Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mister Halloween

Happy Halloween all. Tallulah is out Trick-or-Treating, by which I mean she turned a trick she felt was quite a treat, and now she's out --- cold. So while she's napping, I'd like to tell you about the man who was Halloween Personified to me: Larry "Seymour" Vincent, who is 32 dead years dead, but forever alive in my heart.

I don't think I've mentioned that I've written and published a new book, The Q Guide to Classic Monster Movies. What? I have mentioned it? Okay. It's a Halloween-type book. I'd like to share with you the words found on the dedication page. They are:

Jerry Vance was born in Boston in 1924. Early in his career he adopted the name Larry Vincent, but when he died all too young at 50 in 1975, he was best known as Seymour, The Master of the Macabre, The Epitome of Evil, The Most Sinister Man to Crawl Across the Face of the Earth. And the Best TV Horror Host that ever was. He was also the first person to pay me to write jokes about horror movies, and he was my friend. I miss him still, and I dedicate this book to his memory.

A photograph of Larry and myself was supposed to appear on that page, but was cut without my permission, or indeed even any notification to me. I found out it was not in the book when the I received the first copy. This is one of several matters concerning the treatment my book received from it's publishers which have left me - let's say dissatisfied. Anyway, here's the picture that was supposed to be in the book.

A strange thing happened a couple days before the book came out. I was channel surfing one afternoon less than a week before publication day, and I came across an episode of Mission: Impossible from the third season, shot probably in 1968 or '69. This seemed like just the mindless white noise I wanted running. A few minutes into it, a door on the TV screen opened, and Larry Vincent stepped into the show and began playing a scene with Martin Landau.

I knew that Larry had appeared in an episode of Mission: Impossible, but not that I was watching that episode, so his appearance surprised me into happy tears. There was my long-dead friend, alive and acting with a future Oscar winner. And Landau's Oscar was for playing Bela Lugosi, an actor, and I use the term loosely, who is profiled in my new book, (Have I mentioned I have a new book out? Just checking.) dedicated to Larry. It was a wild series of accidental occurrences, but it felt to me like a ghostly visit from my friend, a Hello to acknowledge my posthumous gift. Incidentally, that episode, from season 3, comes out on DVD in December. I'll be buying it. So can you.

I'd like to share with you this Halloween an account of my friendship with this wonderful and funny man, which I wrote 7 years ago for the Local Legends webpage, about Los Angeles TV personalities of the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. Believe me, if there'd been no Seymour, there'd never have been Elvira.

Having been a big fan of Jeepers Creepers (A hosted horror movie TV show in Los Angeles from 1962 to 1965.), when I was ages 12 to 14, when a new horror host show, Fright Night With Seymour came on KHJ in 1970, I was excited to tune in, and quickly fell in love with Seymour's prickly sense of iconoclastic humor. I was in college at the time, and never guessed that before Seymour ran his course, I would become a part of it.

Seymour was so popular with us college kids, that we actually turned on the show and watched him, even at parties. I remember the night I turned 21, in May 1971, I performed as Puck in the closing night performance of our University production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, then went to the closing night party at the home of the girl playing Hermia in Hermosa beach, and very stoned, we all watched Seymour. We talked through most of whichever movie was running, and we ignored the commercials, but we all watched Seymour and laughed our heads off.

I first actually met Seymour that October, the night the opening day at Disney World TV special was broadcast. Seymour was hosting a special Halloween show at the Wiltern Theatre: a double feature of The Return Of Count Yorga & Night Of The Living Dead. Seymour did a monologue, including his infamous version of The Raven, then sat onstage with a microphone and made jokes all through the silly Count Yorga sequel. (Whatever possessed AIP to think that queeny Robert Quarry could be the next Vincent Price?) During intermission Seymour signed autographs in the lobby. Then he introduced the second feature, mentioning that jokes wouldn't be appropriate during George Romero's disturbing masterpiece, and left.

I stood in the fan line and got Seymour's autograph on my Seymour certificate and went home thoroughly entertained. Over the next couple years I attended several more Seymour appearances in movie theatres, and seeing some real dogs in the process. But the day came, in late 1973, when Seymour was announced to ride in the Westminster Founder's Day Parade, a parade which formed on the grounds of Westminster High School, from which I had graduated in 1968, just a half mile from my home.

I was working then writing radio comedy for "Sweet Dick" Whittington at KGIL (To this day, still a close friend), and decided to take a shot at getting a writing spot with Seymour. I was convinced I could write the character. I'd seldom missed the show, and felt I knew the character intimately by this time.

I found Seymour waiting around, just outside a classroom in which, a few years earlier, I had studied Moby Dick & Lord Of The Flies. I introduced myself to Larry Vincent, told him I was writing for Sweet Dick, and asked if he was looking for writers for his TV show. Luck was in. He was. He told me to call his office on Monday and set-up an appointment to come in and show him some sample material. He also introduced me to Lynda Vincent, his much-younger wife, who wrote most of the shows with him, and Gary Blair, the show's executive producer, who was also the voice of Herkamer Eugenski, the nasal voiced, whiny announcer for Seymour Presents on KTLA.

I made that call, come Monday, and Larry, who was as nice on the phone, as Seymour was prickly on the air, invited me to come down to the studio a few days later, on the day they would be shooting that week's show. I could show him my samples and watch a Seymour show shot. I was in Heaven.

The evening before my appointment, I sat down and made a stack of what I felt were my strongest radio sketches. Then I put paper in the typewriter, and wrote a sample Seymour sketch.

At that time, one of the most popular shows on the air on KTLA was Help Thy Neighbor. Neighbor was a morbid feel-good tearfest, on which down-on-their-luck sad sacks would come on, unload their sob story to the host, Larry Van Nuys, and then Larry would take phone calls. Viewers (The show was on live, 5 nights a week) would call in with one form of assistance or another to help the poor schmuck humiliating himself. It was creepy and smarmy, only slightly less horrifying then Queen For A Day. (At least everybody who came on got helped. They didn't kick 3 needy cases out empty-handed each day like Queen did.)

I felt that Help Thy Neighbor was ripe for the Seymour treatment. I wrote a sketch called Shaft Thy Neighbor, in which Seymour read a letter from a pathetic wretch who had been buried under the biggest pile of hard luck since Job, and then took calls from people who "Helped" him, by making matters worse. ("You will no longer have to work day and night at two jobs to support your wife and 14 shoeless children, because your bosses both phoned and fired you, your wife has left you for another man, and your children have all run away.")

When I got to the KTLA lot at Sunset & Van Ness (Just across the street from an apartment building, now demolished, in which I was to live in 1986-8. It's the apartment building in Pulp Fiction.) Larry brought me in to to see The Slimy Wall in the sound stage. To my delight, the Help Thy Neighbor set sat right next to the Slimy Wall, at right angles to it. My sketch could be shot on the actual set, just by rotating the cameras 90 degrees!

As we entered the studio, we ran into Larry Van Nuys coming out. As it happened, I knew Larry Van Nuys. Prior to his achieving 15 minutes of stardom with Help Thy Neighbor, he had been the next disc jockey on after Whittington each morning at KGIL. (Since leaving, he'd been replaced by Wink Martindale) Larry Van Nuys, seeing me, hollered, "Douglas! How the hell are you?", and grabbed me in a big bear hug and gave me a loud, sloppy kiss on the cheek, all right in front of Larry Vincent. I explained that I was there to try and land a job writing for Seymour, and Larry Van Nuys, on the spot, began to regale Larry Vincent with extravagant praise of my comic genius. This, I felt, didn't hurt at all

Larry Vincent explained that he had been actively trying out writers for sometime, to find someone to take the burden of turning out the scripts every week off his and Lynda's shoulders. In fact, the show I was going to see shot was written by a female guest writer, to whom I was introduced. I instantly envied and hated her.

