“Desperate” Memories of Michael Cimino

115051350I never interviewed Michael Cimino, whose death was confirmed earlier today, but I’ve certainly heard a fair amount about him and his various works from other people over the years.

For instance, the famed writer/director isn’t mentioned by name in Terry O’Quinn’s reminiscences about his work in Heaven’s Gate in his Random Roles interview, but if you revisit that conversation, you’ll see that his story lives up to everything you’ve ever heard about the film and how long it took to finish it.

For the most part, though, when I think of Cimino, I think of one of his lesser efforts: his remake of William Wyler’s 1955 drama The Desperate Hours, which originally starred Humphrey Bogart and Frederic March. Cimino’s version, which dropped the “The,” was released in 1990 and starred Mickey Rourke, a just barely pre-Silence of the Lambs Anthony Hopkins, and one hell of a supporting cast, including Lindsay Crouse, Elias Koteas, Kelly Lynch, David Morse, Mimi Rogers, and Shawnee Smith. Alas, Cimino’s film was not what you’d call a critical success, but when I interviewed Lynch and Morse for Random Roles, they both had anecdotes that have stuck with me for the long haul. If you’ve read the pieces in question, they may well have stuck with you, too, but just in case they haven’t, this seemed like an apropos time to share them, as they seem to confirm one thing about Cimino: he was a real handful to work with, but if you had the opportunity to do so, you almost certainly never forgot it.

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Obscurity Knocks: Episode 6 – Peter Mackenzie

PeterMackenzie25Peter Mackenzie, as you may be aware, is currently a cast member on ABC’s black-ish, and once you listen to this episode, you’ll be so happy for him that he is, because our last few topics of conversation would have you believe that most of the man’s career has involved working on pilots that never got picked up. In fact, he’s been in a lot of great stuff over the years, including films like Trumbo, 42, One Hour Photo, and Lorenzo’s Oil, not to mention more TV series than you can shake a stick at. I also must give all due credit for Peter’s appearance on the show to Michael Price (The Simpsons, F Is for Family), who recommended that I invite him on. They worked together on Homeboys from Outer Space, you know. And, yes, of course we talked about that.

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Obscurity Knocks: Episode 5 – Barry Primus

Barry PrimusBarry Primus is a character actor’s character actor, a fellow who got his start in the theater, went on to work on TV and in film, and has expanded his palette over the years to include writing, directing, and producing. You may know him from his work in New York, New York (not to mention half a dozen other Robert DeNiro movies), his stint on Cagney & Lacey, or films like Heartland, The Rose, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, and Space Camp. Join us as he regales Obscurity Knocks with stories about working with Del Close, George C. Scott, Roger Corman, and Bill Maher, among many others.

Below you’ll find details about the baker’s dozen of projects I asked Primus about during the course of our conversation, with the synopses in quotation marks taken from IMDb and the rest is either borrowed from some other source – with the appropriate citation, of course – or written by yours truly from whatever facts I could find.

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Obscurity Knocks: Episode 4 – John Kapelos

02John Kapelos is an actor you may know from his work with John Hughes on such iconic ‘80s films as Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, or if you’re a vampire aficionado, you might have watched him in the ‘90s on Forever Knight. But the man has basically been a workaholic since the early ‘80s, as you can tell from the 60+ films and 100+ TV programs he’s popped up on over the years, including – just to cite a few more recent credits – Justified, Modern Family, Transparent, Togetherness, and to keep the folks at home happy, Republic of Doyle.

Below you’ll find details about the dozen projects I asked Kapelos about during the course of our conversation, with the synopses in quotation marks taken from IMDb and the rest written by yours truly from whatever facts I could find.

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Obscurity Knocks: Episode 3 – Kurt Fuller

RW_108-MD_sc15_033_2_hires2Kurt Fuller has had so many roles in so many films and TV series over the course of his career that when the time came to introduce him onto Obscurity Knocks, I was so intimidated by the sheer volume of options I had available to me to mention that I actually starred stammering and failed to mention nearly as many of them as I’d intended. Be it Psych or Supernatural, Ghostbusters II or Wayne’s World, Miracle Mile or No Holds Barred, Fuller has been all over the place, and he’s got one of those faces that you recognize immediately, even if you can’t always come up with his name. Maybe that’ll change after you listen to our conversation. Perhaps from now on you’ll see him and immediately think, “Oh, hey, it’s Kurt Fuller from Moonbase!”

