"How To Hollywood Chapter 10": How to Have Fun
I’ve told a lot of stories over the years that concern the trials and tribulations I faced in my career, stories that include the joys, sorrows, the moments noble and profane. I’ve talked a lot about the goals I had and how I went about attempting to attain them and I’ve tried to present these things in a systematic way that would make sense, and possibly be of use, to anyone choosing to give my words a read. What I might not have had enough time, space or energy for in the body of this work was to focus on one of the key components of living life in the “Hollywood” lane...it can be a great deal of fun!
Being young, carefree and flying around the town with friends to clubs and special events, attending exclusive, luxurious screenings of things before they premiere, going to hotspot clubs and parties, experiencing fine dining events, witnessing endless sunsets and being surrounded by fancy cars, clothes and homes is a lure for many. The constant proximity of rich and famous people in the Hollywood world is a given, considering it is a place where creativity is often king and where as many dreams can come true as those that might be dashed. While I feel compelled to continue to be elusive about naming many of the individuals I’ve written about in this work, hopefully some of the stories I am about to tell, many of them “blind items” will be amusing all the same.
Some of my first encounters with the world of showbiz happened when I was working at Disneyland. I was there the summer of 1987 when the park had one of its biggest guest events, Frankie Avalon showed up on the 4th of July and attendance at the park reached the highest number since the place had opened in the 1950s (oddly, since then, that number has come to represent an average day at the park). We employees were informed around that time that Mr. Michael Jackson would be on the premises and to keep an eye out for someone dressed as an old lady, particularly if there was any “trouble,” whatever that meant. I didn’t see Mr. Jackson but I saw others, including both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.
Another time a pop star who had had a big hit the summer before was scheduled to be at the park with an entourage. I was a Jungle Cruise operator and was given explicit instructions on how to handle the situation, including both the proper respect I should show a celebrity and how to handle the crowd that would inevitably build up around her. Eventually I would actually meet this pop star again, many years later and in a much more casual way, but I’ll save that story for later.
My first brush with the rich qualities Los Angeles has to offer came right after I moved to the city for good. Not only was I staying in a condo with my good friend right on the beach in Playa del Rey, where the sun seemed to shine every day of every year, my friend’s dad was a well-to-do lawyer for celebrities. While I didn’t meet any of this person’s clients, my friend regaled me with stories of her childhood and how some of the biggest names in show business from the 60s and 70s, including someone who played a “Practically Perfect” nanny and one the favorite comediennes in the US (and one of my personal favorites), played babysitter with her. My friend’s dad also introduced me to the luxurious Brentwood Country Club and an LA favorite, “The Magic Castle.” The latter is an exclusive club that you can only visit if you know a magician who belongs to the organization. Located on a hill overlooking Hollywood and right around the block from the grand Hollywood Bowl, the club building resembles a haunted house both inside and out. Guests, who must observe proper etiquette and a strict dress code, are admitted through the foyer, offered an exquisite (and expensive) dining experience and then are free to wander around the venue. Some of the attractions include secret rooms and decorative oddities including a “ghost” piano that takes requests. Below the dining area are rooms where magicians ply their trade, entertaining guests who are seduced into the dark, cozy and mysterious surroundings. It isn’t all that difficult to find a magician who can procure tickets for anyone who would like to visit the Magic Castle but the experience is always unique regardless of how many times I’ve been over the years.
I wasn’t in town long before I started going to free screenings. I’m not sure if that’s a “thing” anymore but it was huge when I first arrived in the early 90s, to the point that most of us would ignore barkers trying to get us to attend free screenings of movies about to come out. The first one I saw was a Dennis Hopper/Keiffer Sutherland vehicle called Flashback. I haven’t seen the film since then--I’ve always said that I’ll watch the film one more time (if it’s available to be watched, that is) when I’m officially leaving Los Angeles to live somewhere else for good. I got a copy of the film at a video story that was going under the year I lost my final production job and kept the movie ready, certain I was about to leave LA for Montreal. I tried playing the film and it wouldn’t work, the VHS tape snapped when I turned it on. Maybe it was a sign!
I heard a lot about celebrities at my first job as a driver at the editing house. When we moved to a new building on La Brea, right off Santa Monica Blvd I was told the place had formerly been the penthouse of comedian Redd Foxx who had downsized as his health had declined. There were many stories I won’t share about what was found in that penthouse, but by the time I arrived to help with the move-in it was all redone and you’d never guess it had been anything but an office. The building is still there today and I drive by sometimes and remember my early days in Hollywood.
I spent a lot of time in lobbies around Hollywood and the vicinity waiting for film elements to be ready, sound strips, negatives, ad copy, that sort of thing. I tended to see a lot of people who were voice talent, and sometimes they would talk to me, occasionally flirting, but mostly it was just a business run-in. One time I was sitting by a phone in a plush lobby at a recording studio in Universal City (where Universal Studios is located). I was waiting for some recording material to be ready and it was taking longer than usual so I entertained myself reading a magazine in the lobby and munching on free popcorn (I wonder sometimes how we ever got along without cell phones!). Someone spoke to me, jolting me out of my reading reverie and I turned and saw actor Steve Landesberg from the 70s show Barney Miller staring at me. “Ohwhat--?” I said, coming out of my trance.
