Thursday, June 18, 2009

"Telling Lies in America"

Shot in Cleveland, set in Cleveland, based on the Cleveland childhood of writer Joe Eszterhas. It premiered at the Cleveland International Film Festival in 1997. Not a great movie, although it has some good things, including Kevin Bacon's lead performance as a popular local DJ. (The cast also includes the late Brad Renfro, and Calista Flockhart before "Ally McBeal.") Some tales about the making of the period film, after the jump.

As "Telling Lies" was premiering in Cleveland, Eszterhas announced that his next film, "Male Pattern Baldness," would also be shot in the area in early 1998; he later said that he wanted Drew Carey to star. But the film didn't get made. In a 2004 interview with Nathan Rabin of A.V. Club, Eszterhas said this:

Male Pattern Baldness was about a guy who lives in the Midwest and works in a steel plant, who finds himself in a battle with all the precepts of political correctness. He's just an ordinary guy who goes up against all the sort of politically inspired and enforced social rules that we've looked at in the past 20 years. Everything goes to hell for him. He loses his wife as a result. He loses his son, and he has to take anger-management classes. Ultimately, he can't take it. The tone of the piece until now is comedic, it's dark, and it has a really striking comedic tone, to the point where Betty Thomas, who directs comedies, after reading it decided that she was going to make it. Suddenly, near the end of this piece, the comedic tone startlingly ends and he goes on a rampage and kills four or five of his workers and kills himself. The movie ends with an epilogue of irony. Betty's take and the studio's take when I sold the script was that it was very hard-hitting, and was certainly going to be very controversial. It proved to be so controversial, finally, in the studio's view, and also Betty's–she felt that it was an assault on political correctness–that they opted not to do the picture, and it's still up on the shelf. I do think that it would have startled some people, and I think it would have made us take a hard look at the effects of political correctness.

Here's an Aug. 31, 1996, Akron Beacon Journal story by Mary Ethridge about the production:

Cleveland may be the renaissance city of the '90s, with its Rock and Roll Hall of Fame masterpiece and a razzle-dazzle baseball team.
But you can't rearrange its soul.
Cleveland is still a place where joy is a Friday paycheck, a cold can of Bud and a jacked-up Chevy.
It was that utterable but intangible quality that creators of the movie Telling Lies in America were seeking when they ventured from Hollywood to the heartland to film.
Now, as they wrap up shooting in the city today, they're sure they found it.
Mary Kay Stone, a set decorator, said she didn't have to do much to re-create 1961 Cleveland, which is when and where the movie is set.
"We just stripped away some modern stuff and there it was," said Stone, who is also prop mistress at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. "We were able to go back 35 years without much trouble at all."
Stone scoured Cleveland-area thrift shops for period items and found them in abundance. A chenille bedspread. Old Ladies Home Journals. A vintage tea kettle. A bottle of Johnson's Baby Oil, unopened, from 1959.
"We did a lot of shopping at the Goodwills around here," she said. "We found just about everything we needed."
Stone said this as she was hanging a T-shirt and towel from circa 1960 on a line in the back yard of a duplex on West 14th Street in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland.
It was the site of a scene shot this week in the yard at the home of the main character's girlfriend.
The semiautobiographical film by controversial screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct, Showgirls) stars 14-year-old Brad Renfro (The Client) as an immigrant boy who befriends a Cleveland disc jockey (played by Kevin Bacon) during radio's payola scandals.
A significant part of the film centers on the boy's relationship with his father, played by Maximilian Schell (Judgment at Nuremberg).
Eszterhas grew up in Cleveland and insisted on using local talent on screen and off.
Several Northeast Ohio actors were cast, including Akron's Matt Miller as the assistant district attorney prosecuting the payola case. Dozens of other locals were extras.
Across the street from the set on West 14th, neighbors sat on their front porches and watched. Onlookers wandered by freely. Actors' trailers and catering trucks lined the road. Traffic roared by, directed by a Cuyahoga County sheriff's deputy.
"It's been exciting. It hasn't been an inconvenience at all," said West 14th resident Christine Nagle. "The producers, the cast -- everyone has been so polite and caring. Mr. Schell even posed for pictures with us."
The street was shut down only for a few minutes at a time when outside scenes were being shot, Nagle said.
A group of vintage car owners from Brooklyn sat in lawn chairs on the set. Their cars -- a 1959 Cadillac, a 1954 Chevy and a 1958 Pontiac -- were being used in filming that day.
An assistant director -- wearing black lipstick and a spiky hairdo -- chatted with one of the car owners about their mutual love of needlepoint.
"It's all very relaxed," said Matt Jennings of Springfield Township, who is working as a grip -- basically, a stagehand -- on the movie. Jennings, a member of the local Studio Mechanics Union, was hired in July to construct and maintain the sets.
"We've been working 14-hour days. Last night, I found myself on I-77 at 2 a.m.," Jennings said. "But I wouldn't trade the experience."
John Haight is a retired debate teacher from Berea High School. He was hired because the law requires that actors under 18 be supervised by a certified teacher.
"I listen to Brad (Renfro) work and make sure he doesn't slip out of dialogue," Haight said. "I'm just here if he needs me."
Haight said an actor and teacher friend in Westlake told him about the job.
Bill Miller, a North Olmsted bus driver, got the job of driving a restored 1959 passenger bus up from Orrville, where it is kept by the Ohio Museum of Transportation.
"They called us out of the blue and we had just the bus for them. It's a piece of history," Miller said. "I can't wait to see the movie. We're a real part of it

And here's an Aug. 27, 1996, interview with Joe Eszterhas for the Beacon Journal, by Mark Dawidziak:

