Monday, February 23, 2015

Life Among the Eloi


Tom as Mr. Trask
It is high summer in LA. All the hills are brown and covered in dry, fire prone chaparral primed for wildfire by the hot, incessant Santa Ana winds.

The WORKING GIRL pilot has been shot and is in the can, ready for the big Fall TV schedule when the network rolls out its best bets for ratings hits. And we have a highly coveted time spot on that fall schedule. Things are looking up. Tom and I are eagerly awaiting the call to start shooting the next episodes.

We've been invited to a cast party by one of the assistant producers on the show. The address is Beverly Hills and the mansion does not disappoint. It is truly palatial, perched in lordly fashion atop the brown canyons, with the endless, flat suburb city of LA splayed out in wrap around views from every room and terrace.

We wander out onto the terrace carrying our gigantic wine bowls made of crystal far more delicate than egg shells and sipping wine more fascinatingly, palate pleasing than Olympian ambrosia. Tom surveys the LA basin and makes his standard observation: "LA is the end of Western Civilization". And as proof, he cites the movie The Time Machine with Rod Taylor. "We're here with the Eloi," he says. "It's perfect. They're all blonde with perfect bodies, nobody looks more than 27 years old, they live on fruit, they don't work, they're totally indifferent to anyone's suffering, like when Wena almost drowns; they don't read or write, their books have turned to dust, and they spend their idle days cavorting in the sun. H.G. Wells described LA perfectly."

We go back inside. He's right. There are beautiful people everywhere. We do our best not to be conspicuous Morlocks in non designer clothing. This is a big moment for both of us, but especially for me, because these days I'm moming it at home with a three year old as full time cook and bottle washer. So I've heard about all the excitement and glamour second hand from Tom. This is my night to mingle with the big shots.

Tom knows a couple of people, cast members, production people, and they converse; I listen attentively. Big excitement of the night is: a real mountain stream runs through the middle of the house, have we seen it? We see it later, replete with rose petals drifting by. WOW. This house belongs to one of the producers who redoes homes and resells them. He's just sold this one to a Japanese couple for nine million. Cash. WOW. AND DOUBLE WOW. This is the nineties, when Japan seems to be rolling in cash. MGM has also just been sold to Sony for some amazing sum. And we're told not to miss the upstairs bathroom with floor to ceiling views of LA from the throne. We visit it and are suitably blown away. Do people really live like this? It's just staggering. WOW. WOW. WOW. It may be the end of Western Civilization, but the Eloi have it very good indeed. 

We circulate and notice that Nancy McKeon, our star, has not arrived yet. Maybe she's skipping this party. After all, she's a pretty big TV star already. Circulating to the bar to get free drinks, Tom reconnects with me. Someone has just told him that Nancy McKeon has left the show and that WORKING GIRL is no longer on the fall lineup. We switch our drink orders from wine to vodka. We are shattered. I'm hardly able to remain standing. We hear people around the bar, producers, writers, etc. discussing the change. Everyone says it will be fine. The new girl tested just fine with the studio audiences. We look at each other. We've been gut punched. Our big chance. Now what? No nine million dollar houses in our future. The rest of the evening is a blur.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Desert Heat - from Don't Quit Your Day Job

Eddie Lomax and the bike

JUNE 2, Sunday 1974

We met May 1, 1974. June 2, a month later, was a beautiful day, according to Tom's Diary. 

We were up early, had breakfast, read the Times, walked through Central Park, watched the end of the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Then we'd wandered up Madison Avenue around 85th street and bought some records and cookies. (Who would have ever thought that records would become obsolete? Cookies are apparently immune from ever disappearing.) We went to Tom's sublet apartment and drank some wine. Then because he'd talked about his writing, and I was interested, he showed me one of his screenplays. Diary entry - "Let her read part of my screenplay. That I think was a mistake" is what Tom, in a very tactful understatement, writes at the end of his June 2 entries. Fortunately, he was not in the least upset or influenced by my opinions. However, I continued to suffer from own erroneous ideas, feelings and understanding of how the world works for many, many years after this event.

I actually remember that moment like it was yesterday. I remember the perfectly and professionally typed up scripts, nicely bound, one even in leather. I still have them. Was I impressed with all the work he'd done and with the scope of his imagination and vision? Was I proud? Was I amazed at the effort he'd put into these scripts, all on his own initiative? Was I awed by the time, energy, the thought, the heart, the intelligence he'd displayed? No. Not for a second. Indeed, quite the opposite. I was appalled, overwhelmed, dismayed. Here was another windmill to tilt, and I was actually furious.

What I did not remember correctly was how soon this big blowup occurred after we'd met. We had known each other just one month and one day, and there I was passing judgment on his talents and hopes and dreams, raining on his parade and crushing his ambitions. Who the heck was I? This was such a combination of breathtaking arrogance and ignorance that even now I am deeply ashamed to remember it.

