Friday, February 20, 2009

Here's the Story by Maureen McCormick

Maureen McCormick. Here’s the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My Voice. New York: Harper Collins Books, 2008.

The author performed the role of Marcia Brady on “The Brady Bunch” initially for five consecutive years. As the author puts it, Marcia “was perfect. I was anything but that.” McCormick has battled cocaine addiction, bulimia, been through rehab, and time in a psychological ward.

McCormick began acting in commercials, her first with Mattel’s Baby Pattaburp in 1964 at age 8. Her second commercial was Mattel’s Chatty Cathy doll. Then came a play at La Jolle Playhouse. She played Tabitha in a dream sequence before the Tabitha character was born in an episode of “Bewitched”. Then came a role in a movie “The Arrangement” followed by commercials where she was the first person in appear with the Pillsbury Doughboy, poking his stomach. Numerous commercials followed.

1,200 auditioned for “The Brady Bunch”. Initially she was considered for the middle girl’s part until it was decided to make the children younger. Thus she was switched from the middle child to the oldest girl’s part. She immediately made friends with costars Eve Plumb and Susan Olsen. The children were asked to bring in some of their own belongings to help decorate the Brad household set. McCormick brought in a toy giraffe and her Miss Baby San Fernando Valley Trophy she had one. Ironically, the trophy was placed in the boys’ room.

Susan Olsen and Mike Lookinland were the first Brady children to profess for love for each other and have a make-out session.

117 episodes of “The Brady Bunch” were filmed. Despite overall poor critical reviews, the show usually was in the top 30 despite appearing opposite CBS’s “Get Smart”.

McCormick’s real family life was not as nice as the Bradys. Her father had affairs and her mother drank heavily. Her mother had contracted syphilis from her mother during childbirth. McCormick lived with the belief she had also contracted syphilis at birth and for much of her life feared she was destined to become mentally ill from it.

McCormick appeared in a show “A Kid’s Eye View of Washington” where several children interviewed President Richard Nixon. She recalls one of the children asked Nixon to name the first President, to which Nixon replied “Abraham Lincoln…oh my gosh, no. It was George Washington.”

During the 4th season, McCormick started kissing and dating Barry Williams. Although they only portrayed being step siblings, part of her still felt strange as if she were kissing her brother. She states she almost lost her virginity to Williams, but they were caught and stopped beforehand.

McCormick also learned about the Hollywood nightlife. She discovered wine and cocaine. She had a car accident where she hurt her nose, ironically on the same evening an episode was broadcast showing Marcia hurting her nose. She hated filming that scene, as it required several takes involving getting hit on the nose with a Nerf football.

McCormick shoplifted with singer Susie Cowsill, who got caught while McCormick ran. McCormick denied shoplifting and her friendship with Cowsill ended, something she now regrets.

The actors playing the Brady kids started rebelling. Barry Williams smoked pot, Susan Olsen drank wine, and McCormick as well as Eve Plumb filmed episodes braless until someone noticed while watching the dailies.

Word came during the fifth season that the show would not be renewed. Bob Reed didn’t like the final script and did not appear in the final episode. McCormick descries the end of the show as a mostly unemotional event, although she believes that was because the cast believed they would always be a lifelong family.

McCormick began using pills in high school. She used pills to stay awake and then pills to lose weight. She had trouble handling reality. She gave dating advice in fan magazines yet had trouble getting dates.

McCormick found sporadic TV work following the cancellation. She went on auditions and was on a few episodes of a few shows. She was promised her own TV series from a producer until she realized he was only promising that in attempting to romance her. He never developed a TV series for her.

McCormick faced struggles in life. She used cocaine. She got pregnant and had an abortion. She once hallucinated while taking drugs and thought she was a molecule. She placed cocaine above her relationships. She was a drug addict and had a second abortion.

McCormick filmed an episode of “The Streets of San Francisco” which led to a several month relationship with the show’s star, Richard Hatch.

McCormick joined some Brady Bunch costars on an episode of the “Donny and Marie” TV show. The show’s ratings were so good that ABC decided to do a Brady Bunch variety special. The special had such good ratings that ABC filmed eight more. McCormick admits she often filmed this show while high on cocaine. Her drug use began to affect her work, causing her to claim having the flu when she should have been filming a scene. She checked herself into a psychiatric hospital. Unfortunately, after treatment, she relapsed and began doing cocaine again.

