Showing posts with label writers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writers. Show all posts

10 March 2020

Paperback Writer


Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
It's based on a novel by a man named Lear,
And I need a job,
So I wanna be a paperback writer…
            — John Lennon / Paul McCartney


I always wanted to send a query to an editor and start it off with those words. Probably would have worked better a while back when more people would have recognized it than today. It still seems like a fun thing to do.

But that’s not what I’m writing about today. I am, however, writing about the Beatles.

Most people who know me for more than five minutes or more than just on the surface know how much I love the Beatles. I could run on and on here about just how much. But the main point is that, even though they’re music and I’m a writer, they had (have) a great influence on me.


The main thing they gave me (along with many other things) is a desire to be the best. I do play some music and if I had my druthers, if I could ever figure out what the hell a druther is, I would have wanted to be a rock star. Who wouldn’t? But as much of an ego as I might have—or had cause it’s shrinking all the time…—I knew I didn’t have the chops to make it in music. I had some fun. I played in some bands. See the home made, or should I say artisanal, card here from our first band. It might be artisanal, but I’m almost embarrassed to show it—very DIY. Anyway, I knew enough to know I couldn’t be a professional musician.


So I had to figure out something else to do with my life. Hmm? Astrophysicist. Architect. Archeologist. Anthropologist. Astronomer. Astrologer. You see whatever it was it had to start with an “A”.  Well, actually one of those might be something I considered. It might have had something to do with designing buildings. But I never really pursued it.

My parents, of course, always wanted me to have a “real job” and something to fall back on. But being the rebellious sort I went my own way. And that way took a left turn at Hollywood and Vine, especially since I was born the proverbial hop, skip and jump from there. So maybe it was fate that I wanted to try my hand at writing.

It wasn’t an easy row to hoe. And without going into specifics, it took lots of persistence, many rejections, some chutzpah (and if that isn’t a Hollywood word I don’t know what is). But eventually I carved a niche for myself doing rewriting. And the day I got into the (screen) Writers Guild was one of the best days of my life. However, my father never really understood what I did because I got no screen credit and without something tangible like that he didn’t quite get it.

From there I branched out to writing short stories and novels. And again started with many rejections and lots of persistence. Each rejection made me angry. After all, wasn’t I the greatest writer since Charles Dickens, or in our field, Hammett and Chandler? These people who kept rejecting me clearly had no taste. But after my little tantrums I would go back to the drawing board and either rework the rejected story or work on something new. I wanted them to be good. I wanted them to be good enough to sell.

And the Beatles, because I love them so much, and because they were so good and always pushing the envelope and trying new things, made me want to be better every time out…like them. I’m not putting myself in the same rarified air as them, just saying that they inspired me. Of course, they weren’t the only thing that lit the fire in the belly, but they were certainly part of it.

The time I made a producer cry after leaving him a treatment because it touched him so much was a highpoint for me—to get that kind of reaction meant I was doing something right.

There’s a bit in the movie As Good As It Gets, where Jack Nicholson says to Helen Hunt:

Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson): I've got a really great compliment for you, and it's true.

Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt): I'm so afraid you're about to say something awful.


Melvin: Don't be pessimistic, it's not your style. Okay. Here I go. Clearly a mistake.


(shifts in his seat uncomfortably)


Melvin: I've got this, what, ailment? My doctor, a shrink that I used to go to all the time, he says that in fifty or sixty percent of the cases, a pill really helps. I hate pills. Very dangerous thing, pills. Hate. I'm using the word "hate" here, about pills. Hate. My compliment is, that night when you came over and told me that you would never... all right, well, you were there, you know what you said. Well, my compliment to you is, the next morning, I started taking the pills.

Carol: I don't quite get how that's a compliment for me.


Melvin: You make me want to be a better man.


(pause)

Carol: (stunned) That's maybe the best compliment of my life.

And just as she made the Nicholson character want to be a better man, the Beatles (and others) made/make me want to be a better writer. A better paperback writer.

I’m not saying I’m the greatest writer in the world, far from it. But listening to the Beatles, and reading great mystery and fiction writers made me strive to be the best that I could be. And when I’d get rejections I’d be upset, but it would also make me try harder with an “I’ll show you” attitude. I’m still not where I want to be, but I keep working on it. And what I am saying is shoot for the stars and maybe get the moon or even just a mountain top. Shoot for nothing and you get nothing. But while you’re shooting for the stars, hone your craft.


And I’m writing this not to talk about myself per se but to share my experiences for others who may be on the same path and might need a little encouragement. I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Coming June 1st from Down & Out Books - The Blues Don't Care:

“There are all the essential elements for an engrossing read: good guys, bad guys, gangsters and crooked policemen, and through it all, an extremely well written sense of believable realism.”
            —Discovering Diamonds Reviews, Independent Reviews of the Best in Historical Fiction (https://discoveringdiamonds.blogspot.com/)



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

18 February 2020

All Dogs BETTER Go to Heaven


by Paul D. Marks

When I started writing this I thought I’d make it funny. But for the most part that didn’t happen. I guess I’m just not feeling too funny right now.
Pepper and me

We recently had to put our dog Pepper to sleep. It was hard and, unfortunately, not the first time we’ve lost an animal and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Many writers have dog or cat companions. Ours is a lonely life sometimes and it’s good to have other beating hearts around. I’m pretty good being alone and very disciplined about getting work done. But when my wife is gone it’s nice to have animal companions around. Over the years we’ve had various combinations of dogs and cats. Most recently Pepper and Buster, who is still with us.

Pepper was great company, got along with all our other animals. And, of course, loved to walk. And if I wasn’t on the ball she’d nudge my elbow saying, “Hey, bud, it’s time to go for our walk.” And we would.

She was old for a big dog, 14½, and she had a good life. When she came into our house at around 8 weeks old we had another dog, Audie, who immediately fell for her. We also had two cats, Curley and Moe (I wonder who they were named after). The cats had grown up with dogs. They were feral when we brought them home as tiny little black balls of fur. We had a dog at the time, Bogey, a Rottweiler. And my wife, Amy, was afraid to let the cats and Bogey be together. But on that first day, I insisted that we put them on the bed and let Bogey sniff them out. Not only did she do that, she cleaned them up and they became fast friends. Then, when we brought Audie into the house as a puppy, the cats took to him like ducks to water. And Moe, the female, especially loved him and loved playing with his tail. Which he tolerated…barely.
Pepper at the creek
When Bogey died, we waited a while and then got Pepper as a pound puppy only a few weeks old. We brought her home in a cat carrier—that’s how small she was. Audie sniffed around but decided she was okay and they became the best of friends. She even brought out a maturity in him that we hadn’t known was there as Bogey was always the alpha dog with him. It reminded me of the scene in Bambi, if I remember correctly, where Bambi’s father tells him he has to grow up after his mom is killed. Bambi did—and Audie did to take care of Pepper.

Audie (left), Pepper (right)
But the cats, Curley and Moe, were scared of this new Pepper creature in the house. Pepper was having none of that. She insisted that they be friends. She drove them nuts, in a friendly-playing way, until they decided if you can’t beat her and can’t hide from her you might as well join her. And she and Curley, the male cat, became great friends. I think they bonded over tearing our family room couch apart. We’d come out of the bedroom in the morning, before Pepper had the run of the house, and it would be like it snowed in there there’d be so much couch stuffing all over the place.

Pepper and Curley

When we lost Audie, Pepper was pretty depressed. But shortly afterwards we got Buster. He was three years old or so when we got him from the German Shepherd Rescue and we—and they—think he was abused before they got him. Pepper accepted him into her house no problem. And they became friends, if not as good friends as she and Audie had been. Curley and Moe were curious, but both died before they could really bond with him. And now he’s all we have left, though we’ll probably get another dog and maybe more cats in the future.