How could I have been so stupid, so misguided? I was very much a child of the middle class ethos, and the very essence of that ethos is to be self-effacing. Never overtly calling attention to yourself or your achievements or taking yourself too seriously is the first commandment of being middle class. The second is 'pass the martinis'. However, being self-effacing will not get you anywhere in the arts. The lens lice, strutting popinjays, narcissists, and exhibitionist all have a head start in the artist game. Tom was none of those, of course. But still, my whole nature revolted at claiming the right to not only be an actor, but also trying to thrust yourself forward as a screenwriter. The effrontery!!

Of course to Tom, who was not hampered like I was by the excessive vanity of such overdone modesty, it seemed perfectly natural that an actor should write a screenplay.

'98 on the High Desert in California to see Desert Heat shooting. Tom's dream come true.
And I made another miscalculation; I naively believed that before Tom should dare to write a screenplay, before he wasted more time and effort chasing another rainbow, he must earn the imprimatur of someone of theatrical authority. Then he would be justified in 'wasting' the time involved. I was firmly in the camp of its being everyone's moral imperative to work a nine to five job, unless you raised your hand nicely and teacher said you could be excused. Teacher, of course, being some recognized authority in the culture world.

In my view, he'd proved he had an acting talent by landing a great acting job first time out doing "Promises, Promises" for David Merrick, but writing? Who was he to pick up pencil and paper? What hubris!

I wasn't wholly ignorant about theater and movies. I was studying with Lee Strasberg, working at the Actor's Studio as house manager, auditing acting sessions there, watching all of their productions that I could, studying with Uta Hagen and had been for several years, and going to all the classical and contemporary theater that I could manage, and in New York City, there's always quite a lot of theater.

Though being blessed by those of high reputation in your field is a practical and financial benefit to your artistic ventures, for me, it went beyond practical. I looked up to those who'd achieved successes that I and the NY Times admired, and I revered and respected the opinions of those who seemed worthy. I felt they must have earned their place in the pantheon of greatness because they had demonstrated competence; you know, they passed the exam and their name was inscribed on a stone tablet somewhere so everyone would know they got an A. To me, they were founts of wisdom whose judgment was beyond question, certainly by the likes of me.

That may sound like becoming humility, but I think it was really just a way of avoiding putting myself on the line artistically, basically, cowardice on my part. Putting yourself on the line is tough for anybody. Your ego can end up taking quite a beating. There are creeps out there who live for doling out malicious criticism, merited or not. 

However, I did not fully grasp what was different about the arts until many, many years later. The difference is that working in the arts is not like the usual job. There are no objective standards against which to measure the integrity or perceptiveness of those who are at the top in their fields. Acting is not accounting or engineering or marketing or running a shoe factory. In those fields of work, it's perfectly obvious who is worthy, because there are measurable results. Plus, those who are unworthy usually go out of business.

But artistic professions are different. Lots of people in the arts can get wealthy without doing much of anything of any immediate or lasting value. For instance, there are Critic's Darlings, artists who some besotted critic has decided can do no wrong and who, as a result, go on to reap fortunes at the box office because of people like me who slavishly follow the critics; there are the trend following artists who hop on any bandwagon, 'you want vampires, I've got a vampire that will knock your socks off'; then there is stunting, a ploy which involves hiring celebrities of the moment like football players,(OJ), or politicians daughters, (Bristol, Chelsea) to get ratings, or one of Tom’s favorite Hollywood stunts, which he experienced firsthand, Smell-O-Vision, movies accompanied by evocative fragrance spayed into the theater, the combination of odors drove the audience out, so it didn't last very long; and lastly the very obvious and ubiquitous publicity hounds who decorate the tabloids every week, extolling themselves. Perhaps the most prevalent form of cheating is nepotism. As Moss Hart once said, "Nepotism runs like a giant river through show business." Those are a few of the types in show biz who are out there wasting everyone's time and money.
This is not meant to disparage the study of art history or the practice of art criticism. But scholars look back and explain the brilliance of the past, not the present, and great contemporary critics are even rarer than great artists.

For instance, in Shakespeare's day, playwrights were supposed to adhere to the Greek classical standard of unity of time, place, and action. That Shakespeare did not attend university or follow the dramatic unities led to his being critically underrated by the intelligentsia of England for almost 100 years. Samuel Johnson was the first literary critic to look seriously at Shakespeare's work and accord him genius status.

