IN HONOR OF THE PASSING OF SHELLEY BERMAN

Shelley Berman died today after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. He hung in there for quite some time but it is a horrendous illness that always wins in the end. I know having seen its effect on several family members.
I’m reposting the interview I did with Berman back in 2005 for Filmfax in his honor. Since he has passed, I’m also adding something else. When I first posted this on my blog I made mention of a subject that came up in the interview that angered Berman so much, he wanted to end the interview. Well, with his passing I have decided to mention it here. Keep in mind, I could have mentioned it earlier, or for that matter, even left it in the original interview, but the choice was mine to make and I left it out in respect to Berman. Now that he has passed, I’ll discuss it here. For the record, I’m not one of those writers who rubs his hands together and thinks, “Oh goody! Now that he’s gone I can bash him to my heart’s content.” Far from it. In fact, it is in homage to Berman that I mention it now, as  I feel it shows his humanity, his down-to-earth nature and his never-ending rebelliousness. So, with that said, I can now say what it was in two simple words:  Lenny Bruce.
What happened was this. If you look below at the 6th page of the interview we did indeed discuss Lenny Bruce as they were contemporaries of each other. However, as friendly as he sounds reminiscing about Lenny Bruce, there was an obvious air of rivalry when he Berman spoke of him. Small wonder as comedians as diverse as Alan King to Bill Cosby (ahem!) have gone on record in admiration of Bruce’s audacity on stage.
What happened n the interview was this: Berman had begun talking about Lenny Bruce in rather less than complimentary terms and, being a Lenny Bruce fan, I challenged him. Went something like this….
Berman: I was in a club one night watching Lenny perform when a group of high school prom dates came in all dressed up for the evening. He saw them and said into the mic, ‘Hey, are you kids gonna FUCK tonight?'” He didn’t have to embarrass those kids like that….
Filmfax: Didn’t anybody think to ask what a bunch of high schoolers were doing in an adult nightclub?
Berman (angrily): Okay, I never met Lenny Bruce! What I said never happened. Turn off the tape recorder. The interview is over!
And so it went. I did indeed turn off the recorder but then I proceeded to try to calm him down. After several minutes it worked and we went back to the interview. At no time after that did he ask me to edit the interview, read it before publication, or do or say anything that would censor what we discussed. I took it upon myself to not put it in as I felt it effected the great stuff he was telling me otherwise. I mention it now only to show, like all of us, how human the man was and the respect I had for his life and work. Rest in peace, Mr. Berman. Like Lenny Bruce, you life and influence will always live on.

[Original introduction when article was first posted followed by the interview]
Shelley Berman, interviewed by yours truly back ’05 for Filmfax magazine, was part of an idea I had while trying to get Lee Marvin Point Blank published. I figured I’d keep my writing chops up by interviewing subjects within a given theme, in this case it was pioneering comedians. It started with the rare opportunity afforded me to interview both Sid Caesar and Steve Allen. From there the plan was to write about the holy trinity of Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl and Shelley Berman. Well, I met Berman at a Hollywood Collector’s Show and he agreed on a day and time to be interviewed. When I found out he was good friends with Sahl, I thought the next step would be a breeze. It wasn’t. As for Bruce, I wanted to interview his daughter, Kitty, who was amenable over the phone but constant scheduling conflicts made the proposed piece prohibitive. Ahh well, maybe some day…
As for Berman, he remains one of the strangest interviews I have ever conducted. He invited me to his home and was very cordial but as our talk went on, he kept pressing me to ask him about certain subjects he wanted to expound on. I’m sure he wanted some specific comments on the record, but that was not why I was there. I maintained control of the interview and asked about subjects I knew the good folks at Filmfax wanted me to ask him about.
Then, at one point, a certain subject was brought up that so angered him, he said that I should turn off the tape recorder as the interview was officially over. I did turn off the recorder but it was to convince him to go back on the record. I won’t say what (or who) the subject was that angered him as I agreed not to go public with it. He calmed down and the interviewed continued to its conclusion. Later, when I told publisher Mike Stein about it, he laughed and said how cool he thought the whole thing was. That eased my worries a bit as I then turned in the article that you see below. Suffice to say, the subject that angered him is still present but only slightly altered. Can you tell what it is???
Oh, and one more thing. After the article, I posted the letter Berman wrote that stated a few of his objections and no, the subject that angered him was NOT in the letter. Go figure….

Shelley Berman-1

Shelley Berman-2

Shelley Berman-3

Shelley Berman-4

Shelley Berman-5

Shelley Berman-6

Shelley Berman-7

Shelley Berman’s letter to the editor after the interview was published. No, the angry subject is NOT in the letter.

