and pulled the trigger.  The story reported to the press was that Hemingway "accidentally shot himself while cleaning his gun."  Months later, Mary admitted the death was suicide.

Hemingway had been a swashbuckling, hard-drinking adventurer.  He was a hunter, a pugilist, a war hero and a writer who defined his time and mastered his craft.  In 1954, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.  He opted not to travel to Stockholm.  Instead he sent a speech to be read which defined the writer's existence.  "Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.  Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing.  He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness but often his work deteriorates.  For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day."  (5" x 6", black ink print)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali gained fame as an avante-garde, surrealist Spanish painter.  But few realize he had a lifelong relationship with movies including working with some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

Dali was a surrealist concerned with depicting imagery found in dreams instead of waking life.  He introduced the world to his fascination with melting clocks in his painting "The Persistence of Memory." Though the image suggests Einstein's theory of relativity, Dali claimed the clocks were inspired by the sight of "Camembert cheese melting in the sun."

When Dali was 17, he attended an art academy in Madrid.  He befriended the surrealist artist Luis Bunuel and the poet Federico Garcia Lorca.  In 1929, Dali & Bunuel made the film Un Chien Andalou ("The Andalusian Dog").  This was Dali's first film.  He wrote the screenplay while Bunuel directed.

Un Chien Andalou incorporates images seen in Dali's paintings: a disembodied hand, ant infestation, a decomposing donkey and eyeballs morphing into clouds. The film utilizes fades and dissolves between shots as an effort to undermine traditional editing techniques of the time.  Un Chien Andalou placed Dali in the heart of the surrealist movement and established film as a vehicle for the movement's goals.

In 1930, Dali & Bunuel collaborated on their second film L'Age D'Or.  The film's prologue shows a scorpion killing a rat.  The film focuses on two lovers who are kept apart by the hypocritical value system of bourgeois society and the Catholic church.  The film reflects the growing unease of Europe sparked by the rise of the political right.  When the film screened in Paris, an anti-Jewish group rioted and destroyed paintings exhibiting with the film.  After a ten-day run, the movie was banned in France for forty years.

In 1935, Dali's next film idea was called The Surrealist Mysteries of New York. Dali imagined scenes of violence at famous Manhattan locations like Fifth Avenue, Radio City Music Hall and the Natural History Museum.  He claimed to be inspired by the gangster films Little Caesar and Public Enemy.  Dali sketched out illustrations for the film which appeared in the magazine The American Weekly.  The movie was never made.

Dali was a huge fan of the Marx Brothers.  He wrote that Animal Crackers was "the summit of the evolution of comic cinema."  To Dali, the Marx Brothers "concrete irrationality" and "comic mayhem" was in perfect sync with the tenets of surrealism and Dada.  Dali particularly praised Harpo for his "persuasive and triumphant madness."

In 1936, Dali met Harpo in Paris.  They became immediate friends and Dali began working on a Marx Brothers film project called Giraffes On Horseback Salad.  The story revolved around a Spanish aristocrat exiled in America who falls in love with a mysterious surrealist woman.  The woman befriends the Marx Brothers and brings them into her world of fantasy and dreams.  Dali's storyboards were filled with surrealist imagery: melting watches, cyclists and a lobster telephone.  Dali wanted Harpo to have the starring role.  Groucho objected and the film was never made. In parting, Dali gave Harpo a harp strung with barbed wire.  Harpo played along and sent Dali a photo of himself playing harp with bandaged fingers.

In 1940, Twentieth Century-Fox hired Dali to design a three-minute nightmare sequence for the Fritz Lang film Moontide.  Dali's job was to visually describe lead actor Jean Gabin's hallucinatory descent into an alcoholic nightmare.  Dali's drawings included a behemoth sewing machine and a brothel slaughterhouse. Just before production, Pearl Harbor was attacked and Fox abandoned the project as too pessimistic.  A tamer version of the film was made in 1942 without Dali and Lang.

In 1944, Alfred Hitchcock was making plans for his movie Spellbound.  Ingrid Bergman plays a therapist who treats Gregory Peck, an amnesia patient accused of murder struggling to recover his memory.  Freudian psychoanalysis was in vogue at the time and Hitchcock approached Salvador Dali to design a key dream sequence in the film.  (Surrealism embraced psychoanalysis.)  Hitchcock felt Dali's crisp artistic precision represented a better experience of a dream state then the typical blurred imagery conventions of the time.  "I was after the vividness of dreams," Hitchcock said.  "Dali's work is solid and sharp with long perspectives and black shadows."

Dali was hired by Vanguard Films for $4,000 to "create, draw and paint all sketches and/or designs required in connection with the 'Dream Sequence' in Spellbound."  Dali produced over 20 minutes of footage which was ultimately cut down to three-minutes.  The resulting sequence contains familiar Dali imagery: floating eyes, scissors, playing cards, a faceless man, table legs resembling women's legs, a man falling off a building and shadowy wings.

Several signature Dali ideas did not make it into the final film.  Dali proposed to attach images of eyes on the backs of cockroaches.  He wanted 15 grand pianos suspended over a ballroom filled with dancers.  He also wanted to include a scene of ants crawling over Ingrid Bergman. Hitchcock had to explain to Dali that you can't have live bugs crawling on the world's most famous film actress.

In 1946, Dali attempted a collaboration with Walt Disney.  The idea was for an animated short feature followup to Fantasia.  Dali recognized the surrealist imagery that filled Disney's movies: dancing skeletons, skull islands, clock-swallowing crocodiles.  Disney was interested in avante-garde, experimental animation and Dali was the perfect partner.

Production with Disney began in 1945.  Dali created a large number of sketches and designs.  17 seconds of animation was completed but the film was put aside in 1946 when Disney ran into financial problems.  Remarkably, Roy Disney (Walt's nephew) unearthed the dormant project in 1999 and brought it back to life.  Using Dali's original storyboards, the film called Destino was finally completed in 2003. True to Dali's artistic life, images included melting clocks, marching ants and floating eyeballs. (6" x 7", black ink print)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

On The Right Track

Recently I was asked to come up with a T-Shirt Woodcut Design for a North Hollywood Literary Festival.  The email from the festival sponsors requested something that "depicts the journey  of the creative writer in these modern times when so few people read."

My initial brainstorming elicited depressing ideas like a writer committing Hari-kiri with a fountain pen, the Greek character Sisyphus rolling a massive tome in a cart up a hill, a man drowning from the weight of typewriter tied to his leg.  I rejected these early concepts as too dismal and cliched.  Plus, who the hell uses a typewriter or fountain pen these days anyway.