Pepper (left), Buster (right)
She was a particularly wonderful dog in every way. Of all our dogs I explored more with her than with any other dog. We walked up into the forest and down by the creek. She was curious and fun and playful. And when we got surrounded by a pack of feral dogs, which was a pretty scary situation, she was cool and calm. She didn’t seem scared and she didn’t act aggressively. We just stood there until the dogs started peeling off one by one. Then we began to head home. Some of the dogs followed, but they also peeled off until the only one left was the alpha. He followed us almost to our house, but he, too, eventually peeled off. I’m glad to say no blood was shed on either side that day, and I think a good part of the reason for that was Pepper’s demeanor, calm and steady. On other occasions we came across coyotes, and let me tell you the feral dogs were much scarier than the coyotes, who never bothered us at all.
On the road again...
Pepper, whose full name is Sgt. Pepper (I’ll let you figure out what that’s an homage to), was a warm and wonderful and welcoming dog. She just wanted to be friends with everyone. She was good for inspiration and a terrific writing buddy.

Pepper (front - after an operation), Buster (behind) and me
When Pepper or some of our previous animals have gotten sick or injured some people would say to put them down and just get another. But we don’t see it that way. We don’t see our dogs and cats as interchangeable cogs. They’re very much individuals with distinct personalities, and very much part of the family. And you can’t just replace one when the parts start to wear out.

And some people say that the only reason they like us is because we feed them. I read an article once where a woman argued that and it made me crazy. Yes, they like to be fed—don’t we all. But they, just like us, want more than that. They want companionship and security. And, imo, what they really want is what most of us what: to love and be loved.

But the point I’m leading up to here is the title of this piece: Pepper, and all our other critters, better be up there in heaven waiting for us—this of course assumes there is a heaven, but I think that’s a question for another time. Because if all dogs and cats don’t go to heaven, I don’t want to go there either.
My girl
And my idea of heaven, not that I’m in a hurry to check it out, is a comfortable place, with Jacopo’s pizza on their best day flowing freely, abalone and other goodies—cause I think in the other place all you get are C rats. And, of course, Amy and I and all our critters would be there. But then I start to wonder: what the hell (oops, maybe not the best word to use in this context…) do you do up there for all of eternity? Would you get bored? Would you have TV? And if you do would you get Turner Classics on a big screen? And would the History Channel or whatever it’s called these days still be running endless reruns of Forged in Fire (or maybe that only plays down below—hope so as it seems appropriate). Or the other “history” channel running endless reruns of black and white Nazis. Hmm… And would the Beatles be creating any new songs? Now that would be heaven!

Or is it gonna be like Meat Loaf’s* Paradise by the Dashboard Light, where I’m prayin’ for the end of time… Let’s hope not.



~.~.~

And now for a little BSP:  I’m running a free promotion for people who subscribe to my newsletter. You can get a FREE e-copy of my novel Vortex. Just subscribe. And if you’re already a subscriber and want the novel contact me via my website or e-mail and I’ll send you the link for the download.


I'm also excited to announce that I've got a new book coming out in 2020: The Blues Don't Care. It's a little different for me. It's set in 1940s Los Angeles jazz scene during World War II. I hope you'll keep checking in for more news on this exciting new release.


***
Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

01 February 2020

Literary Trivia, Recycled




Since I was in a reminiscing mood the other day--and since I was having trouble coming up with an idea for today's column--I took a look at what I'd posted exactly ten years ago at the Criminal Brief mystery blog (the predecessor to SleuthSayers). Oddly enough, my subject that day was one I was discussing with a friend just last week: trivia about writers.

I have taken the liberty of re-posting that piece of nonsense here. You'll see some things that might be a bit off, including my mention of a couple of authors in the present tense who have since died and at least one research mistake (Christie did NOT kill off Miss Marple in Sleeping Murder, as my source said she did)--but I hope you might find a few interesting facts here. I know one thing for sure: our odd fascination with trivial details will always be around. 

Anyhow, here's that old column. Where'd all that time go . . . ? 


INSIDE INFO, by John M. Floyd

Saturday, January 30, 2010

(Yes, I know this isn't EXACTLY ten years ago--but it's close.)




I like trivia. I always have. I think it's fun to discover little-known and often useless facts about the people and places and things that share our world. Who knows, maybe it's fun because it is useless: the pursuit of meaningless information is more like play than work, and we have plenty enough work in our lives.

Stalking the rich and famous

Apparently I'm not alone in my fondness for unimportant details. We all know how the general public loves to get the skinny on celebrities and their antics. There seems to be no end to the number of fans who want to know what J-Lo wore to her premiere last night or what kind of cereal George Clooney eats for breakfast.

I can understand that, in a way. I like finding out that Sinatra was the producers' first choice to play Dirty Harry, and that E.T.'s voice was really Debra Winger's. But I'm also interested in another area of trivia: writers, and their backgrounds and habits. Because of that, I keep an eye open (both of them, occasionally) for little tidbits that shed more light on the sometimes secret lives of authors.

The quirks of Shakespeare

Here are some of those pieces of information that I've picked up and stored away in notebooks over the years. I can't remember where I found most of them, but at least a few came from a book called Writing the Popular Novel, by Loren Estleman. He calls them "Fiction Facts":


- At one point, Mickey Spillane was the author of seven of the ten best-selling novels of all time.

- F. Scott Fitzgerald kept track of his plotlines by pinning the drafts of his chapters up on his walls.

- When J. K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter novel, she typed three separate copies because she couldn't afford copying fees.

- Ian Fleming named his main character after reading a book called Birds of the West Indies, by James Bond. He liked the name because he considered it dull and bland and therefore appropriate for a secret agent.

- While serving as president of Anderson Manufacturing, Sherwood Anderson abruptly walked out of his office one day to pursue a career as an author (good for him!). Also in the "odd exit" department: Years later, Anderson died from peritonitis after swallowing a toothpick hidden in an hors d'oeuvre.

- Agatha Christie, who was convinced that others might exploit two of her main characters after her death, killed them off in two books--Jane Marple in Sleeping Murder and Hercule Poirot in Curtain--and arranged to have them published posthumously.

- Jack London once ran for mayor of Oakland, California, on the Social Party ticket; Upton Sinclair once ran for governor of California.

- In 1939 Ernest Vincent Wright wrote a 50,000-word novel called Gadsby without ever using the letter "e."

- The prolific John Creasey is said to have written his first published novel on the backs of more than seven hundred rejection letters.

- Jack Kerouac mounted a continuous roll of teletype paper above his typewriter so he wouldn't have to crank in new sheets.

- Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow's literary heritage: a number of Bonnie's poems were accepted and published in newspapers in 1933, while she was eluding the FBI--and a letter from Clyde to Henry Ford, praising the Ford as a getaway car, is now on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

- When asked what one of his stories meant, William Faulkner once replied, "How should I know? I was drunk when I wrote it."

- Erle Stanley Gardner dictated his books orally.

- Arthur Conan Doyle was an ophthalmologist; since it didn't pay particularly well, he took up writing only as a way to make ends meet.

- Frankly, my dear, Margaret Mitchell wrote the ending of Gone With the Wind first and wrote the opening only after the book was accepted for publication, ten years later.

- Both Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain liked to write lying down, Ben Franklin and Vladimir Nabokov often wrote while in the bathtub, and Lewis Carroll and Ernest Hemingway (after injuring his back in a plane crash) wrote standing up.

