Steve McQueen & Hollywood Huckster Pranks

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Steve McQueen

The Huckster wasn’t the only guy in Hollywood to play the system. Another dude used to getting his way was Steve McQueen.

When McQueen was offered the role of Vin in The Magnificent Seven, he was contractually obligated to the TV show Wanted: Dead or Alive. The producers of this TV western refused to let their popular star out of his commitment to do the film. But that wasn’t going to stop him.

He went out, rented a car, then crashed it. Immediately afterwards he leaked a bogus story to the Hollywood trade papers, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, that he was in a neck brace and needed a month to fully recover. The completely unhurt actor was excused from his main TV job, and immediately stole away the next night to Mexico to shoot The Magnificent Seven, one of his most iconic roles.

You can’t keep the greats away from their desires — and that’s the story of the truly determined, like Steve McQueen and Kevin Hartigan, the  Hollywood Huckster.

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Brando, Nicholson and the Hollywood Huckster

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Brando - NicholsonMarlon Brando – Jack Nicholson

The Hollywood Huckster loved to tell stories — to call him a raconteur would be like saying Tiger Woods was a golfer or Babe Ruth played baseball. They were in a league of their own. And so was Kevin.

Here’s one of his favorites:

A young Jack Nicholson looked forward to working with the great Marlon Brando back in 1976. The movie was a western, THE MISSOURI BREAKS.

Nervous about meeting AND working with the iconic actor, Jack showed up on set the first day of shooting fully prepared. He had practiced his lines and knew them like a pontiff knows scripture.

The director, Arthur Penn, ran a rehearsal of the first scene. Nicholson was a bit surprised to find Brando hadn’t learned a single line. Everything was written for him and placed strategically on the set, hidden behind set dressing, glued on the bottom of props, even taped onto the side of his horse’s saddle. Just about anywhere you looked you’d find Brando’s dialogue. This way he could walk around the set and find his lines. He was a natural at it.

This was a bit off-putting to Nicholson, who was distracted by the his co-stars eyes darting all over the set looking for his lines while they were performing scenes together.

Things came to a head when Jack was about to finish a long speech and Brando, seemingly unprovoked, walked over to a nearby desk, and opened the drawer where he had hidden his next lines. This unmotivated action caused Nicholson to totally blow the great take he was performing.

Frustrated, he pulled the director aside. Penn, who also was exasperated by this, came up with a solution. The director knew he wasn’t going to get Brando to learn his dialogue but he could get him to stop from reading his lines.

Penn convinced Brando to wear a small earpiece and ordered an assistant to read Brando his lines. Marlon agreed to give it a try and it worked.

…at least until the second day. Brando was about to deliver a pivotal response to Nicholson’s dialogue when the ear device inadvertently picked up a police broadcast. The confused actor, without coming out of character, delivered, “Oh my God! There’s been a robbery at Woolworths.”

Everyone on the set  cracked up — except Brando. When Nicholson saw his costar wasn’t laughing, he approached him and how he could say what he did, which made no sense to the scene?

Brando responded, “I don’t know, I just thought the damned writer had done a rewrite!”

So for more fantastical yet true Hollywood stories, check out the HOLLYWOOD HUCKSTER.

Take Two Jokes And Call Me In The Morning

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Writer's room

We needed one joke to finish a  production rewrite. The hour was late and the staff was exhausted. All we wanted was to go home. All, but Kevin.  He was enjoying watching this high priced room of writing talent struggle.  I could tell from his sly smile he had something on his mind.  I indicated with a hand gesture to go ahead which he finally did.

“This redneck calls home from the hospital and says ‘Honey, I’ve got some bad news. I just cut off my finger at work.’

His concerned wife asks, ‘the whole finger?”

The redneck replies “No, the one next to it.”

After a short beat, we all got it, (whole/hole)… Though we couldn’t get it past BS&P (Broadcast Standards and Practices — aka the censors), it got the room laughing and we finished the script moments later.

For more: 

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1490302174

What Not To Say To A Studio Executive

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Warner brothers

The Huckster had no difficulties in expressing himself with the honchos over at the networks or studios.

“I believe our chat is over,” the Warner Brothers studio president said to us in a rather dismissive tone.

We obviously had struck out this time at the plate. But neither success nor failure deterred the Huckster.

“I believe I can fly,” said Kevin, “but so far I haven’t taken off. I must say I’ve had a wonderful conversation. Unfortunately, this wasn’t it.”

The studio boss stood dumbfounded. As he did, the Huckster railed on: “I now know my underwear’s waterproof because listening to your BS I just pissed myself and I don’t feel a thing. Then again, it could just be a massive stroke.

The WB chief was none too thrilled nor used to being spoken to that way. “I run a very successful studio.”

“Depends on your definition of ‘successful’. “You know what they say behind your back, don’t you? ‘If it’s a Warner Brother’s picture, there’s sure to be an empty seat in the house.’  Good day, good night, and good luck finding your next studio job.

And with that, we left.