“Sorry,” the actor said, indicating the phone on the desk next to where I was seated, “I need to make a call...do you know if you have to dial ‘9’ to get an outside line?”
As it happened, I did know that because I’d called “home base” a couple times when I’d been at this studio before. I knew who Mr. Landeseberg was after years of watching Barney Miller as a kid and I was surprised to be talking to someone I’d only ever seen on TV (and he looked exactly the same as he did on the show, and seemed the same too). I told Mr. Landesberg that yes, you did in fact have to dial “9” and made room so he could make his call.
After I got the recording material I drove in the van back to my studio in Hollywood smiling...it was true, Barney Miller had not been a popular show for many years, but I enjoyed the randomness of the moment and I had always liked the humor and easy-going style of Hal Linden, the star of the sitcom.
Some days later I was in the exact same lobby watching Hal Linden record something, saying the same line over and over, then coming to me in the lobby and asking, “Sorry, do you know if you have to dial ‘9’ to get an outside line on this phone?” I never saw Mr. Linden again but I would occasionally see Mr. Landesberg attending theatrical events.
I went to a lot of interesting places as a driver during my first job in Hollywood. One time I was instructed to take a package to the house of a “Mr. Kelly.” This was, of course, Mr. Gene Kelly, of the classic musical film Singing in the Rain. My studio was working on a commercial that Mr. Kelly starred in. At the end of the job whoever was sponsoring the interview-style ad (a phone company, I think) had me take a gift to the movie star’s house. It was my first time in the Beverly Hills area and I was surprised how low-key the place was. It actually looked similar to the upscale neighborhoods in the area I grew up in in Oregon, only a lot bigger, more pristine and I couldn’t begin to imagine how much those houses cost.
I parked the big, tan company van on the street in front of the house and made my way up the walk to the front door, looking around with timid glances, as if I might be arrested for vagrancy. The house was quaint and ornate, like an English cottage. I rang the doorbell and stood on the porch waiting, nervous and rather excited. After all, I was standing on the porch of the house of a film legend. Nothing in my previous history had prepared me for this, certainly.
A kindly middle-aged woman opened the door. She seemed suspicious of my presence and I smiled to let her know I wasn’t some crazy person. “Hello ma’am,” I said, “I have a package for Mr. Kelly from the studio, some things they wanted him to have.”
The woman was still suspicious but smiled and said, “Hmm, well, let me go ask someone who might know about this, I’ll be right back.” She winked and shut the door gently.
I stood in place for a short time and smiled again when the woman returned, now beaming. “Thank you,” the woman said and reached to get the package.
“My pleasure,” I said and walked away whistling “Singing in the Rain.”
I used to see Michael Richards, then starring in Seinfield, all over Studio City. It became something of a joke—I frequented book stores in the area and apparently so did he...I’d see him with one of his kids goofing around having fun pretty much every weekend, to the point I almost felt compelled to say “hi,” but I never did. I was never much of a celebrity chaser and those few I actually got to know proved to me that “famous” people are no different than the rest of us and, also like most of us, generally prefer to be left alone.
I used to see William Shatner, alias “Captain Kirk” from the original Star Trek series, at the Ralph’s in Studio City near Universal Studios where I lived for a long time. He would always be alone and seemed quite approachable but I never got up the nerve to try to contact him. What on earth would I have said? This was not long after he’d appeared on “Saturday Night Live” making fun of his image and the dedicated fans who perhaps take his show a bit too seriously. I did finally salute him and he saluted me back in a very “Captain Kirk”-esque way.
My first animation gig was located in a strip of buildings off the 101 freeway near Universal Studios. There were a lot of interesting shops in the area originally, including some rather “dubious” businesses. Right next to our studio, however, was an actor’s workshop. I would walk by on my way home and see celebrities nightly. One stood out for some reason--Ray Liotta, always lingering in the doorway of the workshop building, hanging with his pals. This was right after he starred in Field of Dreams but before GoodFellas. I knew him mostly from a now-forgotten film from 1986 called Something Wild, in which he played a rough but charismatic “bad guy” character. He had a signature move in the film of running his hand through his hair with an intense scowl. It was surreal to see him do that move every night in person when I was wandering aimlessly by—I guess it was something he actually did in real life and not just a character trait. One time Mr. Liotta caught me staring at him but fortunately I wasn’t making a fool of myself. I just smiled and moved on. Most celebrities I’ve known (and known of) at least are used to the idea that they are recognizable and will get attention—some even crave it.
In college I had a crush on a student who looked very much like a (male) celebrity who was mildly popular in the late 80s and early 90s. After having crushed on my college classmate and then obsessing over how much he looked like this celebrity, it was strange to actually see the celebrity he resembled, in person, two feet or less away, in the doorway of the actor’s studio. I wondered briefly...my college crush was long over...would I crush on the actual celebrity he resembled next...?
