Thursday, September 23, 2010

Spaceball Ricochet (crash WALKER Chapter 14)



The cowboy rode his horse down Hollywood Boulevard at an insane, frantic pace, horse and rider both sweating profusely...The cowboy turned behind him to see a camera truck advancing on the horse's hooves, cameraman filming him while an old film director in a fishing cap screamed at them both through a torn megaphone, pointing at him and swearing, unable to hear his screams...He turned back and saw a line of swirling red lights in the far distance....The horse was running ever faster, frantically, eyes bulging out of his head, the cowboy smacking him harder to keep from getting run over by the camera truck...he turned back and the truck was gone...when he faced ahead he came closer and closer towards a line of policemen standing in front of their patrol cars like a firing squad, going into battle position, lifting their pistols...the horse and the cowboy running deliriously towards the firing squad when the policemen OPENED FIRE!

The cheap radio blared into his right ear with the sounds of Billy Stewart singing “Summertime”, knock-down drag-out scatting, “Yo-lakaka-da-dee Yo-lakaka-da-dee”, the horns screaming in his ear. He almost jumped out of bed at the sight of two visitors in his room.
“Rise and shine, Gorgeous”, Tony smiled at Walker, and then turned to the “Wrangler’s Canyon” comic cover dartboard on the wall, his smile turning into a frown. “Your series got its own comic? Who’s the guy on the cover?”

“It’s supposed to be me”, Walker rubbed his eyes.
“Bullshit artist!”
Walker turned to see Billy Bell nosing around the kitchenette, plugging in his cheap percolator.
“Where do you keep the coffee?” Bell asked, turning on the tap water.
“Right by the fine china. What are you guys doing here?”
“Today’s the big day!” Bell smiled. “Don’t you remember that thing we talked about at the Teen Fair?” Walker gave him a blank stare.
“You know – the publicity stunt? For that movie you’re gonna be making soon?”
“Look at this guy, he musta tied one on”, Tony burped, “Big night for the TV star, huh?”
“Hardly. A ghost from the past”.
“What were the tits on this ghost like?”
Walker plopped his head back on his pillow. “Remember that supermarket opening I flew to Atlanta for, and I nailed this dizzy chick? Well, she came out here”.
“Coolness!” Billy smiled as he brewed the coffee.
“No, not so cool – she expects me to set her up with a casting agency, get her head shots, pay her rent, the whole shneeze. She was screaming at me in the middle of Scandia”.
Tony and Billy both laughed. “All you needed was the “I’m pregnant’ speech”, Tony groaned. He leaned into Walker’s closet and started throwing cowboy clothes at him.

“She was probably too loaded to remember it. I can’t show my face at Scandia for another six months, dammit”. He started changing into his cowpuncher clothes.
“Hey”, Tony pointed to the dartboard, “Are they paying you for the comic?”
Billy handed Walker his coffee. “All the black coffee I can drink”.

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Hollywood Boulevard was sectioned off from Las Palmas to Cahuenga, not a large stretch but large enough for the minor spectacle planned. Balloons, banners and bleachers were already set up. The banners screamed, “Billy The Kid Versus The Vampire Queen, Live From Hollywood!” Crash Walker got out of the rusty station wagon and stood behind the roped-off start line. Fat tourists with their fatter children were already getting impatient in the bleachers. "Liar Liar" by The Castaways piped in from KFWB was scrawling over the speakers around the stands, the singer's high, whiny voice wailing over the shrieking organ, a sheer trebly skronk that filled the streets. Walker stood by a Palomino and an old Forties motorcycle with sidecar was parked next to the horse.

“I gotta hand it to you, Crash, you have some big connections, when I called the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce all I had to do was mention your name and they told me Johnny Grant was one of your biggest fans. Getting this little strip of road was a snap!” Billy Bell chuckled.
“So this it, huh?” Walker asked Bell.
“Yup, the Big Stunt”, Billy grinned, adjusting his black jumpsuit, tightening a cape around his neck. “All we’re waiting for is the guy who drives the sickle”.
“Tell me one more time. What’s the routine?”
“It’s pretty simple. You ride your horse from here to Cahuenga and me and the biker will be riding next to you. I climb out of the sidecar and over his shoulders and get on your horse while you’re riding it, see? And we do a fake fight on the horse –“
“-While I’m still riding the horse? Are you kidding?”
“It’s perfectly safe, Walker . We have a little tussle while the horse’s still running down Hollywood Blvd".
“Is that safe? I don’t know, something could go wrong”.
“Hey, I’m a pro, it’s safer than lying in bed, trust me. Damn, where’s that guy?”
A man with a Dracula mask in a monk’s robe with the hood thrown on shoved his way through the crowd towards Walker and Bell.

