When is an Interview not an Interview?

Being a writer for a local newspaper, I am often assigned interviews promoting a current play or an event of local interest. Phone interviews are typical. Circumstances occasionally require that we meet in person. This is not usually a problem.

I was assigned to interview a man who works in Public Relations. He had several items he was promoting. And being a personable fellow (did I mention he works in Public Relations) he preferred to speak face to face. We set a time to meet at a coffee shop easily accessible to both of us.

I followed his directions and arrived at the wrong place a few minutes early. My actual destination was about two blocks away. I got there on time, parked and went in.

I entered the nearly empty restaurant and looked around.  A man at the counter caught my eye and nodded to me. He stood and got off his cell phone. I introduced myself while shaking his hand.  He suggested we adjourn to a table at the rear of the restaurant where we could talk undisturbed by other customers. A waiter took our orders for a light lunch.

It was going to be a lengthy and detailed interview and I wanted to make sure I got all my facts straight. I wanted to get some good quotes that always liven up the text. I put my legal pad on the table and prepared to write. Curiously, he asked why I had brought a pad.

I reminded him of our scheduled interview and that I wanted to maintain absolute accuracy. It was odd he didn’t remember which paper I worked for.

Respecting his valuable time, I bypassed the small talk and got straight to the interview. I asked how he got his start and he settled into a rambling account of his youth. He went into some detail about how his father belonged to the culinary union. “That’s very interesting,” I observed, “but how, from there did you get into Public Relations?”

He scoffed. “I don’t do public relations.”

What? “I’m sorry, but I think there may have been a mix up.  I’m supposed to be interviewing a PR guy. Are you ___________?”

“No, I own this restaurant. My name is Biff.”

I called my contact. He apologized and said he was about ten minutes away. He tried to call but was in the canyon and had no reception. I assured him I would wait. There was nothing else to do but finish my lunch and continue my conversation with Biff. He told me how he was the namesake for a character in a Micheal J. Fox movie from the ‘80s.

We were about finished when Biff signaled to someone. I turned to see my guy had just entered and was walking our way. I offered my hand to shake, but he walked by me to shake hands with Biff. They began talking like old friends.

What was happening? Wasn’t this my interview subject? Did these guys know each other? Then Biff said something and the new guy turned toward me. We shook hands. He explained that since Biff signaled to him, he thought Biff was me.

We adjourned to another table and started the interview. But, apparently feeling like we were all old friends now, Biff kept interjecting his observations on whatever he thought we were discussing. I finally thanked Biff for his charming conversation and let him know it was not an open forum.

To no one’s surprise, all the delays and confusion kept us from getting to the meat of the interview. We rescheduled the interview for another day.

By phone.

P L. A. Y Noir – One Acts -as Dark as it Gets

The Noir genre is often underestimated. Just populate the stage with sneering men and half clad, cynical ‘dames,’ add a dollop of decadence, sprinkle in a pinch of pistols, and voila! – an easy-bake concoction called Noir. If only it were that simple. It may look like Noir, but if wit is absent, taste will be missed.

One neglected, but essential ingredient to success, is the world-weary character who takes a moral stand and clings to his or her ideals in counter-point to the overwhelming darkness the world gleefully spews forth.  The audience expects an emotional connection. They hope to take solace in knowing they are not alone in attempting to navigate these murky times.

So, of course, our hero must try to fathom the shadowy labyrinth of human behavior. Those above mentioned ‘dames’ bear many secrets and are loath to reveal them cheaply.  Characters string the hero along by teasing the hinted at but hidden. Anything too easy or glaringly obvious is suspect in this world. Too much is at stake.

This year’s “P L. A. Y Noir” collection of one act plays at The Actor’s Workout Studio, pretends to be noir but too often trades broad humor for the tease. These plays have a sexual component, but expect a face full rather than the innuendo usually associated with the genre. How many times can a single word be milked for a sophomoric punch line?  Don’t ask.

One acts ‘get no respect,’ because they so often sink into sketchy material. The one act’s brevity actually raises the bar for excellence. Full length plays may survive a weak scene, but a one act is especially vulnerable to flaccid writing. These plays are the antithesis of what noir and one acts aspire to be.