I finally found inspiration after traveling to Downtown Los Angeles with a friend.  We took a walk beside the Los Angeles River across from Dodger Stadium and I noticed a homeless man writing in a journal.  He wore a tattered suit and his shoes were scuffed and torn.  He had an umbrella thought it was the heart of summer.  He evoked the spirit of Kerouac and Woody Guthrie and Henry Miller.  In an instant I knew the Woodcut Image I wanted to carve.

The festival sponsors asked that I write a short essay explaining how the image embodied the modern writer.  Here is what I submitted:

The Man is walking the train tracks into the unknown.  He takes his journey slowly, focusing on each step, unsure where the tracks will lead.  His face is turned away from us emphasizing his anonymity. He wears his best suit--his only suit--as he carries his meager belongings on his back.

His umbrella shields him from the unrelenting sun and the birds who attempt to drop turds on his beloved fedora.  The only people who notice him are the wayward souls who live beside the tracks. Some view the Man as a wayward soul as well.  But his journey is not dictated by whim.  This is his destiny.

He walks on the wooden railroad ties.  This protects his shoes from damage and prevents footprints. He understands that good walking leaves no path behind.

He has faith his internal compass will kick in at some point.  As he walks, his legs grow tired and heavy.  Sometimes he becomes angry at his plight.  He persists until he feels wings upon his back lifting him and easing his gait.

He always believed he would recognize his destination when he got there.  Now he's sensing there is no place to get to.  He is already there.  He is the road and the knower of roads. (6" x 7", black ink print) (special thanks to Steven Tash and his awesome reference photos) (

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Chick Hearn

It was 2002 and the Lakers had just beaten the New Jersey Nets for their third straight NBA Championship. Being a huge Lakers fan, I took a subway to downtown LA to check out the parade. As I watched the double-decker buses carrying the players down Figueroa Avenue, I noticed Chick Hearn standing at the front of the first bus.  He was leaning against the top rail, his hair dyed purple, his shirt drenched with sweat and champagne.  While Shaq and Kobe waved to the crowd, Chick stared straight ahead.  This was his ninth championship as Lakers announcer and at age 85, he was exhausted.

Less than two months later, Chick suffered a fall at his Encino home that took his life.  The world's greatest basketball announcer was gone and Laker nation fell into mourning.

Francis Dayle "Chick" Hearn was born in 1916 in Aurora, Illinois.  He played basketball at Bradley University and he earned his famous nickname from a prank played on him by teammates.  He was given a box of sneakers and when he removed the lid he found a dead chicken inside.

Chick Hearn became the Lakers play-by-play man in 1961 after the team moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles.  His announcing style featured an enthusiastic, rapid-fire delivery peppered with colorful phrases and an offbeat sense of humor. Chick invented many of the terms that have become common basketball parlance.  These include: Slam Dunk, Air Ball, Finger Roll, Give and Go, No Harm No Foul, Dribble Drive.

Chick also coined a number of phrases that became known as "Chickisms."

"94 x 50 Hunk of Wood"--referred to a basketball court.

"Bunny Hop in the Pea Patch"--when a player was called for traveling.

"The Mustard's off the Hot Dog"--when a player made a mistake while showing off.

"Yo-Yoing Up and Down"--dribbling the ball.

"Got caught with his Hand in the Cookie Jar"--a blatant foul by a player.

"Throws up a Brick"--a terrible shot.

"Heart-Brrreeak!"--a shot that goes in and out of the basket.

"Ticky-Tack"--a foul call when minimal contact is made.

"He couldn't throw a Pea in the Ocean"--when a player's shooting has gone cold.

"Put him in the Popcorn Machine and he's covered with Butter"--When a defensive player leaps in the air from a head fake and the opposing player scores on him.

If a player tried an impossible shot that had no chance of going in, Chick would say:

"He has two chances, slim and none and slim just left the building."

If that same impossible shot actually went in the basket, Chick had an alternative call:

"He throws up a prayer...and it's answered."

Whenever the Lakers had a lead that Chick deemed insurmountable, he would launch into his most famous phrase which guaranteed a Lakers victory.

"The game is in the refrigerator, the door is closed, the lights are out, the butter's getting hard, the eggs are cooling and the Jello is jiggling."

From 1961-1965, Chick missed only two Laker games, one due to laryngitis and the second after he missed a plane flight.  In 1965, Chick began a new announcing streak which would reach 3338 consecutive Laker games.  The streak came to an end in 2001 when Chick had cardiac bypass surgery.

Chick was possibly the most beloved of all Lakers personalities.  In the days when the Lakers played at the Forum, fans could walk up to Chick before games and have a conversation.  He was always friendly and smiling and he'd often mention a fan's birthday or offer a get well sentiment live on air.

Chick was also brutally honest.  In 1998, Chick was honored for broadcasting 3000 consecutive games.  The Lakers were losing to Orlando at halftime and after accepting his award, Chick told the crowd, "The Lakers look like dogs.  If they play the third quarter like they played the first half, I'm going to buy them Alpo."  The Lakers went on to win the game by double figures.

In 1991, Chick Hearn was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.  He had a street named after him in Downtown LA and his name was hung from the rafters inside Staples Center beside Laker greats like Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Magic Johnson.  In 2010, a bronze statue of Chick was christened outside Staples Center.  Chick is the only non-player to receive such a statue.

Chick and his wife Marge were married 64 years.  They had two children, a son Gary who died of a drug overdose in 1972 and a daughter Samantha who died from complications of anorexia in 1991.  

When Chick died in 2002, flags at Los Angeles City Hall were flown at half mast. Thousands of fans and numerous Laker greats showed up at Chick's funeral. Cardinal Roger Mahoney told mourners: "I am going to go outside and look up in the sky, because I think for the last time we will see the meteor go by and we will wave so long.  This one's in the refrigerator."  (6" x 8", black ink print)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Music Supervisor

Gary Calamar is an LA-based Music Supervisor and radio DJ.  He's hosted a Sunday night radio show on KCRW for 15 years and he's responsible for one of the signature moments in Music Supervision history: the Sia song "Breathe Me" that concludes HBO's popular series Six Feet Under.

Gary was born on Friday the 13th in Yonkers, New York.  As a boy, he slept with a transistor radio under his pillow.  He fell in love with film music after his parents took him to see West Side Story and A Hard Days Night.  He also began a love affair with record stores spending hours scouring bins for new and obscure music.

Gary moved to Los Angeles in the 80's.  He began working at iconic record stores like Licorice Pizza and Moby Disc.  He managed the famous Rhino Records in Westwood and he came to appreciate the community of the record store and the social function it provided.  "I worked in Licorice Pizza when John Lennon was killed.  I had the day off but I came in anyway because people needed a place to mourn and I needed to be there...To this day, the first stop I make in any new town is to the weird local record store.  It's how I get my bearings."

