Sunday, August 22, 2010

A True Hollywood Story...

One of my fondest memories of my studio days in Hollywood were the monthly meetings of the Film Information Council.

It was a small informal group of marketing, publicity and promotion executives from the studios, production companies and agencies. This was an electic group of  talented, opinionated and passionate men and women who loved working behind the scenes on the greatest movies ever made.

Getting invited to join the FIC was no small feat. So, I was thrilled when I got my first invitation for a small lunch gathering on the Sunset Strip.

I walked in, and I was speechless. There was Stanley Kramer surrounded by the inside elite of Hollywood publicity from Columbia Pictures, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, the Editor of Daily Variety, and every major PR firm in town. Stanley Kramer was THE MAN who produced and directed some of the greatest films of all time;  High Noon, The Wild Ones, The Caine Mutiny, Judgement at Nerenberg, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and my all time favorite Inherit the Wind.

And I was there. Amazing.

The next two hours flew by. I quickly regained by ability to speak, and naturally had to ask about working with with Spencer Tracy and Gary Cooper. Being part of that lunch and shaking the hand of Stanley Kramer was one of the true highlights of my career.

I told you that story to tell you this one....

The FIC meetings were always lively, interesting and full of gossip and good natured ribbing. We'd gather at Ma Maison, or the Beverly Hilton, or some other swanky LA eatery (that's what we used to call restuarants back in the day) and talk shop.

On this particular day, we were discussing the recent opening of Bugsy starring Warren Beatty, Annette Bening and Ben Kingsley.  Gathered around the table were John Strauss, Arthur Canton, Leo Wilder, Dick Kahn, Mel Powell and John Flinn. If this were a story about sports, it would be like Branch Rickey, Walter O'Malley, Casey Stengel and Judge Landis at the same table talking baseball.

Instantly, the talk turned to Billy Wilkerson the firey flamboyant founder and publisher of The Hollywood Reporter. They had all worked with "Wild Bill" for years, and the true story behind 'Bugsy' quickly emerged.

It was Billy Wilkerson who started building the Flamingo hotel. It was Billy Wilkerson who wanted to lure the Hollywood stars to a small patch of desert called Las Vegas. And it was Billy Wilkerson, who broke and distraught, sold his stake in The Flamingo Hotel to Ben Siegel.

At that moment, I looked up and noticed a comotion at the entrance.  Ben Kingley had walked in and it looked like he was heading directly to our table.

I turned to John Strauss, who was finishing his tale of Billy Wilkerson and said, in my not so quiet voice...

"Hurry up and finish...Meyer Lansky is here".

Everyone looked up and after a momentary pause, erupted in laughter. It was completely surreal.

We were sure that Billy Wilkerson had somehow made his way back from the grace for one priceless ironic moment from one of the great true inside Hollywood stories.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Greatest Movie...... Titles of All Time

There are great movies...and then there are great movie titles.

I've been very fortunate in my career to have worked on some great movies like:Return of the Jedi, Dances with Wolves, and Rocky V,

But to tell you the truth, I had more fun when I was at New World Pictures, working with a fantastic team of people on some of these GREAT MOVIE TITLES...

How many of these classics have YOU seen?

Eat and Run
Nice Girls Don't Explode
C.H.U.D (if you're a real movie fan you won't need me to tell you what this means!)
The Peanut Butter Solution
Hell Comes to Frogtown
Grunt, The Wrestling Movie
Return of the Killer Tomatoes
In 'n Out (No, not a documentary on the fast food chain!)
Uphill All the Way
Body Rock
Tuff Turf
Body Rock
Lust in the Dust (my favorite slogan: He Rode the West, She Rode the Rest)
Beyond Therapy
Return to Horror High
Transylvania 6-5,000!
The Zoo Gang
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark
The Killing Time
Reform School Girls ( 2nd best slogan: So Young, So Bad, So What!)
Under the Boardwalk
The Stuff
I Like To Hurt People

If you thought that was interesting...wait until you see some of the stars of the Greatest Movie Titles of all time!

George Clooney
Jeff Goldblum
Robert Downey Jr.
James Spader
Tommy Lee Jones
Whoppi Goldberg
Keifer Sutherland
Dorothy Lamour (I am not kidding!)
Glenda Jackson
Rutger Hauer
James Earl Jones
George Burns
Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Jean-Claude Van Damme
Michael Richards
Geena Davis
Charlie Sheen
Tim Robbins
Sarah Jessica Parker
Helen Hunt
Spanky McFarland (Yes, that Spanky!)
Brooke Shields
Kevin Costner
Shannen Dougherty

And you wouldn't believe some of the promotions we did!