- Rescued at the last moment: Tabitha King retrieved Carrie from her husband's wastebasket (the Kings were almost starving at the time), and the son of Leo Tolstoy fished the discarded manuscript of War and Peace out of a drainage ditch.

- Elmore Leonard writes everything in longhand, on yellow legal pads.

- Six-foot-six Thomas Wolfe also preferred to write standing up, using the top of his refrigerator for a desk.

- Charles Dickens's dream was to be a comic actor. Thankfully, he wasn't very good at it and decided on another career instead.

- J. D. Salinger sometimes avoids interruptions by writing in a concrete bunker near his home.

- It is said that Hemingway's simple, terse style came from the fact that he had memorized the King James version of the Bible and could recite it by heart.

- Stephen King wrote the first pages of Misery in a London hotel at a desk that had belonged to Rudyard Kipling.

- Switching horses in midstream: Janet Evanovich started out writing romances, Elmore Leonard started with Westerns, Lawrence Block started with erotica. And both James Dickey (Deliverance) and James Harrison (Legends of the Fall) published poetry long before they published fiction.

- William Sydney Porter (O. Henry) got the idea for his pseudonym from a guard, Orrin Henry, who befriended him while he was serving time in prison for embezzlement.



You get the idea: writers are a different breed, and writing itself is a strange occupation. But, as Stephen the Kingster once said, "It's better than having to pay a psychiatrist."




Just as recycling a long-ago column is better than having to dream up a new one. (I promise I'll post one next time that hasn't been previously driven.)

One more piece of trivia, in the where-has-the-time-gone department: Fifty years ago tomorrow, I signed on with IBM, fresh out of college, and stayed there 30 years. Great jumpin' Jiminy.

A final note: In the comments following this original post, that smartaleck Leigh Lundin asked if I could write my next blog post without using the letter "e." My response was: "Of cours I will." (But I didn't. Mayb nxt tim.)

Have a great February.





28 January 2020

MGM: More Stars Than There Are in Heaven – Part II


by Paul D. Marks

We're back for Part II of my interview with Steven Bingen, co-author with Stephen Sylvester and Michael Troyan of MGM: HOLLYWOOD'S GREATEST BACKLOT.  If you missed Part I you can find it here: https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2020/01/mgm-more-stars-than-there-are-in-heaven.html .

Enjoy:


Paul: Welcome back, Steve. What are your and your co-authors backgrounds?  Tell us a little about your personal as well as Hollywood backgrounds.

Steve: There are 3 credited author's on this book, "MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot."

Years ago our agent was told by a publisher that there could never be a "unified vision" on a book with 3 perspectives.  That publisher didn't understand that we all felt exactly the same way about Hollywood's backlots and shared exactly the same odd obsessions.  Whatever the book's virtues and flaws, I defy anyone to figure out where one of our voices stops and another's starts.  Our collaborating was just like the production of most Hollywood movies.  The book's very existence is a sort of 2-Dimensional denial of the auteur theory.   Creativity by committee, if you will.

Mike (Troyan) and I both came out of Warner Bros. Corporate Archive – although his background is more academic than mine.  I have a background rooted in film production while his is more literary.  Mike is the author of "A Rose for Mrs. Miniver," about MGM star Greer Garson – which I can't recommend highly enough, by the way.

Steve (Sylvester), my other partner is in possession of vast amount knowledge and a vast collection of materials relating to MGM as a physical place.  He's the only one of us who was actually able to boast of visiting the MGM backlot before it was all destroyed.  In some ways, in visiting the studio he was able to do what I've aspired to do for my whole life. Because I was too late to see the place, the studio always seemed almost mythical, like Shangri-La or Camelot to me.  But it was real and Steve was there.  I wanted that perspective in the book.  It just seemed like a good fit for the three of us to coauthor – and it was.

Who have you contacted (MGM old-timers, etc.) and have they been willing to help?

I don't know if it was a conscious decision, but we tended to avoid talking to movie stars because their stories have been told so often, and because their worlds at the studio were so insulated.  Elizabeth Taylor was at MGM for decades, but her experience on the backlot would have consisted of being driven through the sets in a limo to her particular location.  I doubt if she would have had much opportunity or interest in exploring a place which wouldn't have seemed at all unusual to her because of the odd circumstances of her life.  It would be like asking a coal miner what was extraordinary about a mine shaft!

On the other hand we spoke to a lot of "regular people," some of whom worked on the lot for their entire careers who had amazing stories to tell, and who realized, even at the time what a bizarre and wonderful place MGM really was.  Some of our best stories were from people who grew up near the studio who used to climb the fences and explore inside as children.  I really do envy those people.

How many backlots were there?  Where?  What did they have on them?

MGM wasn't a single lot. Lot One contained the soundstages, corporate offices and post production facilities.  The backlot was literally at the rear, or back, of the plant.  As the studio grew it expanded across the street onto a property known as Lot Two.  Lot Two contained a small-town street, residential districts, railroad stations (with working trains) – the largest of which replicated New York's Grand Central Station.  It also had European and Asian villages, a jungle with a bridge, man-made lake, gardens, pools, castles, Southern and English estates, and a half dozen blocks, built full scale, replicating New York City and all its Burroughs – right down to the last street sign, man-hole cover, and fire escape.


Up the road a few blocks was Lot Three, which was even larger and contained three distinct old western settings, two more waterfront districts, a tropical rainforest, rock formations, winding roads, a Mississippi steamboat, a circus set, military bases, a POW camp, a vintage era New York Street, farms, ranches, an Arabian Knight districts and the world's largest process tank for shooting miniatures.

Lot Three was itself surrounded by the satellite lots; Four, Five, Six and Seven – which collectively housed zoos and stables, more sets, storage sheds, partial fleets of aircraft and locomotives, a peat farm….   whatever there wasn't  room for anywhere else.  When L. B. Mayer, the boss, took an interest in horse racing in the 40's, people used to suggest that the Santa Anita racetrack should perhaps be rechristened  Lot Eight!


What are your philosophical thoughts about the loss of the backlots?

I've always been haunted by and interested in Hollywood's backlots in general.  The idea that there exists places in the world where there are entire phantom towns constructed to mimic the real world – and yet where no one has ever lived, could ever live, is fascinating and mysterious and a little creepy.  Backlots are supposed to duplicate our lives, our homes, and the city streets we move thorough every day, and yet although they can be as familiar to us as places we've lived in our actual lives, they remain unknowable, untouchable, just out of normalcy and of recognition.

Backlots are like the purest form of architecture.  They really are designed just for aesthetic reasons.  The backlot architect doesn't have to worry about service elevators or building codes or faulty wiring.  A backlot just has to look good and to set a mood in order to do its job.  There are no real world considerations involved. Find an architect and ask him where else in the world that happens?

During the writing of this book it occurred to me that Hollywood's backlots are responsible for an awful lot of the defining non-movie architecture of the last century as well.  Think about it.  If Hollywood hadn't started designing sets to suggest moods or foreign settings would we really have shopping malls, or theme parks, or places like Las Vegas today?  All of these places, for good or bad, came out of backlots and the people who designed them.

I used to give tours of Warner Bros. Studio in my capacity as historian for the company.  Once I was showing the family of some executives an artificial lake out on the backlot and describing how that lake had been dressed as India for a film which I'd seen shot there.  I was going on about how the set had looked exactly like the real India when all of a sudden it occurred to me, and I told my bemused guests this, that I'd never personally been to India at all.  That my entire idea of what India is, in fact came not from the real thing, not from India at all, but rather from movies, some of which had undoubtedly been made right where we were standing right at that moment!