If one is interested in theater, that’s always an easy way to see celebrities and even be introduced to them now and then in a casual way, as many actors like to stay active by appearing in shows around the Los Angeles area, and “names” will always pull in an audience. Over the years I met and hung out with some of the cast of the 70s show The Love Boat, had a fun conversation with a boisterous Fred Willard and got to chat with Andrea Martin, whom I’d loved from the Candian sketch show SCTV when I was a kid.
Mostly I’d see stars of television, or perhaps they were just the most approachable. Sometimes they would be accessible but not real friendly. I remember meeting Delores Roberts after watching her in the play The Vagina Monologues—my friend was an event photographer and I often tagged along with her. On this occasion she was shooting photographs after the show (which was also starring Andrea Martin) and we had a lot of “down” time waiting for everyone to be ready and comfortable. I tried to say something to Ms. Roberts when a group of us were gathered around the front of the stage; I wanted to tell her how much I enjoyed the performance and her body of work in general. The actress looked at me as if she could see past me to the wall at my back, then walked away. To be honest, I don’t blame her...if I had been an actor I think the last thing I would have wanted to deal with would be some anonymous young fan staring slack-jawed. Again, I’m not often star-struck and certainly hope I’ve never been rude or intrusive to celebrities, but it is a tricky business: celebrities are instantly recognizable and familiar to those of us who watch entertainment regularly and it’s easy to forget that actors are not the roles they play and they have no connection whatsoever to the audiences that are watching them ultimately. Many have been the times I’ve been wandering in the aisles of a grocery store and seen someone recognizable and been tempted to just acknowledge them but I almost always resist the urge. My friends are more bold than I am and have met and even befriended stars at different levels of fame; I don’t know that they’ve had any bad experiences.
My mom enjoyed seeing Beverly D’Angelo (of the “Vacation” movies with Chevy Chase) at a restaurant and asked me if she thought she could take a picture of her. I begged my mom not to do it as the woman was obviously sitting with her family and in the middle of a chaotic dinner. “Just let her eat,” I said to my mom, smiling.
Mom was convinced she could sneak a picture and watched in awe as Ms. D’Angelo, wearing a mini skirt, began crawling around on the floor under the dinner table looking for something she’d dropped. “Please?” Mom asked me, laughing.
“Definitely not!” I said.
“But she can’t possibly care who sees her—look, her dress is up over her waist right now!”
“That doesn’t mean she wants to be photographed!” I said.
Mom eventually managed to get a couple of shots of the star but they were demure and mostly from the back while she was seated. I don’t think anyone was offended, anyway.
Restaurants are an obvious, easy way to run into celebrities. I was on a date with someone in West Hollywood when he pointed out a man named Rip Taylor, seated alone in a corner. I knew Mr. Taylor from variety shows in the 70s; he was a big, colorful, campy performer who never hid the fact that he was gay; he actually made a successful career out of being stereotypically flamboyant and funny. “He’s always here,” my date said. “Let’s go say hi to him!”
We had a nice conversation and Mr. Taylor made us laugh. He said, “You boys on a first date? You’re both so cute I could just squeeeeeze you!” Eventually he told us, “I’m here every week at this time, stop by and say hello again if you’re ever around!”
By contrast, I was on another date when “Angelyne” was spotted at a table with a guy she was often seen driving around with. “Angelyne” was known for little more than being a “personality.” Her time was really the late 80s and early 90s but she never actually went away. She was “famous” for having put up huge billboards of herself all around Hollywood, for driving in a pink corvette and for looking like a 60s “Va-va-voom” star (Jayne Mansfield, for example). By the time I caught up with her she was older and seemed a little...confused, to be polite. But she posed for pictures with us (for a small fee of course) and we had some laughs.
One late night at the end of 1994 my friend John took me to a “wild, crazy new film” he’d heard about that was premiering, it was called Pulp Fiction. John and I were having a late dinner at the famous Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake (they would do vintage car meetups there every Friday night) and talking about how much we’d enjoyed the movie. I’m pretty terrible at recognizing people generally; my friend smiled and said, “Look to your right—Quentin Tarantino is sitting right next to us.” He was having breakfast at the next booth over and was engaged in a book, staring down into his reading with a heavy scowl. I felt sorry for him when some giggly fans approached for an autograph. He didn’t smile but said, “I’m just finishing up here, if you want to meet me outside I’ll do it then.” We saw him later surrounded by a gaggle of fans and he seemed happy enough.
My old pal Sam was friends with people from all walks of life in Los Angeles and I never knew who would show up next—everything from people who looked like they lived on the street to her beloved “horse” people from the Los Angeles valley to celebrities big and small. We had “high tea” at a house in the Hollywood Hills a couple times; I’ve never known such luxurious surroundings and the place was exactly like you’d see in a movie from the 1950s. Our hosts, whoever they were, were from the UK and couldn’t have been more polite. We were all tasked with telling a “story” while we had our tea and of course the story the hosts told was the best one of all.