The glowing cigarette seems impossibly small in his beefy hand. The glittering gold ring he wears seems impossibly large.
Glancing at the world through squinting eyes, this bigger-than-life Hollywood writer draws deeply on the cigarette and exhales slowly. The smoke swirls around Joe Eszterhas' waves of golden hair in the same way that controversy swirls around his career.
Eszterhas has come home to make a simple movie about growing up in Cleveland. Telling Lies in America, which completes filming in Northeast Ohio on Sunday, is a semi-autobiographical story that the writer has carried around in his heart for more than 12 years.
There are no brazenly explicit love scenes, no ice-pick murders, no psycho-sexual mysteries. This is a considerably kinder, gentler project than the films that have made Eszterhas Hollywood's leading pusher of the envelope: Basic Instinct, Sliver, Showgirls, Jade.
Yet there's no avoiding the C-word. The producers of Telling Lies in America introduced the film's author as "the controversial Joe Eszterhas."
Press releases about the movie contain the standard reference to "the controversial Eszterhas," even though calling the writer controversial is like describing Dennis Rodman as eccentric, Rush Limbaugh as opinionated or Donald Trump as wealthy. It's taken for granted.
"No, I don't mind being called controversial," Eszterhas said during a break from filming in Cleveland, where the modestly budgeted Telling Lies in America has been shooting since Aug. 3. "I am that person, clearly.
"I like writing movies that push the envelope. I like the notion of doing movies that push past certain boundaries. I do take some pride in that because, for better or worse, I don't think I do that kind of usual Hollywood pap."
He proudly embraces the label. He doesn't disown his more notorious films.
But he does want people to know there's more to this writer than Basic Instinct and Showgirls. He doesn't want critics to be surprised that he's trying a Telling Lies in America.
"Look, I've done 14 movies," Eszterhas said, "and I didn't have any nudity in my movies until the ninth one. And I did things as diverse as F.I.S.T (a 1975 union story with Sylvester Stallone, partly shot in Cleveland) and The Music Box (a 1989 courtroom drama with Jessica Lange as a lawyer whose father is accused of war crimes) and Checking Out (a 1989 black comedy with Jeff Daniels).
"I think one of the things that's unfair is that I've become pigeonholed as doing only erotic thrillers. I have done those, and I will probably do them again. But I think my range is broader.
"I think what's fair is to judge a screenwriter like a novelist, on his body of work. I'd like to be judged on that instead of just the erotic thrillers."
If you judged on appearances, you wouldn't cast the burly, bearded Eszterhas as a writer. A Hollywood casting director might select him to play the leader of a biker gang, a Viking warrior or a WWF wrestler.
Beneath the gruff appearance and behind the controversy, though, is a soft-spoken realist who knows that tough questions go with the Tinseltown territory. Having arrived in his early 50s with gray touches accenting those flowing golden locks, Eszterhas has learned to keep such impostors as success, failure and Hollywood in perspective.
Showgirls, for instance, wasn't just the most roundly mocked movie of 1995. It was a film flop that moved swiftly from cultural outrage to self-satire.
Indeed, it has become a midnight-movie cult favorite. Audiences gather to hoot and holler at the wooden acting, insipid dialogue and calcified direction. Is Eszterhas aware of this?
"Of course," he said. "I've actually gone to some cult screenings in Los Angeles just to have fun. And it is fun. I don't take this business too seriously.
"Showgirls was one of those things where the public really teed off, and the plain truth is that it did become one of the great public failures of all time. If you write, you'll have wins and losses, and that was certainly one that lost. I mean, I still have serious lash marks on my back."
The Showgirls debacle was followed by another flop, Jade, an erotic thriller that audiences found neither erotic nor thrilling. Eszterhas found renewal by returning to Cleveland in spirit and in person.
His wife, Naomi, suggested that he rewrite Telling Lies in America, a script Eszterhas had in a file drawer since 1983. The story is based on his memories of Cleveland in the early '60s.
"I've always found tremendous strength, support and warmth here," said Eszterhas, who was 6 when he immigrated with his parents from Hungary. "When Showgirls was going down in flames and Jade was about to burn, the people of Cleveland were nothing but supportive."
Eszterhas lived in Cleveland for about 20 years, working as a reporter at the Plain Dealer from 1967 until 1971. After a 1971-75 stint with Rolling Stone magazine, he turned his attention to screenplays.
Flashdance, with Jennifer Beals as a welder who dances in clubs, became one of the biggest hits of 1983. He followed that box-office smash with Jagged Edge (1985), Hearts of Fire (1987) and Betrayed (1988).
His reputation went from hot to scorching, however, when he received a record $3 million for the Basic Instinct screenplay in 1992.
Compare that figure with the entire budget for Telling Lies in America, which Eszterhas estimates at $4 million.
"So you know this is very much a labor of love," Eszterhas said. "This is one from the heart because this is a place that's deep in my heart and soul. Cleveland has an individuality that's very much part of this script, and that individuality hasn't changed since I was a kid growing up here.
"I'll tell you how Cleveland hasn't changed. It's still a shot-and-beer, rock 'n' roll kind of town."
Playing a character loosely based on Eszterhas, Brad Renfro (The Client) is Karchy, an immigrant boy befriended by a fast-talking Cleveland disc jockey (Kevin Bacon) caught up in the payola scandal of 1961. Directed by Guy Ferland (The Babysitter), Telling Lies in America features Oscar winner Maximilian Schell as Karchy's father.
Eszterhas has three other films in various stages of production, including One Night Stand with Wesley Snipes and Nastassia Kinski. While no release date has been set for Telling Lies in America, the writer has decided on where the premiere will be.
"It will be here, in Cleveland, probably at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," Eszterhas said. "Anywhere else? Over my dead body."

Read more!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Amazing Canton Hoover Shirt

("Warehouse 13": Saul Rubinek,left, Joanne Kelly, Eddie McClintock)

North Canton's Eddie McClintock and I chatted recently, and I mentioned his ability to get his North Canton Hoover wrestling shirts on TV ...

Eddie, who will star in "Warehouse 13" for Sci Fi (renaming Syfy) beginning in July, was also in "Crumbs," a series with Jane Curtin and Fred Savage, a few years ago. The show was set in New England but Eddie wore his North Canton shirt in the pilot.

"If I see any sign of weakness from (the costume department), I'll start muscling in my own wardrobe," he told me at the time. "Actually, I wore it on the set one day during rehearsal, and the producer said, "We like that.' . . . I'll be wearing another Hoover wrestling shirt in another episode. I'm kind of a hometown guy at heart. . . . My dad calls me every weekend to tell me what's going on."

Eddie doesn't bear North Canton's name in the premiere of "Warehouse 13," but he promised local color down the road. In fact, his character is from North Canton, he said, and there will be an episode mentioning a North Canton Fire Department, complete with jackets and vehicles.

Read more!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Hello Cleveland!"

Here's some of the legendary "This Is Spinal Tap" clip. (Warning: Strong language.) Hat tip to Alex McMahan.

And how legendary is it? Check out this bit with famous debater Dominick Thurbon:

Read more!

"Driving Miss Daisy"

In both Alfred Uhry's original play and in the movie starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman, there's a poke at people from Canton. Hoke (Freeman in the movie) approaches Daisy's son Boolie (Dan Aykroyd), claiming he has gotten a job offer from the wife of one of Boolie's cousins.
"The one that talk funny," Hoke says.
"She's from Canton, Ohio," Boolie explains.
Hoke later says that the Canton woman talks "like her nose all stuffed up."
(Boolie, by the way, gives Hoke a raise to keep him working for Daisy.)
Hat tip to Mark Price. Read more!

Monday, June 15, 2009

"Leave It to Beaver": Is That Mayfield, Ohio?

When I was younger -- meaning when "Leave It to Beaver" was still on network TV -- I thought its town of Mayfield was in Ohio. (I was in Virginia.) Maybe I had heard of Mayfield, Ohio, somewhere. And when there was talk about State University, it has made me think of Ohio State. In fact, Mayfield wasn't supposed to be in a specific state. But there is considerable thought nonetheless that it's the one in Ohio. More after the jump.... . In his 1998 memoir "And Jerry Mathers as 'The Beaver,' " Mather says, "Mayfield is anywhere, USA. ...
Actually, there are twenty-seven Mayfields across the country," the book continues. "Some people think it's Akron, Ohio, because there's a Mayfield near Akron. But at different times Mayfield is described as being only twenty miles from the ocean. Others think it is somewhere in California, but the characters travel to California. We even altered the mileage signs at the bus station when Beaver goes on a trip, so viewers wouldn't be able to go their atlas and pinpoint a town.
But viewers are more dogged than that.

On the fan site, the following is part of the discussion of Mayfield's location:

The show makes numerous mentions to neighboring cities and communities, and even street names, that would correspond with the Mayfield located in Ohio. Ohio is always the most popular speculation.
In one of the episodes Wally takes the Beaver to the new amusement park with his friends, to ride on The Giant Dipper. The Giant Dipper is located in Santa Cruz but it is also in San Diego and in Chippewa Lake, Ohio. It is obvious that the contradictions are done on purpose. If they live in Mayfield, Ohio it would have taken Wally 1 hour and 13 minutes to drive to Chippewa Lake, That isn't far but for a teen taking his little brother to a park it would probably be out of the question.
One fan writes to me: It was not California because the people who owned the Haunted house in "Mistaken Identity" moved to California. They are not from Indiana because the new student (young blond girl) that Wally had a crush on, that Mrs. Cleaver invited on the picnic to Friends Lake was from Indianapolis Indiana or "one of those states." This seemed to eliminate Ohio, though the checkbook evidence seems quite positive proof. Illinois Ohio, Indiana seem to be one of those states.
Another fan ... states: 'I live in Cleveland and the references made in the episodes can't be any where else. Grant Avenue, Mayfield, and all the other bits of information indicate Mayfield Ohio. We do have a Mayfield Ohio. '
Finally, closely inspecting the prop checks used in the 1997 Leave It To Beaver movie shows an Ohio address of "211 Pine Street, Mayfield, Ohio."
The reality may be less glamour and more practical. Looking at the occasional exterior shots on Leave It To Beaver, Mayfield’s neighborhood looks pretty like the Pacific area, right around the region where Leave It To Beaver was filmed in Hollywood, California.