I haven’t known that many killers, but I doubt they ever spend twenty minutes chatting to their prey about their dark existentialism. Do assassins have a poetic license?

“P L. A. Y Noir” runs the gamut from high concept to double-entendre laden shtick. Yuk, yuk.

Actors James Elden, Laura Boccaletti, Nicole Suzanne, Andrew J. Hillis, Jason Galindo, Gordon Meacham, Guy Noland, John Conroy, Angela Bray, Roy Oraschin, Jason Galindo, Tania L. Pearson-Loeser, Jim Shipley, Rachel Borbas, and Roxanne Jaeckel gamely bring energy to this potpourri of dead flowers. Many actors play multiple roles in this two-hour showcase of untested work.

Note: strong sexual content throughout.

P L. A. Y Noir is staged Fridays and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through October 2nd, 2016, at The Actor’s Workout Studio 4735 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood, CA 91602.

Ticket information: www.playnoir.com.

Note: This review has not been published previously.

Amanda Markowitz film ‘Love Meet Hope’ conquers all

By John K. Adams

“Overall, I most want to inspire other artists to try, keep trying, take chances and not be afraid to make mistakes.”

Strong sentiments from Amanda Markowitz, star, co-creator and producer of Love Meet Hope, winner of Best Dramatic Film at this year’s Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival.

Love Meet Hope is summarized: “A grandfather’s love stories enlighten a jaded man and a moonstruck girl about the realities of love.” Ed Asner, departing from familiar curmudgeonly roles, plays the sweet grandfather, grieving his wife. How great for a film to depict one man’s love stories that resonate to inspire other’s stories.

Markowitz, who co-created the film with Bradley Fowler, shares, “Love Meet Hope inspires and instills hope within each viewer. It is a beautifully unique project with elements of romance, action, drama and comedy all wrapped up to create a compelling work of art.”

Markowitz graduated magna cum laude from USC’s Marshall School of Business, but it was growing up in her parents’ deli, Factor’s Famous Deli in Los Angeles, where she learned “the importance of everyone involved, from the owner to the busboy,” to achieving success.

That ethic of teamwork translated well to the rigors of producing a movie. Amanda says the crew on Love Meet Hope actually had fun while creating this award-winning feature film. Quite a claim, considering movie productions often resemble a military operation.

Markowitz said the toughest things about doing the movie were “wearing multiple hats and learning to delegate. Adaptability becomes second nature. Having a strong team you can trust 100 percent is absolutely essential.”

Love Meet Hope director Bennie Woodell, describes Markowitz as “an asset and a joy to have involved in any production.”

Follow updates on the upcoming release of “Love Meet Hope” on these sites: LoveMeetHope.com, Facebook: Love Meet Hope, Twitter and Instagram: @lovemeethope. Follow Amanda Markowitz at AmandaMarkowitz.com, Facebook: Amanda Markowitz, Twitter and Instagram: @amandamarkowitz.

This interview originally appeared in the Tolucan Times on March 13, 2016.

Actress Lucy Walsh makes film debut in star-studded ‘Mother’s Day’

By John K. Adams

Mother’s Day is an all-star ensemble piece, directed by Garry Marshall. The motion picture follows the interwoven stories of several mothers and their respective children leading up to their annual holiday. It features an all-star cast with Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson and Lucy Walsh.

Walsh makes her film debut in Mother’s Day, but she is no stranger to performance, having toured internationally with her own music with Maroon 5, One Republic, Bruno Mars, Owl City and Ashlee Simpson. The daughter of rocker Joe Walsh, she has also shared the stage with many Nashville greats. She performs her song “Winter Coat” on the soundtrack of Mother’s Day.

“A gift I got from my dad is his great respect for the craft of performance. I would watch him spend days perfecting a six note riff, only to see him toss it off on stage like he just came up with it. It’s powerful to see the work it takes, that work ethic in practice,” she said.

Loving both music and acting, Walsh is now concentrating on the acting piece. Besides Mother’s Day, she also guest stars this season in Criminal Minds and NCIS.

Walsh describes her Mother’s Day role as “the voice of hope for my friend, played by Jason (Sudeikis). My character is sort of this optimistic person, always pushing forward.”

She identifies Gloria Gifford as the acting coach who kick started her career. “You wouldn’t go to the Olympics without a coach, would you? She’s my coach.”

