early ambitions

February 19, 2012

February 19, 2012

There’s a bittersweet quality to seeing my oldest son do what I once did – albeit, in an entirely new way. Naturally, I’m proud of him (see my October 14, 2006 blog for details of his torturous – for his parents, anyway – journey from sophomore high school drop out to valedictorian in his film school major at UCLA. It was for real – we heard him give the speech. He thanked his father, who majored in poli sci at USC, instead of me, a fellow UCLA film school alumni. Go figure.) As happy and proud as I am, part of me longs to stand where he now stands. It’s less about envy than nostalgia.

CD preparing to walk for graduation.
CD preparing to walk for graduation.
His mother, not mentioned, in the valedictorian speech
His mother, not mentioned, in the valedictorian speech
The Melnitz lobby facing the blank theater
The Melnitz lobby facing the James Bridges  theater

These feelings became acute the night John and I attended the screening of his Project 1 equivalent film. Melnitz Hall looks the same, at least from the outside – and the Jakes Bridges theater where I screened my Project 1 film is oh so familiar – but look closer and everything has changed.  I don’t recognize a single name on the faculty roster. Different people occupy all of my old professor’s offices.

The sculpture gardens outside Melnitz Hall.
The sculpture gardens outside Melnitz Hall.
The sculpture garden as I remember it.
The sculpture garden as I remember it.

During another student’s gory film, I took a breather and went into the lobby. Sitting there, by myself, sent me reeling through decades long gone. Memories of hours spent between classes in that very spot – albeit on funkier couches – flooded me. I half expected a classmate from my past to stroll up and say hello but that didn’t happen. As an old Madonna song might put it,  Melnitz Hall used to be my playground. Now, although it holds a place in my life and my heart, it’s not my world and it won’t be again.

Conferring with Dean (I think)
Conferring with Dean (I think)

On the bright side, writing – my area of specialization – remains essentially the same, at least in terms of skill set, despite technological advances such as computers instead of an IBM Selectric, printers instead of carbon paper, script delivery by email attachment instead of by messenger. (What happened to the messenger industry? Are they out of business?) I got on board with word processing early and it hasn’t been hard to stay on top of the curve.

CDR Valedictorian

I was faced with another transition shortly after CD graduated, when I was offered an opportunity to teach screen writing at Columbia College Hollywood. I’ve always identified as a student – in part because I enjoy and take frequent writing workshops to stay current – and now I’m on the other side of the desk. So far, I enjoy it.  Spending hours mentoring millennials is as close as I’ll get to re-experiencing my heady undergraduate days (albeit vicariously, from a different POV). There’s a palpable rush of creative energy that comes when I cross the threshold of a campus like UCLA or Columbia. It’s not a time machine or the Fountain of Youth, but it’s close enough.

December 14, 1964

 

December 14, 1964

Perhaps what Chamberlain Castle would have looked like
Perhaps what “Chamberlain Castle” would have looked like

I suspect the reason I didn’t have imaginary friends was my two sisters. (That said, the youngest – Joyce – had a a deep long-lasting friendship with an imaginary boy named Keith – and for all I know, Janet had one too but she never told me.)  Sandy was an only child with an oversized imagination so naturally she created a cast of companions.

With sisters instead of imaginary friends
With sisters instead of imaginary friends

The characters in my story took the place of imaginary friends. My favorite part was naming them. I was – and still am – obsessed with names. I used to go through the fashion section of the huge Sears catalog that arrived every year and name the models. Selecting the perfect moniker was a challenge in 1964 because all the names in the baby books – and all the kids I knew – got stuck with traditional names (Kathy being particularly popular in the early fifties – see link to blog).

Sandy and me on the beach in 1964
Sandy and me on the beach in 1964

The era of exotic names – Apple, Charisma, Karma, Carlisle, Kipling (many unisex) – was at least a decade in the future, maybe more. In 1964, the top five names for girls were Lisa, Mary, Susan, Karen and Patricia. For boys, Michael, John, David, James and Robert.

My non-imaginary friend, Sandy
My non-imaginary friend, Sandy

The less said about the story described above, the better. At thirteen, I cornered the market on terrible hackneyed ideas. A surprising number survive, although recently I realized I might not need to save everything.  If “Chamberlain Castle” never escapes the slush pile (in this case, a file cabinet in the garage) the literary world will not suffer.