So Tom was right and courageous in pursuing his dream and his vision. And I was just as wrong and misguided as a person can get. No one can actually say who is a great artist and who is not, who is worthy or who is a waste of time. Some great artists die broke, some hacks make millions. Some of the most popular artists of an era are entirely forgotten in ten years, some rejected works of art go on to everlasting greatness. You just have to do what you do and sail by your own lights. Tom always knew that. And he knew it because he was an inveterate moviegoer. I used to kid him that he'd seen every movie ever made, and I was not far wrong. There was hardly a movie that we ever heard about, American or foreign, that he hadn't seen and remembered distinctly and was able to discuss its best scenes, good points and failings. He loved movies.

He did finally have a movie made from one of his scripts, which is a rare honor in Hollywood. It's called Desert Heat starring Jean Claude Van Damme, and it has done very well. Tom was a fan of Jean Claude Van Damme and of all good action/adventure movies. Desert Heat is a quirky action picture with a lot of comedy and some interesting characters in a script Tom wrote during our frustrating days in Hollywood. He loved reading people's comments about the movie on Amazon. I share a couple of them here below:

Van Damme Like Never Before, April 20, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Desert Heat (DVD)

With regular Jean-Claude Van Damme movies I expect a movie with no plot and pointless action, but Desert Heat was a hysterical action packed adventure of suicidal loner Eddie Lomax (Van Damme) on pursuit to reclaim his motorcycle from a gang of vicious outbackers. Meeting along the way unforgettable characters and of course killing those who got in his way. Van Damme actually does some good acting in this movie with punch lines that kept me laughing the whole time (ex."can't we all just get along") Those who expect regular Van Damme martial arts to used in this movie will be surprised because Van Damme uses character development and revenge as more of an approach to the key element in this movie (except for the end). I loved Desert Heat and recommend it to those who like funny action movies that are very entertaining!

Damme good movie., June 11, 2002
By Chris G, Willhoite - See all my reviews

This review is from: Desert Heat (DVD)

Based on the 1962 Samurai film, Yojimbo, Desert Heat captures the story well in a modern, desert setting starring none other than Jean-Claude Van Damme. Eddie Lomax{Van Damme} tries to escape the horrors he faced in the war, in the form of nightmares, by riding out into the desert to end his life and is also trying to deliver a gift to an old war buddy who he saved in the war. The action heats up when his gift is stolen and thus frees a small town from two rival gangs using war games and acting like a one man army. Even near the end a character asks a person out to a movie called Yojimbo as kind of a humorous hint as to what the movie was based on. An action packed movie with comedy, a touch of romance, and a bit of Native American lore, Desert Heat is an awesome flick for any fan of action, comedy, and/or Jean-Claude Van Damme.

The Sonic Motel set for Desert Heat with very good friend Randy Hall, stunt coordinator. Desert Heat was a very apt title. That day the temperature was about 108 F. the movie was also released as Inferno.

Thank God he didn't listen to me all those many years ago. He kept right on writing. Here's looking at you, Tom.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Love Letters - Happy Valentine's Day


Happy Valentine's Day
Love Letters for Valentines Day

Postcard from the Westward Ho motel! Man on the road.
February 5, 1975 To: Marcy Casterline,
44 West 90
From: Thomas O’Rourke,
Heading West To
Fame and Fortune
Dearest Marcy
The drive from Jonathan to here was murder, heavy winds and blowing snow. You were right about the head winds. I made terrible time because of that wind. I'm only driving during the day from now on. Hopefully, tomorrow night I'll be in Utah, 400 miles from Las Vegas. I opened the packages of books you gave me. It was really thoughtful of you to do that. I still have one package to open and one card. ….Marcy bear with me through this trip, it's not easy for me either. I would be very happy to spend every minute of my life with you in my arms… Pardon me while I call you in Hartford. (I must have been in Hartford for a job.) Well that was a big flop, you haven't checked in yet.

When you drive great distances like I have been doing lately you have all kinds of time to think about all kinds of things. Sometimes you say you don't feel I am totally committed to our relationship, that I have "one foot out of it". Jesus, sweetheart, let me assure you that I'm as committed to you and our relationship as Thomas Jefferson was to the American Revolution. I love you with every fiber of my being. I am giving my all in this relationship, something I have never done before…I don't know what more I can do to convince you. You'll just have to trust me, and let my actions and efforts speak for me.

I want so much for us to have a wonderful life, full of warmth and love and romance. I wish you were here now. Work hard on your scene for Strasberg. I know you can do it really well. You have the ability, imagination and intelligence, the rest is hard work. I always thought you were tremendously talented but lacked a little more self confidence. Sometimes you are so hard on yourself. Have a little patience; acting is like getting a degree in Biology. You don't get one over night. As you should know, it takes years of study to learn about all the birds in the forest and someone once said it takes a good 10 to 15 years to become a really top flight competent actor, so for Christ's sake stop beating yourself. You're doing fine.

