With “Aimee” completed
its one-night run at the San Francisco Neighborhood Arts Center,
Russell and I took a much needed vacation to Seattle. We stayed
with our friends, Dan and Eunice, at their house just down from
Capital Hill and I did a couple sets for Brian Thompson at the
Bathhouse Theater’s summer series, including a big, stylized western
saloon set for "The Adventures of Sneaky Fitch" (BELOW). I
also did Agatha Christie’s “Ten
Little Indians” among others.
It was a fun trip.
Billy King was up in Seattle again and had a sunny studio down on
the waterfront and we saw a lot of him. Several friends from
San Francisco came up to visit, among them Noreen Halvey (BELOW).
I got a
terrible toothache at one point and, in fact, I was doped up on Eunice’s
couch under a pile of ice-bags watching the television when Nixon resigned.
One night I found
myself in a mini-orgy in the woods when the guy blowing me stopped
to whisper breathlessly in my ear, “I LOVED Aimee!”
That kind of trip.
* * *
Then we were back in
San Francisco in the fall and Ed Weingold says Bill, the Columbus
Day Parade is coming up and did we want to go in with the Julian
Theater on another float? And so we said sure! The Julian got
another grape trailer and we talked to the Nickelettes and did they
want to be in it with us. So that brought along the head Nickelette,
Denise Larson, and she brought along her boyfriend, Vince Stanich, a
great guy, sort of older and wiser than us but who always liked us a
lot and happened to be the manager of the Mitchell Brothers’
O’Farrell Theater, who happened to get a hold of a swanky Cadillac
convertible to pull us.
We used the same idea
of a ramp on the float facing forward for good visibility, this time
the ramp extending up to Queen Isabella’s throne, in front of a
cardboard castle rising behind. Marge Rooney got to play Queen
Isabella and a new actor we had met named Michael Ferringo, a true
Italian, would play Columbus prostrate in front of her, thanking her
for her jewels. He was a big, curly-haired, gay guy who lived in
the Mission and had been acting around town. He had a big nose and
a wild guffaw of a laugh. We loved him immediately.
My puppet, Freckles,
sat on Marge’s lap dressed as the Crown Prince of Spain and Marge
kept him laughing all the way through the parade. Behind her throne
stood a serious and seriously ridiculous Freaky Ralph Eno with a
tufted baby-blue toilet cover on his head and a mop-like scepter, as
King Ferdinand. All around the edges of the float were gaudily
wrapped trunks of jewels, containing the spangle-covered Nickelettes,
popping up and down. Vince got to drive the convertible, of course,
with me in front with him in my top hat and tails and, riding high
in the back seat, waving and blowing kisses, two more hangers-on in
some Mickey Mouse and Snoopy costumes Vince had managed to acquire.
With the crazy antics of Marge, Michael, the stoic Ralph, the lovely
Nickelettes, and the cartoon Mickey and Snoopy, our “Queen Isabella
Gives her Jewels to Columbus” was an enormous hit and won the first
of many third-place ribbons which we would win.
Below: Walking along beside, Dale
and Kevin got to reprise their favorite roles of drooling hunchback
and sadistic torturer.
* * *
So, I was still being
the MC at the Intersection Sunday nights and had gotten the
Nickelettes to come do some of their awful musical numbers and
getting to know more acts and actors. Then too, we were getting to
have a crazy sort of steady audience, who cheered and booed
appropriately. Marge’s brother Kevin was always around and bringing
his friends and I always liked to hear his distinctive laugh.
And we were attracting a little bit
of attention from the media. One night in fact, the San Francisco
Chronicle happened to send their ace theater critic, John Wasserman.
The evening featured
some stupid film and, of course, some silly, endless skit by the
Nickelettes, those dolls. And me in my top hat and tails, as Master
Wasserman let us have
it! The review was titled “The Tradition of Theatrical Catastrophe,”
and said the Nickelettes “set rarely approached standards of awesome
incompetence and transcendent horribleness,” among other things.