“What’s up, Monster Guy?” Billy asked the late arrival. “You’re not the guy from rehearsal. Do I know you?”
“The other driver couldn’t make it”, the man in the mask answered, his voice muffled under the rubber face. “April Van Winter sent me”.
“Did they tell you about the stunt?”
“Yeah, yeah, I know the drill”. Crash Walker looked at Billy with a suspicious look. He didn’t like the looks of things but it was too late to back out now. He looked above Musso & Frank's Grill and noticed a few sparse clouds in the sky.

The music stopped, a mike cranked up with feedback shrieks and crackles, and Tony's voice announced, "And now, ladies and gentlemen, kids of all ages, live from Hollywood, a scene from the upcoming motion picture, Billy The Kid Versus The Vampire Queen. Watch as Billy The Kid fights the Vampire Prince for control of The Wild, Wild West. On your marks, get set......GO!"

The sparse crowd in the bleachers cheered while one lone TV camera from KTTV filmed the event. The Monster Mask kicked the motorcycle into action as Walker mounted his horse and kicked him into a quick run.

Billy Bell slowly climbed out of the sidecar and straddled the driver's shoulders so he could jump over to the horse running next to them.

"Is he going to jump on that horse? Will you look at that?" a fat lady tourist drawled to her husband. As soon as they started down the strip a sun shower broke out, the sun rays beaming down slat-like from the sky as sheets of hard rain needles beat down. "Well, I'll be damned-we came here for some of that California sunshine and it's doggone raining! What a gyp!" The rain began pelting hail stones, making the bike wobble and skid all over the road. "Will you look at that? The devil's beating his wife!"

Walker kept riding his horse as he looked on in horror as The Monster Mask pushed Billy off his back, Billy almost falling off the bike into the street but instead hanging on to the sidecar, pulling his legs into the tiny cabin from the shell. The Monster Mask pulled a chain out from his robe and threw it at Crash Walker's head, beaning him in the nose. Walker tried to grab the chain but it fell out of his hands into the street.

Monster Mask jumped from the bike onto Walker's horse, the bike now weaving towards the stands. Monster Mask tried pulling down Walker from the horse, but Walker grabbed his throat and tore off the attacker's mask. It was a fat, sweaty nerd with horn-rimmed glasses and he couldn't identify him.

"WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING, YOU FUCKING PSYCHO?"
"I AM PHILIP NIERDORFF, PRESIDENT OF THE WILLIAM FLAGG FAN CLUB, AND ON BEHALF OF MILLIONS PATRIOTIC AMERICAN TELEVISION VIEWERS I AVENGE THE DEATH OF A TRUE AMERICAN HERO. REST WELL, SWEET PRINCE!" He began choking Walker with all his might as the horse ran on. Both of them began sliding off the saddle from the wet rain.

Billy Bell finally gained control of the motorcycle, waving triumphantly to the crowd but it was too late. The bike skidded on hailstones and plunged into the crowd, taking out three rows of bleachers.

Walker punched Nierdorff in the crotch, releasing his grip on Walker's throat. He grabbed the Colt .45 from his holster, pointing it at Nierdorff, who sneered at him. "YOU CAN'T KILL ME WITH A PROP GUN, ASSHOLE!"

"One of my shooters is a prop and the other's real. I wear my prop on the left side. WELCOME TO MY RIGHT SIDE!" Walker shot at Nierdorff, but the horse skidded on hail stones and the bullet deflected, going through a very strained pair of shorts, hitting a fat tourist in the butt. The lady from Yuma howled her head off.

"NICE TRY ASSHOLE!" Nierdorff twisted the gun hard at Walker's face and went for the trigger. "THIS TIME THE GOOD GUYS WIN!!!"

The Palomino was wet and sweaty, eyes bugging out of his head, shrieked as he tumbled at 75 mph towards the finish line, violently throwing off Mister Philip Nierdorff of Kansas City, who flew straight into a parked school bus, landing on his neck first, emitting a large crunch, instantly killing him. Walker and his horse skidded and flew towards the bus, Walker landing with his cowboy boots on Nierdorff's face, kicking out his eyes.