And Walsh names Mother’s Day Director, Garry Marshall as her mentor. “He’s a legend. He saw me in A Comedy of Errors and brought me in. He comes from television, so he works really fast. You stay in the moment. He taught me so much.”

It rained constantly in Atlanta during the Mother’s Day shoot. This was a heady experience for Walsh, who grew up in arid Los Angeles. “I would stand on the balcony and let the wind and rain soak my hotel room while I was just yelling and hooting at the storm.”

Mother’s Day opens in theaters on April 29th. Lucy Walsh’s song “Winter Coat” is available on iTunes.

To learn more about Walsh visit her page on IMDB.com search:  Lucy Walsh.

This interview originally appeared in the Tolucan Times on April 7th, 2016.

Actor Wayne Péré takes off his mask

By John K. Adams

Wayne Péré is one of those actors you’ve seen in memorable character roles, in countless movies and television shows. You might not know his name but you surely know his face. “Oh! That guy. He’s great,” you might say when he appears in yet another of your favorite shows. Last year you saw him in the acclaimed The Big Short and Trumbo, among other releases.

You can now get to know him better. Péré currently appears in a trifecta of Civil War-era dramas. He plays sympathetic slave owner, Benjamin Murray, in the remake of the iconic Roots mini-series. He plays a recurring character (Rev. Wilowset) in Underground about the ante-bellum Underground Railroad for escaped slaves making their way to the north. And he also appears, opposite Matthew McConaughey, as Confederate Col. Robert Lowery in the feature, Free State of Jones.

Free State of Jones is based on the true event of a small group of southern farmers who seceded from the Confederacy and how their rebellion was crushed.

“People are uncomfortable shining a light on these dark times of history, but I think it’s imperative,” states Péré. “One of the challenges for an actor in this type of historical drama is to bring truth to a character, who may hold views diametrically opposed to views of your own,” Péré continues. “In the end you are still drawing from your own emotional well. How do you get there?”

At this point Péré quotes actress Meryl Streep: “Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what’s apparently different, and finding myself in there.”

Péré also quotes actor Robert Duvall who paraphrases the great acting coach Sanford Meisner: ”When you create a character, it’s like making a chair. Except instead of making it out of wood, you make it out of yourself. That’s the actor’s craft, using yourself to create a character.”

Be sure to schedule time to watch Péré bring truth to the screen in Roots, Underground and Free State of Jones.

To learn more about Péré visit his page on IMDB.com search:  Wayne Péré.  

This interview originally appeared in the Tolucan Times on April 7th, 2016.

‘Gershwin Sings Gershwin’ and all that jazz March 22

Alexis Gershwin has a sweet speaking voice. Hearing her talk, one thinks, “Boy, I’ll bet she can sing.”

Niece of the iconic songwriting brothers George and Ira Gershwin, Alexis Gerswhin is determined to “bring back good music, help save what we have, and let young people realize what beautiful music can sound like.” She wants to share music that embodies “romance, sincerity and feelings…this music comes straight from my soul and my heart.”

Gershwin loves her uncles’ entire songbook, but her special favorite is “Someone to Watch Over Me” because “it speaks to that vulnerability we all have, but can’t always express.”

Always a performer, she studied ballet, acting and musical performance in school. “But singing comes naturally. It is like breathing for me,” she says.

Growing up within the Gershwin family allowed her to see her uncles as people. She would cajole her Uncle Ira to play tennis. “He played so well. He wasn’t competitive at all. It was more about keeping the volley alive. He got rhythm,” she explained.

Alexis Gershwin uses all her training and experience to bring a fresh interpretation to these timeless favorites.

“Gershwin Sings Gershwin,” will be presented one night only, Tuesday, March 22nd, 8:30pm (doors open at 7pm), at Catalina Bar & Grill located at 6725 W. Sunset Boulevard (just east of North Highland Avenue) in Hollywood. Alexis Gershwin will be backed by The Gershwin Singers and a Four-Piece Band. Admission is $20 plus dinner or a two-drink minimum per person. For reservations call (323) 466-2210 or visit CatalinaJazzClub.com. Valet parking is available. CDs of Alexis Gershwin will be available at the concert.