Sam introduced me to a lot of people who starred in movies in the 1980s, things I’d seen on cable TV when I was in high school and it was always fun. She knew a really funny Italian guy who worked as a waiter and a wonderful restaurant in Venice Beach. One of my favorite moments was when we went to his restaurant for dinner. The place was a small bistro and we had reservations, so Sam’s friend had to ask a couple to leave and make room for us. For years we laughed at the thought that we were so important we had ousted Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan.
Sam also introduced me to a funny guy who carried a small monkey with him everywhere he went. He often entertained at the houses of celebrities and had some incredible, gossipy stories about people who are still well-known today, none of which I can describe here. I’ll only say this: he had photographic evidence of some of it.
I ended up rubbing shoulders with a lot of celebrities when I was volunteering for Project Angel Food through the connection of a friend. Each year there’d be a party/ceremony for a person of the year, someone who had given a great deal to the communities that were trying to assist people with AIDS. These events were put on each summer and they were always warm and inviting, even to people like me who were just hanging around to help out. In truth, I eventually figured out that volunteering at such chi-chi events was a way for people obsessed with celebrities to get closer to them (and get a free hand-out of a gift bag if there were any left at the end of the night). After doing a couple of these star-studded charity events I began to find the whole thing distasteful and quit doing them eventually but enjoyed them while they lasted.
One year the honoree was a straight man who played a gay man on a popular TV show and his co-star, who was a speaker for the evening, ended up hanging out with me in the lobby before the event. He wasn’t a huge star but I recognized him immediately, particularly as there was some question as to whether or not he was gay and out of the closet (answer: not at the time but eventually). He was quiet, courteous and friendly and even helped me open the front door to the red carpet for guests who were entering. I laughed and said to the guy, “You didn’t think you were coming to this event to join the volunteers I bet!” He gave me a nervous smile and didn’t say much and eventually went back to the dining area but he was genuine and polite. Someone later told me he was probably interested in me but I didn’t pick up on it if that was the case, and I thought he was straight anyway.
The event would always be in the parking lot of a building in West Hollywood and took place in the midst of the warmest days of summer. I remember getting a moment to sit back and listen to Oleta Adams perform “Get There” on stage under the stars and being absolutely transported. I met her later and she was beautiful, serene and sophisticated, just like her music. There was also the time Sharon Stone was honored and broke into tears as she accepted the award that year. “I don’t want to have to come to any more of these awards ceremonies,” she said. “I want us to find a cure and be done with this!” Thankfully, things got progressively better with AIDS treatment from that point on.
The funniest moment at the Project Angel Food ceremonies I remember was when Bruce Vilanch introduced Elizabeth Taylor. Mr. Vilanch was absolutely merciless in making fun of Ms. Taylor, describing her as being rather “dotty,” suggesting she was cruising Beverly Hills in her limo completely lost or chasing her small dog, which she eventually brought on stage while she was speaking. I found Ms. Taylor dignified and lovely and was glad to have gotten close to her, at least physically, before she passed away a few years later. Certainly she was one of the pioneering heroes of the fight to deal with AIDS and instrumental in the search for a cure. All the same, Mr. Vilanch is incredibly funny and was clearly close enough to Ms. Taylor that he could have some fun at her expense. Mr. Vilanch almost showed up to watch one of my shows at one point and I always wondered what might have happened if he had.
I had to deal with the celebrities directly at this event every now and then. I would take bids for the auction that was held and I vividly remember hanging out with Anthony Edwards, who was at the ceremony with his family and talked to me casually for a while. He was down to earth and friendly, occasionally sending me up to the stage with his bids then returning to our conversation. I don’t remember who eventually won the bidding but it wasn’t him, and he didn’t seem to mind too much.
The most memorable moment I ever had at one of these events was when I was stationed at the entrance to the restrooms as the night was ending. At the end of the eventing the hosts wanted everyone to wind their way through the area where the gift bags were and then exit, and if they had to use the restroom we volunteers were told to send them towards the exits and to the portable restrooms and not let them in the main building anymore, where the “real” restrooms were. I hated having to turn away people who had been drinking all night but everything was fine and low-key until most of the crowd was gone.
Two great, powerful women strode towards me and I recognized them instantly, it was Cameron Manheim and Jennifer Coolidge. Both of them are stately in figure and Cameron was even moreso back then. Ms. Manheim led the way up the stairs and I took a breath and gave them my spiel about not letting people into the main building. Ms. Coolidge didn’t say a word; she just looked on with that steely gaze of hers that she uses in movies and shows so often. Ms. Manheim, however, was clearly not going to take “no” for an answer and I briefly wondered if she was prepared to get into it with me. I didn’t wait to find out. I laughed and said, “Oh what the hell, go on in,” and the two women passed by me without further interaction. I actually was relieved to be taken off that shift shortly thereafter.
At one point I actually met the director of one of these events. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to just introduce myself to a director and start chatting him up about the possibility of directing my musical someday although some of my friends were quick to point out later it was probably just because the guy found me attractive.