Back in his office, I gave Larry my sample pile, with the Seymour sketch carefully buried at the bottom. I sat there as Larry read the pages. He started looking stern and detached, but quickly was laughing out loud, and mentioning how funny he found some of the words used. (I remember him saying he thought "Dreck" a particularly funny word, when it popped up in one of my sketches.)

Then he came to Shaft Thy Neighbor. "What's this?" he asked. I explained that it was a sample Seymour sketch I'd written the night before, to show how well I could write for him. He put his serious, detached face back on, but it didn't stay long. By the time he finished reading the sketch, not only had I been commissioned to write an entire script, but Larry bought the Shaft sketch on the spot.

The movie I was assigned to write a show around was The Leech Woman. Unfortunately, it was not possible for some reason, for me to see the movie before writing the script. (The evening my show was broadcast remains, to this day, my only viewing of The Leech Woman, a film of seminal importance to my career.) I looked the movie up in several guides, and read as much about it as I could, and went from there.

Since I couldn't write about the film's specifics, I wrote instead a series of parodies of other famous films & TV shows. My opening sketch was a take-off on You Bet Your Life. When Seymour said "Fringies", that turned out to be the secret word, and a rubber chicken came flying down from the eaves. Another sketch employed a huge photo of Banjo Billy I had seen on Larry's office wall, which, in my script, became Dorian Gray's portrait of Seymour. ("Many of you have commented on how I appear to be eternally youthful, how my classically chiseled features never show the wear of time.") Of course, when Seymour revealed the picture, he was livid. ("That can't be me! I want my money back! Eternal youth isn't worth that! Get me Dorian Gray on the telephone immediately!")

I had Seymour try to crash That Party Down The Block disguised as a mousekateer, wearing my own, personal mouse ears, and a furry shirt that had been part of a theatrical costume of mine. (Lynda Vincent provided the offscreen voice of Annette). Shaft Thy Neighbor was used, and, in my favorite sketch, a parody of Curt Siodmak's beloved Sci-fi nonsense Donovan's Brain, I had Seymour remove Eugenski's brain and put it in a fish tank. The disembodied brain instantly took control of Seymour, forcing him to tap dance and sing Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey. In the final scene, Eugenski's brain had been put in Seymour's body, so Seymour now spoke with his squeaky voice, while Seymour's brain squawked impotently from the tank. In short, since this might be my only Seymour script, I fired all my comedy guns.

I delivered the finished script to Larry at the Equicon science fiction film convention, that November. My relationship with Larry had already altered. It was no longer fan and celebrity. Larry let me hang with him throughout the convention, and we discovered that I had the ability to break Larry up as easily as he broke me up. We were to go on breaking each other up, for the rest of his life.

Unfortunately, when the time came to shoot the script, Larry had bad news. KTLA had cancelled him. My script was to be his next-to-last show. Larry told me he was very happy with what I had written. He said they had auditioned dozens of other writers and every single one of them had had to be completely rewritten by Lynda and him to fit the character's speech patterns and stay in character, which meant they saved them no work at all. Mine was the only script anyone else had ever written for them that could be shot exactly as written, with no rewriting. The job would have been mine, except, there was now no job.

One change had been made. KTLA Standards & Practices decided that Shaft Thy Neighbor was dirty. (It was 1973. Dinosaurs still walked the earth) The sketch was changed to Shelf Thy Neighbor, which sounds similar, but which, you'll notice, makes no sense.

On KTLA we had a set time slot. The show had to end on time. As we shot the show, it soon became clear that my script was too long. Midway through shooting, the film editor went back to his lab and hacked a few more minutes out of The Leech Woman, to give us some more air time. (So disrespectful. Fortunately, the movie is crap) Even with the movie butchered to bits, there wasn't time for my brain switch ending. Seymour's brain would remain in his skull. Too bad.

My friend, the late David Tarling, came to the taping with me and took these pictures, now so precious to me. The one picture from that day that I no longer have, was a shot of Larry, Lynda, Garry and myself, lined up in front of the Slimy Wall. Months later, when I began working with Larry at his home on a projected record album, I was proud to see that picture of us framed on Larry's living room wall, where it remained until his death.

So, that was it, I thought. The day of the broadcast, in January 1974, I had friends over and we and my family all watched my first, and for all we knew last, show air. At one point, after an unseen, imaginary audience boos a particularly lame joke, Seymour said, "I didn't write that joke. I got it from Eugenski, and he got it from his writer, whom I've already fired." My mother broke up and, always willing to ally herself with anyone criticizing me, said, "He really let you have it for that one." I believe she was disappointed when I showed her that every word of that bit, including the booing sound effects, were in the script and were written by me. Mother was so hoping it was Larry departing from the script to humiliate me on TV.

Shortly thereafter, I was promoted to producer of The Sweet Dick Whittington Show at KGIL, which was now full-time employment, writing bits, booking the interview guests and setting up all the details of Dick's notorious live stunts. I became happily busy.

At the beginning of March Larry Vincent called me. KHJ had picked the show up. Back under it's original title Fright Night With Seymour, it was going back on the air in April, and Larry was putting me on staff to write half the shows. Best of all, our time slot was open-ended. It didn't matter how long we ran, so I could write as long a show as I wanted and we would do it all, without butchering the movies. You've heard of a dream come true? Well, this was one.

We shot every other Thursday afternoon, doing two shows in a session. Every other taping session I would be the author of the shows. The two shows in between would be by Larry & Lynda.

I would come in to the studio and sit in a screening room so tiny it made the Marx Brothers stateroom look like a stateroom, and a projectionist would run 16mm prints of my two movies. In this pre-home video Stone Age this was the only chance I had to see the films, though a couple, like The Incredible Shrinking Man, which was the best film we ran, I already knew fairly well. I took extensive notes of everything that happened in the movie. I wrote the scripts at my leisure, usually in my office at KGIL, turned them in, came in the day before taping and met with the projectionist/editor, with whom I would extract the film clips we would be using in the show. Since we literally snipped the clips out of the movie, and spliced them back in when we had shot the show, we were damaging the prints every time we used a clip. Naughty.

I came to all the tapings, whether it was my shows or not, for two reasons. 1. I often came up with tweakings for lines or bits on the set, and 2. Being with Larry was such a joy I wanted to be around all I could.

Larry was a great guy, and we became close friends quickly. Lynda & Garry were also terrific people, and we were a happy unit indeed. Larry had a temper. If somebody screwed something up, he would let them have it with both barrels, but he never simply got angry, and he never got angry without cause. In all the time I knew him, he never once raised his voice to me.

In May, Larry rode in the Strawberry Festival Parade in Garden Grove, not far from my folk's home in Westminster. I rode in the parade with Larry & Lynda, then we went to my parent's home for a huge home cooked meal. My 16 year old brother Duncan had, of course, told every kid for miles around that Seymour was coming to our house, so there was a small crowd of kids to greet us when we arrived. (Enroute, we had stopped at a K-Mart to pick something up, and Larry had been recognized, and started a small mob scene.) Larry & I got going at that meal, sharing increasingly ribald humor, while Lynda & my mother sort of smiled indulgently. (I remember one thing that broke us up being the idea of Larry playing Banjo Billy wearing, instead of Groucho glasses and fake nose, a dildo-nose & glasses. Well, it is a funny image, though Mother wasn't amused.)

We attended a Sci-fi/comics convention in San Diego together, during which, they ran Larry's ghastly movie The Witchmaker. Larry and I sat and made jokes aloud throughout the film to the delight of the audience.
(In an excessively weird co-incidence, at that time, I was working for Larry Vincent, who had appeared in The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant, and Sweet Dick Whittington, who appeared in The Thing With Two heads. Stranger still, now those two two-headed movies are available on the same DVD. It's like my 1974 life on one disc, with my one boss on side 1, and my other boss on side 2. Spooky.)