You should talk to my wife, she grew up in India for a time – but yes, she does have an American birth certificate....  But changing elephants in midstream now, What is your next project?

I can't speak for my partners…but…I will.  Honestly, I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to shake off the current project!  After all, I'm doomed to see the MGM backlot every time I sit back to relax and turn on the TV!

We'd love to make this book the first volume in a series about all 7 of Hollywood's major studio lots – the Seven Sisters.  I'm just not sure if logistically, and legally it's going to be possible to do so.  To look at it from the viewpoint of the other studios I can't really blame them for not wanting someone from the outside to come around and start rooting around in their past.  We were able to "do" MGM because so many different hands have been running the company and the people who owned the copyright on the materials we needed weren't the original owners. But I don't know if that set of circumstances could come up again in regards to another studio.  We'll see…

Thank you, Steve, for joining me here at SleuthSayers.  And good luck with the book. "MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot" is available in bookstores and at Amazon.  Click here:



~.~.~

And now for a little BSP:  I’m running a free promotion for people who subscribe to my newsletter. You can get a FREE e-copy of my novel Vortex. Just subscribe. And if you’re already a subscriber and want the novel contact me via my website or e-mail and I’ll send you the link for the download.


I'm also excited to announce that I've got a new book coming out in 2020: The Blues Don't Care. It's a little different for me. It's set in 1940s Los Angeles jazz scene during World War II. I hope you'll keep checking in for more news on this exciting new release.


***

Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com



07 January 2020

MGM: More Stars Than There Are in Heaven


On New Year’s Turner Classic Movies ran all the That’s Entertainment movies. Amy and I caught a few minutes of them. The host appearances were largely filmed on the MGM backlot, or what was left of it at the time. And that got me thinking about some of my own experiences there and an interview I did with Steve Bingen, one of the authors of the highly acclaimed book: MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot. The interview is from a while back but hopefully still of interest. This is part one of two.

Only one studio in the golden days of Hollywood could claim as its motto "more stars than there are in heaven" and actually mean it: MGM – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Not only did MGM have more stars than in heaven it also had more backlots—the place where dreams were made.  In Culver City, CA, besides the main studio lot, were eight backlots, depending on how one counts them.  I have the distinction of being one of the last people to have shot a film on MGM Backlot #2, one of the two main backlots, which is an interesting story in itself, but for another time.

Because of that, I was contacted by Steven Bingen, an archivist at Warner Brothers, who, along with Mike Troyan and Steve Sylvester have authored a book called MGM: HOLLYWOOD'S GREATEST BACKLOT—with a foreword by Debbie Reynolds.

Unfortunately MGM ain't what it used to be and, in fact, the main lot, the only lot left, is now owned by Sony.  All the backlots met with the wrecker's ball and made way for condos or houses.  "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot," as Joanie Mitchell once sang.  Luckily the photos, memories and stories of people who remember the backlots have been collected in this book.

What follows is Part I of my interview with Steve Bingen about the book and the backlots.  Please note that the interview was done before the book was finalized and released so that is reflected in the interview's wording.

Paul: Thank you for dropping by, Steve. What gave you the idea for this book—what was your inspiration?

Steve: There have been books written about MGM before, and I recommend them all.  But there was always a major part of the equation, maybe the major part of that equation missing on each and every one of them. All of these books would inevitably contain one aerial shot of the lot—usually the same one—and a single paragraph, maybe, about soundstages and backlots at the studio. And that would be it!

This struck all three of us as mysterious.  It always seemed to us that if you were writing about a place, and MGM was indeed an actual physical place, then why would an author choose to tell us what amounted to virtually nothing about that place?  People always describe Hollywood's studios as "dream factories." Well that phrase isn't bad for what it is, and anyone who was there will tell you that life in those dream factories was if anything, even more interesting than the product the factory was producing.  Yet no one had ever talked about that factory.  Ever.

What we wanted to do with our book was to zoom in on that single aerial photo in everyone else's book, to climb the fences of one of those dream factories and look around a bit.

More stars than there are in heaven.

Tell us about the book and what makes it unique.

Let me just say that the book is formatted as a "virtual tour" of MGM Studios.  The text mostly consists of a walk around the lot, circa 1960, with every major set and department described and illustrated.  We've included hundreds of unseen photos of the place as well, many of which were saved from catacombs and basements and archives which no living person has accessed in decades.  I'm not sure about the "not living" people.

MGM Backlot #2

What did you learn about MGM and/or the various backlots that was new or really interesting?

I thought it was fascinating and haunting how many famous movies and television shows shot on that lot for which no one ever suspected that what they were watching was a backlot at all.  Even if audiences were watching a set they had already seen in hundreds, thousands of other films, people seemed to accept that a curved European street was Paris one week and Transylvania the next just because a visual cue, a street sign or an establishing shot told them it was. Something like a fifth of all the movies made in the United States, historically were made somewhere on the MGM backlot!  Sadly, and decades after the fact, this only proves how successfully these facades were at doing what they were designed to do.

Even today in an era of wide-spread location shooting and so-called digital backlots, Hollywood's few surviving actual backlots manage to succeed in constantly fooling today's "sophisticated" audiences time after time.  I recall watching the Super Bowl on TV recently, and counting at least 4 commercials during the broadcast which replicated real locations using current LA backlot sets which every single person in that game's vast worldwide audience had seen hundreds of times before. I can't help but wonder how many of those people, besides me, have ever suspected that was the case?

What were some of the movies shot on them?

In the book we came up with a list of every major backlot set with the titles of films shot on that set listed underneath.  I'm not sure how much of that list is going to be published, and in what form, but as  it stands now those lists alone, in reduced print, equal over 40 pages of text, and frankly are not even close to being comprehensive!  It amuses me that people write books about, and make pilgrimages to, locations where their favorite scenes from their favorite films were shot.  You know, Griffith Observatory in the Hollywood hills where a single scene in "Rebel Without a Cause" was recorded for example. Well, that location pales in significance to any single inch of any single movie studio—which has probably hosted hundreds, thousands, of films across the decades.  I sometimes drive though those vast anonymous subdivisions which were built where MGM's Lot Two once stood, and I can't help but wonder if the people in those tract homes on that land, know, or care, how historic their property really is. Movie-wise that real estate is more important than any single block of Hollywood Boulevard ever was!

Anyway, I think it's kind of fun to hopscotch through these lists and realize how versatile these sets were, and how much of our shared movie memories were created on them.


How and why did you hook up with me?

Now that's an interesting story.  I don't know if readers of this blog are aware of this but Paul directed one of the last movies ever made on the MGM backlot.  That 40 page chronological list I mentioned of films shot at the studio ends with his name on it.

I didn't know any of this.  I had noticed that there were a few very tantalizing stills floating around on the internet of the studio in its very decrepit very last days.  I couldn't figure out what film these stills were from or what movie was seen in production in them.  I started asking around on the sites where these "holy grail" shots had been posted and that finally led Paul and I to a meeting where he was good enough to loan me some of these same stills and describe the strange production history of his picture.  I'm not going to tell that story here because I can't do so as well as he can, but needless to say it is in my book, and hopefully some of those pictures will appear there as well.  (The photo selection is still being assembled [at the time of the interview]). Let me just say that the history of Paul's movie quite a tale.  Ask him to tell it to you…

MGM: HOLLYWOOD'S GREATEST BACKLOT is available in bookstores and at Amazon.  Click here.

In Part II find out about more about MGM. Stay tuned.