He entire Brady Bunch cast agreed to film a TV movie “The Brady Brides”. Her cocaine use slowed down production. The producers offered to get her help. She was sent to a round the clock psychiatrist she thought was crazy and she convinced the producers to fire the psychiatrist. She then decided to try and quit cold turkey.

The TV movie was converted into three series episodes. Strong ratings led to its continuation as a series. Unfortunately, McCormick relapsed and began using cocaine again. She saw and felt Jesus and took that as a sign from God. She dreamed her brother Kevin died only to learn Kevin was alive but was with John Belushi shortly before Belushi died from a drug overdose. McCormick contracted dengue fever, which she believed was a punishment from God. Religion became important to McCormick. She realized that Hollywood tended to be more accepting of drug addicts than born again Christians.

McCormick began a family with her second husband. Her acting jobs were infrequent. While filming a TV movie “Get to the Heart”, she had a panic attack that made her doubt she could still act that followed her finding new strength and rediscovering herself.

McCormick was on the TV series “Teen Angel” yet was fired after 11 episodes when executives rearranged the show due to low ratings. She was replaced by Jerry Van Dyke. She had never been fired before and felt rejected. She feels she might have committed suicide had she not already been on Prozac.

McCormick appeared on the show “Celebrity Fit Club” on MTV. She went from 154 pounds to 117 pounds. She then appeared on the reality show “Gone Country” on

Pufnstuf & Other Stuff by David Martindale

David Martindale. Pufnstuf & Other Stuff: The Weird and Wonderful World of Sid & Morty Krofft. Los Angeles: Renaissance Books, 1998.

Sid and Morty Krofft produced Saturday morning children’s TV programs that aired from 1969, beginning with “H.R. Pufnstuf” and ending with “The Last Saucer”, which went off the air in 1976. Their shows were known for the wholesome entertainment. The shows were colorful and often followed the then popular psychedelic color patterns. Thus, the shows had a crossover appeal to young adults who like the psychedelic touches, often taking drugs while watching. While the Kroffts opposed drug use, they knew their “trippy” style shows appealed to children and drug using adults.

The dialogue was youth oriented trendy. The writers insist there were no drug references placed into the shows. The references fans deduced were unintentional, such as those who thought Pufnstuff referred to “puffing marijuana” and Lidsville referred to “a lid of pot”.

The Kroffts believe in intelligent dialogue that did not talk down to children. The show was meant for entertainment. They were not presenting an educational show, as they felt educational shows did not attract as many viewers.

The Krofft production company also produced TV shows such as “Donny & Marie” as well as a few movies.

The Krofft children’s shows have made comebacks in re-runs.

The Krofft brothers are fifth generation puppeteers. The Kroffts had puppets on the first ever color TV broadcast as well as on several variety shows in the 1950s.

A third Krofft brother Harry was their office manager.

Marty Krofft started out as a car salesman. He was the top Ford salesman at age 17. This sales experience helped sell their TV shows. He made people believe in how good whatever it was that he was selling.

The Kroffts made popular the idea of transforming puppetry into one where a person would wear a puppet costume.

The Kroffts had puppet shows at Six Flags parks and other attractions. They were grossing a million dollars annually. They received recurring work on the Dean martin Show. Liberace liked the puppets and asked his fans to write NBC in support of the puppets. Dean Martin didn’t appreciate the mail, especially since many of the puppet fans were critical of him. He fired the Kroffts after eight shows even though they were contracted for 26 shows.

NBC had the Kroffts create suits for the Banana Splits TV characters. While making the suits, a network executive suggested they should create their own show. Sid Krofft quickly sold the NBC’s programming executive on the idea of “H.R. Pufnstuff”. The idea was creating within hours , given to NBC executive Larry White on a Friday, and on Monday NBCL agreed to the idea as the first new show chosen by them for its 1969-70 season.

The show had a million dollar cost overrun that could have bankrupted the Kroffts had it not been a hit. The last show was a dream show of clips from previous shows because they had run out of money. NBC paid them $52,000 per episode and their lack of TV experience led them to fail to keep costs under control.

