Original Written Content Copyright 2001 P. Breen
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  You won't see his name as the final credits roll, but Don Wrege's presence can be felt throughout William Girdler's Asylum of Satan. A grip and clapboard operator on the set of Girdler's first film, Wrege also lent his musical and vocal talents to the finished product.

Wrege, a one-man mass media powerhouse (and part-time Ozzy Osbourne impersonator as of 2002), generously provided William Girdler.com with the following interview in February 2000: the first interview on the site! Funny, engaging, and insightful throughout, his stories offer a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse into Girdler's film legacy.

All black and white news photos furnished by Don Wrege, © Courier-Journal/St. Matthews Times (Louisville, KY). William Girdler portrait © 1972, Don Wrege (and what a stunning portrait it is). All Don Wrege photos © 2000, Don Wrege. All responses © 2000, Don Wrege. No © on the questions, however. Feel free to ask strangers on the street if they ever tried to recreate smoke with a fire extinguisher.

You were 17 when you worked on Asylum. How did you become involved with the film?

Don Wrege: A friend of my family's, the wife of Dr. Charles Pearce, was an investor. Dr. Pearce knew I was interested in filmmaking (I was doing documentaries for a teen program on the local CBS affiliate WHAS-TV at the time) so he used his influence to get me on the production team.

William Girdler would have been around 24 in 1971 -- was it a young crew?

It was a mix. I was certainly the youngest. Carla Borelli was the most famous. Everyone knew Charles Kissinger from his local fright nite appearances.

The way I was introduced to Bill's background was that he had spent some time on a Hollywood series (I forget which one, but some kind of action show) and gotten his chops that way. So he had some Left Coast real world experience under his belt at a relatively young age.

(When he found out I was a musician he asked me to help him write the title song for the film. That's a story in itself that I can get to later.)

What was the atmosphere like on the sets?

Very energetic and dedicated. All of the actors and most of the production people were looking at it as their big break. I just wanted to learn everything I could because I was planning to go to film school and was very interested in all the aspects. Everyone showed up on time (five in the morning), worked hard and did it again the next day. There were no ego problems or anything. From what I later encountered myself in Hollywood, we had an ideal cast and crew. We all worked hard for Bill even though the script was somewhat ridiculous. (Kissinger in his drag get-up being one example...)

I do remember that there was an old guy from Hollywood imported to be the lighting director. He usually drank heavily and told old stories while he'd point to various lights and have the Best Boy run around. I liked him a lot. The editor was very busy (they were cutting as they shot) and refused to have his name associated with the movie. This was another of Bill's Hollywood contacts imported to lend a hand. I never did know what his name was...

Where did you shoot?

Most of the interiors were done in a downtown warehouse near the Ohio River. They built the rooms out of flats in there. It was walking distance from a diner where we all ate our meals during the shoot. The mansion we used was a notorious Louisville "old money" estate on the river. Seems the estate was left to a young heiress who allowed her poodles run of the place. There was dog shit in every room.

(Click HERE to see Carla run through the mansion. Mpeg Movie: 309 KB)

She would appear from time to time, leaving in the morning with another good looking guy... but mainly wasn't around. The estate was rapidly decaying under her "careful watch." The incredibly beautiful wood-paneled library with a working pipe organ was covered in dog shit and hadn't been cleaned in what looked like years. Meanwhile, the heiress partied every night.

Bill shot some exteriors around Louisville. They were "grabbed" with no permits, obviously. I remember his little yellow Porsche being used as the hero's car.

Did you spend much time with Charles Kissinger and Carla Borelli? What were they like?

We were all locked into the locations so we interacted quite a bit. I was on TV at the time (the teen show on WHAS) so I asked Kissinger a lot of questions about teevee. He was very very nice and very open. I used to play piano for Carla during breaks at the mansion, and this irritated Girdler (since he too was a piano-playing songwriter and was very much attracted to Carla). I sang her a song I wrote for a girl in my high school and lied that it was about her. She seemed genuinely touched. I felt genuinely guilty after that, but never fessed up to her. At least she liked the song, I think.

Tell me about the financing. The film was produced/co-written by J. Patrick Kelly. Who was he?

All I remember of Mr. Kelly was that he was working like a Trojan the whole time to get things done. He was driving a moving van full of props and stuff early one morning, and I was riding along to help hump it all in and out, and we ran out of gas. Mr. Kelly told me to stay with the truck while he walked to a gas station. He was very involved on all fronts from a business and production point of view. He approved the receipts people had. He worked his ass off.

William Asman worked on many of Girdler's films. Did you work with him?

Bill and his brother were the camera crew. They didn't like me and looking back I can hardly blame them. Along with my job as Grip, I was also the clapboard operator. It was up to me to shout out the scene number and whap the slate stick. After the first ten hours of doing this I got kind of bored and would try to think up unusual ways to either deliver the slate line or appear out of nowhere. This amused the unnamed editor, but annoyed the Asman brothers.

I think they put up with it because I was forced on them by an investor. The worst mistake I made was to load one of the Arriflex film magazines incorrectly. I came out of the darkroom and the cover wasn't fully shut. I stressed out that if I told them I'd be in deep trouble (just wasting 400' of film) but if I didn't they might lose an important scene. I admitted it right away and faced the wrath. They didn't let me load any more film after that and I took the slate more seriously.

Both Asman brothers worked really hard. I think I saw William Asman's name on the credits of a really astounding-looking sci-fi/horror film I saw in either late 79 or early '80. He was living in North Hollywood (as was I) at the time.

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