Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Quick Liz Taylor Story...

If I Ever Get A Hold Of A TIME MACHINE ... Marfa, Texas 1956!!
Back in the early 90's, I was working the Academy Awards. The big news that show was, Elizabeth Taylor was going to be receiving an honorary award. She's the big momma of all divas; she was the original! Liz and her husband, the late actor Richard Burton tore up the headlines in the 60's and 70's ... no couple were bigger items back then (and FYI the Jolie-Pitts are bush league compared to the Taylors in their heyday!)

Dick & Liz: Love is a Battlefield!
Well, Liz appearing at the Oscars that year was a real big deal (even though she hadn't done a real boffo picture in about 25 years.) There was an electricity back stage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion waiting for her to show up that night (like a bed-wetter sleeping with an electric Snuggie... you know you liked that one!) I was in this narrow backstage area when the word came down; Elizabeth Taylor's car is here!  Yes, the eagle had landed at the back entrance! When she came down this narrow corridor it was like the were bringing the real Cleopatra! An army of men in black surrounded her, they were keeping fellow celebrities at arms length; The rat pack's gal, Shirley Maclaine, Liza with a Z, "Dalton from Road House himself"; Patrick Swayze pushed aside like a girlie man! even the great Paul Newman (who was to present the award to her on stage that night) was steered to the side like a mere mortal!  What really was funny, her husband at the time, the construction worker named Larry Fortensky, he looked like a blond deer caught in the headlights, It was the craziest damn thing (I myself made myself invisible next to the Xerox machine)  and yes, the most entertaining things do happen backstage!

Larry & Liz!
Hurricane Liz
Yes, Liz walked right past me... but did I see those famous violet peepers of hers? Or those fabulous jewels she always wore? Well, with all of those beefy bastards surrounding her... I pretty much saw the top of her head! Not even a sniff of her White Diamonds perfume got to one of my nostrils! (Liz was actually small, and if she wasn't sporting this kinda Marge Simpson hairdo that night, I would have saw nothin') but that was okay, for a moment; I was in the eye of the Hurricane Liz... so long baby.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


I had a tight feeling in my chest last night, I went home made myself a hot cup of tea with three fingers of Jack, and popped in some Peckinpah to relieve my stress… and not just any Peckinpah… "Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia Peckinpah!" I have an old VHS copy that my brother had given me for Christmas years ago (I’m not even sure if BMTHOAG ever made it to DVD?) Despite the bad sound quality of my copy, I was in for a dark ride, in the hot Mexican sun.

I can smell shit 100 miles away... sometimes closer.
  I've been no place I wanna go back to, that's for damn sure.

Two American directors, have gone south of the border to Mexico and left their bold celluloid mark on that country; John Huston (with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Night of the Iguana and Under the Volcano.)  The other was Sam Peckinpah, who rode down there with The Wild Bunch and Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, the latter nudging out Straw Dogs as his darkest and most surreal work. From a screenplay by Peckinpah and Gordon Douglas, this wild piece of cinema was made after Peckinpah’s flawed masterpiece; Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, when “Bloody Sam” was burning both ends of the match.  It’s not the over the top, macho send up stuff that Robert Rodriguez does so well these days… this is the real, real deal; a visceral hyper-kinetic experience that you’ll ever find on film. After any given screening of Alfredo Garcia, they might find you walking naked out in the desert holding an empty bottle of Jose Cuervo and a 45. Automatic. It reminds me of that great,Waylon Jenning’s song; “Ain’t No God in Mexico… after watching this picture, maybe Waylon was right?

The original American half-sheet from 1974.

Nobody loses all the time.

You won’t want to be eating popcorn during this picture, you might get blood splattered on it (perhaps that’s why, wasn’t a favorite for many when it was released in 1974) let me set movie up for you. BMTHOAG opens up beautifully with ducks floating on a river, a young woman (with child) lies on the river bank watching them, and that’s the only tranquil moment in the entire 1 hour 53 minutes of the picture. She’s soon summoned to a nearby hacienda, were her father a powerful Mexican Don (played by the iconic Mexican actor, Emillio Fernandez), he demands to know who’s the father of her baby… it takes the braking of one of her arms to get out the name; Alfredo Garcia!  With that the Don (Emilio Fernandez a.k.a. "El Indio") proclaims, "I will pay one million dollars. Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia!" The great character actor, was a great link to Peckinpah and Huston, as he also appeared in Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch and Huston's Under the Volcano, even in such a small (but crucial) role, Fernandez had an amazing villainous screen presence that is sorely missed today.