Well, sweetie I'm off to bed for an early start tomorrow. I love you. Sweet dreams. Pet Wister for me and kick Harry.

Xxxxxxxxx ooooooooooo Tom.

{Harry was my incredibly vicious cat, who my dog, loved dearly.}

February 6 Thursday  Up at 8:30 am, showered and checked out. Breakfast at 9 am, bathed, fed and heading West to the Golden Sun. I hope to make 500 miles today---Crossed the Rockies, it was magnificent. I never realized how beautiful they were. I watched the skiing at Breckenridge, then stopped for my first Coors 10 miles from Vail. Just after 3 hours of Rocky Mtns and thinking everything else will be anticlimactic, I go through the White River State Park. The road follows the mountain river between huge cliffs that hang over the road. It was breathtaking. Well, I'm still 15 miles from Grand Junction. So deep into Utah by tonight seems wishful thinking. An old cowboy came into the luncheonette I was eating in, pigeon toed and bow-legged, looked at my table and said, "Won’t they serve you anything but Catsup and mustard?"

February 6, 1975 UTAH
Dearest Marcy,

Here I sit in my $12.00 motel room that is freezing cold. I don't think the idea of heated motel rooms has caught on this far West. I'm 107 miles from nowhere, literally in the middle of the desert. I'm sorry I sounded a little odd on the phone tonight. But after that long lonely drive today I was really looking forward to talking to you and then the motel management tells me there's no switchboard and that I have to call from a pay phone. Ever try to round up $3.00 in change in the middle of the desert? It's not easy.

All the Rocky Mountain scenery today reminded me of you and your beautiful body. Wild and breathtakingly beautiful like mountain scenery. That's my baby. Yeah. They tell me that the scenery west of here is really beautiful. So I'm glad I'm driving during the day. I'm drinking some of the Cognac you provided me with and reading Burr, a wonderfully brilliantly written book. I seem to be in good health, and my spirits are high. I miss you terribly though, but that's normal. I've been taking a few pictures, but they're in black and white. Tomorrow I'm switching to color. I'm glad you're working. You seemed to be in good spirits tonight. And that's good.
Don't you love this paper? Early American Tacky. Well as primitive as this place is, I'm lucky they gave me some dried leaves to write on. Little humor there. Two bottles of your gift booze and I'm a little high. Must be the mountain air or lack of pollution.

I've heard that there has been a terrible snow storm in the Sierra Madras Mountains before you get to L.A. so maybe if the passes aren't clear by the time I get there, I'll go by way of Death Valley. I hope to find an apt. in L.A. by Sunday, so then I can settle down to making our first MILLION. I'm keeping a diary of my trip.

I love you so much, toots. It was so nice of you to pack all those goodies and surprises for me. I watched the movie Bullitt tonight for the 3rd time on TV. Last night I watched Taras Bulba for the 5th time. Well I'm going back to Burr.

Remember I love you.
Tom xxxxxxxxx oooooooooo

P.S. They are a little civilized here. The Carson show just came on. I love you (and he drew a smiley face. Was anybody doing the smiley face back then? I wonder where he came up with that?)

February 7 Friday  Up at 9:30 am, room is freezing, warmer outside. On the road at 10:45. 107 miles to next gas or food. Good God. The drive to Salina was beautiful, colorful canyons, red and blue rock mts. Deep gorges, colored pinnacles. Had coffee and a beer in Salina, a really depressed town. Then on to Interstate 15. Driving on these lonely roads gets you a little crazy after a while. I'm now 165 miles from Las Vegas and pushing West. My tooth is killing me. It really pisses me off after all the dental work I had done this summer. Arrived Las Vegas 6:00 Pacific Time

Check into a motel, tacky room. Showered then off to see downtown. Playing Black Jack. Lost at Roulette, Haven't seen the big hotels, but what I've seen is shitty. Called Marcy. Afraid I was really depressed. And tired.

February 8 Saturday  Slept till 11:30, still feel like I've got the flu and a cold. 285 miles to LA, thank god. If I make this trip again by car, I hope it's a Jaguar or a Mercedes. I hope the Gods are with me the next few months in LA. Christ, it's taken me 7 years to get there. Stopped off in Barstow California for lunch, was here 11 years ago on Operation Dessert Strike 250,000 of us running around the dessert like an idiot. Arrived in LA at 8:30, drove around for an hour trying to find West Hollywood. The city is spread all over hell. Checked into Tropicana Motel on Santa Monica. God what a dump. It's raining like hell. No dinner. Well, I went and got a Sunday edition of LA Times and started looking for apts. I'm feeling a little depressed and terribly lonely. I really miss Marcy. Bought a bottle of Sangria and watched Cool Hand Luke. Motel $12.75