In the mid 90's, Gary began volunteering at KCRW opening mail and filing CD's in the station's music library.  He became friendly with music director Chris Douridas.  One day, Douridas mentioned they were looking for a new weekend DJ.  Gary literally dropped to his knees and begged Douridas to give him a shot.  Douridas obliged and Gary's DJ career began.  (His radio show was called "The Open Road" until 2006.)

In 1998, Gary ventured into the world of music supervision.  His first film was Slums of Beverly Hills and his first placed song was "I'd Love to Change the World" by the band Ten Years After.  Gary's next film was Varsity Blues.  The resulting soundtrack earned a Gold Album.  In 2001, filmmaker Alan Ball (American Beauty) chose Gary and partner Thomas Golubic to supervise music on his series Six Feet Under.  The show established a new model for placing indie music in cable television and Calamar & Golubic were nominated for Grammy Awards for Soundtrack Volumes 1 & 2.

Six Feet Under ran for five seasons.  The final episode concluded with a 9-minute scene where Claire says goodbye to her family as she finally leaves home.  As she drives into the desert, a montage ensues and we see how all the characters ultimately die.  The scene is extraordinarily moving and it required a perfect piece of music to heighten the emotion.  As a KCRW DJ, Gary had been playing the song "Breathe Me" by Australian singer Sia for several months.  He presented the song to show runner Alan Ball and a masterful music/image pairing was born.  To this day, it's impossible for Six Feet Under fans to listen to "Breathe Me" without tearing up.

The job of Music Supervisor involves overseeing all aspects of music placement in a film, tv show, commercial or video game.  A Music Supervisor finds the songs, negotiates the licensing and often helps secure a composer for a project. In the late 60's and early 70's, American directors began prominently featuring rock songs in films.  Notable examples include Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'" in Midnight Cowboy and Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild" in Easy Rider.  Some directors structured entire movies around a specific band or musician like Mike Nichols' use of Simon & Garfunkel in The Graduate or Hal Ashby's inclusion of Cat Stevens in Harold & Maude.

Song selection plays a crucial role in film and television.  Francis Coppola's use of "The End" by The Doors in Apocalypse Now brings the story to an intense dramatic pique.  Poor song choice can mar an otherwise great film.  (One of my favorite movies is Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid but I always cringe during the "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" bicycle sequence.)  Though some filmmakers have a strong personal sense of music (Wes Anderson, Jim Jarmusch, Quentin Tarantino, Sofia Coppola) the majority need the help of a capable Music Supervisor.  This is where Gary steps in.

"We get the scripts early on.  We read the script, take notes then wait to see a rough cut of the show.  We go through the show scene by scene [with the producer and director] and decide what we're going to do musically: whether it's going to be scored or whether it'll be a song.  Everyone will throw in their two cents and then I'll go back to my office and start putting ideas together...trying different songs.  I'll try to narrow it down to three to five songs and I'll work with the music editor to cut them into the scenes.  Then we show them to the producer and director and a final decision is made."

In 2006, Gary founded GO Music with colleague Alyson Vidoli to manage his various music supervision projects.  This led to his work on some of the most acclaimed shows on television: House, Dexter, Entourage, Weeds and True Blood.  GO Music also hosts a very popular concert series, The Mimosa Music Series which showcases great artists on Sunday mornings.

Gary's lifetime love and knowledge of music comes into play everyday.  His job requires a critical ear and a comfort level with all musical genres.  True Blood features Louisiana swamp blues and gothic jams while Dexter opts for Cuban and Latin music.  Gary finds songs from a multitude of sources:  music blogs, demo tapes, iTunes and live shows.  Gary's Sunday night radio gig grants him access to music most people never hear.  It also gives him freedom to experiment with songs.

"The big difference between the radio show and the TV work is that I don't have to work by committee on radio.  I'm the DJ, I can play what I want and suffer or get praised by that.  With TV it's much more of a collaboration and the song that I might think is perfect may get shot down."

Gary is also a writer.  His 2010 book Record Store Days: From Vinyl to Digital and Back Again (written with Phil Gallo) recounts the evolution of record stores from bastion of music culture to their current near-death status.  In 2010 and 2011, Gary was honored as "Music Supervisor of the Year" by his colleagues in the Guild of Music Supervisors. (6" x 7", black ink print)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Zeppelin Days

Zeppelins were the first means of commercial air travel. A Zeppelin was a rigid airship developed by the German Count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin in the late 1800's. The vessel had a light alloy skeleton surrounding hydrogen-gas filled balloons known as "gas bags." It was powered by an internal combustion engine and guided by complex navigational "fins." The bottom of the structural frame held a compartment for passengers, crew and storage.

The Zeppelin was first flown commercially in 1910 by the German company Delag. By 1914, Zeppelins flew more than 1,500 flights and carried 34,000 passengers. Early Zeppelins reached 400 feet in length and could travel 50 miles per hour.

At the start of World War I, Germany decided to use Zeppelins for reconnaissance and bombing missions. By 1915, Germany began Zeppelin bombing raids over England. They targeted military sites but errant bombs landed on homes and occupied buildings. Between 1915 and 1916, Zeppelin raids on England killed 474 people and wounded 1,416. The civilian deaths had little military impact but the presence of huge, bomb-dropping dirigibles over the city struck fear in all Londoners.

Zeppelins had one fatal flaw. Because they were filled with hydrogen gas, they were flammable. As the war progressed, London installed new searchlights and high-caliber anti-aircraft guns. They also developed incendiary bullets which could ignite the hydrogen gas. By 1917, the British became proficient at downing Zeppelins. German crewmen caught in burning airships had to choose between being burned alive alive or leaping to their deaths. Germany finally halted the Zeppelin raids in 1918.

The Treaty of Versailles ending World War I required Germany to surrender their Zeppelins as reparations to the Allies. Many German crews destroyed their vessels instead of handing them over.

Count Von Zeppelin died in 1917. Dr. Hugo Eckener took over the Zeppelin business. Eckener envisioned dirigibles as "vessels of peace." Civilian Zeppelin flights resumed in 1919. In 1924, Eckener flew the first transatlantic Zeppelin flight from Germany to the United States. The trip took 81 hours. In 1929, William Randolph Hearst sponsored a successful Zeppelin flight that circumnavigated the globe.

The Golden Age of Zeppelins was 1928-1937. Zeppelin travel was a combination of an ocean cruise and a luxury hotel. Travelers boarded the ship via a gangplank at a large airport hangar. Upon entering the ship, passengers had to relinquish all matches and cigarette lighters. Smoking was only allowed in a heavily fortified smoking saloon which provided cigarettes and lighters.

Passengers had their own cabins with a bed, a makeup table and a wash basin with hot and cold water. Separate Mens and Ladies bathrooms were found at the end of the hall. The rooms had central heating and ventilation. An Air Steward could be summoned by ringing a bell. Passengers could leave their shoes outside their cabins and they'd be polished by morning.

