Well, the year 2022 has not gotten off to a great start. This morning on Facebook, I read the following post from Cyndi Boliver Texeira:
“Very sad news….
My mom, Pat Boliver, passed away on Sunday night. It was very sudden and my family is very heartbroken. We are coping the best that we can, and are all taking care of each other. She will be missed immensely. We have rough days, months, and years ahead of us. Much love to you all for allowing her to share her loving, giving nature with you. She was an amazing Mom, Grandma and Great Grandma. Love you forever, Mom. 😪😔♥️”
In many ways, Pat Boliver was the Betty White to Team to End AIDS in Los Angeles, California. Along with her husband Ray and her children and grandchildren, she remained a huge supporter of us marathon runners from one season to the next. During our runs which took us through Burbank and Glendale, she made sure we had all the nutrition we needed to get through the last few miles, some of which included hills. This included water, Gatorade, banana bread, gummy worms, salt packets, pretzels, potato chips, candy corn, Chex Mix and the occasional tablets of Tums. Seriously, Tums are a great defense cramps, something I absolutely hate getting during a run.
But the best treat she always had in store for us runners were the peanut butter and pickle covered Ritz crackers. If this concoction sounds rather gross to you, this is because you have never tried it. I could never get enough of these yummy delights as the peanut butter gave me the protein I needed, and the saltiness of the pickles help to absorb much of the water and other liquids I kept drinking. Maybe others around the world came up with this recipe, but I doubt there were ever as delectable as Pat’s.
When it comes to the many human beings I have come into contact on this crazy planet we call Earth, the best ones have a tremendous humanity which keeps their spirits high even as life throws an endless number of daggers in their general direction. Pat always struck me as one of those individuals as she always had a big smile on her face no matter what time of day it was. This is especially worth noting as she and Ray suffered a tragedy I would not wish on any parent; they outlived one of their children. Their son, Scott Boliver, was my marathon coach for a time and fought a brave battle against cancer. While he did succeed in “slaying the dragon,” which he described his cancer fight as, his body still gave out and he left us far too soon. Still, Pat and Ray held their heads high even as they mourned the passing of their son, and the smiles never faded from their faces. This was especially the case with Pat as she continued to help us runners out in every which way she could. No one knew better than her how powerful Scott’s spirit was and still is to this day, and she did her best to keep her son’s mission in life strong in our hearts.
Here are some of the things my fellow T2EA runners have said to Cyndi about Pat:
“I am so sorry! Your parents are just the best people and got me through some brutal training runs. I will never forget their selfless acts of kindness.”
“Such a wonderful person.”
”She was an amazing woman!!! So caring, nurturing and selfless. Thank you for sharing her with all of us for so many years.”
“Although it was only a few times that I had interactions with her, I knew that she was a very sweet and kind lady with an amazing personality.”
“Your mom was such an amazing woman. I was just thinking about her the other day and reminiscing about her amazing spirit and the beauty of your entire ‘ohana.”
“Your mom was so sweet and I loved seeing her on my runs with APLA. So many fond memories of her kindness. One that sticks out for me is when she and your dad came back around in their truck to check on me during a particularly long and challenging run where I wasn’t doing so well. They made sure I finished safely.”
“She was one of the most beautiful people I know.”
“I was just telling my husband how her banana bread saved my life on marathon day. I would not have made it without your family.”
“Your mom was a shining example of goodness and love.”
“Your parents made my marathon training such a great experience. Your mom was the best.”
Like I said, Pat was our Betty White. She lived a great life and kept her head held high no matter what. While heaven may now have another angel in its midst, it still would have been nice to have her around a lot longer.
WRITER’S NOTE: As the title indicates, this article was written back in 2008.
“WAKE UP UNCLE BEN! I GOT A GUITAR! COME SEE!”
Those words were spoken to me by my niece who had bounded into my room in the morning. Only on Christmas Day does anyone dare to wake me up so early. I just hope they got a good night’s sleep. I remember finding it impossible to fall asleep the night before Christmas. These days, this holiday is more for the kids who wait in anticipation (and impatiently so) to open all the presents they got. Houses don’t get livelier than on Christmas it seems with my young niece galloping along my mom and dad’s infinitely varnished hardwood floor as she goes from one end of the house to the other in seconds’ flat. Do you remember when you had this much energy?
One thing I do have to say is as you get older, the number of presents you get decreases. Of all my immediate family members, I am more than convinced I got the least number of gifts this season, and I can’t quite get the feeling of jealousy and greed out of my head. It makes me miss being four and a half. But I certainly don’t want to appear ungrateful because I did submit a Christmas wish list to my family to give them an idea of what I was begging for, just to make shopping easier for them. In the end, I am very happy I got some of the things I asked for. So let us take a look at the best of the bunch, or maybe we can just look at the whole bunch of presents I got because they all are pretty cool.
“Forgetting Sarah Marshall” on Blu-Ray Disc
Alright! One of the best comedies of this past year now joins my every growing DVD/Blu-ray library. This made me laugh harder than just about any other comedy I saw this past year with the exception of “Tropic Thunder.” Looking at all the bonus features on the disc makes me all the more excited as it is filled with them. It is also a reminder of how I really need to check out the BD LIVE Center where I can download even more bonus features. With the last couple of Blu-ray discs I received or purchased, I get so caught up in the sharpness of the image that I watch the movies endlessly until I get sick of them, and it takes me forever to get sick of them. A year later, I will watch the disc again, and I might actually bother to watch the bonus features since I neglected to view some of them previously.
Anyway, the Blu-ray for “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” has got a visual commentary with the filmmakers and cast which should be fun to watch. This special feature seems to be an ever-growing function on many Blu-ray discs as it was featured on “Casino Royale” and also “Risky Business.” There is also picture in picture footage which plays throughout the movie with interviews, rehearsals and behind the scenes stuff. And, of course, there is a digital copy of the movie which you can download on to your iPod, iPad or whatever devices you use to watch motion pictures. Now I am just waiting for that 18-hour airline ride where all the inflight movies are crap and I will at least have this to watch, assuming I didn’t stupidly forget my damn iPod at home.
When it comes to making of documentaries about movies, the one for this film makes me especially interested because I don’t see many for comedies, and I would love to see how these filmmakers put up with the stress of making a comedy. Don’t ever let anyone convince you comedy is easy to do, because it is not!
The Criterion Collection edition of David Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch” on DVD
I got to see this earlier this year at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles where it was playing on a David Cronenberg double bill with “eXistenZ.” This DVD set is one I am really looking forward to checking out because I am curious to see how much Cronenberg’s movie resembles the actual book written by William S. Burrough’s. I haven’t actually read the book “Naked Lunch,” but I have heard it is one which is considered unfilmable. Watching the movie version of it, I am convinced Cronenberg is probably the only one who could have brought to the big screen at all.
What I really love about the Criterion Collection is they really do their research, and they always give you more than enough reason as to why they selected this movie for their special treatment. It features a London Weekend Television documentary about the film’s making, an illustrated essay about the special effects, and there is even an audio recording of Burroughs reading from the book as well. Criterion certainly paved the way for all these DVD special editions with audio commentaries and special features, and they still do them better than anyone else.
“Naked Lunch” is a movie I wanted to know more about ever since I saw it at the New Beverly, so you can only imagine how excited I am to check this DVD set out. I jokingly invited my niece to watch it with me, and she said:
Very smart response for a young girl who is almost 5 years old (my how time flies).
A Calvin Klein black leather jacket
YES!! I have been meaning to get one of these for the longest time, but they always seem to be out of my spending range (and that’s even when I see them at Costco). Putting on the jacket, I suddenly felt a rather bizarre change of character as I walked around like I suddenly owned the world or something. When I first saw the big white box it was packaged in, I had a pretty strong feeling of what it was. This is probably the coolest of all the presents I got this Christmas. Hopefully the ladies will take notice.