Viva Las Vegas

Viva Las Vegas

The Las Vegas I knew in August 1977 was a far different place than it is today. The hotels were smaller, and although it was a ‘family’ town, it was most certainly a much different kind of family.

I was part of a production team to shoot a TV special called Viva Las Vegas for Spain and South America. Our ‘star’ was Donn Arden’s Hallelujah Hollywood spectacular at the Bally’s Grand. It was truly an amazing show that involved hundreds of performers, and brilliant production values… starting off with the fuselage of a 737 jet on stage surrounded by 100 near naked showgirls. Ah, Las Vegas.

So, with the full help of the hotel’s VP of Entertainment Bill DeAngelis and his staff, we set about to lock in the various performers and acts. The first job was to watch the show and figure out how many ‘acts’ and dancers we needed. There were some amazing production numbers along with a magician, a dancing Elephant and a world famous ‘Frisbee thrower’ and juggler.

We sat in Bill’s office high above the stage watching the show. He had a remote control video camera that he could zoom in to watch the show or in most cases the showgirls. While the audience was overwhelmed by the sheer spectacle on stage; in Bill’s office we were watching the dancers in the last row who were just standing there talking to each other. Then the ‘world famous’ Frisbee thrower comes out and starts hurling Frisbees into the audience like a boomerang. That first night he hit 38 people in their seats.

We had to rehearse during the days, because they did two shows a night. The biggest challenge was getting everyone scheduled and rehearsed. Bill introduced us to the lady who really ran show, Fluff LaCoque (rhymes with La Rock, got it?). She was great. A real pro. Only in Las Vegas could someone have a name like that.

We spent the next 5 days working 20 hour days. We had a few special performers who flew in from Spain, and we had booked a number of stars from the other hotels, including the co-hostess Dionne Warwick. Even though this was a show that was to air in Spain and South America, the contracts and approvals were more complicated that a normal domestic network show. In 1977 cable television was still pretty new in the markets we were going to be broadcasting in. Getting all the right’s issues resolved was very complicated.

We’re a day away from taping and the rehearsals are going fine. There must have been 20 different acts and performers on the show including Dionne Warwick, Cat Stevens, and the dancers from Hallelujah Hollywood. We had EVERY act signed and confirmed.

Except one.

It seems that one of the show’s ‘stars’ had an agent, and they were in the middle of contract negotiation. They were using the show as leverage.

So, one hour from show time the producer walked into the office and with a pretty straight face said “The Elephant won’t do cable’.

We all started to laugh. And we kept laughing…that kind of laugh that only comes in the absurdity of the moment. It’s not that it was that important, or that the damn elephant was that good, it was just funny.

And today more than 30 years later, it still makes me laugh.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Travels with Dom

Dom DeLuise was a halogen light in a 40 watt world.

The first time I met him was backstage at The David Frost Show, and little did I know that a short 7 years later, I'd be standing next to him waiting to go on stage at Sahara's Lake Tahoe Resort watching as he walked on stage to open for Pat and Debby ("You Light Up My Life") Boone.

But there is a lot more to the story.

I worked with Howard Rothberg. Dom was on his way to London for an appearance on The Muppet Show, and Howard had arranged a Trans-Atlantic crossing on Cunard for his entire family. He only had to do one 45 minute lecture for the pasengers and they gave him 3 suites and airfare for everyone. It was a sweet deal.

I showed up at his house on Corsica Drive in Pacific Palisades to escort the DeLuise family to the airport. After meeting his wife Carol and three sons, Peter Michael and David, we all piled into the family station wagon for the trip to LAX. They had to stop in NY first to pick up his mother, and then get to the ship for the crossing to London.

It was quite chaotic, and naturally Dom was besieged with fans. But instead of signing autographs, he had these little pre-signed printed cards, and he gave them out to people. They disappeared into the crowds at LAX and I drove the car back to his house.

To this day, I have no godly idea why we didn't get a limo.

Back to Lake Tahoe....

We arrive two days in advance, and the pressure is on. There is a lot riding on this engagement. Pat and Debby Boone are very popular, and this is a big deal. It marks a calculated strategy to not only increase his ability to make money, but to elevate him to headliner star status.

