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Guest Post with Stephen Schochet

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Author Stephen Schochet (pronounced Show-het) is a professional tour guide in Hollywood who years ago began collecting little-known, humorous anecdotes to tell to his customers. His new book Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies! contains a timeless treasure trove of colorful vignettes featuring an amazing all-star cast of icons including John Wayne, Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney, Jack Nicholson, Johnny Depp, Shirley Temple, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Errol Flynn, and many others both past and contemporary. Tim Sika, host of the radio show Celluloid Dreams on KSJS in San Jose has called Stephen, “The best storyteller about Hollywood we have ever heard.”

 1.      Tell us a bit about yourself and your interest in Hollywood.

I’m a tour guide in Hollywood and years ago I started collecting little stories to tell the customers and had the idea that the tales could be told anywhere.  I had always been interested in the movies and history so it was kind of a natural fit for me.  When I first started I had a study buddy named Ivan.  During our breaks we would research information about old Hollywood and share it with each other.  I remember one time we met on Hollywood Boulevard and said to me in a low, conspiratorial tone,” Steve, man, you what I found out today? That Thomas Edison owned the rights to the movie camera and the early moguls like Mayer, Warner, and Zukor they had to pay him tributes.  They why they left the East Coast and came west — they were outlaws, baby!”  The more information we found out, the more fun it was to give the tour.  And I’ve got a good memory for stories so having different material kept it fresh, I think for the customers as well.  Anyway, eventually I had the idea that these very short anecdotes could be told anywhere and that’s what led, after a few other projects, to the idea for the book.

2.  Have you met any of the famous people that you talk about in your book?

Jimmy Stewart, George Burns, and Lucille Ball were always friendly and waved. Fred Hayman’s boutique on Rodeo Drive was a great store (now defunct) where I used to be able get my customers cappuccinos spiked with Kailua and brandy — I’ll tell you the more people drank the more they enjoyed the tour.  A bunch of stars came in there, like Cybil Shepard, Suzanne Pleshette, Vanna White, the one who I really enjoyed meeting was Zsa Zsa Gabor who took pictures with all my customers.  The bartender was a beautiful girl named Laura, she looked like Cindy Crawford.  Zsa Zsa walked to the bar, complimented Laura and asked how she kept her skin so nice.  Before Laura could answer Zsa Zsa suggested that Laura stay away from booze — then asked her to put some extra brandy in the cappuccino.  Then she laughed so she had a good sense of humor.

3.      Tell us the Peter O'Toole Funeral Story.

               One Late Night in Ireland

One very late night in Ireland, Peter O’Toole and Peter Finch shocked a pub owner who wanted to close up. The two inebriated actors offered to buy his establishment for twice as much as it was worth, as long as the alcohol kept coming. A contract was written and signed on a napkin. The next afternoon, the hung-over stars woke up and after some blurry discussions, they recalled what they did the night before. Fearing their business managers would kill them, they raced back to the saloon keeper and begged for mercy. The man gave them a stern look, then smiled and tore up the agreement. They were so grateful they drank there over the next twenty years, whenever their schedules allowed, till the pub owner died. After downing a few pints, the devastated twosome headed off to the memorial service. Finch and O’Toole delivered long moving eulogies, which drove the mourners to tears, until they realized they were at the wrong funeral.


4.     Can you tell us the anecdote about Desi Arnaz’s mispronunciations? 

Desi Talks

Thirty-four-year-old Desi Arnaz guarded the integrity of his character Ricky Ricardo on the 1951 TV sitcom I Love Lucy. Each week his ditzy spouse, played by his real-life wife Lucille Ball, would come up with a crazy scheme to break into show business. The Cuban-born bandleader recognized that Lucy was the main draw and didn’t mind being her second banana as long as he didn’t look like a fool. He insisted to the writers that Ricky see through her plans; That he

was always on equal footing with the audience. Another issue was his accent, which only Lucy was allowed to make fun of. One time Desi stopped rehearsal. Why did the script say splain and thin, instead of explain and thing? When told that it was the way that he spoke, Arnaz angrily denied it and demanded that the scripts be written in proper English.


5. Can you tell us the story about Louis B. Mayer's bad reaction to a staff suggestion:



The Thing at MGM



One day in 1927, MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer reluctantly agreed to a meeting with his creative staff. It was so damn annoying, these so-called artists wanting to bother him with their smutty ideas. The mogul felt that family films were what the public wanted; to stray from clean content was a mistake. His employees always wished to push the envelope with what they called more adult subjects, like rape and murder. Now they were all excited to show him a new comedy. The lights went down and Mayer was horrified by the images he saw on the screen. “Stop the projector! I ought to fire all of you! Imagine if that thing were ten feet tall in theaters. All the pregnant women would flee out into the street.”Mayer abruptly left, while his astonished personnel wondered who would tell the nervous young filmmaker in the next room that MGM would not distribute his Mickey Mouse cartoons.


6) Was there a misunderstanding on the set of The Hunchback of Notre Dame?
We’ll Always Have Paris

Some unruly actors dampened the good mood of English-challenged William Dieterle when he directed The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1939. Up to now, the German filmmaker’s instructions were being carried out flawlessly. In blistering Los Angeles’ heat, covered in tons of make-up, Charles Laughton was wonderful as the deformed bell ringer. Playing the gypsy Esmeralda, Maureen O’Hara was excellent in her dialogue and dance scenes. And hundreds of costumed extras were performing without a hitch. The mammoth production had gone smoothly until that day; there were a bunch of chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas running around their seventeenth-century Paris set. Dieterle, who always wore white gloves to protect himself from germs, demanded to know what these smelly, noisy creatures were doing there. It turned out that a hard-of-hearing assistant misunderstood the director’s request for some more monks.

