Archive for the ‘BACKSTORY’ Category
I’d be willing to bet that you didn’t know Bela Lugosi was actually Lt. Lugosi of the Austro-Hungarian Army. He’s just one of many Hollywood legends who served in the military, and on this Memorial Day, I think it’s fitting that we take a look at 20 movie icons that you might not have realized had careers in the Air Force, Army, Navy, or Marines.
A few of these names won’t be all that surprising, but most will make you look twice. Some of them had illustrious careers in horror, others as dancers, still others as directors and producers. Comedy, drama, westerns, war movies (oddly enough), science fiction, and romance – all major genres are represented here. The bond that these men (and one woman) shared was that before (or during) their stellar careers on the silver screen, they strapped on a uniform and reported for duty.
This list concludes our week long Boots on the Ground countdown to Memorial Day. Now go out, have a moment of silence, and then toss a few steaks on the grill.
Flt. Lt. Donald Pleasance, Royal Air Force
Before trying to calm Michael Myers down or escaping from a POW camp in The Great Escape, Donald Pleasance was actually in a German POW camp. He flew in WWII with the 166 Squadron, RAF Bomber Command, and was captured after being shot down. Interestingly, he reportedly produced plays while imprisoned. There’s no word on whether he dealt with a masked psycho killer in real life, though.
Lt. Alan Alda, US Army Reserve
It’s impossible to think of Alan Alda without thinking of “M.A.S.H.” After a decade of being on a show that produced the single largest viewing audience of all time, it’s easy to see why he was a bit typecast. However, he joined the cast of the show with a bit of his own real life experience serving as a gunnery officer in Korea after the Korean War.
Col. Frank Capra, US Army
Before making It’s a Wonderful Life, Capra joined the Army and taught during WWI. He would go on to start building an unbelievable career in film which included You Can’t Take it With You, It Happened One Night, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and even after massive success, he would return for WWII. He used his expertise to create educational films for the War Department (including what some believe is a masterpiece of propaganda filmmaking) with the next entry on the list.
Lt. Col. Dr. Seuss, US Army
If you got a chance to read my write up of The Dark Side of Dr. Seuss (or were fortunate enough to see it yourself) then you already know that Theodor Geisel joined the Army and worked with Capra’s First Motion Picture Unit. There, he made educational cartoons featuring a bumbling private named Snafu and, like Capra, directed propaganda films. So, yes, it’s safe to assume that the Cat in the Hat was anti-Hitler.
HM Bill Cosby, US Navy
The man who gave us advice, made kids say the darndest things, and sold us pudding was also a Navy Hospital Corpsman. He worked with soldiers, marines and airmen severely injured in the Korean War. That’s right everyone. Ghost Dad was in the military.
Humphrey Bogart, US Navy
Not only was Bogart in the Navy, he may owe his entire career to it. The stories are not exactly clear, but several different accounts tell of how the actor was injured doing his duty in such a way that left him with a scar you might recognize and a lisp that developed. Of course, like most things with Bogart, that could all be tall tales, but his military service isn’t.
Airman Chuck Norris, US Air Force
It may or may not be true that, at one time, Chuck Norris was the U.S. Air Force.
Lt. Col. David Niven, British Army
David Niven was terrible at being in the military during peace time. He was insubordinate, got arrested for it, got his guard drunk, and escaped to New York City to send a telegram back home announcing his resignation. Of course, when WWII started, he paused his budding film career to rejoin the Army, took part in the Invasion of Normandy, and eventually won the Legion of Merit – the highest honor the US bestows on foreign servicemen.
Rod Serling, US Army Air Force
The master of science fiction and creator of “The Twilight Zone” was apparently so eager to get to war that he enlisted in the army the day after graduating high school. He’s another example of a talent that was born from serving – citing that his time fighting in WWII (and earning a Purple Heart and Bronze Star) made him turn to writing.
Audrey Hepburn, Dutch Resistance
Hepburn wasn’t in the military, so I’m cheating here, but I couldn’t leave her off the list because 1) she raised money for the Dutch Resistance in WWII by performing ballet routines 2) was a volunteer nurse in a Dutch hospital which received many Allied wounded and 3) it was getting a little dude-centric in here.