***

And now for a little BSP:  I’m running a free promotion for people who subscribe to my newsletter. You can get a FREE e-copy of my novel Vortex. Just subscribe. And if you’re already a subscriber and want the novel contact me via my website or e-mail and I’ll send you the link for the download.


***

I'm also excited to announce that I've got a new book coming out in 2020: The Blues Don't Care. It's a little different for me. It's set in 1940s Los Angeles jazz scene during World War II. I hope you'll keep checking in for more news on this exciting new release.

Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

17 December 2019

Merry Movie Mayhem


by Paul D. Marks

Well, with Christmas and Hanukkah only a few days away, here’s some last minute Merry Mayhem stocking stuffers. As of the time of this writing, a few days before its posting, most were still available and some are available streaming. The movies aren’t necessarily Christmas-related, just good stocking stuffers for those who like to read, write and watch crime fiction. And I’ve tossed in a bunch of non-crime-related movies at the end. All in no particular order. So, roll film:


The Godfather and its two sequels: Godfather I is one of the greatest movies ever made. And Godfather II is even better. Three isn’t as bad as I first thought it was and if one can get around Sofia Coppola’s Valley Girl Mafia chic it’s pretty good actually. You can get them individually, in a set or as the Godfather Saga where they’ve been cut together chronologically. I’ll take my Godfather any way I can get it.

Chinatown and Two Jakes: At the risk of being repetitive, Chinatown is one of the greatest movies ever made. And one of the best and most perfect screenplays I’ve ever read. When task master Amy was trying to get me to pare down on things, she “made” me get rid of a ton of screenplays I had – lots of good ones, too. But one of the few that I kept was Chinatown, which still sits on a shelf in my office for inspiration. Some people don’t like the subject matter, they find it repulsive. But it’s still a terrific movie. And the sequel, Two Jakes, also isn’t as bad as I first thought it was. But it’s best to watch it right after you view Chinatown so everything that it refers to is fresh in your mind. That will enhance your enjoyment of it.

In a Lonely Place: Tied for my second favorite movie of all time (see towards the end for the other second fave). And yes, I like the movie better than the book it’s based on. It resonates with me on so many levels. Back in the day, the Smithereens did a song called In a Lonely Place, inspired by the movie. It even has some lines from the movie. I really like this song. I got a poster of the movie from Pat DiNizio, the lead singer/guitarist/songwriter of the Smithereens. And when I look at the poster I like to think that DiNizio was also looking at that very poster when he wrote that song.

Film Noir 10-Movie Spotlight Collection: Okay, even if you don’t have anyone to get this for, get it for yourself. It’s one of the best collections of noir I’ve seen. It includes: This Gun For Hire, The Glass Key, Double Indemnity, Phantom Lady, The Blue Dahlia, Black Angel, The Killers (1946 version), The Big Clock, Criss Cross, Touch of Evil. There’s not a bad movie in the bunch. And it includes the ultimate film noir imo, Double Indemnity. Plus Blue Dahlia, which Raymond Chandler wrote the screenplay for. But they’re all good to great. Some have commentaries and other features. I’ve given this as gifts to a few people and I’m always envious when I do. I have all the movies, but in other versions, but somehow I still want this set for me. One great set.

Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Collection: If you like Hitchcock and you don’t already have these or know someone who might enjoy them it’s a great Hitch starter set. I say ‘starter’ because there’s so many more. But this includes one of my two fave Hitchcock movies, Vertigo (the other being The Lady Vanishes). And most of the movies here are terrific, though there’s some I’m not all that fond of. Plus there’s lots of extra features. Movies in the set are: Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Rear Window, The Trouble with Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy, Family Plot.

Pulp Fiction: Everybody knows this one. It’s a terrific movie. And would make a great stocking stuffer, along with Reservoir Dogs.

Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile: Two movies based on Stephen King stories. Not horror tales, like he’s generally known for. And I tend to like his non-horror stories – like these and Stand by Me – much more than the horror ones. You can get these two in a set, both directed by Frank Darabont. A terrific two-fer.

Thin Man Boxed Set: Unfortunately, I think I was wrong about this one still being available. Well, it is still available but it’s over 200 bucks. So maybe another time when it’s reissued. We all know the Thin Man movies. The playful banter and plentiful drink. One of my film school teachers wrote one of them – I always thought that was so cool. There’s other good William Powell Myrna Loy movies as well, especially Libeled Lady and Love Crazy.

LA Confidential: I’m a James Ellroy fan, though not as much as I used to be. This is one hell of a good movie based on his book. And, though I loved the book, after watching the movie about 500 times, I reread it and think I actually like the movie better.

Here’s some non-crime movies that might work, too:

Reuben Reuben: A minor gem and a great satire. Here’s a couple quotes from the movie:

“There's nothing I cherish more than the truth. I don't practice it, but I cherish it.”

And later:

“That’s where they live. (Points to sign that says “Birch Hills”.) And in other subdivisions with names like Orchard View and Vineyard Haven. All of them named, God help us, for the woods and the vineyards and the apple trees they bulldozed out of existence to make way for the new culture.”

After Hours: Something a little different from Martin Scorsese.  The Grateful Dead sang, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” They might have been writing about Griffin Dunne’s very long, odd night in this movie.

Casablanca: Number 1 fave movie, bar none. Do I really need to say anything about this?

Beatles on Ed Sullivan: What can I say about this? They changed the world – at least they changed my world.

Uncle Buck: One of two John Candy/John Hughes movies on this list. Uncle Buck doesn’t always get great reviews, but I like it. I think it’s funny and warm.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles: The other John Candy/John Hughes film on this list. Also funny with a warm heart.

My Cousin Vinny: I’ve seen this in whole or in part about 1,000,000 times. And I always laugh. It never gets old.

Can’t Buy Me Love: Patrick Dempsey as a high school student who finds out the real price of being popular. And the title is from a Beatle song that’s played in the movie. How can you go wrong?

It’s Alive: Ramones concert footage. Great stuff from a terrific, punchy band. Gabba Gabba Hey! Johnny Ramone came in #28 on Rolling Stone’s list of top 100 guitar players. See why on this 2 DVD set. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-lists/100-greatest-guitarists-153675/johnny-ramone-154110/

They Might Be Giants: A man (George C. Scott) thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes. His psychiatrist, Dr. Watson (Joanne Woodward), might think so, too…sooner or later.

Soldier in the Rain: A special movie, starring Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen. If it doesn’t touch your heart you don’t have one.

Fred and Ginger movies, individually or boxed: always good for the holiday spirit

Ghost World: My other second favorite movie, along with In a Lonely Place. I’m not a teenage girl, but I totally relate to the alienation these characters, played by Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson, feel. And for those who haven’t seen it it’s not a horror movie despite the title. (Also w/ Steve Buscemi.)

Sideways: a wonderful movie for writers, even more than for people who hate Merlot.

I don’t think he’s really talking about wine here:

Miles (Paul Giamatti): “Uh, I don't know, I don't know. Um, it's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet.”

Here’s a link to another SleuthSayers piece I did on Christmas movies with both a Christmas and crime element. Some movies you might think are missing from today’s list might be found here: https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/12/have-holly-jolly-crime-season.html

I could keep going, but all good things must come to an end and maybe crime doesn’t pay but it pays to watch these movies.

So have yourself a Merry Little Mayhem Murderous Christmas. Happy Holidays Everyone!

~.~.~

BSP: Oh, and maybe a couple stocking stuffer books:



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

26 November 2019

P.I. Nocturne


by Paul D. Marks

Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa
In a couple of recent SleuthSayers posts O’Neil and Leigh talked about pre-rock music. I’d like to take my cue from them and offer my nine cents’ worth (inflation) on the topic. Music infuses my life and because of that it also infuses much of my writing.

