Posts Tagged ‘An Untouchable Life’

Prime Eliot Ness! And a Fond Farewell

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

I am pleased to announce that my filmed version of the play Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life is now available in HD on Amazon Prime, and included as part of your membership. Here’s a link so you can watch it at your leisure, and I hope you take time to give it a nice rating (as in five star). [Note from Nate: For non-Prime members, rental is $2.99 and you can own the digital HD for $9.99]

As you may recall, the film is a one-man show with my late friend Michael Cornelison bringing Ness back to life. It was made possible by a grant from Humanities Iowa, several airings by Iowa PBS, and a lot of hard work by my buddy Phil Dingeldein and myself (and many others).

This is very gratifying, and of course is the work that led directly to the current non-fiction book, Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, & the Battle for Chicago by A. Brad Schwartz and me.

Coincidentally, I got this news while I was in Las Vegas with Brad making two appearances in support of our book at the Mob Museum. The museum itself is a terrific facility, and those who run it are outstanding. I was blown away by how much of what is on display relates to various things I’ve written, from Dick Tracy to the Nathan Heller saga and the four Eliot Ness in Cleveland novels. A wall of photos and descriptions of organized crime killings was virtually a greatest hits of my literary output (Willie Bioff, Mad Sam Destefano, etc.). I will include some highlights by way of photos, including my co-author and me in front of the actual St. Valentine’s Day Massacre wall as well as with the real machine guns used in that, uh, celebration. More photos may follow.

Because our appearance was in conjunction with the 90th anniversary of the massacre, and the seventh anniversary of the Mob Museum opening, the attendance reached record proportions. Both of our appearances were well-attended, as were book signings in the Mob Museum gift shop.

What’s interesting to me is how attitudes in Vegas have shifted on the mob influence that built the modern “sin city.” Back in the ‘80s, researching Neon Mirage – the Nate Heller novel about Ben “Bugsy” Siegel and Vegas – I encountered some resistance to my research into what was then seen by many as an embarrassing aspect of local history. That has definitely changed, as Vegas embraces its colorful past.

Brad did an excellent job, utilizing power point presentations (Baby Boomers – that’s “slide show” to you) and I was frankly not at my best at the first presentation, very tired from travel and a long day. The subsequent presentation, however, found me back on my game and Brad just as good as before. If we get a link to the video of it that the Museum made, I’ll provide it in the next few weeks.

Interestingly, nobody asked me a single question about CSI, which of course was set in Vegas, with my five years as its licensing writer (novels, video games, jigsaw puzzles, graphic novels, often with Matt Clemens) not rating a single inquiry. CSI seems to have retreated into the past, at least the Las Vegas past.

All in all, it was a great trip, and there’s a reasonable possibility we’ll be asked back next year to talk about The Untouchable and the Butcher (the sequel to Scarface and the Untouchable, currently in progress) and the new Nate Heller (Do No Harm, the Sam Sheppard murder case, due out in about a year).

* * *

My fellow classmates at Muscatine High School will be saddened to learn of the death of Steve Kochneff, a beloved figure in our collective past and one of my best friends from those years. As had been the case with Jon McCrea (who became the partial basis for Quarry), Steve was someone I stayed in touch with over the years. He spent much of his life in L.A., pursuing the Hollywood dream, and he and I and Barb often got together there, to catch up, meeting usually at the great deli restaurant, Cantor’s.

At MHS, Steve was a genial madman, an eccentric with a unique comic wit, very popular and known for his creativity and his athletic ability. His father had been a much-loved and successful basketball coach, and Steve – who was tall and lanky – was a center on our MHS team, and excelled in that role.

But Steve also was known for mounting crazy comic skits. He and I were collaborators on these. He would come to my house and we’d hole up in my room with me at the typewriter and Steve pacing and throwing around ideas. This was very much like the old Hollywood cliche, short only of Steve puffing on a cigar. At the height of the James Bond craze, we did a Goldfinger take-off skit at a pep rally about a villain called Purple-and-Gold-Finger (purple and gold being our school colors – why the villain bore the school colors is lost to history and my fading memory). The kids loved it.

I was always a little jealous of Steve’s popularity around the school, since we were collaborators and he got the credit, or anyway the love. I was too intense and needy, and Steve was just a big guy with a great laugh and a wide smile, and all that love came pouring in, unbidden. As with so many high school stars, those days were probably the best of his life. In years to come he would be jealous, in a very sweet and even supportive way, of the success I’d achieved in the arts, staying home in Iowa when he had made the Hollywood trek.