Killing two jobs with one stone, I booked Larry on The Whittington Show on KGIL one morning as an interview guest and sat back and listened to the comedy gold as my two bosses sparked and riffed together, the only time they ever met. (Needless to say, they both tried to top each other with tales of what an utterly worthless excuse for an employee I was.)

One time on the set, a sketch required Larry to wear a Sherlock Holmes-type deerstalker cap. He was wearing my own personal one. (I kept writing my wardrobe into the show) Larry was in place on the set, waiting for the scene to be slated when I strolled up to him and whispered to him that he had the hat on backwards. Now, of course, the front and back of a deerstalker cap are identical. It isn't possible to put it on backwards, though you can wear it sideways, as Harpo does in Duck Soup. Larry knew this, of course. But he strode mock-angrily off the set, and staged a pretend tantrum ("Why doesn't anybody check these details?") about almost being allowed to do the sketch with the hat on wrong, while he took the hat off, turned it around, and re-groomed.

May 1st, 1974 Doodles Weaver was on the set. He had recently released a record album called Feetlebaum Returns, and was now going to produce a Seymour comedy album. Larry and I were to write it. That evening I dined with Doodles and Walker Edmiston, and Doodles regaled us with tales of drinking with Bogart. Doodles was a great guy to hang with, but murder to work with. We argued about material constantly. Basically, I would write a Seymour piece and Doodles would rewrite it into a Doodles piece, and then, since Larry would be doing it rather than Doodles, it got changed back to my original version.

I remember one afternoon, sitting with Larry in his living room in Santa Monica, working on the album script, when Larry and I noticed something odd. Visible through his sliding glass door, a wrench was floating up into the air. Larry had an open toolbox on the porch, and we found a kid leaning out of the window of an upstairs apartment, with a fishing rod with a magnet on the line, tool fishing.

Larry was appearing six nights a week at The Mayfair Music Hall in Santa Monica most of that year. As it was easier than bringing people to the studio, I often took friends to the Music Hall to meet Larry and see him perform live, seeing and meeting guest performers as varied as Ian Whitcomb and the late, great Anna Russell. Bernard Fox, who more recently appeared in both Titanic and the Brendon Fraser version of The Mummy, was the Master of ceremonies for these shows.

Once Larry tipped me off that Mel Brooks was shooting a sequence for his new film at the Music Hall in the afternoons that week. I put on my "I Belong Here" expression and showed up, which is how I came to be present in the room when Mel shot the Puttin' On the Ritz scene in Young Frankenstein, a scene this blog's friend Ken Levine has listed as among the top 5 funniest scenes in movie history. (And I am inclined to agree.)

Another day, Larry told me about going into a bar the evening before. Rod Serling sat down next to him and ordered a drink. Slowly the two men noticed each other. "Rod Serling?" Larry asked. "Seymour?" Rod asked back. Turned out Serling was a Seymour fan too. Larry was just tickled by it.

On August 8th, 1974, we had just finished taping my scripts for Vincent Price's Diary Of A Madman & Son Of Godzilla, when a news bulletin came over the studio monitors. I stood next to Larry Vincent in the studio at KHJ and watched Richard Nixon resign. Larry was very depressed by the event, fearing it boded ill for America. I was ecstatic to see the old bastard fleeing in disgrace.

During my time writing for Larry I came up with two new characters for him to play on the show, a biker hipster called "Mr. Cool" and "Ranger Bob", a forest ranger who dispensed insane forestry advice. I also created Seymour's Fairy Tales in which Seymour told horribly warped new versions of old children's favorites.

And then Larry was hospitalized. The show was cancelled. Larry gave me the task of writing the last two shows. The next to last show, for the film Octaman was never shot. Larry was simply too ill to do it, so a show was cobbled together out of old pieces on video at the last minute.

Larry came out of the hospital on a four-hour pass to shoot the last ever Seymour show. I appeared on that show as a guy sent from the city to tear down The Slimy Wall. We opened the studio doors and moved the set out into the parking lot for the last sketch, pretending that we'd been kicked out of the studio.

There was one more show to do. Seymour was signed to star in Seymour's Halloween Haunt at The John Wayne Theatre at Knott's Berry Farm, Halloween weekend. Since Larry was laid up in St. Joseph's Medical Center in Burbank, and Lynda was concerned with taking care of him, I was given the assignment to write the Knott's show. Gary Blair was going to be out of town that weekend, so I was also assigned to oversee the show for Seymour Productions that weekend. Moona Lisa & Chuck Jones the magician were also in the show, Knott's informed us, so I wrote them in, meeting with Jones, who was also supplying illusions for the show. Moona Lisa was tremendously easy to work with, happy just to be part of Larry's show, and willing to do what ever I wrote for her, and demanding nothing. Charming.

That Thursday, I picked Larry up at the hospital in Burbank and drove him to Knott's Berry Farm, installing him in a suite at a hotel adjoining the park, before scurrying over to the theatre to oversee the tech rehearsal while Larry relaxed. My job at the park that weekend was really just to see to it that Larry had as easy a time of it as possible. I didn't know Larry was dying, but he knew.

Before I could leave the hotel room to go to the rehearsal (Lynda was already at the rehearsal.), Larry stopped me. "Douglas, I have to tell you something. You've been a good friend to me, and I appreciate it. I love you, my friend." And he hugged me. I was embarrassed and kept mumbling that I knew it and he didn't need to say it, but Larry said, "No, I do need to say it." I didn't know it then, that he was taking care of business, making sure he'd said the things he wanted to say to his loved ones while he still could. Though I was about as uncomfortable as I could possibly have been at the time, afterwards, in the years that have followed, I have always been very deeply glad that Larry made a point of opening his heart to me, and letting me know I had earned a place in it.

Doing the show turned out to be the best medicine for Larry. He rallied that weekend, and rose to the occasion so well. He enjoyed himself tremendously. Between performances we would go out on an electric cart, toodling around the park, going on rides. As Seymour he would elaborately take cuts in line. "Look over there!" he'd yell, pointing away, and then we'd sprint up to the front and push on to the ride. "So long, suckers." He would call as we rolled into the ride, and everybody had a great time.

Closing night Larry had pizza delivered backstage for everybody working on the show, out of his own pocket. He entertained the friends of mine that came to the shows in his dressing room. He seemed to have time and energy for everybody. I remember sitting in that dressing room, listening to him talk about his experiences understudying Kirk Douglas on Broadway, and about the time, as a college student, that Boris Karloff had come and addressed them.

After the weekend was over, Larry felt well enough to return home, instead of going back to the hospital. He seemed full of optimism, and spoke of plans to use Seymour in other ways, after we finished the album, which was only partially recorded. When my paycheck came, it was considerably larger than what we had agreed on. Gary Blair told me that Larry had insisted that I be paid an increased fee, because I'd done such a good job for him, and everything had gone so well.

But Larry's rally lasted only about a month and he was back in the hospital. I came to see him as often as I could, until he was moved into intensive care and only family could come. It was Gary Blair who finally told me Larry was dying. It seemed hard to believe. He was only 50. These days I am 57, and I'm way too young to die. For Heaven's sake, Tallulah is 110, and seems set on outliving all of us.

Finally the terrible day came. I was living in Redondo Beach, next door to my aforementioned friend David Tarling (Who also took the Knott's Berry Farm pictures above, of Larry's last-ever show.) and his wife Mary. (David would better Larry, or perhaps worse him, by dying at age 38.) When I got up one day, there was a note tacked to my front door that Mary had left before going to work. It just said three little words: "Larry is dead." The pain of that loss is still sharp today.

