Tom Arnold, Paul Williams and More

February 19th, 2013 by Max Allan Collins

To celebrate finishing THE WRONG QUARRY, I took Barb to Cedar Rapids to Penguin’s Comedy Club to see Tom Arnold. Yes, I am a romantic devil. Actually, my friend Dwayne Clark – a very funny, smart comedian from Des Moines – was the opening act, and he got us tickets for the event.

M.A.C. with Dwayne Clark

I’ve always liked Arnold, consider him an amusing quirky presence who has enlivened any number of movies, including the recent HIT AND RUN, which I’ve extolled here several times. (I will watch anything with Kristen Bell in it, even the fairly awful HOUSE OF LIES on Showtime.) Dwayne as the opening act was his usual funny, wry self, the perfect laidback warm-up for the energetic Arnold, who was something of a revelation.

He was absolutely great. Tom is an Iowa boy and he relates to an Iowa audience in a special way. He is extremely fast, frank and funny as hell. Both Barb and I were mightily impressed. Beyond just his autobiographical humor and his nimble ease interacting with the audience, he proved to be a genuinely nice guy. Between packed shows, he made himself available to anyone who wanted a picture or to have anything signed. The only merch he brought to hawk was t-shirts helping to support his camp for kids with cancer. Great guy.

M.A.C. with Tom Arnold

As those of you who may recall how high PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE ranks on my favorite movie list, you may not be surprised to learn that I am a Paul Williams fan. While he was very funny on talk shows in the ‘70s, he will be remembered as one of the great songwriters of the late Twentieth Century. Sometimes he’s written with collaborators, other times alone (as on PHANTOM), but few tunesmiths tap into love and loneliness better, certainly not of his generation. So I was looking forward to the documentary, PAUL WILLIAMS – STILL ALIVE, and while it’s a challenging, even confrontational work, I was not disappointed.

Filmmaker Stephen Kessler (VEGAS VACATION) essentially makes a documentary about making a documentary, often making himself look bad in the process. This is intentional, as it charts the perils of the doc maker who goes into a project with preconceived notions and then tries to impose them on the film – having done two documentaries myself, I can report that you shoot first and determine the point you wish to make in the editing process. It’s an at times uncomfortable viewing experience, particularly early on, as you feel (and share) Williams’ discomfort and even irritation with Kessler. But it’s worth the trip, and you come away with a good picture of (and good feeling about) the subject. I will be surprised if Terry Beatty, my fellow PHANTOM freak (we saw the film together maybe ten times in theaters way back when), doesn’t find this film fascinating. It’s available on DVD – I spotted it at a Best Buy in their paltry documentary section.

Today I embark on dealing with the copy-edited manuscript of THE WRONG QUARRY – editor Charles Ardai is very fast, which is great, but it does rob me of the usual distance I have when dealing with edits on a work finished months before (as opposed to days). I hate being edited. I despise the copy-editing process. I realize every book needs some editing, but I do not like having an unrequested collaborator on my work. Charles is a very aggressive editor who likes to be part of the process – he has said in print that he wants to be involved with every sentence in a novel he publishes. So our editing sessions are always…interesting. But he is smart, so I can’t just ignore him (I did a fairly elaborate rewrite on SEDUCTION, at his bidding, which is beyond rare for me). Barb knows I will be dealing with copy edits today and has already said she will be steering me a wide path.

* * *

Steve Steinbock, who has the not enviable job of following the great Jon L. Breen as the book reviewer for ELLERY QUEEN MYSTERY MAGAZINE, has been doing a great job. And I say that at least in part because he seems to like my books. In the current issue, March/April, he praises both LADY, GO DIE! (“Collins has the ear – and the chops – to bring Spillane’s hero to life”) and TARGET LANCER, which he rates as a four-star read. Here’s his conclusion: “While being so unapologetically hardboiled you can crack a tooth on it, TARGET LANCER is also an intricately plotted thriller and a unique epic historical adventure.”

Here’s another fine TARGET LANCER review, this one from the Historical Novel Society.

And the SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT reviews keep streaming on in, like this fine one from the UK site Crime Fiction Lover.

And Geek Girl loves her some SEDUCTION, too.

Plus these nice words from Porno Kitsch.