Sean Connery, Royal Navy
Bond, James Bond was not only in the Navy, but he enlisted when he was 16 years old and spent 3 years of service right after WWII.
Lt. James Doohan, Royal Canadian Army
What you may not know about the Chief Engineer of the USS Enterprise is that before he beamed anyone up, he was a complete bad ass. After joining the Army, his first mission was the D-Day invasion of Normandy and was shot six times by a machine gun (and saved by a silver cigarette case). He then trained as a pilot and went on to be called “the craziest pilot in the Canadian Air Forces.” I have no idea how one earns that nickname, but it’s clear that Doohan’s service was impressive – crazy or not.
Clint Eastwood, US Army
Like many men his age after WWII, Eastwood was drafted into the Army. Luckily for him, it was a major turning point in his life. He taught life-saving at Fort Ord where he encountered several film stars who convinced him to move to Los Angeles and become an actor. It was Chuck Hill, a man stationed at Fort Ord with Eastwood that would later introduce him to contacts at Universal.
Don Knotts, US Army
So you might have heard that Don Knotts was a hard ass drill sergeant in the marines, but that’s just an urban legend. In truth, Knotts was drafted into the Army in 1943, but he never fought. Instead, the military saw fit to use his special talents by having him entertain troops throughout the Pacific.
Lt. Alec Guinness, Royal Navy
There was no way I’d include someone from “Star Trek” without including someone from Star Wars. I couldn’t afford the fines. Fortunately, Obi-Wan himself was an officer in the Royal Navy during WWII. Before becoming obsessed with building a bridge on the river Kwai and becoming a Jedi Master, he commanded a vessel which took part in the invasion Sicily and Elba island.
Jack Palance, US Army Air Force
Modern audiences remember him as Curly but film fans know him as the scariest-looking villain to ever grace a Western. Unfortunately, that iconic, rugged look came from a tragic crash Palance was involved in while training with a B-24 Liberator. He was discharged in 1944, and would later head out to try his luck in show business. Luckily, he’d already changed his name from Vladamir Palahniuk to Jack Palance years before which undoubtedly helped his casting chances.
Michael Caine, British Army
After a giant career, Michael Caine has burst back into the mainstream spotlight helping out Batman, but before all of that, he served from 1952-1954, seeing active duty in Korea with the Royal Fusiliers.
Lt. Kirk Douglas, US Navy
The man who would later appear in Kubrick’s anti-war Paths of Glory (and, of course, The Final Countdown) was in the Navy during WWII. Douglas was with an anti-submarine patrol in the Pacific but was injured in 1944 and subsequently discharged. Of course, almost immediately after, he caught a big break in his acting career that would make him one of the best known stars of that generation.
Lt. Gene Kelly, US Navy
It’s hard to imagine the all-singing, all-dancing Gene Kelly storming the beaches of Normandy, which is good, because he didn’t. However, he did serve his country proudly by joining the Navy and writing/directing several documentaries while based in Washington, DC.
Cpl. Mel Brooks, US Army
This is the most surprising name on the list. Mel Brooks is the consummate comedian, a man who has made millions laugh with some of the funniest films ever made. But before writing “Springtime for Hitler,” he was in the Army during WWII. He joined up at 17 and was set to work defusing landmines. Later, he would fight in the famous Battle of the Bulge.
Editor’s Note: There are a ton of movie stars and directors who served in the military (including even more who served their home countries while building a career in Hollywood). For a fairly extensive list, go here. And be sure to celebrate war films by reading our Boots on the Ground entries.
The price tag would impress Donald Trump.
Universal executives wouldn't say how much of the cost was covered by insurance, but described the rebuild as the largest set-construction project in Hollywood history.
"This is a proud day for Universal,'' Universal Studios President Ron Meyer said during an unveiling ceremony attended by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — who shot several movies on the property in his acting days — and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. "The opening of New York Street shows the company's commitment to film and television production in Los Angeles and to supporting filmmakers worldwide."
The back lot's closure was a blow to the production community because it was a fixture in Hollywood for decades and was used in scores of TV shows, commercials and movies such as "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Back to the Future" and "The Blues Brothers."