Zeppelins had a spacious dining room which served three meals a day plus afternoon tea. There was also a reading/writing room, a drawing room, a smoking saloon which doubled as a cocktail bar, a gift shop and an observation platform with large windows (which partially opened) allowing for camera shots of the scenery below.

There were three rules of Zeppelin travel. 1) Do not throw anything overboard as it could damage the hull or airship propellers. 2) Do not carry matches or lighters. 3) Do not leave the passenger quarters unless accompanied by crew. A typical Zeppelin transported 70 passengers and 50 crew. Passengers were allowed to bring 66 lbs. of luggage. Travel time from Germany to the United States took 2 1/2 days. Air travel was smooth and largely without turbulence.

When the Third Reich came to power in 1933, Dr. Eckener refused to cooperate with the Nazis. German Air Minister Herman Goring took over Zeppelin flight operations. The vessels were painted with swastikas on their fins and they flew low over Germany broadcasting music and propaganda speeches.

In 1936, Germany introduced The Hindenburg, the largest Zeppelin ever built. The ship had 15 hydrogen gas bags, an upper deck for passengers and a lower deck for crew. It spanned 803 feet and could fly at 85 mph. The Germans intended to fill the Hindenburg with non-flammable helium gas but due to a helium shortage the vessel was filled with hydrogen. The Hindenburg made 17 trips across the Atlantic in 1936. One of these trips transported boxer Max Schmeling back to Germany after he knocked out Joe Louis at Yankee Stadium. The cost for one-way passage from New York to Germany was $400.

In May 1937, the Hindenburg left Frankfurt, Germany for Lakehurst, New Jersey. The flight proceeded routinely and 3 days later it was cleared for final approach to Lakehurst Naval Station. Four minutes after ground handlers grabbed hold of the ship's landing ropes, the Hindenburg burst into flames. In just 37 seconds, the ship became an inferno and crashed to the ground. Of the 97 people on board, 35 were killed. Film cameras captured every moment. The source of the fire was never determined but the disaster effectively ended the age of the Zeppelin. (5" x 6", black ink print)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Woody Allen

From 1977-1986, Woody Allen had a filmmaking run so impressive it's been equaled only by the likes of Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges. Allen's films included Annie Hall, Manhattan, Broadway Danny Rose, Zelig, Purple Rose of Cairo and Hannah and Her Sisters. Woody was an antidote to the Spielberg/Lucas blockbuster ethos that was transforming Hollywood from a land of independent auteurs into a money making kitsch machine. Woody effortlessly combined comedy and drama and his movies were inspired gems that paid homage to filmmakers like Bergman, Fellini, Chaplin and Keaton.

As a star in his own films, Woody was the anti-leading man. Neurotic, self-obsessed, needy and cowardly, he perfected the art of awkward encounters (paving the way for Larry David). The original title of Annie Hall was Anhedonia which refers to a psychological condition where the sufferer is incapable of feeling happiness. Yet watching Woody Allen struggle and squirm brought tremendous happiness to the audience. Not just because he was hilarious but because he was like us (assuming you are male, Jewish, neurotic and living in a big city).

Woody's childhood comic influences were the writers Robert Benchley and S.J. Perelman. He was also attracted to the dramatic work of Chekhov, Balzac, Tolstoy and Eugene O'Neill. Woody's career began in his teens when he submitted jokes to an advertising firm. He spent one "abortive year" in college then dropped out to become a gag-writer for Garry Moore & Sid Caesar. He wrote 50 jokes a day while riding the New York subway. In the early 60's, he performed standup comedy in Greenwich Village releasing three comedy albums. He started making television appearances and writing for shows like Candid Camera and The Ed Sullivan Show.

In 1965, United Artists prepared a starring vehicle for Warren Beatty called What's New, Pussycat? (The film was allegedly named after the way Beatty answered the phone.) Woody Allen was hired to add jokes to the script. He ended up re-writing the entire film as well as landing a co-starring role. Beatty dropped out which began a decades-long feud between him and Woody. Pussycat marked the formal start of Woody Allen's film career. He was 29 years old.

From 1965-1975, Woody Allen made screwball comedies. They included Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Sleeper and Play It Again, Sam. The films were a collection of gags loosely structured around a thin narrative. Woody's goal was to make people laugh. By 1975, he was ready for a change. He was interested in writing real characters with an honest range of human emotions.

In 1977, Allen released his masterpiece Annie Hall. The film is a love story between an anxiety-plagued Jewish writer and a neurotic, waspy singer player by Diane Keaton. Told in non-linear fashion with inspired fantasy sequences, Annie Hall focuses on the unrealized aspects of relationships: irrationality, paranoia, jealousy and difficult sexual encounters.

Two jokes from Annie Hall perfectly sum up Woody's screen persona. One: "I believe life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. The horrible are the terminal cases, blind people, cripples. The miserable are everyone else. So you should be thankful you're miserable. Two: "My brother's crazy. He thinks he's a chicken. I would turn him in but we need the eggs." The jokes exemplify Woody's obsession with death and despair and his surreal approach to comedy.

Woody Allen's humor owes as much to Groucho Marx as it does to the Jewish tales of the Fools of Chelm and the stories of the 13th Century Sufi mystic jester Nasruddin Mulla. (In a classic Sufi tale, Nasruddin misplaces his keys inside his house but searches for the keys outside the house. When asked why he replies, "The light is much better here.") Woody's one-liners in Annie Hall are classic. ("I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam. I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me.") Despite Woody's nebbishy demeanor, he succeeds as a romantic lead. He uses humor as self-defense against the confusion of the modern world.

Annie Hall won four Academy Awards including "Best Picture" (beating out Star Wars) and "Best Actress" for Diane Keaton. Woody avoided the Oscars opting instead to play clarinet at a New York pub. He has never enjoyed the concept of judging art in a competitive setting as if it were an athletic event.

Diane Keaton was Woody Allen's muse for 8 films. In 1982, Woody began a collaboration with a new muse: Mia Farrow. They made 13 films together including the 1985 classic A Purple Rose of Cairo. Inspired by Buster Keaton's Sherlock, Jr. and Woody's own 1977 short story A Kugelmass Episode (in which a humanities professor magically appears in the novel Madame Bovary), Purple Rose is a charming ode to the healing power of movies. Mia Farrow plays a Depression-era woman who escapes her dreary existence by watching movies at the local cinema. During one of her favorite films, the male lead played by Jeff Daniels literally steps off the screen and into Mia Farrow's life. The story merges the surrealism of Luis Bunuel with the populist leanings of Frank Capra. Even Woody himself, who hates watching his own movies, claims Purple Rose as one of his favorites.

