June, 2010:

PERSONAL ADS

Creative writing serves all sorts of purposes: love letters, poetry, personal ads. Call it personal advertising. Personal ads have been around for perhaps hundreds of years. Roman graffiti might have attracted some young swain to a woman looking for love or money. I enjoyed Jimmy Stewart in the 1940 classic movie The Shop Around the Corner, which centered on a personal ad and anonymous mail.

In the 80s there was a widely distributed Southern California paper that focused on personal ads, aptly called the Singles Register. Local newspapers and the L.A. Times also carried personal ads. Compared to Match.com, eHarmony and countless others, this was the Dark Ages.

I felt like a pioneer in the single’s revolution of personal ads; none of my divorced friends had tried it. I did persuade a few to go a local bar and dance spot that featured a live band and lots of available men (or guys who didn’t wear their wedding bands). One friend met her future husband there. I found some great dance partners.

Newly divorced, I was ready to explore the single life. The Singles Register was readily available and had hundreds of ads from all over LA. The ads had some things in common with the more modern ads of today, but lacked the bells and whistles of graphics, photos, tapes, etc. A man or woman with an imagination and willingness to create an enticing ad could have a field day exploring Love or Lust. Things weren’t as threatening in those days before AIDS sprang into full life.

In my ads I mentioned I enjoyed walks on the beach, candlelight dinners, great conversations, good movies, and the like when those descriptions were a bit fresher. This type of ad is totally passé at this point, but then so are newspapers. The method of contact was also old-fashioned. The respondent was required to send a letter, and those letters could be flowery and clever or very simple. Just analyzing the handwriting gave a clue about personality.

I’ve always appreciated creativity and good writing, but I soon learned that the “buyer” must beware; not everything or every person was as advertised. And photos weren’t necessarily current or very representative of the person. Oddly heartening, however, was the fact that advertisers often believed what they wrote about themselves. They actually did see themselves as looking younger, having all their hair and a great body. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

One of my early experiences was meeting a man in his twenties, much too young for my taste but I admired his enthusiastic and creative letters, and his persistence. When we graduated to long telephone conversations, I was impressed. New at the game, I was curious and had always enjoyed interviewing people for my newspaper column. He knew I was almost 20 years older and kept claiming he wasn’t after a “mother” type; he truly liked older women. I decided to meet him at the Boardwalk restaurant at Venice Beach, a fun place to people watch at least. I coaxed my daughter to come; at 19, she was closer to his age.

Some “relationships” are better served at a distance. Letters (those missives that come through snail mail) and even phone calls leave more room for fantasy. My earnest knight wasn’t unattractive but our age difference was awkward. Besides, I didn’t feel he had the self-confidence to take me out and I wasn’t attracted to him. We had an awkward lunch and I never heard from him again. My daughter handled it well and we had some giggles as we drove home.

My most amazing date was the man who loved costume parties. And then there was the older man who said he coined the word “parenting.”

SPOOKY ENCOUNTERS

Paraphrasing Shakespeare–Hamlet said to Horatio: There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

I have always been interested in the supernatural; I’ve had some experiences and know many friends who have had them as well. It’s a great topic for articles and stories.

I’ve written a short story (except my short stories are generally novellas and anything but short) about a true fascinating positive encounter—Angels in Uniform—and I interviewed a man who was living in a haunted house. The interview was published in the Daily News newspaper.

Glen Peterson had bought a dilapidated “castle” in the Santa Monica Mountains and began restoring it some years ago. Resembling a German castle on a hill with its bell tower, gables, decorative wood beams, courtyard and guest house, the home was built in 1939 by Theodore Spurkuhl, a Paramount Studios director of photography known for his pioneering use of spotlights. Spurkuhl worked with many of the film greats: Ronald Coleman, James Cagney and Fred MacMurray, for instance, and was noted for his work on “Beau Geste” starring Gary Cooper.

Spurkuhl put a great deal of energy into building the home. Since it was wartime, he even added a secret room in case the Japanese invaded or the Germans won the war. His descendants, who visited the site while Glen was restoring it, thought the cinematographer might have put too much intensity into the building project since he died in 1940.