Here’s Why You Need A Cellphone

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Indian on horseback

According to the HOLLYWOOD HUCKSTER:

His wife was traveling to join him in LA from Boston. Her car broke down just outside an Indian reservation in a remote part of Arizona. Fortunately, a Native American on horseback came along and offered her a ride to a nearby town. She climbed up behind him on the horse and they rode off. The ride was uneventful, except that every few minutes the Indian would let out a “Y-e-e-e-e-h-a-a-a-a!” so loud that it echoed from the surrounding canyons. When they arrived in town, he let her off at the local service station. He yelled one final “Y-e-e-e-e-h-a-a-a-a!” and he rode off.
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“What did you do to get that Indian so excited?” asked the service station attendant.
“Nothing,” the Huckster’s wife said. “I merely sat behind him on the horse, put my arms around his waist and held onto the saddle horn so I wouldn’t fall off.”
“Lady,” the attendant said, “Indians don’t use saddles.”

The Huckster On Horses And Ballet Stars

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Najinsky

There was never a time the Hollywood Huckster wasn’t selling — a movie, a TV series, a play — or just himself. To do that he was always thinking two steps ahead. And that’s because he learned from some of Hollywood’s greatest legends before him.

Kevin’s notions weren’t always met initially with the same enthusiasm in which he pitched them, but he never let that get in the way. We were meeting at United Artists to pitch our movie, “Night At the Ballet.”

Facing some initial resistance, Kevin shared this classic tale of the great director Billy Wilder trying to convince studio chief Samuel Goldwyn to make his pet project movie. It was the life of Vaslav Nijinsky the Russian ballet dancer and choreographer, considered as the greatest male dancer of the early 20th century.

Goldwyn just couldn’t wrap his mind around it. Who would want to see a film on the life of a Russian ballet star?

Wilder persisted; enthusiastically expounding that the exceptional story had great cinematic possibilities. As a young man, the handsome Nijinsky danced for the Bolshoi and received international acclaim. Then he met the great love of his life, was rejected, ended up in an insane asylum and thought he was a horse.

“A horse? He thought he was a horse?” Goldwyn wasn’t sure, who was crazier, Najinsky or Billy Wilder. The exec posited that the public would never pay to see something so negative.

“Don’t worry, Sam, it has a happy ending,” defended the director. 

Goldwyn asked what could possibly be happy about a mad man who believes he’s a horse?

“He wins the Kentucky Derby!” replied Wilder.

I added that in our comedy, he wins the triple crown. The United Artist executives loved the story, loved the Huckster telling it and we sold our movie, NIGHT AT THE BALLET right there on the spot.

These are the tales of yesterday that molded the Hollywood Huckster and helped build his legend of outrageous adventures. For more, check out the book, HOLLYWOOD HUCKSTER – A Memoir of Hysterical Proportions.

The Amazon #1 bestselling Biography & Memoir is on sale now.

Print and eBook: HOLLYWOOD HUCKSTER

King Cohn vs. King Kevin

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Red Skelton on Harrt Cohns funeral

Perhaps one of the most notorious and feared men in Hollywood, at least before the arrival of Kevin ‘Hollywood Huckster’ Hartigan, was Columbia Pictures head, Harry Cohn. I hate to admit it, but sometimes I think Cohn was the Huckster’s role model. 

Kevin loved regaling party goers with two particular stories to propagate the legend of the studio tyrant.

From 1923 till he died in 1958, Harry Cohn ruled Columbia Pictures with an iron fist. The “four letter,” foul-mouthed, dyspeptic, patriarch had fought his way up from the streets, not unlike the Huckster. His harangues could reduce other Hollywood power players to tears. “I don’t get ulcers,” he proclaimed, “I give them!”

His bombastic bravado could be peeled off and when it was, it revealed vulnerability. Studio employees would snicker and revel when their hard as nails boss came down with an illness. The slightest  ailment and an army of attendants would be summoned to Cohn’s bedside, including a nose and throat specialist, a chiropractor, a heart expert, a surgeon, an osteopath, and for good measure, a rabbi, a priest and a Christian Science practitioner. “You never know,” explained Harry. “One of ‘em might know something.”

Harry Cohn, hired outstanding talent to make his many excellent motion pictures. Because of this, he was often portrayed in Hollywood lore as illiterate, highly educated man. In truth, not so much.

One anecdote has Harry Cohn chewing out some of his more erudite development executives. There was a highly sought after script circulating in Hollywood with Jimmy Cagney attached, called The Adventures of Robin Hood. Cohn read it and balled out his execs, declaring,“This script is garbage! Four hundred years ago people didn’t run around saying yes siree and no siree!”

The screenplay actually said, “Yes, Sire. No, Sire,” but no one had the balls to correct their boss, so the film ended up at Warners. Cagney was replaced by Errol Flynn and it took home three Oscars and was nominated for a fourth– Best Picture. 

Yes siree. 

Find out more about Hollywood and the Hollywood Huckster here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1490302174

Guilty Pleasures of the Hollywood Huckster

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Westerns 2

There is no doubt that the Hollywood Huckster had a favorite genre of movie, something he loved to watch. His guilty pleasure might surprise you — westerns.