By this point children were crying, tourists from Minnesota were screaming, "Liar Liar" went back on the PA, and the swirling red lights of an ambulance flashed in Crash Walker's face as he staggered to his feet, staring down at the horse lying sidways and breathing heavily by the school bus. His leg looked broken, but the President of the William Flagg Fan Club was definitely dead.

The ambulance attendant ran over to Crash Walker as he shook his head. "Mister Walker, are you alright?"
"Yeah, dude, I'm fine. Never mind me, my buddy over there took a terrible spill, help him". The attendant just stood and stared at him. "Well, what the fuck are you staring at? Help my buddy!"
The ambulance driver cold-cocked Crash Walker, the cowboy blanketed in the black velvet of unconsciousness and strapped to a gurney and driven off in the ambulance.


And then it stopped raining.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts & Patsy Kelly - Girls Gone Wild, Thirties Edition



When Turner Classic Movies aired their annual "Sunmer Under The Stars" festival they did something unusual this year: among the 24 hour programming devoted to Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and Gregory Peck they devoted an entire day's programming to Thelma Todd. A true testament to TCM's dedication to esoterica when it feels the inspiration, a marathon of shorts featuring Thelma and her partners ZaSu Pitts and Patsy Kelly were aired, amply demonstrating what a great comedy team they were.

The Thelma Todd comedy shorts produced by Hal Roach were brilliant because the comedy was always feminine. The girls never butched it up to prove they can goof it up like the guys. Many of the comedic situations were as ladylike as they get: they played department store models, switchboard operators, maids, airline stewardesses, etc. Shit Dean & Jerry, Groucho, Harpo & Chico, etc. couldn't do. And there was no skimping on the sex appeal, either. In the short "Show Business" the big punch line was Thelma having her dress ripped off her - steamy stuff for its time. Because Hal Roach produced the shorts they had the same script and production quality that the Laurel & Hardy shorts had. A few of their regular support players like Billy Gilbert starred in them, too.

In "Bargain of The Century" the girls duke it out with old biddies at a department store fire sale with hilarious results. They fight over clothes they don't even want, crazy chicks. "Asleep In The Feet" is also a great short where Thelma and ZaSu play taxi dancers stuck with geeky guys that have all the dance tickets in the world. Yuck! "On The Loose" has the girls dating the biggest losers with the short ending them on a blind date with two new guys - Laurel and Hardy.

By mid-1933 ZaSu left the team and Patsy Kelly took her place. Kelly was the opposite of Pitts' character: where ZaSu was passive in a Stan Laurel-kind of way, Patsy was cast as a fiery Irish party girl who never turned down a drink. In "Beauty and The Bus" Thelma and Patsy win a car in a movie theater raffle and drive it recklessly down the road, driving traffic cops crazy. In "Babes In The Goods" the girls work in the lingerie section of a department store, Patsy barely maintaining her cool with obnoxious matronly customers.

Two years later Thelma Todd died mysteriously inside a car parked in a garage with the motor running, death from carbon monoxide poisoning. To this day no one knows who killed her, but the garage belonged to the ex-wife of the film director she was seeing. Sounds like murder to me. She was only 29 years old with over 120 movies and short features under her belt.

ZaSu Pitts and Patsy Kelly both enjoyed long, successful careers after working in the 38 shorts they made with Thelma. ZaSu was a star even before she teamed up with Thelma, and ironically may have achieved cinema immortality in her only dramatic role playing McTeague's wife in Erich Von Stroheim's "Greed". Patsy also did her best work in drama (!) playing a nurse in Sam Fuller's "The Naked Kiss" and a witch in "Rosemary's Baby". Take it from me, the next time you see a TCM listing for a Thelma Todd-ZaSu Pitts or Thelma Todd-Patsy Kelly comedy don't pass it up. It's the best unknown slapstick you've ever seen.


Friday, September 10, 2010

The 1974 Creem Glam Rock Issue


The groupie phenomenon was still going strong in the 1970's, still colorful because the glitter rock scene gave it a strong fashion base to work with. No offense to the girls pictured above but I only recognize the first girl (Lori Mattix) and the third girl (don't know her name) from the Rodney's English Disco days. The other two don't look familiar at all. Maybe the other two spent more time at The Continental Hyatt House on Sunset Blvd. where all the big budget hyped bands (Led Zeppelin/Roxy Music/The Kinks) stayed. The bands that didn't get a big promo push (The Stooges/Suzi Quatro) stayed at The Tropicana on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood.


