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JANUARY 2021

Howdy! Here’s a David Letterman ‘Fun Fact’: “In the first draft of ‘Jaws’ the creature was a moody halibut.”

Gary Morton and Lucille Ball.One evening my sainted ex Antonia Christina and I pulled up to Lucille Ball’s comfy home for a party. She was the perfect host person, scurrying about, emptying ash trays, asking guests “How’s it goin’?” Dinner was Mexican, catered by Chasen’s. Sat next to Lucy’s husband Gary Morton. He told me how Lucy and Desi developed the revolutionary 3-camera system for sit-coms. ‘Twas Orson Welles’ brain child. He’d recently filmed “Macbeth” at Republic Studios, utilizing several cameras for each shot, thus speeding up production and cutting down costs. For crowd scenes, a cameraman dressed backwards and skittered backwards, shooting hand-held close-ups, a mask stuck to the back of his head. The great German cinematographer Karl Freund took Orson’s puppy by the paw, and the rest is happy history.

Après meal, we repaired to the front room, cigars and/or drinks for dessert. Gary Morton showcased his stand-up comedy prowess, dishing out gifties to guests along with barbs, ala a Dean Martin roast. “Will, I saw your show last week. Here’s a joke book!” “Guilty as charged,” I gulped.

Later, in the kitchen Lucy asked me what the hey I was doing out there? “Waiting to use the bathroom.” “Come with me.” She held out her hand, the hand that ruled Hollywood. I took it. She led me out of the kitchen, up the stairs, through the master bedroom to the door of Mr. Morton’s own private men’s room. I thanked Lucy and went in. The man did time here—on a wall were racks holding golf magazines, just like in my dentist’s waiting room.

After serving two years in the U.S. Signal Corps, I returned stateside and enrolled as a grad student at UCLA in their Cinema Arts department—Thanks, G. I. Bill. On the faculty were Kenneth Macgowan, producer of Ford’s “Young Mr. Lincoln”; Arthur Ripley, director of Mitchum’s “Thunder Road”; Curt Courant, non-union director of photography on Chaplin’s “Monsieur Verdoux” (Charlie made “Painting With Light” difficult, insisting on being center screen, always.) Life plays funny tricks. If I’d gone back for a second year, Jean Renoir would have taught me a thing or two. Besides working on student flicks, I acted in plays. I was ol’ Ben Gunn in “Treasure Island”. (“Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum.”) Yonder, in a remote corner of the campus, stood an old bungalow that served as a theatre for student playwrights. No charge to pack the place for an afternoon’s worth of one-act plays. After each performance, audience members were encouraged to critique away. My favorite show was “Country Style” by Don Cerveris, the tale of a young man and lady, Bob Hutchison and little Carole Schiller, who seek shelter in a spooky cave during a storm. Just when matters get cozy, eerie cackling disrupts the proceedings along with weird blathering (“Quod erat demonstrandum” and the like), echoed by an ol’ hermit, Moody Malone by name. My pard BJ Merholz, the director, typecast me in the role. Ben Gunn, too, was of the hermit persuasion. “But BJ,” I whimpered, “I never appear on stage, and I do all this jabbering with my head down in a garbage can!” “Not to worry, Hutch, I hosed it out thoroughly.” Comes show time. The curtain parts. Applause. Scary set. Enter boy and girl. Rutt Roww. A glitch in the lighting. “Stop!” roars BJ from the back row. “Start again!” Take 2. All goes well. Curtain. Applause, We three actors and BJ take seats to face a jury of our peerers. A guy gets up and begins offering constructive criticism. A voice in the audience roars “Stop!” Another guy stands up. He’s playwright William Saroyan. “The play and production are perfect. Nothing more need be said, except Bravo! Go home!” Home we go. Years pass. BJ marries Julie Smith. They beget two sons, Joey and Peter. Every year I go to their New Year’s Eve party. Julie’s a master chef. Julie died last year. She smoked cigareets, just like Porter Hall in “The Plainsman”. They did her wrong. So, here’s my Haiku to Julie Merholz. (Haiku is not Japanese football.) “What wafts thru my soul? New Years’ Eves—BJ—Julie. Her jambalaya…”

S In closing, a Pat McCormick “Fun Fact”: “Beethoven was so deaf, he thought he was a painter.

 

 

                                        —Adios