But he saved the bulk of the review for me (!).
Mr. Wolf gurgled on his return to the stage at the end of the skit,
“wasn’t that FUN? Wasn’t that just GREAT??!!”
beamed around the room, which contained about 50 people – near
capacity. “Say,” he said, “did you hear the one about the
missionary who was captured by cannibals? In order not to be eaten,
they told him he would have to accomplish three impossible tasks.
He would have to drink a HUGE bottle of rum without pausing for
breath, then he would have to extract the sore tooth of a RAGING
lion, then finally he would have to satisfy a BEAUTIFUL woman who
had never, uh, been fulfilled before …”
Titters broke out among those in attendance. Not at the joke, which
was barely underway, but at the expression on Mr. Wolf’s face, which
was so obviously delighted with his story – and so clearly
anticipating the thunderous waves of laughter that would follow the
punch-line – that it could hardly contain itself.
anyway, the missionary downed the rum and then went into the tent
where the lion was, with the sore tooth. The tent shook like an
earthquake and great screams and groans were heard.” Mr. Wolf
paused for a moment, quite overcome. Regaining control, he
“Finally, the missionary came out of the tent all battered and
bruised and bloody, but a triumphant look on his face. ‘OK,’ he
said to the cannibals ‘now where’s that lady with the sore tooth…?”
Wolf dropped to the floor in convulsions.
Darn. He gave away
the punch-line! Not to worry, I had plenty more. By the way, I
still have that hat.
* * *
But mainly I was
casting around for another big show for Triple-A and I happened to
be looking at the script of the old apprentice show which I had done
at the Sharon Playhouse last year. It was called “Rocket to Mars,”
and I was thinking of whom I could cast in the various parts. Then
too, David DeMontluzin was hanging around a lot and happened to
mention that his real main interest was in making a film, and did I
know about the new Super-8 movie film with sound and real cheap?
Well, I didn’t know
anything about millimeters or sizes of film but he said “real cheap.”
And then, too, the original script for the apprentices was inspired
in part by those old black-and-white sci-fi rocket movies of my
childhood, and I thought , Hmmm.
Suddenly “Rocket to
Mars,” the film, was born!
I immediately saw all
the scenes in black-and-white, and lots of Martian extras and little
cardboard rockets flying through the stars. I began drawing a story
board of how it should look and hung it up on the walls at the house.
I went over to see Keith St. Claire at the Neighborhood House, where
we had done “Aimee,” and asked him if he thought their big
auditorium on Walker would be available to film in. He thought it
was a great idea and that it might be possible soon after the first
of the year. I said OK!
So, I was talking it up
and pointing out the drawings from the story board around the walls
and we were inviting everybody over to get excited about “Rocket to
Well, we had a lot of
people coming in and out now, wanting to get involved, as a result
of “Aimee,” of course, and interested in our next show and one of
these was a guy named Elliot Rosenblatt. I think David brought him
around. He was a film-maker, he said, and did I want him to help.
David was lined up to be cameraman but we said, sure, give a hand.
Elliot was a loud, good-looking Jewish guy who laughed a lot and
always fit right into our group. He had an equally loud red-headed
girlfriend named Sharon Rosenburg (yes), who came around and was
real friendly and helped Karolyn with the costumes. We would know
them both for years.
So a couple weeks
before the end of they year, we held a big “Rocket to Mars”
Information and Collection Day party at the house on Vicksburg,
inviting everybody to come and see the story-board and party and
bring their old junk that looked anything like Martian. Our
basement was filling up.
