Saturday, December 1, 2012


Hollywood fan
dishes in new book
on Hollywood
legend and lore

WEBPOSTED TODAY: worldwide global

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
(pronounced ''show-het'').

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

'''' 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

living soul.'

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


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