I boldfaced the one section, since it is the strongest evidence for Mayfield, OH. The fan site also offers other info, both for and against Mayfield being in Ohio. I still lean toward the Beav being a Buckeye, although Mathers offers this description of the TV Mayfield:

"It's always spring or fall, and it never snows. It's usually sunny, unless the plot calls for rain. It's expensive to make rain, you have to set up rain machines and hire a special effects man."

And a Mayfield where it rarely rains cannot be in NE Ohio.
Read more!

"Tommy Boy": Flying from Sandusky to the Falls

Hat tip to Mark Eckenrode for noting that "Tommy Boy" mentions Cuyahoga Falls -- and Sandusky. Details after the jump. As "Tommy Boy" fans know, the movie is set in Sandusky, where the Callahan auto parts company is based. Mark recalled the scene where Michelle (played by Julie Warner) goes to the Sandusky airport to catch a flight to Cuyahoga Falls.
It's weird that anyone would fly from Sandusky to Cuyahoga Falls, since it's only about an hour's drive. What's even more bizarre is that the flight she's offered takes her to CFalls via Columbus, which is a long way out of her way.

I know, these days a lot of flights take you out of your way. Let's go back to the whole issue of flying somewhere when you could drive faster. The sales trip Tommy takes doesn't seem to make a lot of sense geographically either. This is what happens when movies are made in Canada.

By the way, Michelle is going to Cuyahoga Falls because, we have learned earlier in the film, her parents have moved there from Sandusky.

When researching this via the "Tommy Boy" DVD, I found myself laughing very hard at parts of the movie. Again. The Farley biography "The Chris Farley Show"
says the movie was "the single high point of his life. He was confident and self-assured, and it showed in his performance." It is, the book says, "a brief glimpse of what might have been."

Read more!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

"Major League": Bring That S--- To Milwaukee

In addition to being one of the best baseball movies ever, and a lovely dream of Cleveland baseball in the years before its resurgence, "Major League" is the best movie about Cleveland to have been made in Milwaukee....

\The story, of course, is about a ragtag group of baseball misfits who manage to get the Indians to the playoffs. While it has its faults, it's one of those movies that makes me stop and watch every time I happen across it -- never mind that I have seen it a few zillion times and that I have it on DVD. It also inspired two sequels, but they're not in the same, uh, league. ("Major League II" made about $30 million at the box office in 1994, according to Box Office Mojo, less than the $49 million the original film had made five years earlier; "Major League: Back to the Minors" was a 1998 disaster, and remains painful to watch.)

Alas, while the movie feels like Cleveland, and writer-director David S. Ward is both a former Buckeye and a longtime Indians fan, in the commentary on the "Wild Thing Edition" DVD, he says that the only footage actually shot in Cleveland is the opening sequence; producer Chris Chesser later points out that a a helicopter shot late in the film, and all of that was shot by the second unit two weeks after work had been finished on the movie.

In the commentary, Ward justifies the relocation on two grounds: It was cheaper to shoot in Milwaukee, and when they wanted to shoot, the stadium was being used for Browns exhibition games, with football lines on the field which would have been a problem for the production.

But the second-unit stuff at least captures the feel of the city, and there's a famous Cleveland figure in it: baseball fan Sister Mary Assumpta. (Nor should I forget to mention that Lou Brown, the Indians manager, has been found working for the Toledo Mudhens.)

Ward also notes in the commentary that he used Randy Newman's "Burn On" as the opening music because it is the only song he knew that is about Cleveland. But Ian Hunter's "Cleveland Rocks" had been around for a decade; still, it had been used on the soundtrack for "Light of Day" two years before "Major League." The Band had a song called "Look Out Cleveland" on their second album, in the early '70s, but I'm quibbling. "Burn On" is not only a great song, it and Randy Newman's vocal set a nice tone for what follows.

By the way, I looked up the standings for 1989, when "Major League" was released, and 1988, when it was being made, to see how real life stacked up against the Yankees-Indians tie and one-game playoff of the movie.

In '89, Toronto won the AL East; the Yankees finished fifth and 14 1/2 games out, but 1 1/2 games ahead of the Indians. In '88, the Red Sox won a very tight race in the division; the Yankees were fifth but jut 3 1/2 out, the Indians were sixth but 11games out of first. An example of a movie being better than real life.

Read more!

Friday, June 12, 2009

"Dance, Girl, Dance": Stuck Inside of Akron ...

This 1940 movie starring Lucille Ball and Maureen O'Hara was not well received by at least one critic when it premiered. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times shrugged it off as "a cliché-ridden, garbled repetition of the story of the aches and pains in a dancer's rise to fame and fortune. It's a long involved tale told by a man who stutters." But it has a much better reputation today. It stands out as one of Ball's better acting performances, as a hard-boiled dancer, and as an example of the work of director Dorothy Arzner. notes: "In the mid-1970s feminist critics argued that while Dance, Girl, Dance may appear to be just one example of the popular musical comedies and women's pictures produced by RKO in the 1930s and 1940s, Arzner's ironic point of view questions the very conventions she uses."

But we're talking about it because the first 14 minutes are set in Akron ..

Before moving the action to New York, the movie opens on a flashing sign saying, "AKRON: HOME OF HARRIS TIRES: The Royalty of the Road." It then pans past a factory to the Palais Royale, a nightclub where a line of dancers performs. The dancers include Bubbles (Lucille Ball) and Judy (Maureen O'Hara). In the crowd is a morose man we will later learn is Jimmy Harris (Louis Hayward), heir to Harris tires.

While the women dance, police enter the club and raid a gambling den in the back room. The dancers have not been paid and need money. Harris takes up a collection from the people remaining, declaiming, "Citizens of Akron, I appeal to your well-known generosity!" Even a cop chips in.

Both Bubbles and Judy are drawn to Jimmy. He at first seems drawn to Judy, but he leaves the club with the more hard-bitten Bubbles, escapist fun being the one thing on his mind. They go to the Ritz Bar, but it turns out to be an early evening, Bubbles later reports, after Jimmy spots a monkey doll, gives it to Bubbles and leaves. The monkey is a memento between Jimmy and his wife, and he realizes she has left it behind while out clubbing; though fond of each other, they are getting a divorce, ending the union of the "Harris tire heir (and a) valve-and-bearing heiress."

(Hat tip to Mark Price)

Read more!


The Russkies sure seemed interested in Northeast Ohio in this movie about deep-cover Soviet saboteurs who were programmed via drug-induced hypnosis. In the movie, they receive a coded telephone message that sends them on their deadly missions in the U.S. (Donald Pleasence played the rogue Russian unleashing the agents; Charles Bronson, Lee Remick and Tyne Daly worked to stop him.)
One of the sleeper agents, Mark Peters, "blew himself up and an ammunition dump outside Akron, Ohio." Peters' phone number, by the way, was 216-788-8837. Another deep cover agent has been given the identity of a man who "died of a burst appendix 22 years ago in Canton, Ohio." Read more!

"Best in Show"

In the 2000 comedy about competitors in a dog show, a couple makes a side trip to Akron ... Gerry and Cookie Fleck (Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara) are headed to the Mayflower Kennel Club competition from their Florida home -- but go 140 miles out of their way to stop in Akron and see Max and Fay Berman (Larry Miller, Linda Kash). Max -- an old boyfriend of Cookie's -- is "chief hostage negotiator for Akron and the tri-county area" but he apparently doesn't make a lot of money. "What a dump," Gerry says of the Berman home, and Cookie says it's better than where the Bermans used to live.

Max spends a lot of time dealing with people threatening to jump off of things, but contends "they always jump." He also describes a jumper hitting a gargoyle on the way down, his head getting caught in the gargoyle while the body continues to the ground, spilling like a pinata.

(Hat tip to Mark Price.)
Read more!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"The Dead Next Door"

This low-budget horror film was set in Akron (and Washington, D.C.), with lots of Akron color in the footage, including zombies marching through Derby Downs. Above is the trailer to the film (WARNING: Contains strong language, blood and lots of zombie badness). More after the jump.

The movie was made starting in 1985 by Akron native J.R. Bookwalter when he was 19, with some initial support from a big-time director believed to be Sam Raimi. Getting the movie made and distributed took years, but it now has an admiring cult. Anchor Bay released a special-edition DVD of it in 2005 with extras, including commentary by Bookwalter. There's also a soundtrack CD. I will expand this post after I have looked more closely at the movie.