“Directors” seem like they must be the most important people on a project next to the stars, but most directors I’ve known are just like anyone else—always on the lookout for their next gig and eager to do some networking. I impressed a lot of people over the years with my credentials as someone who worked on high-profile films, even in the relatively small capacity I was in. The name “Disney” obviously carries a lot of weight whenever it is mentioned, and I’m completely aware that I continue to use the name, and myposition as someone who once worked for the company, to my advantage to this day. I’ve also been told on more than one occasion my looks were not exactly a non-issue, and that if I’d had the inclination I might have used them to advantage as well. For some reason I could never manage it. Either I didn’t truly believe I was all that good looking (and still maintain that stance) or just didn’t believe I could ever live with myself if I got things purely because of how I looked. I wanted to be known for being talented, hard-working and successful on my own terms. People who come after you for your looks seldom know or care “who” you are, unfortunately. I might also add that, now that I’m more mature, I have seen several generations of beautiful people come and go. It sure doesn’t seem like the bloom of youth and the beauty that goes with it lasts all that long, from an outsider’s perspective.
More mature performers are always fun to meet because they’re often more reserved. My friend is a singer who has been around a long time and performed at many venues over the years, big and small, and befriended several celebrities over the years. The time I remember the most was when he was approached by Lindsay Wagner, alias “The Bionic Woman,” after a show and they became friends. He regaled me with stories of visiting her ranch, and the way he described it, it sounded like something from the actual show where the character of the “Bionic Woman” lived, in Ojai.
A friend of mine was writing a television pilot and hooked up with someone who knew celebrities with the intention of pitching the idea for his show, and perhaps getting some funding, via a public performance. I showed up for the read-through of the project pilot at a noteworthy theater and was impressed at the line-up of names in the cast as well as the names in the attendance. I don’t remember who all was there but Linda Hamilton (Terminator movies) was one that stood out; she looked anxious and unhappy. Leslie Jordan was the headliner of the piece and he was funny and approachable, as much so in real life as he seemed on stage or in recorded performances.
There was a stunningly good-looking man in the cast with little to do in his role in the read-through but be a “beautiful gardener” character with a foreign accent. I’d seen him in a show or movie somewhere before so I recognized him. He had the kind of luminous good-looks that need no enhancement—people like this guy wake up beautiful and are probably even gorgeous when they’re feeling sick.
Some time later I saw the guy in a popular local gay bar I went to a lot. I didn’t think about whether the actor was gay or straight; many celebrities showed up in the bar as it was a popular hang-out and I had long gotten used to having intense, alcohol-fueled conversations with up-and-coming celebrities (and the occasional has-been). I happened to be in good with the owners and bartenders of the bar and drank there free when I’d be there Saturday nights (mostly thanks to my gregarious drinking companion, a friend I once hung out with all the time who was able to charm just about everyone he met with his humor and confident manner). I think it was a combination of my feeling “at home” in the bar and one or two margaritas that helped me find the nerve to approach the guy. I was casting for my new musical project and knew the man was a talented singer. I swallowed another shot of tequila and just walked up to the guy and introduced myself to him and the fellow he was chatting with. I told him about the musical project I was developing and named my director and he was intrigued. I wasn’t trying to hit on him—I was genuinely interested in hiring him if he was available and interested in the thing, particularly since my director’s name held some sway in the theater world. I asked for his card.
The guy was polite and suave and probably thought I was hitting on him as anyone in his situation might. To my surprise, this performer ended up starring in one of the lead roles in my musical show just a few weeks later, and not only did he deliver an incredible performance, he became a friend in the process. It turned out my director did know who he was and had actually used him in projects before. She called him herself to invite him to my project and his presence, along with the other fantastic performers we were able to get, created a dream cast the likes of which I could never have hoped for in my wildest dreams.
It’s worth noting that I’ve been incredibly lucky in casting...my shows may or may not have been works of art but I had A+ casts in each of them and it made all the difference. I owe a great debt of gratitude to all the performers and craftspeople who worked on my shows for little more than the love of the art of theater, something I confess I don’t actually have in great supply. These people worked under strenuous conditions for little money or even reward beyond applause and the opportunity to perform. That’s a kind of dedication I can’t even conceive of. My hat is off to working actors, and even actors who are trying to work.
That being said, I, and several of my friends, tried dating performers and people in the public eye and found it to be exceptionally tough. People who act and perform have to put their career first (as I often did in my animation career, but with far less dedication, I think). I was close to dating someone with one of the most famous parents in show business and it was both funny and frightening to imagine being in that situation. I was relieved when it didn’t come to pass as the pressure and potential exposure seemed pretty intense and I’ve never been one to seek out the limelight.
Living in the Hollywood area means you’re never far from bumping into a celebrity or famous person now and then at the gym, grocery store, bars or even on the street, but it’s always fun to notice coincidences.
I remember I was at the famous music/video emporium “Amoeba Records” on Sunset Blvd looking for DVDs one dull Sunday...there was absolutely nothing remarkable about the day at all and it was not uncommon to find recognizable people of all stripes at the store, which was a huge, one-of-a-kind type of place. One day I was in the comedy section, examining a DVD I intended to buy, when I looked up to see one of the actors from the film I was about to purchase browsing right across from me. It was so odd I nearly said something to the actor but didn’t want to be silly about it. It was, like so many celebrity sightings, just fun to enjoy the moment.
