ROBERT ALDRICH: A 100TH ANNIVERSARY TRIBUTE

Robert Aldrich was born one hundred years ago today and we classic movie fans are all the richer for it! Lee Marvin Point Bank readers are familiar with Marvin’s and Aldrich’s working relationship as they made a great film together in almost every decade of Marvin’s career: Attack!, 1956; The Dirty Dozen,1967; Emperor of the North, 1973. In fact, it was almost more than that as Marvin wanted Aldrich to direct Death Hunt (1983), which would have completed the last decade of Marvin’s career.

(L-R) Director Robert Aldrich and costars Lee Marvin & Ernest Borgnine at the initial script conference for THE DIRTY DOZEN.

Probably the most remembered of both of their careers was indeed The Dirty Dozen.
The success of that film catapulted both the actor and the director to rarified heights of fame and success.

Aldrich demonstrates to Lee Marvin how to kick John Cassavetes in THE DIRTY DOZEN.

Marvin got a million dollar paycheck from then on and was a top ten box office sensation for the next decade. Aldrich continued to direct & produce films that may have defied description, but maintained his high level of quality. His signature style, which included a love of characters bordering on the grotesque (Whatever to Baby Jane?, The Grissom Gang, The Choir Boys) and a distinct brilliance at mounting suspense through editing and character anticipation, put him in league with some of the greatest directors of all time.

Case in point: The powerful climax to one of my favorites of his, Flight of the Phoenix, compares perfectly to the scene in which Lee Marvin goads Clint Walker into a knife fight in The Dirty Dozen. Watch the way Aldrich mounts the suspense in Phoenix by building to quicker cuts, showing the stranded characters’ apprehension in hopes of the resurrected airplane’s ability to start up just one more time. Rosaries are prayed on, sweat builds on the nearly dehydrated men, some of whom begin to jump up and down as the audience’s anticipation reaches a pitch. In Dozen, he does the same with mounting edits, sidelong characters laughing and goading the giant Walker to stab Marvin, as M.P. Richard Jaeckel is shown reaching for his sidearm. Both scenes are signatories of Aldrich’s unique style of cinema and it’s a style that is sorely missed in this day of computerized technology.
Aldrich himself may have had the best last word about such things. When Marvin visited Aldrich in the hospital as he lay dying of cancer, Marvin asked him, “Can I get you anything?” The wizened director commented, “Yeah, a better script.”

Robert Aldrich: August 9th, 1918 – December 5th, 1983.

I think that’s something we could all use now.
-Dwayne Epstein

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PAST BIRTHDAYS REMEMBERED…. OF THE RECENT PAST

Past Birthdays
Having just recently had another birthday (never mind which one!), I’m reminded of some recent past birthdays. One in particular was when I turned 50 and was not feeling particularly happy about it. In fact, I was downright depressed. Both my parents had passed away, my agent was not having much luck finding a publisher for Lee Marvin Point Blank and…I turned 50!
Luckily, my wonderful girlfriend suggested we go to a movie. Not just any movie, mind you, but a screening at the Academy of one of my favorite actor’s films….

Program to the birthday screening at the Academy of John Garfield’s Body & Soul.

It proved to be quite the tonic as I discovered several prominent guests were to be attendance. Film essayist Kim Morgan of Sunset Gun was there, as well as noir maven and Charles McGraw biographer Alan K. Rode, so I came prepared….

Alan K. Rode’s Charles McGraw bio.

I love what he wrote!

The best was saved for last. After the film, there was a Q&A conducted by Morgan and her special guest, John Garfield’s daughter, Julie Garfield. She was a wonderful and poignant storyteller of her father’s legacy. Pretty good actress, too. Check out her performance as Robert DeNiro’s wife in Goodfellas. Anyway, she told a marvelous story about her father’s way of dealing with the persistent FBI agents who hounded him during the Red Scare that got applause when she told it. Great stuff.
After the Q&A, she spoke briefly with the crowd from the raised stage. Due to the subject of the film I came prepared for a possibility and lo and behold……

My copy of author (now actor) Jim Beaver’s wonderful 1970s tome on Garfield.