This press release originally appeared in the Tolucan Times on March 17th, 2016.

Distinctive Differences

Hans was the eccentric old guy at the photo lab, where I worked. He was a technician and good at his job. He came across as a kindly old gentleman with a German accent. He minded his business and didn’t bother anyone.

It seemed like everyone in Minnesota had an accent, German, Scandinavian or the weirdest mix of all, Minnesotan.

One day, while on break, he told me about growing up in Germany before WWII. Then he told me about joining the German army and fighting for the Third Reich in Yugoslavia. Then he told me about how their leader, Adolf Hitler, was misunderstood by the world. Poor old Adolf “did a lot of good things,” he said. With great power comes great forgiveness, as Spiderman says. No, wait.

Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” had been released a few years before. My impression of Hans blended with the hilarious, Nazi playwright from that movie, waxing ecstatic over “what a wonderful dancer” Hitler was. Hans wasn’t so demonstrative but he did insist ‘der Fuhrer’ was misunderstood.

A few years later, on my first day of film school in Tampa, Florida, all the buzz was about one instructor, Karl who was a former Luftwaffe pilot in WWII. All the Jewish students were anxious about taking his classes.

Not to worry, Karl, though as severe in countenance as his reputation would suggest, never betrayed any prejudice against any group or individual. He treated everyone with the same superior disdain in keeping with his perfectionist temperament. Considering the styles of some of the other instructors, Karl was consistent, predictable and a purveyor of solid technical information.

Karl also had a dry sense of humor. At least that is how we chose to see it. A fellow student, Bill, once drew Karl into sharing some personal history with us. He was pressed into the German military service as a young teenager and trained to fly a reconnaissance plane, which were unarmed. He spoke tersely of getting captured when a British squadron of fighter planes came out of the clouds and forced him to land.

Bill asked, “But since your plane could fly higher and faster than theirs, couldn’t you have escaped?” Karl gave Bill a look that would unnerve a hawk and delivered a perfect Teutonic response. “You never retreat.” For years we would quote him with our best approximation of his German accent.

Karl came to the United States when he was released from the POW camp. He never looked back.

Years later, in Los Angeles, I worked for his niece, Karola. When I interviewed with her for the job, hearing her last name, her accent, and seeing those familiar features, I knew she could be no one else’s kin. It was an unusual application of my ‘old school tie’.

In the ‘80s, I edited a ‘sword and sorcery’ flick in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a popular genre then. Before going there, all I knew about Argentina was their ‘open door,’ non-extradition policy that welcomed Nazis escaping prosecution after WWII. Mad Magazine always poked fun at their pompous, latter day fascism.

While visiting the set one day, the studio photographer approached me and introduced himself as Juan Schultz, in a curious, German/Spanish accent. In conspiratorial tones, he told me proudly about his being Hitler’s staff photographer. He claimed he documented Hitler meeting Mussolini, and shaking hands with the Pope. He challenged my disbelief with insistent defensiveness. Alas, photographic proof was lost in his hasty exit from Germany.

He escaped to Argentina and changed his name after the war, like many others, to avoid prosecution. He was well on in years, and it could have been true. A shame about that proof.

I’ll never understand why anyone would brag about that, even if true. It is hardly the stuff one puts on their resume. Or, at least I wouldn’t. But in Buenos Aires, it seemed to open many doors.

People cannot keep dark secrets from the light. The same qualities of character that lead us into dark actions, are those which cause us to proudly broadcast them.

My co-worker Hans was an Al Bundy type, nostalgic for the glory days of that game winning touchdown. How could condemning something so glorious be anything but the result of a misunderstanding?

Karl was not nostalgic. He was no ideologue. As anyone would, he pursued opportunities to forge a new life in his adopted country. But he didn’t trade on his past.

Juan was the oddest one. While successfully escaping responsibility for his participation in infamy, he also made his fortune from those associations. And within the right context, he burnished his reputation from his sordid past.

These three men are familiar types. Not specific to one time or place, they are found throughout humanity. We each find ourselves carried by the currents of history. How we choose to respond to those forces is what is telling.



2015 Faves and Raves

I cannot believe I have been blogging for over a year now, averaging about three posts per month.

My purpose in blogging is to share examples of storytelling or sharing from my own life, by way of example, for those who might be interested in writing a memoir, or for seeing how they might re-capture old memories to share with interested parties.