But here's a Beacon Journal story, written by Bob Dyer, written in 1986 while the movie was in production:

A pudgy young man named Lloyds is leaning against a car parked in a lane
near an old, ramshackle farmhouse in Springfield Township.
Trouble is in the air. He and the four people with him are armed, and
looking around with rapt attention.
Suddenly, a shot pierces the night, ripping apart Lloyds' chest. Blood
splatters across his shirt and onto the car behind him as he falls to the
ground in agony.
A few seconds later, about 35 bystanders smile and applaud.
No, it's not just another ugly domestic dispute. This is the work of
zombies, who have overrun several parts of Summit County during the filming of The Dead Next Door.
In truth, no shot rang out. That will be added to the sound track later.
And the blood was merely a `squib,' a special moviemaking device that
consists of a small amount of gunpowder suspended in a condom filled with food coloring and Karo syrup. It's attached to a protective foam pad and the
actor's body with duct tape. On cue, the tiny charge is exploded by a special- effects man.
With a bigger budget, the charges would have been triggered by remote
control. Here, the actor is literally wired to an extension cord. An on-off
switch is flipped to initiate the bloodshed.
Filming began July 21 and is to continue six days a week through August.
The schedule calls for the mayhem to move to downtown Akron between 1 and 4 p.m. today. Before all is said and dead, the zombies will have infiltrated
several other parts of Summit County, such as the Springfield High School gym, the Rubber Bowl, Akron Municipal Airport and, maybe, Barberton Citizens
The filmmakers say a video deal is already in the bag, and they have high
expectations of negotiating a theatrical release as well. [Rich note: Five years later, the filmmakers said in a letter to the Beacon Journal that "We made it very clear at that time that a deal was under
negotiation, not 'in the bag.' " Dyer and the Beacon Journal stood by the original report, and noted that objections were not raised until Dyer made fun of the film
If someone were to make a film of this filmmaking effort, though, they
might call it The Hardy Boys Make a Movie.
The oldest of the principals -- director of photography Michael Tolochko
-- is all of 24. The head honcho -- writer/director/co-producer J.R.
Bookwalter -- is 19. The other producer, Jolie Jackunas of Detroit, is 21.
The wardrobe department consists of a collection of old clothes hanging
from a tree.
The car against which Lloyds is shot is the personal vehicle of one of the assistants, who expresses interest in wiping the `blood' from the doors
without undue delay.
The shooting rarely runs past midnight because most of the people involved have to get up for real jobs the next day.
But someone in Detroit -- nobody will say who -- has given these young
people `well under a million dollars' -- nobody will say how much -- to make a real movie.
An educated guess on the mystery backer would be Sam Raimi, creator of cult classics The Evil Dead and XYZ Murders. An educated guess at the budget is
$30,000, the figure reported in a Beacon Journal story last October when the
project was first revealed.
That kind of money isn't enough to make a trailer at most studios. But
Amsco Productions, headquartered in a ghoulish little structure at 1153 Canton Road, is just getting off the ground, and nobody is complaining.
It's the first feature-length effort for Bookwalter, a member of the
Springfield High class of `84. But he's been dabbling with short, homemade
films since way back in 1978 -- when he was 11.
He showed some of his work to the Detroit mystery man, who liked it and
agreed to put his money where his opinion was.
If the local moviemakers are inexperienced, they know exactly what they're after, and they're enthusiastic. Boy, are they enthusiastic -- so much so that all except Bookwalter and Ms. Jackunas are working only for the promise of an eventual piece of the action. (Bookwalter and Ms. Jackunas, in addition to
owning a percentage of the gross, are drawing small salaries.)
Many of the people involved are college students, mostly from Kent State
and Akron U.
`It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance,' gushes production manager Mike Shea,
21. He claims that if The Dead Next Door pans out, producer Dino DeLaurentiis is prepared to kick in some of his abundant capital for a future Amsco
If it all sounds like a grand way to spend a summer, you'd better read the fine print.
Most of the time, hanging around the set is about as exciting as watching
your neighbor work on his house on a Saturday afternoon. There are wires and lights to mess with, things that keep breaking, people who keep getting in the way.
Tuesday evening, a series of delays kept most of the crew on duty until
nearly 2 a.m.
First there was a rain shower. Then it was a temperamental generator. Then a camera that ran out of film at a bad time. Then a group of extras who
absent-mindedly wandered into the background of a scene. Then -- because this is a real country lane rather than a back lot at Universal -- there was the
return home of the residents of a house located farther down the lane.
And then there were killer mosquitoes. People who marvel at the logistical nightmares overcome in the shooting of Apocalypse Now never had to deal with
the bloodthirsty monsters that fly around this old, mildew-ridden Springfield Township house, constructed about 1915.
The place originally was scheduled for demolition. Now the owners hint that they may wait to see if the film becomes a hit before calling in the wreckers. But none of the hassles seems to faze this good-natured bunch of
moviemakers. They appear to take a kind of demented glee in trying to figure
out how to jury-rig minor-league equipment to produce big-time effects.
There's also the undeniable thrill of having items about your film appear
in such publications as Variety, the Hollywood Reporter and the Los Angeles
Times. In an alphabetical Variety listing of new movies, for example, the
entry for The Dead Next Door ran just above a description of a William Hurt
film called Destiny.
That's heady territory. But the locals makes no bones, so to speak, about
what they're trying to do. Gone With the Wind it ain't. The script for the 90- minute film calls for a death or dismemberment at an average of every three
`You might as well not root for anybody because they all end up the same
way,' says production manager Shea.
The gratuitous blood will not be matched by gratuitous sex. If the effort
draws an R from the ratings board -- which seems inevitable -- it will be
strictly for violence.
Here's a sketch of the plot that appeared in the L.A. Times: `Billions and billions of zombies walk the Earth after a deadly virus, developed by a
certain Dr. Bow, escapes into the air. Those few who were spared exposure must hastily rummage through Bow's records and learn how to eliminate the danger.' Bookwalter says his movie was inspired by many of the zombie films, among
them the all-time classic of the genre, Night of the Living Dead (also set
partially in Northeast Ohio).
`I think this,' he says matter-of-factly of his film, `could be the best of them.'
The Dead Next Door is being shot in Super-8 and will be transferred to
videotape. It may eventually be converted again to a larger film format.
`Everything is going real good,' said Bookwalter, who, like most of the
company's executives, also has an on-camera role.
Shooting was about half a day, behind schedule by the middle of last week, but the producers expected to be back on track by Monday.
Bookwalter had hoped to begin filming in January, but his mystery
financier's own feature film was delayed repeatedly. That delayed the mystery man's salary, which delayed the money that was to have gone to Bookwalter. But now it's full-speed ahead.
Well, not exactly. The making of any movie consists, in large measure, of
waiting around. Tuesday, night between 6 and 11 p.m., exactly two scenes were shot. Together, they lasted perhaps 10 seconds.
But now, in the cool night air, another, slightly more complicated scene is about to take place.
`Quiet on the set,' someone yells into a megaphone.
`Roll sound.'
`Sound rolling.'
`Roll camera.'
`Camera rolling.'
`Mark it .... `
Five people run screaming through the yard, and a man and woman in the
foreground are ripped to shreds by gunfire.
Director Bookwalter turns to cameraman Bob Hudson (who once worked for
WEWS-Ch. 5 and WJKW-Ch. 3) and says: `Bob, does it look like mass hysteria?' `Yeah,' Bob replies.
`OK, it's a take.'
Read more!