I will pay one million dollars. Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia!
From that moment; horses, cars, motorcycles, jet planes are disburse, all to collect this bounty.  After hit men and henchmen alike, fail to find the elusive Mister Garcia. Two gringo gunsels (played by veteran heavy, Robert Webber and former poor man’s Cary Grant, Gig Young.)  The two wander into a seedy Mexican bar, where a gringo piano named Bennie (played by Warren Oates) entertains the tourists.  Oates, like Bogart’s character in Treasure of Sierra Madre and the characters in Henry-Georges Clouzots master piece, Wages of Fear, has found himself stuck in a foreign country, that’s become his purgatory and he just needs one good hand to set him free. He tries to engage the duo about the time Paulette Goddard walked into his bar…  

Warren Oates as Bennie

The two ask Oates, if he knows, Alfredo Garcia? Oates tells them “I recognize the name.”  Which Young asks “Oh, you know the name, Garcia?” Oates tells him “Sure, it’s like Jones or Smith (with a sarcastic chuckle.) Oates, see’s a payday with these two and offers to try and locate their man for a 10 thousand dollar reward. When Oates asks Young as he’s leaving the bar, “I didn’t get your name?” Young tells him, “Dobbs… Fred C. Dobbs (Bogart’s name in “Treasure” and tip of the hat to Huston.) Later, Oates goes to the hotel to see Webber and Young, he finds them hold up with a small group of gringo "hitters". When one of these men calls him a “loser”, Oates yells back “Nobody loses all the time!” They tell him he’s got four days to do the job or they threaten to come find him... and this couple means business.

Have you seen Alfredo Garcia?

Sam's hands on directing style
But, Oates is a man with a plan, as he has come to find that his girlfriend (Mexican actress, Isela Vega) had recently been with Alfredo Garcia.. She tells him that he was recently killed in a car wreck and is buried in his small hometown.  In Miss Vega, Peckinpah perhaps found his greatest heroine (who by the way it seems more than half her time on screen topless... no joke.) With the information that Alfredo’s buried in a small Mexican town, Oates tells his girlfriend; “We’re going on a picnic, we’re gonna find the Golden Fleece, Baby.” The two jump in a beat up, red Ford Impala, and hit the road. Like The Getaway this film is Peckin-noir (Peckinpah noir) but it’s also a Western, but if you think that there’s a McQueen-MacGraw happy ending in the final reel… this film is the anti-Getaway… all you’ll get out of this is “head” with buzzing flies.

The ultimate Peckinpah couple!
When Vega, tells Oates “Just being together is enough.” He tells her “No, it’s not Baby.” Things take a bad turn when Oates kills two bikers ( Kris Kristofferson and Donnie Fritts) who’ve come out of the desert like ghosts and try and rape Vega.  When the couple finds a fleabag hotel to regroup, Oates finds Vega sitting naked on the floor of the shower, overcome emotionally by the attempted rape. Here, Oates shows his tender pathos as an actor, if killing two men for her wasn’t enough to show her, Oates reaches out for Vega, the water trickling over him, as he simply says, “I love you.” This tender moment between the two doesn’t last long. When Vega unfortunately insists on following him to the towns graveyard were he’s to complete his mission.

Don't let this picture fool ya... this ain't no picnic!

After digging up his body, Oates is soon knocked unconscious with his own shovel, just as he’s about to remove the head of the late, Mister Garcia. Oates wakes up to find himself buried with his dead lover, in the grave of the now headless, Alfredo.  Oates becomes, hell bent on revenge for the men who killed Vega, and taken his prized head. He soon finds then broken down on the road, and gets his revenge, as he had joked to Vega earlier that he’s done a lot of pistol shooting in the army. After that, all bets are off for Oates, as he totes around the nasty sack with “Al” (as he calls him.) At one point a young boy asks, “What do you have in the bag, senior?”  “A cat, a dead cat, used to belong to a friend of mine,” Oates grimaces.

Bennie's Blues

Sam Peckinpah, often imitated, but never toppled from his bloody throne!
On that same highway, Oates once again runs into Webber and Young, just as he’s on the verge of possibly losing his prize to Garcia’s family (who has him surrounded.) The two veteran actors play yet another pair of gay hit men (and my favorite, following Earl Holliman and Lee Van Cleef in The Big Combo, and those two guys in the James Bond flick, Diamonds are Forever.) And let me tell you in this film, Gig Young with a fresh-looking face lift and glistening dead cold alcoholic eyes is fuckin’ creepy! Whether his character, Johnny’s holding a machine gun or simply peeling a hard-boiled egg… He's got this grin, it makes him look like "Chucky" from the horror film Child's Play.

