Friday, September 18, 2009

More Celebrity Encounters (Mainly Film Composers)

As promised, a little later than I would have liked, but more celebrity encounters. Some of the names here are likely less familiar, detailing mainly film composers whose work I’ve always enjoyed and who I consider myself very fortunate to have met.

Pro Bono Celebrities

At the p.r. firm where I work, we’ve had occasion to do pro bono work for the Beverly Arts Center (BAC) and the annual Irish Film Festival.

In 2002, Elliott Gould was the guest of honor. He was great. I was really impressed with his demeanor. At the opening night reception, he took his plate and stood in the buffet line with everyone else, not asking any special treatment. He was talking to Beverly residents and guests like it was a backyard barbeque. He seemed to be really enjoying himself.

He was there to present “Puckoon” (2002) along with the film’s director Terence Ryan. We had arranged a screening of the film with Chicago Tribune Film Critic Michael Wilmington and he gave a very nice write-up not only of the film, but of the entire festival’s schedule. Wilmington came to the reception and asked to meet Elliott Gould, so I arranged an introduction between them. After pleasantries were exchanged between them, and we were about to go into the screening of that evening’s movie, Elliott Gould asked me what I did. I introduced myself to him and said I was in public relations and this was a pro bono assignment for us. He said, “That’s wonderful, just wonderful.”

I also chatted with director Ryan, providing him with a copy of that morning’s favorable review in the Tribune. He introduced me to his family and asked if I would be attending the next evening’s festivities, where “Puckoon” would be shown. I told him unfortunately no. At the time I was in charge of a singles group at my church and I was running an event that night. He seemed interested in this (why I don’t know) and asked me to tell him more. So I told him about our group, how four couples had met in the group and gotten married, and about some of our activities. He thought it sounded wonderful. (I thought for half a second he was going to ask about directing a movie based on a singles group but it never happened.) He was very nice and from what I heard later both he and Gould had a great time at the festival. The BAC staff had nothing but nice things to say about Elliott Gould.

One of the actors in “Puckoon” was Milo O’Shea, who showed up in Beverly the next year with a film called “Mystics” (2002), where he co-starred with David Kelly, best known as Grandpa Joe in Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005) and for riding a motor scooter naked in “Waking Ned Devine” (1998).

I couldn’t make it to Beverly that weekend, though we still assisted with the publicity for that year’s edition of the Irish Film Festival. My boss said some BAC reps were picking up O’Shea and Kelly at the airport and bringing them to Taylor Street for dinner. We couldn’t attend because that same night we were hosting some journalists from New York for the Commercial Real Estate Awards dinner. I regretted not being there because I’ve always liked Milo O’Shea, a very recognizable face likely perhaps best known for playing Friar Laurence in Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” (1968) and the judge in “The Verdict” (1982).

One of our journalism guests was a huge movie buff, so we had a nice discussion during dinner prior to the Awards. The Awards portion dragged on and on (and on), and about halfway through it my boss cornered us and said how about the three of us grab a cab to Taylor Street and catch the end of the dinner. Our New York friend was instantly agreeable to this and off we went.

We got there too late to meet David Kelly as he had retired early, but Milo O’Shea was there and just as gregarious and warm as you would expect an Irish actor to be. I told him how much I liked his work as Scotland Yard Inspector Boot in the terrifically entertaining Vincent Price horror flick “Theater of Blood” (1973). I was afraid the reps from the BAC were shuddering at this, compared to his more prestigious credits, but Milo O’Shea gave me a big smile and said he loved that film. He had a wonderful time making it and a lot of his friends were in it, mentioning Jack Hawkins, Robert Morley, Dennis Price and Coral Browne. He said, “I’m very proud of being in that movie.”

He then said he hoped I would be able to attend the showing of “Mystics” Saturday night, but I told him, unfortunately no. Yep, I was running another Singles Group event that night.

On the cab ride back to the train station, our New York journalist friend was shaking his head at the wonder of it all. He had come in that morning on a very early flight from New York and checking into his hotel, turned on the television while unpacking. Being a movie buff, he tuned into one the movie channels and there was “Romeo and Juliet” with Milo O’Shea. He said he watched it for awhile, never dreaming in a million years that later that evening he would be having a drink with him.