 

November 16, 1969

November 16, 1969

Paul McCartney Dead

Not to cast aspersions on any of my high school friends who read this, but in retrospect I think Luke was wrong. While it’s possible most of Santa Clara was more together (mentally) than me, I don’t believe the bulk of my contemporaries charged toward their destiny without a missed step. Luke and I made the mistake of comparing how polished my friends looked on the outside to how messed up I felt on the inside.

To me, Sandra always looked confident she knew exactly where she was going.
To me, Sandra always looked confident she knew exactly where she was going.

In truth, teen-agers navigating the tail end of the sixties had plenty of reason to be confused about the world and their place in it.   From the vantage of almost fifty years worth of hindsight, many of my peers explored multiple paths before finding their purpose. Sandy Walker briefly aspired to be a dental hygienist. (Not to disparage dental hygienists, but it wasn’t Sandy’s thing and she lasted a month.)  At her next gig – receptionist for the Whirlpool Company – she made it all the way to two. Today, she teaches fitness classes part-time (Yoga and Pilates mostly) for a Modesto health club. Tal Pomeroy traveled the country, butchered meat and sold encyclopedias before he became Tal Pomeroy, MD.  Against all odds, my art major college boyfriend Luke became an accountant – I didn’t see that coming.

My art major boyfriend Luke advising me I'm not "together."
My art major boyfriend Luke advising me I’m not “together.”

If you, too, travelled bizarre career paths before you found yourself where you belong,  feel free to comment here or on my domain. I’m endlessly intrigued by the strange trajectories of our lives.

 

October 29, 1968

October 29, 1968Mr. Farrington thought he was doing something nice by calling attention to the fact I was writing a book (long-hand, in a spiral bound notebook, not exactly a professional effort). Ironically, his instincts were correct – I did crave attention,  I still do sometimes – I just didn’t want to work (perform) for it. As discussed in prior blogs (link), work in any capacity isn’t one of my strong suits.

"Kathy, tell us all about your novel."
“Kathy, tell us all about your novel.”

In this case, the problem was deeper and more complicated than sloth. I’m an introvert – a loner. In a group – be it therapy, a classroom or a party – I position myself on the fringes or in corners and feign disinterest in their social games. Secretly, I’m far from indifferent. In fact, I’m obsessed with other people’s opinions – of me. I want to impress them and I want something else I can’t admit. What I can’t ask for, I try to steal.

Pay attention to me! (1968)
Pay attention to me! (1968)

I’m talking about attention. I want people focused on how special I am. I want to fascinate with my quirks, my habits, my trivia. I want the cover of Time and Seventeen magazine. I  want Johnny Carson to devote a week to mesmerizing me. What am I prepared to do to make my dreams come true?

I want the cover of Time
I want the cover of Time
And the cover of Seventeen
And the cover of Seventeen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I want Johnny Carson to devote a week to mesmerizing me.
I want Johnny Carson to devote a week to mesmerizing me.

Nothing, actually, but let’s call it my “counter-intuitive” strategy. I try to hi-jack attention by falling mysteriously silent. Some concerned soul will ask what’s going on. The more secretive my answers, the more people want to know.

Don't Pay Attention to Me!
Don’t Pay Attention to Me!

To say the least, it’s far from foolproof. As often as not, people ignore the dull girl with nothing to say, in which case I fume in frustration and resent them for being shallow and stupid. For someone who claims to treasure solitude, I blubber like a baby if I’m not invited to the party where everyone else will be. I do not want to go, understand. But life loses all meaning if I’m not invited.

 

 

October 15, 1964

October 15, 1964

Dueling teachers

Hmmm, “Stage-struck.” Based on the sizzling synopsis, I’m baffled it failed to become an international sensation. Unfortunately, the title – the characters – and the story-line – are all too typical of what I generously considered “creative” writing at thirteen. My oeuvre was stories about junior high girls, one popular and one brainy, frequently involving show biz.

Sandy and I could make almost anything fun - or funny.
Sandy and I could make almost anything fun – or funny.