Nah, I’m just kidding. Nobody’s ever said that before, and nobody ever will. And if for some reason they do, Kurt Fuller will have my hide.

Below you’ll find details about the dozen projects I asked Fuller about during the course of our conversation, with the synopses in quotation marks taken from IMDb and the rest written by yours truly from whatever facts I could find. You’re probably getting the hang of the rules by now, but just in case you’ve forgotten, he had the opportunity to more or less bypass discussing three of them.  Being the swell guy that he is, however, Fuller ended up saying at least a little bit about all 12 of them, and thanks to using his Switcher! card, he ended up saying a hell of a lot about a 13th project. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say that the project in question was, per Fuller, the single worst experience of his career…and I’d tell you that I feel bad about laughing ’til my sides hurt as he was telling his stories about it, but I don’t feel bad in the slightest.

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Obscurity Knocks: Episode 2 – Bruce McGill

Upon looking at the above photo, I’d understand if you found it impossible to turn away from the sight of a pre-Knight Rider David Hasselhoff, but I hope you’ll try, since it’s the man on the right who’s actually our guest on this second episode of Obscurity Knocks. His name is Bruce McGill, as you already know from the title of this post, and in addition to knowing him from his work in Animal House, MacGyver, and The Insider, you might recognize him more recently from Ride Along, Ride Along 2, and Rizzoli & Isles.

After listening to our latest installment, however, perhaps you’ll start referring to him as the man who appeared in one of these 12 projects instead…

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Obscurity Knocks: Episode 1 – Mackenzie Astin

Mackenzie-Astin_Mad-MenSee that gentleman facing off against Jon Hamm? That’s Mackenzie Astin.

Yes, really.

It’s been a long time since the days when Astin was hanging out with Blair, Tootie, Natalie, and Jo at Edna’s Edibles and Over Our Heads on The Facts of Life, as evidenced by his appearance in the above photo, but Mad Men isn’t the only high-profile gig he’s had lately: over the past few years, he’s turned up on Grey’s Anatomy, NCIS, Criminal Minds, Shameless, Bones, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Scorpion, and Castle, among others, and he had a recurring role on Scandal last season that carried over into this season as well.

Mr. Astin was kind enough – some might might say crazy enough – to endure being a guinea pig for this first installment of Obscurity Knocks, but when I explained the premise of the podcast and filled him in on the three virtual cards he’d be able to play during the course of the proceedings, he proved his mettle as an actor by feigning excitement so perfectly that I almost believed him.

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Cut for Space: A few “Facts of Life” anecdotes you haven’t read before

On January 31, 2015, I made my debut on EW.com with “You Take the Good, You Take the Bad: An Oral History of The Facts of Life.”

http://www.ew.com/microsites/longform/facts/img/facts_opener7.jpgIf you follow me on social media, this isn’t what you’d call breaking news, since I actually commemorated the anniversary twice: first I posted the link to the piece on the day that LinkedIn referred to as the anniversary of when I started writing for EW.com (and which I describe more realistically to as the anniversary of when I signed the contract for what remains the only time that I’ve written for EW.com), and then I posted it again on the article’s actual publication date, mostly because that’s really when I’d intended to post it in the first place.

Now that we’ve passed the one-year mark and there’s no fear of anyone suggesting that I’m stealing readership away from the original piece, I believe I’m standing on solid ground in offering up some of the “deleted scenes,” if you will, from the various interviews I did for the oral history.

141441331Sadly, this means that you will not find anything from Mindy Cohn or Kim Fields, since they weren’t of a mind to reminiscence about the days when they played Natalie and Tootie, but you will get some heretofore-unpublished anecdotes from Charlotte Rae (Mrs. Garrett), Lisa Whelchel (Blair Warner), Nancy McKeon (Jo Polniaczek), and a wide variety of other cast members and behind-the-scenes folks who participated in the proceedings, including one gentleman whose reminiscences didn’t make it into the EW.com piece at all

That’s right, Maurice LeMarche: at last, your story can be told!