* * *
The new year opened
amid a great flurry of activity all centered around the filming of
“Rocket To Mars,” now scheduled into the Neighborhood Arts Program
auditorium on Walker Street to begin on the 18th of
January and last for one week. We were collecting cardboard down in
our basement and building pieces of sets, mainly the big interior of
the rocket, where most of the action takes place. David took charge
of all the technical stuff, like rental of the camera and buying the
tiny “Super-8" stock, which we would later call spaghetti. Maria
was in charge of the models, which were many, the small rocket
flying through space, the meteors zooming by and the grand city of
Mars, with its ridiculous plastic domes and toilet-roll towers.
Karolyn was madly sewing 50's space costumes and grand royal Martian
capes and tiaras. Elliot was coming around a lot helping me with
the story-boards and planning the “master shots.” He later said
Bill shot the whole movie without a single master shot, which was
That was also when
Roberta Shepp came into our group. It seems our friend, Maria had been singing
around with a couple of other girl singers and they were calling
themselves the Pointless Sisters (get it?), and they were singing a
bunch of doo-whap kind of stuff and really good. They were
Maria, a funny girl named Bonnie Solomon, and a dizzy red-head named
Roberta Shepp. They also had a crazy, long-haired hippie guy
playing keyboard for them named Joshua Brody. He was a riot and
we would be good friends for a long time to come.
Well they had
taken the name Schwartz and each had a silly variation on the name,
like Maria's was Short Schwartz, Bonnie's was Anna May Ted Schwartz and, everybody’s favorite,
Roberta Shepp’s “Bermuda Schwartz.” (Even the crazy
keyboardist, Joshua, later called Righteous Raul, took the name Gym
Schwartz.) Well, this Roberta was a lot of
fun. I saw right away she could be a great comic actress, sort of
ditzy and lost in the clouds, but always with lots of emotion and
feeling. Her name stuck, of course, and we would forever called her Bermuda.
Later editing the credits, I would complain that we couldn’t put
“Bermuda Schwartz” on our movie, but she insisted and anyway it was
too late and so she was Bermuda Schwartz for the rest of her life.
In our movie she would play Sandy, the “highly-respected
geophysicist” member of the rocket crew and female lead. I loved
her beyond words.
Terry MacDonald, the
long-haired hippy who had always played the Bob Gallagher-type
leading roles and the love interest in “Aimee,” had gone off to
England at that point, along with Joy, who came back later, but we
never saw Terry again. Seems he and Joy had started their own
little street theater group in London and there were some hilarious
photos of the two of them in their old roles of Cowboy Bob and Miss
Kitty, crawling on the desert in search of water, with a couple
other actors, looking just like our production (BELOW). I always felt sort
of proud about that.
But, as I say, he was
gone and so we looked around for someone else. We came across a
crazy guy named Kevin McKenna, couldn’t act for shit but looked real
good in his outer space jock strap!
Then Russell took the heavy part of
Dr. Clemens, the authority figure on board the rocket. Dale played
Tremor the Terrible, sadistic torturer of Mars, and a new actress,
the (very) heavy Priscilla Alden (yes) in the role of Dale’s
counterpart, Dr. Brona, head scientist of Mars, and friend of peace
and liberty in the solar system. Even Freaky Ralph Eno had a small
cameo of the military general on Earth who sends the crew off to
Mars, and our cardboard robot Robbie played Robbie.
So the story-board was
growing and covering more walls of the house on Vicksburg and I was
transforming the old apprentice script from the Sharon Playhouse
into a full “shooting script” with a lot of help from David and, now,
Elliot. We didn’t see much use for rehearsals but everyone was
reading their parts a lot and loving it all.
I got Keith St. Claire
to let us into the space about a week early and he said yes and so
work began in earnest on the first set, the giant interior of the
rocket to Mars! Platforms and lumber and cardboard and we made
these big curving beams of grey-painted cardboard and spray painted
rivets and the twinkle light sky hung on a black curtain out the big
The new Kodak “Super
8"-millimeter was the same size as the tiny old 8-millimeter but had
the capacity for sound, at a fraction the cost of the next size, 16-millimeter,
and we had gotten a bit of attention for calling ourselves the first
feature-length motion picture in Super-8. The new magazine
“Super-8" called for an interview, for example. Still, David warned,
“Bill, this stuff is going to be really tiny.”