Seriously, I always wanted a black leather jacket. My parents think I look like Brando in it. I’m pretty sure they are not talking about Brando in the later stages of his life. Maybe this jacket is giving me an over inflated ego, but let me dream for a while, okay?
$100 Macy’s gift card
Nothing says get some new clothes now more than a gift card from my parents to Macy’s. I just hope their prices are a bit lower than the last time I shopped there. Of course, in the sorry economic state this country is currently in, they will probably invite me to name my own price for whatever they are selling. I could use some new shirts for work since they won’t let me wear my “Evil Dead” or “Office Space” t-shirts there on a regular basis. Plus, it is getting scarier to witness how the colors on my shirts continue fading so quickly. Time to get some new shirts so I can witness how long it will take for the colors to fade on them.
Oh yeah, I could use some new socks as well. I once told my parents that socks are a pathetic gift to give anyone for Christmas, so you can imagine how they gleefully responded to this. But since they didn’t come through this year, it’s time for me to catch up in that department. Come to think of it, I could use a new belt too…
So, Christmas 2008 has come and gone, and the next one will be here before we know it. But the biggest gift I really should say I got was being with my family. I’m not sure how to say that without sounding annoyingly corny, but there you go. Seeing my parents react with excitement over the gifts I gave them was great. Watching my sister-in-law almost break into tears when she realized her dear husband gave her the iPhone she so wanted was quite the sight. Then there were my nieces, both excited about the dozens and dozens of presents they were getting, and both desperately trying to find one of the few gifts meant for me. Seeing my youngest niece jump up and down in sheer excitement over getting the things she ever so wanted brought a lot of contagious laughter to the household.
Of course, nothing could compare to the sweater my brother got my dad, and me silently pointing out to my brother how he forgot to take the price tag off of it. To his credit, my brother did snatch it away before dad noticed.
My niece also said she wanted to marry me. Without getting into a lot of detail, I politely informed her why this was not going to happen.
It was Christmas morning in 2013, and I was sleeping in the loft of my parents’ home in Northern California. While everyone else had a comfortable bed to sleep on, I was the odd man out as I was forced to sleep on an air mattress in the loft which is as spacious as it sounds (which is to say, not really). This shit happens when all the bedrooms are occupied.
Even after I woke up, and at a time which was far too early for my aging body and mind to tolerate, I kept my eyes shut in the hopes that maybe I could get just a few more minutes of sleep. But alas, I had no such luck because eventually felt a foot tapping on my air mattress, and looked up to see my niece who told me, with a very stern look in her eyes:
“Wake up Uncle Ben, we’ve got to open presents!”
It took me a few more minutes to haul my ass out of bed after her statement of purpose, but even though I was waking up far too early, I had to admit I knew exactly how she felt. Her impatience in waiting for Christmas Day to arrive brought back a lot of memories for me. I still vividly remember waiting for Santa Claus to arrive at whatever house me and my family was staying at to leave us presents, but I also remember getting little to no sleep on Christmas Eve which made the wait to open presents all the more agonizing.
The rule for me and my older brother was we couldn’t open up any presents until 7:00 a.m. but waiting for the clock to reach this early morning hour was simply pure torture. Back when you were a child, Christmas could never come soon enough. Time just dragged on and on as you waited to open the presents nestled comfortably under the tree. As we get older, time beings moving a lot faster, but back then those hands on the clock seemed to move at a snail’s pace.
When my niece finally did open the presents Santa left for her, her immense pleasure proved to be quite audible. Among the gifts she received was a trampoline which will be waiting for her back home. To this, she let out a very loud scream of joy which must have woken up the whole neighborhood. Then again, if my parents watching “Skyfall” on their HD television with the soundtrack blasting out of the speakers doesn’t wake the neighbors up, what will?
But then there were the rest of the presents under the tree for the whole family to unwrap, and my niece had to wait even longer to open those meant for her. Us adults had to get up, take a shower, get dressed and have breakfast. While children might be content to skip meals to get at those presents, we older people have long since developed a level of patience which never comes easily. Nevertheless, we all couldn’t help but tease my niece as she shifted anxiously in her chair. Just when she thought we were done with breakfast, we informed her we needed to go on a 5-mile walk to burn all these calories off. All the same, she didn’t quite get the joke, and her impatience in waiting to unwrap her presents became all the more palpable.
Seriously, she came up to each of us, prepared to take our plates, and said, “Are you done?” Her parents told her she needed to ask us nicely. As a result, she once again asked if we were done, but this time she asked us the same question with a big smile. Somehow the message didn’t get through as her actions and facial expressions shows a child shamelessly seeking to manipulate our emotions to her advantage.
Following this, my niece rushed up the stairs to the Christmas tree and awaited our appearance. When we didn’t show up, she began writhing on the floor like she was Linda Blair furiously bouncing up and down on her bed in “The Exorcist,” possessed by a demomic force which needed to be banished from her body forever. She really couldn’t wait for much longer and, in her mind, we couldn’t make it up the stairs fast enough
Just as when I was a child, my niece had the job of handing out presents to everybody. But, of course, the first one she picked out was for herself (I used to do the exact same thing). She also insisted we open our presents individually and not all at once. For a moment, I thought she was doing this to get back at us for making her wait to unwrap her gifts, but her mother pointed out how much fun it is to watch the expressions on everyone’s faces when they opened theirs.
It was worth it just to see my niece get super excited about her gifts. She didn’t even try to hide her glee, and it got to where she spoke so fast that we couldn’t understand what the hell she was saying.
Among her gifts was a doll which was tied up ever so securely in its box, and she asked for our help in getting the doll out as it seemed not just child proof, but adult proof as well. Seriously, I thought we were going to have to use the table saw in the garage to get this doll free.
I got her a Target gift card worth $15, and I have never seen a child get so exhilarated over receiving one before. I hope she wasn’t putting on some sort of act to hide any disappointment over the amount not being larger. Then again, if it were a $10 dollar gift card, she probably still would have gone apeshit over it.
Watching my niece opening her presents proved to be a reminder of how wonderful a holiday Christmas can be. I have been kind of blasé about it for the past few years because of all the commercialization surrounding it, and this has resulted in “Bad Santa” becoming my holiday movie of choice as it serves as a gleefully vicious rebuttal over this over-commercialized occasion. When it comes to my family however. there is no beating Christmas. It also reminds me of how precious time is because it keeps going by faster and faster as we get older and older. It almost makes me feel kind of envious of my niece because she has yet to discover how quickly time can fly by. Moreover, it reminds of how we need to treasure these precious moments as they will vanish before we know it.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good set of presents you put on your wish list. As for the stockings, any complaints need to be sent to Mrs. Claus.
We are now at the twentieth anniversary of September 11, 2001, the date of the worst terrorist attack in American history. As I ask of any anniversary, whether mournful or celebratory, where did all the time go? Looking back, it seemed like time just stopped even as the clock kept ticking. As with the current COVID-19 pandemic, our way of life has forever changed and will never be the same. While so much has happened between 2001 and now, it still feels like yesterday when those planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania.
I still remember this morning vividly. I was living in an apartment near the Sunset Strip and West Hollywood. At the time, I was working at Disneyland and enduring a ridiculous 35-mile commute to the park as I was determined not to let anything stand in my way, including common sense and high gas prices.
That morning, I got a call from a Disneyland scheduler. They usually call me to see if I want to start working earlier in the day or pick up an extra shift, and I usually jump at the chance to do so as I was never got enough hours when I started. Instead, the call went as follows:
“Hi, can I speak to Ben please?”
“This is Ben.”
“Hi Ben. Don’t come to the park today. The park is closed and your shift has been cancelled.”
“The park is closed today.”