"Bet Your Life"

Five years ago, NBC tried to ride the reality wave with a series meant to pick the next action star. The winners got to be in a movie, which proved to be "Bet Your Life," shot in Cleveland, which played both Cleveland and Las Vegas. My 2004 Beacon Journal column about the making of the movie is after the jump.
Cleveland comes off better as Las Vegas than as Cleveland.
The city plays both locations in Bet Your Life, a forgettable action movie starring Sean Carrigan and Corinne van Ryck de Groot, the winners of NBC's Next Action Star reality-TV competition. The movie premieres at 8 p.m. Wednesday on NBC.
The production pumped close to $3 million into the local economy, said Chris Carmody, president of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission. While other movies have been shot in the area, Carmody said this was the first full-blown action movie to be done entirely there.
"Los Angeles decision makers have seen some great period architecture used in films," he said. "But few have seen modern Cleveland on film, and what we can accommodate for an action film."
In other words, it's a good place for explosions, car chases and fancy stunts. And when asked if the city wants more of that kind of film fare, Carmody said yes.
"Our job is not art, it's commerce," he said.
The city also benefited from producer Alan Schechter's working on Next Action Star and Bet Your Life. Schechter has done other films in Cleveland, such as the Rob Lowe vehicle Proximity. And Carmody said Schechter preferred Cleveland to Toronto for the movie shoot.
Getting to serve as Las Vegas as well as Cleveland was "something of a sales job," Carmody said. But one of the attractions of Cleveland is "a real diversity of architectural locations. Playhouse Square . . . easily doubled for a Las Vegas casino."
The city is first seen as Las Vegas (including in a scene where Cleveland Hopkins airport has suddenly sprouted slot machines and an Elvis impersonator). Carrigan is playing Sonny Briggs, a down-on-his-luck gambler whose debts to a loan shark have put a bounty hunter (van Ryck de Groot) on his trail.
Sonny has other problems. He witnesses a murder and then gets drawn into a bet with a mysterious gambler named Joseph (Billy Zane). If Sonny can stay alive for 24 hours while Joseph tries to hunt him down and kill him, Sonny will collect $2.4 million.
Evading the hunt, Sonny catches the next plane out of town -- to Cleveland, where you can see many local flourishes, such as a boat named for former Mayor Anthony Celebrezze. You also get to hear some lame snipes at Cleveland.
Echoing a famous line from Apocalypse Now, Joseph declares, "I love the smell of Cleveland in the morning. It smells like -- Cleveland."
When Sonny asks a cabdriver to take him somewhere low profile, the driver replies, "This is Cleveland. Everything is low profile."
Carrigan's own experience in Cleveland was much happier, if considerably secretive.
"Cleveland was very good to me," he said in a telephone interview. "I fell in love with Cleveland." He especially liked the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, shopping in Cleveland Heights and the clubs in the Flats.
"I want to come back," he said. And this time he will be able to operate under his real name.
Bet Your Life was made last fall, after Next Action Star was done but before it aired. So extra steps were taken to keep the Star winners under wraps.
"I had an assumed name," said Carrigan, who was "Sonny Hopkins" during the shoot. If news media were around, he said, "Corinne and I had to stay in our trailers. And neither one of us could take pictures with anybody." He even signed an autograph as Sonny Hopkins.
Of course, at that point he was already used to evasion, hiding that he had won the show from his friends and family. "I had to lie a lot, man," he said.
But he was happy to be in the film, the next step in a career that has taken him from work as a boxer and bouncer to pursuing acting full time. Just as Cleveland had to prove it could host an action movie, so Carrigan is trying to prove he's more than a TV contest winner.
He talked more about being an actor than being an action star, pointing to leading men like Ed Harris and Denzel Washington as inspirations.
Reminded of a recent walk down a red carpet with other NBC stars, photographers clicking away as the Next Action Star cast went by, he said, "Those are the perks. I just want to become a better actor."
Read more!

"The Instructor"

If nothing else, "The Instructor" is a great time capsule, full of images of Akron and Cuyahoga Falls in the early '80s, especially during an extended car-and-motorcycle chase around the area. Indeed, if you don't want to find an old VHS copy of the movie -- I borrowed one from the local-history collection at the Akron library -- the chase is posted in two parts on YouTube. Amazing shots of the old downtown, the Gorge and Rick Case Honda. But, when I say "if nothing else," I really mean ...

... there's not much to talk about here in terms of a movie. The acting is poor, the fight scenes so-so at best, and the plot (involving a karate instructor) nothing to speak of.

The movie was made by Tallmadge High School graduate Don Bendell, a Special Forces veteran and karate instructor who -- according to old Beacon Journal clips -- wanted to make a movie without "the carnival tricks that you see in so many karate films." He finished a script in 1975 and wanted to film in Cleveland, Akron, Canton and Cuyahoga Falls. Cleveland and Canton, he said, were not welcoming. (Dennis Kucinich, then Cleveland mayor, "broke four appointments with me," Bendell said in a 1979 interview.) Cuyahoga Falls and Akron were, and there are not only a lot of locations but quite a few local police in the movie.

The cast was heavily local: Bob Chaney, a real-life karate expert born in Akron (some other sources say Wadsworth), starred. Other performers, per the Beacon Journal, included Lynda Scharnott, a Spanish teacher at Nordonia High; Bob Saal, who worked at Uniwear in Akron; Bendell's brother Bruce; Tony Blanchard of Cuyahoga Falls, and Bendell himself. Akron police officer John McAleese drove a police car in the big chase scene. Bill Jones, a mechanic at Rick Case Honda, was a stunt man. Akron native Marti Lunn wrote and performed the music.

Bendell reportedly raised $500,000 from area business people, got the cast to work on deferred payment and still went into debt. But the movie got made, with shooting in the summer of 1980; it premiered at the Akron Civic in 1983.

According to the Bendell Web site: "Distributed by Shapiro Entertainment Corporation in Hollywood, the film was sold and shown in 164 countries around the world and was distributed on video by Vestron Video. The feature film received a good review in weekly 'VARIETY' newspaper and a number of other publications. It made plenty of money for its distributor, but not for the Bendell's."

Bendell had hoped to make more movies, but this is his only production on his Web site. It notes that he refers to the making of the movie as hit "PhD in the feature film business." Now living in Colorado, he has had more success as a writer and speaker.

Read more!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Where Is Fernwood?

Vintage TV fans remember that both "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" and "Fernwood 2-Night" were set in fictional Fernwood, OH. According to the companion book "Fernwood, U.S.A." ("text and direction by Ben Stein"), Fernwood was first discovered by the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
"The intrepid explorters had left the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, later to become Pittsburgh, and were advancing through the dense marshes and forests of what became Ohio," the book says. "Indian guides had spoken of a clearing in the forest where the sun's light was miraculously clear and bright. By sheer luck, Lewis and Clark found that place.
"They made camp there, and sent out men to find appropriate places for the necessary acts of men trekking through the woods. ... Those men came upon an area lushly full of ferns of all kinds, not to mention dense woods to ensure privacy.
"The spot where the sun so beautifully shone has been lost in the mists of history, but the spot where the ferns and woods grew so thick became our town." Read more!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"Hogan's Heroes"

Hat tip to Marc Bona for remembering that Robert Hogan, the wily GI played by Bob Crane, was from Cleveland. At least, he was some of the time; you know how slippery Hogan was with the truth. According to a "Hogan's" FAQ on WebStalag13, "Hogan's home town was continually changing ... [I]n various episodes he refers to having been from Cleveland (mentioned most often), Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Bridgeport and in another episode claims he was born in Ohio."

And here is the rest of it. Read more!


Out on DVD today, "Strike" is a bowling movie made by a couple of Ohio State guys. It involves an actor who, as his career prospects fade, decides to become a star on the pro bowling circuit. His first big match is at the "Akron Open" (although, according to the credits, the lanes are actually in California). The cast includes Akron's Ray Wise. But the movie relies on an outdated Akron stereotype. ...
When the bowler (Ross Patterson, who also wrote this), his girlfriend (Tara Reid) and his roommate/manager (Clayne Crawford) arrive in town, the dialogue goes like this:
Crawford: "Oh, beautiful Akron. Smells like ..."
Reid: "Tires."
Patterson: "I thought the tour would be more glamorous somehow. More limos or something. Less F-150s."

Read more!

