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Thu

12

Apr

2007

No more Mr. Nice Guy
Thursday, 12 April 2007 15:14
by Ed Naha

Okay. This one is personal.

One of the most annoying aspects of “family values” politics espoused by, largely, Republicans, is the tendency to raise straw man issues to bat down - just to puff themselves up and appear like self-righteous blow-fish with enhanced pecs. One of their favorite targets? Hollywood.

In the walnut-size reptilian conservative Republican mind, Hollywood denizens meet and conspire to produce movies and TV shows that bring down American family values. Eventually, most of these right-wing blowhards are exposed as having the moral values of the vampiric whores in “Bordello of Blood” (which starred Dennis Miller, by the by).



They lie. They cheat - both on their wives and their constituents. They swindle. They take kickbacks. They suck the life out of budgets. They lead innocent Americans to their deaths because of half-baked ideological fantasies. They ignore facts to promote propaganda. They batter the poor to curry favor with the rich. They ignore the working class, hoping to eliminate it, one day.

Then, when caught, they embrace Christ and make the talk show circuit, wearing official Republican hair shirts replete with American flag lapel pins.

They almost always turn out to resemble movie characters that would have been booted out of a “B” movie because they are SO obvious in their infantile power grabs. Most Republican politicians wouldn’t make the final cut of “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” They are that bad at acting.

Now, having been an on-and-off member of the Business of Show for over two decades, as both a writer and a producer, I have hot news to report. The Republican version of Hollywood hasn’t existed in over fifty years, if it ever existed at all. There are no cabals. There are no secret societies. There’s no agenda.

There’s not even a “Hollywood.”

There’s just “Los Angeles,” a scattered sprawl filled with people who want to be in the entertainment business. People who were inspired by old films and TV shows who want to go on to create new films and TV shows. Nobody knows anything. People can’t tell a hit from the Hindenburg. It’s all guesswork and hard work, sometimes involving eighteen-hour days for years.

Think of most of us as gypsies, or Irish tinkers; people who go from job to job, gig to gig, just to feel creative and, at the same time, put food on our family. There’s no political agenda. Most movies just want to entertain you. A lesser number want to make you think.

It’s the equivalent of working on an assembly line and making cars - except that we all still have the chance to work on that assembly line because some of our product still sells.

You meet people. You bond with them intensely for a little while and when the gig is done, you go home to your family and wait for the next call. Mostly, you pray for the next call.

Sometimes you meet these treasured people again. Most times, you don’t. That’s what the majority of people do in this so-called “Hollywood.” You chase dreams, keep your fingers crossed and hope for the best. There’s always that dream in your head. The dream of doing “one good thing.” One thing that means something to people. One thing that lasts.

There are a lot of truly nice people out there in the mix. The entertainment industry lost one of the best, last week. His name was Bob Clark.

Back in the early eighties, when I was “just” a New York journalist, I saw a movie I loathed. “Porky’s.” I thought it was crass and lowbrow. I hated it.

A couple of years later, living in Los Angeles and writing low-budget movies, I saw another movie I adored. “A Christmas Story,” based on the works of one of my childhood idols, Jean Shepherd.

Of course, both movies were directed by the same man, Bob Clark. And, of course, by the mid-nineties, I’d find myself working with him on a telefilm “The Ransom of Red Chief.”

When I was first offered the job, Bob wasn’t attached as director. I wrote it as a Laurel and Hardy as kidnappers vs. W.C. Fields as father of the kidnapped boy romp.

Once Bob came onboard, we went head-to-head. I told him I didn’t like “Porky’s” and Bob, who directed the film version of Arthur Miller’s “The American Clock,” told me that Arthur Miller adored it. I replied that Arthur Miller wasn’t exactly known for comedy. He gave me this lopsided grin.

And we got along.

It was impossible to dislike Bob Clark.

A drunk killed him, last week. A 24-year-old Mexican national driving a brand new SUV about as big as a Panzer tank in the wrong lane slammed into Bob’s nine year old sedan while Bob was driving his 22 year old son, Ariel, back to the kid’s Santa Monica apartment. Both were pronounced dead at the scene. The SOB who hit him had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit and no license.

According to “The Los Angeles Times,” Tuesday nights were family nights for Bob, wherein he and his two grown sons, Ariel and Michael, would just hang in Bob’s condo in Pacific Palisades. They’d stay up most of the night.

Bob was on the road less than three minutes when he and his son were killed.

Like most people in “Hollywood,” Bob was most happy when working. At the beginning of his career, he re-invented the cheapie horror genre with movies like “Black Christmas” and “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things.”

He was a poor kid, born in New Orleans and moving to Florida via Alabama. For a while he was on track to be a football player. Instead, he turned to movies. Why? He liked movies.

He told one interviewer: “Well, I really started out with a pair of films that I never talk about because they don’t exist anymore—thank God! It was in Fort Myers, Florida, for a man who had a combination indoor tomato plant, storage house and movie studio. We made these movies for no budget essentially… I should write a book about them, they were quite amazing.”

He also worked for a funeral director who had a studio at the edge of the Everglades and was a cross-dresser.

His first “official” film was the dark horror comedy, “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things.” It became a cult classic in Canada.

Bob’s films always did well in Canada. That was his second home and he always returned there to film. One of his earliest films, “Deathdream,” an anti-Viet Nam take on “The Monkey’s Paw,” was considered a classic north of our border. But he also found a following in the States.

His cinematic depiction of the play “Tribute” wound up getting Jack Lemmon an Oscar nomination. “Porky’s” became the biggest comedy moneymaker in America. And, of course, “A Christmas Story” is now considered an evergreen during the holidays, right up there with “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

Bob wasn’t a Hitchcock. He wasn’t a director that people will write books about. He was an enthusiastic yeoman. He directed one of the best Sherlock Holmes films ever, “Murder By Decree.” He also directed stinkers like “Rhinestone,” “Loose Cannons” and “Karate Dog.”

He took on every job with gusto. Why? He loved his job.

He loved making movies.

When we did “Ransom of Red Chief,” he immediately began to tinker with the script, causing one of our lead actors to bail. Then, his back went out. He wound up directing half of the outside scenes (which included horses) from a chaise lounge, the horses almost nailing him several times. He made a lot of mistakes in terms of comedic pacing (but, at least, the horses never nailed him). But, in the end, it turned out okay. It wasn’t a comedy classic, but it was enjoyable and amiable. Just like Bob.

This illustrates the kind of guy Bob was. I had to stay in a hotel down in Santa Monica when we were prepping the flick because I was living up north and didn’t have a reliable car. Bob always drove me back to the hotel. He didn’t hire a driver. He didn’t have me call a cab. He drove me back to my room.

One night, we started talking about the original Tarzan films. How we both loved them. I told him I did a killer Tarzan yell. So, at a red light, in Culver City’s malt liquor district, he dared me to do it with windows rolled down. I did it and then some. Bob sat there, wild-eyed, waiting for the light to turn green. A bleary-eyed crowd had suddenly arisen. I laughed my ass off. He waited for the light, gritting his teeth, as the drunkards loped forward.

We both started laughing hysterically once we got a green light and we were off.

He was a really Nice Guy.

Remember when America valued Nice Guys? Remember when America valued people who fought to realize their dreams?

That’s what Hollywood is made of, politicians.

Yeomen workers.

Directors who will drive lowly writers home.

People who will work through pain to give you entertainment you can watch with your kids when you’re not cheating on your wives.

Nice Guys. Nice Gals. Dreamers.

Now, family-values politicians, what have you got to offer?

Aside from lies?

Have your people call my people.

If you dare.
 
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