Posts Tagged ‘Mommy’s Day’

Second Chances

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

When I was a teenager in the thrall of Mickey Spillane and Mike Hammer, I spent many hours searching (mostly in used bookstores) for Spillane imitators who might satisfy my thirst. Few came anywhere near. One, however, hit the ball out of the park, and he worked for a small outfit in Chicago with the books packaged like softcore porn. Even then the books were hard to find. Now they are impossible.

Sand's Game
Ennis Willie’s novels – particularly the ones about ex-mobster Sand, on the run from his former bosses – were an enormous influence on my development as a writer. I encountered Sand before the similar mono-named Parker, and my character Nolan derives as much from the former as the latter. Willie, though a shameless Spillane imitator, did not write in the first-person and did not write about P.I.s – which gave him his own unique voice and place. He wrote a handful of books in the mid ‘60s wrapping up by the end of the decade, then disappearing. Guys like Steve Mertz, Lynn Myers and Ed Gorman and I tried to track him down, wondering if “Ennis Willie” was a penname or maybe a black writer (there was an African American poet named Willie Ennis).

Willie was one of my heroes, right in there with Spillane and Richard Stark, and the other day something happened so surrealistic, it rivaled my meeting Mickey. A collection of Sand novels and stories, signed to me by Ennis Willie, arrived in the mail. Knocked me out.

Okay, it wasn’t a surprise. I was involved in the collection, though the editors were Mertz and Myers; I did an introduction. Willie, thanks to the internet, had turned up, somehow getting wind of the many discussions (decades worth!) on the subject of who-the-hell-he-was. He wrote Gorman saying, “Well, I’m him. Ennie Willie.” And included his driver’s license photo!

Anyway, the book from Ramble House is getting some attention. You can order it here in various editions. If you like Mickey Spillane, Richard Stark and/or M.A.C., you will not be sorry.

And Bill Crider wrote about it here.

One of my characters, influenced by Willie’s Sand, is a guy called Quarry. My pal Leonard Maltin did a terrific, high-profile write-up on THE FIRST QUARRY that just blew me away. Check it out.

I’ll be appearing at the Iowa City Book Festival on Saturday July 17 with Nicholas Meyer. I was told they’ll be screening THE LAST LULLABY, but I don’t see it on the schedule yet. At any rate, I am anxious to meet Nick Meyer, who was a student at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop a few years ahead of me; he’s a writer and filmmaker I admire very much.

The fun funky site Davy Crockett’s Alamack posted a nice piece on the first of the two volumes of MIKE HAMMER comic strips I edited back in the ‘80s. I’m hoping we can get a single volume collection out there one of these days (though I am still missing one Sunday).

Second City Class of '79 Reunion
Jim Belushi, Mary Gross, Tim Kazurinksy at Second City 1978.

Barb and I spent several days in Chicago (over her birthday, which is June 18), kicking it off by seeing the Class of ‘79 Reunion benefit show at Second City on June 17. That we were able to get tickets to this big-deal event was thanks to my pal Tim Kazurinsky. Appearing with the always hilarious Tim were Nancy McCabe-Kelly, Bruce Jarchow, Danny Breen, Bernadette Birkett and (at the piano) the legendary Fred Kaz. Oh, and some guy named George Wendt.

This is the Second City company that Barb and I followed religiously in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Among other talents from that era (not in attendance) were my friend Larry Coven (who appears in MOMMY’S DAY and REAL TIME: SIEGE AT LUCAS STREET MARKET), Mary Gross, Lance Kinsey, and Jim Belushi (whose son Robert was a guest star at the reunion show, a talented, charismatic addition to that famous clan). Breen and Jarchow are particular favorites of mine (and reminded me why with their genius turns), and they were very nice chatting with us afterward. Also – and this is a big deal to Barb and me – we got to meet and talk with Bernie Sahlins, one of the founders of both Second City and SCTV.

Here’s a nice write-up about the show.

Barb said it was a pretty good birthday. Pretty, pretty good (as Larry David would say).

M.A.C.

 

SCTV Reunion

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

As I write this (Sunday night), I am in a hotel in suburban Chicago. Tomorrow I shadow sportscaster Mike North as the first step in what I hope will be an exciting film project.

Just in is a nice review of ANTIQUES FLEE MARKET from Craig Clarke, who hasn’t always been a fan of Barb and me working together, but definitely seems to be coming around.

Barb and I have spent the Friday through late Sunday afternoon at Second City in Chicago, for the famous improv theater’s 50th anniversary celebration. Many huge comedy stars were present (Steve Carrell and Steven Colbert the biggest draws), and scores of familiar comedy faces from legends like Shelly Berman and Robert Kline to SNL vets like Tim Meadows and Rachel Dratch. Barb and I went to Second City regularly in the ’70s and ’80s (until hotel and parking costs drove us to the suburbs for our Chicago shopping getaways) and followed many of those who entertained us on the famous Second City mainstage to SNL and other show biz glory — among them, Tim Kazurinsky, Mary Gross, George Wendt, and many more. Of that company, Larry Coven became a friend and appeared in two of my indie films (MOMMY’S DAY and REAL TIME) and brought the legendary Del Close into MOMMY’S DAY for a cameo role (making me Del’s final film director). Del was a big fan of the Nate Heller books — he would come to my Chicago signings — and that’s an honor I cherish.