I have talked about how I wrote novels in high school and tried to sell them – writing all summer, marketing all year (unsuccessfully), and my career is based on that enthusiastic early obsessive behavior. Only Steve Kochneff was capable of topping me. He wrote a Laugh-In script a year or so after graduation and drove out to Hollywood to deliver it. My memory is fuzzy on this, but I believe he eventually did do some work on the show.

Over the years he had a lot of projects and many were interesting, and I believe some were stolen from him. He created potential shows, with scripts, for a comedy about female wrestlers, a cop show about a motorcycle-riding Hispanic female detective, and an ambitious film script about a cloning of Princess Diana. And much more. His biggest success, perhaps, was his pioneering production company shooting videos of high-ticket homes in Beverly Hills, Bel Air and other exclusive sections.

We talked a number of times about collaborating, and I offered several times to get involved with projects. But he always preferred to go his own way – to talk to me and get input, but make his own mark. Like many talented people in Hollywood, he came close. So close.

He came back to Muscatine from time to time and stayed with us at least once that I can recall. I know he envied my luck in having Barbara as a wife, so beautiful, so supportive, so talented herself. He knew I had really struck gold there, that this was an element that he wished he had in his life. I know he had close relationships with various women in Southern California and also, I think, in Arizona. But he never shared details with me.

I had a phone call from him a few months ago and it was a warm exchange, as always. I gave him a bad time for not coming to the MHS 50th class reunion, and he revealed to me that he was embarrassed to attend. He thought we all knew that he’d gone to prison for a while, apparently on a trumped-up, non-violent charge. But we hadn’t heard, and when he told me – rather haltingly – I said I was in the friendship business, not the judgement one. Typically, he was full of enthusiasm to write a movie script or TV pilot based on his experiences inside. Like any real writer would, Steve viewed incarceration primarily as an opportunity to do research.

Listen, I loved the guy. It broke my heart to learn he had died January 2 in a psychiatric hospital. But I am relieved that his search for fame and success is finally over, because I suspect as the years passed that effort grew only more frustrating and finally painful. I want to assure you that our phone conversation, perhaps two months before he passed, was filled with laughter.

I can hear that laugh right now. One of those distinctive laughs, a combination of glee and embarrassment.

He signed himself Starko, and I didn’t even get into what a terrific artist – in particular cartoonist – he was.

So long, Steve. Damnit. So long.

* * *

Yes, it’s yet another “Films You Didn’t Know Came from Comic Books” write-up in which Road to Perdition is included.

M.A.C.

Untouchable Letterman

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018

The Blu-ray of Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life is out now. It’s available at any of the usual suspects among Internet retailers, but Amazon has it for about ten bucks off ($15.69).

I’m very proud of this one, which makes a good companion to Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago by A. Brad Schwartz and me. It is, in fact, what brought Brad and me together – he went to the play in Des Moines and saw Mike Cornelison perform the one-man show in person.

Mike is gone, for several years now, and I am so grateful that we were able to have this one last, great project with the actor who was the backbone of all of my indie film projects. Mike starred in Mommy, Mommy’s Day and Real Time: Siege at Lucas Street Market. He narrated my two documentaries, Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane and Caveman: V.T. Hamlin and Alley Oop. He starred in two short films, one of which – “An Inconsequential Matter” – is a bonus feature on the Blu-ray. That short film was our last collaboration.

Whether, at my age, in the wake of some health issues, I can ever mount another film production is a question I can’t answer (Barb can – “NO!”). My other frequent collaborator, director of photography/editor Phil Dingeldein, is still raring to go. But I admit not having Mike on the team makes it tough to imagine.

For now, however, we have this fine Blu-ray, thanks to VCI Entertainment.

Treat yourself to this one, and it’s a perfect stocking stuffer….

* * *

For reasons I’ve never really understood, one of the questions I am most asked is, “What are you reading?” And, of course, a more general version: “What do you read?”

Regular readers of this update/blog know that I read little contemporary crime fiction, because of my desire not to be influenced by anyone working currently and also the busman’s holiday nature of it. Barb and I do watch a lot of British crime series, which slakes my thirst for mystery narrative – I generally find Brit TV crime more compelling and just, well, better than the American variety. Recently we watched the third season of The Forgotten and the first season of Bodyguard, and both were outstanding (I buy these from Amazon UK).