He was a sucker for the oaters staring the likes of Hopalong Cassidy, Randolph Scott, Gary Cooper, Roy Rogers and John Wayne. Serious or action packed, he’d light up a joint, keep himself refreshed for the run of the picture and while away the hours, shouting at the screen, commenting on how it was Italians and Mexican who were always playing the Indians, rarely Native Americans. And when asked why that was, he loved to tell this story:

One time a director brought his film company to a small Arizona community where he was going to shoot a 12-part Tom Mix western serial. He hired a bunch of locals including some actual Navajos for the picture.

It was the last time he ever did that. During the filming of the cliff-hanger scene for part one, the director was eager to get his final shot just perfect. It required smoke signals to warn the hero he was heading into a trap.

The prop guy just couldn’t get it right. Either the fire wasn’t smokey enough or the puffs ran together. Twice the blanket used for making the signals ignited. Take after take and not one met the director’s satisfaction. Finally, just as they were losing the light, the director got what he wanted– four distinct puffs of smoke, one after the other. 

As the smoke lifted from the ground, the assembled cast and crew watched in relieved awe. The director no sooner yelled cut when one of the Navajo extras pointed toward the rising puffs of smoke and said to the director, “You’re not done.”

The director was confused. “What are you talking about?”

The Native American said, so far you only wrote out “F-U-C-K”. Don’t you want to add the “Y-O-U”?

Along those lines, the Huckster dragged me to a western marathon one Sunday. I couldn’t believe how into these movies the audience got. They were thrilled by wild chase scenes, the preposterous shootouts and the over-the-top villains.

Then disaster struck in the theater. The film suddenly broke right during the climactic chase scene. The audience was growing restless while the projectionist struggled to fix the film. That’s when the Huckster brought down the house as only he could. He stood up, turned toward the projection windows in the back of the theater and yelled out, “Hurry up and fix the damned thing before the bad guys get away!”

Something else you don’t want to let get away is a chance to read all the wonderful true stories about the Hollywood Huckster and his escapades.

Grab a copy or download one. Here’s the link:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1490302174

Huckster On The Duke And A Ford

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Ford and Wayne

The Hollywood Huckster told this story on many occasions, especially on rainy days.

The Teaming of director John Ford and Oscar-winning actor John ‘The Duke’ Wayne was a long an prosperous one. They actually did 21 movies together, among them classics like Stagecoach, The Searchers and The Quiet Man.

In 1948, so the Huckster claims, they went to their regular location spot, Monument Valley on the Arizona/ Utah border, to film Fort Apache. Shooting on location provided them with lot’s of opportunities to drink and play cards together.

Unfortunately, the unpredictable weather caused a number of filming delays.

 

Planning ahead was a nightmare, so Ford found a local Navajo medicine man and offered to pay him one hundred dollars if he could predict the weather. The Duke thought Ford was crazy.

The medicine man shut his eyes, went into a trance and then uttered, “Rain.”

Sure enough, the next day shooting was postponed because of rain. Wayne was stunned, actually amazed. Ford asked the Navajo man to repeat his efforts to forecast the next day’s weather.

“Mmm, cloudy.” And damn it if again he hadn’t perfectly predicted the weather! Cloudy, but no rain.

The Duke became even more intrigued and decided to follow the Native American fellow around, hoping to learn some other magic from this talented forecaster.

Then on the third day Duke asked his director if they were going to be shooting the next day. Ford said, “Let’s find out,” and led the actor over to the Navajo shaman.

When asked by the director, the seer shook his head sadly and said, “Cannot tell weather today.”

“Why?” asked Ford.

The Navajo tribesman pointed at John Wayne, “Big Man took my transistor radio.”

Duke broke out laughing while brandishing the radio and so did the embarrassed, Ford. The two men enjoyed each other’s company to no end. The HOLLYWOOD HUCKSTER is about a similar, devoted teaming. Check it out. 

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1490302174

The Huckster’s Favorite Hollywood Stories

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Crawford and Davis

The Hollywood Huckster used to love to tell classic Hollywood stories.

Here’s one that demonstrates of the epic cattiness between two of old time Hollywood’s most famous leading ladies. Years after their prime Joan Crawford and Bette Davis were teamed in what would turn out to be a 1962 horror classic, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?

At the time, Joan was the widow of Alfred Steele, the former head of the Pepsi Corporation. Bette didn’t like it that Joan, ever the star, consistently arrived late to the set. So, to get back at fellow Oscar winner Crawford, Davis took advantage of the waiting time and had the prop man replace all of the Pepsi machines on the set with Coke machines.

But it didn’t stop there. Bette refused to address her co-star directly, except when the camera’s were running. Whenever Joan showed up late on set, Davis would loudly announce Crawford’s arrival to the crew with, “Places everyone, the widow Steele has deigned us with her presence.”

Crawford hated that, so she extracted her revenge in her own classic way. She retaliated by lining her costume dress pockets with weights so when shooting the climactic scene where Bette Davis had to drag Crawford’s nearly dead character across the floor, Davis almost broke her back.

There’s lot’s of fun in the the HOLLYWOOD HUCKSTER. Check it out.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1490302174