Mr. Uebel was one of my favorite teachers although I was a nervous wreck in his room, I was so desperate to impress him. Mr. Call, our Spanish teacher, was great too, as evidenced by their musical duel. The innocence of these times seems unreal from the perspective of 2017 yet I can unequivocally swear life actually was this innocent, this simple – at least at Jefferson Jr. High.

My family circa 1964
My family circa 1964

At thirteen, it never crossed my mind to rebel against a teachers or authority figure – and to the best of my knowledge, none of my classmates did either. Maybe Jefferson got lucky and employed teachers with big personalities who loved teaching.

This shot clarifies where I found inspiration for my fictional character - the unpopular brainy girl.
This shot clarifies where I found inspiration for my fictional character – the unpopular brainy girl.

Full disclaimer – far from being anything close to a radical dissident trouble-maker, I was a kiss-up sycophant who idolized my teachers. I made it my mission to be teacher’s pet (not exactly a fast track to popularity, in case you’re wondering). More often than not I succeeded, not because I was so special or brilliant (although I liked to think so) – I just tried harder.

My dad giving sister Janet a horsy ride on what was probably a family night.
My dad giving sister Janet a horsy ride on what was probably a family night.

Looking back, I regret how eager I was to be free of our Friday family nights. Little did I know that once gone, those nights could never be recaptured in quite the same way. I should have treasured and prolonged every last minute.

Unpopular nerd girl captured in family setting.
Unpopular nerd girl captured in family setting.

May 25, 1968

May 25, 1968

 Proms have become a trope in teen-age movies, which would have one believe that attending (or not attending) the prom defines high school existence (Pretty in Pink springs immediately to mind although there are plenty of others). This wasn’t my experience.

Wilcox Senior Ball with Tal Pomeroy

I went to several proms – all in the same lace-encrusted blue dress – and while they were all memorable in their own way, they were not the apex of my teen-age years. I doubt I’m not alone in this. I’ve never met one single person who claims their prom was the defining moment of their high school life.

Same old Prom dress at our Prom Party
Same old Prom dress at our Prom Party

In real life, I don’t think who got crowned king and queen of the prom was of matter of life and death (Carrie).  I was never in the running so I didn’t really care. My parents, however, were the King and Queen of their high school prom

My parents as King and Queen in 1943
My parents as King and Queen in 1943

Our Prom Party sent up the movie-fantasy stereotype of a high school prom, it didn’t have much to do with the real thing. One of my Columbia students, Holden Weitz, wrote a hilarious teen movie that parodies this trope. That’s the movie I want to see made!

 

 

 

April 18, 1982

April 18, 1982

J settles down after the shock (talking to Jake Jacobson)
J settles down after the shock (talking to Jake Jacobson)

For John’s 30th birthday, I threw him a genuine surprise party (with a little help from my friends). I’ve never done it for anyone else and no one has ever thrown one for me. I’m not sure how I’d react. Given my social anxieties, probably not well.

Anne Kurrasch and future law partners Mary and Jack deNove
Anne Kurrasch and future law partners Mary and Jack Denove

There were a few logistical hiccups. We were leaving for Hawaii in a few days but – to avoid going to work – J told his boss, MPR, he was leaving today. I couldn’t advise him against this without spoiling the surprise even though – since I’d already invited his office staff including MPR – everyone knew he lied. Fortunately, they had a sense of humor.

J with his boss MPR
J with his boss MPR

The party lasted well into the following morning, as most did back then. Turning thirty was a big deal. Only yesterday “Don’t trust anybody over thirty” was a catch phrase. How could people as young as us turn thirty? What happened to our twenties?

Mary Bennett deNove, Anne Kurrasch, me, Joyce Salter
Mary Bennett Denove, Anne Kurrasch, me, Joyce Salter

Decades later, thirty no longer sounds old and the question is different. What happened to our thirties, our forties, our fifties? Before long, we’ll know what Paul Simon meant when he sang “How terribly strange to be seventy.”

J and I with Joyce and John (forever young) Salter
J and I with Joyce and John (forever young) Salter

I don’t feel like I’m fifty, let alone sixty, so I can’t possibly contemplate seventy. I doubt I’m alone here. Almost everyone my age eventually says something like, “I know I don’t look my age.”  I assure them it’s true even though it’s patently false and they do the same for me.  In my mirror, I don’t look my age either but it’s meaningless. In my own eyes, I never will.