It just isn't right. Larry should still be here, crotchety and funny at 82. We should have had a lot more laughs together. I can't imagine what other paths my life and my career would have taken had Larry Vincent not died so young, but I know I miss my friend still. He leers down at me from pictures on my wall, and, thanks to his loyal, devoted fans who loved him too, I have audio tapes to hear him again, though I know of no existing video tape of "Seymour", but I never give up hope video will turn up. Meanwhile, I have my DVD of The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant, and will get the Mission: Impossible DVD when it hits Amazon in two months, and he's in The Apple Dumpling Gang also.

(In Seymour's last TV show, shot shortly after The Apple Dumpling Gang, I had Seymour relate how a terrible tragedy occurred at Disney Studios while they were shooting the movie. Then we ran a clip from our movie that week, The Hideous Sun Demon, showing the monster catching a rat and squeezing it to death, while Seymour said, "A new security guard didn't recognize Mickey Mouse without his little pants and gloves.")

In 1976, in a conversation that will forever be one the supreme highlights of my life, Groucho Marx, or, as I think of him, God, told me he had seen some of my Seymour shows and that he thought I was a funny writer. Groucho was a Seymour fan!

In 1978 my first full-length stage play, an adaptation of Dracula, opened. The dedication in the program read: "This play is dedicated by it's author to the memory of Larry Vincent, better known to his fans as 'Seymour'. A great friend to horror, terror and things that go bump in the night, and a great friend to me."

"And now, the time has come for me to make that dread sojourn into the world that lies out there, beyond the slimiest of walls. Until next time, this is Seymour, wishing you and yours a Bad Evening!" I'll be waiting, my friend. Meanwhile, BOO!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Halloween Memory

Hello darlings. I thought that for a Halloween treat, I'd share with you the story of my greatest romance, taken from the pages of my beliked autobiography, My Lush Life, so you can share the story that has moved the hearts of upwards of 40 people worldwide.

Cheers darlings.

Chapter 13.

Countess Tallulah

Transylvania in the late twenties; has there ever been a more romantic setting? The forests, the mountains, the schlosses outlined against the sky in the moonlight, the bats, the wolves, the screams of the peasants, the streams of blood, the constant moaning in the background day and night, romance seems to waft through the air. And it was there, high in the idyllic Carpathians that I had the wildest romance of my very long life.

Lovely as London is, it held too many memories from two marriages back, so I gave it a miss this time out. For obvious reasons I also decided to skip Berlin, and indeed, Germany altogether. We sailed to France, where I was known as Le Sousé. We landed at Le Havre, then river cruised to Paris, lovely city, the wine so fine, the people so rude. Then we went by train to Cannes, then Nice, which was, then, by ship again, to Rome, where I was known as La Lushio. Oh, those Italian men were so forward. Poor Terrence’s tush was black and blue. Finally, we motored deep into Romania, where my fame had never been penetrated, so I could finally be incognito, arriving at last in the small, unspoiled Transylvanian village of Klotsburg, taking rooms at the local inn: The Nosferatu.

The Nosferatu was a simple, picturesque place, nestled against the towering Carpathians. Just outside, standing atop the mountain peak was the awesome sight of Schloss Tepes, a crumbling mediaeval castle so positioned that from late afternoon to sunset The Nosferatu was literally in it’s shadow. I point this fact out to the reader so you will understand my puzzlement when I tell you that no one at the Inn would acknowledge the existence of Schloss Tepes. I would ask "What’s the name of that castle, darling?"

"What castle?" the ones who spoke English would reply.

"The really big, crumbly one, just outside."

"There is no castle."

"That one, right there, dominating the landscape."


"The one you can plainly see through the window."

"I don’t see any castle."

"Look, let me move this garlic out of the way and you’ll clearly see it."


"All right, darling, but look. See the castle? You can’t really see anything else. Good God, look at the size of it!"

"I don’t see any castle."

And so it went. No one would admit to it’s existence, even though it commanded the view. These people had less truck with reality than Pete Moss. But the people were friendly, religious folk. Every last one of them was wearing an enormous crucifix. One terribly sweet ancient crone came up to us the first afternoon, trying to press crucifixes on us. "No, no," I told her, "I don’t want to buy any native crafts. But here, have one of my personally autographed pictures."

"No, no," the adorable, withered dowager replied, "Not for sale. A gift. For the lovely lady, the big man, and you."

A perceptive woman, she’d apparently seen right through Major Babs drag, something Terrence had yet to do. I found her description of Terrence as a "Big Man" odd though. He was actually very diminutive in height (Shorter than Major Babs) and slight, almost delicate of build. In fact, he always wore shoulder pads in all his blouses to give himself more heft. I still demurred from accepting the precious hags offerings, "You must understand, I’m a Christian Scientist, except for all the doctrines. We don’t wear those things."

"Please, glamorous lady," the insistent, cherished biddy continued, "Wear this for your mother’s sake. It will protect you."

That was, of course, absolutely the wrong thing to say to get me to do anything. I turned to Terrence and said: "Give the hag an autographed picture for her trinkets and get rid of her."

The one thing that seemed to be missing from the idyllic existence in Klotsburg was any kind of nightlife. Everybody just seemed to want to hide away in their bedrooms the moment the Sun set. It was only the gentle persuasiveness of Major Babs that induced the landlord to keep the bar room open after dusk so I could sample the charming local liqueurs. I was happily sampling a variety of interesting drinks when the main door suddenly banged open, though I had been positive that the landlord had bolted, barred and barricaded it the instant the Sun sank. Everyone in the room seemed to shrink back, and grab hold of their crucifixes.

Then into the room strode the most magnetic man I’d ever seen. He was tall, clean shaven except for a long white mustache, and clad from head to foot, without a single speck of color about him anywhere. His face was a strong-very strong-aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils; with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples, but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy mustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth; these protruded over the lips, whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years. For the rest, his ears were pale and at the tops extremely pointed; the chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks firm though thin. The general effect was one of extraordinary pallor. His most striking feature was a pair of very bright eyes, which seemed to gleam red in the lamplight.

His eyes swept the room as the occupants shrank back from him. "Where is the American woman?" he asked in a commanding tone, with a rich, deep voice, colored by a tremendously sexy accent, "Ah, here you are, my dear."

When those bright red eyes fell on me, I felt a shiver run through my whole body. Drowning in those eyes, I felt an overwhelming desire to surrender to him completely. The man stretched out his hand towards me. Major Babs, who can sometimes be a little overzealous, stepped forward and grabbed the man’s arm saying, "Hold it right there, fella."

The man seemed merely to flick his wrist, but Major Babs went flying across the room, to land in an unconscious heap on the floor. The man took my hand and kissed it. A ripple of intense excitement flooded me. I noticed, oddly, that he had hairy palms, not unlike my stepfather, Maxie. He said: "Allow me to introduce myself, dear lady. I am Count Vlad Tepes, the traditional feudal lord of these peasants. I live in lovely Schloss Tepes, which you must have been admiring through the windows all day. Welcome to my homeland. Enter freely, and of your own will."

"Why thank you, Count darling," I replied, "You are most incredibly gracious. My name is Miss Tallulah Morehead."

"Not the Miss Tallulah Morehead, the great American motion picture diva?" he responded.

"Yes darling," I answered, "I had no idea anyone had ever heard of me in this remote corner of the world."

"Oh yes. It’s true," The Count went on, "That there is no cinema in Klotsburg. But I have been known to visit the cosmopolitan metropolis of London periodically, in search of fresh blood, and I have seen several of your most remarkable films."

"Well Count, allow me to introduce my companions. The gentleman you tossed across the room is my bodyguard, Illinois Smith. And this is Terrence, my personal assistant."

"A great lady of your international stature should not be staying in this hovel."

