What! and Give up Show Business?: A View from the Hollywood Trenches

What! and Give up Show Business?: A View from the Hollywood Trenches

by Peter Wooley



Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781564743664
Publisher: Daniel, John & Company, Publishers
Publication date: 09/01/2001
Pages: 144
Product dimensions: 5.57(w) x 8.52(h) x 0.34(d)

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Chapter One

Call Time

You only live once, but if you work it right, once is enough.
—Joe E. Lewis

THIRTY-FOUR THOUSAND FEET. First class, of course. If I'm going to die, I might as well have my ass in leather.

    I'm returning from yet another movie-making adventure. After thirty-seven years of doing whatever it is I do, I guess I should count myself lucky to still look on the whole process as an adventure.

    Consider this: I get a script, read it, say yes, get on an airplane, and travel to someplace I have never been before. I am met by someone I don't know, who takes me to a strange place to live. He introduces me to sixty to eighty strangers who have read the same script. We have a lot of meetings, and we discuss how much time and money we have to create a work of art, the motion picture. Hopefully, but not necessarily, we are all speaking the same language. After three to six months and some millions of dollars, we will finish. Whereupon I will say goodbye to sixty to eighty of my closest friends, climb on an airplane, and put my ass in leather. An adventure.

    I design movies and television movies. I also do the occasional pilot, and have even done some television series, but mostly I have settled into movies and movies of the week. I read a script, have long talks with the producer and director, scout locations, and decide what this movie is going to look like. Of course the writer's words guide me, but sometimes time and money, or even art, willdemand that some changes be made. If I had to write a job description of what it is I do it would say, "I am responsible for everything you see on the screen except the actors, God forbid." I prefer to think of my job as translating words into pictures. It sounds more poetic. I also see my job as being part-time psychiatrist, wet nurse, animal trainer, spiritual adviser, soothsayer, bullshit artist, Viking, shepherd, and hit man. Those sixty to eighty other people all have their specific jobs to do. Theirs are just as important as mine.

    And then there is the fear. There is the fear of failing, the fear of not knowing what you're doing, and the fear of being thought of as the fool. It takes a special kind of person to survive this business. Not better, God knows, just special.

    I was born in East Liverpool, Ohio, when the world was in black and white. I met and fell in love with a skinny blond with hair halfway down her back. We were in church kindergarten at the time, and even though I had not yet discovered testosterone I knew that someday I would and I wanted to be prepared. Some years later, that skinny little blond had the bad taste to marry me, and that was some forty-odd years ago.

    I studied architecture only to discover that it wasn't any fun. Somehow or other I had gotten it into my head that whatever I was going to do with my life, I should have fun doing it. We were living in Southern California at the time, and I was trying to support a wife and two children as an architect.

    I met Tracy Bousman, who, because of a writers' strike in the movie business, was staying alive working in the same architectural office as I was. He told me stories of working in the movie business, and it struck some sort of demented chord in the deep recesses of my psyche.

    One night, lying in bed staring at the ceiling, I announced to the skinny little blond with hair halfway down her back (hereinafter referred to as Linda) that I was not a happy camper. "What's the problem, you big stud?" she asked. She often speaks this way, I suspect, out of wishful thinking.

    "The movie business," I answered. "I want to get into the movie business."

    Five seconds passed, and she said, "Go for it." We were twenty-nine years old, with a new house in Orange County, two children, and my business doing pretty well, and this dummy says, "Go for it." That's like giving Lizzy Borden and ax and saying, "Have fun, dear."

    The next day I called Warner Brothers, because I liked their cartoons. Obviously I didn't know where to start, but luck was my copilot. I got the head of the art department on the phone and he gave me an interview. Seems my timing was pretty good; they needed draftsmen and, boy, was I a draftsman. I went to work at Warners for $3.50 an hour and never looked back. The world, at that time, was still in black and white, sometimes.

    Enough about me. Let me tell you more about Linda. I really fell in love with her when I was in the seventh grade and she was in the sixth. By that time, I had discovered testosterone. Her father was the proprietor of Lane's Grocery Store, across the street from McKinley School. She worked in the store in the evenings, and always gave me the biggest five-cent ice cream cones you ever saw. I guess she sort of liked me too. I hung out in front of the store in the evenings, and I spent my time looking in the window at her and setting off the fire alarm on the lamp post out front. We have been pretty much together since then. When I graduated a year before her, I went into the navy. When she graduated a year later, her father sold the store and used the money to stake her to a year at the Pasadena Playhouse. She then moved to New York to pursue a singing career. She got an agent and began singing in clubs on the east coast. Linda worked at the Copa in New York, the 500 Club in Atlantic City, the Bradford Roof in Boston, and the Downbeat in Montreal, among other places. In the meantime I did my time for Uncle Sam, then went back to East Liverpool and went to work for an architect.