Redesigned with the help of filmmaker Steven Spielberg and his longtime production designer Rick Carter, the new back lot features taller buildings, narrower streets and more interior spaces to cater to current film-making needs.
The set spans 13 city blocks and includes 15 distinct shooting locations representing such areas as Wall Street, the Broadway theater district and Central Park, as well as a London section and a Paris square. Universal worked with L.A. County Fire officials to include fire safety features in the facades.
Studio executives thanked local firefighters for their efforts to contain damage from the 2008 blaze and showed their gratitude by presenting a $100,000 check to local firefighting departments.
— Richard Verrier
Photo credit: Universal Studios
Hot Docs Review: Teenage Paparazzo
by Monika Bartyzel May 11th 2010 // 1:33PM
As the star of Entourage for the last six years, Adrian Grenier’s life contends with paparazzi both on and off the screen. That mass of insistent cameras is everyday fare that comes with the territory. But one day a few years ago, he was blinded by the rapid-fire explosion of one specific camera flash. At the firing end wasn’t some older pap eager for a prime picture worth thousands, it was a little blonde kid. And he wasn’t a fan; he was part of the paparazzi.
Intrigued, Grenier hunted down 13-year-old Austin Visschedyk and turned the cameras on him for a two-punch documentary called Teenage Paparazzo. Detailing the life of a teen who roams the Los Angeles streets day and night to capture celebrity pictures, and the business of paparazzi photography and tabloid journalism, Grenier tackles a thematic double bill that is an entertaining — if occasionally glossy and over-stretched — account of the culture of fame.
At the center of everything is Austin, a well-spoken thirteen year old kid who roams the streets of Los Angeles, hanging out with fellow paparazzi and clamoring for shots of tabloid darlings like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. Offspring of the smallest sliver of parental authority, Austin comes and goes as he pleases. Mom is sure that can she can trust her son, and doesn’t seemed worried about his late-night ways. Whether it’s 3 P.M. on a Saturday or 3 A.M. on a weeknight, he has almost free reign to follow incoming tips and hound local celebrities. He gets around the obvious educational challenges by being home-schooled, and it’s quite clear that Austin is not only well-spoken, but also a Grade-A manipulator. When teacher comes to visit, he’s a rambunctious kid. When Mom pops her head in, he’s a well-behaved student. But he gets B’s, so no alarms are raised and the 13-year-old can do what he wants.
Grenier follows Austin, grilling the kid and his fellow paps to try and figure out what makes these men (and women) tick — why they take the business to such extremes. Naturally, many aren’t too keen on Grenier’s presence, offering a nice slice of irony with the belief that he is exploiting their work. Eager to understand the life, however, Grenier perseveres and gets in on the action, picking up a camera, joining the chase, and even fighting his way into the mass to grab a picture of Brooke Shields. He wants to understand and experience the life, just as he wants to manipulate and play with it.
With the help of Paris Hilton, Grenier has many opportunities to manipulate the paparazzi, to manufacture rumors and experience the tabloid darling life. Hilton becomes a right-hand woman of sorts, popping up in many interview segments — though she has nothing worthwhile to say — and helping Grenier taunt the paps. She is, in fact, front and center so much that one has to wonder if it was part of the deal for her involvement. Her only worthwhile contribution, other than helping Grenier manipulate the photographers, is to act as an airhead. In one of the film’s funnier moments, and a totally irrelevant scene, Grenier describes the myth of Narcissus to her, as the story becomes all the more relevant to Austin’s life, and she asks him if the story is true.
Superfluous interviews slow the journey on more than one occasion. While some offer insight and valid complaint, whether it be Matt Damon discussing what attracts paparazzi or Lewis Black ranting about the lack of parenting in Austin’s life, many don’t really add to the discussion, especially when Grenier sits down and chats about the documentary with his Entourage co-stars. He remains a step removed, choosing to be respectful rather than probing, which misses the great opportunity to get some personal and engaging thoughts on the matter. When Grenier digs into the nature of celebrity, and talks to experts about the world of one-sided parasocial relationships and celebrity obsession, however, things fare better. This is their business, and they know how to give the goods.