As I mentioned in my comment on O’Neil’s post, I think there’s a lot of good music before rock. I love baroque music and well, that’s a hell of a long time before rock. But mostly I’m talking here about the swing/big band music of the 1930s and 40s. I love a lot of that music.

I’m a rock n roller, love to sing it, play it, not saying I’m any good, just like to do it. I grew up on it. And when I was a kid and teen it was all I wanted to listen to. My dad liked classical music and swing and if we were in the car and he put those on I would gag. But somehow, as I got older I began to appreciate other genres of music besides rock. I think partially because I was exposed to it as a kid—very much against my will—and also because I like/d old movies from the 1930s and 40s and was exposed to that music in them as well.

Duke Ellington - Take the A Train

When I was a kid, I got to see Benny Goodman play. And I hated it. I didn’t appreciate it. I feel like an idiot saying that today, but it is what it is. That said, I can still say I saw him. These days, I love his music, especially Sing Sing Sing, and wish I could have seen him again as an adult.

Benny Goodman - Sing Sing Sing

A very long time ago, my friend Linda (who’s also into old movies, old music and old L.A., like me), and I would cruise around L.A. and see various swing bands and singers. It was long enough ago that we actually got to see some of the performers from the 30s and 40s, who were still around. We saw Tex Beneke leading the Glenn Miller Orchestra. We saw Bob Eberly and Helen O’Connell, who, when they were with the Jimmy Dorsey band (one of my favorite big bands), sing their hits Brazil and Tangerine. You might recall an instrumental version of the latter wafting in from down the street in Double Indemnity.

Bob Eberly and Helen O'Connell - Tangerine

So, even though I loved—and still love—rock ‘n’ roll, my musical horizons expanded quite a bit as I got older. I found there was a lot of great and sinuous music pre-rock. Just listen to Sing Sing Sing, or Duke Ellington’s Take the A Train or Artie Shaw’s Frenesi and so much more.

There’s also been some great musical moments in film noirs:

Elisha Cook in Phantom Lady


Louis Armstrong in The Strip, and Mickey Rooney drumming his heart out in that.

And the jazz scene in the original D.O.A.

But the point I’m leading up to is that, as a writer, my story/novel titles are often inspired by music and songs. Mostly rock, because they’re mostly set in the rock era, but sometimes swing. The title of my upcoming novel, The Blues Don’t Care, is inspired by a Nat King Cole song. And a story I did many years ago, Sleepy Lagoon Nocturne, takes its title both from the infamous Sleepy Lagoon incident in L.A. during World War II and the song of that name, which inspired the name of the lagoon in that incident. My story title Born Under a Bad Sign is inspired by the blues song of the same name that was originally recorded by Albert King and covered by Cream, so it hits two genres of music.

Nat King Cole - The Blues Don't Care

Some of my story titles inspired by music are: Endless Vacation (Ramones), Poison Heart (Ramones), Deserted Cities of the Heart (Cream), and more. In fact, I just finished a story called Can’t Find My Way Home (Blind Faith) and another, Nowhere Man (the Beatles). Music is everywhere in my writing.

I sometimes write things set in the past. The Blues Don’t Care (coming out in 2020) is also set on the L.A. homefront during World War II. It’s largely set on Central Avenue, L.A.’s swing and big band center. And the music of that era wafts sensuously around and through the plot. Doing the research for that was so much fun that getting any writing done was difficult. (I’ll be talking more about this book closer to its release. But right now I’m just talking about the music.)


Many of my characters also listen to music, and sometimes play it, like Ray Hood, the lead character in Dead Man’s Curve, named after the Jan and Dean song. P.I. Duke Rogers (from my novel White Heat and its sequel Broken Windows, both set in the 1990’s), listens to a variety of new wave and alternative music, everything from k.d. lang to Portishead and even some Eric Clapton. His less open and less tolerant partner, Jack, only listens to classical and cowboy (not country) music, which he thinks are the only pure/legitimate forms of music (and I like those genres too). He calls Duke’s music “space case” music in Broken Windows. But the music isn’t there only to help define their characters. I use their musical tastes to highlight the difference between the two characters and their contrasting personalities.

Music is a big part of my writing, helping express character and mood, though sometimes music can be difficult to express in a “two-dimensional” medium. It’s a bummer we can’t have a soundtrack to our stories/novels, but I’m sure that’s coming with e-books, if it isn’t already here.

I often listen to music while I write and most often it’s the kind of music that can get me in the mood for what I’m writing. So if I’m writing something set during WWII I listen to big band, if I’m writing something more contemporary, I listen to one kind of rock or another. You get the idea.

Today I’m listening to Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington and who knows what stories they might inspire or how it will affect what I’m working on right now. That’s one of the great things about music, it can inspire you in so many ways and bring out emotions, thoughts and feelings that we sometimes stifle in our everyday lives—and it can do the same for our characters. And remember, it don’t mean a thing if ain’t got that swing.

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:


Don't forget to check out Broken Windows, the sequel to my Shamus award-winning novel, White Heat. Betty Webb at Mystery Scene magazine says: "Broken Windows is extraordinary."



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

05 November 2019

Once Upon a Time in…Los Angeles


by Paul D. Marks

Me with gangster car at Melody Ranch backlot
Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood is getting a lot of notice for a lot of reasons, one of which is his recreation of a certain era of L.A. (1969) and various L.A. landmarks. And that’s our topic for today boys and girls. So if I might indulge in some personal memories of some of the locations in his movie. Unfortunately, in the really good old days, emphasis on old, we didn’t carry cameras with us all the time, so I don’t have a lot of pictures of those locations from then and what I do have are mostly in boxes and mostly not scanned.


Cinerama Dome

Entering the Cinerama Dome theatre when it was a new and exciting thing was like entering a giant geodesic egg (okay dome). It was a big deal when it first opened in the early 60s on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, a little east of the Strip. It was built specifically to play movies that were shot in the three camera Cinerama process. A process that didn’t last very long for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here.

I remember going there to see these exciting movies, only two of which were filmed in the real three camera Cinerama. After that movies called Cinerama were filmed in SuperPanavision 70 and released in some kind of Cinerama format, but they weren’t the real thing.

I think the first movie in full three camera Cinerama that played at the Dome, and one of the two in three camera Cinerama, was The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, an expansive movie about both the brothers Grimm (Laurence Harvey and Karl Boehm) and their fairytales. I remember being awed by the huge, curved screen. It was like you were enveloped in the fairytales.

The next was How The West Was Won, a thrilling epic western. I saw that when it opened there, too, and still have the book I got then. That was a time when big movies and things like companion books that went with the movie could be bought in the theatre. My book is just like the one in the picture here, though since mine is hiding away in a box this is a reasonable facsimile. I still watch the movie every once in a while, but listen to the music soundtrack often. The movie is definitely another Hollywood era and likely one we won’t see again. It was thrilling to see on the huge screen, especially that POV shot from inside the barrel rolling down the hill. If I recall, some people could have used airsickness bags.

In Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood Tarantino has Krakatoa: East of Java playing at the Dome in the background, and it did, and I saw it there. Unfortunately for the filmmakers, Krakatoa is west of Java. But no one figured that out till after the movie was done.

I saw a lot of movies at the Dome and it was always a thrill, but nothing like those first two in real Cinerama that made you believe you were in the middle of it, especially the action shots in How the West Was Won.