This truly stunned me as anyone familiar with Disneyland knows the park never closes and is even open on holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. The only time it ever shuts down is if there is some catastrophic electrical failure or, as we have seen recently, due to a global pandemic. After a brief pause, the scheduler told me:
“You still get paid though.”
This made my ears prick up. Not having to go to work and still get paid has to be an American dream of sorts. It also put a smile on my face as there were things I had to take care of, and now I had the time to do so. Of course, I had to ask why Disneyland was closed today as I figured part of the park was flooded or something. To this, the scheduler simply said:
“Turn on the news.”
Well, after jumping up and down on my bed, reveling in the fact I was getting a day’s pay without working for it, I turned on my 27-inch JVC television. As I watched, I wondered why Michael Bay’s “Armageddon” was playing on NBC, and I was stunned to see all the thick fog in downtown Manhattan. Does it ever get this foggy in New York like it does in San Francisco?
Quickly, it dawned on me what was going on. The twin towers known as the World Trade Center in New York City had been attacked. Planes had flown into them, and by the time I had turned on the news, one of the towers had completely collapsed. No doubt about it, this was all really happening, and yet it felt so unreal. I could not fully register all of what was going on, and my neighbors, who also just got the news, looked like they couldn’t either.
The whole world shut down on this day, and I remained glued to my television set for most of it, slowly adjusting to the new reality we all had been thrust into. All of what had happened still left me completely numb, but I eventually turned off the television after I saw a man falling from one of the towers to the ground. This particular visual was just too much for me, and I needed a break from reality, however short.
I ended up taking my car, I had a red 1992 Acura Integra at the time, to a nearby 76 gas station on Sunset Boulevard to get a smog check as it was part of my registration renewal with the DMV. The attendant there greeted me, looked over my paperwork and then said, “Hell of a day, huh?” Yes, it was. Even as everyone went about their business, our hearts were heavy. Since the smog check was going to take a bit to complete, I decided to go for a walk up and down Sunset Boulevard.
I came across The Laugh Factory, and its marquee said, “No Laughing Tonight.” Got that right. The House of Blues, long before it was torn down, was closed, and The Comedy Store was understandably vacant. I picked up a copy of the Los Angeles Times which had just put out their latest issue that included everything about the attacks. It’s newspapers like these you want to hang onto as this is a moment which will forever be burned into our memories. Plus, this newspaper might be worth money someday.
The rest of the week had me overcoming my state of shock. On September 12th, I went back to Disneyland where I was an interactive host in the Tomorrowland attraction of Innoventions, and me and my fellow cast members were subjected to getting our ID cards checked over and over again before we even got off the bus. Seriously, it was a real nuisance. A couple of days later, I was standing outside the Hollywood Improv where I was taking classes at Second City, singing songs such as “America the Beautiful,” “My Country Tis of Thee,” and of course the national anthem along with my fellow classmates. These are songs I hadn’t sang in years, and some of them had me trying to remember the lyrics.
What I want people to remember most about September 11, 2001 is how it brought us all together. Divisions between political parties ceased to exist, and as Americans we were one with each other. We shared deeply in the sorrow, and we thanked all the first responders who spent day and night searching through the smoky rubble for survivors.
Perhaps this is why I am publishing this more towards September 12th more than September 11th. We have to remember how this tragic day brought everyone together and created a unity which, in retrospect, seems short-lived. In 2021, we live in a time where America has never been more divided, and I would like us all to remember how unified this terrorist attack made us. It would be nice if we were this unified today.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is one of the many films we had to wait an extra year for. But with the pandemic reaching its tail end (or so we have been told), we can look forward to “Halloween Kills,” the sequel to David Gordon Green’s highly successful “Halloween” reboot, arriving in theaters this October of 2021. John Carpenter, who returns as Executive, has told us the following about it:
“It’s brilliant. It’s the ultimate slasher. I mean, there’s nothing more than this one. Wow! Man.”
After watching the first trailer for “Halloween Kills” which was unleashed this past week, I believe Carpenter is a man of his word as what unfolds here is truly brutal. As I watched this preview, I wondered if this was a red band trailer or one which was approved for all audiences by the infamous MPAA.
When we last left this franchise, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) had left Michael Myers to burn to death in her house. But as she escaped alongside her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) in the back of a truck, they watched in horror as fire trucks rushed their way over to Laurie’s residence which had since turned into a burning inferno. But as one firefighter reaches out to another who has fallen through the floor, we know the hand he takes in his is indeed Michael’s.
Watching as Michael stepped out of the house while it was still engulfed in flames, and holding a rather sharp firefighter tool in his hands, I was quickly reminded of what Steve Rogers said to a bunch of mercenaries while stuck in an elevator with them in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier:”
“Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?”
Seeing Michael lay waste to these firefighters with their own tools, one of them a power saw, it is clear this will be an exceptionally bloody follow-up as we see the “essence of evil,” as Laurie describes him, lay waste to helpless victims with an assortment of tools, one of them a broken fluorescent light tube.
“Halloween Kills” looks to start mere seconds after the previous film ended, and it looks like the mob is out in full force as the town of Haddonfield is out for vengeance in the wake of so many murders. It feels like blood will be flowing endlessly this time around as we watch Anthony Michael Hall as Tommy Doyle, the young boy who took way too long to open the door for Laurie in the original “Halloween,” walking around town with a baseball bat. Not just any bat mind you, but one made out of metal. That’s right folks, Tommy is out to hit some balls!
There are several unforgettable images to be found here. Among them is the visual of three kids wearing those Silver Shamrock masks from “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” whose bodies lay lifeless and bloodied in a playground. Of course, part of me wonders if they got lucky. I mean, Michael got to them before they had any opportunity to “watch the magic pumpkin” on television. If they just missed Michael, their heads would have crumbled and turned to mush, releasing all sorts of pesky bugs and poisonous snakes. Haddonfield may have a solid police department, but how are they with animal control?
Also, Michael is once again unmasked in the franchise, this time by Karen who dares him to get his altered William Shatner “Star Trek” mask back. But we have been down this road before as Michael, as an adult, has had some opportunities to show us the face behind the mask, and it resulted in being nothing more than a tease (particularly in “Halloween 5”). Will the filmmakers here tease us yet again?
And yes, Jamie Lee Curtis is back in action, looking every bit as lethal as Michael does. Even after getting stabbed in the belly, you believe her fully when she tells her daughter that evil will die tonight. Regardless of how this film turns out, you can always count on Curtis giving a top-notch performance as she never disappoints.
“Halloween Kills” arrives at a theater near you on October 15, 2021. I look forward as I do to its soundtrack which will again be composed by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies. I am so excited to where I am reminding myself to keep my expectations in check. It is too easy to be disappointed in a film and for all the wrong reasons, and I want this one to live up to the hype.
WRITER’S NOTE: As the first paragraph will indicate, this event took place back in 2013.
I was one of the lucky attendees at the Fox Studios lot on January 31, 2013 where the unveiling of a brand-new mural done in honor of “Die Hard” took place at Stage 8. The action classic which stars Bruce Willis as New York Detective John McClane has now reached its 25th anniversary, and the fifth movie in the long running series, “A Good Day to Die Hard,” is about to be released. Joining Willis in this celebration were Fox Film Entertainment chair Jim Gianopulos and the cast and director of “A Good Day to Die Hard.”
I cannot begin to tell you what a thrill it was to be a part of this historic event. Like so many, I was raised on the original “Die Hard” and its sequels, and the fact this franchise has held up so well is really a testament to the character of McClane and Willis’ portrayal of him. Before McClane, all movie action heroes were indestructible superhuman armies of one who obliterated every single bad guy while barely getting hurt in the process. McClane, however, was a different kind of action hero because he was like the rest of us; vulnerable, easily wounded, scared, and far from ever being indestructible. Gianopulos made this clear when talking about the character and his enduring status.