Dom's a natural comedian, but putting together an opening act is no small feat. He is going to bring back "Dominik The Great" a flawed magician he first made famous on The Gary Moore Show. There were costume changes, special effects and a whole slide show of pictures of his family and growing up in Brooklyn.

We were on stage rehearsing when the VP of Entertainment walked in. I don't remember his name, but I went up to introduce myself and he asked me who was on stage. I thought he was joking. It was hard to miss his name. There were posters at the airport and all town...not to mention this big marquee at the front of the Hotel with his name on it. I decided to go along with the joke.

I said," That's Dom DeLuise". His response floored me. "That's NOT Dom DeLuise", he shot back. "Dom DeLuise is on The Carol Burnett Show."

Oh my god. He thinks Dom is Tim Conway....and that's who he thought he booked. It was one of the few times in my career that I was speechless.

He was very confused, scratching his head for a few moments as Dom was rehearsing 'Dominck The Great' on stage. He was hilarious. The buyer started to laugh and I could see that all it took was a good joke to avoid a disaster.

Dom was a big hit. All went according to plan, and Dom appeared regularly in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, and Atlantic City. But I never told him about what happened.

Here's another great 'inside' true story...

Robin Williams became famous on TV as Mork. What you probably don't know is that Dom DeLuise was the first choice for the part.

Here's what happened. Jerry Paris and Dom were friends and one day during the kid's softball game in Pacific Palisades, Jerry asked Dom to do a small cameo in Happy Days. Dom, who always found it hard to say no to his friends, agreed and Jerry sent over the script and contract.

We told Jerry that Dom wasn't doing any television...especially the #1 rated show on ABC. We had just passed on resigning for the next season of Dean Martin Roasts, and there was no way we were going to piss off Dean Martin, Greg Garrison and NBC.

They would just have to find someone else to put on a red costume and play an alien named Mork.

And the next person they picked wasn't Robin Williams...but I'll save that story for another time.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A guy named Buddy

My father was in the fur business in NY, and he knew a guy named Buddy. He was always well dressed, but never seemed to work. My Dad would work all day marking fur pelts, going to auctions, working on deals. Buddy would just hang around.

When I first went away to college he told me that Buddy wanted to give me a going away to college gift. He asked me what I wanted and I told him a typewriter would be great. He came back the next day and said he needed a specific model number. The next day a brand new Smith Corona showed up from Buddy. It was as hot as the asphalt streets on a summer day, but I didn't care.

There wasn't anything Buddy couldn't get - or people he didn't know. And he was always helpful.

So, fast forward three years later and I am a freshly graduated college graduate looking for work. Naturally, Buddy wants to help. I went into NY to meet with Buddy. It was my first 'meeting'...and boy it was interesting.

There was Buddy in the middle of all the action. He looked at me and said...'So kid, what do you wanna do?" I told him that I had worked for David Frost and got my degree in Journalism. He was not impressed. He asked again...So Kid, what do you wanna do?

I'm a quick learner...'Work in television" I said. Buddy looked up and smiled and pulled out a stack of business cards and started flipping through them. He'd stop and dial the number. " Hi, It's he there?" He called every major talent agency in NY and a few other people. They all called back. He set me up with the William Morris office in NY, The Ashley Famous Agency and a few more.

One of my more interesting encounters was in a coffee shop across from the Brill Building. My 'interview' was with a night club owner from New Jersey. He had enough gold rings and chains hanging around his neck to go into escrow on a house. He says " A friend of mine tells me you wanna work in television, is that right? He then starts to tell me about the clubs he owns and that he's also a personal manager for the group that recorded The Peppermint Twist.

He then gives me the name of another friend of his who is looking for a guy to run their television department. The production company was called Bryantson Films and the name was Lou Peraino.

The next day Buddy calls me and let me know that if I want the job with Mr. Peraino it's mine. The title is Director of TV Development and the starting salary is $65,000 a year. Gulp! It was 1974. I had just graduated college and two months past my 21st birthday. I got dizzy...and just a bit giddy! Who needed a job in the mail room at William Morris!

So, I asked my Dad what he thought. He said it was probably a legit deal, but that if I said 'yes'...then I could never say 'no'. What that means is they could ask for tickets for the Tonight Show, or for you to stand on a street corner holding a bag of money.