Casa Vega

Casa Vega is where Brad Pitt’s and Leonardo DiCaprio’s characters, Cliff Booth and Rick Dalton, tie one on in Once Upon a Time. And, if you love Mexican food, as I do, you end up trying a lot of Mexican restaurants. And one of them was Casa Vega. I used to go there a lot when I lived in the (San Fernando) Valley. The food was good, though I haven’t been there in a long time. It was a nice place to take a date or just hook up with friends for some margaritas, hot sauce and food.

And at least I never got asked to leave as I did in another Mexican restaurant where we were drinking margaritas by the pitcher and being obnoxious as young people, men and women, tend to be. And I started breaking the margarita glasses in my hand, on purpose. Just snapping them into pieces. After breaking a few of those the management politely asked if we could get the hell out. But Casa Vega was a little higher class place and nothing like that ever happened there.

Since I live so far away now I haven’t been there in a while, but writing this is making me hungry for Mexican food and it might just be worth the drive. Who knows, maybe I’ll run into Rick and Cliff.


Playboy Mansion

A party scene was filmed at the mansion…which was/is famous for its parties. Unfortunately, I never made it there, but I went to plenty of fun Hollywoodsy parties, with a lot of the same people who partied with Hef and his bunnies. The less said about most of those the better. Still, it would have been nice to go to the Playboy Mansion once or twice.


El Coyote


El Coyote, one of my favorite places
I’ve been to all the places on this list (except one) many times and have enjoyed them all over the years, well, maybe enjoy isn’t the right word for the last one on the list. But the one place (besides
Corriganville) that is very special to me is El Coyote. Now, this is a place I’ve been to at least a million times. You probably think I’m exaggerating, but hardly. I lived pretty near as a kid and we’d go often, probably since I was about 3. In fact, my mom went when she was a kid and it was at a different location. And when I lived in West L.A. as an adult, it was my home away from home. I’d often meet my friend Buddy (name changed) since his photography studio and my apartment were equidistant from EC from different directions. But I’d go there with everyone and often. When I met Amy, the future and now current wife, she had to pass 3 tests:

1. Like the Beatles – she passed with flying colors.

2. Not smoke – again, she passed with flying colors.

3. Like El Coyote – now this one was more iffy as she’d never been there. Would she like it or would she not? Will she or won’t she? This was a make or break issue. I could never marry someone who didn’t like El Coyote. I could be friends with them, lots of people I know don’t like it. It’s the kind of place you either love or hate. So I’m tolerant, I can be friends with EC Haters, but I couldn’t marry one. My heart raced as we made our way into the tackiest restaurant on the planet. We ordered our food. I awaited the verdict – she liked it. We got married that day. Well, not really, but we did get married. And it seems to have taken. And we both still like it but we live pretty far now so we don’t get there as often as we used to. But every now and then we need a fix.

I even had my bachelor party at El Coyote in a back room. It was a co-ed bachelor party, but Amy didn’t come, though in retrospect I don’t see why she couldn’t have. Well, maybe there was just that one… And I set a lot of scenes there in things that I write. Well, they say write what you know and I know El Coyote pretty well.


When Buddy and I used to go there, about once a week, I’d get in fights with people for smoking before the anti-smoking in restaurant laws were passed. One of them was a doozy, but I’d probably get in trouble all over again if I went into the details.

And I’m not the only person who loved El Coyote. It was Sharon Tate’s favorite restaurant. And on August 8, 1969 she and Wojciech Frykowski and Abigail Folger had dinner there – what turned out to be their ‘last supper’. Roman Polanski was out of town. And Tarantino recreates that last supper in Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood. Supposedly, he shot at the same booth they actually ate at. It’s a poignant moment when you know what is to follow in real life.


Musso & Frank

Musso & Frank is a Hollywood Time Machine back to the past. To the glory days of Hollywood. What can you say, an L.A. institution. Been around since 1919 and recently celebrated its 100th birthday. On Hollywood Boulevard, though Hollywood Boulevard ain’t what it used to be…if it ever was.
Amy and me at Musso a couple of months ago with
one of the famous red-coated waiters in the b.g.

It hasn’t changed much since it was founded, and I’d bet real money that some of the waiters are the original ones from 1919. Musso’s is the kind of place that the phrase “if these walls could talk” was invented for. And if they could you might hear Chaplin or Bogart or Marilyn Monroe saying things they’d never say in public. And speaking of Bogart, it’s like that line in Casablanca, “everyone comes to Rick’s,” well, in real life sooner or later everyone comes to Musso’s.

When there, in the wood and red leather booths, eating your Welsh rarebit, if you squint just a little you can still see the ghosts of Fitzgerald and John Fante (one of my favorite LA writers), Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. If you cup your ear just right you might hear Dorothy Park quip off an ironic bon mot. If you close your eyes for a few seconds you can see a whole array of Hollywood royalty, actors and screenwriters and if you open them you might see them in the flesh, even today.
There was even a semi-secret back room, where writers of all kinds would hang. Well hang out.
The food is mostly trad, things like Welsh rarebit, steaks, chicken pot pie, Lobster Thermidor and the like. And there’s a full bar, which reminds me: I’m pissed off about the last time I went there a couple months ago. I’ve been wanting a Harvey Wallbanger in the worst way, which you used to be able to get just about anywhere but is almost impossible these days. But for some reason I forgot to see if they still made them there and ordered something else. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to go back. Research, you know.

Musso is where DiCaprio and Brad Pitt meet Al Pacino in the movie.


The Bruin Theatre

The Bruin Theater is in Westwood. UCLA is in Westwood, just a couple blocks north. Westwood used to be one of the places to go on dates and for fun. Westwood used to have about a dozen bookstores and it was great fun walking from one to another, each a little different, and coming home with an armload of books. All fun and terrific. Then there was a gang shooting and people largely stopped going. I went on the second half of my first date with Amy there. First we went to a screening, then we went to a restaurant called Yesterdays that I liked to go to in those days. There was a live band playing a lot of Beatles music, so it was a perfect first date 😊.

I used to see a lot of movies at the Bruin and the Village theater across the street. There’d even be premiers and sneak previews. They were big, old-fashioned theatres, with big screens, not divided into tiny little theatres that make you wish you would have just watched something on your big screen TV.

And I guess, according to Tarantino’s fable Sharon Tate went there and watched a Matt Helm movie that she was in. But if I were to have put my feet on the seat in front me like she does in the movie I probably would have been kicked out.


Corriganville

As I mentioned in my SleuthSayers post of September 24, 2019, Corriganville is one of my favorite places on Earth. Of course, it’s not the same today as it was then. Then it was a working movie ranch and tourist attraction, today it’s a park. But I have my memories.

Recently, Tarantino recreated the Spahn Ranch of Manson Family infamy at Corriganville Park for Once Upon a Time. I’m not sure why he didn’t do it at Spahn, which is just down the road. And down a piece from that is the former Iverson Ranch, the greatest movie ranch of all, imo. If you’ve seen The Lone Ranger TV series you’ve seen the Iverson Ranch. The famous Lone Ranger Rock, where he rears Silver in the opening, was on the Iverson. The rock is still there and parts of the former ranch are park today, but most of it is developed.

If you missed my Corriganville piece, check out it out at https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2019/09/once-upon-time-in-corriganville.html.


Melody Ranch

“Do not forsake me, oh, my darlin’…” is how the theme song to High Noon opens. I love cowboy music, as distinct from country-western, and that is one of my favorite songs, from a truly classic western movie. And some of that movie was shot at Melody Ranch.