Keep an eye on the web over these next few weeks (I will do my best to help out). I am about to undertake a “blog tour,” which means I will be doing a dozen or more interviews and articles about SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT. The interviews seem to come from younger readers. Here’s a typical question: “Who the hell are you?”


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9 Responses to “Tom Arnold, Paul Williams and More”

  1. mike doran says:


    Over at Stephen Bowie’s TV HISTORY blog, you contributed a number of comments about the recently-concluded TNT series LEVERAGE.
    I concur pretty much in toto with his assessment, and with yours.

    Having said that …
    … I think that your use of the term “ripped off” to characterize the relation ship between LEVERAGE and the British series HUSTLE is kind of an overstatement.
    As I understand the term, “ripped off” connotes a deliberate appropriation of ideas, stories, characters, and such from one show to another.
    To use this term when the greater likelihood is simple coincidence seems to me somewhat hardline – an allegation of creative misconduct on the part of the second series.

    Some time back, when we were discussing stand-up comics of the ’60s, you wrote that shelley Berman believed that Bob Newhart had “ripped off” Berman’s telephone schtick.
    After reading that, I found an interview in which Newhart was asked about that, and his reply was that comedians had been using the one-way phone call for many years, going back to turn-of-the-century vaudeville. Newhart pointed out that his earliest efforts were actual phone calls, which a friend would tape and try to sell to radio ststions (Newhart’s own term for these was “poor man’s Bob & Ray.”)

    Coincidence or “rip-off”?

    My vote is for coincidence.

    If two pieces of work are both good in similar ways, but not absolute duplicates of one another, “rip-off” is too severe a term to apply.

    You know, you didn’t really need to ask Don Westlake’s permission to write your Nolan novels; he said as much in his letters to you.
    And Westlake wasn’t “ripping off” Scorsese with THE COMEDY IS FINISHED; any “critic” who might have alleged that would simply have been showing his own ignorance.

    Lord knows there are enough genuine “rip-offs” around (how’s that for an oxymoron?).
    They get their deserved opprobrium. Let them have it.
    If one good work “inspires” another – we in the audiences are winners twice over.
    *aren’t we?*

    SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT is now on my shelf, awaiting your next visit to Chicago.
    All the best to the Collins Dynasty.

  2. Mike, I suppose “ripped-off” was wise-ass and glib, but there’s no question that LEVERAGE is an imitation of HUSTLE. This is not an example of ideas being simultaneously developed, but of Hollywood’s typically cavalier attitude toward intellectual property (there’s a modern-day version of ROAD TO PERDITION being mounted as we speak…with no credit or money to yours truly). I have certainly drawn upon the work of others, Westlake in Nolan, Lone Wolf and Cub in PERDITION, but there is no real comparison to the way Hollywood operates.

    HUSTLE debuted in 2004. LEVERAGE debuted in 2008. I watched the latter because I really loved Hutton in NERO WOLFE. And LEVERAGE is a terrific show, and they did add things to the mix, in particular Hutton’s former insurance investigator with the tragic loss of his son, and the very specific roles of the various team members (grifter, thief, hacker, etc.). But beyond that, they added little to the HUSTLE format, and have benefited from how little HUSTLE is known over here. Don’t get me wrong. I love LEVERAGE. But it begins with the creators saying, “Let’s go steal a show.”

  3. mike doran says:

    After I wrote the Friday post, I got to thinking about a show from a few years back that seemed to me to be a “genuine” rip-off.

    At one of our face-to-face meets a while back, I mentioned a short-lived ABC series called THE KNIGHTS OF PROSPERITY (originally titled LET”S ROB MICK JAGGER), about a gang of would-be master thieves. This show was (at least to me) clearly a direct knock-off of Don Westlake’s Dortmunder books, with one major difference: all the characters were stone stupid (unlike Dortmunder and his crew, who were just plain unlucky). I believe this show aired during Westlake’s lifetime (might be wrong about that, have to check), but I have no idea whether Don or his heirs ever considered legal action of any sort. I do remember various interviews Don gave (there I go, acting familiar about a man I never actually met) in which he spoke, seemingly lightly, about ideas of his that miraculously turned up under the pens of others, so it might be that this is my overreaction.

    The simple fact of chronology is not that important in and of itself. In fact, there have been a few shows about con artists and their games over the years (not that many, admittedly), and in prose going back to the beginnings of the genre.