SCTV Reunion
Photo courtesy Metromix Chicago

But the real reason Barb and I were at the 50th anniversary event was the one-time only reunion of the cast of SCTV. They did two shows Friday night (Dec. 11) and did a panel about the show on the following morning. I guess I’ve never revealed my obsession with SCTV here. It’s an enthusiasm I share with Barb, but also my longtime comics partner, artist Terry Beatty. SCTV debuted in 1977, right around the time I got my first home video machine, and I taped every show. I have rarities few people even know of (a Cleveland special, a Dave Thomas time travel mini-movie, a Bobby Bittman bio). To me, SCTV was the comedy Beatles…and their reunion was the Beatles reunion that never happened.

The cost was enormous (don’t ask). It was a benefit for Second City performers who need financial and health assistance, and the “cheap seats” ($175 each) were gone before I even heard about the event. Frankly, we could not afford to go. But we couldn’t afford not to, as a used car salesman would say.

Present were Flaherty, Ramis (who’d been only on the first two seasons though a guest later on), Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Eugene Levy and Dave Thomas “as the Beaver.”

The reunion Friday night was comedy nirvana. I got to speak briefly with both Joe Flaherty and Harold Ramis before the show, and both were apologetic before the performance (Ramis said: “Good luck with the show tonight”). In truth, they were under-rehearsed (on the panel, Catherine O’Hara revealed that they had put it together via e-mail, with one rough run-through Friday afternoon). They used scripts at times (worked into the pieces — i.e., the newscast sketch), and in the first scene they fumbled any number of times. But as the love from the audience washed over them — and as each amazed and proud cast member watched the geniuses around them shine, they found the zone. It was a mix of Second City standards (some of which had given birth to SCTV regulars, like Ed Grimley, Pirini Scleroso and Edith Prickely) and routines from SCTV itself (Dr. Cheryl Kinsey’s instructions on how to fake an orgasm, Count Floyd’s 3-D glasses pitch), with occasional new stuff — most impressive, an extended Sammy Maudlin show mostly about Ramis’ Moe Green replacing the late William B. William (John Candy), but featuring incredible dance gymnastics from Andrea Martin, who did a flat-out amazing medley of “great” Canadian pop tunes with Levy’s Bobby Bittman. I could not have been happier opening a fat envelope stuffed with royalty checks (which I could use after springing for the tickets). Time Out Chicago also had a great review of the reunion.

Their panel Saturday morning was as good as the reunion show — they shared backstage stories, and were funny and entertaining, particularly when Levy goaded Thomas into defending the notorious “Vikings and Beekeepers” sketch. They spoke movingly about Candy. I got to ask a question from the audience, which was about how the famous folk they’d impersonated had reacted, and Thomas told of Richard Harris being furious, Martin of Streisand being oblivious, and Short of Jerry Lewis being gracious. Just wonderful.

Over the course of the weekend, I had the honor of speaking to Ramis several times, and Levy and Thomas, as well. I spoke to Short briefly and he was gracious, and Flaherty, who is a wonderful guy. The two gifted female members of the cast made themselves scarce, and were the only autographs I did not snag for a DVD cover. Over the weekend I managed to get signatures from other SCTV regulars — Tony Rosato, Robin Duke, and John Hemphill — as well. Rosato has been in ill health but looked fine, though he did not perform. Duke led a troupe of Toronto alumni (“Women Fully Clothed”) that was a knockout — Duke is one of the funniest women who ever walked the planet.

I was a real fanboy all weekend — really disgraceful — snagging autographs whenever I could. Everybody was gracious, with one exception — Steven Colbert blew me off. There was no one around and it would have taken him maybe three seconds. Very disappointing. Others were generous, from Belushi to Berman, from Colin Mockrie to David Koechner. Edie McClurg (Hermit Hattie of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse!) became our immediate new best friend. Jeff Garlin was such a sweetheart of a guy, you could understand why Larry David wants to hang with him.

Speaking of Garlin, of the non-SCTV events we went to perhaps the most amazing was his Saturday afternoon “Combo Platter.” He was joined by Fred Willard and Chicago comic David Pasquesi in about 90 minutes of spontaneous stand-up. Garlin did nothing prepared — he worked off the audience, gave stuff away that he’d gathered at the event (hotel cookies, a Second City Christmas ornament, some old DVDs his parents gave him) and got half an hour of genuinely hilarious stuff out of it. When the others came on, they did a sort of pass the baton routine, where they started off with an audience suggestion (“Tiger Woods!”) and kept handing off to each other as they explored golf, marriage, cheating, sports movies, and on and on. Some of it may have tapped into bits the artists had done — Pasquesi is a sharp, smooth pro — but mostly it was off-the-cuff. Willard is a genuis of insanity, and both he and Pasquesi would get Garlin laughing in a distinctive wheezing high-pitched way that threatened to kill their host on the spot. I have liked Garlin on CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, and have both his DVDs (the film I WANT SOMEONE TO EAT CHEESE WITH and the stand-up YOUNG AND HANDSOME). But I had no idea he was this casually brilliant average joe comedian.

Among the Second City alums was Tim Kazurinsky, who appears on THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MIKE HAMMER VOL. 2: THE LITTLE DEATH. Tim, who rivals Garlin in sheer niceness, said he loved THE LITTLE DEATH and thought it came off great. So do I. So will you (Amazon has it in stock now — talk about stocking stuffer!).

M.A.C.