    Linda got a gig at the now-defunct Dunes in Las Vegas, and we were miserable not being together. I showed up in Vegas as she was about to finish her two-week engagement. We boarded a plane for Los Angeles, got an apartment in Hollywood, and got married in a cemetery. We were married at Forest Lawn at the Church of the Recessional, a Celtic chapel that a few weeks before had played host to Clark Gable's funeral. We spent a year in Los Angeles. I was the assistant commandant at St. John's Military Academy, and Linda was a housewife and mommy of our firstborn, Stephanie.

    We moved back to Ohio, and I went to Kent State University and studied architecture. Linda went to work singing me through school. She worked some nice places and some toilets in and around Cleveland and Pittsburgh. We still laugh at how many times she was introduced the same way: "Ladies and gentlemen, the lovely and, indeed, the very talented Miss Linda Lane." She was also with the resident company of the Kenley Players, a summer stock theater group in Warren, Ohio. During all of this we made another baby, Christopher. When I left Kent State we went back to Los Angeles, and Linda went back to being a housewife. As my success in the movie business grew and the children became more maintenance free, Linda started to sing again. She began to work what we called the Smokehouse Circuit. She was working nights, and I was working days, and that wasn't working at all.

    Linda has always been an independent lady, and she always wanted to have what she called her "own money." Now, who can argue with that? She started her own company, which is involved in the consumer electronic business. It is much too complicated to explain except to say that now that I'm retiring, she is making a bloody fortune, and I am the luckiest son of a bitch in the world. Did I mention that she is drop-dead beautiful? She still sets off my fire alarm.

    Linda threw a surprise sixtieth birthday party for me at the Half Moon Saloon in Big Sky, Montana. My mother chose that momentous occasion to lay a piece of information on me that explained just how "special" I really am: I was, she announced, conceived in the rumble seat of a Model "A" Ford in the parking lot of a nightclub in Pennsylvania! I haven't been able to thank her enough for that information. That single fact alone, I feel, qualifies me as "special," which makes me more than eligible for a position in show business. Forget that crap about being born in a trunk in the Princess Theater in Pocatello, Idaho. I was in show business at my conception! Thanks, Ma, for making me special.

    Truth be told, despite all my wanderings, I'm happiest at home and hearth with hugs and kisses from wife, children, and, God bless everyone, grandchildren. If there is real and true magic in the world, grandchildren produce it. In the movies, magic is all smoke and mirrors. I know, because I make the smoke and hold the mirrors.

    Speaking of Big Sky, Montana, we have a place there. Not a ranch or even a log cabin, but a one-bedroom condo loft by the fifth tee box of an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course. In the winter a family of moose lives back there. We have been going up to Big Sky for about twenty years now for the best skiing in the world in the winter, and fishing, riding, golfing, and being silly in the summer, spring, and fall. The most refreshing thing I can think of to do between pictures is go up there and hang with the locals. Unlike the denizens of this velvet sewer known as Los Angeles, the good folks in Montana do not have any hidden agendas. They are who they appear to be when you first meet them and they don't "rightly have a good reason to change." When I go there I have no adjustments to make with my friends. It's very soothing to be in Big Sky, Montana, after dodging the emotional traffic of Hollywood.

    These, then, are the musings and ramblings of my career in Lotusland. I present them from another point of view than the usual Hollywood remembrances. I'm no star or major player, just a working guy who doesn't see this as the glamorous business of "show" that all those other rarified people have presented in their so-called memoirs. This is a view from the trenches. It is a view rarely written about because publishers don't see it as interesting or noteworthy. However, when I relate these stories to people, always they say, "You should write that down." Here goes.

Excerpted from What! And Give Up Show Business? by Peter Wooley. Copyright © 2001 by Peter Wooley. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Call Time17
Going Home To Do Going Home24
Way Down South in the Land of Sugar Cane28
Cleopatra Jones Meets Black Bart37
Boyhood Chums Attack the President43
My Romance47
Yankee Doodle Dandy on Sunday, Don King on Monday56
The Day After69
Annie, Dom, and Me72
Lanced in the Heart75
Did You See What He Just Put in His Mouth?83
Brian Fuckin' Keith96
If We're in Kansas, Someone Should Tell Bob Downey98
Man, I Feel Like John Wayne103
Tracy Bousman Died110
Life, Like Shit, Happens116
Creative Insanity125
Also Dead130
Places I Ate134
Okay, That's a Wrap142

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What! and Give up Show Business? 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was given to me by the author while I was visiting relatives in Los Angeles. I ended up having a 7 hour layover in Dallas airport due to weather (surprise) on my back to Oklahoma, so this book was a life saver. I read it from cover to cover, twice! Peter had me rolling in my very uncomfortable airport chair the entire time. A true riot! I'm sure those around me would have given just about anything to get themselves laughing as much as I was during this (what seemed like forever) wait. Way to go Peter, you saved my sanity! (what's left of it anyway)