I’ve done some “time” there, and Melody Ranch is another fun and fave place. And it’s still going strong as a movie location ranch. I doubt if you could count high enough to reach the number of things filmed there which, besides High Noon, include Combat (TV series), Deadwood (TV series), Django Unchained, The Gene Autry Show, The (of course) Gunsmoke (TV series), Westworld (TV series) and tons of others. Tons.

On the western street at Melody Ranch
It got the name “Melody Ranch” from Gene Autry when he owned it, naming it after his radio show. But in terms of the movie biz, it started out as Monogram Ranch. Monogram was one of the low-low-low budget film companies that were around in the 1930s. They merged with Republic Pictures, the King of B film studios, and the ranch became theirs. Autry bought it in 1953 and stabled his horse Champion there until he died in 1990. Today it’s about 22 acres and owned independently. At its height, I believe it used to be about 110 acres.

Tarantino used the ranch as the location for the Lancer set in Once Upon a Time.

I love backlots, soundstages, exterior sets, whether I’m there for business or pleasure. And Melody Ranch, with all its history, is a fun place to be.








Aquarius Theatre

The more things change, well, you know the rest.

The Aquarius theatre in Once Upon a Time is a Hollywood landmark on Sunset Boulevard. It went through many incarnations since its opening as the Earl Carrol Theatre (Earl Carrol was known for the Vanities, and the theatre was a supper club with stage shows). If you remember the old TV show Queen for Day, it broadcast from there for a time. In the 60s, it became a rock venue called the Hullabaloo, which eventually morphed into the Kaleidoscope club. Between the two, lots of big acts played there. Canned Heat, Jefferson Airplane, Love, the Grateful Dead, the Byrds, the Yardbirds, the Doors, many more, and, of course, the Seeds. I saw many of these bands, though not all at the Hullabaloo/Aquarius, whatever it was called at the time. I have a friend who saw the Seeds there (remember them, “Pushin’ Too Hard) about 600 times. I exaggerate, but not by much and maybe he didn’t see all their shows there. And then it became the home of Hair for what seemed like forever.
In 1968, the exterior was repainted and it became the Aquarius and home of the play Hair for I think about 130 years, give or take a decade or two. And, of course, it changed a lot over the decades, but not too long ago it was repainted back to its psychedelic glory to look as it did in 1968/69. I don’t recall in the movie that anything was set there, just that Pitt and DiCaprio drive by and it lends background atmosphere to the time frame. Definitely a blast from the past.

And, while I have some memories there, I thought I’d turn the rest of this section over to my friend Terry Tally, who practically lived there:

“Walking into the Hullabaloo Theater in 1967 was like stepping back in time. Originally a posh supper club called the Earl Carroll Theater, it was built in 1938, and renamed the Moulin Rouge by Ciro's owner Frank Sennes before becoming the Hullabaloo in 1966. Its interior was a throwback to a bygone era with its classic bar, sweeping staircase to the lounges, the larger than life art deco statue of Beryl Wallace, and elegant tuck and roll seating. I saw The Seeds many times in those days whose signature song Pushing Too Hard opened the door for me to other garage bands of the time. Music was really happening in L.A. and many bands like Love, The Doors, Buffalo Springfield, and The Byrds played there on the unique revolving stage where one band would exit while still playing and another would come on playing their first song in a cool rotation.

You didn't need to be 21 to get in, and it was the hangout place for young Hollywood hipsters and babes in mini-skirts. Kids would be jammed under the porte cochere waiting to get in, and there were always familiar faces in the crowd. My wife and I share memories of seeing the same shows, though we didn’t know each other at the time, where many of the 60s greatest musicians launched their careers alongside house band The Yellow Payges, The Strawberry Alarm Clock, Sopwith Camel, The Troggs, Hamilton Streetcar, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, The Standells, and The Music Machine whose members all wore black leather gloves.”


Vogue Theatre

My friends Andy, Richard and I used to go up to Hollywood Boulevard to see movies, sometimes all three, sometimes just two of us. We saw tons of movies there. I know we went to the Vogue, but to be honest I don’t remember what we saw there. There were a bunch of theatres on the Boulevard and we’d hit them all. At that time, Hollywood Boulevard was no place to write home about. Maybe not as bad as Times Square was before it got Disneyfied, but bad enough in most parts of it. But at least there were no dorks dressed up in costumes charging you to take a picture with them like there is today with Spiderman, Batman and the others haunting Hollywood Boulevard from one end to the other. And God forbid if you try to take one of their pictures without paying. Hopefully your insurance is paid up.

One of our favorite genres, and believe me, it was a genre, were (outlaw) biker movies and there were a ton of them in the late 60s.

The Wild Angels, Hells Angels on Wheels, Glory Stompers, Born Losers (which introduced the character of Billy Jack. And while a lot of these movies don’t hold up for me today, I still love Born Losers.). And, of course, Hells Angels ’69 (in which many Hells Angels played, uh, Hells Angels – how cool was that), which is appropriate because that’s the year Tarantino’s movie takes place. And many, many more. In fact, Jack Nicholson became famous in Easy Rider. But I knew him well already from these low budget biker movies and Roger Corman movies. He was no overnight sensation to me 😉.

So, one time Andy and I are heading to one of the theatres on the Boulevard. We walk up outside and there’s a ton of choppers backed into the curb. I don’t remember how many, but I’m thinking realistically maybe thirty. That’s a lot. And the theatre they’re parked out front is playing one of the biker movies we’re heading to see. We were young, and maybe stupid, but we bought our tickets and went inside. And about ten rows back from the screen is a row of Hells Angels and their girls. Now, they’re not sitting staggered throughout the near-empty theatre, they’re sitting from one side of the theatre in one very long row.

We sat a few rows behind them. And we knew if they talked or howled or did whatever they might do we weren’t going to ask them to shut up. So the movie started. And they sat in rapt attention. They might have talked a little or laughed, but mostly they were just glued to the screen. And for all we knew they were on the screen.

We didn’t bother them. And they didn’t bother us. But it gave a little more verisimilitude to the movie to have them there.

I don’t remember which movie it was or really which theatre, but it could very well have been the Vogue. And, as I recall, from Once Upon a Time, there isn’t really a scene set there, but Tarantino dressed up the marquee the way it would have been in 1969 for the background, since it looks a bit different today.


Cielo Drive

Back in the day, the good old days in some ways, the bad old days in others, and for years after the Sharon Tate murders in a house on Cielo Drive, almost everyone who came from outside of L.A. wanted me to take them up there for a drive-by (so to speak). So I would dutifully do so. We’d drive by the house. They’d gawk at whatever they could see of it. Say how horrible it was, all the usual stuff. I was never really sure what the fascination was. Some kind of morbid fascination with Manson, with L.A., whatever.

The people who eventually bought the house had it torn down, I think partially because they were tired of the gawkers and partly because when Sharon Tate and her friends were murdered it was such a shocking crime. Today, the property is still there, with a new house on it. But nobody’s asked me to take them there in a long, long time. I assume that’s because it’s not the house and also because these days we have shocking crimes every other day and the property on Cielo is old hat. Plenty of new murder scenes to check out. If you’re lucky maybe even a fresh one, with the cops still there.

***

There’s more places in Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood that I could talk about, but this is a partial trip into my town. I loved growing up in L.A., there were so many pop cultural touchstones and I got to see or participate in many of them. I still love L.A., though today I’d say it’s more of a love-hate relationship. But regardless of anything else, my heart will always be here in one way or another.

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:


Don't forget to check out Broken Windows, the sequel to my Shamus award-winning novel, White Heat. Betty Webb at Mystery Scene magazine says: "Broken Windows is extraordinary."



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