Gig Young, look'n a lot like "Chucky."
After a wild shoot out, Oates and the Mexicans manage to finishes the deadly duo off, and he soon takes the head back to the hitters at the hotel. He’s rewarded with his 10 grand and a “Hell of a job, Bennie” for his efforts. But Oates has figures that with all the dead people littered across Mexico this head has brought; he decides he wants answers as to why?… and when he doesn’t get those, more bullets fly. Before, one of the hitter dies; he manages to pull out a business card from his coat. Soon Oates and “Al” are on their way to see the Don. When he drives up to the heavily armed compound, Oates tells the guards to tell the Don, “Just tell him, Alfredo Garcia is here!”  As fate would have it, Oates happens to show up at the hacienda on the day of the Baptism of “Al's” son.
Robert Webber about to take the long dirt nap!
The delivery of the head, makes the Don, a most happy man and has no problem sliding a briefcase with a million dollar across the desk to Oates. But again, Oates isn’t finished, as he tells the Don, “No! Sixteen people are dead because of him, and you and me! And one was a damn good friend of mine!”  Just take a guess, what happens next? FYI, El Indio, just never seems to survive a Peckinpah picture. Oates, and the Dons daughter come to a quick understanding, “Listen, take this (he gives her a locket with a picture of “Al” inside) you take care of the boy, and I’ll take care of the father.” With that Oates, takes the head, and makes one last "Hail Mary power drive" to escape the hacienda only to meet a hail of bullets… Not exactly proving his theory, nobody loses all the time. 

I found this drawing by Maria Forde & I had to include it.
At the time, this film was was considered a Peckinpah misfire, in very bad taste. But, he was adamant that BMTHOAG was his vision.  “I did Alfredo Garcia, and I did exactly what I wanted to, good or bad, like it or not. That was my film.” Even more important is perhaps, Warren Oates who gives his greatest performance, full of bravado, tequila and mescal. At the time according to my friend L.Q. Jones, Peckinpah and Oates were spending a lot of time together… It is said that the mustachioed Oates, with his dark 70’s glasses was channeling his inner Peckinpah into his performance (and who hasn't done that, once or twice?)  One day, I’d like to commission Tijuana’s greatest black velvet artist to do a portrait of Oates, as his character “Bennie.” In one had a pistol and the other a dirty cloth bag containing "Al," complete with his buzzing flies.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Death of a Salesman; The LACC Theater Academy with Esai Morales, Elizabeth Pena, Danny Pino & Tony Plana - March 5th, 2011

The Arthur Miller Classic
Morales, Pena and Pino

I think (or hope?) most folks have heard of of the Pulitzer & Tony Award winning play; Death of a Salesman? Maybe even the name of the play's main character; Willy Loman? And possibly even the playwright who typed it out back in the late 40's; Arthur Miller? All three applied to me, but I had never actually seen the play done before (hey, I 'll be honest, I'm usually watching cowboy movies.) But when I saw a couple tickets pop up on Goldstar (a great resource for discount entertainment tickets around the country) for a benefit performance with a top A list cast, I went for it.

Tony Plana; Excellent as Willy Loman!
Esai & Alisha Bakkum
This two performance staged reading produced by Los Angeles City College, the Alma Mater of such Hollywood thespians as; James Coburn, Morgan Freeman, Robert Vaughn and Donna Reed. Did I say it was a terrific cast? Veteran actor, Tony Plana (Ugly Betty's dad, among hundreds of credits, IMDB him) really did a hell of a job as traveling salesman; Willie Loman, who walks a fine line between the past and the present, both as  painful for him as the other. I know that Dustin Hoffman did it on Broadway a few years back, but I didn't see that one... I saw Tony Plana's performance and it was really was wonderful, with charm one moment and heartbreak the next. As I said, this was a reading, a stripped down version; bare-bones, just the words of Arthur Miller and the raw talent of the actors. Also in the cast was Esai Morales (NYPD Blue, American Family, La Bamba and my imaginary Hollywood rival for many years) as the Loman's oldest son, Biff, who's shares a secret with his father that has haunted them both for years, and has destroyed their once close relationship. His return home to his New York family, sparks this Greek Tragedy. Also in the cast was Danny Pino (formerly of CBS's Cold Case) as son, Happy. And the always terrific; Elizabeth Pena (Lone Star, La Bamba) as Willie's long suffering, but faithful wife, Linda.

Catherine Boily (Letta), Al Rossi (Director), Alisha Bakkum (Miss Forsythe)

An extra nice touch, was the fact that some of the actors that rounded out the cast also included several LACC drama Academy students; Alisa Bakkum, Rachel Ranae Barrett, Catherine Boily, Jessa Dea Myers, Anika Noogard, Eric-Lee Olsen, Spencer Steeby, Chris Fairbanks, John Farrell and Leslie Ferreria (as the Narrator.) All contributed to a very nice piece of American Theater. The production was directed by, Al Rossi and produced by Kevin Morrissey. Stage Manager for the show was, Deena Mullen and Lighting Direction and Design, James Moody... nice work everyone. As I watched this marvelous cast work, I though to myself this was more than a play, it was an event! I'm so glad that I went... and by the way, Mister Miller; you still pack a hell of a punch... even after 60 years!

Esai did such a great job, how could I refuse a request to pose for a photo!
An Event; To Be Sure!