Woody Allen has written and directed 48 films. He continues to make movies at the rate of about one per year. He's been nominated for 41 Oscars and his films have won four. He remains a huge fan of the New York Knicks and he continues his Monday night gig with his jazz band at New York's Carlyle Hotel. Though he is 77 years old, he shows no signs of slowing down. As he once famously said, "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying." (6" x 7", black ink print)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Thom Yorke

Radiohead came to prominence in 1992 with their hit single "Creep." Lead singer Thom Yorke wrote the song as a college student after being rejected by a girl with whom he was infatuated. The song is about not feeling good enough or as Yorke explains, "There's the beautiful people and then there's the rest of us."

Herein lies the conundrum of Thom Yorke. He's one of the most beloved rock stars in the world but he despises celebrity culture. "I'm surrounded by a world of grinning idiots and I don't want to be another one."

Thom Yorke was born in 1968 in Wellingborough, England. At birth, his left eye was fixed shut after doctors determined the eye was paralyzed. Yorke endured five eye operations by age six. He wore an eyepatch through much of his childhood and today he has a permanent droopy eyelid.

Yorke's father was a nuclear physicist and chemical equipment salesman. The family moved often causing Yorke to attend multiple schools. At age 7, Yorke received his first guitar. He mimicked the guitar sounds of his childhood hero, Brian May of Queen. Yorke wrote his first song at age 11. The song was called "Mushroom Cloud".

Yorke met his future Radiohead bandmates at an all-boys public school. They formed a band called On A Friday (they could only rehearse on Fridays). Yorke sang, wrote the songs, played guitar, bass, piano and drums. Despite his talents, he never learned to read music.

After college, Yorke briefly worked as an orderly in a mental hospital. In 1987, Yorke and his girlfriend were involved in a serious car accident. The experience instilled a lifelong car phobia in Yorke which later inspired the songs "Airbag," "Killer Cars" and "Drunkk Machine."

In 1991, Yorke and his bandmates were signed to EMI. They changed their name to Radiohead taken from a Talking Heads song. (Yorke's early musical heroes were David Byrne, The Pixies and Joy Division.) In 1992, Radiohead's first album "Pablo Honey" brought them immediate success. Yorke confessed that his ego got out of control bolstered by an excess of drinking. "I was unbearable. As soon as you get any success you disappear up your own arse."

Yorke disliked his own singing voice. His vocal range stretched from tenor to falsetto. "It annoys me how pretty my voice is, how polite it can sound when what I'm singing is deeply acidic." Only after seeing Jeff Buckley play live in 1994 did Yorke realize "you could sing in a falsetto without sounding drippy."

After their second album "The Bends" in 1995, R.E.M. chose Radiohead as the opening act for their European tour. Michael Stipe gave Yorke advice on dealing with fame and the demands of being in a rock band. The two became lifelong friends.

In 1997, Radiohead rented a mansion in Bath once owned by actress Jayne Seymour to record their new album. The band immersed themselves in the music of DJ Shadow, Underworld, Ennio Morricone and Pink Floyd. The result, "OK Computer," did not conform to standard verse-chorus structure. The music is fragmented and pieced together with hooks buried beneath layers of atmosphere and melodic dissonance. Though some critics claimed the album was "commercial suicide," today "OK Computer" is considered one of the greatest albums ever made.

Radiohead were not afraid of experimenting and reinventing themselves. Yorke fell in love with sampling and programmed beats and the band's post "OK Computer" music relied heavily on looping and processed vocals. In 2007, Radiohead revolutionized the music industry with the digital release of their album "In Rainbows." Fans were allowed to choose the amount they wanted to pay for the album download. The average price paid was 2.90 pounds.

When he's not playing music, Thom Yorke is spokesman for Friends of the Earth, a group advocating the perils of climate change and carbon emissions. Yorke also plays in the band Atoms For Peace with Flea (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Joey Waronker (from R.E.M.).  (6" x 7", black ink print)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Shane Black

This week marks the release of Iron Man 3 written and directed by Shane Black. Shane's story is well known. At age 22 he wrote Lethal Weapon giving new life to the action, buddy film genre. In 1990 he sold his script The Last Boy Scout for $1.75 million. Writer Joe Eszterhas eclipsed this figure with his sale of Basic Instinct for $3 million but Shane's subsequent sale of The Long Kiss Goodnight for $4 million made him the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood. Shane continued to write screenplays into the 90's but then he seemed to disappear. As with most Hollywood stories, Shane's is complicated.

I was fortunate enough to live with Shane for a year while attending UCLA. In those days, Shane was a theater major who aspired to be an actor. He loved 70's character-driven film thrillers like The French Connection, Dirty Harry and Bullitt. He was an avid reader of the hardboiled detective fiction of Ross Mcdonald and John D. MacDonald. He carried a dog-eared copy of William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade wherever he went.

I remember seeing Shane perform standup comedy at UCLA. He was frenetic on stage, trashing props and uttering punch lines about "anal probes" administered by UCLA security. Like many college seniors, Shane was uncertain about his future. He was always gracious and kind but he was also moody and intense.

One day I came home from class to find Shane typing in the living room. He was writing a satirical one-act play about the second coming of Christ. Shane's method of typing was unique. Using just his left and right index finger, he pounded the typewriter with intense force and amazing speed. I watched spellbound as he seemed to box with the typewriter keys, pages flying out of the carriage as if Shane were channeling the ghost of Ben Hecht.

Shane completed his play in two days. A week later he staged the piece at the UCLA Theater Department. Like his future films, the play was both dark and funny. Jesus returns to earth but people are oblivious to his message. He hires a Jewish public relations man who procures Jesus a "drink milk" tv commercial and books him on the talk-show circuit. The story ends in tragicomic fashion true to Shane's cynical view of life.

Shane spent most of his time in his college days with the Pad O' Guys. The Pad was a group of fledgling screenwriters and film students who lived, ate and breathed movies. Members included the future filmmakers Ed Solomon (Men In Black), Jim Herzfeld (Meet The Parents), Greg Widen (Backdraft), Robert Reneau (Demolition Man), Ryan Rowe (Charlie's Angels), David Silverman (The Simpsons) and Dave Arnott (The Adventures of Ford Fairlane).

A year after Shane graduated, he wrote Lethal Weapon in six weeks. One of Shane's Pad friends, Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps) helped Shane find an agent and soon several studios engaged in a bidding war for the script. Shane sold the screenplay to Warner Brothers for $250,000 and his career formally began.

Shane was determined not to become a Hollywood A--hole. He continued driving his rusted Mustang convertible and he lived with several Pad friends in a Westwood apartment. As Shane's career flourished, he experienced jealousy and resentment from friends and fellow filmmakers. Critics lambasted his writing style and he was turned down for membership in the Academy. (New Academy members were required to have "two produced works of substance and merit.")