I also watch a lot of vintage noir, catching up with things I have never seen that have become suddenly available (the very interesting The Man Who Cheated Himself, for example, now on Blu-ray) and revisiting things I haven’t watched in ages.

My reading tends to be in bed, for a half hour or hour before I attempt sleep (not always a successful endeavor). I usually read books about film or other aspects of pop culture, including biographies. Recently I read a good book on Randolph Scott’s key director, The Films of Budd Boetticher by Robert Knott. I also gobbled up Christmas Movies by Jeremy Arnold (a TCM book), which looks at such movies with nice little well-illustrated articles combining making-of info and critical assessment, including my favorites – It’s a Wonderful Life, the Alastair Sim Scrooge and the original Miracle on 34th Street. (I skipped certain later films that I had no interest in, like Home Alone and Little Women. Not all of the author’s selections seem like real Christmas movies to me. Die Hard?) [note from Nate: It absolutely is!]

The only novel I’ve read lately is Night of Camp David by Fletcher Knebel, co-author of Seven Days in May. I dug this out of my basement storehouse of old paperbacks when I learned it was now a collector’s item. The subject is a president of the United States who goes mad.

Now and then I read a book that serves to do more than just lull me to sleep in a pleasant way. Such a book is The Last Days of Letterman: The Final 6 Weeks. I would say it’s a book that I enjoyed more than any in my recent memory, and yet I’m not sure exactly what compelled me to pick it up.

I loved Letterman’s Late Night at NBC and am fairly sure I never missed an episode. Letterman’s wry, self-deprecating humor resonated with this Midwestern boy, and he peopled his show with guests ranging from oddball to brilliant. I could see Norm Macdonald one night and Andy Kaufmann the next. Pee Wee Herman (my pal Paul Reubens) was often a guest. Band leader Paul Shaffer, with his tongue-in-cheek show biz sensibility, was both funny and hip, an incredible musician who had hung out in Canada with SNL and SCTV stars-to-be. Dave showcased top-notch musical acts. For someone my age, this was the natural next step from Johnny Carson.

And I grew up on Carson, but also Jack Paar and even Steve Allen, the original Tonight Show host. Our house was set up with my bedroom adjacent to where my father watched television; he often fell asleep, while I couldn’t due to the blaring TV and frankly didn’t want to, because I was listening to Allen or Parr or Carson. Sometimes, knowing my dad was likely cutting zee’s, I would go out there and sit on the floor right in front of the tube and watch till he woke up and shooed me back to bed. (I learned to write dialogue listening to old Dragnet episodes that way, as if they were radio shows, and of course they had been – Jack Webb came on at midnight after Carson signed off.)

So late night TV was a part of the fabric of my life. I remember dreaming about being a Carson guest some day – he was a Midwestern boy, too – and later I hoped I might get successful enough to be invited onto Letterman’s Late Show. Didn’t happen. Well, it sort of did. Stay tuned through the rest of this essay.

The Last Days of Letterman, written by Scott Ryan, hit me surprisingly hard. I realized that Letterman, of all the great late-night hosts I’d grown up with, was the most intimately, intricately woven into the aforementioned fabric of my life. He was on air for over thirty years. And for a long time, I never missed a show, including when he moved to CBS with the Late Show. I saw it all, for a long while, from Drew Barrymore dancing topless on Dave’s desk to Stupid Human Tricks, from Darlene Love singing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” every year to Chris Elliot’s ongoing insanity. I also met Larry “Bud” Melman, Dave’s mom and her pies, Rupert Jee, Biff Henderson, and so many and so much more. For me a particularly memorable thing about Letterman and Late Show was the host’s love for Warren Zevon’s work and the way he and Zevon dealt with the latter’s oncoming death. Zevon’s advice to the rest of us is something I think of frequently, and did even before I (like Dave) had open-heart surgery: “Enjoy every sandwich.”

But at some point, probably around fifteen years ago, I started missing episodes. It began when a guest was announced – usually a sports figure – that I had no interest in. At some point politics had Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert tempting me away, now and then, and finally regularly. Things evolved into my having to know that someone I was a fan of (Elvis Costello, for example) was going to be on Letterman for me to watch. And I would tune back into Dave, and bask in the familiarity of Dave and Paul’s effortless banter, and slip back into that comfy shoe of Late Show.