"Oh, I find this place quite charming and unspoiled. And besides, I’m traveling incognito."

"How wise of you. But please, you must allow me to extend the hospitality of Schloss Tepes."

"Oh no, I couldn’t," I lied, "I’m perfectly comfortable here."

"But I insist," the Count went on, "You would be doing me the highest honor."

"Well, since you insist, Count darling. Terrence, pack our bags. We are decamping for Schloss Tepes!"

"I am delighted, my dear," The Count replied, "I will return at once to my castle to prepare your rooms. My coach will call for you here in an hour." And with that the Count was gone in a swirl of black cape. I looked out the window but all I could see was the black hulk of Schloss Tepes looming in the moonlight, and a lone bat flapping its way towards that lofty peak.

As I watched Terrence pack there came a knock at my door. It was the Landlord. "Frau Morehead, bitte," He begged, "Do not go to the Schloss."

"Oh, so now you admit it’s existence."

"Yes, yes, but you must not go there!"

"Don’t be concerned, my good man. I’ll pay for the whole night. Really, this is not the way to compete."

"You don’t understand," the man went on, apparently desperate to keep my business. After all, how many glamorous movie Stars do you suppose he saw each year? "The Count, he is not a man."

"He looked like quite a well-set-up man to me, and I know a thing or two about men."

"But the Count, he is a Monster!"

"Is he really? Do you, by any chance mean he is a man of monstrous proportions? You whet my interest."

"No, I mean a real monster! A bloodthirsty berserker! Do you know what ‘Tepes’ means?"

"A big tipper?"

"No, it means ‘The Impaler’!"

"Vlad the Impaler, you say? You whet my interest even more. I used to know a man named Sherman Oakley, and you could have called him ‘The Impaler’ as well. Count Tepes sounds fascinating!"

"If you go there you will die!"

"Nonsense! You have no way of knowing it, but I’m a screen immortal!"

"I mean it! The Count, he will drain your blood!"

"I insist you stop maligning the Count this way. I don’t think he’d be pleased to hear the way you speak of him."

The landlord’s eyes bulged with terror, an effect I’ve always enjoyed having on unattractive men. "Please, please Frau Morehead, you will not tell him what I said? Please, I have a wife! I have a daughter! Please say nothing to the Count of what I have told you."

"All right, darling. Now be a lamb, and help Terrence take these trunks downstairs."

True to his word, the Count’s coach, what they called a calèche, drawn by four coal-black horses, arrived spot-on an hour after the Count’s departure. The Count’s driver and personal assistant, a runty gentleman named Renfield, loaded my trunks, and then Terrence and I traveled in the calèche while Major Babs followed us driving the rented touring car.

As Schloss Tepes loomed ever closer I looked at it with wonder. It was obviously very old, and not really in the best of repair. It was extremely massive but it’s battlements were broken and everywhere the stone work was crumbling. Not a single ray of light shone from any window. There was something about it, a haunted quality, that reminded me of dear old Morehead Heights, now so far away. I could almost picture the Headless Indian Brave wandering these corridors and feeling perfectly at home.

If I found Schloss Tepes homelike, Terrence had a very different reaction. The closer we got to it, the more Terrence shrank down in his seat, eventually starting to quietly whimper.

"Oh Miss Tallulah," Terrence finally begged, "Can’t we please go back to the inn? You heard what the landlord said. He knows the man. He must know what he’s talking about. I’m terrified! Look at this place. It’s so…so tacky!" Terrence, I’m afraid, was a style snob.

"Terrence," I commanded, "Butch up. And don’t embarrass me in front of the Count. Don’t you think he’s a fine figure of a man?"

"I think he’s scary."

"So do I! Scary in a sexy way."

"No, scary in a terrifying way. He makes my blood run cold." This was unusual. Normally Terrence and I had very similar tastes in men. (i.e. Anything human with a penis.) But there was no time to compare notes further as we had rolled into the Schloss’s roomy courtyard, with Major Babs and the car just behind.

The massive front door opened and the Count was standing there with a lamp, beckoning us in: "Welcome to my home. Come freely. Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring."

"Thank you, darling." I said, laying a big kiss on our host, "Isn’t this just too charming and old world for words?" Indeed it was. The great entrance hall we were in didn’t look to have been dusted or swept in centuries. There was a spider’s web across the great staircase that must have been ten feet in diameter. Major Babs was looking about scowling while Terrence was trying to move about with his eyes closed.

"Sweet Heavens darling, I’d fire the maid if I were you. She’s not pulling her weight. That spider’s web is titanic!"

"The little spider spinning his web," replied the Count, although that spider looked to be a foot across to me, "To catch the unwary fly. The blood is the life, Miss Morehead."

"That’s as may be, but a little housekeeping goes a long way."

"I have no maid, I’m afraid. Just my ‘Personal Assistant’ Renfield and myself, two single men living alone."

"Oh really?" asked Terrence, perking up for the first time. Opening his eyes made him reel. He put out his hand to steady himself, then saw what he was touching and screeched.

"Ah, two bachelors sharing a home," I said, ignoring Terrence’s outburst as usual, "They’re always a little messy, although this place has world-class rot going on. What you need here is a woman’s touch. I’ll have Terrence whip this place into shape in no time."

The resounding noise of wolves howling suddenly filled our ears, followed at once by Terrence’s scream, before he fainted dead away into Major Babs’ arms. The Count said: "Listen to them, children of the night. What music they make."

"Frankly darling," I said: "I prefer a little Gershwin myself. So where are our rooms?"

The Count conducted us, Major Babs carrying Terrence, into a suite of rooms that were bright, clean and cozy. A blazing fire was burning in each room’s fireplace. And in one a feast had been laid out, including a collection of delicious-looking bottles of wine. The Count, perfect host that he was, immediately poured me a goblet of wine. "This is very old wine." He said.

"Aren’t you having any, Count darling?" I asked, noticing that he’d only filled one goblet. As a social drinker I never drink alone unless there’s no other social drinkers around.

"I never drink wine." The Count answered. Good God, a teetotaler! An abstainer! A freak! Maybe he was a monster! But no, a man who didn’t drink, however odd that was, but who served his guests such excellent wine as I was having was obviously highly cultured and civilized. I was already half in love with him. As I heard him say: "I have a whole cellar full of hundreds of bottles of this wine." I fell all the way.

So began our strange, nocturnal existence at Schloss Tepes. The Count was busy days but visited with us every evening. His native customs forbade him from eating with us, but Renfield prepared us delicious food, and there was a steady supply of the great wine.

After a rocky start, Terrence took quite a shine to Renfield. I didn’t see what he saw in the man. Renfield wasn’t too fastidious about his appearance or grooming, his posture was terrible, and then there was his diet. After Terrence told us what he ate, we were glad that he didn’t eat with us either.

The Count was a perfect gentleman. This made me a little suspicious at first, remembering how F. Emmett Knight had been a perfect gentleman from the day we met until the day he’d called me "The Whore Of Babylon" in divorce court. (What slander! I’ve never been anywhere near Babylon!) As far as I’m concerned the term "Perfect Gentleman" is a euphemism for "Boring Date". Between the way the Count never molested me and his roommate situation, I had my suspicions. Certainly Renfield was the merest whisper if ever there was one.

But it soon became apparent that the relationship between the Count and Renfield was strictly that of master and servant, however much more Renfield might have liked. And the Count’s romantic pursuit of me seemed genuine as well. Believe it or not, he just respected me too much to sleep with me before marriage! Go figure.

"The local peasant women," he told me one day after we’d been there several weeks, "They are like my cattle. But you are fit to be my Countess. Will marry me, Miss Tallulah?"

