Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Hollywood Knights: My Night In Not So Shining Armor

Cover of "The Hollywood Knights"

Cover of The Hollywood Knights

Well, it’s time to share another personal Hollywood story of mine with all you movie buffs out there.

The year was 1980. Hollywood had welcomed me to the City of Angels with her not so open arms. However, I would not be so easily discouraged. After loading myself up with the latest copies of both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, two must have industry trade magazines, I had somehow managed to get called up by my casting agency requesting that I show up at the old Beverly Hills High School for a movie audition. I was excited to say the least! The only information I was given was to dress up as a high school student in the 1960’s and to be on time if I wanted to be in the audition. By the way, I was also told the film would be a comedy! So,  off to Beverly Hills High School I went. Maybe there was some movie magic in that Hollywood sign after all.

When I finally arrived for my audition, I couldn’t believe the size of the crowd that was already gathered outside the casting area. There must be some kind of mistake I thought to myself as I shuffled through the line of similarly dressed high school students. I decided to keep mostly to myself and try to get into some type of character if I was going to be competing with so many other actors. I had decided that when my name was called, I would give them the audition of a lifetime. I would make them choose me over all the other students auditioning, or so I thought!

After what had seemed like an eternity,  a stocky, scowl-faced woman carrying a bullhorn starting barking out orders to the crowd to break up into two separate groups- male and female. We were told to sign in and to have our ID’s ready to show as we passed through to the front of our perspective lines. We were all told that we would receive our daily pay of $45 and one free nutritious meal hot off the catering truck for our efforts, but only after everyone else, and I mean ‘everyone else’,  had first been through the line at least once.

It suddenly dawned upon me that I was experiencing my very first ‘Cattle-Call’ audition, better know as an ‘All-Call’ or what the acting industry refers to as an extra’s casting call. My heart sank! Did I miss something? What had happened to my acting debut, my shining star was suddenly fizzling out before it even started to burn! Oh well, I guess I would just have to work my way up from the bottom of the acting catering food chain so to speak like all the other great actors had done previously. If legends like Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Di Nero, Jimmy Stewart, and my favorite western movie star John Wayne did it, then so would I, even if it took a few years more than what I had naively anticipated.

After thinking about how these amazingly talented actors probably started their own careers, it didn’t bother me quite as much to be part of the extra’s casting call. After all, I would be working on my first movie, The Hollywood Knights, starring Tony Danza and Michelle Pfeiffer. I decided I would learn as much as possible by listening and watching every little detail that transpired on the movie set. I was not disappointed. We all worked long hours, learned the difference between a boom operator and a gaffer, the Director and the First Assistant Director, and mostly importantly, the differences between the main stars, the supporting cast, and the lowly, but somewhat important extra actors…like ME… and all the other me’s that came before and after ME!

I tip my hat (or in my case, my ballcap) to anyone who has ever had the courage to walk, hitchhike, take a bus or train, drive or even had the luxury of flying out to Los Angeles to follow their dream. To become whatever it is that is buried deep inside their heart of hearts, whether it be performing in front of the camera or working behind the scenes. I was an extra in The Hollywood Knights and very proud to have been a part of a movie that helped launch the careers of Tony Danza and Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Wuhl, Fran Drescher, and a few more supporting actors, directors and perhaps, just perhaps, a few ‘extra actors’ as well.

I may have not been a ‘Knight in Shining Armor’, but I was an immortal part of the 1980 comedy classic film, The Hollywood Knights and for that I will be forever grateful.

And there you have it…just another story from the vault of The Hollywood Contender.

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Hollywood: The Sign of All Signs

Hollywood Sign

Hollywood Sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If a survey was conducted anywhere in the civilized world as to what man-made “sign” was the most recognized sign in the entire planet, I believe that the “Hollywood” sign out in Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, California would win hands downs. In fact, I would almost bet the farm on it. The Hollywood sign‘s history dates back to 1923 when it was erected as an advertisement gimmick to promote real estate development, not the movie business as most tourists might have imagined. The sign was somehow left up inadvertently and indefinitely. It soon became a permanent fixture in the hills overlooking Los Angeles. Little did George Eastman know how many pictures of the Hollywood sign would eventually end up on his preloaded camera boxes all around the country and perhaps even the world to some extent. Talk about a Kodak moment!

The enormous white letters stood 45 feet in height and over 345 feet in overall length. The original sign actual read “Hollywoodland” but was later changed to its current iconic nine letter word, “Hollywood”. This was long before Vanna White was turning letters for Wheel of Fortune. “Give me a vowel Vanna.” The sign became famous and was featured as the background for an endless number of movies, television shows (aka TV shows) and countless advertisements. That is one sign I truly wish I owned the rights to today. I would not have to worry about my 401K quite as much!