J doesn't seem to age

J doesn’t seem to age either, at least not until I see him – or myself – in photographs. There, the truth is revealed. Sometimes I don’t spot myself at all because I’m looking for someone younger. Sometimes I wonder how my mother snuck into the picture. Why are photos so much crueler than the mirror?  Someone out there knows the technical reason. Maybe they can also explain where my thirties and forties went.

Where did our thirty and forties go?

March 16, 1974

March 16, 1974

Janet on the set of VEGAS TV series with Ben Vereen
Janet on the set of VEGAS TV series with Greg Morris

 To develop new talent, the DGA accepts applications to their Assistant Directors Training program once a year. The lucky few who ace the test and then the interview spend the next two years as salaried AD trainees on films or TV shows.  Completing the program earns you membership in the DGA and a shot at a career in production. The odds of success are approximately 2.5 percent, I think. My math hasn’t improved since I failed the test in 74.

Janet in her office at the Practice
Janet in her office at the Practice

A few ADs transition to directing. Walter Hill was an AD trainee on Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run. However, it was his writing skill rather than his AD experience that broke him into directing. More typically, 2nd AD leads to 1st AD which leads to Production Manager, and then if you’re lucky and so-inclined to co-producer, line producer or producer. These are hard to get lucrative jobs that often require ungodly long hours. I didn’t take the test again.

Candid moment with James Spader, Candice Bergen. Jane Lynch is entering even though you can barely tell it's her. Janet's daughter Caitlin & her friend Alia were working background that day and so you can see them in the distance.
Candid moment with James Spader, Candice Bergen. Jane Lynch is entering even though you can barely tell it’s her. Janet’s daughter Caitlin & her friend Alia were working background that day and so you can see them in the distance.

My sister Janet didn’t pass the first time either but she applied again. On her second attempt, she won an interview but didn’t get selected. Undeterred, she went back for more and applied again. Her tenacity paid off – she got in. As a trainee, she worked on 9 to 5, the series Vega$, a quirky Jeff Goldblum pilot called Tenspeed & Brownshoe and various TV movies and mini-series.

Janet and fellow producers of the Practice in front row, script supervisor and friend in back row.
Janet and fellow producers of the Practice in front row, script supervisor and friend in back row.

As a 2nd Assistant Director she worked on Rocky IV where she cast my son Christopher as one of Rocky Jr’s friends… he ended up with several lines in the scene and is still earning residuals.   Currently, she’s a Co-Producer/Production Manager on the Judd Apatow Netflix original series LOVE. She also serves on the Assistant Directors Training Plan board (which has evolved since 74).

Janet and Boston Legal producers standing in front of the helicopter that ferried them over glaciers to shooting location in Nimmo Bay, Canada.
Janet and Boston Legal producers standing in front of the helicopter that ferried them over glaciers to shooting location in Nimmo Bay, Canada.

In college, her dual major was French and American Culture. Who would’ve guessed she’d wind up here?

Janet., Producer, in her Boston Legal office.
Janet., Producer, in her Boston Legal office.

Twice nominated for Primetime Emmy awards, Janet remarks, “Boston Legal didn’t win but happy to be there & nominated.”

Janet at the Emmys
Janet and husband James McCann at the Emmys

Being both director and mom, Janet is trying to convince her son, Connor, to say “Bye, Dad” to the actor (a stranger) in the upcoming scene for “Sisters.”  He’s not going for it.  She’s begging!

He's not going for it.
He’s not going for it.
Assistant directing a scene with traffic along the Angeles Crest Highway in A Smoky Mountain Christmas (TV Movie starring Dolly Parton). They are going for it.
Assistant directing a scene with traffic along the Angeles Crest Highway in A Smoky Mountain Christmas (TV Movie starring Dolly Parton). They are going for it.

