Can you elaborate on the Hollywood trip to show "Meathook?" Did anything good come from that trip?
"Trip" is the right word to describe this adventure. It began with Bill offering to take me into his new company, Mid-America Pictures, as a full partner. Bill had recently taken me to meet his mother and stepfather, and while I didn't realize at the time that it was a sort of audition for business partnership, Bill told me later that his mother's approval was needed and that she "thought I would be good for him." I remember being very impressed with the huge, elaborate toy train set that Bill had put together in an attic room when he was a boy. So I went with Bill in his big new Thunderbird to Los Angeles. We took turns driving and sleeping and didn't stop for anything but toilet breaks and food, playing eight-track music all the way. We both liked the group WAR very much.
When we came down the western side of the Sierras into Los Angeles, I got my first taste of Bill's taste for danger. He put the car on cruise control and refused to tap the brake for anything in front of us. I remember practically pleading with Bill to stop what he was doing, but he just grinned and negotiated his way through the freeway traffic. I remember reading a quote from Pat Kelly after Bill's death in the helicopter crash to the effect that Bill was probably doing something risky just before the crash. From my experience, I can say that it would be like him to do that.
We stayed at first in a fancy hotel in Beverly Hills, then moved to a swank apartment on Sunset Blvd. I accompanied him to meetings at AIP, but wasn't privy to much of what went on between him and Sam Arkoff. I had the impression that Bill was afraid I might say something that would jeopardize any deal that might develop at AIP. We had dinner one night at David Sheldon's home, where it was my pleasure to dine with Adrienne Barbeau. I was impressed with David's easy-going, congenial demeanor.
Something seemed to be developing, but Bill didn't talk to me very much about "the business." Someone at AIP put us in touch with a producer who wanted to see Meathook. Not sure, but I believe his name was Schwartz. Anyway, we went to his office and this man implied that he might be interested in "going to bed with us" on a project with a budget similar to that of Meathook's. When I shook his hand as we left, he tickled my palm with his middle finger and arched a meaningful eyebrow at me. On a second trip to his office, Bill and I found that all the furniture had been removed and the man's name scraped off the door. Turns out he wasn't the producer after all. He had learned that the producer he was posing as (while the producer was out of town working on a film) was returning to Hollywood, so this guy had to abandon his charade and stop using the producer's reputation for raising money.
We spoke to other producers. One was a man with an Italian surname who had a plaque on his dining room wall that said, "Official Member of the Mafia." It was probably a joke. Nothing ever developed with him. Bill and I then rented an office at General Service Studios and installed ourselves as "someone to be taken seriously", or something like that. We put posters on the walls for Asylum of Satan and Meathook and hung up a board which named several "projects in development" and a timeline of how developed they were.
It was great fun. Actors dropped by with their resumes. The "producer" in the office next to ours, Ted Tetrick, claimed to be married to a woman whose third cousin was related somehow to Chaplin. Quite a card, old Ted. Spoke of actors as pigs. Called Elizabeth Taylor, "That ugly old Jewish bitch." Introduced us to a screenwriter who was at the end of a long and semi-successful career, who in turn took us to a famous Chinese restaurant across the street from a major studio where we got to meet Buddy Ebsen. We toured all the big studios. At Warner Brothers, Gene Ruggiero, an Academy Award winning editor who edited Bill's Asylum of Satan, took us on a fantastic tour, right into the heart of executive offices. Simply the boldest man I ever met. Dylan Thomas once described an American business man just as I would describe Gene: A short bald man with a double chin at the back of his neck, being smoked by a big cigar. Fantastic guy. Had us for dinner at his home, where I got to hold his Oscar in my own two hands. That Oscar, by the way, was awarded to everyone who worked on the editing crew of Around the World in Eighty Days. Gene took us out to dinner with his wife in his ancient Mercedes.
As to whether the trip was successful or not, I can only say that despite not raising money on the back of Meathook, we made lots of contacts and learned a lot about The Biz. At least I did. Bill wasn't nearly as naive as I was. My big A-ha! was coming to realize that, hell, I can do what these guys do. All it takes is a lot of gall and the ability to confabulate and obfuscate and schmooze and lie. Actually, I never achieved a very high level of expertise in those areas, but at least I had learned what Hollywood is all about.
On this same trip, I met Craig Rumar, who was sort-of Bill's agent and who later became my agent when I moved to Hollywood. Craig was sort-of hot at the time, representing actors like David Carradine and Peter Fonda. I'll talk more about Craig when I get around to telling you about my later career in Hollywood.
You also starred in Lee Jones' "Invasion of the Girl Snatchers." It was made shortly after "Meathook." Can you talk about that movie a bit?
That gig was one of the stranger experiences of my career in "show business", so I'll tell you a little about it. Studio One rented out most of its lighting, camera, and sound equipment to Lee Jones, who produced/directed the movie. Bill and the Asman brothers wanted someone to look after the equipment and to keep a record of what was actually used and for how many hours, etc. So I got that job, and then one thing led to another. I slept in a motor home (or was it a trailer?) on location every night to be the security guard for the equipment. The location was an artistically dilapidated and abandoned farm house, a few miles from Louisville.
During the days of the shoot, I at first functioned only as I had been assigned to do. I could make no sense whatever of what this movie was supposed to be, except that it involved aliens and ruffians in some sort of debacle. Two actors that I had worked with in Shakespeare in the Park were playing bizarre roles, David and Chuck. Two of the money people were also on hand every day, a woman named Carla and a man whose name I can't remember. He had been a passenger airliner pilot, but was semi-retired. He and Carla were deeply into UFOs. In fact, the pilot claimed to have seen many UFOs during his flying days. I believe aviation was their connection to Lee Jones, because I remember Lee was a flyer, too. So this couple, Carla and the pilot, had written a sort-of script for the movie. I started helping them with the script, making suggestions for the actors, and just being as generally helpful as I could. I even spent a few evenings socially with Carla and her guy. Don! That's his name. Anyway, Don and I would drink beer and watch Carla channel with space aliens. I demonstrated some of my own psychic powers, but that's another story. So they gave me the role of the detective. I did my scenes without ever knowing what the hell we were filming or why my character was doing what he did, but I had a lot of fun. The working title was The Hidan of Maukbeiangjow which wasn't much help in getting to the meaning of the movie.
(The truly fabulous Hidan of Maukbeiangjow theatrical trailer. Mpeg movie: 6 MB Or you can download this smaller, fuzzy Real Media version: 500 KB)