All of a sudden the mail room at William Morris looked more interesting.
I called Buddy and told him that I was going to save up and move to LA, which was conveniently true. More importantly, I didn't want to piss off Buddy.

A few years later, Louis Peraino was found guilty as part of the Federal investigation behind Deep Throat and The Devil and Miss Jones. On Tuesday, May 3, 1977 that story appeared in Daily Variety...along with my being named Associate Producer of The Victor Awards Show.

And only in Hollywood would those stories appear on the same page!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Operator, This is Howard Cosell

He was standing backstage and reading through his notes...quickly. He would glance at the page and turn it. He went through about 9 pages in less than a minute. And he remembered everything.

That is the power of a photographic mind, which that day took the form of Howard Cosell. He was one of the most colorful, pompous, intelligent, and popular personalities in professional sports broadcasting because most fans couldn't stand him...and he didn't care. With his prolific memory and self importance, Howard would pontificate on almost any topic at the drop of a dime. He was 'always on'.

If you were born after 1977, here's a classic clip of the classic on air banter between Howard and 'The Champ".

Back to the story.

Howard was a guest host on The David Frost Show, which itself was, on paper, a brilliant idea. By that time, I was also the cue card writer on the show, but he didn't want any cue cards. He was very nervous and we could all see it. This wasn't a broadcast booth or radio studio. The great Cosell was not broadcasting a fight or football game, he was interviewing movie stars on a stage. He was out of his element.

The show was less than entertaining, and like elective dental surgery, we were all glad when it was over.

I was sitting with some friends in the dressing room after the show and Howard walked in. I am sure he did not notice us. He went straight into the make-up room, and sat down in the big 'barber's chair' that was surrounded by mirrors. He looked in the mirror, tugged at his hair, and loosened his tie. The make-up room became what he didn't have on stage....a broadcast booth.

He threw off his coat, sat back in the chair and picked up the phone as if it were a microphone. Then, without missing a beat, boomed into it as if he were broadcasting Monday Night Football,

"Hello Operator, THIS IS HOWARD COSELL."

And it wouldn't have suprised me a bit if the operator responded with..."Yeah, sure you are".

Friday, March 6, 2009

Whatever Alice wants...

Alice Cooper came to Las Vegas as the guest of Barron Hilton in 1977 because his manager loved Las Vegas and Alice loved playing golf .

Each year, Mr. Hilton turned over the main ballroom of the Las Vegas Hilton, and hosted The Victor Awards Show where big Hollywood stars and professional athletes came together to raise money for The City of Hope.

There is only one Alice Cooper. He is one of the great musical talents and stars of our time. He was perfecting the art of 'rock opera' long before anyone else. His stage performances were pure theatre, and world famous for breaking all the rules.

But my job this particular weekend was to make sure that his appearance on the show and his stay at the Las Vegas Hilton went off without a hitch. So, my opening line was Whatever Alice wants", which meant keeping him and his 'entourage' happy. It was an easy gig...all he had to do was show up and give out an award. And play golf.

About 2 hours after they arrived, Alice was already on the golf course. As a guest of Barron Hilton, there was no trouble getting the best tee times. I am sure that few if any people there even recognized Alice Cooper the rock star.

The other two members of the entourage were his manager, Bob Emmer and his wife Sue. She was happy to go directly to the Las Vegas Hilton spa. Bob and I got to know each other. Alice was there to give out the award for Golfer of the Year, so we went over the schedule for his spot on the show.

Mr. Hilton hosted a private reception high atop the hotel with breathtaking views of Las Vegas which Alice and the Emmers attended. It was a chance to meet and take photos with the other presenters and sports stars.

It was amazing to watch how everyone wanted to have their picture taken with Alice Cooper. He 'worked the room' like a pro and talked to everyone. He was exactly NOT what any of us had expected.

There were a few 'requests' over the course of the weekend in terms of photos or adjustments to schedules. Without exception, the answer was always yes...and then he always added Whatever Barron Wants.

By the end of the weekend, it had become a running gag. We coined that phrase, which we still use to this day whenever we see each other.

But the 'Barron' had one more request of Alice before the weekend was over.

I was also working on a TV show called KidsWorld, which was a kid's version of 60 minutes where youngsters interviewed famous stars. Larry Einhorn was the Producer and Director of The Victor Awards...and KidsWorld. Small world.

So, enjoy Beth Einhorn's interview with Alice Cooper from 1977 in Las's what 'the Barron' wanted...