Before Glen bought it, the home was owned by actor Nick Nolte, who purchased it in 1975 during the filming of the TV miniseries, “Rich Man, Poor Man.” The other actor in the series, Peter Strauss, had also bought property nearby. Coincidentally, Strauss’ property was later sold by Glen, who had been a real estate agent, to the National Park Service.

The 70s were wild and crazy for Nolte. I remember seeing his old yellow Cadillac broken down by the side of a mountain road one day. Nolte and his friends partied quite a bit and the house suffered a good deal of damage. It was finally abandoned to birds of all types, squirrels and various other animals. It was a mess of animal droppings and the like when Glen began his restoration.

One evening after the house was beautifully finished, Glen was home alone enjoying a quiet evening. While listening to a new Terence Trent Darby recording and near the end of the song, Glen heard a loud knocking on the back door. He checked both inside and out and found no one. Back inside he restarted the song. The knocking began again at the exact same place.

This time he checked the windows, “I had repaired the windows just that morning,” Glen recalled, specifically to keep them from opening due to strong winds. They were all still closed, and he began the recording once more.

Glen played the song eight times, and “the pounding kept happening at the same time each time.” Every time it happened, he checked for a reason for the knocking, but found none. On the ninth try, the record played through to the end, and there were no further knocking sounds.

The mysterious last two lines of the song that finally played were: “No grave can hold my body down; this land is still my home.”

Screenplay Saga -Part II

My screenplay, simply called “Drake,” went through many incarnations. Eight rewrites that I can recall. It got so good I had several people in the business (not any recognizable names) compliment me on the writing. But I couldn’t take that to the bank.

The adventure Dudley and I had was a wonderful one—it even felt legitimate. For a time we went to monthly parties held at a fancy home in the exclusive hills of Brentwood to meet lots of aspiring actors, directors, etc. We were looked on as potential employers and were offered a buffet and drinks (all contributed by the hopefuls). A few days later I’d get a huge envelope of head shots in the mail. I held onto these photographs for a long time before I tossed them. The attendees didn’t know, but might have guessed we had no money but plenty of hopes, no different from any of them. I connected with my zany friend Karen Woods at one of those parties.

We shopped our project, which we called Caribbean Kaleidoscope (historical tales of the Caribbean made for TV), created brochures—thanks to a very talented artist named Jon Wincek, had countless budgets put together by Fred Culbertson on a program called Movie Magic, if my memory serves me.  Fred, luckily, had his own transportation business, Hollywood Studio Vehicles. We attended various industry events like the American Film Market in Santa Monica. Searching for funding can be lively and frustrating—Dudley traveled to the Virgin Islands and New York City—but there’s no guaranteed pot of gold or happy ending. As “they” say, life is the journey not the goal.

The Film Market was fun, however. Located at a couple of well-known hotels on the beach, it was full of aspiring players in the independent film world from everywhere (8,000 or more attended). Hundreds of films, from the expensive to the low-low budget, are shown and shopped from all over the world during this week-long event. What a place for people watching! I saw Roger Corman, king of low budget movies, and various star impersonators, like Michael Jackson (while he was still alive) and John Travolta.

We met Stan Lazan, a friendly guy who had been a cinematographer for TV’s “Bonanza” years before. He was looking for work and was happy to offer his advice. He had lots of fascinating tales to tell of his years in the industry, not to mention some pointers on industry terminology. I hadn’t learned yet what P&A was, but it was the talk around the hotel bar. Prints and Advertising is a vital part of a movie budget: without prints of the film and advertising to sell the movie, nothing would move forward.

Dudley was very tireless and enterprising. He managed to get us a meeting  with a CAA agent. The agent and his younger associate listened to our project pitch (I think we were “selling” Drake at that point) and seemed interested but there were too many pieces of the puzzle missing to make any kind of commitments. The two of us, however, were ecstatic and felt like real wheeler-dealers! Ha! CAA has moved from its unique modern building in Beverly Hills, probably to something more spectacular. As they say, that was then and this is now!

Not long after CAA, we managed a meeting with the VP of IMax Pictures. Dudley played his guitar to show him we were planning music for our huge production. It’s hilarious and a little bittersweet to think of all the gallivanting and all the hopes. You’ve got to be starry-eyed and innocent to a great extent to make your dreams come true in Tinsel Town. To make it happen,  you must never give up. To paraphrase a current ad, we may not have made any money but the experience was priceless.

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