Well, who could resist? The fact was, I’d been head over heels in love with Vlad for some time, and couldn’t wait to be heels over head. I accepted at once and was delighted that he didn’t favor a long engagement either. We decided to be married the next night.

The following evening, in a stunning wedding gown I happened to have brought with me in my luggage, I became Countess Tallulah Morehead Knight Thalberg Tepes. The ceremony was performed by a crotchety old Romanian priest who appeared terrified. Major Babs was Vlad’s best man while Terrence was ring-bearer.

My first husband had been the merest whisper of a homosexual and hadn’t loved me. My second husband had been Louie B. Thalberg, and I can’t imagine what I’d been thinking. Now I was married for the third time to a dashing, romantic and mysterious Old World nobleman in what was a true love match. Alas, our flame burned too brightly, it could not last the night.

I can hardly bring myself to tell the sad, tragic tale of our wedding night. At the wedding feast Vlad, as was his custom, neither ate nor drank, but I more than made up for it, social drinking for two, if you will. I was celebrating at last finding the right man, and the wine and Champaign were flowing all evening. Renfield and Terrence were sobbing in each other’s arms all through both the ceremony and the feast.

Eventually Vlad and I retired to my boudoir to finally make love for the first time. With a name like "The Impaler", I expected Vlad to be a very different sort of lover than he turned out to be. Rather than impaling me, Vlad made love not unlike a lesbian. (I mean, of course, the way I imagine that lesbians make love. As the attentive reader knows, I have no first tongue knowledge of such things.) If I hadn’t seen the evidence with my own eyes, I might have thought he was another male imposter like "Illinois Smith".

But Oh My God, how that man could KISS! No man, before or since, has kissed me as deeply or as passionately. He didn’t simply nibble at my neck for a moment or so. He kissed my throat with a penetrating deepness for what seemed like hours, leaving me feeling both drained and filed with ecstasy. The hickeys he was leaving, which I could clearly see in the mirror above my bed, were not to be believed. (I could clearly see them because Vlad cast no reflection in the mirror to block my view of myself, yet another example of his modesty and consideration. Not being a narcissist he had no need to constantly view himself and simply refrained from casting a reflection.)

Finally, after what seemed like hours of ecstasy, Vlad rolled back off of me, seemingly satiated, his mouth smeared a bright red. "Vlad darling, is that blood on your mouth?" I asked, careful not to sound judgmental.

"You’re damn right it ish, Tallulah old girl." Vlad slurred back.

"Have you been drinking my blood, Vlad my love?" I asked, treading carefully, not wanting to offend him by belittling one of his native customs.

"You bet your shweet ash, Tallulah doll." Vlad garbled.

"How intensely kinky, my one true love."

"You ain’t seen nothin’ yet, Tallulah baby. Wash thish." Then Vlad spread his arms so he was lying spread-eagled, naked, on his back on the bed, "Eh? How about them applesh, lady?"

"You’re lovely, my wild one, but what are you doing?"

"I’m turning into a bat." Vlad said, and then broke into a fit of giggles.

"Vlad darling, you’re in such a good mood."

"You probably think I’m batty!" Vlad roared, while laughing his head off, "Wait, wait, wait. I really can turn into a bat. I can. I just have to remember how."

"Vlad, my dearest, if I hadn’t been with you all evening and didn’t know for a fact that you drank no wine or Champaign tonight, I would suspect that you are drunk."

"Thash ridiculoush! I haven’t drunk any alcohol in over four hundred yearsh! Five hundred if you don’t count the crap we drank when I was alive. What did we call that crap? Oh yeah? Mead! Have you ever drunk mead?"

"No, I haven’t had the pleasure."

"Pleashure! Ha! Stuff tastes like bullpissh."

"My dearest darling. You are looped."

"Nonsenshe! All I’ve drunk tonight has been your blood!"

"That’s as may be, but I know drunk when I see it, and you are sloshed."

"Don’t tell my daddy." Vlad senselessly replied, followed by another fit of the giggles. Almost immediately after the giggles he began crying: "You can’t tell my daddy. My daddy’s dead!"

"I’m sorry, Vlad darling."

"I don’t want your pity!" Vlad screamed at me, then started crying again, "I killed my daddy a long time ago. I had to. He…he killed my mommy!"

"There, you see, Vlad, there is a silver lining."

"I loved my mommy!"

"Oh. How novel. I hope it didn’t stunt your emotional growth."

"Shtunt my emotional growth? That’sh rich! Do you know how many people I tortured and murdered when I wash alive?"

"Aren’t you alive now?"

"Over a hundred thousand people! I was mean. I wash the the worsht bad ash in Transylvania! I kicked Turkish butt from here to Conshtantinople!"

"Well I’m sure they deserved it."

"You’re okay, Tallulah," Vlad said, turning weepy again, "You’re really okay. You desherve a lot better than an evil old monshter like me. I’m shorry I ruined your life, Tallulah."

"Vlad darling, you’re just a little inebriated. You’ll feel better after you’ve slept it off. Here, watch the dawn with me."

"The Dawn!" Vlad screamed, "Oh no! Your blood! Ish your God damn blood! I drank your blood and got drunk for the first time in four hundred years! Sho drunk I forgot to get back to my…NO TALLULAH, DON’T OPEN THE CURTAINS!"

I didn’t think it was anything but drunken paranoia. I pulled open the drapes and the morning Sun streamed into the room. What I didn’t know was that my new husband had a rare skin condition. He was fatally allergic to Sunlight! I heard him scream and turned back. At first I didn’t see him. Then I realized that the smoldering pile of ashes smoking on the floor was shaped like my late husband. As I watched a breeze swept in through the open window (The schloss was built before the invention of glass) and blew my husband’s ashes away. Less than twelve hours after the wedding, I was a widow!

(Although oddly, the vivid and enormous love bites, or hickeys as they call them now, that Vlad had inflicted on my neck in the heat of his burning passion, had disappeared within moments of his death.)

Oddly, there wasn’t any trouble with the local authorities over the accidental death of Count Vlad Tepes. I didn’t really feel up to handling any details* , but Terrence, Major Babs and Renfield took care of everything. Not only was there no inquest, but the villagers of Klotsburg seemed glad to be rid of him.

Apparently Vlad wasn’t very popular locally. When given the death certificate I noticed an odd mistake: They had listed Vlad’s year of death as 1476. Not even close!

At the funeral a group of children sang a jolly song in their native language. The landlord of The Nosferatu translated it for me:

"Ding Dong, the Count is dead.
Which old Count,
The wicked Count,
Ding Dong the wicked Count is dead!"

I didn’t feel it was in the best of taste, but the children looked charming. I was given the Key to Klotsburg and declared their national heroine. I gave Schloss Tepes, which now belonged to me, to Renfield. It had been his home for so long and I had Morehead Heights after all. And It was to Morehead Heights I shortly returned, sadder but not wiser.

Ah, Count Vlad Tepes, others may revile you, but I will always cherish the memory of our oh-so-short time together. I will love you forever, my darling.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

John Fugiel 1952 - 1987

Excuse me darlings, but Little Douglas asked me to let him take over my flog for one more memorial piece. Sorry for the downer, but he has a morbid streak. I'll be enjoying a drink while he wallows. Look for me back here in a day or two with a normal posting. Cheers darlings.

The man smiling from the headshot above was named John Andrew Fugiel. He was born on August 11, 1952, and he died of complications from AIDS on October 24, 1987, twenty years ago today, at the obscenely young age of 35. He was my writing and performing partner and my best friend, and I want to spend today remembering him.

This is John and myself performing on The Second City's ETC stage in Chicago on May 18, 1987. It was not only the last time we ever performed together, but was, in fact, the last performance he ever gave. It was an AIDS benefit. You can see even in this picture, how gaunt John had become.

