Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Autograph Styles Of The Old And Famous

Rerun from 2006...

The plan for Saturday was to hang out with my hometown friends Paul and Van and catch up on old times.

Van is one of my oldest friends, we met when I was 18 years old and making short films. He was a celebrity in the local film community because his short film about the “mothball fleet” - rusting Navy battle ships harbored in Vallejo - won a bunch of awards and was bought by the Navy - it was showing in the Navy Museum in Washington DC or someplace.

Paul was also a local celebrity - he made drive in movies that played all over the United States... he also gave me my first screenwriting job on that classic Oscar nominated drama NINJA BUSTERS. Paul lives far far away in another country with very different plumbing than ours.

The three of us, and a handful of others, were the guys who were going to make it in the film business. We'd sit around the "big table" in the back of our local Denny's, eating burgers and discussing film until close to dawn. Back in the days when making movies was more dream than reality.

Now, we could hang out anywhere... but Paul has flown back to the USA for the Celebrity Autograph Show at the Burbank Marriott. That’s where we’re meeting.

I arrive at the Burbank Marriott, which used to be the Burbank Hilton, and is where they have the Fangoria Convention every year. It’s very close to the airport... as in, planes buzz the roof as they land and take off. Yahoo’s media HQ is right across the street, and Frys Electronics is on the other side of the railroad tracks. Oh, when the planes aren’t buzzing the hotel, freight trains are whizzing by - and the occasional Amtrak passenger train. You know, prime Southern California real estate.

I arrive, and since the Show costs $25 for a 2 day pass, I decide to phone Paul’s cell (mobile to you Europeans) to see if he actually made it through customs and is in Burbank. I get no answer, so I call Van’s cell. He picks up right away.

Are you inside?


Then I’ll see you in a minute.

You’re here?

Yes... I only had to come down the street. Is Paul with you?

No. I think he’s in L.A.

Okay, I’m confused - where are you?

Home (San Francisco). Working on a novel.

We talked for a while longer, but it seems like Van flaked at the last minute. He’s done that before - in fact, so many times that it no longer matters to me. There was a time when it used to piss me off... several times I waited in bars or restaurants for him, and once he was a last minute no-show on a trip to Reno. I’d set up these trips for the old gang - well, the ones who haven’t done anything unforgivable - and we’d hang out for 3 days somewhere. I’d pay for hotel rooms and airfare and meals... and the casino/hotel in Reno actually through in a bunch of drink and gambling coupons. No one could complain that they couldn’t afford to go, I had it covered. At the Oakland Airport, we’re waiting on Van... and he doesn’t show. This was when cell phones where the size of a brick (not that long ago) and I didn’t want one. We were all kind of worried when he didn’t make the plane... and when we arrived in Reno, I wasn’t going to spend $9 million on hotel long distance charges to find out what happened. The rest of us had a great time, and when we returned, I called... and Van said something had come up at the last minute. These days, I just accept that Van is Van... He looks at life differently than I do - he lives completely in the moment. No thoughts of future or past, only *now*. I am a planner - I try to turn the chaos of my life into some sort of order. Van is a great guy, who makes decisions at the last minute, so when he does show up, I think of it as a bonus. This means I would only be hanging out with Paul...

I gave him another call on his cell - and Paul’s gravelly voice answered. He was inside.

I paid, got a wrist band, and wandered into the big autograph room and found Paul.


If you’ve never been to one of these autograph shows, here’s how they work...

The big ballroom of the hotel is filled with rows of tables, and behind each table are a bunch of TV and movie stars that you thought were dead charging around $20 for an autographed picture from one of their films, or $15 to take a picture standing next to you. They often have other items for sale - self published memoirs, scripts from their shows, self produced films, and sometimes T shirts. In the back of the room and out in the lobby are tables selling memorabilia - movie posters, toys, DVDs and VHS tapes, and anything else that might be worth something with a star’s autograph on it.

There’s a hierarchy among the signing stars - featured tables (unusually in the corners of the room) with long lines of fans waiting for an autograph. Though the fame of the star is one of the factors in being at a featured table, the more important factor is whether the star’s autographs are rare or easily available, This often means a lesser star will end up at a featured table because they’ve never signed at a show before. Saturday’s featured guests included Tony Curtis, Debbie Reynolds, Elliot Gould, and Natasia Kinski. Long lines for each of them.

Gene Barry, recently in WAR OF THE WORLDS... dumped at some normal table.

They also do “theme tables” - often with all of the surviving cast from some classic TV show or movie. They had everyone from the VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA TV show, from David Hedison to Del Monroe (who was also in the movie). When I was a kid VOYAGE was one of my favorite shows. It was like STAR TREK, but underwater.

They also had a James Bond group - with Richard Keil (Jaws) and George Lazenby (Bond in O.H.M.S.S. - probably the best Bond story, but nobody’s seen it) and Martine Beswick (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE) and Shirley Eaton (the hot babe who gets covered with gold in GOLDFINGER). I’m a huge Bond fan. When I look back on the movies I loved as a kid, the movies that would turn me into a film junkie and eventually into a screenwriter; Bond movies are right up on the top of the list. When I was a kid, my parents would see movies at the Drive In, let us kids watch the cartoons that came on first, then have us sleep in the back seat during the movies... but I always secretly stayed awake and watched the movie reflected in the back window of the car. For years I thought everyone in the movies was left handed. I don’t know if I saw GOLDFINGER reflected in the back window of my parent’s Plymouth, but the Bond movies were the first films I saw that had nekkid women in them. Ursula Andress getting hosed down after radioactive contamination and Daniela Bianchi running nude into Bond’s room and Shirley Eaton naked and covered in gold. As a little boy, seeing a nekkid girl was, well, amazing. I was too young to know why I liked nekkid girls, but I liked them. So seeing Shirley Eaton in person should have been a big thrill. Except she looked like my grandmother. She was really really old.