The Kroffts were so inexperienced they refused the network’s request to change the name of the show, which usually is not something newcomers stand up to network executives about. NBC executives though Pufnstuf seemed too feminine a name. The Kroffts also refused to show network executives a rough cut of the first show before music and sound effects were added. Fortunately for the Kroffts, the network executives did not force these issues.

The name Pufnstuf was inspired by the song “Puff the Magic Dragon”. H.R. is Royal Highness reversed.

The Kroffts sued McDonald’s in 1971 for copyright law violations for the McDonaldland characters that appeared similar to Krofft intellectual property. A leading point in the dispute was that McDonald’s employees had consulted with the Kroffts and then created characters without their assistance. In 1983, the Kroffts they used one lawyer versus a team of lawyers for McDonalds.

Ludicrous Lion was inspired by W.C. Fields. Judy Frog was inspired by Judy Garland.

Cassandra Peterson was hired for one day of work to help guide Pufnstuf around a syndication show convention. Peterson would later become famous as Elvira, Mistress of the Dead.

The Kroffts felt 17 good episodes were enough. They moved on to produce a different show, “The Bugaloos”. “The Bugaloos” featured original songs and was an early music video show, before such shows existed. Phil Collins’s mother was the Bugaloo’s music agent. Phil Collins was one of three under final consideration for the role of IQ Bugaloo, yet the role went to John McIndoe. The actors did both TV shows and song recordings. Their work days often left them only 3 to 4 hours of sleep.

“Lidsville” was the next Krofft TV show. It starred Butch Patrick as a boy transformed to a magic land.

“Sigmund and the Sea Monster”, starring Johnny Whitaker, was based on a real experience Sid Krofft had finding large seaweed on the beach. Whitaker later worked as a computer help desk specialist at CBS. The show’s set once caught fire. No one was hurt yet Rip Taylor gained notice for fleeing the fire in public while still dressed in costume. “Sigmund and the Sea Monster” was the first Krofft show to drop its appeal to the adult market while focusing on the children’s market.

“Land of the Lost” was the next Krofft TV series. A linguist. Victoria Fromkin, was hired to create a new Pakuni language for the show. UCLA basketball players portrayed the Sleestaks, including Bill Laimbeer, who would later play in the NBA.

“For Our Nuts” was a Krofft series starring Bob Denver and Chuck McCann. The Kroffts also had another space themed show on ABC, “The Lost Saucer”. Both appeared on Saturday mornings.

The “Krofft Supershow” on ABC presented serialized segments with rock and roll music.

“The Brady Bunch Variety Hour” brought the Brady Bunch cast back together, except for Eve Plumb who was replaced by Geri Reisch. The show was quickly slapped together. It was ravaged by some critics by others give it cultural significance.

The Krofft’s “Pink Lady and Jeff” lasted one month in 1980. The Krofft’s “Barbara and the Mandrell Sisters” was successful.

“D.C. Follies of the Kroffts” in 1987 presented puppets of politicians.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

American Prince by Tony Curtis

Tony Curtis. American Prince. New York: Harmony House, 2008.

The author knew from childhood he wanted to be an actor. Curtis acted at the Cherry Lane Theater in New York when an agent recommend Universal do a screen test on him. Universal signed him under his real name Bernie Schwartz to a seven year contract which had to be renewed every six months by Universal, beginning at $75 a week in 1948 at age 22. Fellow actors criticized his New York accent so he learned how to speak in other accents. He also dated a young actress, Marilyn Monroe.

Early in his movie career, he gained notice for his unique hair style.

Lou Costello was a serial prop stealer. Studio employees finally confronted him, even though he was a big star, because they needed the props for future filming.

Shelley winters was an insecure woman who pretended to be pretentious on sets to mask her fears.

Curtis played Houdini in “Houdini”, a film that boosted his career. His acting was so good that once during filming prop personnel rescued him because his acting made them think he was in bodily danger.

Curtis married actress Janet Leigh. Together, they attended two or three studio parties a week and became friends with other actors. He proudly noted despite all the parties he was almost always on time on sets the next day. They were close friends with Jerry Lewis. Curtis notes while Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin worked well as a professional team they never became close as friends. Later on, Curtis would become friends with Dean Martin and the Rat Pack.

