THE COOLER KING: MY FIRST PUBLISHED BOOK

The Cooler King, nice name for a debut book, isn’t it? Well about 13 years before Lee Marvin Point Blank saw the light of day, that’s exactly what it was. However, my tale of publication is not typical of most published authors.

The cover of my first book, THE COOLER KING, a young adult novel written for the ESL market.

Although, truth be told, I don’t really know what is typical. That aside, I don’t know of anyone who ever got published by virtue of being a waiter.
I used to work as a waiter in Orange County in the early 90s and like most decent waiters, I had a few regular customers. One such regular was a tall, thin, amiable middle-aged man named Mike Miller. He ran his own educational material company and came in once a week for a lunch of jambalaya and a tall ice tea. All these years later and I still remember. Geez! Anyway, He was affable and fun and we also enjoyed each other’s conversation. When he spoke of his work, which was located nearby, he bemoaned his inability to find someone who can complete a decent sentence for his regular catalog production. When I told him I used to write for a newspaper, he gave me a copy of his previous catalog to proofread. I gave the proofed copy back the next time I saw him, he perused my corrections and asked me if I’d like to join his staff as an editor. Simple as that. Talk about being at the right place at the right time! By the way, I found out much later that I was only person who saw the catalog and corrected the fact that Robert Louis Stevenson did NOT write Moby Dick (!)
Anyway, my tenure at Miller Education Materials was a fun one as I began to move up the company’s ladder, eventually becoming production manager and hiring and overseeing small office staff as the company grew to include a publishing arm, Artesian Press. Pretty heady stuff for a guy who never finished college! Through it all was Mike Miller, who allowed me to pick his brain, encouraged my writing, laughed a lot and gave me my first writing credit as an author. He asked for an idea, I gave it to him and he published it! Also resulted in an audio cassette version…remember those?

Audio cassette of THE COOLER KING

It may seem a stretch but there never would have been Lee Marvin Point Blank had there not been a Mike Miller and THE COOLER KING first. I miss them both.

The last time I saw my old boss, Mike Miller, was at a book signing I did at the Long Beach Barnes & Noble. A year later he died of a brain tumor. I sure do miss him.

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MY 1994 INTERVIEW IN HONOR OF THE LATE DON GORDON

Researching Lee Marvin Point Blank meant never knowing where the work would lead, case in point is my interview with actor Don Gordon, who passed away April 24, at the age of 90. I had long been familiar with his work as I was a lifelong Steve McQueen fan and Gordon and McQueen were close friends.

Steve McQueen (left) as Det. Frank Bullitt with his partner Delgetti (Don Gordon) in a scene cut from the final version of BULLITT (1968).

(L-R) Steve McQueen, Don Gordon, Billy Mumy and Dustin Hoffman disembark for Devil’s Island in 1973’s PAPILLON.

(L-R) Norman ‘Woo-Woo’ Grabowski, Don Gordon and Steve McQueen as firemen confer on how to handle THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974).

 

 

I had not thought of interviewing Gordon, that is  until a mutual friend suggested I should as he may have worked with Marvin on  some early live television. The interview was arranged and we spoke briefly about the subject of my book. The interview proved to be full of revelations, despite the fact that Gordon didn’t think he had worked with Marvin. The follow-up interview proved otherwise. As readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank discovered — along with the author– many of Marvin’s unheralded TV performances proved his versatility more than most of his films and I owe a debt of gratitude for that to Don Gordon. He helped to set me on the path of discovering Marvin’s TV work and proved to be quite an eye-opener. Like Gordon himself, if you take the time to watch his work, despite the fact he wasn’t that well-known to mainstream audiences, he (and conversely, late life success of Lee Marvin) made an impression in whatever he did. Below is the full, unedited transcription of our phone conversation. It was brief, yet enlightening. He had no reason to be, but you’ll see that he was friendly, honest, forthcoming and insightful. Rest in peace, Mr. Gordon. You will be missed.