Shane struggled with his early success. He experienced self-doubt and began to believe his detractors who said he only made money, not quality films. When Warner Brothers hired Shane to write a sequel to Lethal Weapon, Shane's version killed off the Mel Gibson character. Shane's friends saw this as a symbolic suicide since the character was viewed as Black's alter ego.

After The Long Kiss Goodnight tanked at the box office, Shane's golden boy reputation took a hit. Producers were eager to end the spec script bidding wars that Shane had helped trigger and old friends seemed to gloat. Shane had an aversive reaction. He was burned out on screenwriting realizing the process was no longer fun.

Shane bought a beautiful home in historic Fremont Place in midtown Los Angeles. (The house served as the main character's home in The Artist.) Shane stopped writing and began an era of partying. The Halloween bashes at Shane's place were the stuff of legend. But the drinking and substance abuse took a toll. "I just sort of got lost. I drank too much."

With the support of filmmaker James Brooks, Shane began writing again. In 2003, he completed his comeback piece Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. This time, he wanted to direct as well. He showed the script around Hollywood but responses were lukewarm. Some producers didn't even bother to read the script. To Shane, the experience was humbling.

Shane turned to producer Joel Silver who procured $15 million from Warner Brothers to get the film made. Shane cast Robert Downey Jr., who at the time was nearly unemployable having just served time in prison. He also cast Val Kilmer who's career had gone cold. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a mystery suspense film inspired by the writing of Raymond Chandler. The film was a modest success but more importantly Shane was back in the film game.

Shane stopped drinking in 2008. He again became serious about writing. Jon Favreau & Robert Downey turned to Shane when they needed help with the first Iron Man screenplay. Downey credits Shane for writing the press-conference scene after Tony Stark returns from captivity. (Shane asked to be paid in "blueberries and wild salmon.") When Favreau declined to direct Iron Man 3, Downey lobbied for Shane to direct. Shane had helped Downey resurrect his career. Now Downey was returning the favor.

Shane always admired the "old gunslinger" story.  A character falls into a dark place and must rise above his demons to redeem himself. It seems Shane has done the same. The initial reviews of Iron Man 3 are positive and Shane is ready to begin his second act. If we're lucky, we'll have many new Shane Black films to look forward to. Here's hoping Shane feels the same way. (6" x 7", black ink print)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was known as master of the macabre. His gothic stories dealt with death, decomposition, reanimation and premature burial. He was the inventor of the detective fiction genre, an early contributor to the science fiction genre and one of the first know American authors to make a living strictly from writing.

Poe was born in 1809 in Boston. His mom died shortly after his birth and his father abandoned the family. He was taken in by John Allan, a wealthy tobacco merchant from Virginia though he was never formally adopted. He was raised to be a businessman.  Instead, Poe dreamed of being a writer like his hero the British poet Lord Byron.

Poe attended the University of Virginia but was given little money by his foster father to pay his bills. He turned to gambling to survive and he quickly accrued large debts. He was so poor he burned his furniture to keep warm. Poe dropped out of college after one semester. He returned to Richmond to find his fiance engaged to another man. Heartbroken, he joined the army.

In 1827 Poe published his first book of poetry, Tamerlane and Other Poems, attributed with the byline "By a Bostonian." Only 50 copies were printed and the book garnered no attention. Poe traveled to Baltimore and moved in with his Aunt Maria Clemm and his young cousin Virginia.

By the early 1830's, Poe began publishing short stories. His work slowly gained acclaim but he remained in poverty. Poe turned his attention to prose and literary criticism. His literary criticism was so scathing he gained the nickname "Tomahawk Man" and he was said to write with "prussic acid instead of ink."

In 1835, Poe married his cousin Virginia. (He was 26, she was 13.) Poe became editor of several journals and his literary output increased. In 1845, Poe wrote his most famous poem The Raven. He became an overnight success though he was only paid $9 dollars for the poem's publication.

In 1847, Poe's wife Virginia died of tuberculosis. (Tuberculosis claimed his wife, his birth mother, his older brother and his foster mother.) Despondent, Poe was unable to write for months and he turned to drinking. He moved to a cottage in the bronx and continued to struggle financially. His stories were more popular in Europe than America and they were translated into French by Charles Baudelaire.

By 1849, Poe was drinking heavily and wandering the streets delirious. Though the story of Poe's final days is complicated, he disappeared for five days before he was found in the bar room of a public house wearing clothes that were not his own. He died at Washington College Hospital surrounded by strangers. The exact cause of his death is unknown. (His death has been attributed to alcohol, cholera, heart disease, rabies, tuberculosis and suicide.)

The Mystery Writers of American present an annual prize called the Edgar Award named after Poe for best writing in the mystery genre. (6" x 7", black ink print)

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Finance Director

Steve Rose is Director of Finance at a Fortune 500 architectural, engineering and design firm in California. I met Steve during high school and we became great friends united by our love for sports, baseball card collecting and the movie Caddyshack.

Steve excelled in all sports but his great love was golf. He competed in numerous Junior Golf Tournaments and during one match he took future PGA Pro Duffy Waldorf to a sudden death playoff before losing on the second extra hole.

Steve and Duffy became great friends and drinking buddies. (Steve would be Best Man at Duffy's wedding.) As Duffy's golf career began to take off, Steve asked if he could caddy for Duffy in a tournament. Surprisingly, Duffy said yes.

Their first tournament together was the Winnebago Classic on the mini-tour. The environment was casual and relaxed and Steve's lack of caddy skills posed no problem. At least until the second round. Duffy was on pace to set a course record. As they reached the 18th green, Duffy had a 10-foot putt to set the record. Steve reached into the bag for the putter but it was gone. "You don't have your putter do you, Duff," Steve asked. Duffy stared back. "No."

Realizing he'd left the putter on the previous hole, Steve sprinted to the 17th green, grabbed the club, ran back to the 18th hole and watched as Duffy calmly drained the putt. Duffy went on to win the tournament and Steve earned $750 for his 3-day effort as caddy.

When Duffy joined the PGA Tour Steve again asked to caddy in a tournament. Duffy offered Steve the 1992 Phoenix Open. The PGA environment was different. Most of the caddies were pros themselves and caddying was how they made their living. They didn't take kindly to outsiders coming in for a weekend of casual fun.

Duffy gave Steve a few tips: where to stand, when to tend the pin, make sure to avoid the eye line of other golfers. "Return the club to the bag after I'm done with it. I don't need you sprinting through the course for forgotten putters." Steve viewed his job primarily as cleaning clubs, carrying the bag and keeping Duffy loose and relaxed. Their chemistry was effective. As they played Round 4, Duffy was tied for the lead with 9 holes to go. Mark Calcavecchia went on a birdie run to win the tournament but Duffy took second place earning him $108,000. Steve's share as caddie: $2,500.