Something similar happened at a restaurant in West Hollywood...I had just seen the classic 1973 film “The Poseidon Adventure” for about the billionth time and was talking to my friend (also a fan) about it. I was wondering aloud whatever happened to one of the film’s stars, Stella Stevens, whose films I’d always enjoyed. My friend smiled and said to me, “Don’t look now but Stella Stevens is standing right behind you waiting for a table.”
More recently a friend of mine who is into horror movies and goes to horror conventions a lot introduced me to Linda Blair and others from the horror world. It was an odd feeling to be standing in a theater lobby hanging out with Linda Blair while the famous movie she featured in (which I had been watching until my friend invited me to the lobby) was playing. Another time I had just watched a movie called “54” when I went to my small gym in Studio City (owned and operated by a Disney relative, it turned out) and found that my trainer was also a trainer for the film’s two male stars. One of the actors was funny and agreeable and we talked every now and then. I forgot all about him for years, then exactly 20 years later I was at an outdoor screening and happened to be waiting in line with the actor and his kids. He actually struck up a conversation with me as the line was long; I was tempted to mention I’d met him 20 years earlier almost to the day but was afraid it might sound a bit fanatical.
It was bizarre beyond words to be at a screening event in Silverlake watching Friday the 13th, the 1980 slasher film, while sitting next to Adrienne King who stars in the film. She was friendly and funny and asked me questions about what life was like in Oregon, as she’d recently located there. All through the screening of the film I kept looking over at Ms. King sitting next to my friends who knew her well and thinking about the fact that I’d seen this movie dozens of times, and now was watching it with the person who was actually in it, who I’d just met.
Another person my friend introduced me to was PJ Soles, famous for 70s films like Carrie and Halloween. I’d always adored her in her film roles, but she bore a strong resemblance to my friend Terrie who passed away at far too young an age in 2009. Who would have guessed that just four years after my beautiful, dear friend left us I’d be talking to the person I always thought Terrie resembled, and finding this actor’s personality very similar to that of my friend? A group of us got a great picture together with Ms. Soles and others and I remember at one point I couldn’t help but gaze at the actress and think of how much she looked like my friend Terrie and how sweet Terrie had been. Ms. Soles looked up, saw me staring, winked in a friendly way and it was as if Terrie were right in front of me again. As I often say, I’m not spiritual, but that was a little bit of Hollywood magic I enjoyed a lot.
Of course it’s always more fun to be “in” with someone famous than just bump into them or see them out and about. When I was doing my shows I’d have people drop by backstage afterwards to visit with the cast or offer compliments, occasionally we’d go out for dinner or drinks and we’d always promise to stay in touch but seldom did. My director/choreographer was pretty famous in her day and still has a recognizable name and body of work and so naturally she attracted some of her similarly well-known friends. I got very used to her inviting me to dinners with her and her husband and their family of beautiful cats at her warm, inviting house in North Hollywood, only to find someone noble or famous was sitting at the table with us that night. “Oh, didn’t I tell you she/he was going to be here?” my friend would always say to me with a wink and a sly smile. Often times it happens, even to this day, that my director will invite me to something she has directed and/or choregraphed and I’ll find myself hobnobbing with her celebrity friends after the show without even knowing sometimes who these famous people are, they’re so down to earth.
On one of these occasions my director and one of the members of my wonderful cast introduced a couple they were friends with who had dropped in to see my show. I knew they were going to be there and I was excited and anxious at the same time. It turned out it was Ms. Deborah Gibson, the pop star I’d loved in the late 80s and who had shown up at the Disney park when I was working the Jungle Cruise ride. All summer in 1987 I’d enjoyed Ms. Gibson’s music on the radio and suddenly there she was, with her boyfriend (a former television star), watching my project and listening to my music. It was one of the most joyous feelings I’ve ever had to see Ms. Gibson bouncing in her seat and clapping along to the songs in my show. It really closed a circle of some kind, at least for me...in the same way someone’s music had once brightened my life and changed me forever, now that person was enjoying my music. I got to meet Ms. Gibson at intermission and found her friendly, funny and of course beautiful. She and her boyfriend were developing their own theater projects and I wondered briefly if there might be a way for us to collaborate somehow but it never happened. I didn’t mind...I got more than I ever hoped for just having these people in attendance, complimenting me on my work.
The most fun I ever had with someone from “the movies” was a makeup and special effects artist named Rob Bottin who gained a lot of notoriety for working on films in the 80s, particularly films like The Thing and The Howling. I met him through my hairdresser, another person who just happened to have a lot of friends in show business (and had actually been in a film starring PJ Soles years before, as an extra!). Mr. Bottin showed up for a pizza party for someone or other at a Shakeys Pizza restaurant on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood. Everyone at the party had a great time and Mr. Bottin was truly generous, buying rounds of beer for us all. He particularly enjoyed visiting with my friend who, like me, was a big fans of Mr. Bottin’s work.