It’s a hard line to travel. Grenier has made himself an active player in this story, wanting to walk in Austin’s shoes, and feeling responsible for his own involvement in the kid’s growing fame. The filmmaker attempts to befriend and mentor the kid, but the camera offers no insights into Grenier’s life. It’s focused in one direction like the click of the paparazzi’s camera — a one-sided hand and opinion attempting to guide its subject to a happy ending.
Matched with some pretty flashy graphics and editorial techniques, Teenage Paparazzo won’t hit as deep as it could or maybe should. But it is a fun documentary that should, at the very least, make you think and discuss paparazzi and Hollywood celebrity.
As I read Nicole LaPorte’s lively new history of DreamWorks, “The Men Who Would Be King,” I found myself transported to a time long, long ago, an era so far gone that when DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg once complained to titular DreamWorks production chief Walter Parkes that he didn’t have anything resembling a tentpole action extravaganza on the production slate, Parkes calmly replied: “If this is the kind of place where you need to have a big summer movie, well, maybe I’m not the right person for the job.”
Ah, those were the days. Founded in 1994 by Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Katzenberg when they were three of the uber-titans of the entertainment business, DreamWorks was supposed to be the studio that would transform the movie business, a modern-day media behemoth with its tentacles in music, TV, video games and all sorts of other gaudy new media arenas.
Instead of making dumbed-down comedies and throwaway programmers, DreamWorks would offer glossy, sophisticated films that would appeal to quality-conscious moviegoers — and still make plenty of money in the process.
It didn’t pan out. For all the hoopla about DreamWorks being the studio of the future, it was very much a studio steeped in the past. Its aspirations had far more in common with the MGM of the 1930s and 1940s than the Pixar of the 21st century. DreamWorks turned out to be nothing more than just another struggling new movie studio — and quite a whopper of a dysfunctional studio at that — with its admirable output of quality fare ultimately outweighed by a host of costly live-action misfires and a mixed bag of animation releases.
In short, when you look back at all the high expectations, it was a pretty big disappointment.
DreamWorks 2.0 is back in business, now run by Spielberg and Stacey Snider with its films being distributed by Disney. But as LaPorte’s book makes abundantly clear, the original DreamWorks was doomed from the start. Parkes’ reaction to Katzenberg’s initial concerns about the studio’s mandate is especially revelatory on several levels. Even back in the late 1990s, when the exchange occurred, studios were already turning themselves into franchise engines, filling up their slates with tentpole movies and tons of sequels.
But Parkes was simply reflecting the attitude of his real boss – -Spielberg, who as the book reveals, was so in awe of Parkes’ Ivy League erudition, good looks and certitude that as one observer put it, “If an alien from space landed in a room with Steven and Walter, it would think that Steven worked for Walter.” So Parkes was reflecting Spielberg’s vision for the company, as an artist-oriented studio that would do good works, an admirable vision, but not one that entirely reflected the views of Geffen, a man with a fierce desire to win, and Katzenberg, who having worked for years under Michael Eisner, had both feet firmly planted in the camp of making crowd-pleasing entertainment.
As the book also points out, the tension between Katzenberg and Spielberg, via Parkes, wasn’t just about a different attitude toward class versus crass. It also reflected Katzenberg’s not always unspoken feeling that after years of studio experience, he was far more qualified to run DreamWorks’ live-action division than Parkes, a talented writer-producer with, well, zero actual experience running a studio. But to Spielberg, Katzenberg may have been his partner, but he was still a schlepper. Parkes had good taste. So when “The Peacemaker,” DreamWorks’ first live-action film, went into production, shooting in Slovakia, its star, George Clooney, was furious to discover that he was always having to learn new lines faxed in from L.A. by Parkes, who it turned out wasn’t just the studio chief and a producer of the film but its rewrite man as well.
This sort of thing happened all the time at DreamWorks, which never managed to have any clear divisions of authority, except for the fact that Katzenberg had full sway over its animation wing. A series of production chiefs came and went, including such highly touted talents as ex-HBO executive Bob Cooper and ex-New Line production chief Michael De Luca, none of them lasting very long, quickly discovering that Parkes and his wife, Laurie MacDonald, were the real powers behind the throne.