This is John and myself in that same show, singing together, to the tune of Pennsylvania Station, a piece on the Three Mile Island nuclear near-disaster: Pardon Me Boys, Is This the Pennsylvania Meltdown? Not shown in the picture are John and Kate Michalski, who performed the piece with us. (John Michalski also was one of the writers of the piece.)

This is a newspaper picture of us, dated January 26, 1980. We're performing in a Sherlock Holmes Music Hall show I co-produced with the late Mike Hodel of KPFK radio. (According to a book by Mike's brother Steve, Black Dahlia Avenger, their father was The Black Dahlia Killer; not the type of fame I'd want to claim for my father.) At the time, we were half of a sketch comedy troupe called The Justice League of America. The other two members of that group were the lovely Jayne Hamil, these days a TV comedy writer with many a sit-com writing credit to her name, and Rodger Bumpass, who these days is best known to kids everywhere as the voice of Squiddy on Spongebob Squarepants. Here we were performing a piece I adapted from a classic comedy routine. I, as Sherlock Holmes, am explaining to John, as Dr. Watson, the solution of a murder. You see, Who was the murderer, What was the victim, and I Don't Know was the victim's wife.

Watson: But what is the name of the murderer?

Holmes: What is the name of the victim.

Watson: Who is the victim?

Holmes: No, Who is the killer.

Watson: I don't know.

Holmes: She's the victim's wife. Interesting woman. Once lived with a one-legged dwarf in Soho.

Watson: Are you sure you've been taking cocaine and not novocaine?

Holmes: Why do you ask?

Watson: Because you sound like a numbskull!

I still have a video tape of us performing this piece. There's not a lot of surviving video of us performing together, but what there is I treasure.

In this picture, John is the adorable small boy grinning at the camera at his oldest brother's wedding. The older lady is his mother, and the other gents were his brothers. John was the baby of the family. John was raised on his parent's farm in Indiana, not far from Chicago. He is buried on that farm, next to his parents.

This is John in high school. He was a plump teenager, and plump and gay was not an easy combination to bring off in high school in the 1960s. (It's not a picnic now, for that matter.) John was always proud that he was able to take that weight off in college, and never let it come back.

This is John's prom picture. I have no idea what the name of his unfortunate date was. (Unfortunate? Well ladies, is a plump gay boy your dream prom date?)

John became an improviser and sketch comic young, in Chicago, the international capital of improv. He was a mainstay of a group called The Unnatural Acts. This is his formal portrait as a member of Unnatural Acts. John was naturally funny, very, very funny.

This is a picture of the whole troupe. I'm sorry. I met all these people, and did that last show with them, but I do not now, two decades on, remember their names, except for the lady directly below John's head. That is Second City actress and comedienne Jane Morris, and she is a highly-valued friend of mine still. You've seen her on The Drew Carey Show, and many other sit-coms, as well as in the recent Chris Guest movie For Your Consideration, and also in every movie Garry Marshall has made over the last 21 years. John always called Jane his best friend in his Chicago days, the title I inherited when he moved to Los Angeles and began working with me in the late 1970s. John and Jane remained close to the end of his life. Everyone of those people rallied behind John when his illness came, and all of them participated in a benefit to raise money for his care.

Here's a candid shot I took of John getting ready for a performance in 1985.

This silly shot was taken after a performance of The National Void, a sketch comedy review we worked on back in 1985. That's John, Chris Pina, myself and Will Rogers. I know I look stoned out of my gourd in this picture, and I was, but so were all three of them. Why do only I looked wrecked? These days Chris co-writes with Rick Overton a terrifically funny webpage called Humor In The News. Click on the link and enjoy it. Will is a columnist. You can learn way too much about our political world if you click on his webpage: Will Rogers Columnist, but if you adore President Bush, you won't like it. But then, if you adore President Bush, I don't like you. (Incidentally, Will took the picture of Martine Beswick, Tallulah, and myself in Burbank two weeks ago that appeared in the last posting.)

Like all struggling actors, John had a horrible, soul-eating day job, in his case, as a bank officer at Wells Fargo Bank. Here's a shot of John the banker at his desk in the Lankershim Village branch in south Hollywood. John was a personal banker for a number of celebrity customers, including Regis Philbin prior to his relocating to New York, and Greg Evigan. Greg came to see John in the hospital when he was dying, the only one of John's celebrity customers to do so. It brought real joy into John's day at a time when he was experiencing mostly misery and pain. Don't ever speak ill of Greg Evigan around me. As far as I'm concerned, the man is a saint. My friend Ken Levine put it even better, Greg Evigan is a mensch.

John hated that bank job, but he never escaped it. At his memorial service, I said "That John never achieved the level of success his great talent warranted was not his loss; it was everybody else's."

This was John's last Halloween. He worked at the bank all day in this elaborate make-up. This picture was taken in his living room.

A small side-trip here. This gentleman was Bill Hudnut. Bill was a wonderful acting teacher and casting director. John, Jayne Hamil and myself studied with Bill for a number of years. I love this picture of Bill, as it perfectly captures him. That folder he's holding is his book of comedy exercises. I typed up most everything in that book, during a stint as Bill's secretary, which, believe you me, was a LOT more fun than working in a bank. By a horrible coincidence, Bill also died of AIDS on October 24, in 1992, five years to the day after John's death, so this is always a double death anniversary for me.

There's Bill with the lovely Jayne Hamil, upstairs at Budd Friedman's The Improv in Hollywood, our regular hangout in those long-dead days. Bill was from Baltimore, where he was born on June 2, 1945. If you've seen either version of Hairspray, you should know that The Corny Collins Show and it's "Council" of teenager dancers was based on a real Baltimore TV show, The Buddy Deane Show. Bill was one of those teenage "Council Members" that the ones in Hairspray are inspired by. He was the real deal. He was also one of The Kids in the Kingdom, a musical group that used to perform at Disneyland, where he met his best friend, Richard Herkert. (If you remember the episode of Cheers where Frasier and Lilith fall in love playing footsie across the knees of a bemused Asian talk show host, that host was Richard Herkert.) The legendary film star Pat O'Brian was a lifelong friend and mentor to Bill.

I took this picture of Bill. He had an explosive laugh. When you heard his "HA!" blast out, you knew you'd landed your gag right. Among the performers he mentored were Billy Moses, Ted McGinley, Martine Beswick, and even Fee Waybill of The Tubes, and the one and only Carole King. (I remember Carole's last day in class, EVERYONE except me brought a copy of Tapistry for her to sign. I'd thought it might be a tad crass, so I'd left my two copies of it at home, and ended up looking like I was the only person in class who wasn't a fan. Carole was great fun to improvise with.)

If you ever wonder if the money you have donated for AIDS research actually does any good or not, consider this wonderful and horrible fact: John died from Kaposi's Sarcoma, a then-incurable form of cancer that ravaged him. Today it is curable with a few injections. Were John alive today, but suffering the same malady that took him from us, he could be easily saved. That's what your money has done. It's way too late for John, but at least now few others will follow him down that unspeakably ghastly road.

I want to end with my favorite picture of John Fugiel. This is John as I knew him. I took this picture in John's backyard. When Orson Welles died, they published his home address in the newspaper, which was when we learned that he had been living one block north of John. Now there's a neighbor! "Can I borrow a cup of genius?" But you never saw him out mowing his lawn in a sweaty wife-beater.

20 years. 7305 days. John, I've missed you everyone of those days, except possibly for the two or three days I was completely out of it after my open heart surgery. I see your face, framed on my wall, every day. I think of all the hilarious things you would have said to make me bellow with laughter over those 20 years, and I am filled with anger at that loss. You will never be completely dead while I live, because you will always live in my heart.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Second Most Glamorous Star on Earth

People often ask me, "Tallulah, we know you are the most glamorous movie star in the world, but who would you say is the second most glamorous movie star in the world, second only to you?" Well that's an easy question. There's only one possible candidate, the most overwhelmingly beautiful and glamorous actress on the planet after me, the magnificent former Miss Jamaica herself, Bond Girl and Hammer Horror Queen extraordinaire, Martine Beswick.