My hairdresser and I made our annual plans to go to “Knott’s Scary Farm,” the evening “overlay” that the park does to turn it into a place full of Halloween-themed mazes and events in October of each year. One year, however, my hairdresser friend announced that Mr. Bottin, who generally tries to avoid being recognized or seen in public, would be joining us.
It is hard to describe just how “in my element” I was walking around a place of fog, spooky decorations and gloomy haunted house mazes with someone who was elemental in creating a lot of the horror films I loved as a kid, or at least was part of the “scene” of that era. And Mr. Bottin was delighted to have someone new to share his wonderful stories with. They’re his stories to tell so I won’t repeat them here; hopefully it’s enough to say it was a dream-come-true moment for my “kid” side, helped by the fact that Mr. Bottin was a tall, confident man with a big mane of black hair and a beard, like the embodiment of the Halloween spirit himself. I’ll never forget walking through a spooky haunted maze while Mr. Bottin shared stories about what life was like on The Thing, alternately trying to make me laugh and scaring me half to death with his anecdotes. I’m not sure what’s in store for the future, of course, but I think it’s fairly safe to say that walking through haunted houses with master makeup artist Rob Bottin was my favorite Halloween ever.
Finally, the most important celebrity “moment” I’ve had involved a famous British director. I have, oddly, met a few classic directors...my friend John and I went to a lot of seminars given by directors and other industry types at the Director’s Guild on Sunset Boulevard throughout the 90s and early 2000s when we were younger and hanging around a lot. Most of the time it was enough just to have these directors live and in person to speak before or after screenings of their films. Sometimes we’d get a chance to actually have conversations with them, particularly when I went to the UK in 2003 to do a three-week extension class on theater in the West End. I generally found that celebrities in the UK were a lot more approachable than in the US and always well-spoken.
DreamWorks often held events for directors and at one of these I got to ask Robert Wise a question about one of my favorite films of his, West Side Story. I felt confident enough at one point to ask him point-blank how much of the artistry of this beautiful film was his vision and how much of it was in the script. His answer, delivered with a quiet voice and a dignified smile, was, “It was all the script, I merely filmed what was there,” which I took to be an admirably humble response.
One director I remember vividly was Ronald Neame (The Poseidon Adventure), who approached a group of us at a table at a restaurant on Sunset Blvd after a screening. We were all under 30 at the time and undoubtedly looked like a bunch of geeky teenagers. Mr. Neame approached us with a gallant air and said, in an imperious British accent, “I believe ‘Beavis and Butthead’ is perhaps the most brilliant American statement ever, Swiftian in its intent, gloriously depraved in its execution. It is the future of animation, and perhaps even film itself.” He talked to us a long time and we all shook our heads in disbelief when he left. He was funny, composed, bold, brash, and incredibly entertaining.
None of them will ever hold a candle to the director that meant most to me, however: Ken Russell.
I knew about a rock-music movie called Tommy from 1975 when I was a kid but didn’t think too much about it then, as I was young and still into “Disney”-type films. I saw clips from Tommy on TV a few years later and it was as if the movie “spoke” to me, somehow—as if I knew instinctively what the movie was, the “language” it was in. Eventually Tommy would become my favorite film of all and I spent years studying it, and the other films created by Mr. Russell. The coincidental experiences I was involved in that revolved around Mr. Russell and his films are too numerous to mention and might not interest anyone but me, but suffice to say I had a long history of adoration of the director and his films, a few of them in particular.
I jumped at the chance to see Mr. Russell in person at a screening at the Director’s Guild in Hollywood one year, and was glad to find him personable and funny. He signed my “laser disc” of Tommy and visited with a small group of fans in the lobby briefly after a screening of his work Savage Messiah in 1995. I framed the autographed laser disc and so I saw his signature a lot, to the point I would know it anywhere.
I was in a building in the “Miracle Mile” area of Los Angeles some days after I’d gotten Mr. Russell’s autograph. I was on an errand I wasn’t thrilled about...my therapist had recommended I attend group therapy sessions and I was going to an introductory meeting. In truth, I was dreading the meeting and tempted to turn around and go home. I paced outside the lobby for a long time, debating the pros and cons of attending this meeting. Eventually I entered the lobby of the office building and was instructed to sign in by a security guard sitting at the front desk before finding the room the group therapy session was in. I went to sign...
...and saw Mr. Russell’s signature in the login book.
Based on the log, the director had entered the very building I was in just moments before I had come in and was apparently still in the building somewhere. There was no way I could mistake his signature—I had it hanging on my wall. What, I wondered, was a famous British director doing in this office building on Crescent Heights Boulevard at 7pm on a weeknight? The office was huge so there was no knowing what event he was attending or what his business was there. I never did find out but it always stuck with me. I reiterate I’m not spiritual (though I was a little more spiritual then, for obvious reasons). Ultimately it was enough to see this small sign from the universe (or at least that was how I saw it) that whatever I was doing it was OK...the world was still turning and working its odd “magic” (or whatever one chooses to call it).