Initial Phone Interview, 11/6/94
Dwayne (Call being returned): Hello?
Don Gordon: Hi Dwayne, it’s Don Gordon.
Dwayne: Don, thanks for calling me back. Listen, I don’t know what your schedule is like but you had mentioned you knew Lee Marvin casually and knew Michelle Triola, as well. I was wondering if maybe I could ask you a couple of questions about that now?
Don: Well, I don’t know how much I could tell you. I never worked with Lee but I knew him. I was friendlier with Michelle. I knew Lee years ago. He was a terrific guy. I had heard that he was known to have a bit of a temper but I never saw it.
Dwayne: Really? I never heard that. Where did you hear it?
Don: Well, you know, you read things about that kind of shit but I never saw it. He was always a great guy, as far as I’m concerned.
Dwayne: When would you see him?
Don: Well, mostly at different social functions. I would bump into him at those black tie affairs.
Dwayne: You said you knew him years ago. Was that in New York?
Don: No, no. Hollywood. We were both starting out playing heavies and then he eventually became a big star, which he rightfully deserved. You know, we were all young in those days. We’d see each other kicking around at Schwab’s when there was still a Schwab’s. I might see him at a friend’s house and we’d talk. “Hey, you’re really good. I saw you in such-and-such and you were really good.” You know, that kind of thing. Believe it or not, Hollywood really is a very small town. I suspect it’s still that way, but I’ve been out of the loop for so long, I wouldn’t know.
Dwayne: Really?
Don: Yeah, it’s partly by choice because I’m writing (Children’s books) now and doing some other things, so acting really doesn’t hold my interest anymore. Don’t get me wrong, if the right part came along..
Dwayne: Do you remember the first time you met Lee Marvin?
Don: No, I really don’t. I just remember bumping into him every now and again. We were all young and full of energy in those days, that’s what I remember. He was just a terrific guy.
Dwayne: Having know him over the years, did you see any change in the man over those years?
Don: Absolutely not. No change whatsoever. He was the same guy from the day he had no money to the day he was one of the biggest stars. And there’s very few people you can say that about.
Dwayne: Well, you just gave me a good quote I can use.
Don: (Laughs) Good. See, the thing is, I knew Steve much better. Not just at work, because we did work together a lot but we used to go and do things outside of work. We were friends.
Dwayne: You mentioned that you knew Michelle Triola much better. Why is that?
Don: Well, we got to know each other and found out we share a birthday. Not the same year because she’s a little older than me. But we had that in common and became good friends. In fact, we still are.
Dwayne: Could you put me in contact with her?
Don: I could ask.
Dwayne: I’d really appreciate that. I could provide references, if you need it.
Don: Well, let me ask her first and see what she says then we’ll take from there.
Dwayne: Thanks, that would be great.
Don: I could call you in a couple of days
——————————————————————
Follow-up Phone Interview, 11/10/95
Don Gordon: Got your message Dwayne. What’s up?
Dwayne: Well, I was recently in New York at the Museum of Television and Radio and I remember you telling me you had not remembered working with Lee Marvin. I viewed a tape of a “Studio One” called “Shakedown Cruise.” I realize you did a lot of work in those days and it’s hard to keep track but does any of this sound familiar?
Don: Boy Dwayne, I’ll tell you it really doesn’t. I’m sure you’re right but I just can’t recall.
Dwayne: I can understand that because it’s not one of the most well known shows like “Marty” or “Requiem for a Heavyweight”….
Don: I was in “Marty.” I had a really small part. I played the guy who didn’t want to stay with an ugly girl and wanted to pay somebody to get rid of her.
Dwayne: Yeah, well in this you played a sailor everyone thinks is a coward and you prove them wrong in time of crisis and if I do say so you were excellent in it.
Don: Thank you, very much. I only wish I could remember it. I haven’t seen any of the live shows I did in those days except for “Marty”. See in those days I did a lot of “Studio One”. It kept me alive. Don’t get me wrong. It didn’t pay that well. Only about $200 but it kept you going. I did one or two a month in those days and it was hard work. You would rehearse for about 10 to 12 days and then go out there live.

Don Gordon (left) tries to pawn off his ugly date for $5 to Rod Steiger’s Marty in the 1953 live TV version by Paddy Chayefsky, later made into the 1955 Oscar-winning film with Ernest Borgnine as MARTY.

Dwayne: I guess you could compare it to local theater only the recognition was much greater.
Don: Oh yeah. The next day you’d be walking around New York and all the cab drivers would say, “Hey I saw you last night in that show and you were great.” So the reaction was immediate. Cab drivers are the best that way.
Dwayne: Sure. they make the best critics because they don’t have an axe to grind and they can be totally honest.
Don: Oh, sure. They wouldn’t have any problem saying, “Hey I saw you last night and you stink!” I love New York cab drivers. Listen, I have your number, so if I remember anything, I’ll give you a call.
Dwayne: Thanks, I appreciate it. When they open the Museum out here next March, you might want to check that show out.
Don: I sure will. Take care. (END)

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MORE EARLY INFLUENCES IN LEARNING FILM HISTORY

For no other reason than just for fun, the idea of exploring early influences on both my writing, as well as my love of movies that resulted in Lee Marvin Point Blank, is something I decided was worth exploring just a little more.
I have a vid memory of watching Richard Schickel’s PBS series The Men Who Made the Movies back in the 70s when I was VERY young. Up until then, I never even gave much consideration to the importance of the director to a film and the concept changed my thinking, dramatically.

Extremely rare program for the PBS seres, THE MEN WHO MADE THE MOVIES.

In fact, Some of the subjects in Schickel’s series, such as Raoul Walsh and Bill Wellman, proved even more fascinating than the films they made!
An even greater example of early influences is a series books put out by Citadel Press entitled “The Films of…” and the very first one picked up was the beat up hardcover seen below….

THE FILMS OF JAMES CAGNEY, my 1st Citadel Press title which I still own.

The entire series (each title of interest of varying quality) was a revelation to this young star struck movie fan. Imagine for a moment you’re looking for any well illustrated information on the stars, genres, and periods of filmmaking that you love, long before the days of the internet, and you stumble up this rack at the local mall’s book store….

Citadel Press book rack as seen in at the local mall back in the 70s & 80s.

I was so enthralled by these titles, I even sent away for the full catalog so I could discover what all the titles were that existed and find out what they had to offer….

Citadel Press catalog of “Films Of..” books.

I was so bold at such a young age, I even went so far as to write the publisher and ask if I could write  book called The Films of Steve McQueen. I was politely told that one was in the works but thanks for the offer. They were right, of course. One did come out…about ten years later.

Back of the rare record given to me by author Tony Thomas.

The existing titles varied in quality, as I said, but I noticed several of the best were authored by the same very prolific writer. His name was Tony Thomas and for reasons I can no longer recall, I was fortunate to meet up with him in his home in southern California. I was extremely impressed with his kind demeanor, countless soundtracks shelved on the wall (many produced by him!) and his amazing patience with me. In fact, He simply handed me several soundtracks as we spoke and signed them all! As you can see by the scans below, I still have them. What he wrote remains a treasured possession. I wonder if anybody does that kind of thing any more…..

Tony Thomas inscription on the back of his soundtrack album To Robin Hood.

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