"The Fortune Cookie"

The 1966 movie "The Fortune Cookie" is rich in film history, regardless of its ties to Northeast Ohio. It was the fourth of seven collaborations between Jack Lemmon and director Billy Wilder (following "The Apartment," "Some Like It Hot" and "Irma La Douce"). It was the first screen pairing of Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and Matthau won the Oscar for best supporting actor for his performance. You can have fun just looking at the cast, with large "MASH's" William Christopher as a doctor and Keith Jackson as the football announcer, among others.
It's a sharp, often bitter comedy. And it's set in Cleveland ...
The movie has Lemmon as Harry Hinkle, a cameraman for CBS, who is shooting a Browns-Vikings game at Municipal Stadium. When Browns player Boom Boom Jackson (Ron Rich) runs into Harry on the sidelines, the cameraman is injured enough to be taken to the hospital. Enter his brother-in-law, Willie Gingrich (Matthau), an unscrupulous lawyer, who sees gold in Harry's potential injuries. Willie immediately announces plans to sue CBS, the Browns and the stadium for $1,000,000. And things spiral out from there.
You get footage of the old Browns stadium, of Browns football (including Jim Brown scoring) and of the old urban landscape of Cleveland; in one shot, my eyes were drawn away from the action to the smoke pouring out of the chimneys of a factory in the background.
The people of Cleveland are shown as devoted football fans -- even the nuns in Harry's hospital bet on games -- and the fans as good sports (cheering Harry when he stands up after the Jackson hit) but tough as well (Jackson gets vigorously booed as his playing skills fall apart after the accident with Harry). Harry, we learn at one point, grew up in Toledo. And, according to a couple of Web sites, the St. Mark's Hospital in the film is Cleveland's St. Vincent Charity Hospital.
You could build an entire Web site around this movie.
Read more!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

"My Three Sons": "Soap-Box Derby"

On March 30, 1961, near the end of its first season, "My Three Sons" did an episode called "Soap-Box Derby." (Hat tip to Jeff Iula). The episode finds a friend of Robbie (Don Grady) impressing a girl with his plans to compete in the local derby, prompting Robbie to get involved as well.

Key line, from the other kid as he shows off a brochure: "Boy, you should see the prizes. Look at that! That's just for winning here. Then you go on to the All-American in Akron!"

As someone who remembers "My Three Sons" for a lot of bland comedy, especially in its later years, I have to add that this episode is quite good for the time. It has parallel stories, about Robbie's attempt to build a derby racer on his own, and Steve (Fred MacMurray) working on a rocket project for his company. Both struggle at their respective tasks, with the episode switching back and forth between their two stories, even overlapping lines of dialogue. In addition to that good structure, it offers realistic conclusions to both narratives -- although it still manages to end the show with a laugh. Solid work.

Read more!

"The Soloist"

The movie about Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez (played by Robert Downey Jr.) and homeless musician Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) included a few flashbacks to Ayers's youth, parts of which were shot in Cleveland. After the jump, my story about attending the Cleveland production.

On a sunny, 70-some-degree Friday morning, there was snow on the ground near the intersection of Belvidere and 66th streets in Cleveland.

But the snow had a cottony feel and poured from a hose attached to a truck. A gas station nearby was nothing more than a battered facade, with tables and paint cans stashed out of sight behind it.

Movie magic was being made in Cleveland.

The Soloist, a film starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr., began about two days of shooting in the Cleveland neighborhood on Friday.

The result will be about 10 minutes in the finished movie. (A few interior scenes set in Cleveland were shot in a Los Angeles studio.) But those minutes have brought to Northeast Ohio an Academy Award-nominated director (Joe Wright of Atonement). Foxx, an Oscar winner for Ray, is to shoot a few scenes in Cleveland tonight.

And, while Cleveland is getting a fraction of the roughly $50 million budget for The Soloist, its presence led to the booking of some 850 hotel rooms, the hiring of 20 to 25 local extras and a few actors, work for close to 65 local craftsmen, and money spent on food and transportation.

Ivan Schwarz, executive director of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission, sees it also as an opportunity to show what can be done in the area. Other movies might then spend even more time and money locally especially if the state of Ohio sees the benefit of tax incentives for filmmakers.

But, beyond the financial potential, the movie is important for spotlighting former Clevelander Nathaniel Anthony Ayers and his struggles.

Ayers came to national attention in 2005, when Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez began writing about how he had heard Ayers 54 years old then, schizophrenic and homeless making beautiful violin music on the streets of L.A.

Even with just two working strings on his violin, Ayers dazzled. In a series of columns, Lopez described him, their friendship and the life changes that still have Ayers in Los Angeles but under far better circumstances.

Lopez now has a book, The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music, just arrived in stores. The movie, with Foxx as Ayers and Downey as Lopez, will premiere nationally in November.

''This is fantastic,'' Ayers' sister, Jennifer Ayers-Moore, said as she watched preparations for the movie's shooting Friday morning.

''Cleveland is our home town,'' added Ayers-Moore, a Kent State alum who now lives in Atlanta. ''It's great to see that Joe Wright, the director, saw the need to come back to Cleveland.''

''The rest of the movie is shot in Los Angeles,'' Wright said during a news conference Friday. ''And Los Angeles looks nothing like Cleveland. We've tried to make the film as authentic as possible in dealing with certain areas of Los Angeles, and it was important to be authentic in the flashbacks to Nathaniel's childhood.''

''We visually wanted to contrast the palm trees and blue sky of Los Angeles with a different environment in Cleveland,'' added Gary Foster, a producer of The Soloist, whose previous credits include Sleepless in Seattle, Tin Cup and Daredevil. And Cleveland, he said, is part of Ayers' roots.

''Not every studio would have allowed us to do this,'' he said. ''But (DreamWorks) understood the creative value of it. So there will be a visual backdrop to this film that will make it even fuller. . . . We had a certain budget to adhere to, but they never stopped us from coming here.''

The moviemakers began working with the film commission in August; physical preparations, such as creating new fronts for existing buildings, have been going on for weeks.

The area where the movie was filming is not exactly where the Ayers family grew up; the family lived on East 95th Street and other locations. And more than 40 years have passed since the flashbacks to Ayers' Cleveland childhood. (Foxx's scenes, said producer Foster, are places where the film goes into Ayers' ''emotional memory.'')

Wright said the original screenplay had included even more Cleveland material, including scenes during the Hough riots in 1966, but some of that had to be cut for financial reasons.

But Wright wanted the local feel.

Still, Ayers-Moore is excited about the film.

''The story that we're going to see is going to be a great human-interest story,'' she said. ''It's going to bring some light to mental illness, and that's what I want it to do. . . . I think it's going to open eyes.''

Ayers-Moore has set up the 2StringsConnection/Nathaniel Anthony Ayers Foundation to help gifted people with mental illness; she is hoping that premiere showings of The Soloist will be used as fundraisers for the foundation.

Read more!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"Needful Things": The Devil Came Up From Akron

In the 1993 movie "Needful Things," Leland Gaunt (Max Von Sydow) proves to be something far more dangerous than the shop owner he claims to be when he arrives in the Maine town of Castle Rock. Which you would expect in a movie based on a Stephen King tale. Brian Rusk (Shane Meier), a kid who meets Gaunt early in the movie, wonders about his background.

BRIAN: Are you from overseas somewhere?
GAUNT: I'm from Akron.
BRIAN: Where's that? England?
GAUNT: That's in Ohio.

(Hat tip to Paula Schleis for the suggestion.) Read more!

"Guys Like Us": Squirming Out of Cleveland

In 1998, the old UPN network picked up a series called "Guys Like Us," about a couple of young guys suddenly responsible for a 6-year-old boy. The pilot set the show in Cleveland, so when a press conference for the show was held, the question came up about whether it would stay there. ...
. This is from the transcript of the press conference with stars Maestro Harrell, Bumper Robinson and Chris Hardwick, and executive producers Dan Schneider and Barry O'Brien:
QUESTION: ... Is the series still going to be set in Cleveland? Or is it going to be generic big city at this point? ...
O'BRIEN: We're moving it to Chicago. ...
QUESTION: ... Why have you decided to change the location from the pilot then?
O'BRIEN: It just seems -- I think [Chicago] is a venue that opens the series up. We have, I think, a really edgy buddy comedy and putting it into a really alive city like Chicago with music and sports [trailing off]
QUESTION: So, you think Cleveland is utterly lacking in those things?
O'BRIEN: No, no, not at all. We felt that --
SCHNEIDER: We love Cleveland.
ROBINSON: I was born in Cleveland, so be careful.