“Well, that’s OK,” I
said, “we don’t care.”
We could change our
mind up to the last minute, he said.
So, the rental camera
was gotten and David even managed to borrow a regular riding dolly
for the cameraman. We hung the lights which came with the place and
darkened the windows.
I had decided to begin
filming with what I thought would be easy shots about half way
through the story, in the interior of the rocket during the “meteor
storm.” Russell, Kevin and Bermuda were put into their space suits,
some Mylar and plastic stuff which Karolyn has made. Dozens of
stage hands and extras and hangers-on were spread across the wide
floor of the Neighborhood House.
“Places!” I called. A
“Bring in the camera!”
Suddenly we all looked
at the smallest camera in the world perched upon this giant dolly,
in the midst of an enormous set with lights and stars and upper deck
and leotards and space capes flying, and thought how is all this
going to go into that little, bitty box?
Well, we did our lights,
action, camera bit a few times, there was no sound because we had
long ago decided to dub it in later, what with the expected cutting
and such, and managed to get off three or four shots before calling
it “a wrap!”
Of course, we were
enormously pleased with ourselves and rushed David off to the lab to
develop the “rushes” for tomorrow and all went to Vicksburg Street
The next day we were
all gathered at the Neighborhood House in an adjoining auditorium
and David loaded up the first day’s little roll of film in a
borrowed projector. The light went down and a series of tiny,
silent, fuzzy, black-and-white images followed one another for four
minutes. I was struck and looked at David. He didn’t look happy.
“Let’s see it again,” I
said and everyone said yes, yes!
We watched it again.
The lights came up and
I asked David to come near.
“We still can decide to
go to 16,” he said, “I can rent it tomorrow.”
“But what about all
this,” I asked, motioning to the now white screen, “and the shooting
schedule for today? Everyone’s ready.”
“Well, we shoot it over.”
“But so much footage
If I had realized the
enormous quantity of shooting and re-shooting that lay ahead in the
weeks and months to come, I would have thought considerable less of
that first day’s meager efforts. No, we would continue in Super-8
and pick up the next day’s shooting as planned, and so we did.
Ever thinking of “box office,” I
wrote a scene in which I managed to get Kevin down to his briefs (BELOW).
During the next days we
would get a bit better and our images a little less fuzzy in the
regular rushes and we grew to love the movie and the work we were
doing but those few shots of the first day still sit in Rocket to
Mars like far away memories seen through a glass darkly.
* * *
Our next problem was
that everything took much longer than planned. The costumes always
had to be perfect, the lights out the big center window, the pesky
workings of Robbie our cardboard robot. This would not have been a
problem except that we had planned the shooting of the big, Martian
“Welcome Earthmen” party scene with tons of extras, for a Saturday,
so lots of people could come and everybody was all ready.
As we weren’t near
finishing the shooting on the rocket interior, we decided to build
the Martian party scene on top of the previous set (!).
Well, of course, this
involved several all night sessions and building a giant stairway to
the ceiling of the Neighborhood House. The set was built, the
extras came, the costumes were put on, the giant card-display
“WELCOME EARTHMEN” was shot, the film rushed to the lab and the set
taken down. It was a long Saturday, let me tell you, and we all
went to Vicksburg to celebrate.
Thus passed two weeks
of lots of work and still lots to be shot so I talked Kieth St.
Claire into giving us another week, which he did. David and I
In the third week, we
managed to finish all the acting scenes, with actors. Then the
model shots, of the Rocket, of the elaborate Martian city which
Maria had made and the little pick-ups like the papier-mache meteors
flying by and such dragged on in our basement for a while.
All we lacked now, was
And we had no money.
But the best was our
film was shot and “in the can.”