“While John McClane describes himself as the ‘fly in the ointment, the monkey in the wrench, the pain in the ass,’ I’d like to think his appeal is just that he’s the everyman who just has this uncanny way of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and who never, ever says die,” Gianopulos said. “So, however you try and categorize him, John McClane will live on for audiences in our hearts and the studio’s legacy and so will his ‘yippee-ki-yay…’ Well, it’s a family thing so I can’t really say it.”
Gianopulos also rightly pointed out how, unlike Batman or James Bond, John McClane has been played by the same actor in all five “Die Hard” movies. The crowd was thrilled to see Willis show up for this mural unveiling, and he looked genuinely happy to be there and to see us so excited.
“This is really very nice, really nice,” Willis said of this occasion. “I worked on this lot. I started on Stage 20 here and I moved on to bigger things here at Fox, and I just couldn’t be more pleased that you all came out here. It has been a big, great, fun time doing ‘Die Hard’ for the last twenty-five years and living to talk about it.”
Afterwards, Gianopulos gave Willis a device which looked like a detonator to a bomb and, after the 20th Century Fox Fanfare was played, he pushed the button on it. What followed were some loud pyrotechnics and the dropping of the curtain to reveal the 35- foot “Die Hard” mural which was designed by muralist Van Hecht-Nielsen and painter Fernando Cepeda. It depicts the scene where McClane makes his way through an air vent and pulls out his cigarette lighter to see what’s ahead. This of course led to one of Willis’ famous quotes from the movie:
“Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…”
I personally got a huge kick out of the whole presentation as did everyone else, and it was greeted with thunderous applause from the onlookers as well as many car alarms which were inadvertently set off by the pyrotechnics (I guess they had to have their say as well). Then again, “Die Hard” did get its name from a car battery, so the irony is hard to ignore.
Following the mural presentation, we were invited to a screening of “A Good Day to Die Hard” held at the Zanuck Theatre on the Fox Lot. Introducing the movie was its director, John Moore, who added he hopes his funeral looks like this and with so many excited people in attendance. He also pointed out while this was a special screening of the new “Die Hard” movie, he also called it a “nerd screening” because of a new sound system being utilized for it.
“This is an Atmos screening of ‘A Good Day to Die Hard,'” Moore said. “To explain what that is, Atmos is a new three-dimensional sound system that Dolby is rolling out over the next few years, and this is only the eighth film to be mixed in Atmos. If I could director direction to the ceiling for a moment, you can see there is an array of nearly 40 speakers, and this creates a three-dimensional sound that’s gonna role of you like nothing you’ve ever experienced… Or since the last time something’s rolled over you.”
But for many of us, the biggest treat of the evening was when we were invited to the 21st floor of the Nakatomi Plaza where the original “Die Hard” was filmed… Okay, it’s really called Fox Plaza, but to us “Die Hard” fans it will always be known as the Nakatomi. The lobby in the building has changed only so much since 1988, and while the lighting inside was different, it still looks the same as it did back then. You should have seen us when we got into the elevators though because they looked exactly the same as they did in the movie. My friend Phillip was practically hyperventilating from all the excitement of being there, and he later claimed how he almost died of “sheer awesomeness.” We all definitely shared in that feeling, and I had a great grin on my face for the rest of the night.
The 21st floor was decked out with a DJ and food that ran from cheese and apple blintzes to bigger dishes like beef stroganoff and egg noodles, perhaps to reflect how “A Good Day to Die Hard” takes place in Russia. I loved how the floor resembled the one McClane hid out on when he set off the fire alarm and was waiting for the fire trucks to show up. This had a lot of us going up to the windows and looking out while repeating our favorite lines from “Die Hard” such as “c’mon baby, come ta’ papa, I’ll kiss ya’ fucking dalmatian” or “you macho a-holes! No! No!” We didn’t bang our hands on the windows though as that likely would have gotten us into trouble.
Actually, some of us got a really nice security guard to take us up to the 30th floor where the Christmas party in “Die Hard” took place, but it looks nothing like it did in the movie. In fact, much of what we saw in “Die Hard” was done on a soundstage, and the real 30th floor was full of empty office spaces still waiting to be occupied. We were hoping to go up to the roof where the helipad is so we could imitate the scene where McClane shot his machine gun into the air to get the hostages to run downstairs, but unfortunately the guy couldn’t do that for us (he was very nice about it though).
Still, we got to see the front parking area where Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) drove around in circles before going inside, and we also got to see the place where a terrorist stole a Nestle Crunch candy bar while waiting for SWAT to break into the building. It’s all those little details which got us so excited.
Seriously, this was one of the best evenings I have had in a long time. To be a part of it was an honor, and it was an amazing thrill to go inside the Nakatomi/Fox Plaza and see where “Die Hard” was filmed. I came out to Los Angeles to be a part of the movies and to be close to those involved in their making, and this was an occasion which allowed me to do just that. I’ll never forget this evening, and I look forward to having many more of them.
Wow! This brings back so many memories! I still vividly remember watching these Peanuts specials when I was a kid. Sitting in front of the old Zenith television set in my pajamas, because I had to go straight to bed immediately after they ended, it was always a major event when Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang made an appearance in their latest animated special. Of course, you could always count on Snoopy to steal the show from everybody no matter what holiday was being celebrated.
Sadly, we can only dream of ever having a dog as cool as Snoopy in our lifetime. Can you think of another dog that can cook dinner, be as enraged as John McEnroe during a tennis match, drive a motorcycle, or fly a doghouse in pursuit of the nefarious Red Baron? Cujo comes to mind, but he would be too busy terrorizing humans.
“A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” is one of those specials I had not seen in the longest time, but on Thanksgiving evening in 2008, the show was passed on to another generation as my brother and I got his daughter to watch it in all its animated glory. She was originally more interested in watching some show on Nickelodeon which looked infinitely lame if you ask me, but we successfully managed to wrestle the remote control from her and turned it to ABC. She got a big kick out of the episode, especially when Snoopy and Woodstock are fighting with each other over preparing for Thanksgiving dinner. Then again, the three of us were in utter hysterics when a certain wooden chair began to attack Snoopy with a vengeance. It’s always great when people of all ages can appreciate the same material at the same level.
“A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” is sandwiched between two of the most famous Peanuts specials, “It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” As a result, it tends to get lost in the shuffle of other specials, but is still somewhat easier to find on television than “It’s The Easter Beagle Charlie Brown” (until 2020 anyway). This special revolves around Charlie Brown having to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner of sorts for his friends before he has to go to his grandmother’s place to have a more traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Peppermint Patty has somehow invited herself and her friends, Marcie and Franklin (the lone African-American character in the Peanuts universe), over to Charlie’s place, expecting a huge Thanksgiving dinner in the space of about an hour or so, as if such a thing were even remotely possible! My dad spent at least eight hours preparing our most recent Thanksgiving feast. Who does Peppermint Patty think she is anyway?
It’s interesting to reflect on how I viewed this special as a kid, and of how I view it now as an adult. I remember feeling sorry for Charlie Brown because I thought he was doing the best he could under terribly difficult the circumstances. Besides, he had Snoopy to back him up, and Snoopy buttered the toast as if he were a blackjack dealer opening a fresh pack of playing cards (the sound effects pretty much gave that one away). These days, he reminds me of myself when I was a teenager. Self-pitying and often quite hopeless, Charlie Brown is his own worst enemy. Watching him give in to Peppermint Patty’s demands makes me want to shake him and tell him to grow some balls. Stand up to Peppermint Patty. She may kick your bald ass at baseball, but not in the kitchen. But when it comes to Peppermint Patty, I think Charlie said it best:
“You can’t explain anything to Peppermint Patty!”