While filming “Beachhead” in Hawaii for Universal, his wife miscarried in California. The move required a few more days of shooting. Universal refused to accept the costs of delaying completion of the movie and stated they just drop and never finish the movie if Curtis left. Curtis completed the movie.

Curtis credits his agent Lew Wasserman for his skills in timely finding great roles for Curtis.

While filming “Trapeze”, Curtis saw some dangers of filmmaking. A lion in the movie attacked a custodian and badly injured him.

When filming “The Vikings” with Kirk Douglas, Douglas offered to pay $200 to every male actor who grew a beard. All the men, including Curtis, did this. Kirk Douglas thus is the only clean shaved male in the movie.

Curtis filmed “The Defiant One” in 1958 with Sidney Poitier only to learn the movie needed approximately one million dollars to be completed. The movie was a controversial story concerning race relations. Curtis convinced a friend Al hart to invest the money. An irony in the movie is actor Carl Switzer’s character gets into an argument over a hunting dog. Soon after the movie was completed, Switzer was shot to death following a real life argument over a hunting dog.

Curtis filmed “Some Like it Hot” with noted directed Billy Wilder. Marilyn Monroe often failed to show up on time and became enraged at times on the set. Billy Wilder became so stressed directing her that he required a muscle relaxant. Curtis enjoyed filming the love scenes with Monroe. He flippantly answered a question as to what it was like to kiss Monroe by responding with a sarcastic answer to what he thought was a stupid question. He answered “Kissing Marilyn is like kissing Hitler.” Unfortunately, his response has been reprinted often as it it were his real opinion.

Yul Brynner was a pretentious actor, even having an assistant on sets light cigarettes for him.

Curtis divorced Janet Leigh. He later, at age 37, married Christine Kaufman, age 18. They met while filming “Taras Bulba” and after marriage filmed “Wild and Wonderful” together.

Director Blake Edwards knew how to get actors to give their best performances. He did so without even using harsh or belittling words.

Curtis found it difficult to work with Joan Collins. She wouldn’t film a scene until she felt ready. This often kept others waiting.

Curtis filmed “Sextette” in what would be Mae West’s last movie. Mae West repeated her lines after hearing them through transmission from the director to an earpiece she worn. She even repeated when the director accidentally coughed and the words from a police broadcast that broke into her frequency.

Curtis began using cocaine. It was expensive but some actors found ways to charge it to the studios. Curtis noted that cocaine users tended to hang out tougher while their non-drug using friends were forgotten. Cocaine is a very addicted drug. Curtis turned to freebasing that led to many days with blank memories of the previous evenings. Cocaine didn’t ruin his career because cocaine was prevalent in the film industry. Curtis went to the Betty Ford Clinic to overcome his cocaine addiction. The clinic gets patients to realize why they take drugs and then guides patients to overcome the feeling of needing drugs.

Pieces of My Heart by Robert Wagner

Robert J. Wagner with Scott Eyman. Pieces of My Heart. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2008.

The author knew by age 14 he wanted to be a movie actor. He walked around Hollywood and hung around where he had heard a director hung out, waiting to be discovered. While this method didn’t work, it helped set his goal at an early age.

Losing his virginity age age 12, his youth included dating daughters of actors Alan Ladd, Harold Lloyd, and Joan Bennett. He become childhood and longtime friends with Roddy McDowell and Elizabeth Taylor.

Wagner’s father was friends with director William Weldman. His father persuaded Weldman to hire his son. Wagner earned $37.50 appearing in the movie “The Happy Years” at age 18. He later signed a $75 a week contract (for work over 40 weeks) that was later raised to $125 a week. 12 years later he earned $5,000 a week.

Darryl Zanuck then ran 20th Century Fox. Zanuck had a successful publicity expert in Harry Brand. William Goetz ran the studio while Zanuck served in World War II. Goetz tore apart Zanuck so much that when Zanuck returned the two of the fought bitterly. Goetz left and formed International Pictures which later merged with Universal.

Wagner learned some studio contract employees were more appropriately hired as prostitutes.

Wagner appeared in small parts in several movies. He once needed 49 takes to film one scene. His contract work included going on publicity tours.