Steve would caddie for Duffy numerous times over the next few years. Duffy's playing partners included some of the game's greats: Phil Mickelson, John Daly, Rocco Mediate. At one tournament, as Steve stood on the green Duffy yelled out, "Don't move. You're standing on Mickelson's mark." Duffy walked over and instructed Steve to press down hard then slowly lift his foot. If the ball mark were to move, Duffy would suffer a two-stroke penalty (costing him thousands of dollars). Fortunately, the mark did not stick to Steve's foot and Steve was able to resume breathing again.

Caddies are not allowed to wear spikes. During the 1994 Kemper Open in Maryland, the tournament was interrupted by rain. As play resumed, Steve was carrying Duffy's bag up a steep hill when he lost his footing on the slick grass. The bag went airborne and Duffy's clubs were thrown into the rough. The gallery gave Steve an ovation as he collected himself and gathered the clubs.

Though Duffy finally hired a permanent caddy in 1998, Steve would have one last stint as caddy. Golfer Paul Stankowski, who Steve met through Duffy, needed a caddy for the 1998 Los Angeles Open. On the second hole, Stankowski asked for Steve's feedback on a putt. Steve studied the break then said "the putt will break 6 inches right to left." Stankowski struck the putt.  The ball started right, as Steve predicted, then it broke even further right far from the hole. Steve didn't realize that all greens at Riviera Country Club broke toward the ocean.

Steve no longer caddies but his love for golf remains. He is still friends with Duffy. More important, he makes sure to return his club to the bag after each use. (5" x 7", black ink print)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Carpenter

It was the summer of 1988 and Kevin Cross was looking for a place to live. His actress girlfriend Leigh wanted to live in the Hollywood Hills but Los Angeles rents were soaring. "It's too damn expensive," Kevin said. "I'm freelance and you're unemployed. How are we going to afford it?"
     "I had three auditions and a callback last week.  It's only a matter of time."
     "You've been saying that for six months."
     Leigh pouted and Kevin relented.  Their relationship was rocky and maybe a new place above the flatlands of Hollywood was what they needed.
     Kevin scoured the local papers and rental guides. All he could afford was $600 a month and everything north of Sunset Boulevard was more than $1,400. He called a realtor in Laurel Canyon.
     "Do you know anybody who's having a hard time selling their house who might be open to renting?"
     "Well there is this one place..."
     In retrospect, Kevin should have asked some questions.  But he always considered himself a pragmatist and $450 a month sounded pretty good.
     Kevin met the aging realtor halfway up Wonderland Avenue. The home was a two-story stucco townhouse with flaking paint and rusted bars fronting the balcony. It wasn't much to look at but the neighborhood was gorgeous.
     "How long is the lease?"
     "Month to month," the aging realtor said.
     "I'll take it."
     "Don't you want to look inside?"
     "I've seen all I need to see."

     Kevin and Leigh moved in that weekend. There was a bit of a roach problem and the house needed a thorough cleaning but the two were happy with their new digs.

     The nightmares began immediately. Each evening, around 2:30 am, Leigh dreamt of a gray-haired man in his 50's pushing her out of bed. As she stared into his face the man's eyes became blood red and he screamed. Leigh woke up in a cold sweat and Kevin spent the rest of the night trying to calm her down.
     Kevin reasoned that Leigh's dreams had something to do with their recent struggles. Perhaps he was the old man pushing her out of bed. Kevin vowed to be kinder. He bought flowers, cooked dinner and began placing lit candles around the house. Despite his efforts, Leigh's nightmares continued. In one especially horrifying dream the gray-haired man raised a knife and plunged it into Leigh's body. Leigh awoke screaming.
     "We have to move," she said.
     "We're not moving."
     "There's something wrong here."
     "It's the Hollywood Hills.  Isn't this what you wanted?"
     "Either we move together or I go alone. This place is haunted."
     "You're crazy," Kevin said.

     Leigh moved out a week later.
     Kevin was heartbroken but he figured their relationship was doomed anyway.

     A few weeks later on a Saturday morning Kevin was watering plants beside the driveway. A Hollywood Tour Van stopped in front of his house. The tourists stared out the window at Kevin as the driver spoke into a microphone. Kevin couldn't hear what was being said but he reasoned they mistook him for a celebrity. He'd always had a passing resemblance to the actor Richard Dreyfuss.

     The shoe dropped a week later. Kevin was sitting in his living room with a six-pack of beer watching the local news. Suddenly the television screen flashed an image of his townhouse. The TV Anchor spoke with honed gravitas.
     "Tonight marks the seven-year anniversary of the Laurel Canyon Murders. On this night in 1981 four people were savagely murdered in a small home on Wonderland Avenue. The killings involved porn star John Holmes and a local strip club owner who sought revenge for a drug deal gone bad."
     Kevin leaned forward as the television displayed an image of his living room circa 1981, splattered with blood. A body bag rested near the fireplace. Kevin looked toward the very same fireplace just five feet away. A brown stain was visible on the shag carpet. Similar stains dotted the rest of the room.
     "Son of a bitch," Kevin yelled.  He dropped his beer and ran out of the house.
     Though he wore only sandals, shorts and a T-Shirt, he sprinted down Wonderland Avenue as if the house were on fire. He kept running until he reached the realtor's office halfway down Laurel Canyon.
     "What the hell, man? How come you didn't tell me about the murders?"
     The aging realtor was eating a Cup O'Noodles. "Have a seat, please."
     "I don't want a seat. I'm gonna sue your ass."
     "I'm sorry you're upset, sir. But California disclosure laws only apply to home buyers not renters. You have no grounds for a lawsuit."
     "You rented me a possessed house you son of a bitch. My girlfriend left me and tourists think I'm some kind of freak."
     "Calm down, please. We can work something out."
     "What's there to work out? You have me living with psycho ghosts."
     "What would make it right?
     "Huh," Kevin asked.
     "You moved into the house because it was cheap, correct?"
     "Yeah so."
     "So how about if I found you another place for even less?"
     "What is it, some kind of rape house?"
     "Just trust me."

     Two days later Kevin moved into a small bungalow two blocks from the Laurel Canyon Country Store. The place was a bit moldy and it needed a paint job. But it had a backyard and a spacious garage. It also had a lemon tree filled with ripe, beautiful fruit.
     Leigh moved in a week later.
     Kevin asked about the history of the house this time. No murders had happened here. Nor was there a record of torture or kidnapping or animal cruelty. Kevin was confident Leigh would be happy. He also felt the tour vans would stay away. Of course Kevin wasn't crazy about living in Charles Manson's old home. But those were the days when Manson was still trying to make it as a rock star. He hadn't gone off the rails yet. No need to alarm Leigh. Plus, $400 a month was pretty damn good rent. (6" x 6", black ink print)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Midnight Cowboy

Midnight Cowboy marks a turning point in American cinema. It's the only X-Rated movie to ever win a Best Picture Oscar. It also signifies the moment when film shifted from studio control to an independent auteur era.