Indeed, Peppermint Patty has a one-track mind and cannot be easily reasoned with if at all. When she wants something, she seems to get it no matter what. At the same time, she can be so rude and oblivious to things she like good manners. Where does she get off inviting herself to other people’s houses? Why does she expect everyone to serve her needs? Doesn’t she have a clue? Inviting yourself to someone else’s house threatens to be rude and inexcusably imposing among other things… Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realize I was kind of like that as a kid. I did invite myself over to a friend’s house when I was 7 or 8. I wasn’t really thinking about how my friend might think. It’s kind of embarrassing to think about now. Well, judge not lest ye be judged!
Of course, you can always count on Linus to make everyone see the true meaning of the holidays. As in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” he tells everyone how Thanksgiving Day came about when the Pilgrims and the Indians came together for a feast, and of how thankful they were for the strong friendship which formed between them. You have to be impressed with the amount of knowledge Linus had at his age. Maybe he had some sort of cheat sheet in that blue blanket he always carried with him. You don’t actually see his blanket here in this episode, but maybe Thanksgiving was one of his most favorite holidays to where he needed no reminding of what it was all about. Linus was always a great friend to Charlie Brown, and it was nice to see Charlie always had him as a friend who could help him through those tough times.
But you have got to love Snoopy in this animated special. He saves the day by making a Thanksgiving dinner of popcorn, buttered toast and pretzel sticks among other things. He also inhabits the funniest scenes as he and Woodstock have to get a table and chairs together for all the guests, and they get caught up in playing table tennis, something Snoopy fares much better in than real tennis, until Linus reminds them they have work to do. Then Snoopy ends up getting into a fight with a rouge folding chair which seems to have a life of its own. They fight each other over which way the chair should be set, and the fact that the chair wins is not a surprise.
There’s one other thing I have to point out in this special. At the end, Snoopy and Woodstock are left alone at Charlie Brown’s house as everyone else goes to grandma’s house, and this is despite the fact Snoopy seemed every bit as excited about going as well. Snoopy goes into his doghouse and constructs a wooden table and chairs for him and Woodstock, and he manages to cook a Thanksgiving turkey (why he didn’t do this earlier is best left unanswered) for the two of them, and they both sit down to eat it and even break a wishbone. Now here’s the thing; a turkey is a bird, and Woodstock is a bird as well. So, by eating the turkey, doesn’t this in fact make Woodstock a cannibal? I mean, he is eating his own kind! Doesn’t Woodstock even take this into account? What would his parents think? Plus, how does he get the better half of the wishbone? How can a little bird manage to overpower a beagle’s strength when he does not have as much to work with? This is the world of animation for you! Making the impossible seem possible even if it defies reasonable logic.
As I write this in 2020, the networks decided not to air “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” or “A Charlie Brown Christmas” for the first time in decades. This seemed sacrilegious to many, and after a major uproar from millions of people, both specials are now being aired on Apple TV and PBS. It would be unthinkable for either of these animated specials to not be broadcast for all to see. Then again, they are available on DVD, Blu-ray and assorted digital formats, so they are never easily out of our reach.
With “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” I remembered of how certain things from childhood can remain ever so innocent from one generation to the next. Even if the Thanksgiving holiday is now seen much differently than before as people believe the Pilgrims laid waste to the Indians or instead observe this holiday as one where Native Americans (the Indians, mind you) fed a group of undocumented illegal aliens (the Pilgrims), this is still a celebrated time when families come together for a great feast. It’s all about togetherness, and this is one of the many things “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” preaches to great effect. Be sure to give this animated special another look when you get the chance. I don’t care how many times you have watched it because it is always worth watching again.
WRITER’S NOTE: I wrote this article exactly ten years ago in the year 2010.
It was just another day at the office for me, staring at a computer and taking calls, when I got a message from my good friend Shane whom I hadn’t seen for a while. He informed me our acting mentor from Diablo Valley College, Jim Kirkwood, had passed away at 5 a.m. this morning. For the past year or so, Jim had been fighting cancer and had to endure an operation to remove a tumor which lasted several hours. Hearing this news was a blow to me and everyone else who had the unique privilege of having taken an acting class taught by him.
Right now, my heart feels so heavy and I am wondering why tears are not coming out of my eyes. I want to feel this loss fully for Jim had such a profound effect on my life and so many others in Northern California. For many years he was an acting teacher at Diablo Valley College, and I enrolled in several of his classes during my time there before I transferred to the University of California at Irvine. Much had been said about him and how hard it was to get into his classes, and that he had studied with some of the greatest acting teachers including Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler. For those truly serious about acting, you could not pass up any course he taught.
When it came to my first class with Jim, I was nervous to say the least. The man was treated like a legend in the area, and it felt incredibly intimidating to be in his presence. Giving out grades was never a priority for him, and his one rule which stood out among others was if you missed three of his classes without informing him as to why, you were out. This was back in the day when those strict guidelines actually unnerved me.
Anyway, I came to this new place of learning straight out of high school where I did many plays and considered myself a really good actor. Of course, the whole thing about acting back then is that when you’re onstage and you have nothing to say, get off. That first day with Jim, he immediately gave you a sense of what acting was really about. It was about living in the moment, acting with purpose and having an objective in mind. You could not think too much about the outcome of the scene you’re in because it would just take away from the thing you are fighting for. Every character has something to go for, and this is what empowers the actor through the entire show. Even when you are onstage and have nothing to say, he made you see listening is a big part of performing as well.
Among the lessons I remember the most from his classes was when he explained you did not need to have preconceived ideas of how to play a scene or say a line. It was never about pushing for some grand emotion which spelled out award-winning to the audience; it was about letting the emotion come to you while you pursue your objective. To just deliver a line in a preconceived way would just kill the moment. You would just come across as lifeless and vacant, and your scene partner would suffer as a result.
Jim demonstrated the danger of preconceiving what you will do beforehand by giving different readings of the line “get the hell out of here!” The first one was angry, the next was dismissive, the one after that had him laughing like he was talking to a friend, I think he made it look like he was crying in another and so on. By the end, everyone in the class including myself were laughing because he made it all look ridiculous, and it was. By getting stuck in this way of acting, you were never really connected to the scene or those you are working with onstage.
Sooner or later, we came to see that we get our performance from the other actor in the scene. While this became more abundantly clear to me years later while I was a student at Second City, this lesson really originated in Jim’s classes. There was no “me, me, me, me, me, me” in his class because we were all put on the same level. No one was necessarily better than the other, so no prima donnas were ever present (thank goodness for that by the way).
For those new to Jim’s classes, his regimen was to break us down and get rid of all those high school emoting habits many of us had been stuck with for far too long. He could be brutally honest with you, but it was never in a Simon Cowell kind of way (I would have dropped out of his class were it the case). He wanted you to see what you did wrong and how you could improve on it for next time. Feelings did get hurt from time to time and our self-confidence took several direct hits at what seemed like point blank range, but it was never done out of spite or cold-heartedness. Simply put, we had a lot to learn and the road we were on was designed to be a long one and for good reason.
Of couse, he was quoted one time as saying the following, “Getting talent out of this person is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic!”
Another great lesson he taught us which has never left my mind was when he did the “pick up the pen” bit. With this, he went back to when he was an acting student himself and being taught by Lee Strasberg. Now Lee instructed him to pick up a pen which was laying there on the stage. Since he did not tell Jim how he should pick it up, Jim just walked up on stage like he was doing a happy skip across the park and just stumbled upon the pen. We were all laughing hysterically as he looked at the pen with a giddy look on his face, playing up the emotion of the scene as he picked it up.
Lee, however, was not impressed, and Jim said he was made to put it back up on the stage and pick it up again. This time he moved stealthily around and looked like he was about to steal the pen. In this moment, he made it look like he was waiting for the perfect moment and then found it by absconding with the pen just like Indiana Jones took off with the golden idol in the beginning of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Lee again shook his head and told Jim he was still doing it wrong and to do it again.