There never was an explanation, other than a reference to Harrell being from Chicago. But it was sort of fun to watch these guys talk up one city while trying not to offend another one.

Read more!

This is the pilot for "Glee," which begins its series run on Fox in the fall. It's also full of NE Ohio connections. ... From a HeldenFiles column in May:

...Although some Fox materials have been vague about the location, the show's fictional McKinley High School is in Lima, series creator Ryan Murphy has said.

One character refers to ''my long-distance girlfriend in Cleveland.''

McKinley's glee club — which is more of a show choir — goes to a presentation by Carmel High School ''down in Akron.'' [It's that school's group performing "Rehab."]

OK, so Akron isn't exactly ''down'' from Lima. At least there's a mention. And that group at Carmel, however fictional it may be, is really good. As is the pilot generally, blending feel-good aspects of the High School Musical movies with a little tartness, more vivid characters and lots of humor.

But Why Lima? ... The man behind nip/tuck and Popular said he wanted to set the show in the Midwest, since he's an Indiana kid himself. Let the debate resume over whether Ohio is actually Midwest. He also remembers a lot of visits to Ohio to go to the Kings Island theme park.

''I don't know why Lima,'' he said. It stayed in his memory because ''when I was a very little kid, there was a series of tornadoes that swept through Lima on Mother's Day'' and his grandparents would often talk about the incident. (He may actually be thinking of the famous Palm Sunday storm of 1965.)

He has been through Lima, he said, but has not spent a lot of time there.

Read more!

This is a "Bewitched" episode from 1966 called "Soapbox Derby." Lots of derby logos, discussion of going to Akron and at the end (around 23:23), Samantha and Darrin watching the Akron event on TV. (The episode playback, via, includes some commercials. The episode is also on DVD, in the "Bewitched: The Complete Third Season" set. Read more!

Remember Jesse White?

The able character actor, known for years as the Maytag repairman, was from Akron. An early commercial is above. His 1997 obituary is after the jump.

Character actor Jesse White, who grew up in Akron and went on to fame as the nation's loneliest repairman, has died. He was 79.
A spokeswoman for Cedars Sinai Medical Center in West Hollywood, Calif., said Mr. White died of cardiac arrest Wednesday night, after surgery for an undisclosed ailment.
For 21 years, Mr. White endeared himself to millions as the lonely Maytag repairman in television ads. He portrayed a frustratingly bored man who never had anything to do because Maytags just don't break down, according to the commercials.
It was one of the longest-running advertising campaigns on television. Mr. White made the Maytag repairman a symbol of dependability. He gave up his "Old Lonely" role in 1988.
Mr. White had acted in several Broadway plays, four television series and more than 60 films.
His big break came when he landed the role as a frantic sanitarium orderly in the Broadway production of Harvey.
He later starred in the movie version of Harvey with James Stewart, who played Elwood P. Dowd, a man who saw and talked to a 6-foot, 3 1/2-inch invisible white rabbit.
Mr. White graduated in 1936 from West High School in Akron. He also had attended South High School. His name then was Jess Weidenfeld.
Mr. White's family in Akron was in the jewelry and beauty supply businesses. He left Akron in 1942.
He began his stage career in Akron, appearing in productions at Weathervane and Coach House theaters and on local radio stations. He then moved on to movies, Broadway, Kenley Players productions and the Maytag repairman role on television.
Mr. White planned to return to Akron in 1985 to help Weathervane commemorate 50 seasons of community theater, but was unable to.
He was inducted into the Akron Radio Hall of Fame in 1987, but was not present for the ceremonies.
Mr. White had returned to Akron to perform in Kenley shows at the Akron Civic Theatre and E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall.
Francia Albrecht of Akron, who had acted with White in a play, Stage Door, at the old Akron YWCA, said Mr. White "was a very talented individual. He was a true professional. He was always very nice and kind."
Mr. White visited the Albrecht home in 1978 to take part in a "Helping Hands" tea for the United Way-Red Cross campaign.
He was born in Buffalo, N.Y., and moved to Akron with his family as a child.
A veteran of vaudeville and burlesque, Mr. White reached Broadway in 1944 with his supporting role in Harvey, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Mary Chase.
Often cast as a cigar-chomping, whiny-voiced thug, and sometimes as a pushy agent, Mr. White also appeared in such films as Bedtime for Bonzo, Marjorie Morningstar and Death of a Salesman.
His television series credits included agent Cagey Calhoun in the 1950s show Private Secretary; Oscar Pudney in The Ann Sothern Show; and Jesse Leeds, the agent of Danny Thomas, in Make Room for Daddy.
His last film role was in 1993's Matinee, starring John Goodman.
Ill health in the last years of his life kept him from working steadily.
For his entry in Who's Who in America, White supplied this quote:
"At age 7, I knew what I wanted in life -- to bring a little laughter and joy to the world. I've been blessed twice -- to be able to do the thing I know and do best and to make a decent and respectable living at it. I have had a good life in show business and feel sorry for people who are not in it."
Mr. White was married in 1942 to Cecelia Kahn and had two daughters, Carole and Janet.
Read more!

When "24" Hit Kidron

In January "24" presented an episode set partly in Kidron. A couple of my Beacon Journal stories about it, after the jump.

Kidron, Ohio, is facing a deadly leak from its chemical plant, one that might kill as many as 18,000 people out of the community's 30,000.

At least, that's how the Fox TV series 24 described the potential result of a terrorist plot launched at the end of Monday's episode.

It's odd that a network show would decide to make a target of Kidron, a small, unincorporated community that is part of Sugar Creek Township in Wayne County.

The mention is courtesy of Brannon Braga, a former Canton resident who is now a co-executive producer and writer on 24. Back in September 2007, before the writers strike stalled production of television series, he co-wrote Monday's episode with Manny Coto, another writer-producer on the show and a regular collaborator with Braga. (The two also teamed on the Enterprise TV series.)

In a telephone interview, Braga said, ''I thought a nod to Ohio would be fun.''

He considered using Canton but thought it was too well-known for the situation, and thought about just making up the name of a town before settling instead on Kidron.

''I've never been to Kidron,'' he admitted. ''We're not picking on it. Obviously, it's a fictionalized Kidron [on 24].'' If he ever visits the real place, he said, ''Hopefully, I will be welcome.''

Monday's episode, titled 1:00 PM-2:00 PM (since each episode of 24 covers an hour in a day), certainly caught folks by surprise.
Scott Wiggam, a Wayne County commissioner, said he does not usually watch 24. On Monday night, he said, ''I flipped it on and caught the last fight scene and then I heard them mention Kidron, and I had to concentrate on what they were saying.''

Wiggam took another look at the episode — which is available online at — and came away amused at the TV Kidron.

Like others in the area who were talking about the episode on Tuesday, he was struck by how little the Kidron of 24 resembled the real community.

There is no chemical plant in Kidron, said Wiggam, who checked with local emergency management to be sure.

The real Kidron, Wiggam said, is ''a quaint community.'' It is in Amish country and known for places like Lehman's, the hardware company that calls itself ''the world's largest purveyor of historical technology.''

Like Wiggam, over at the Wayne Economic Development Council, the staff noted that the real Kidron is much smaller than TV's. Indeed, 24 imagined a major baby boom in the area. The entirety of Sugar Creek, which includes Kidron, is about 6,500 people — not the 30,000 the show gave Kidron alone.

As for what awaits Kidron on TV, here's the background: The fiendish Col. Dubaku is trying to force President Allison Taylor to withdraw U.S. troops from the fictional African nation of Sangala. The troops aim to depose Sangala's despotic leader, Gen. Juma, who is also Dubaku's boss.