Lots Of Film Composers

As a proud member of the Society for the Preservation of Film Music (now the Film Music Society), I use to travel to L.A. every couple of years to attend their Life Achievement Awards programs and seminars. These were always enjoyable outings, attended by film composers, record producers, oftentimes directors and fans from around the world.

The list of composers I’ve been able to meet and have a short visit with is a pretty impressive one, I think, including: John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, Danny Elfman, Leonard Rosenman, Laurence Rosenthal, Basil Poledouris, John Scott, Christopher Young, David Raksin, Robert O. Ragland, Cliff Eidelman, Maurice Jarre, Bruce Broughton and Henry Mancini.

Most of the greetings and meetings were pretty inconsequential, but I thought I would share a few. The group has stopped hosting Life Achievement Awards dinners, so I haven’t been back to L.A. in about 10 years. They were fun trips.

David Raksin will forever be remembered for composing the score for “Laura” (1944) but he wrote many a memorable score in his time. He came to Hollywood in 1936 to help Charlie Chaplin with his score for “Modern Times.” Chaplin wrote the score but could not read or write music; instead thinking up the melodies and having Raksin write it down, and then orchestrating and arranging the music for maximum effectiveness. Chaplin wrote the song “Smile” for “Modern Times.”

This process is given a surprising amount of footage in the film “Chaplin” (1992), with Robert Downey Jr.’s Chaplin dictating music to a musician never identified as Raksin by name, but listed as such in the end credits.

The first time I met David Raksin I asked him how he liked being portrayed in “Chaplin”. He just rolled his eyes and shuddered, exclaiming “Oh, my God.” I take it Raksin didn’t think much of “Chaplin.”

I always had very pleasant conversations with Christopher Young. He remembered me, but admitted to being terrible with names. Still I was always “The Guy from Chicago.” I think it was about 1990 when I first met him and I saw him several times over the years. When I first met him he had titles like “The Dorm that Dripped Blood” (1982), “Hellraiser” (1987) and “The Fly II” (1989) on his resume. He’s worked hard, paid his dues, and is now writing for movies as diverse as “The Shipping News” (2001), “Spiderman 3” (2007) and the new Jennifer Anniston movie opening this weekend, “Love Happens.” I’m very happy for him. A nicer guy you couldn’t imagine meeting, and one of the few active film composers today who writes real melodies.

Robert O. Ragland isn’t known outside of soundtrack circles. I wrote about meeting him before in my post to the movie “Grizzly” (1976). (“Jaws with Claws” as the ads said).

Here’s a repeat of a portion of that blog:

A big plus for the film is the score by Robert O. Ragland, a talented composer who never broke out of the B movie arena. My favorite score of his is for a Charles Bronson picture called “Messenger of Death” (1988) which features a massive main title piece for orchestra and chorus that would not be out of place in an “Omen” movie, instead of an action thriller about feuding Mormon families.I met Mr. Ragland in the 1990s at the Society of the Preservation of Film Music tribute to Jerry Goldsmith at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. He was there with his wife Martha (the former Mrs. Alfred Newman). I met quite a few composers and directors there that night and my program boasted quite a few autographs. I was talking to Martha when she introduced me to her husband. He was from Chicago and grew up in the same neighborhood as my dad, so we talked about Chicago a bit. I told him how much I enjoyed his work and asked him to sign my program. He agreed and looked at my other autographs and said, “You’ve got all these great people here. Why do you want my autograph?”I said, “Are you kidding? “Messenger of the Death” is a great score.”“Ah,” he said with an amused look on his face. “So you’re the one person who saw that movie.”Nice man, and a good composer.

Probably the best known names on the list of composers I’ve met are John Williams and Henry Mancini. There were so many people wanting to talk to them that it was all I could do to introduce myself to them and tell them how much I enjoy their work.