    I confess to unfamiliarity with HUSTLE, which has run on Chicago’s PBS stations with their customary hit-and-miss approach to scheduling, which I won’t dwell on here, because I try to avoid using that kind of language even online. (I will point out in passing that this dumb scheduling almost caused me to miss altogether my current favorite British crime dramedy, NEW TRICKS (ever seen that one, Max?)).
    But I’d like to go back to this line from your reply:
    ” … they did add things to the mix, in particular Hutton’s former insurance investigator … and the very specific roles of the team members … ”
    Are you saying here that HUSTLE didn’t have these particular characters?
    Because if you are, then LEVERAGE isn’t a ripoff – any more than HUSTLE was a ripoff of MC COY, or SWITCH, or COLONEL HUMPHREY FLACK, or any other con-man show that I can’t call to mind right now.

    Apologies for the foregoing, but when you set my inner dweeb into overdrive, this is what you get.
    (If you really want to see me at my worst, go to Steve Lewis’s MYSTERY*FILE and check out Michael Shonk and me going dork-to-dork over a single scene in an episode of THE ADVENTURES OF HIRAM HOLLIDAY.)

  4. Actually, the HUSTLE group does have specific talents, and roles, but not quite as pointedly deliniated as the LEVERAGE group. But if you haven’t seen HUSTLE, Mike, you gotta trust me on this — LEVERAGE grows out of HUSTLE. They even have a bar they hang out in. They only steal from the deserving. Understand I love both shows, and would be hard-pressed to choose a favorite.

    I believe AMC showed HUSTLE for several reasons, but I don’t believe the last few seasons ever aired in the USA. Not sure they were even released on DVD (I got them from overseas).

    All of this flows from MAVERICK, specifically the episode, “Shady Deal at Sunny Acres” (but you knew that). I always felt THE STING came from that episode.

  5. For several “seasons,” not “reasons”…though that suppose that’s true, also.

  6. Robert Vaughn played Albert Stroller, the “roper.” Adrian Lester played Mickey Bricks, the leader. Marc Warren, Danny Blue, the “inside man.” Robert Glinster as Ash Morgan, the “fixer.” Jaimie Murray as Stacie Monroe, the “lure.” They are described as grifters, and do the “long con” on dishonest folks. Another addition to the mix by LEVERAGE was the notion of having a client — an aspect that always bothered me, because I was never clear whether the Leverage team was keeping any money for themselves…and if not, why is the group doing what they’re doing?

  7. mike doran says:

    I see you have the same problem I do, holding a consistent thought …
    … senior moment time?

    If we’re really into tracing con games on TV , how about MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE?

    After all, what does the IM Force do but use elaborate stings in order to overthrow the banana/paprika republic of the week?

    And in the latter part of the run, they were running long cons on gangsters who were out of reach of “conventional law enforcement.”

    So there it is Max – EVERYTHING TIES TOGETHER.
    Everything is related and interrelated and cross-related.
    There is truly nothing new under the sun.

    … and be honest – we all wouldn’t have it any other way …

    By the by, old friend –
    – have you ever seen NEW TRICKS?

    It’s a Brit variant on the COLD CASE-type of show: three retired Scotland Yard coppers get recruited by a 40ish lady DCI to resolve old cases for UCOS – the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad. (An imperfect acronym, and if you work it out, you’ll understand why.)
    Good cast here: Amanda Redfern is the DCI, and Alun Armstrong, James Bolam, and Dennis Waterman are the renascent coppers. They’re all great, particularly Waterman, who’s sending up a role he’s been playing on British crime shows for years.
    NEW TRICKS has been a major hit for BBC-tv for 10 years now; the first eight series are available in the USA from Acorn Media, with series 9 to come out here in a few months. I’m scrolling through the three PBS stations we have here in Chicago, as well as BBC America, just in case series 9 and 10 come up for broadcast any time soon.
    End of gratuitous plugola.

    And I am going to look up HUSTLE.

  8. mike doran says:


    That’s Amanda REDMAN who’s the boss cop in NEW TRICKS (she was Deedee Dove in SEXY BEAST, among other things).

    Rest of the comment stands.

    Back to you.

  9. Mike, I have picked up a few seasons of NEW TRICKS used on DVD, but haven’t dipped in yet. Apparently only about half of HUSTLE is available in the USA.