7.      What was Leonard Nimoy willing to do to alleviate his ear pain when he starred as Mr. Spock on the TV classic Star Trek?


Spock’s Ears


Leonard Nimoy suffered while playing Mr. Spock in the 1966 TV series Star Trek. The
thirty-five-year-old former cab driver from Boston created the Vulcan’s unique
attributes, such as the neck pinch that could render his enemies unconscious and the
split-finger greeting, based on an ancient Talmudic sign used by Hebrew Priests. Mr.
Spock got tons of fan mail and became an unlikely extraterrestrial sex symbol. The
dedicated performer would have enjoyed it more if it wasn’t for the damn ears, so
painful to unglue they were driving him crazy. Desperate for relief, Nimoy sought the
advice of one of the show’s producers who had a possible solution. There was a
renowned Beverly Hills plastic surgeon that could make his real ears pointy for the
duration of the series, then change them back. The excited actor asked for an
immediate appointment as his boss wondered how to break the news that he was
kidding.


8.      How did James Cameron try to end the working relationship with Arnold Schwarzenegger before The Terminator?

Let’s Do Lunch

A lunch with Arnold Schwarzenegger caused James Cameron to change his opinion about casting for the 1984 sci-fi thriller, The Terminator. The thirty-year –old director disagreed with his bosses that Arnold was the right man to play the film’s hero, who goes up against a homicidal robot. Cameron planned to insult the Austrian bodybuilder and end the work relationship before it started. But the thirty-seven-year-old Schwarzenegger was charming, suggested some great ideas for the movie and had muscles rippling beneath his shirt; might as well be nice or the famed weight lifter could break him like a twig. It was bad enough that James had no money on him and Arnold had to pick up the tab. Maybe Schwarzenegger could play the Terminator; it made more sense than the producers’ other suggestion. The filmmaker wondered how anyone in their right mind could see former football star O.J. Simpson as a killer.

9.      Tell us about the Peter O’Toole funeral story.

One Late Night in Ireland

One very late night in Ireland, Peter O’Toole and Peter Finch shocked a pub owner who wanted to close up. The two inebriated actors offered to buy his establishment for twice as much as it was worth, as long as the alcohol kept coming. A contract was written and signed on a napkin. The next afternoon, the hung-over stars woke up and after some blurry discussions, they recalled what they did the night before. Fearing their business managers would kill them, they raced back to the saloon keeper and begged for mercy. The man gave them a stern look, then smiled and tore up the agreement. They were so grateful they drank there over the next twenty years, whenever their schedules allowed, till the pub owner died. After downing a few pints, the devastated twosome headed off to the memorial service. Finch and O’Toole delivered long moving eulogies, which drove the mourners to tears, until they realized they were at the wrong funeral.

10.  You have a pretty big bibliography; why was David Niven a better source for lore than history?

David Niven’s Yarns

British actor and raconteur David Niven never let the facts get in the way of a good yarn. In his wonderful 1975 book about Hollywood, Bring on the Empty Horses, Niven described Christmas in 1947 when he convinced his neighbor Tyrone Power to dress up as Santa Claus at a party for Niven’s children. At the last moment, Power came down with a bad bout of stage fright and tried to back out of his promise; only after downing a great deal of Scotch did he stumble into the backyard as St. Nick. Like most actors, once Tyrone got into character, he began to enjoy himself. At one point, the inebriated matinee idol put Gary Cooper’s daughter Maria on his knee. “Ho, Ho, Ho, little girl. You tell your old man Santa enjoyed watching him in High Noon. And ask him to get that pretty Grace Kelly’s phone number for me while you’re at it. Ho, Ho, Ho.”

High Noon was released in 1952, five years after Tyrone supposedly put on the white whiskers.

 11) Tell us the chandelier story from Amadeus.

Amadeus Was Here

New York actor F. Murray Abraham didn’t mind spending months in Prague when he starred in the 1984 Mozart fantasy Amadeus. In the Communist controlled city, you could turn the camera 360 degrees and it still looked like the eighteenth century. So what if there were a few inconveniences? One night a friend of Abraham’s, who was staying in the same building, was consumed with searching the actor’s apartment for electronic listening devices. F. Murray, who would win an Oscar for his performance as Mozart’s obsessed rival Salieri, couldn’t care less if the secret police heard them, and just wanted to go to dinner. But when his buddy found a mysterious plate under a decoration rug, he exclaimed to Abraham, “I told you, man!” and attempted to disable the suspected bug by triumphantly wielding a butter knife to undo the screws. When they suddenly heard the loud crash of a chandelier hitting the floor of the room beneath them, the two shocked men then beat a hasty retreat to the nearest restaurant.

12.  Are you working on another book, if so tell us about it?

I have some ideas but nothing concrete yet.  Before I wrote Hollywood Stories, I wrote and narrated two audio books, which are now available on iTunes, Tales of Hollywood and Fascinating Walt Disney.  For me creativity almost seems out of my control, the projects come out when they are ready to.

13.  Where can people go to get more information about you and your book?

Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies! 

(ISBN 9780963897275)

Available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon or wherever books are sold.

http://www.hollywoodstories.com

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