Below is a short list of some popular posts you may have missed, and some of my favorites which you might find worth revisiting.

My video memoir company, Storyography: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/11/20/no-one-can-stop-time-but-hearing-those-stories-again-slows-it-just-a-little/ , is another way to share stories which captures individual performance as part of the storytelling experience and not merely the words shared.

The biggest hit, which surprised me some, was “Mandatory Moon Bathing in Minnesota”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/he-was-naked-as-a-blooming-orchid/

I’m not sure why that one grabbed so much attention over others. Maybe the title intrigued.

Another relative hit was “The Best Cab Driver in Buenos Aires”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/long-may-he-ride/  which describes some of my experiences while working in that charming city.

Some of my posts are more autobiographical than others. Other posts are more opinion oriented. My favorite of these which didn’t get the attention I thought it deserved was “Greenman Died for Your Niblets”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/to-our-surprise-cheers-and-salutations-greeted-our-approach-to-the-gate-green-man-was-a-star/

Some of my posts amounted to musings about the human condition as viewed through a prism of my own experience. One example of this, which didn’t attract the attention I had hoped was “Swings”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2014/12/04/swings/ ,

or “Taxi Driver Uber Alles”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/10/01/each-second-is-a-threshold-to-eternity/ which I thought deserved more attention.

The Territorial Imperative” was about my encounter with a very assertive spider: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/i-cringed-at-the-memory-of-what-i-yelled-that-night-during-my-desperate-search-what-had-i-wrought/ .

That was a companion piece to the popular “The Company You Keep”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/to-say-this-house-was-infested-is-like-saying-forests-have-trees/ in which I recounted my futile war with cockroaches while in college.

I also published a few practical posts exploring the value of writing a memoir “The Irreplaceable Memoir”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/09/28/the-irreplaceable-memoir/

or a distillation of what I presented weekly in a workshop for job seekers on how best to find gainful employment. “The Best Solution to the Problem” was my summary of the workshop: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/09/16/the-best-solution-to-the-problem/ .

Godzilla”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/there-is-a-piece-of-godzilla-in-all-of-us/

and “The Show Must Go On” : https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/the-show-must-go-on/ share memories of my career in motion pictures.

My favorites probably fell in my recounting episodes of my life that were fun to write and (I’m told), hilarious to read. “Bad Hair Day”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/i-looked-like-a-psychotic-texas-ranger/ ,

A Knuckle Sandwich and a Side of Steroids Please”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/a-knuckle-sandwich-and-a-side-of-steroids-please/ ,

Sunny Sleepy San Raphael”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/09/16/judging-by-her-word-count-the-woman-was-winning-but-we-had-to-acknowledge-he-made-some-very-impressive-points-with-his-rare-interjections/

and “What’s in a Name, Jack”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/05/12/whats-in-a-name-jack/ are my favorites in that genre.

Much attention has been paid of late, to concussions, due in part to the Will Smith movie of that name. My post “Isn’t this Fun?” https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/isnt-this-fun/ deals with my personal experience with a concussion.

At risk of naming all of my posts, I will stop with this brief list of personal highlights. But feel free to revisit some of these and others. They all have something to offer and offer some amusement or a diversion from the tedium of the day.

Please feel free to comment or add to the conversation. I appreciate your input. Thank you for reading.

And you are welcome to visit my Storyography website at: http://www.lifestoryography.com/

See you next year.


The Show Must Go On

I’m a New Yorker. It’s in my blood.

I never lived there. My parents moved from Long Island to Minneapolis a month before my birth. Imagine my surprise, looking out the window of the nursery, expecting to see the Empire State Building or at least the Statue of Liberty, but seeing only snow.

Talk about bait and switch. Did I mention snow?

My heart always longed for New York City, land of Brigitte Bardot and Gina Lollobrigida.

Don’t get me wrong. Minnesota is a great place to live, if you like ice.

The wind rattled our eves while I sat and watched charming, beautiful, happy people amusing each other in that oasis of civilization, New York City.

Back then most television was broadcast from NYC. It seemed like such a happy place. Who wouldn’t prefer living amidst great entertainers like Sid Caesar and Ernie Kovacs?