Beaver’s autograph.

Following my chat with Jim Beaver, I found myself staring up at Julie Garfield from my place below the stage. I briefly mentioned to her that it was my birthday and she made it a terrific one. She smiled at me, knelt down, took my face in both hands and kissed me on the lips!

After kissing me, Julie Garfield signed this page in Jim Beaver’s book.

Naturally, I was in heaven. What had been a rotten birthday was capped with a wonderful evening. Who could ask for more? Some past birthdays are definitely better than others. My girlfriend Barbara and I went out to our car only to find a parking ticket on it.
Yeah, happy birthday.
P.S. a few months later my agent Mike Hamilburg and I were in negotiations with Schaffner Press for the publication of Lee Marvin Point Blank.
Yep, some things ARE definitely worth the wait.
-Dwayne Epstein

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AUTHORS AS FRIENDS HAS ITS ADVANTAGES

Authors as Friends
One of the perks of being a published author is making authors as friends. Once Lee Marvin Point Blank made the light of day, I found myself becoming friends with fellow authors, especially those of the non-fiction cinema history variety. We’d meet via social media or at book signings and the result was often the bonding of kindred spirits.
Take for example Steve Stoliar. author of the wonderful book, Raised Eyebrows: My Years Inside Groucho’s House.

The cover of Steve Stoliar’s RAISED EYEBROWS, rendered by the great Drew Friedman.

We made friends on Facebook only to discover that we had more in common than our mutual interests. Turns out, Mike Hamilburg was also his agent for this great memoir and like he did with my book, Hamilburg got it sold when everybody else turned it down. Now that is an agent! Steve and I were able to commiserate about it at Mike’s funeral in 2016.

Steve’s signature when we met says it all.

By the way, Steve’s book, an amazing tale of his years working and living with the legendary Groucho Marx at the end of his life, has been optioned as a film to be directed by none other than Rob Zombie (!). The guessing game as to who will play the late-life Groucho has become the bane of Steve’s social media existence.

Another one of the ‘authors as friends’ I met via social media is the wonderfully talented and prolific, Brian Jones. We met when he backed me up on several political posts, siding with my appreciation of Hillary Clinton. I then discovered he had written about Washington Irving, George Lucas, and a bio that landed him a spot on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Dammit!), due to his worthy subject: Jim Henson.

My copy of Brian Jones’ wonderful biography, JIM HENSON.

Brian’s appropriate signature to me.

VERY much looking forward to Brian’s next project, an overdue biography on the legendary Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Suess. It comes out May of next year and I will definitely be reading it!

Not all ‘authors as friends’ are met by yours truly via social media. The now defunct West Hollywood Book Fair invited me to be on a panel of celebrity biographers. I was lucky enough to to be seated next to Jim Gladstone, author of The Man Who Seduced Hollywood: The Life & Loves of Greg Bautzer, Tinseltown’s Most Powerful Lawyer.

Jim Gladstone’s THE MAN WHO SEDUCED HOLLYWOOD, a great read!

Jim Gladstone’s signature in my copy of his Greg Bautzer biography.

Between the audience Q&A’s, we talked about our books, got to know each other, and a few weeks later he and his wife and my fiancé and myself are going out to dinner at Long Beach’s Parker’s Lighthouse. Turns out he’s a good guy and like all the ‘authors as friends’ mentioned here, is the creator of a terrific tome that I highly recommend.

All three of the aforementioned titles have something in common with Lee Marvin Point Blank. They are all bestsellers that are well written, well researched and have fascinating subjects. Check them out for yourself or if you prefer start with Lee Marvin Point Blank and work from there. You won’t be disappointed.
-Dwayne Epstein

 

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