dishes in new book
legend and lore
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Hollywood is a long way from Taiwan, but I like
to keep in touch with scene via the Internet, and American
movies are on Taiwanese TV movie channels all the time. Recently I
came across a movie maven in California who knows a few things about Hollywood
and tells a good story.
Meet Stephen Schochet
Schochet has worked for over 10 years as a tour
guide in Los Angeles, collecting hundreds of Hollywood stories and
anecdotes -- and jokes -- to tell to tourists from home and abroad.
Now he has written a book about it all. The idea started when Stephen
bagged a website with the domain name of
''hollywoodstories.com'' and word began to spread. Now he's out with
the book titled, of course, "Hollywood Stories", so I asked him
if I could get a short interview with him by email and he graciously said yes.
When asked when he first fell in love with Hollywood legend and lore,
Stephen told me: "My earliest memory of being interested in
behind the scenes lore was at the age of six, reading a National
Geographic story about Walt Disney. The article mentioned him giving
a tour of a the studio to a little girl; he described in great detail
what his each of his employees did but seemed flustered when the girl
asked him what his own specific duties were. That was the first time
the creative process took on a mystery and curiosity for me.''
Did he himself ever want to be an actor or a director or a
scriptwriter, I asked?
"The reason I became a tour guide was that I wanted to be a writer and
got a job as a limo driver so I could write while I was waiting for
the customers," Stephen told us. "I wrote all sorts of things, but
mainly short stories. Then I was asked to give tours, did a little
research and just found it fascinating. Rather than just drive by and
point at something I tried to share a little anecdote that I had
picked up and it a got a great response. I decided to become a
fulltime tour guide and my attitude was to make the tour as
interesting as possible, so for a while the writing went on the back
burner and the research took over."
"When I first started I had a study buddy named Ivan," Stephen told
me, adding: "During our breaks we would research information about
old Hollywood and share it with each other. I remember one time we
met on Hollywood Boulevard and said to me in a low, conspiratorial
tone," Steve, man, you what I found out today? That Thomas Edison
owned the rights to the movie camera and the early moguls like Mayer,
Warner, and Zukor they had to pay him tributes. They why they left
the East Coast and came west -- they were outlaws, baby!" The more
information we found out, the more fun it was to give the tour. And
I've got a good memory for stories so having different material kept
it fresh, I think for the customers as well. Anyway, eventually I had
the idea that these very short anecdotes could be told anywhere and
that's what led, after a few other projects, to the idea for the book.
Whatever thoughts I had about screenwriting were fleeting; I really
kind of stayed in my niche.
So who are Stephen's favorite movie stars of all time? When asked to
name just a few, he told me: "George Burns, Sammy Davis Jr. and
Spencer Tracy. The first two I met, so I am biased. While working
for a limousine company, I once had the privilege of driving Sammy
Davis Jr. who was totally warm and friendly to me. This was shortly
before Davis’ death in 1990 at age 64, due to throat cancer. Just
before Sammy came out of his Beverly Hills house, his security
guard had told me this anecdote: He previously worked as a freelancer
and protected several celebrity clients before breaking his leg. After
six weeks, the disabled employee got out of the hospital and
approached his mailbox, dreading the prospect of unpaid bills. To his
surprise, Sammy. and only Sammy. had never stopped sending him
paychecks. He now worked for Davis exclusively, and his boss had never
mentioned the very generous act. I noticed there was a plaque
by Sammy’s front door that read: 'This house welcomes anyone with
peace, love and brotherhood in their hearts.' The security man told me
that if anyone came over the singer’s fence without those traits, he
would shoot them dead."
Favorite film directors? Stephen dished.
"Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra and then a lot of different people, it
changes all the time. I like early Spielberg, Christopher Nolan,
George Cukor. I’m not a big fan of Orson Welles movies but I love
stories about him: In 1985, the last year of his life, 70-year-old
Orson Welles was approached by a young man who wanted to ask him yet
another question about 'Citizen Kane'. The Wisconsin-born writer and
director, who was often annoyed by repeating the same answers about
his classic 1941 film, decided to be gracious. Sure Welles had spent
most of his Hollywood career hustling and had
never become rich doing so, but it was gratifying to be recognized for
creating a masterpiece. His admirer surprised Orson with a query about
the film’s famous opening scene. When Charles Foster Kane uttered the
phrase 'Rosebud,' he was alone in his bedroom. A few moments later,
his nurse came in and discovered him dead; how did the other
characters in the movie know it was the newspaperman’s final word?
Welles hesitated then pulled the fan close and
whispered, 'Promise you’ll never repeat what you just said to another
Stephen also offered me a few anecdotes during our email interview.
"Before he signed his first contract with Warner Bros., tough-guy
actor John Garfield battled with his potential boss Jack Warner not to
have his name changed. The son of Abraham Warner wanted all his stars
to have all-American personas. The actor was informed that his current
name, Jules Garfinkle, was not acceptable. It was way too
ethnic-sounding to make cinemagoers feel comfortable.
Undiplomatically, Warner told his new prospective employee that
if he wanted to work there from now on he would be called James
Garfield. The 26-year-old street kid, from the Lower East Side in
Manhattan, reacted fiercely. Did Mr. Warner realize that James
Garfield was the name of a former president? It was ridiculous; people
would laugh at him. Why not just rename him Abraham Lincoln? He was
astonished when Warner told him. quite
seriously. that the name 'Abraham' [in then name Abraham Lincoln]
sounded way too Jewish, and the studio would never allow it."
Before our online chat ended, Stephen told me one more anedcote.
"One time Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra were asked to perform at
the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas with Leo the famous lion who roared
at the beginning of movies," he recalled. "They were assured it would
be safe; the very old, very tame animal would be handled by a trainer
with a choke chain. In the middle of the number, the lion looked at
Sammy and licked its lips. The 'King of the Beasts' hunched back like
it was going to leap for Sammy, and the 110-pound scared-to-death
entertainer made the sign of the cross. The trainer yanked the
chain and nothing happened. After the show, the two shaken singers
went into the casino and had drinks and cigarettes at the blackjack
table. Sinatra couldn’t keep his hands from shaking. He wondered why
Davis, who years before had converted to Judaism, had made the
Catholic religious gesture on stage. 'Well babe, when that cat came at
me, I didn’t think I’d have time to make the Star of