Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Movie Director

Back when in the early 1990’s one of my book clients was a very famous movie director. I had gotten his office address from someone who knew him and I sent him one of my 8pg. Monthly book catalogs that I did way before the Internet. Soon after I received a phone call from his assistant who said that Richie would like to buy some of the books listed in my latest catalog. “Could I bring them up to the office?” Could I? You bet I could. This was after all one of the world’s great film directors who had already made several certified classics and he was only 40 years old. I carefully packed the books he wanted, A Disney Bambi book, Composing For Film, by Hanns Eisler, Fellini Screenplays, The Cinema Of Ernst Lubitsch & Olivier’s Othello and made my way by subway uptown to his office that overlooked Columbus Circle. The view of the circle from the top floor of his building reminded me of that wonderful scene in "It Should Happen To You” where Judy Holliday makes Peter Lawford drive around and around the circle so she could admire the large billboard with her name on it. But that was so long ago and the circle was very far removed from its’ 1954 look. The offices that Richie occupied were very laid back and casual. His assistant at that time, Jackie was very nice to me and I liked her. She was it seemed to me quite adapt and comfortable with her complex and high stress job of working for a director who was known for his temper and short fuses when things were not going the way he wanted them. He was also known for his great warmth and open personality but I was not to see any of that this day, as he was out scouting locations. “Gee too bad Richie’s not here today, think you would really enjoy talking to him about movies.” Jackie said. “Well” I said, “here are the books with the invoice and wow look at those great posters “. “Yes he has a great collection you should see what’s doing at his house” Jackie said as I made my way over to the far wall that had hanging on it wonderful framed one-sheet posters for “Stagecoach” and “The Searchers.” “He loves Ford” Jackie said, as I nodded, like who didn’t know that Ford was one of Richie’s great loves. The phone’s ringing jolted me back, and we said our good-byes nice meeting you, we’ll be in touch, keep sending Richie Catalogs etc etc. I couldn’t believe it. My luck and hard work had paid off. I just hoped that he would continue to buy books from me. He did and over the months he would pick and choose first as I would always send him the catalog early. His taste and interests were not surprisingly all over the place from Tashlin to Renoir and everyone in between. Up to that point I hadn’t met the great man, I did see him once in the lobby of his building as I exited the elevator after leaving his book order with Jackie. “Hi Richie” I though of screaming out, I just left your books upstairs.” But I didn’t of course, and just left the very noirish scene quietly. It was a “I know who you are but you don’t know me” sort of thing. The building that Ritchie operated out of was famous for the fact that many show biz. Personalities and services to the industry paid rent there. On his floor was another well known screenwriter and sometime director, and you would never know who would be on the elevator with you. Once I rode up with a very pleasant and talkative Bill Murray and another time the author Richard Price nodded to me as we passed in the hallway. Such nice people I thought. Richie needed bodyguards. He had just made a film about the Hassidim Community in my old neighborhood of Borough Park. When I was growing up there it was a Jewish-Italian lower middle class neighborhood but now it was big time Hassidim. The major shopping strip of 13th avenue was now so different. I loved his film but the JDL and several other extreme groups were aghast at Richie’s portrayal of the community as only right wingers can be. Totally out of their heads. Two big thuggish hulks, one who was African-American and the other one most likely Irish or something stood or sometimes sat in the outer waiting room now when I brought up his monthly order of books. Richie had flirted with drugs big time when he was living out west in his younger 20’s but now he was clean in practically every sense of the word. For a long time he had practiced celibacy after his 3rd marriage to a daughter of Royalty had fallen apart and down the toilet. The loss of Juliet was too much for Richie and he loved his drugs so he almost got very addicted. Lucky for AMERICAN CINEMA,(notice the caps) Richie got off the junk moved back East and started to make these very startling original films that were both ethnic but also very American and very New York. He was in trouble. His films as good as they were just didn’t make the bucks or bring in the big audiences and when it came to making a lot of money he was nowhere near the level of Coppola, Spielberg or Scorsese all of whom were close friends of his. His films did good at the festivals and he was honored year after year by this critics group and that critics group but he had never been nominated for an Oscar.

This really bothered him. When I started to sell him books he was just about to start work on a major undertaking, an adaptation of the Stephen Crane novel “Maggie a girl of the Street”. He had also just moved into a 4 story brownstone on the upper west side which was a dream come true for a poor Irish-Polish kid from Brooklyn or any poor kid for that matter. The place was a small mansion complete with a tiny one-person elevator. He had his own cook to make his meals, as he was on his own. Occasionally one of his children would come and visit and would stay in the small guestroom on the 3rd floor. His ex-wives and children were scattered across the continent and indeed the world like one of those spectacular constellation shows at the Hayden Planetarium. All those tiny pin pricks of light across the void. The house’s spaces were small except for the living room, which opened out into a lovely garden. There were even fireplaces and a large enough dinning room to hold the dinner parties that Richie sometimes liked to throw. Even though the house was 4 stories tall, it was small. His office on the 4th floor was also small and served as a small screening room where Richie would either watch videos or laser discs. DVDs were still quite a long way off. His collection of Laser Discs were housed in a very small room near the office and this was also where he kept his large LP collection of movie soundtracks from when he was a teen and young man. It was also here that he kept all his awards most of which sat in deep drawers in a large cabinet. There was also a small sitting room between the office and the “trophy” room. And then there were the posters. It was a visual feast, walls of great posters for great films and great posters for terrible films. One day in the early Spring I got a phone call from his new assistant Rebecca. She wanted to introduce herself to me, and to ask if I would be willing to do some work on Richies book collection. “Sure” I said. “Will the books be delivered to me?” “Oh No” Rebecca replied “You’ll have to work at the house, would this be ok with you?” “Sure” I said. “When do I have to start this.” “Well Richie wants to meet with you at the house can you come up at 2 O’ Clock next Wednesday?” “No problem.” No problem indeed. I was finally going to meet Richie and at his house no less. I was nervous about this. Hell this was one of the most famous movie directors in the world I was going to meet him at his house. The day before my appointment I picked out several things that I wanted Richie to sign for me, a few books, photographs and a lobby card or two. That Wednesday I made my way to his house and found his neat small town house. Next to the bell was no name just a small metal sign that read “If you are not expected do not ring the bell”. Friendly touch I thought to myself, but I guess needed. I rang the bell feeling great that I was indeed expected and waited for the door to be opened.


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