Dustin Hoffman plays Ratso Rizzo, a crippled, two-bit con artist suffering from consumption. He befriends a sexually ambiguous cowboy gigolo named Joe Buck (played by Jon Voight). Ratso becomes a pimp to Joe Buck's male prostitute and the two struggle to survive on New York's gritty streets. The film is dark and bleak intertwined with subtle humor. The relationship between Hoffman and Voight captures a platonic love between men rarely seen on screen.

When Producer Jerome Hellman was casting the lead roles, he came across Dustin Hoffman performing in an Off-Broadway play called Eh? Hoffman agreed to play Ratso Rizzo but it took a year for screenwriter Waldo Salt to write the script and another year for Hellman and Director John Schlesinger to raise the funds. During that time Hoffman starred in The Graduate and became an overnight star.

After seeing The Graduate, John Schlesinger felt Hoffman was too clean cut and collegiate to play Ratso. Hoffman asked Schlesinger to meet him at a filthy Times Square coffee shop at night. Hoffman came in character dressed in a dirty raincoat with slicked back hair and several days stubble. Hoffman begged for money, unrecognized by Schlesinger. When Hoffman finally revealed himself, Schlesinger agreed that Hoffman would "do quite well."

Hoffman relished the seedy nature of Ratso Rizzo which was the polar opposite of his ultra-preppy Benjamin Braddock character in The Graduate. (Has any actor ever had two greater first roles than Ratso Rizzo and Benjamin Braddock?) When casting the role of Joe Buck, the producers initially considered Warren Beatty, Michael Sarrazin, Lee Majors even Elvis Presley. They scoured Off-Broadway Theater and eventually found Jon Voight.

There was a charged chemistry between Hoffman and Voight. Voight traveled to Texas to study small-town good ole boys, appropriating local wardrobe and a southern accent. Hoffman hung out in the Bowery and studied street people. He obsessed over character details like Ratso's walk and his consumptive cough. He put a stone in his shoe giving him a forced limp and he donned a stained white jacket found in a bus station dumpster.

The film's most memorable scene where Hoffman screams at a cab driver "I'm walking here" was improvised and shot without permits. The drug-fueled warehouse party scene was staged by Andy Warhol and it featured prominent "Factory" personalities Viva, Ultraviolet and Paul Morrissey. Warhol planned to act in the scene himself but shortly before filming he was shot in the stomach by Valerie Solanas.

John Schlesinger needed a theme song for the film.  Bob Dylan wrote "Lay Lady Lay" expressly for the movie but Schlesinger felt it didn't work.  The singer Nilsson proposed the song "I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City," but Schlesinger preferred Nilsson's cover of the Fred Neil song "Everybody's Talkin'."  The song went on to be a hit and became synonymous with Midnight Cowboy.

When production on Cowboy finally ended, Schlesinger feared the film was a disaster. By the end of the first screening for United Artists when Ratso was dead in the bus with Joe Buck's arm around his shoulders the theater was dead silent. Everyone was crying. The newly-created Ratings Board gave the film an X-Rating due to homosexual overtones, drug use and nudity. Critic Rex Reed wrote that "the film is a collage of screaming, crawling, vomiting humanity" while Roger Ebert scribed "it's a vulgar exercise in fashionable cinema." This only helped spread the buzz. Ticket lines stretched around the block. Audiences gave standing ovations.

Midnight Cowboy received 7 Oscar Nominations and won 3: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture. It beat out the favorite Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Today the film is rightly viewed as an American Classic. (5" x 6", black ink print)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Hunter Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson was born in 1937 in Louisville, Kentucky. His father died when he was just 14 driving his mother to alcoholism and leaving the family in poverty. Hunter found escape in athletics and petty crimes.

At age 16, he was jailed for 60 days for robbery which prevented him from graduating high school. Aimless and desperate he enlisted in the Air Force. After serving two years, he took night classes in creative writing. In 1961, he hitchhiked across country and landed a job as security guard at Big Sur Hot Springs (which later became the Esalen Institute).

In 1963 he married Sandra Conklin and the two settled in San Francisco. Thompson immersed himself in California drug and hippie culture and began writing for the Berkeley underground paper The Spyder.

In 1965, The Nation paid Thompson to spend a year riding with the Hell's Angels and writing about his experiences. The Angels demanded a share of Thompson's fees. When he refused they gave him a savage beating. His subsequent book Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs became a huge success. This led to well-paying writing gigs with the New York Times, Esquire and Harper's.

In 1967, Thompson and his wife bought a home in Woody Creek, Colorado. Thompson was deeply affected by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and the police beatings of protesters at the 1968 Democratic Convention. His words became more political and incendiary and his writing style became personal, rambling and manic. The journalist Bill Cardoso labeled this new subjective style as Gonzo Journalism.

In 1971, Rolling Stone hired Thompson to write about the killing of journalist Ruben Salazar by the LA Sheriff's Department. Thompson decided to leave racially-charged Los Angeles and drive to Las Vegas with Mexican-American activist Oscar Acosta. Thompson's impressionistic account of this road trip became his greatest book, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. The novel is a hilarious drug-filled, hallucinatory rumination on the failure of 1960's counterculture and the "death of the American Dream." Accompanied by expressionistic illustrations from artist Ralph Steadman, Fear And Loathing made Thompson a literary sensation.

Hunter followed this up with Fear And Loathing On the Campaign Trail about his time covering the 1972 presidential campaign. Thompson became a vicious critic of Richard Nixon whom Thompson described as a man "who could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time." After Nixon's death, Thompson wrote "he was evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand."

In 1980 Thompson and his wife divorced. Thompson became more isolated and fixated on firearms. His substance abuse continued and his behavior became increasingly erratic. In 1981, he was arrested for drunk driving and "raving" at a Colorado state trooper. He visited Jack Nicholson's house with a massive amplifier and broadcast the sound of a pig being eaten alive by bears while shooting a 9mm semi-automatic rifle at Nicholson's home.

In the 80's, editors began critiquing the quality of Thompson's work. Celebrities like Bill Murray and Johnny Depp made movies of Thompson's books which fueled the "gonzo myth" but Thompson continued to struggle. In 1990, he was accused of sexual assault at his Colorado home. Charges were dismissed though a search of his property turned up drugs and a stash of dynamite. In 2000, Thompson accidentally shot his assistant Deborah Fuller after "mistaking her for a bear" (she lived).

In 2005, plagued by numerous chronic and painful medical conditions, Thompson took his own life by shooting himself in the head. At his funeral his ashes were shot out of a massive cannon with red white and blue fireworks while Norman Greenbaum's song "Spirit In The Sky" played in the background. Johnny Depp paid for the funeral expenses. (5" x 6", black ink print)