Bill Wolf







            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.


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            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.




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            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.  Oh, no!

            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 of Ceremonies!




            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 (!).




            “Hey,” Mr. Wolf gurgled on his return to the stage at the end of the skit, “wasn’t that FUN?  Wasn’t that just GREAT??!!”

            He 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.

            “So 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 continued.

            “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…?”

            Mr. 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.




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            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 Mars.”

            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.


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            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 almost true.

            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 front window.



            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 gasp.

            “Bring in the camera!”

            “Camera in.”

            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 to celebrate.

            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 yesterday!”

            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.


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            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 worked overtime.



            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 the editing.

            And we had no money.


            But the best was our film was shot and “in the can.”


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