Shortly after De Luca arrived, LaPorte writes that Parkes and MacDonald took him around town to introduce the new studio president at the top talent agencies. But over and over, De Luca and the other DreamWorks production execs were made to wait outside until Parkes and MacDonald finished the most important piece of business — offering a presentation of the movies they were producing themselves. “It was unbelievable,” one agent told LaPorte. “The writing was on the wall, right there. [Their] agenda was first, and Mike was an afterthought.”
After I finished reading the book last week, I asked LaPorte the obvious question: What went wrong? She has some intriguing theories about the company’s failure to live up to its high expectations. Keep reading:
A crew of 600 custodians, painters, gardeners and decorators works 365 nights a year to ensure that the 85-acre park meets Walt Disney’s squeaky-clean ideals.
Visitors on Main Street U.S.A. await Disneyland’s opening after its sprucing up by the night crew, upholding founder Walt Disney’s vision of an immaculate land, free of the litter and grime of the outside world. (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times)By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
May 2, 2010
When the last Jungle Cruise boat docks for the night and lights fade to black on Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, the real work begins.
At lush Pixie Hollow, gardeners don miner’s headlamps as they begin uprooting stubborn weeds. On Main Street, custodians scrape chewing gum off the sidewalk. And over at Mickey’s Toontown, painters sand and recoat chipped handrails.
Few see it happen, except perhaps for the dozens of feral cats that emerge from their hiding places to prowl the park after hours, stalking rodents.
Welcome to the dark side of Disneyland.
Gone are Mickey and his friends. In their place are about 600 custodians, painters, gardeners and decorators, working to ensure that the 85-acre park meets the squeaky-clean ideals that Walt Disney himself extolled even before he launched the park 55 years ago.
During a recent overnight shift, Disneyland provided a rare glimpse into the work that goes into maintaining the world’s second-most-popular theme park. Though park officials wouldn’t divulge how much money is spent on Disneyland’s overall upkeep, they said most is spent on the night shift.
And although most guests will never witness the after-hours work, theme park experts credit the park’s continued success to its cleanliness and tidy conditions.
“Disney and many other parks recognize that keeping it clean and refreshed, with all of those little details that you don’t notice until they are missing, are important to the park’s success,” said Gene Jeffers, executive director of the Themed Entertainment Assn., a nonprofit organization of designers and builders of theme parks and attractions.
It’s one of the many reasons attendance at Disneyland jumped 8% last year despite the economic downturn, while the crowd numbers dropped at Southern California competitors like Universal Studios Hollywood, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Knott’s Berry Farm, according to a recent estimate.
To keep the park in good order, it takes a crew that works 365 nights a year, toiling under portable floodlights. “It’s a city that never sleeps,” said David Caranci, the manager of resort enhancement and decorating. “There is something always happening.”
And for nearly every nighttime task, there is a specific worker.
Three workers are responsible solely for repairing and replacing the 800 umbrellas, 25,000 chairs and about 7,000 tables in the restaurants and snack bars in Disneyland and neighboring California Adventure Park.
Four certified divers collect submerged trash and make repairs on water attractions like Finding Nemo and the Jungle Cruise.
The work can often be tedious and occasionally bizarre. At the Enchanted Tiki Room, a 17-minute musical show features 225 robotic birds, plants and singing tikis. Patrick Pendleton, the show’s primary mechanic, has seen it more times than he can count.
To make sure the characters work properly, he plays the show repeatedly, watching each closely. “It’s hard to catch everything in one show,” he said.
Sometimes, the jobs require ingenuity, even for some of the more distasteful chores. For example, the Indiana Jones Adventure ride relies on nearly 1,000 black lights that shine on painted mesh screens to create floating ghost images.
But the effect is marred when guests sometimes spit at the ghosts, and the saliva ends up on the screens where it glows under black lights. Because typical cleaning products bleach the screens, David Graefen, the ride’s service manager, said his crew created a special saliva-cleaning solution.
Park workers have also found a resourceful way to remove other unwanted guests — rodents.
Years ago — no one seems to know when — feral cats began to sneak into the park, living among the park’s trees and shrubs during the day. At night, they venture out, and an estimated 200 cats now prowl through Disneyland and neighboring California Adventure Park.