In fourth grade, inspired by these two geniuses and Mad Magazine, I wrote a series of mock commercials to perform for my class. I wanted to make people laugh.

I enlisted a few class mates to assist me and secured time from our teacher Miss Hudson, to perform the skits during class time. Miss Hudson didn’t even demand rights of approval over my script.

The students in the class accepted the diversion but without enthusiasm. My fellow performers went through the motions but without a spark of understanding. My project was completely out of their experience, or interest.

This was not the “I have a barn! Let’s do a play!” fantasy come true. Everyone had a barn and everyone knew what barns were for, by golly!


Their indifference might have discouraged another. But I had a vision. I was unfazed.

The idea of a nine year old attempting to recreate ’60s style television sketch comedy, before “Laugh In,” would be implausible to most. That I did this, multiple times, in a small farm town in central Minnesota is preposterous.

Why did it seem so natural to me?

How did I know where the Catskills were? Why would mentioning the names Phil Silvers and Shecky Greene start me laughing?

While playing with my sister one day, my parents heard me exclaim “Oy vey!” They asked where I heard that expression. Indeed, where would a Catholic kid, from corn country, learn Yiddish?

Stop with all the questions, already!

Laurel and Hardy were on TV every Saturday morning. I knew all their work. Exposure to W. C. Fields, Chaplin and Buster Keaton came later. Harpo Marx never knew what a devoted fan he had.

I incorporated slapstick humor into my every day life. I would plan and execute prat falls, in public, for my own amusement. If anyone else laughed, all the better. Friends gave me funny hats. I carried props in my army surplus trench coat.

Soon, I realized that my efforts to entertain the world were largely unappreciated. People surround themselves with a wall of predictability and anything disrupting that is seen with suspicion. I couldn’t understand why such antics were hilarious in a movie, but not in real life.

But characters in my favorite comedies didn’t laugh either. It is the audience who laughs. In ‘real life’ there is no audience, except for friends.

Timing. I needed to work on my timing.

In the ‘90s, I attended an Emmy Awards Ceremony where Sid Caesar was a guest host. During a lull in the proceedings, I approached him and thanked him for all the laughs he’d given me in my life. We spoke for a moment and he graciously shook my hand.

In 2002, to cure my sleep apnea, I submitted to an outpatient procedure by an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. He removed my tonsils, adenoids and my uvula on a Wednesday.

The following Sunday was Father’s Day and I planned to spend it with my two children. I expected to be my usual chipper self after four full day’s recovery. Nope.

That Sunday morning the doctor informed me that the pain would now get worse. Much worse. For days I felt like a toothpaste tube, squeezed dry and abandoned at the bottom of a cluttered drawer. Now my throat felt like a hot coal I could neither swallow nor spit out. Thanks Doc.

But I promised my kids. I wasn’t going to let a little pain squelch my Father’s Day plans. Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid” was playing at the Silent Movie Theater. They hadn’t seen Chaplin before. This was perfect.

And really, how much worse could it get?

Having the foresight to ask a neighbor to drive, we picked up my kids and had lunch. I couldn’t eat. The pain pills were useless, so I took more. I knew curling up for a nap under the table was not an option. The kids were unaware of my descent into a zombiehood.

We got to the theater. Though I wanted to see the movie, sitting in the dark for two hours was the greater attraction.

The manager of the theater came out on stage to introduce the movie. Soon the lights would dim and I could sink into oblivion.

What? My son and daughter were nudging me. What? A Charlie Chaplin imitation contest? Me?

How could I refuse? It was Father’s Day after all.

I found my way to the stage. Others had performed already. The manager gave me a cane and a derby hat and whispered not to poke a hole in the screen. Screen? What screen?

While doing a little “Chaplinesque” dance, I mustered all my slapstick chops and ‘accidentally’ put the hat on the cane instead of my head. Conspiring with the cane, the hat eluded my grasp. I spun around and grabbed the hat. Then the cane started walking me and pulled me off the stage.

There was applause.

Was it the pain pills? Was I funny? Would Chaplin have approved?

I don’t know.

But I won the contest.







Remember those silly Godzilla movies that came out of post war Japan? The Godzilla monster was loveably menacing, played by some guy in a rubber suit thrashing around in a cardboard Tokyo. What was not to love?