Dubaku has gained access to the U.S.'s technological infrastructure, enabling him to cause the collision of two aircraft. With the president still unwilling to stop her Sangala action, Dubaku has ordered a remote-control infiltration of that chemical plant.

The next episode will find the good guys racing against time to prevent a disaster.

''Next week will be a scary time in [the TV] Kidron,'' Braga said. ''The threat . . . escalates.''

Here's my follow-up, also from the ABJ:

In Case You Missed 24 . . . The TV series' version of Kidron, Ohio, was spared a chemical disaster on Monday night thanks to the efforts of Janis Gold (Janeane Garofalo), a courageous chem-plant manager (Tom Irwin) and, to some degree, the gun-totin' hero Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland).

It was computer whiz Janis who figured out that the terrorists' target was the chemical plant — which was, in fact, in a ''neighboring county'' to Kidron — and worked with the manager to release the pressure on a tank holding highly toxic, concentrated insecticide.

As I said on my blog, the plant appeared to have plenty of toxic chemicals but no chemical-protection suits, so the manager battled a spray of toxicity in just a gas mask and his shirt sleeves. He didn't make it.

Read more!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"Hickory Hideout"

My general idea for this blog was that it would focus on national shows and movies where NE Ohio pops up. "Hickory Hideout," which a reader asked about, was originally a local show for WKYC, then went national via NBC-owned stations, so it's worth some discussion here. ("Big 5 Show"/"Upbeat" would qualify as well, done locally but distributed nationally.) Wayne Turney, one of the people behind the show, has posted his memories of "Hickory Hideout" on his Web site. You can find the info here. Read more!

The Story of "Akron Man"

Welcome to the blog. I'm still getting some bugs out, and working on other elements like adding pictures. But in the following posts you can see the kinds of items it will include.
Feel free as well to suggest other items in the comments section of this and other posts. But we'll start this morning with a section from my 1995 Beacon Journal story about Drew Carey, then about to launch his own sitcom -- and a failed TV idea called "Akron Man." (Consumer advisory: While the blog includes other things I've written for the Beacon Journal, this is not an official ABJ blog but my own side project.) And so to "Akron Man" ...

Carey had a series deal with the Walt Disney Co. and expected to be working with Matt Williams, a writer-producer best known for launching Roseanne and Home Improvement. When Williams was unavailable, Carey was forced into what he calls a shotgun marriage with Michael Jacobs, a top producer for Disney despite an unremarkable series record (Dinosaurs, The Torkelsons, My Two Dads, Boy Meets World and other shows).
"Michael Jacobs came up with the idea for Akron Man," Carey said. "I said, 'Why can't it be Cleveland?' He said, 'It's funnier if it's in Akron.' I thought, 'Oh, God.' ...
"It was about a married guy with three kids, and I lived in Akron. I painted fine china. That's what you think of when you think of Akron, don't ya? And I lost my job when they decide to stamp the china in the Philippines, and I'm really mad about foreigners, and I call a talk-radio station. And what I say is so great, they give me a job on the radio and I'm known as the Akron Man.
"Isn't that brilliant? That was the idea, and I'm so glad it fell through the floor."
But when the pilot did not sell, Carey said he got the blame. "It ruined me at Disney for having my own show. They didn't blame Michael Jacobs, their big-star, $20-million-deal writer for not coming up with something. They said, well, Carey's a comic, he can't act, he doesn't have the chops to be a lead in a show.' "
Carey then tried to rebuild his reputation. He took a supporting role in The Good Life, a situation comedy starring John Caponera. The 1993-94 series didn't last, but Carey got good notices and, now, his own sitcom.
Read more!

Monday, June 1, 2009

"Light of Day"

This is the music video for "Light of Day," the Michael J. Fox/Joan Jett film set in Cleveland. I'll say more about the movie in another post, but I love the song -- written by Bruce Springsteen -- and you've got local flavor in the video. Read more!

"Tootsie" Talk

In "Tootsie," Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels (Dustin Hoffman) gets a reading for a job on a soap opera, which also includes a camera test.

Producer to cameraman: "I'd like to make her look a little more attractive. How far can you pull back?"
Cameraman: "How do you feel about Cleveland?" Read more!

Movie Music

The Internet Movie Database lists more than 40 movie/TV/videogame productions using compositions by Akron's own Chrissie Hynde, of Pretenders fame. The most significant, on a couple of grounds, is the presence of "My City Was Gone" on the soundtrack to "American Splendor." "City," of course, is Hynde's pointed song about urban decline in Akron and NE Ohio generally; I still love the performance at the inaugural Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert where she reeled off a list of Ohio locations as a prelude to the song. "American Splendor," meanwhile, is about another bard of NE Ohio, Harvey Pekar, played in the movie by Paul Giamatti. Read more!

People in Ohio are SO Nice

In an upcoming episode of the new Showtime series "Nurse Jackie," New York nurse Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) is helping a couple from out of town.
"I'm gonna guess Midwest," Jackie says.
"Ohio*! How did you know?" the woman replies.
" 'Cause you're in pain and you're apologizing."

(*Toledo, it turns out.) Read more!

Stricklands for Burgers?

In May 2003, John Ratzenberger came to Akron to tape a segment of "Made in America," a show for the Travel Channel. When the show aired the following year, it turned out to have a huge blooper. My 2004 story follows.

When John Ratzenberger came to Akron, he got a look at tire-making and a bum tip on food.
Best known for playing Cliff on Cheers, Ratzenberger came to town last May as host and producer of the Travel Channel series John Ratzenberger's Made in America. A segment on the history and making of Goodyear tires will air on the show at 9 p.m. Tuesday.
At the end of the Goodyear segment, Ratzenberger asks chief engineer Bill Egan, "Any good hamburgers nearby?"
"Oh, yes," Egan replies. "We could go to Stricklands."
Egan has since said he meant Swensons, which is known for its hamburgers. Stricklands has a reputation for its custard.
"You know, the end of a long day," Egan said to explain his error. But as someone who has eaten at Swensons, he was embarrassed. "When I first saw (the tape), I thought, 'Oh, that's terrible.' "
Ratzenberger, by the way, said he never got to Stricklands, or Swensons, because he had another commitment. He did get to enjoy the food at another local restaurant, Vaccaro's.
"It was really good," he said in a recent telephone interview from Los Angeles. "The people were really nice. And some of the other patrons sent over a bottle of wine."
The Akron trip was part of a statewide jaunt that also included stops in Dublin (for a look at Barbasol shaving products) and Jackson Center (for Airstream trailers).
"I ended up buying one of the Airstreams," he said. "I know you spend the first half of your life acquiring things and the second half on yard sales. But an Airstream is like a functional piece of art."
He said the same thing about a wooden row boat he bought 20 years ago from Lowell's Boat Shop in Amesbury, Mass. And he loved that boat so much, he made sure Made in America did a segment on the company.
As you can see, the series takes Ratzenberger around the country to visit companies large and small, detailing how things are made and underscoring the actor's own pride in American craftsmanship. Tuesday's show is a valentine to Goodyear.
Ratzenberger said he was fascinated by the story of Charles Goodyear's invention of vulcanized rubber, which began when Goodyear accidentally dropped some rubber on a stove. Made in America lingers over an exhibit marking the event in the World of Rubber museum.
"I'm a fan of garage inventors," Ratzenberger said. "I think that's what built our country."
In the show, he shakes the hand of a Goodyear statue and declares, "Thanks for being so clumsy."
Still, Ratzenberger is a fan of people who work with their hands. He grew up in Bridgeport, Conn., a factory town he said was "very much like Akron."
The factories he remembers from his youth -- plants for firearms, sewing machines and other products -- are gone, he said. But he can still point to an apartment house where he helped put on the roof while working as a carpenter.
"I still have a functioning wood shop in my house," he said. "When my children (now in their teens) were little and asked what I did, they said I was a carpenter. They didn't know I was an actor. I didn't talk about that at home."
The idea that things are made by hard work and industry sometimes gets lost, he said. "Older people understand. But the younger generation thinks things fall from the sky, gift-wrapped."
He said he sees a day when some skills are so rare that "colleges will start teaching auto mechanics and bricklaying."
Read more!