Funny thing is, what made Letterman and his show so comfy was how uncomfortable Dave himself seemed. He was embarrassed by his success. He always seemed like somebody just waiting to get found out and hauled off the stage. He was anything but comfortable in his skin. In a way Johnny Carson only pretended to be, Dave Letterman was us – particularly Baby Boomer boys like myself.

The genius of Scott Ryan’s book is the writer’s decision to focus on the final six weeks of this long-running show (and, let’s face it, Late Night and Late Show were one show). It gives Ryan a framework to discuss all the frequent guests, the famous show business figures who were indebted to Dave and (to Dave’s embarrassment) loved him. Ryan can look at the Top Ten List and various other running gags and traditions, in between describing each individual episode of those last six weeks and who was on and what happened.

Because the show is coming to its conclusion, there’s a sort of suspense-novel engine at play. How will Dave handle the loss of the thing that has been his life? How will the staff around him deal with the pressures of expectation for one special episode after another? How will Letterman endure the love fest that is being flung at him and smothering him into full-throttle embarrassment? Did anyone in bigtime show business ever deal so poorly with praise?

The second stroke of genius in this fine book is Ryan’s decision to tell the story as an oral history. He gets interviews not from Dave and Paul (who would never cooperate, of course, but Ryan seems not to have bothered approaching them) but to the army those two generals commanded. We hear from the officers – directors and producers – and from the grunts – stagehands and bookers. We experience the war of those last six weeks from the trenches. And it’s fascinating. And strangely moving.

As I say, I had not been regularly watching Letterman. I didn’t see the final episode. I think I caught one or two of the shows during that last six weeks. But here’s the thing – as I read about these episodes that I had missed, they nonetheless played in my mind as if I had. I was so familiar, so much a part of the Letterman experience, that a few words could blossom in my imagination into the feeling that I had indeed seen them…or maybe I should say, knew them.

Letterman is my age, more or less. We are Midwestern boys. I’ve had a little success and am not at all embarrassed about it, though mixed in with my egotism is some of that self-deprecation that Letterman – a huge success and extremely embarrassed about it – is so successful at conveying. Again, he also had open-heart surgery. He seemed to like a lot of the same things I did – Elvis Costello, Warren Zevon, Darlene Love – and he introduced me to the pleasures of Norm Macdonald, Chris Elliott, and Amy Sedaris. He also gave us new sides of superstars like Bruce Willis, Steve Martin, Bill Murray and Tom Hanks.

Speaking of Tom Hanks.

This is the closest I ever got to being on Letterman, and frankly it was enough. Okay, almost enough. Dave made it clear, usually when Hanks was a guest but other times too, that he loved Road to Perdition. That got my attention. I talked to the TV and raised my hand like a kid in class.

“Dave! I wrote that! Not the movie, but the book – you could ask me what a graphic novel is! You could call it a ‘funny book’ and make me smile in embarrassment, because you are a Midwestern boy! And so am! Dave! I’m right here!”

As it happens, not long after, I began to leave the fold. I decided that watching talk shows (and I don’t watch any now, though I know Colbert, Fallon, Conan and others are worthwhile) was ultimately an ephemeral waste of time. I stopped watching Colbert when, at the Second City reunion, he refused to sign an autograph (I am a petty fucker). And even Stewart faded away for me, when some of his recurring players went off to have careers. I started watching a movie on DVD and later Blu-ray at night, in the talk-show time slot, wanting to catch up with old films noir and various terrible movies for which I have an inexplicable affection.

Reading The Last Days of Letterman gave the Late Show back to me. Those last six weeks, anyway. If you are or ever were a Letterman fan, you are in for a bittersweet treat.

* * *

This review of Scarface and the Untouchable has a peculiar headline, but the piece itself is fine.

Finally, here’s a great review of Kiss Her Goodbye, a Mike Hammer by Mickey and me.

M.A.C.

Scarface and the Untouchable – At Large! Chicago Signings

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

Yes, at long last Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago by A. Brad Schwartz and myself is hitting the bookstores the very day this update first appears.

Brad and I (and Barb) will be appearing at two major Chicago bookstores and another at the bookstore in Dick Tracy’s hometown – Woodstock, Illinois, starting with the latter.

