"Bill was not only my partner and brother-in-law but was my best friend as well. We spent most waking hours together during the "early years" making
commercials and later movies. I'd be honored to help further his
remembrance." (E-mail from J. Patrick Kelly III)
Few people were as close to Billy Girdler as J. Patrick Kelly III. He was Girdler's best friend, brother-in-law, partner, and he also ran Girdler's family-owned moving and storage company. Pat worked on each of Girdler's nine movies, and co-founded Studio One with Billy. To put it bluntly, if anyone can shed light onto Bill's career, Pat can.
Kelly, who lives in Texas these days, has been generously answering my questions via e-mail since May of 2000. Seeing how close he is to the subject matter, there's a lot of ground to cover. One day, I hope to feature an exhaustive Pat Kelly commentary. We're just not there yet.
But back in February, I fired off a list of queries concerning Abby. His responses were so interesting, that it would be wrong to throw an Abby celebration without including them.
WG.com: What role did you play in the making of Abby?
Pat Kelly: I was the Production Manager on Abby. As with most of our films, we didn't worry about my credit too much, as several "titles/credits" were usually sold to the person who backed or purchased the film. Billy of course, as Director, always did get due credit- that's how life is. Since Hollywood was buying it, they had folks watching us also, but believe me - we did the work. Bill & I picked out all the locations, arranged all schedules, hired the extras, paid for the locations, etc. I supplied most of the general equipment from the Allied Van Lines Company I owned. Remember I said earlier, we shot some of the interior scenes from a lot of our movies inside one of my warehouses converted to a studio.
There's a rumor circulating that says William Blatty, author of The Exorcist, visited the sets of Abby. Any truth to this?
If William Blatty visited the set of Abby, it was undercover. We lived in fear that someone would come along and try to get an injunction against us for making a film so close to The Exorcist. I think it would be more than a rumor if he had been there.
About the lawsuit: exactly how and when did that go down? How long had Abby been out? What was Bill's reaction to the suit?
Abby had been out quite a while when Warner Brothers decided to sue. In fact, we'd already made the big splash in major markets. Bill and I discussed the prospects of a suit before the movie was ever made and had concluded that we felt we had a defensible position, so didn't fear an 'after-the-fact' suit. No question the theme was close, but we didn't use their dialogue, locations, or actors, so it would be difficult to win on the general theme. I remember telling Billy, "If they win against us no one will ever be able to make a World War II movie again!" (As they all borrow the same theme, etc.)
Billy was amused more than angered by the suit. I think it gave him a feeling of "we're in the big league now," -- as everyone in Hollywood sues at the drop of a hat - or did back then. He'd "ARRIVED" if his works were visible enough to bring suits from the "big boys".
Our lawyers in Louisville handled the suit - other than taking our depositions, we had little to do with the course of the case. Bill did more talking to the lawyers than the rest of us, other than perhaps Dave, but I had all but forgotten it after awhile. I didn't receive my share of the money from the movie until 1980 or 81. I was living in Kansas City at the time - having divorced Bill's sister after his death - so the settlement phase didn't take place until after he died. I don't recall when the litigation actually ended.
For some reason, Abby wasn't part of the AIP catalog sold to Orion, then later bought by MGM. Who holds the copyright?
I thought Sam Arkoff (AIP) owned Abby. I'll have to look into my records on that, but I know his company put up most of the money for it. William Marshall was on loan from Sam at the time. Same with Sheba Baby.
Who were G. Cornell Layne and Mike Henry? Both names are prominent in Abby's credits.
Mike Henry was a local movie house manager who talked Billy into thinking he was hot stuff - but he was mostly talk. They tried to put together several deals, and may have made Zebra Killer on the fly - I just don't recall much of that period.
I remember Mike's big venture was to try to sell the idea of converting an old theatre into a "dinner/bar" theatre - an idea that became more popular later (you sit at tables and eat or drink while watching the movie). Mike disappeared after a while.
Gordon Layne was a writer Billy had met. Gordon collaborated with Billy and I on several scripts - Abby was one.
William Marshall has indicated that he's not too fond of Abby. He's also remarked that he was a very demanding actor in respect to his blaxploitation performances. Would you describe him as difficult?
Bill Marshall was no more difficult that any other actor. He was a big black star at the time, with Broadway experience as well as Blacula under his belt, so he was a bit put out at times with "us country boys", but I remember him as a gentleman at all times.
What do you remember about the series of tornadoes that touched down in Louisville in 1974?
Abby was being filmed April 3rd - the day the 40 or so tornadoes hit the Midwest- wiping out Zenia, OH and hitting many towns. That day Louisville got hit the worst it ever had experienced. We were in the West end filming - it hit the North end. Took me four hours to get to my house through the debris on the roads. Had to walk last 1/2 mile. I lost some roof shingles, but the folks a street behind me lost it all. We spent a day or two helping our neighbors recover. I donated all the packing material that my moving company had in stock to neighbors and friends who were picking up their possessions around the neighborhood in small sacks. But financial pressure dictated that we had to keep shooting, so on the second day after the day of the storm we were back in full production.
Back in the day, Carol Speed talked about Abby being cursed ... similar to what was said about The Exorcist. She mentioned accidents, the tornadoes, and people falling ill. What was going on?
Nothing happened that would be considered unusual. Carol -and maybe a couple of others -were so hoping things would go strange, that they may have convinced themselves of a great evil over us - the tornadoes were the closest - but they hit 10 states, so it was not just Abby that had somebody up there (or down) awful mad!!!!
END (for now)