Johnny Thunders' #1 girlfriend from Hollywood was Sable Starr. She was very cool and seemed pretty loyal to him at the time (1974). They got a lot of publicity together. David Johansen's girlfriend was Cyrinda Foxe, another colorful blonde. Leee (three e's) Black Childers used to photograph them quite a bit for Rock Scene Magazine and Andy Warhol's Interview Magazine.


Here's the glam spread for Creem Magazine: click on the image to see it closer. This was a four page report, but on this page you'll see Sparks, Roxy Music, Little Richard, Michael Des Barres, Bette Midler, Gary Glitter, David Bowie, The GTO's (last month's blog!), The Wackers, The Harlots of 42nd Street, William S. Burroughs, and four guys from England who look like Ted Koppel.



I remember seeing Silverhead at The Starwood in 1974. The singer was Michael Des Barres, a very attractive Nordic looking model-type. His band got a lot of flack for their album cover, "16 and Savaged". They were okay, nothing special. Mr. Des Barres married Miss Pamela from The GTO's, later joined Power Station, and then embarked on a great acting career, starring as a villain on "Melrose Place" and appearing in cool movies like "Sugar Town" and "Mulholland Drive".


Alice Cooper did a fabulous photo spread in Creem Magazine touring all the hot spots of Hollywood. Here he is pictured in front of The Classic Cat on the Sunset Strip, which was formerly Jerry Lewis' club which he opened to compete with his former partner Dean Martin who had the more successful Dino's Lodge. The Classic Cat later became a Tower Records Video Store. Not much to say about Alice Cooper, other than his best work was about to be behind him, just like this marquee.


I remember when The Dolls played a top-secret show at Rodney's English Disco: first Jerry Nolan came in and was very down-to-earth, no rock star attitude at all. Great guy. A half-hour later Arthur "Killer" Kane came in with his people and damn, he was tall. Sylvain Sylvain (Isaac Mizrahi's cousin!) came in a little bit later and giggled a lot. BUT - BUT - When *** Johnny *** came in all the groupies standing around the club dropped everything, stopped talking among themselves and primped like crazy as soon as they saw him. You could have heard a pin drop. He was clearly the star of the band.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Love It To Death


It’s ironic that a group of wholesome Catholic school boys from Arizona would form a band called Alice Cooper and manage to push every religious button possible. With song titles like “Second Coming”, “Hallowed Be My Name”, and “Dead Babies”, to this day they still render efforts from lesser talents like Marilyn Manson as ineffectual.

I caught Alice Cooper at The Hollywood Bowl on the “School’s Out” tour (1972) with the opening act being Flo & Eddie, the “200 Motels”-era Mothers without Frank Zappa. It was a great show and didn’t lack a milligram of drama, not always by the hand of Alice and his amazing friends. As my friend and I ran up the hill to get to the show there were scores of Jesus Freaks hanging around the not-so-pearly-gates of The Hollywood Bowl. Guys brandishing Bibles, grabbing you, “Please, I beg of you, DO NOT GO IN, Alice Cooper is Satan, an agent of evil, pray with me”.
“Gotta go! I wanna hear Under My Wheels!”

Next guy, this one with tears in his eyes, “Beware of false idols like Alice Cooper, you need Jesus Christ, The World’s Greatest Rock Star, as it is written in Corinthians 5:16, BLAHBLAHBLAH!”
“Let go, I wanna see Alice in a guillotine!”
“Jesus died for your sins, Alice Cooper will make you sin and sin again!”
“God bless Alice Cooper!”
“NO! NO! GOD DOESN’T LIKE ALICE COOPER!”

The show was so not evil, in fact it was silly, the band did a goofy “West Side Story” routine on stage pantomiming a knife fight, almost as gay as Russ Tamblyn with his pants pulled down. But it was still priceless rock trash!

One of the highlights of the show was a helicopter flying over The Bowl dropping more of those crazy panties you got with the album (made of the same material as Handi-Wipes). Jesus Christ on a helicopter!

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In the late Eighties/early Nineties all the rock drama took place at Hully Gully Rehearsal Studios in Silver Lake. No night club or rock star hangout could compete with the overall dementia that went down there. My band Trash Can School rehearsed every Sunday night in Room 1 with The Nymphs in Room 2 and The Cramps in Studio B. I remember one night when The Cramps rehearsed “Shortenin’ Bread” over and over again. You’d hear them playing just the intro for half an hour, then the full song for another 30 and then they’d take a much deserved break and back to that cycle again. I think they threw in “Can Your Pussy Do The Dog?” and a fast version of “Heartbreak Hotel” and boom! they were out of there. Lux in sunglasses paced the office snapping his fingers while Ivy, also in sunglasses paid for the room and set up the next rehearsal booking. This was around midnight, of course.