I think the best-attended awards dinner was for Jerry Goldsmith. Director Joe Dante was the master of ceremonies and he was great. Other attending directors were Paul Verhoeven and Robert Wise. It’s odd seeing these faces you’ve seen on interview programs sitting at a nearby table nursing a drink. I didn’t introduce myself to Verhoeven, as I really don’t care for many of his movies and didn’t want to lie to him, but I had to meet Robert Wise. He was extremely gracious and introduced his wife Millicent.

Robert Wise directed so many great movies I’m sure he gets asked about all the time. But I’ve always been fond of a World War II movie he directed called “Destination Gobi” (1953) with Richard Widmark leading a group of Navy weathermen in Mongolia, where they team up with Mongol tribesmen while trying to evade the Japanese. There sure aren’t a lot of movies about weathermen in World War II. Or World War II movies set in Mongolia. Put them together and you have a very entertaining flick.

So I told him how much I like that one and he replied, “You’d be surprised at how many people ask me about that one.” I guess I’m not the only one who likes it.

At the awards dinner honoring Maurice Jarre, I was surprised to see Leonard Rosenman in attendance. As far as I knew he had never attended an event put on by The Film Music Society.

Former roommate and piano teacher to James Dean, Rosenman was brought to Hollywood at Dean’s invitation to score “East of Eden” (1955) and “Rebel Without a Cause.” (1955). Rosenman stayed on, dividing his time between film scores and concert music. His film music is excellent, though a lot of it is not of the Henry Mancini variety, instead often favoring avant garde music technique and thorny, dissonant (though highly dramatic) music. He could also be a prickly interview, and didn’t suffer fools gladly. But he was walking towards me so I stopped him and introduced myself. Knowing his reputation, I was as nervous as I’ve ever been meeting someone I admired.

The late, much missed classical music station WNIB-FM used to have profiles of contemporary composers in their Saturday and Sunday overnight hours, usually around their birthdays. These profiles would include an interview and selections of their work. By coincidence WNIB had featured Rosenman the month before, and I happened to be in my car that night so I heard a lot of it.

After introducing myself, I told him I lived in the Chicago area and that I had heard the program. Rosenman remembered doing the interview and wanted to know how it sounded and what music they played. I told him he sounded real good in the interview and I was able to remember the selections of concert music and film music that was played. He was very pleased with the selections and thought they represented a nice cross section of his music.

We chatted a bit more and at the end I said, “It was a great pleasure to meet you.”

He said, “No, no, the pleasure was all mine. It was very nice talking with you.”

I’ve heard Rosenman could be a difficult person, but he was very nice to me.

The first time I met Basil Poledouris was about 1990 at the dinner honoring John Williams. A big bear of a man, very gregarious, he was great to visit with.

Of course I had to tell him how much I loved his landmark score to “Conan the Barbarian” (1982), one of the greatest film scores ever written. No, really, it is.

I told him that it was one of the greatest scores of all time and said something like, “I’m sure you get tired of hearing that all the time.”

He said, “No, I never get tired of hearing that.” He then pointed to people walking by, “Tell her, tell him.” Then, seeing a camera crew from Entertainment Tonight there to cover the dinner, he said, “Tell them. Tell the world.” He didn’t say it in a bragging fashion, but with a big, jovial laugh. He was one of our best composers, who died far, far too young. I wish he had scored the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

As promised in the last blog, the biggest celebrity I ever met is the one currently occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C.

Several years ago my boss came into the office and asked if I had plans that night. He said a friend of his was hosting fundraiser for a new Democratic Senate candidate and was so worried that no one would show up that he was asking people to please stop by. He told my boss we didn’t need to make a contribution, he just wanted bodies there.

I said I didn’t have anything going on that night and sure, I could go.

“Who was the fundraiser for?” I asked.

My boss said, “His name is Barack Obama.”


“Barack Obama. He’s running for Senate.”

So off we went to a private office in the Prudential Building. There were only 30-40 people there and food was limited to hors d’oeuvres and drinks. It was very simple. I didn’t know what Barack Obama looked like, but when he walked in I knew immediately it wasn’t another guest. We were sitting with a group of marketing and p.r. people and he asked each of us who we were and what we did for a living. There’s no denying the man is loaded with charisma and he answered our questions.

Never for a minute did I think he would be president in such a short time. For the sake of our country I hope he does a great job.

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