Flash forward to 2010; I was working really hard on a now-mostly-forgotten Tom Cruise/Cameron Diaz vehicle, animating bulls seven days a week for 14 hours a day, and knew I needed a nice, long, relaxing break when the film was over. I chose to go to London again, for what I figured might be the last time, as I’d been there so often. To make the trip more fun and memorable, I decided to hunt down locations that had been used for the shooting of my favorite Ken Russell films, Tommy and The Boyfriend. I had looked these locations up online and knew they were in Portsmouth and near enough to each other to make a trip there worth at least a day’s visit.
Right on cue I saw that there was going to be a screening of The Boyfriend in the actual theater where the film was lensed, and that Mr. Russell and others would be in attendance, and that the public was invited. Further, the screening was going to take place at the time I was going to be there!
I found the announcement on imdb.com back in the time when the website had message boards, and I responded to the announcement for the screening that I was actually planning to come from Los Angeles to see the film. I got a response back immediately, from the person organizing the event. The response read, “Since you’re coming all this way we’d like to have you join us for a private cocktail party before the screening if you’re interested, you can meet Mr. Russell, Twiggy and some of the others...”
My heart about leaped out of my chest at this exciting opportunity and I’m pretty sure the anticipation of the event was how I made it through the difficult schedule of Knight and Day, the Tom Cruise movie I was working on.
The screening and guest appearance for The Boyfriend at the New Theatre Royale was dreamlike...not only did I get to see one of my favorite films in the world screened in the actual theater where it was made, I got to meet Mr. Russell, the man who directed it, and some of the other people associated with the creation of the film, including fellow fans. I felt like something of a celebrity at the event myself; for some reason it seemed to be newsworthy that I had traveled all this way from Hollywood just to see a film I loved. There was a photographer’s list of all the pictures I was expected to be in with the cast and crew who’d shown up and at one point I was ushered onto a balcony and a BBC camera was thrust into my face for a brief interview. I watch the clip now and then and laugh at how calm and collected I seem—jet-lagged and caught up in the event I hardly knew where I was, let alone why I was there.
At one point I was more or less “shoved” to Mr. Russell’s side by someone or other so we could have a brief moment. I didn’t actually have much to say but felt obliged to offer something to Mr. Russell, who seemed rather unhappy looking and wasn’t speaking much. He was sitting in his chair and I was standing above him (and I’m fairly tall); I felt bold enough to put my hand on his shoulder, look him in the eyes and say, “Thank you, Mr. Russell, for your movies” and leave it at that. He gave me a polite, regal nod and I knew I’d said the right thing. I backed away, beaming and feeling I’d just experienced a landmark moment.
Everything after that was chaos but I did meet some of the other actors and creative people who worked on the film (including Twiggy) and everyone treated me with respect and enthusiasm. Apparently I was, at some point, dubbed “Hollywood Scott” by Mr. Russell and everyone was curious to know about my life in Los Angeles. One of the best perks of attending the event was that I developed a friendship with Mr. Russell’s wife and we stay in contact to this day. She has been a wonderful emissary for Mr. Russell, who passed away a few months after I met him, and she has kept his memory (and his films) alive for those of us who loved his work.
It was for the love of movies that I first came to Los Angeles to seek employment and I never truly lost that love in all the years I worked in the industry. I have had countless hours on chic rooftop patios watching sunsets and dining on some of the finest cuisine the world has to offer. I’ve driven through Beverly Hills in my convertible with the warm breeze blowing through my hair so many times I have every inch of the place memorized. I’ve been up to some of the highest clubs in the world and down in some of the lowest, darkest pits too. I have been pampered and spoiled as many times as I have been mistreated and I with every passing year I’m more appreciative of the experiences I’ve had.
Though I find I’m setting my sites on things outside the world of motion picture production and onto other prospects more and more every day, I find something wonderful has happened; during my time working in the movies it became difficult to enjoy films—particularly animated movies and films with special effects. I was too close to the films and the work itself. By stepping away from production and moving into teaching I’ve rediscovered my love of filmed entertainment and find I love movies, shows and other media as much as, or maybe even more than I did before, but now I appreciate more than ever what it takes to create these “filmed dreams” so many of us succumb to. By working in the industry as long as I did I came to know the business of “show,” and for all the ups and downs I had over the years, and despite my choosing to leave the industry for other pursuits now, my heart will always dwell in the world of entertainment, my thoughts will always be drawn to the magic that goes into creating the incredible, immersive worlds that movies and shows and games create, and I still look on in awe at filmed works wondering just how the human spirit is able to invent such magic.
This book has been a labor of love that I wrote in hopes of sharing the experiences of the work I enjoyed so much and benefitting any dreamers out there who seek to understand or indulge their own desire to be involved in the magic of making entertainment. To whomsoever should read this I urge you one more time to follow your dreams and share them with those of us who will appreciate the effort you made. When that happens, perhaps you’ll consider telling others how it all went, just as I have tried to do here.