-Dwayne Epstein

 

 

 

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THE ARCHIVES: MY FILMFAX INTERVIEW W/ ROBERT J. GURNEY, JR

Anyone who knows me knows that with precious few exceptions, I am no fan of the science fiction genre. So, with that in mind, I’m the last writer wiling to research, interview, and write up a piece on an unsung Sci-Fi filmmaker. Enter Filmfax Magazine. You never know what you might learn and enjoy being a professional writer and writing for Filmfax is the best example of that. I had recieved a call from the magazine’s publisher, Mike Stein (terrific guy, by the way), telling me such an unsung filmmaker has made his presence known and wanted to speak with Filmfax. It concerned a recent book that had incorrectly stated that Invasion of the Saucer Men was not meant to be a comedy, despite the laughs it garnered from audiences upon its release.
I thought it over, and eventually figured, what the hell, might even be a little enlightening on some level. I was still very much researching  Lee Marvin Point Blank at the time but needed to keep my actually writing chops up. Besides, I needed to pad my resume’ as well as my bank account as best as I could. Keep in mind, this was back in 2002, and my ability to navigate the digital highway, was tenative at best. Any research was done the old-fashioned way, i.e. my local library. Not only had I not heard of Robert J. Gurney, Jr., neither had any of the stalwart genre fanatics I knew personally. The intrigue was rising.
Turns out, Gurney was living in Marina Del Rey and had a voice like a late-night FM  radio announcer with a Southern drawl. Upon meeting with him, I discovered he was a sweet, unassuming, older gentleman with a razor-sharp memory definitely worthy of Filmfax’s auspices, beyond what his valid complaint was. The complaint, by the way, was also a natural lead for the article. Better yet was discovering his life story included eye-opening personal anecdotes with the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Marlon Brando, Roger Corman, AIP’s exectuives Sam Arkoff & Jim Nicholson, a future mutli-Oscar winning cinematographer named Conrad Hall,  and the genesis of some groundbreaking films still in dire need of rediscovery. My favorite example being Gurney’s long-lost late 50s thriller, Edge of Fury. He had a print he had not seen since its release, and because I knew someone who could transfer it to VHS, we were able to watch this strange little thriller together as I took notes on his reactions. Those are the times I love my job. So, posted below, in its entirety, is my eye-opening interview with writer/director/producer and thought-provoking racontuer, Robert Gurney, Jr.
Oh, one more thing. According to Google, at the age of 92, Gurney is still with us, but my contact information for him is long gone. If anybody who reads this knows how to get back in touch with him, please let me know. In the mean time, I give you my cover story interview with Mr. Gurney from Filmfax, 2002. Enjoy…..

Artist Harley Brown rendered the cover art for the Oct/Nov 2002 issue of Filmfax featuring my interview with filmmaker Robert J. Gurney.

Artist Harley Brown rendered the cover art for the Oct/Nov 2002 issue of Filmfax featuring my interview with filmmaker Robert J. Gurney.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 1.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 1.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 2.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 2.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 3.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 3.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 4.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 4.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 5.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 5.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 6.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 6.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 7.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 7.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 8.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 8.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 9.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 9.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 10.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 10.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 11.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 11.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 12.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 12.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 13.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 13.

-Dwayne Epstein

 

 

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ARCHIVE: MY INTERVIEW WITH SAMURAI WIDOW, JUDY BELUSHI

I recently came across an article stating that a film is in the works based on Judy Belushi’s biography of her late husband, singer/actor/comedian, John Belushi. It stated that Ellen Page might play her and Emil Hirsh would play John. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look likely to happen but it did remind me of the time I interviewed Judy Belushi.
Before I was able to finally get a publisher for Lee Marvin Point Blank, I lucked into some great freelance work for Filmfax Magazine. Interviewing the former Judtih Jacklin in 2006 was a dream come true for this die-hard fan of her late husband. Shy at first, she could tell I had done my homework on her late husband’s career and quickly opened up to me with great tales not even mentioned in her book. The one about Lauren Bacall is but one great example. So, without further ado, here’s that interview from almost 10 years ago (yipes!)….

Judy Belsuhi Filmfax interview, Page 1

Judy Belsuhi Filmfax interview, Page 1

Judy Belushi Filmfax interview, Page 2

Judy Belushi Filmfax interview, Page 2

Judy Belushi Filmfax interview, Page 3

Judy Belushi Filmfax interview, Page 3

Judy Belushi Filmfax interview, Page 4

Judy Belushi Filmfax interview, Page 4

Judy Belushi Filmfax interview, Page 5

Judy Belushi Filmfax interview, Page 5

Judy Belushi Filmfax interview, Page 6

Judy Belushi Filmfax interview, Page 6

Judy Belushi Filmfax interview, Page 7

Judy Belushi Filmfax interview, Page 7

Judy Belushi Filmfax interview, Page 8

Judy Belushi Filmfax interview, Page 8

 

 

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