These movies originated  when the words ‘Made in Japan’ were a joke. Japanese industry was struggling to rebuild from the ravages of war. This was long before it became the industrial colossus it is today.

These movies were the source of numerous jokes about people speaking out of sync. We kids had many laughs trying to talk ‘out of sync’. It was only later that I understood how that happened.

Godzilla movies were always on Saturday morning TV. But I don’t think I ever saw one from beginning to end until I worked on Roland Emmerich’s “Godzilla” in 1997. It was a hoot. But it wasn’t a very good movie.

As monstrous as the traditional Japanese Godzilla monsters always were, the audience also loved them. Emmerich’s Godzilla was nasty and unsympathetic. His German sensibilities took a Japanese wood block print and ‘perfected’ it into a relentless killing machine. He took what was in a sense, the spirit of post-war Japan, and transformed it into the spirit of pre-war Germany.

Emmerich missed one of the most attractive themes of the whole franchise, that the audience identifies, for whatever reason, with Godzilla more than with the two-dimensional human characters occasionally populating the landscape.

Then in 1999, I got the chance to work on a Japanese production of “Godzilla 2000”. It was a joy to work on.

Whatever its perceived flaws, it held true to the classic Godzilla movies with cheesy optical effects, out of sync dialogue (which we tried to fix), and a deliciously suitable nemesis monster, Orga. This monster made it even easier to root for Godzilla who becomes the preferred monster, the monster ‘savior’ who saves, but who also must be destroyed.

Godzilla was never as ‘cuddly’ as King Kong but he held the same space in our collective unconscious, that untamable, demanding id, a dark side from which wells our creative energies.

Godzilla was dangerous and destructive, but Godzilla was ‘our monster,’ not some grotesque, shape shifting thing from outer space. He might wreak havoc all he wanted, but Godzilla would be damned if he would share his playground with some interloper.

An added perk to working on this was, I employed my six-year-old daughter, Natalia. For reasons I’ll never understand, she could produce an otherworldly roar out of her pint-sized body. We recorded her demonic vocalizing for use in the movie.

After the recording session, Natalia came out to the lobby where a couple of twenty-something wannabe ‘starlets’ were passing the time. They looked with amusement at my daughter and asked dismissively why she was there.

Natalia stated confidently that she had just recorded growls and roars for the monster. Barely suppressing yawns they said, “Really? Can you roar for us?” My daughter agreed. These girls had no idea what they were in for.

Natalia planted her feet and let out a sustained roar that had these two twerps crawling over the back of the couch and looking for cover. People came out of their offices to ensure everyone was safe. Natalia smiled demurely and accepted their thanks.

I always said Natalia was a force of nature. These two really felt that force. If you ever see “Godzilla 2000,” every sound from Orga, came from my daughter Natalia.

One of my co-editors, Nick has a son whose birthday fell near the date of the movie’s premier. He invited my kids and me to their Godzilla themed birthday party. His wife, Yoko, who is Japanese, made a piñata in the shape of Godzilla for the party.

I looked forward to seeing all the kids at the party tear into the piñata and give Godzilla his just desserts.

Each kid took his turn wailing on it with a broom handle, but no one could make a dent in this monster piñata. It was odd.

Refusing defeat by a candy filled toy, the men at the party each took their turns. Nothing. Nick produced a baseball bat. Nothing we did made a difference. We sat, exhausted and sweating, vanquished by this piñata from hell.

How could this be? Godzilla left us all physically spent while remaining undamaged. No one could make sense out of it. Piñatas are usually made of papier-mâché, and will disintegrate after a few well-placed blows.

But not this Godzilla piñata. This piñata, like its namesake, was indestructible.

On investigation, we found that Yoko, wanting the very best Godzilla piñata, applied generous amounts of duct tape to the inner structure of the shell. A chain saw wouldn’t have taken this piñata out.

Yoko applied an enduring truth in her design of the Godzilla piñata. Even in the movies, Godzilla might be defeated, but he never really dies. Everyone knows you can’t kill Godzilla. He will always return. And he’s not all bad.

As one of the characters notes in “Godzilla 2000”, with mixed emotions of awe and terror, “There is a piece of Godzilla in all of us.”

I hope so.