During my time out in Hollywood I became so fascinated by that sign and even believed that those nine letters possessed some type of powerful magic and if I could somehow see them up close, maybe even touch them I would become the next Fonz, or perhaps even the next DeNiro or Pacino. It’s true, I became so obsessed from staring up at those seemingly far away magical letters from my insignificant one room rental that I began plotting in my mind a way to get up to the Hollywood Hills and actual touch that famous  sign in person. It would be a symbolic gesture that would be almost guaranteed to catapult me to the top of the acting heap so to speak. I tossed and turned many sleepless nights as I played this scenario over and over again in my mind until one day I finally worked up the courage to actual move forward with my plan. I would be fearless in my one man quest and conquer my inhibitions once and for all.

Finally, the morning arrived and I carefully packed a nutritious, yet light lunch, and filled my water bottle with ice cold water and attached it to my ten speed inside the bottle holder. I doubled checked my tire pressure on both the front and rear tires, then secured my air pump, tire patch kit and finally snapped my tennis racket into its bike clip (for protection)  and I was soon pedaling down Santa Monica Blvd towards the Hollywood Hills.My plan was to simply ride my bike up and around the Hollywood Hills and approach the sign from the rear. I was in very good shape back then from all the bicycling and tennis matches I played as well as a little body surfing (boogie-boarding as we called it down in Huntington and Venice Beach).  I eventually reached the summit and after walking my bike the last few hundred feet I decided to slowly but cautiously maneuver closer and closer to the tall chain-linked fence that stood between the sign and myself. Once I reached the fence line I simply found an area that seemed most accessible to get through or in my case over the fence. I then simply leaned my ten-speed up against the fence (thank God it wasn’t an electric fence) and hopped up on the seat and scaled the fence and leaned back over and pulled myself and my bike up over the fence and down the other side.I was now inside what I can only describe as sacred grounds in my mind. There were no electric fences, no alarms, no guard dogs, no fancy camera monitors. There was nothing except my bike, myself and my heart beating loudly through my chest as I proceeded cautiously down the worn path toward the Holy Grail!

My heart started pounded louder and louder as I finally approached the sign in awe and wonder of what I would actually do once I came upon it. I biked a short distance further and rode out into a small clearing and up behind the towering sign. I jumped off my bike and ran up to the sign and reached out and touched the “H” thinking somehow it would be a pivotal moment in my life. I felt nothing as I finally exhaled, so I decided to climb up the ladder behind the first “O” and then I stood up inside the letter and looked down over Los Angeles and yelled, “Here I am Hollywood.” I heard a faint echo repeating my words back to me almost as if in mockery of my feeble attempt to conquer the city with a few mortal words. I was probably not the first over-zealous fool to echo those words and I somehow knew I wouldn’t be the last either! I finally sat down inside the “O” and gazed out over the city daydreaming about what might be in store for me now that I made the trek all the way up to the famous Hollywood sign and actually stood inside its massive letters. There I sat high upon the Holy Grail, looking down at the movie kingdom at my feet. It would soon to be beckoning to me like Winnie the Pooh to his favorite jar of honey, like Ginger Rogers to Fred Astaire, like Laurel and Hardy or perhaps Bogart and Bacall.

After the excitement finally subsided, I climbed down from my perch and wondered why in the world I didn’t bring my 110-Instamatic Kodak camera to document this historic moment and realized in my excitement that I completely forgot the most important piece of equipment next to my ten-speed bike.

Reluctantly, I ate my snack, then drank some water and proceeded down the front side of the Hollywood Hills on my bike and began pedaling back down to reality. I stayed on a well worn path that indicated there were plenty of sign seekers before me and most likely many more to follow in my footsteps. I began to pick up more speed on my exhilarating trek, gaining more and more momentum the further down the hill I rode. As my bike turned a sharp corner I came face to face with a man and woman in the most compromising position imaginable and not knowing who was surprised the most, I just kept pedaling my bike as fast as I could. The girl let out a loud shriek and I think I pissed my shorts a little after I stopped screaming as well. Damn it, all I could imagine was being shot in the back or stabbed to death by some sex maniac up in the Hollywood Hills. I was thinking to myself how much I really didn’t want to be killed so I never looked back all the way down the hill. Now that would have made a great movie plot at the time, and I might have missed my big chance for my own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Today, the same Hollywood sign I sat upon is now considered a National Landmark and has 24hr camera surveillance and any trespassers would be fined and possibly jailed if caught anywhere in the vicinity of the sign.

Following the 1978 public campaign to restore the sign, the following nine donors gave $27,777 each (which totaled $250,000):

  • H – Terrence Donnelly – publisher of the Hollywood Independent Newspaper
  • O – Giovanni Mazza – Italian movie producer
  • L – Les Kelley – originator of the Kelley Blue Book
  • L – Gene Autry – singer, actor and businessman
  • Y – Hugh Hefner – founder of Playboy magazine
  • W – Andy Williams – singer
  • O – Warner Bros. Records
  • O – Alice Cooper – singer, who donated in memory of comedian Groucho Marx
  • D – Thomas Pooley — donated in the name of Mathew Williams

[edit]Location

View from West Hollywood, near Santa Monica Boulevard, a few blocks south of Hollywood Boulevard. The historicHollywood Roosevelt Hotel is visible on the left.