Of course she was old. Robert Culp from I SPY and GREATEST AMERICAN HERO was there - and he was really really old, too. In fact, everyone there - all of the stars I used to watch on TV and in the movies - were old. Wrinkled. Hunched over. Look, we all get old - I’m old - but when you can pop in the DVD of GOLDFINGER and see the hot, sexy, young version of Shirley Eaton - that’s how I want to remember her. That film image is who they are to me.

There are two ways to react to one of these autograph shows - either be excited to see all of these stars from the past and run around collecting autographs and photos (that’s what Paul did) or find it all kind of depressing and sad that these childhood idols are now old people selling their signatures for $20 (that’s me). Hitchcock tells a story in Hitchcock/Truffaut about a film late in his career where someone suggested he hire Graham Cutts as a lowly assistant. Hitchcock was embarrassed, because Cutts was the studio head who first hired Hitchcock when he was just starting out. Hitchcock thought it was demeaning to hire him for such a menial job... but then he’s told that Cutts really needs the job, so Hitchcock reluctantly hires him. That’s kind of how I feel about the stars at the autograph shows - I’m embarrassed for them, but I also worry that they need the money. These folks were stars when stars weren’t paid much.


While wandering down the aisles, I bump into a bunch of the guys from the Thursday Night Drinking Group. Grabbing autographs and dishing about who was there and how they looked. Dan was standing in the very long line for Tony Curtis’ autograph... which is kind of funny, since Dan has probably been in more movies than Tony Curtis (he’s Agent Cody Banks’ dad and Tommy Lee Jones right hand man in THE FUGITIVE and was a regular on a half dozen TV show like MATLOCK). Duane was there, and I introduced him to Paul, who is a big fan of PULP FICTION. Again - Duane wasn’t there to sign autographs, he was there to collect autographs. Strange how these people are on one side of the table now, but may be on the other side of the table doing the signing someday.

After Paul collected a bunch of autographed pictures of stars from his childhood, he and I went out to the lobby, had a drink, and talked about old times and current projects. About ex-friends. About the old days when we’d bump into each other at the movies, or the gang would get together for an almost all night conversation in Denny’s about movies. That gang consisted of Paul, me, Van, Vick, Bruce, sometimes Debbie (assistant director on THE DEEP END), Tom, Mike, Hurley, Willy, Rhomboid Goatcabin (real name Michael) , and sometimes Rob the cameraman. Some of these people are, like Mad Max, just a memory now. All of us brought together by our love of movies.

Paul is no longer directing movies, now he is writing and directing these audio books... well, really they are audio movies. He puts together these great casts - often the same stars who are here at the autograph show - and top of the line sound effects and musical scoring. The result is a movie without the picture. He’s done a couple of them, now. HARD ROCK LOVERS (with a voice cameo by me) and now McKNIGHT’S MEMORY starring Robert Culp. He also did a 77 minute true crime story from Ed “Kooky” Burns from 77 SUNSET STRIP (before my time, but one of those kick ass 60s TV private eye shows). To bring everything back to Bond - Paul’s first audio thing was a seminar - LIVING THE JAMES BOND LIFESTYLE that I was director on.

Stars from the past. Friends from the past.

In the film that plays in my mind, we are always that bunch of young guys around the back table in Denny’s talking about movies. We never grow old. None of us ever go on to do things that are unexcuseable and criminal. None of us will die before our time. Just like the movie stars on film - we are in our perfect time, our perfect state. We may grow old, but like film... memories never age.

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Diversions & Plot Twists
Yesterday’s Dinner: Broccoli Beef at CityWok.
DVD: Watched THE PARALLAX VIEW, one of my favorite movies. I saw it when it first came out, I was a kid, and it's one ofthe major influences on my writing. Warren Beatty plays a screw up reporter who discovers that all of the witnesses to a Kennedy-like assassination have died in mysterious accidents. He decides to investigate, and discovers a company that deals in assassinations - including the social misfit loners who get caught afterwards. So, he does what any reporter would do, he gets a fake ID and applies for a job. Great suspense, one of the best fist fights on film, and a very very dark ending. One thing that is interesting about the film is the use of *stillness* - the film is mostly big panoramic long shots with *nothing moving* except one person or thing. That draws your eye to the movement... and creates instant tension. There is a huge contrast between the still background and the violence. It's the *opposite* of Paul Greengrass and the last two BOURNE movies.
Pages: Still only a couple of pages on SLEEPER when I'm supposed to be doing *more* than 5 pages, and now I have to set it aside to prepare for my Expo Classes.


Bushdoctor said...


With your prodigious expertise in the movie industry, your prodigious writing, your totally absorbing blog and Script Secrets postings, and your good-natured willingness to share, I see your retirement in terms of an offer from a respected studio to sign you as a "suit." Would you accept?



English Dave said...

Another great post Bill. I suppose one of the benefits of being a writer is that one is never subjected to that particular humiliation as who the hell wants our autographs!

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