Saturday August 18:
Read Between the Lynes (Website)
From 4PM till…?
111 E. Van Buren St
Woodstock, IL 60098 (Map)

Sunday August 19:
Centuries & Sleuths (Website)
2:00PM till…?
19 Madison St
Forest Park, IL 60130 (Map)

Monday August 20:
Anderson’s Bookshop (Website)
7 PM till…?
123 W Jefferson Ave
Naperville, IL 60540 (Map)

This mini-tour will be the only joint event by Brad and me in support of the book during its opening weeks. Brad heads back to Princeton in his unending crusade to diminish me by making me call him “Dr. Schwartz” (who, let’s face it, sounds like a dermatologist). We’ll be doing some solo events thereafter, and if the media wises up and books us on a national TV show, we’ll likely do that together.

We are also set to appear on the WGN Morning News on Monday morning, but exactly when I can’t say (we arrive at 8:30 AM).

We’ll also be doing a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) on r/books this Thursday at 1PM EST. Keep an eye on my facebook page for a link.

The Centuries and Sleuths signing will include Barb, as “Barbara Allan”-bylined novels (Antiques Wanted in particular) will be available. This is the first joint signing Barb and I have done in some time.

Centuries and Sleuths is where Brad and I first met, when he came to a signing after seeing “Untouchable Life” live in Des Moines. By the way, work progresses on the Blu-ray of the film version. You can order it here.

In the meantime, come and see us (Mike Doran – I’m talking to you) (but no questions requiring a photographic memory of the entire run of TV Guide to answer).


Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes
Digital Audiobook: Amazon Google Play Kobo

The reviews thus far have been stellar, including the Chicago Tribune, where Rick Koganwhere Rick Kogan – a well-known writer and TV personality in Chicago – loved the book but hated my introduction. Why? Because I (with Brad’s help) singled out the authors (and one screenwriter) whose offenses had much to do with us feeling another book about Capone and Ness needed writing. We were very specific about what we were correcting, but Mr. Kogan found my intro “unseemly.”

Here’s what he wrote, along with links to other favorable reviews (the Kogan link is mid-page).

Now, just for fun, read what I wrote that offended Mr. Kogan, available thanks to the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine blog.

Others reviewing the book in the days just ahead of publication include USA Today, which makes us one of the top books of the week that they recommend. (Omarosa’s Trump memoir gets the top spot, though.)

Here’s a really nice review courtesy of Mystery People.

This one isn’t a review, but uses our book as a sort of tour guide to track Capone’s real-life hangouts.

* * *

Now in non-Scarface and the Untouchable news, here’s another San Diego Comic Con interview with me, on the new Mike Hammer serialized graphic novel from Hard Case Crime. It’s one of the better interviews, I think.

Finally, Gaping Blackbird continues to review the early Quarry novels, and very intelligently.

M.A.C.

An Amazon “Nathan Heller” Sale & An Interview

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

Amazon is offering many Nathan Heller titles for 99 cents in their Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle book deals from now till the end of the month (July). Titles include True Crime, Stolen Away, Neon Mirage, Blood and Thunder, The Million-Dollar Wound, Majic Man, Carnal Hours and Angel in Black.

This week’s update is mostly a link to a lengthy interview with me by Mr. Media – Bob Andelman. It focuses rather in depth on my Mike Hammer collaborations with posthumous co-author, Mickey Spillane. Late in the interview I talk about the upcoming Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness and the Battle for Chicago, talking a bit about my co-author A. Brad Schwartz. I also talk (toward the end of the interview) about my talented son Nathan and his career as a writer/translator (of Japanese novels, manga and video games).

Be warned that early on in the interview I got out of focus – not in terms of what I’m saying (in my opinion), but literally out of focus. Last time Mr. Media interviewed me, the angle of my little Skype camera made it look like my ceiling fan was a gigantic beanie-with-propeller cap. This time the little cam blurred me into soft focus, which at my age isn’t all bad.

But I promise you and Mr. Media that I will upgrade my camera before the next interview.

* * *

Here’s a great Mike Hammer #1 (the serialized graphic novel) review from Nerdly.

Here’s another, although head-scratchingly we only get three out of a possible five stars.

Here’s a link to my buddy Bud Plant’s great web site where he’s being good enough to carry Quarry’s War.

Finally, here’s a nice write-up on the upcoming Eliot Ness Fest at Coudersport, PA, where Scarface and the Untouchable will be represented by my co-author/cohort A. Brad Schwartz. The debut of the new HD version of Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life will be presented by Brad as part of the festivities.

M.A.C.