Now Jim came onto the stage as if his leg were broken, and he was limping over to the pen. At this point, he tried, and failed, to make it look realistic when he was struggling to reach for the pen despite the injury he was faking miserably. Once again, he got the pen and went offstage. It was at this point that Lee was really losing his patience with him:
“Jim, did you hear anything of what I just said?!”
“Yeah, but what am I doing wrong?”
“I told you to pick up the pen!”
“Well I didn’t tell you to go all over the place doing this big act around it, did I?”
“So, what do you want me to do?”
“JIM, JUST PICK UP THE PEN!!!”
So, Jim just walked straight up to the pen and picked it up, and then he walked off the stage as quickly as he got on it. After that, the audience of his fellow students, one of whom was James Dean, applauded him loudly. Jim said he did not understand what the big deal was, and Lee, who also applauded, explained it to him:
“You followed through with the objective. You didn’t think about it, you just did it and with the same level of energy. You didn’t need to put on a big show, you just needed to just pick up the pen. In that moment, that was your only objective. This is the difference between a good performer and a great actor.”
This last sentence has stayed with me to this very day. It is easy to get up and put up a big act just to get laughs from all your friends, but it is another thing to be the character instead of just playing one. You never play the emotion, you play the action, and the emotion will come to you.
I went through a rollercoaster of emotions throughout my time in his classes. Back then I was trying to get all my general education courses out of the way so that, when I transferred to a four-year university, I could concentrate solely on my major. As a result, I did not always give his classes my full-on attention, and it did lead to me having a nervous breakdown one day. It felt like I was failing the class and myself, and while my fellow classmates were there to console me, I was a complete wreck. Jim took pity on me though, gave me a hug, and he always had everyone give their scene partners a hug before and after a scene, and urged me to not be so hard on myself.
But in the end, through all that emotional agony, we each came into our own and got to have that one moment where all the training and character work we did paid off. We had gotten to where we had studied the scene and memorized our lines so many times, we were no longer thinking about what we were doing. All that mattered was we went after our objective. Nothing else mattered. Getting a compliment from Jim was not always easy, but when you got it, you knew you damn well earned it. When we each got that moment, it wasn’t just a victory for us, but for the class as well. Each of us wanted the other person to succeed.
On the last day of Jim’s Advanced Acting class, we all chipped in and got him a plaque thanking him for all he had done for us. He looked at it and immediately burst into tears. It meant so much that we did this for him, and it was a symbol of the kind of people we were becoming thanks in large part to the time we spent with him. Everyone in the class came around to give him a hug, not wanting him to cry. Another guy, I can’t remember his name, offered him a bottle of scotch but then realized he had already drunk it.
In the end, Jim’s classes were never about becoming a star or a celebrity. His classes were about how an actor must live life to the fullest and be serious about their art and their individual craft. It was about getting better and taking on new challenges throughout our lifetimes, and to never be complacent as artists. The life of an artist, be it an actor or director, is never meant to be an easy one. But then again, how else could you learn and grow? It’s like what my brother keeps telling me, “If life were easy, no one would bother showing up.”
I loved how I got to make Jim laugh. I was in his directing class and did this one scene where I used magazine covers with gorgeous women on them as stand ins for a couple of characters. He got a kick out of the fact one of them was an issue of Playboy Magazine with Pamela Anderson, and he jokingly asked me if he could borrow it. Being the embarrassingly literal-minded person I was back then, I thought he was being serious and handed it to him earnestly. Along with the class, he was in utter hysterics.
Then there was another time where we were working on scenes and voicing out what was going through our minds in order to keep us in the moment. Be it if you didn’t know your line or were frustrated and had to vent it somehow, we needed to be there fully and not let all these distractions cloud our ultimate goals. For me, my chief distraction involved a comedy album I bought a few days earlier from a nearby record store. It got to where I could no longer resist it:
“DAMN IT!! I GOT STEVE MARTIN’S NATIVE AMERICAN SINGING GOING THROUGH MY HEAD!!!!”
Jim got a kick out of that and would never let me forget it. It’s nice to have such memories of him this way.
Now Jim is gone, and this loss is deeply felt by all those who were lucky to be in his presence. I write this with a heavy heart, and it will still take some time to accept the fact I won’t get to see or talk with him ever again. It didn’t matter how old he was, he left us way too soon. The last time I saw him was at a Christmas party with friends from his class, and he dropped by and was endlessly interested in what we were all up to. His words of kindness meant a lot to me and I will never forget them.
I thank him for all those lessons on character development, understanding a script and the character’s place in it fully, and of the passion he brought out of all of us. We did not just come out of his class as better actors; we came out as better people. Much of what he taught still comes back to me every once in a while, so I know I am still growing as an artist.
I miss you Jim. Why did you have to leave us now? Leonard Cohen was right; this is no way to say goodbye. But what you taught will live on through all of us for you touched so many lives, and everything you taught will be passed on to future generations. You will live on with us always.
I still wish you were here though. It feels very empty here without you.
I did not become aware of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” until its first sequel, “Psycho II,” was released back in 1983, 23 years after the original. Of course, I didn’t watch this sequel at the time as I was just a kid, but I do remember its movie trailers and the title cracking up on the big screen as it played before the feature presentation of “Return of the Jedi.” This image really freaked me out, and it was just as well I didn’t see the classic film which inspired it until many years later. When I rented and watched it on VHS with my older brother, we did not see what the big deal was as we had long since been spoiled by the “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies with all the blood and gore a hormonal teenager could ever want or endure.
Well, it turns out watching it once was not nearly enough. Whether or not you think “Psycho” is Hitchcock’s best movie ever, it is often the one he is remembered best for making. After 60 years, it remains a great study of how a director can maintain suspense throughout the entire running time of a movie, and of a master playing the audience all the way up to the last frame. This becomes even more apparent when you watch it for a second and third time. Hitchcock puts you into the mindset of Marion Crane as she drives out of town after embezzling some money, and then he completely changes the dynamic of the story once Norman Bates arrives.
With “Psycho” now at its 60th Anniversary, we have another chance to go behind the scenes to see how this horror classic was made. It also represents another opportunity for Universal Pictures to release a new digital edition of the movie so they can fleece a few more dollars from our wallets. There has already been a Blu-ray release which made it look exquisite, and there has got to be a 4K Ultra HD version at some point. Anyway, looking back at the history of this classic proved to be one of the most interesting research projects I have taken on in years as there is much to be said about what went on behind the scenes.
“Psycho” originated as a novel written by Robert Bloch which itself was based on Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, a man whose horrific exploits would inspire many horror movies to come. Hitchcock acquired the film rights through his agent for $9,000, and he chose to film it after two projects he was working on for Paramount Pictures, “Flamingo Feather” and “No Bail for The Judge,” fell through. But Paramount did not want to help Hitchcock out on this one either as they were quoted as saying they found Bloch’s novel “too repulsive” and “impossible for films.” The executives refused to finance the production, and they even went as far as telling Hitchcock their soundstages were unavailable because they were being used for other projects. Of course, this proved to be a bold-faced lie as their production schedule was already in a slump at the time.
Undaunted, Hitchcock was still determined to bring “Psycho” to the silver screen, and he even offered to defer his normal director’s fee of $250,000 in exchange for 60% ownership of the movie’s negative. Still, executives would not grant him the financing he desired, so he continued to go through several different cost-cutting measures before getting a budget of no more than $1 million to make the movie his own way. Hitchcock had planned to make the film fast and cheap anyway, and he employed the crew members of his television series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” who were already skilled at doing the same. He also succeeded in casting proven stars Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins at a quarter of their usual salaries.
