To "Billy" Girdler, Lee Jones was a friend, a supporter, and a collaborator. Lee worked side-by-side with Girdler on several films, including Asylum Of Satan, Three On A Meathook, and Grizzly. Most notably, he helped bring Grizzly to the big screen by securing the film's financing from the notorious Edward Montoro.
Like Girdler, Lee has an impressive number of B-movies to his credit, with dazzling titles such as Hillbilly Hookers, Invasion Of The Girl Snatchers, and Supervan. He's currently running an Internet software company in Louisville, but he still finds time to offer his skills to local horror efforts (Click Here for more information on a new film project near and dear to Lee's heart titled Goth: The Movie).
The following interview took place on June 10, 2000 in a roach-riddled Red Roof Inn room. I'd like to thank Lee for taking so much time out to meet with me while I visited Louisville. He was an endless source of enthusiasm and great stories. You should also take a look at the Kentucky Adventure 2000 for more Lee Jones/Girdler tales.
When did you first meet William Girdler?
Lee Jones: The first time I met Billy was in the summer of 1971. I was living in Atlanta and working for a film distribution company at the time. I don't remember where he got my number. But he called and said he had a company up here in Louisville that made TV commercials (Studio One). He wanted to expand Studio One into the theatrical film market. Since I already worked in the film market, he was seeking my advice or any input I could offer to help him get into the business. One of the reasons he was calling me, he said, was because he learned somehow we'd grown up in the same neighborhood. Funny thing, I was fortunate enough to have a pony as a kid, and we kept him in the backyard. The neighborhood kids would come around to pet him. The place where we lived was up near Cherokee Park, so we had a large backyard with a barn. Well, in talking to Billy, he remembered my house because he used to sneak over to visit my pony. But as kids, we never met.
Joe Schulten, one of Billy's best friends, knew him from school when they were young. Joe was in on most of the pictures, too. Joe never did really like the movie business. He was just in it because Billy was in it and Joe wanted to see Billy succeed at doing his thing.
Billy came from a wealthy family. And he was ultimately spoiled as a kid. When he was a teenager, Billy had his own movie theater in his house. Not a VCR and a big screen TV, mind you. He had a room with a projectionist booth and professional 35 mm projectors. He had gotten some old theater seats and built a regular theater. He'd go and make deals with local theater owners, and late at night, when the theaters went closing up, he'd borrow the film cans and drag these big old cans all the way home with him.
If you met Billy, you'd never know he came from a rich background. He didn't come across like a little rich kid. He was very down to earth; he dressed in blue jeans. He didn't flaunt his money. He wasn't a zillionaire by any stretch of the imagination. And he could only get to some of his inheritance money at a time.
There was a period after Three On A Meathook flopped when Billy seriously got a job with a car dealership. That lasted for about two days. Then all of a sudden, he was like, "Hey, guys! I've got a great idea … Let's make another movie!"
Billy's mother still lives in a very nice mansion up in Cherokee Park. In those days, he and Barbara (Billy's first wife) were living out in a house in Jeffersontown. Just a regular little house. They never lived in anything fancy. Like I said, he never showed off his wealth. They eventually moved to an apartment complex. Normal, middle class places. Not pretentious. Money meant little to Billy. He did have the yellow Porsche that's in Asylum, but I think he got rid of it right afterwards. He didn't keep stuff like that around very long.
Anyway, I had a small, private plane in the early seventies I used to fly back and forth from Atlanta to Louisville. So the next time I came out to Louisville, I met with Billy and he showed me around his studio. An immediate friendship developed, which blossomed into … well, we eventually became best friends. He, J. Patrick Kelly and I went over to a hotel on Market street - I think it was a Holiday Inn. We sat around and he expounded on his plans for this horror movie he wanted to make. He was enamored with the movie Last House On The Left. He said, "I can do a better film than that ... blah blah blah." So was born the project Asylum Of Satan, though the working title was The Satan Spectrum. I honestly don't remember if it premiered with the original title or not.
I think I was an assistant director, but I'm not sure because I did a little bit of everything, too. I know I was on the sets everyday, and my job was mainly to look important. I walked around the sets with a bullhorn, and made sure everyone was where they were supposed to be. I got the shots ready. I also gave Billy moral support, because it was his first movie.
Was he excited about the movie?
Oh sure. Billy was excited about EVERY movie. That was his life: to be on a set directing a movie. Everything else was superfluous. And Billy could talk anybody into anything. That's how he got to make these movies. He presented himself as knowing it all. And quite frankly, he had limited Hollywood experience.
He worked on a TV series. I think it was Wild Wild West, because I remember once when we were doing the sound mix for some film out in Hollywood, Billy and I were having lunch in a restaurant near the Samuel Goldwin studios. While we were sitting there eating a hamburger, the guy who starred in Wild Wild West came in and yelled, "Hey Billy, how 'ya doin?" The guy sat down and had a drink with us. I really don't know if Billy worked on the show, or if he was just present on the sets.
Billy was a quick study. He could watch somebody do something, and figure it out for himself. He had a very strong ego. He was also very strong willed, and very persuasive. A highly motivated person. Billy wouldn't consider being anything less than the boss. Generally, if he was involved in a movie, he had to be the director. There was no such thing as him being a second banana.
Billy was short in stature. He stood about 5'3, 5'4. I think his height encouraged him to do something to offset his shortness. Whatever it was, he wanted to do it all, and be kingpin.
He was also a very nice guy. He was a good friend. He was very loyal to his friends. Just a lot of fun to be around. He had a lot of fun loving friends. Friends like Charlie Kissinger.