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.