The sign is located on the southern side of Mount Lee in Griffith Park, north of the Mulholland Highway.

The sign is located on rough, steep terrain, and is encompassed by barriers to prevent unauthorized access. In 2000, the Los Angeles Police Department installed a security system featuring motion detection and closed-circuit cameras. Any movement in the marked restricted areas triggers an alarm that notifies the police.[11]

Whether or not you agree about who should own the rights to the Hollywood sign, or who should be allowed to “own” a letter in theory and pay for its perpetual upkeep; we might all have to agree that the Hollywood sign is perhaps the most televised “Sign of all Signs.”

Stay tuned for another post from The Hollywood Contender!

The Discovery of Mary-Margaret Humes: The Girl Next Door

Cover of "Mel Brooks' History of the Worl...

Cover via Amazon

As I think back on my high school days before my long trek out to Hollywood, I recall how my life seemed to be just one boring episode after another. Not that I wasn’t busy with the important little things that occupied a teenager’s life such as learning to play a musical instrument. I chose the guitar thinking that I would become a famous guitarist in a rock and roll band with a flock of pretty girls chasing after me as my adoring fans wherever I played. Next on my list was sports. Surely if I got involved in a couple of team sports, I would surely be noticed by the cheerleaders. The only problem was there were no cheerleaders in either track or gymnastics. I only weighed in around 120 lbs., therefore football was definitely out of the question. I could run fast, walk on my hands and zip around on the pommel horse and still rings like a madman but girls weren’t really impressed by all that nonsense. They gravitated toward the big. muscular athletic football players that could rip your head off and throw a perfect spiral for 30 or 40 yards. Just my luck. I was scrawny, blind as a bat without my glasses, and would have been the perfect spokesperson for Proactive, had it been around back then.

Myth #1 Not all guitarists become famous and have beautiful adoring fans chasing them around.

Myth #2 Not all sports attract cheerleaders!

My point to this silly little recollection is that I somehow recall that whenever I would run across the street after school to the local drugstore to buy a bottle of soda and a candy bar I remember my encounters with a sweet, pretty little brunette who always smiled and was always the first to speak usually with a hello or how are you kind of a salutation. This beautiful girl always made me feel like I was someone other than a 120 lb., four-eyed, pimple-faced, semi-athletic, wanna be musician. I discovered that her name was Mary-Margaret (could have been her name tag that gave it away if I recall correctly). Little did I know at the time that I was speaking with the future Miss Florida, and the 3rd runner-up for Miss USA, to the one day famous actress from Dawson’s Creek. To me she was just Mary-Margaret, a cashier at the local high school drugstore and the first attractive girl that treated me like I was somebody. I believe it was a combination of Mel Brooks noticing a billboard across from the 20th Century Fox studio with Mary-Margaret’s photograph, name and phone number (how brave) and calling her up to do a reading for him and the encouragement of a certain actor named Burt Reynolds who persuaded her to move to Los Angeles in the first place that started her acting career moving forward. The rest is history. Mary-Margaret Humes (born April 4, 1954) is an American actress best known in recent years for playing Gail Leery, the title character’s mother on the WB television drama Dawson’s Creek from 1998 to 2003.

Biography

Born in Florida at Mercy Hospital on April 4, 1954, Humes is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Neale C. Humes. She is a graduate of the Watertown High School Class of 1972. Humes competed as Miss Thousand Islands in the 1973 Miss New York State contest she won the Miss Florida USA pageant and was third runner up in the 1975 Miss USA pageant behind eventual winner and fellow actressSummer Bartholomew of California. She was urged to try acting by fellow Floridian Burt Reynolds and her best known movie role is as the Vestal Virgin Miriam in Mel Brooks‘s History of the World, Part I. Humes has a long list of guest starring roles to her credit on such diverse shows as Grey’s AnatomyThe Dukes of Hazzard,MatlockKnight RiderMurphy BrownThe A-TeamThe Fall GuyHardcastle and McCormickT.J. HookerRiptide and Touched by an Angel. She was also a regular on the short-lived NBC seriesEerie, Indiana in 1991.

The ironic part of this whole story is that we were both living out in Hollywood at the same time chasing our dreams, but our paths never crossed again. We were both busy pursuing acting careers in the 80’s, not knowing we were on very similar, and yet very distant paths. Unless you live in a cave, we all know by now what happened to that girl next door! As for the boy next door, well, I’m still around but not quite as famous, rich or beautiful. As a fellow Aries, I can say I once knew Mary-Margaret way back when she was just a drug store clerk with the most contagious smile and dreamy eyes that melted my heart and at the same time unknowingly gave me the confidence to conquer my own fears and take a chance out in Hollywood as well! Thank you for that gift Mary-Margaret, I will always be forever indebted to you!