Bringing down the budget also meant shooting the film in black and white, but this was fine with Hitchcock as he wanted to film it that way as to make the shower scene come across as less gory, and he was also a big fan of “Les Diabolique” which was also shot in black and white.
Like “Psycho,” “Les Diabolique” was remade many years later. Unlike the originals, both were filmed in color. Even more unlike the originals, they received mercilessly scathing reviews upon their separate releases.
In filming “Psycho,” Hitchcock started off by making it as objective an experience as possible, and we feel what Marion goes through as the voices in her head fill her with guilt and doubt over what she has done. To help emphasize this effect, Hitchcock shot much of the movie with 50 mm lenses on 35 mm cameras. By doing this, the camera was said to mimic normal human vision. As a result, you are not just watching the movie, you are experiencing it. This even goes on after Marion has gone and the story turns its focus to Norman Bates. When he pushes her car into a nearby swamp, you share in his anxiety when it does not completely sink. That’s the thing; like Norman, you want the car to sink, and it makes one feel like a voyeur just as Hitchcock intended.
Then, of course, you have the famous shower scene, and after all these years it remains one of the most talked about and heavily dissected moments in cinema history. I am sure you all know the details regarding it: it was shot over six days from 77 different camera angles, and the scene features around 50 cuts in the three minutes which it lasts. Not much is shown as you never see the knife penetrating Marion’s flesh, and there is no gore other than the blood (chocolate syrup was used) going down the drain along with the water. Indeed, it is what you do not see which makes the scene feel so violent. Like Spielberg later did with “Jaws,” Hitchcock dared the audience to use their imagination in regards to what they thought they saw here. This is one of many reasons why this scene has stood the test of time, and it was also the first time a director killed off his leading lady in the middle of a movie. Back in 1960, audience members could not help but wonder where things could possibly go from there, and shower curtain sales have never been the same since.
I also cannot go on without mentioning the infamous score composed by the great Bernard Herrmann, and it remains one of the scariest pieces of music ever applied to a motion picture. Throughout his career, Hermann proved brilliant in composing film scores which really captured the psychology of the characters. This proves to be as true about “Psycho’s” score as it was with Hermann’s work on “Cape Fear” and “Taxi Driver.” It was a surprise to learn how this score almost didn’t come about as Herrmann balked at Hitchcock’s request to take the job on a reduced salary. Somehow though, Herrmann agreed to the terms and ended up writing music for a string orchestra as opposed to a full symphony which would have included brass and woodwind instruments. This is now clearly seen as a masterstroke on his part as the screeching of violins captures the sheer terror which overtakes Marion and the audience during the infamous shower scene.
Although “Psycho” is now recognized today as a classic, it actually received mixed reviews upon its release. Some admired the buildup of tension, but others questioned the psychological elements as being less effective. It even made one critic, C. A. Lejeune, so offended to where she walked out of the movie before it was even over, and she soon after resigned from her position as film critic for The Observer. Looks like Norman’s mother did not just claim victims onscreen!
When you look at the history of cinema, it is important to keep in mind how movies we see these days as classic were not necessarily treated this way upon their original release. It is over the passing of time where movies get re-evaluated or seen in a different light, and none can ever truly be perfect (although some do come very close to it). “Psycho” was a game changer as it came about during the Motion Picture Production Code which was heavy in its censorship of violence and sex in American films. With “Psycho,” Hitchcock flirted with showing nudity as well as gore, and this later opened up doors for filmmakers to exploit these elements with far more detail. Without “Psycho,” there may never have been a “Halloween” which by itself inadvertently sparked a whole wave of slasher movies. And without “Halloween,” there certainly would not have been a “Friday the 13th” as Jason Voorhees, like Norman Bates, also had serious mommy issues.
The cultural impact of “Psycho” lasts on to this very day. There are only so many movies which could have a sequel made to it several decades later. “Psycho III” followed a few years later, and a prequel came about because some just thought it would be a good idea to show how Norman Bates got to be the shy psycho we know him to be. There was even a failed television pilot called “Bates Motel” which starred Bud Cort as Alex West, an asylum inmate who befriends Norman and later inherits the motel and the house where mother lived (Anthony Perkins wanted nothing to do with that one). It also inspired a shot-for-shot remake by Gus Van Sant which seemed almost every bit as odd as Norman himself. The only purpose of it seemed to be proof of how remakes will never be able to recapture what made the original so good. But if they make money, the studios will clearly not mind the critical bashing even if it proves to be justified.
Television would later take another shot at the “Psycho” franchise with another version of “Bates Motel,” and this one starred Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates and Vera Farmiga as his mother. This version ended up lasting five seasons and proved to be very compelling as our fascination with the dark side of human nature is always stronger than we ever bother to realize. While some may have said enough already with “Psycho,” this show proved there was more life to it than we cared to initially realized.
Even today, you cannot hear screeching violins and not think of “Psycho.” Filmmakers reference it today like Wes Craven did in “Scream,” and there are dozens of movies out there which have done the same. That shower scene has been spoofed lord only knows how many times, my favorite being on “The Simpsons” where Maggie ended up attacking Homer with a mallet after watching one Itchy & Scratchy cartoon. Another great one came about during one of Billy Crystal’s Oscar montages where he was in the shower and ends up getting accosted by Kevin Spacey who plays his “American Beauty” character of Lester Burnham. Turns out it was not the same shower Marion got stabbed in, but instead the one where Lester often experienced the highlight of his day.
Leigh never looked at taking showers the same way again, and it would be ages before she ever took one. Perkins would forever be typecast in roles similar to Norman Bates, but he said he would still have done “Psycho” even if he knew this would be the case. Many filmmakers (Brian DePalma especially) have tried to use the tricks Hitchcock employed in this and his other films to varying degrees of success. Still, there is no topping what Hitchcock did with this classic 1960 movie, and it remains the one so many other suspense and horror movies are judged by. Hitchcock’s powers of manipulation remain very hard to duplicate after all these years, and this illustrates what he meant when he was quoted as saying, “I enjoy playing the audience like a piano.”
Looking back at time as a student at Monte Vista High School in Danville, California, it felt more like a prison sentence than anything else. Nevertheless, many years have passed (to count how many is terrifying) since I went there, and I somehow find myself becoming nostalgic for certain things about it. Considering how I could not wait to graduate from there, this is almost surprising until I am reminded of one of my favorite teachers from this institution which was once considered one of California’s Most Distinguished Schools: Chester Farrow.
Chester, or Chet as his students liked to call him, taught many classes at Monte Vista High School including TV Productions and electronics for 32 years until he retired in 1999. In addition to teaching, he was also the scoreboard operator for the Oakland Athletics (a.k.a. the Oakland A’s) for even longer. On top of that, he was a well-known concert promoter who succeeded in bringing such music acts like Journey, Greg Kihn and Huey Lewis and the News to the Al Gentile Theatre on the Monte Vista campus. With the money he made from those concerts, he and his students built a production studio which came to be known as Rainbow Studios, and it became a place of refuge for many students including myself. Looking at this, you have to wonder how Chet found the time to do all of this. While most teachers need a second job to get by financially, much of what he did was out of a love for music, baseball and hanging out with teenagers who were desperately trying to find their way in a harsh adolescent landscape.
Chester Farrow died Sunday morning, May 24, 2020 at the age of 77 after a long battle with cancer. This was not a big surprise as many of us knew of his terminal diagnosis for some time, and he was determined to spend his final days at his home in Walnut Creek. His longtime girlfriend, Wendi Leyba, organized a fundraiser on GoFundMe.com to help pay for his part time health care which was said to be very expensive and not covered by his insurance. The fundraising goal was $10,000, but more than two months later, the total reached $31,150. If this does not describe the strong loyalty Chet’s students had for him, what will?