The black and white photo at the top of the page is a fairly recent picture of Miss Beswick. The color shot in the adorable and modest bathing suit with my trademark zebra-stripes (which I gave her) is from her days as a Bond girl. (Yes, she's wearing a hand-me-down. Even stars have them.) She is an old friend of mine, as she made her film debut as Skreek in my 1961 dinosaur spectacle 1,000,000 Years Ago, a film often incorrectly omitted from her filmographies. Here's a picture of Little Dougie and I with the lovely Martine, taken back in 1985.

Here's a much more recent shot of the three of us, taken in Burbank just two weeks ago. Martine is very sweet to put up with Little Douglas and his constant fawning over her when she visits me, as she did earlier this month, staying here at Morehead Heights with me. (By the way, for those of you watching the Malibu Conflagration on TV this week and shaking with terror that my magnificent home might be threatened, relax. I live several miles up PCH from the fire, and besides, the churning breakers constantly crashing against the twin giant boulders that flank the base of mighty Tumescent Tor keeps the air around Morehead Heights constantly full of spray, to the point that my house is always too moist and damp to catch fire. Mold and mildew I have to contend with, but you couldn't set my house on fire using napalm.)

Here's a picture of Martine and I in our dinosaur opus. It was set so many weeks in the past that mankind was still a matriarchy, so hair color was the main bone of contention, and the film covered my efforts, as Queen of the Blonds, to subdue and subjugate all the brunettes.

Martine soon became the first Bond Girl. Yes, the first! No, not Ursula Andress, that Julia-Cum-Lately, Martine beat her by almost an hour. You see, Martine is the silhouetted dancing girl in the opening credits of Dr. No, making her the first female seen in any James Bond movie!

Martine had a larger role in From Russia With Love, where she played one of the gypsy girls who have the big girl fight at the gypsy camp. In the poster below, Martine is the woman in the panel with "Bond" written on it.

She had a still-larger role in Thunderball, after sitting Goldfinger out to give Shirley Eaton a break. This time she was Paula, Bond's Jamaican "Assistant". She was killed in that one, so she dropped out of the Bond series, having by then established herself at Hammer Studios.

At Hammer she made another dinosaur opus, this one with Raquel Welch, and I'm afraid they had such a terrific fight (That Raquel is an impossible bee-yotch to work with.) that they turned on the cameras and filmed it, sticking it into the finished film, so she appears in two of the most famous girl fights in the history of movies. Of course, Ray Harryhausen takes all the credit, claiming to have hand-animated the whole fight. As if.

She starred in a movie released both as Prehistoric Women and as Slave Girls of the White Rhinoceros. Whatever you call it, it is one of the silliest and funniest movies ever made, a true Idiot's Delight. And Martine would be the first person to tell you so, if I hadn't beaten her to it. One critic who shall remain nameless (Rex Reed) said it was so awful that, for a moment, he thought I starred in it. Well what do you expect from him? Slice his balls off and what do you have? Raquel Welch!

More pleasing by far is Martine's 1972 classic Doctor Jekyll and Sister Hyde, in which grungy Ralph Bates drinks a potion that turns him into Martine. Darlings, that stuff would sell! For additional fun. listen to Martine's commentary track on the DVD. Martine and I re-teamed for Hammer's Frankenstein's Reason for Living, a Peter Cushing horror story in which I stabbed her to death. She never held a grudge, since she committed many a movie murder herself.

Martine came to America to live in the 70s and 80s, and appeared on many TV shows, from Buffalo Bill to Falcon Crest, which is when she and Little Douglas became friends. She played Xaviera Hollander, the so-called "Happy Hooker," a role she researched by interviewing me at length! She also starred in Seizure, the first movie directed by Oliver Stone. Sadly for art, Martine has retired from acting now, and merely produces. But her glamour lives on forever. And, as you can see from the picture two weeks ago, she still looks almost as fabulous as I do. Dougie may be younger than both of us, but doesn't he look like our grandfather, a few years after he died? Here's a last look at her, from Thunderball, at the height of her 60s glamour.

Little Debbie Kerr died this past week. A fair actress I suppose, if you can take those repressed, genteel British types. Unfortunately, her inability to sing led 20th Century Fox to hire Richard Nixon's sister Marni to dub all her singing in The King & I, which led directly to the presidency of Richard Nixon. One evil always inevitably leads to another. My singing, over the years, has been called everything from "Catastrophic Caterwauling" to "Inhuman Ear Torture," but at least I always did my own warbling rather than give employment to a Nixon. If only Little Debbie had been as professional as I was, we might never have had Watergate.

My favorite Debbie Kerr movie is, no, not Casino Royale (Pictured above. Debbie wasn't so much a Bond Girl as a Bond Middle-Aged Woman, and later in the film, the only Bond Nun.), it's the spine-tingling ghost story The Innocents. This movie was based on the classic novel The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Don't get your hopes up. The story isn't at all as exciting as the title makes it sound. It's not about screwing, or even about a nice, frosty screwdriver, which is not just for breakfast anymore.

Rather it's a spook show. The Headless Indian Brave hates the picture, saying it perpetuates negative stereotypes about ghosts, how they're all supposedly scary and malevolent. Certainly this scene pictured below, in which Debbie encounters a particularly hideous and repellent ghost at the window, is a moment of chilling horror if ever there was one. Just this still can freeze the blood with utter terror. (Little Douglas informs me he played the ghost of Peter Quint in a stage production of The Innocents back in 1971. Well that one can't have been too scary. More like hilarious.)

And now that she's dead, it can be told. She didn't even shoot the most famous scene in her career! When she was filming From Here to Eternity, and Burt Lancaster had to play his famous love scene in the surf with her, he found her such a cold, damp fish, way too British, that he said to the producers, "Get me a woman people will believe I can fuck!" As it happened, the scene was shot on the beach in Malibu, just a few yards from my home, so it was no trouble at all for me to come down and shag Burt on the sand. In fact, given how it was Burt, I'd have shagged him even if it was trouble. Burt took one look at me and said, "That's more like it. She looks completely fucked!" Here's a rare still where you can see who really acted this scene.

Joey Bishop passed away this week as well, although I'd be hard-pressed to say how you could tell. How well I remember The Joey Bishop Show. It was the show you always watched if Johnny Carson was having an off-night, or if Joan Rivers was the guest host, or Jackie Mason was a guest. Don't feel too bad for Joey. At least The Pack of Rats are all together again now, in Rodent Heaven, which coincidentally, is also what they call Las Vegas. I believe they now could call his movie Ocean's 0. Look at it this way: Joey was a dead-pan comic. So now, he's just a dead comic. He'll never be panned again. And he and his longtime love, Milton "I'm-The-Pretty-One" Berle are reunited forever. It brings a tear to my eye, even as I throw up just a little.

Oh, and speaking of throwing up a little: if you live in Los Angeles, you'll want to avoid the A DIFFERENT LIGHT BOOKSTORE, 8853 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA 90069, phone # 310-854-6601, this coming Thursday evening, October 25, at 7:30 PM, as that is when Little Dougie will be doing a reading/signing of his new book, The Q Guide to Classic Monster Movies, there. This book, which I must remind all is not about me, or even about Martine, is on sale now, so that's the place to get your book signed, though I'll be damned if I can imagine why you'd want to. I will not be there! Only Douglas. I'd come, but Survivor, 30 Rock and The Office are on that night, so I'll pass.

Cheers darlings.