Lastly, before kicking things off, I just want to dedicate this collection of odds and sods to the late Alex Rocco, who was kind enough to call me up within five minutes of my texting him to ask if he’d be willing to participate in the original piece. I don’t have any additional material from that particular conversation with Rocco – he and I had already talked at some length about his time on the show in earlier chats we’d had over the preceding few years, so we were able to kind of cut to the chase with his contributions – but you will find an anecdote about Rocco from Nancy McKeon, who I never would’ve been able to get on the phone if he hadn’t vouched for me…and if I hadn’t gotten her on the phone, I don’t even know if I would’ve had a piece. R.I.P, Rocco. I can’t thank you enough for helping me to get the ball rolling.

And with that said, let’s roll on, shall we?

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366 for 2016: Day 11 – David Bowie, “Time Will Crawl”

Well, shit: this wasn’t how my Monday was supposed to go.

Not that I had any idea how things were going to play out today, but I certainly didn’t expect that they’d involve me spending the majority of my time eulogizing or mourning David Bowie. In fact, I’ve spent so much time either writing about Bowie or reminiscing about Bowie that I’ve literally done nothing else.

Oh, actually, that’s not true: I wrote a piece for Rhino’s website about the 45th anniversary of Chicago III. But Bowie’s so prominent in everyone’s mind over there at the moment – they’ve got ownership of his Parlophone UK material, which is from Space Oddity all the way up through 1999’s ‘Hours…’ – that it hasn’t even been posted yet as of this writing. Which is fine: of course Bowie should be the priority today.

This is, as far as I know, the last Bowie piece I’ll be writing today, and I’m kind of emotionally spent at this point, so don’t hold it against me if there’s not a lot of substance to it. No, actually, I take that back: it might actually be appropriate for it to turn out that way. After all, I can’t imagine that phrase wasn’t used to describe his Never Let Me Down album at some point.

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Sometimes I feel like I’m the only Bowie fan who’s willing to concede to enjoying Never Let Me Down, but it’s been so maligned over the years that I have a tendency to make self-deprecating jokes about it, saying things like, “I actually really like that album. Well, maybe adding the ‘really‘ is overdoing it, but I do rather enjoy it. The first side of it, anyway.” The truth of the matter, though, is that I love the first side of it, and I don’t really have a problem with anything on side two. (Please forgive me: my first copy was on cassette, so I still think of it in those terms.)

If there was ever a day when I didn’t need to mount a defense for Never Let Me Down, it’s today, but I have one anyway: it was the first Bowie album I ever bought, so it was the first one that I played over and over. I really don’t know what it is about me that I became a fan of so many artists at ostensibly the worst possible time in their career, but it’s a trend that started with me when I got a copy of Paul McCartney’s Give My Regards to Broad Street for Christmas 1984, and it still recurs even now. So that’s one reason why I’m particularly partial to Never Let Me Down, but the other reason is that the only time I ever saw Bowie live was when he was touring behind the album.

Perhaps you’ve heard of a little jaunt called the Glass Spider tour?

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366 for 2016: Day 10 – Peter Buffett featuring Akon, “Anything”

I find Peter Buffett rather fascinating, probably at least partially because I had no idea who he was when I first heard his music. I just spotted a copy of his 2007 album Staring at the Sun in a Wherehouse Music bargain bin (sorry, Peter), I thought the cover looked cool, and the price was sufficiently right for me to say, “What the heck, I’ll give it a shot.”

Staring-At-The-Sun

Let me just tell you, there haven’t been many times when I’ve felt better about investing [PRICE REDACTED FOR POLITENESS’ SAKE] on a completely unheard CD: when I popped it in and listened to the first track, “Reminder,” Buffett’s vocals immediately reminded me of Eric Woolfson, best known for his work with The Alan Parsons Project.

Go on, give it a listen. I’m pretty sure it’s not just me who hears the similarity.

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