 

March 3, 1973

March 3, 1973

From the official website of the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation - Sleeping Beauty
From the official website of the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation – Sleeping Beauty

 The night before – my 22nd birthday – the guy I was dating took me to see Rudi Nureyev in Sleeping Beauty with the National Ballet of Canada at the Shrine Auditorium. Jani’s boyfriend  from Irvine took her to the ballet too so we met them at intermission – Jani’s 20th birthday would be the following day. I don’t know about Janet, but this is the only professional ballet I’ve ever seen. The lavish fairyland sets were amazing, as was Rudi in his prime, but the truth is ballet doesn’t hold my interest. I pretend to be interested, because I feel like I should be, but I’m bored. I don’t blame ballet – I’m well aware it’s my own attention span that’s deficient. (Yet another reason I failed to realize my early dream of growing up to be a ballerina, see November 7, 1966)

Jani and I might not have been ballet dancers, but we choreographed a mean routine to "Ain't To Mountain"
Jani and I might not have been ballet dancers, but we choreographed a mean routine to “Ain’t No Mountain”  (See September 23, 1972)

Jani’s comment – “Did you try and do any of the ballet steps when you got home?” – got to me.  It was so spontaneous, so in the moment. Obviously, she paid attention, so much so that she was moved and inspired to try to do the steps at home. I envied her enthusiasm then and I still do today. I’d love to be that kind of person but it’s impossible to be somebody I’m not.

CD and Geo in ballet class (not their choice - but they made the best of it).
CD and Geo in ballet class (not their choice – but they made the best of it).

The closest I’ve come to ballet since then is taking my kids to ballet lessons. CD and his BFF Geo Ackles took ballet as toddlers. It was a great excuse for the boys to get together and for me to chat with David Ackles but neither lad looked like a future Nureyev.

With the other dead ballet dancer, waiting.
With the other dead ballet dancer, waiting.

Sam was more interested in climbing than ballet although she did play a dead ballerina in one of my television movies, Friends to the End.  She and a dead male ballet dancer haunt the villainess in the final scene. Her blue costume was the reason I wanted to be a ballet dancer in the first place – the gorgeous fantasy clothing.

Why can't people wear clothes like this in daily life?
Why can’t people wear clothes like this in daily life?

Alex was spared ballet, to his great relief, so no embarrassing photo ops of him.

February 27, 1974

February 27, 1974_edited-1

Me around 1974
Me around 1974

My tenure as Roger Corman’s “Assistant” at New World Pictures was one of my better jobs. I also served as his receptionist which consumed the bulk of my time. Aside from answering the phone, everything else I did was interesting. I might be deployed to Max Factor’s to pick up gallons of fake blood for an afternoon shoot. Frequently Roger sent me home with a script for overnight coverage. I didn’t consider it working overtime because it was thrilling. Whether or not Roger agreed with my notes, I felt validated because he paid attention. He was an extraordinarily good listener.

Roger Corman

It was Roger’s wife, Julie Corman, who liked my resume and hired me to work for Roger. Since New World was known for its violent exploitation films, I expected Roger to be a bombastic vulgar bully like other studio heads I heard rumors about. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He wielded his considerable power quietly, with dignity. Corman had class and brains (he graduated from Stanford, for starters.)  While I was there New World made “Candy Stripe Nurses” and “Caged Heat” but they also released Ingmar Bergman’s Oscar-nominated “Cries and Whispers.”

Caged Heat

Cries and Whispers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t claim I knew Roger well. In my opinion, he wasn’t an easy guy to know but he was worth the effort. It wouldn’t surprise me if people who worked for him in different capacities saw sides of him I didn’t.  To me, he seemed like a classic introvert, an enigmatic sensitive artist as opposed to a tyrannical boss from hell. He built a reputation as a hard-nosed businessman but I remember unexpected generosity and kindness. When I quit – that’s another story for later – I wasn’t entitled to health insurance but I was sick and he extended my coverage. Not forever – he wasn’t stupid – just long enough to make a difference.

Roger's autobiography
Roger’s autobiography

When I left, we promised to stay in touch and we did for a while. New World’s offices were on Sunset, not far from the Tower Records, so it was easy to drop in and say hi.  Inevitably, contact tapered off, then ceased. Still, although my time at New World was brief, Roger’s quiet integrity and decency remain vivid after all these years. I’m hoping he’ll read this and know I said hello – and thank you.


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