Like I said, the news of Chet’s death was not very surprising, but the void his passing has left is what really hit me hard. Chet was a titan in the Easy Bay of Northern California, and his influence on the lives and careers of many of his students is utterly profound to say the least. Those who knew him best have made it clear he will never be replaced, and I imagine Monte Vista is still on the lookout for a teacher like him ever since he retired back in 1999.
I was a student of Chet’s TV Productions class during my junior and senior year, and I became eager to enroll in this class after watching the cable access show “Just for You” which he produced at Rainbow Studios. Chet had produced this show for many years and, having just discovered a deep love for acting and performing, I was eager to become a part of it.
During my first year in Chet’s class, I found him to be a very intimidating presence, and I know I was not the only one. When we filmed an episode of “Just For You,” we initially did it live, and he demanded a level of professionalism we had no reason not to give him. Granted, this resulted in many stressful moments for him and his students as not everything came together in a perfect way. If he had problems with something you had written for the show, he would tell you straight out. There was always a no bullshit attitude about him, and he never hesitated to tell you what you needed to hear. Sometimes it hurt to hear his thoughts on your work, but the kind of honesty he gave us was hard to find elsewhere.
The second year, my view of Chet evolved as my classmates and I came to really respect his way of doing business. As time went on, he had a warm presence about him, and it became clear he liked talking to us instead of down to us like other teachers did. By this time, we were already working on Monte Vista’s annual video yearbook, and a couple of students neglected to film a lunch the freshman students were having at Oak Hill Park. To put it mildly, he was pissed.
“Okay people, there was a freshman lunch today which students in this class were assigned to film for the video yearbook, and they didn’t bother doing so. If this happens again, FUCK YOU, OUT OF THE CLASS! Now folks, I am not a happy pup…”
At the end of Chet’s rant, we all applauded him. Whereas these rants seemed frightening at times, we came to appreciate them because, hey, we were given a task to complete. If we didn’t get the job done, he had every right to get super fucking pissed at us. If you put in the hard work, it did eventually get recognized by him and he would point out your strengths to the rest of the class.
As I am sure you can tell by now, Chet did use a lot of profanity in the classroom. He never seemed to be ashamed of it, and he always felt free to express his opinions the way he wanted. Granted, this upset many parents who could not appreciate his unorthodox teaching methods or him going against the conservative grain most high school teachers were expected to work under. For the record, my dad was on the school board during this time, and he told me many of his colleagues wanted to see Chet get fired. My dad, however, liked Chet for the same reasons they did not as he felt every high school needed someone like him to shake things up, and I agree with my dad wholeheartedly on this.
Among other things, Chet taught us the power of promotion and of getting the word out about something you wanted to sell. This came about when he talked to us about putting the idea of the video yearbook into everyone’s head at Monte Vista. You always had to be talking about wherever you went:
“Hey, what are you doing out of class? Video yearbook. Say, do you know classroom the music department is at? Video yearbook. Hey, what are you doing smoking cigarettes by your car? Video yearbook…”
There was also the time when of his most prized students, Ian Williamson, was going through Chet’s old collection of tapes and discovered one in which he did a commercial about rock concerts which had, shall I say, a highly subliminal quality as a voice was droning in the background saying, “see you at the concert, see you at the concert, see you at the concert, see you at the concert…” Listening to it years later, were rolling on the floor with laughter, but I bet you it got a lot of people to attend those shows.
Granted, there were many times where he didn’t teach us but talked instead about things on his mind and of lessons we needed to learn sooner rather than later. After a time, it felt like we were in the presence of a wonderfully profane stand-up comedian who was polishing up his act with us. I will never forget when he took his kids to Disneyland, “the happiest place on Earth,” and the blank expression on his face perfectly illustrated the typical tourist who arrived there only to find things are more profit driven than magical. Then there was the time he was fixing a fellow teacher’s VCR, and once he figured out what was wrong with it, he quickly started doing the moonwalk while singing the chorus from the Beatles song “Come Together.” More often than not, he had us in hysterics, and you could usually count on him to put a smile on your face.
While Chet could be hard on his students, he loved hanging out with us and was always interested to hear about what we were up to. I came back to his classroom many times after I graduated, and he was always quick to tell me, “You are always welcome here Ben.”
Here are some testimonials from students of his:
Trevor Boelter: “Chet – I want to thank you for the philosophy of E.T.C — I think about that day working late in Rainbow Studios, cleaning the heads of the tape machines and having a private audience with you as you shared this piece of wisdom. I have always thought about this and have shared it with many people over the years. I wish I could embody this daily, but some days, I do and it always makes things better. If I have no EXPECTATIONS, due to not having CONTROL, my TEMPERAMENT will always be COOL. It was/is/always will be profound.”
Ian Williamson: “It’s important to me to say that Chester was an incredible person who over the years influenced so many people, including myself. He not only put me on the path my life has gone, but he was absolutely instrumental with the start of my career and the successes and happiness I’ve found along the way. I don’t think there has ever been anyone who believed in me as much as he did. To me he was an absolute giant among men, and more to my heart, he was like a father to me.”
Kenneth Hunter: “Hands down the best and most influential teacher I ever had the pleasure of knowing. What a great man he was! Love you long time Chester Farrow! You were not only a friend, a teacher, a mentor, but you were part of my family. Thank you for being such a great influence in my life.”
Laura Lamson: “I’ll always remember the Bammies! You were like a father figure to me. Even when I looked like I was down, you knew just what to say to brighten my day! I’ll always love you for that! I will miss you. You will always be in my heart!”
Michael Coats: “He and I had a 48-year relationship starting in 1974 at Monte Vista High School in Danville. Chester was the hippest, the best teacher many had. He will be missed. We love and thank you buddy, and may fair winds and following seas carry you on.”
Michele Goodrich General: “I loved him so much as a teacher. If it’s wasn’t for him, our lives would be so different.”
Laura Lamson also took the time to email the current principal of Monte Vista High School about Chet’s passing, and this was the principal’s response:
I am very sad to hear of Mr. Farrow’s passing. While he was at MV long before I arrived, I have heard quite a few stories about his time at Monte Vista. He was definitely an amazing teacher who truly cared about his students and his colleagues. . . and from reading your email, they loved him back. I have shared the news with our staff and will follow up with another announcement at tomorrow’s staff meeting.
Dr. Kevin Ahern
Monte Vista High School
Dr. Ahem also included the following quote in his email:
“What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” – Charles Bukowski
Chet, as much as I do not want to relive my high school years during which I was afflicted with psychological disorders which were not yet diagnosed, anxiety and depression, your classes made going to Monte Vista worth the trouble. The first day of school always had me on the verge of tears as I wondered if I could endure another year of adolescent bullshit, but then I arrived at Rainbow Studios and found myself with a smile on my face. I remember when I was a senior and you made your entrance for the TV Productions class. Everyone there was quick to applaud your entrance, and few other teachers at Monte Vista could ever elicit such a response.
I thank you for laughing when I said “yo” instead of “here” when you actually took the time to take attendance. I used to say this or some variation of it like “yes man” or “here dude,” and while other teachers were annoyed with my choice of words, you were quick to laugh before my fellow classmates did.
Thanks for encouraging me to bring props for my “Just A Thought” segments on “Just For You.” Thanks for your at times brutal honesty because you always told us what we needed to hear. More importantly, thanks for being there for us when we were down and for relating to our struggles. Thanks for giving us reasons to rise above our miserable lives and giving us compliments when we flat out deserved them. Thanks for giving us a solid path to travel down which came to define our lives in a very positive way.
Godspeed Chet. You will be missed.
Here are some articles about Chester Farrow worth checking out:
Chet took the time to upload many Rainbow Studio videos which include episodes of “Just for You,” several volumes of the Video Yearbook, concerts and rock and roll recitals. Click here to check these videos out.