Sam Kinison was a regular there, too, coming in with his entourage, some of them genuine metal guys, some struggling comics, and others just drug flunkies. Since rehearsal time is paid for in blocks of three hours it was safe to say that perhaps thirty minutes of those three hours was spent with music coming out of the room and the other two-and-a-half with partying. Since Hully Gully was an anonymous, unmarked building straight off Interstate 5 it was probably easier to party at than at his home. The struggling comics that would hang out with him were by and large the angriest, most humorless fucks I’ve ever met. And fucking ugly, too.

But it got darker, too. A very famous metal band I can’t mention, here’s a clue, it rhymes with M*gaD*th booked Studio A. The leader of the band was prone to getting into knock-down, drag-out fights with the other band members. You could hear them screaming in the other room and these rooms were pretty sound-proofed. This band leader, we’ll call him MegaPoodle Hair, had a tendency to freebase and hang out in the room after rehearsals. One night a new attendant went in to clean up the room and lock up when MegaPoodle Hair nervously approached him with a gun aimed at his head. “Fuck you man, get out, you ain’t rippin’ us off I’ll blow your fuckin’ head off”. The poor kid freaked out and ran out letting MegaPoodle Hair twitch it out for the rest of the night.

Of course this drama was eclipsed by the even bigger drama that was Jabber Jaw, the little coffee house that became a night club. The second home to Courtney Love, The Dwarves and Kurt (“I’m famous leave me alone”) Cobain, Hully Gully’s drama couldn’t stand a chance.

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Silent movies mean couples, and lots of them. When I attended the Silent Movie Theatre in 1981 I was always greeted by The Hamptons, an elderly couple that ran the theatre. Mrs. Hampton took tickets and sold candy, while Mr. Hampton ran the films in the projection booth and occasionally checked the facility while the movie was playing. Another couple I always ran into was John Doe and Exene of X, fresh from the popularity of their album “Wild Gift”. We attended the movies every Monday night and sometimes they would drag Billy Zoom or D.J. Bonebrake with them. It was cool.

The Silent Theatre was one of the most primitive theater-going experiences ever: A crudely painted sign on paint-peeling wood –black on white, natch with a panel missing – spelled THE SILENT THE- and that was it. The front didn’t have lobby cards but a simple ink drawing of Charlie Chaplin with a few quaint stills of The Keystone Cops, Laurel and Hardy and Tom Mix. The front door had a little booth, you walked through and a tiny wet bar served as a snack bar. The staircase leading upstairs had a locked door because the Hamptons lived upstairs. On a clear day you could see their apartment window from Fairfax High across the street. The theatre itself was fairly Spartan: hard wooden seats, minimal lighting, and canned hot Twenties jazz playing during the movies unless it was a class picture, then they’d pipe in some Tchaikovsky. The bathroom in the “lobby” was a tiny water closet, only big enough to fit one ass at a time.

The Silent Theatre played the same program all week long except Sundays (closed) and admission was only $2, a steal even back then. It didn’t help much to bolster business, though, because the theatre was pretty dead on Mondays. The Hamptons’ film library was healthy so there wasn’t much in the way of repetition: a few silent cartoons (Felix The Cat – he didn’t talk and had no magic bag), some comedy shorts and then the main feature, Chaplin, Keaton, Gish, Barrymore, not a lot of oaters (cowboy movies) and not a lot of foreign shit. They might have played “The Golem” a week before Rosh Hashanah, but that’s it. Right before Christmas they played “King of Kings” and come Halloween you could count on Lon Chaney ruling the roost.

A few years later a new guy, Laurence Austin, showed up at the theatre helping out and running things because Mr. Hampton was in the hospital, and I remember him as a pretty friendly guy. He was also instrumental in getting investors for the theatre for some way overdue upgrades and had the admission price raised ($5 – sacrilege!). Nobody minded paying more because the theatre was much loved. I stopped going there after awhile because better prints were being shown at LACMA, The New Beverly Theatre, etc. VHS and DVD made the scene, too. In 1996 Mr. Austin was shot to death inside the theatre by a hitman hired by Austin’s projectionist/lover who was allegedly promised a $1 million inheritance.

Nowadays if I want to see an awesome silent film I’ll catch it on Turner Classic Movies. The last one I saw was a film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Magician”, brilliant stuff and not available on DVD.