But instead of evicting the cats, Disneyland’s animal wranglers work to control the feline population by spaying and neutering the adult cats and finding homes for all kittens born in the resort. The cats eat at five permanent feeding stations installed throughout the two parks.
Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times
Alex Berenson on the Set of ’24’
The California sun is shining as I stop at the gate outside the warehouse where the show “24” is written and filmed. My first day on set, baby! I’ll admit I’m excited. I’ve heard that some writers have no interest in Hollywood. In my experience these creatures exist only in myth, or maybe in Brooklyn.
I am here because Howard Gordon, the show’s lead writer, liked my novel “The Faithful Spy.” He has invited me to Los Angeles to “consult” for a month on the show’s eighth season, which will turn out to be its last.
I have no idea what consulting actually entails. All I know is that I have spent a week trying to imagine new adventures for Jack Bauer, the show’s hero, a counterterrorism agent played by Kiefer Sutherland. But the show’s writers have beaten me to every possible plot twist. Terrorists unleashing an Ebola-type virus? Yep. A nuclear weapon? Check. Government corruption at the highest levels? Absolutely.
I am left with a single idea: Give Jack a sense of humor. Jack has not even smiled in seven years. I will change that.
I give my name to the guard at the gate and inch onto the lot. I don’t want to hit anyone’s Ferrari.
I pass a Prius, a Volvo and other unsexy cars. Don’t these people know they work in Hollywood? O.K., there’s a Maserati. It’ll have to do.
Alex Gansa, a writer, introduces me around. The men who write “24” — and, no surprise, they are all men — are an accomplished lot. Several ran other shows. While Hollywood famously skews young, they are in their 40s and 50s. All but one are married. (Guess who owns the Maserati.) Despite the pro-torture reputation of “24,” their political views run the gamut.
Their building provides no clue that “24” is one of the most successful — and profitable — shows on television. The writers have small individual offices. At the building’s west end is a large wood-paneled room that looks like a suburban basement. This is the “writers’ room.”
The world is watching Season 7, which had its premiere a few weeks ago. But aside from a few minor edits, the writers no longer care about Season 7. They are worried about Season 8.
Season 8 is a blank canvas, 24 episodes of 42 minutes apiece, not counting commercials or credits. Generally, one minute of screen time requires a bit more than a page of script. Season 8 is 1,100 pages that must be written. Today we will try to answer a terrifying question: How can we fill all those pages?
We sit on couches and comfortable chairs, looking for answers. Season 8 will be set in New York. But why is Jack in New York? He’s a diplomat. No, he’s in a hospital, rehabilitating from his near-death experience in Season 7. No, he’s handling security for a rich guy.
We spitball possible plots. When the process is going well, it is like playing soccer with an invisible ball. One writer pushes an idea forward until another steps in. Someone says, “So the terrorists seize a school bus filled with rich kids. …” “except one kid hides a cellphone. …”
And away we go.
But all too soon someone finds a hole in the plot, or argues that it doesn’t give Jack enough to do, or that it’s too maudlin. We backtrack. Sometimes we succeed in addressing the complaint. Sometimes, after a few minutes of arguing, we fail. Howard steers us in a new direction. But the original argument will flare up a few minutes later, like a fire in a garbage dump.
Howard has a reputation as a very democratic lead writer. He likes to build consensus. The good news is that everyone gets a say. The bad news is … that everyone gets a say. The debate can seem exhausting and circular. As a novelist, I’m not used to this. My ideas are my own. I don’t have to listen to other people tell me how stupid they are. Maybe I should. Maybe I’d write better books. Or maybe I’d never finish one.
Why is “24” called “24”? Anyone who’s ever seen the show knows the answer. “24” takes place in real time. Each episode represents a single hour of a single day. In general, television dramas fall into two categories: “procedurals,” where each episode can stand alone, and “serials,” where each episode builds on the next. “24” is the ultimate serial.
The real-time conceit is central to the show’s appeal. And it is sacrosanct. Jack exists in a permanent now. He never flashes back or forward.
Nice backstory. If you don’t know who Alex Berenson is you should. He is a great writer of fiction novels. His first was “The Faithful Spy” and it was GREAT. I love these kinds of books and I have read all 3 of his paperback books, they are awesome. Great stories, characters and just great military/political books..Pick one up!!!