Wagner’s Hollywood life included a one night stand with Joan Crawford and a three month intense flight with Yvonne DeCarlo. He was a longtime friend with Tony Curtis, except for a split that was later fixed, and with Robert Stack.

Wagner’s fan mail increased, which was good. Movie studios looked at the volume of fan mail as an indication of an actor’s popularity.

The author considers Barbara Stanwyck as his first love. They were close friends for four years even though she was 23 years older.

Wagner admired Gary Cooper and Clark Gable. They were excellent actors with strong skills in projecting their characteristics into their roles.

Fox Studios tried to hide the fact that Terry Moore was pregnant with Howard Hughes’s child. They issued a release that she and Wagner were getting married. The studio neglected to tell Wagner this. They hoped Wagner and Moore would be convinced to marry. Wagner was upset, as was his girlfriend, Barbara Stanwyck. Wagner told Fox he refused to marry Moore. Fox never issued another statement and let the matter rest. Wagner notes Moore never gave birth to the baby.

In 1953, Wagner was on seven magazine covers and was told he had passed Marilyn Monroe in the volume of fan mail. His contract increased from $350 a week to $1,250 a week.

Sterling Hayden is recalled as one of the few actors who didn’t care about the film business.

Spencer Tracy taught the author not to think about portraying each moment of a scene and not to overanalyze by considering how to overplay or underplay a scene. As Tracy put it, “don’t learn the tricks of the trade. Learn the trade!: Tracy usually needed one or two takes when filming a scene. As Wagner put it, Tracy “possessed simplicity, the most valuable thing an artist can have and the hardest thing to achieve.”

Wagner dated and then married Natalie Wood when he was 27 and she was 19. Natalie Wood started turning down parts from Jack Warner who then suspended her. Wagner continued acting. Wood returned to film a movie “Cash McCall” designed to profit from her costar Jim Garner’s recent success on TV.
Frank Sinatra felt there was a lot of wasted time involved in filming movies. He wanted scenes done in one or two takes. He also recorded music in much the same way, singing for one or two takes.

Jack Warner once walked into Judy Garland’s and Sid Luft’s house to realize they had stolen all their furniture from their set of Warner’s “A Star is Born”. Warner was upset for years and withheld roles from Garland.

Jack Warner tried to talk director Elia Kazan out of hiring Natalie Wood for “Splendor in the Grass” as Warner was still mad at her. Kazan liked how Wood was willing to let him define the role his way and Wood got the part.

Wagner denied Kazan ‘s allegations that Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty had an affair while filming “Splendor in the Grass” and that Wagner was on the set when it happened. Wagner writes he saw no reason to suspect an affair. Wagner states neither he nor Wood cheated on the other.

Wagner notes Natalie Wood’s career was growing as she continued to be in the successful “West Side Story” while his career was becoming less successful. They argued and the marriage ended, even though he still loved her. They would remarry.

Wagner burned his eyes while filming “The Pink Panther” during a bathtub scene when strong detergent was used by mistake instead of baby detergent. His eyes were shut for three weeks.

Two thirds of Universal’s work was in television then. Wagner starred in the TV series “It Takes a Thief”. The show had high ratings when canceled, yet new studio executives wanted their own new shows. Wagner married a woman named Marion and admits infidelity in that marriage. Ironically, Marion incorrectly claimed Wagner had an affair with Jill St. John, ten years before he would.

Wagner and Natalie Wood re-met and remarried.

Wagner and Wood owned half interest in the TV show “Charlie’s Angels”.

Wagner starred in the TV series “Switch” for three years. CBS moved its time slot six times which hurt the show’s chances of finding an audience for a longer run. He also felt the show should have focused more on the characters rather than emphasizing plot gimmicks.

Lawrence Olivier was the actor Wagner saw who had the least indicating. Indicating is when an actor forces trying to make audiences feel a particular emotion. Olivier had the confidence that the emotions he portrayed would create the desired audience reactions. Wagner writes Natalie Wood also had this talent.

Wagner accepted, and Natalie Wood turned down, roles on the TV show “Hart to Hart”. They decided it was best not to mix their private and working lives. Natalie Wood later drowned off Catalina Island.

Wagner married Jill St. John. After “Hart to Hart” ended, Wagner starred in a TV series “Lime Street” with a similar character. The show lasted a month.