A telephone conversation with filmmaker Tommy Avallone the day before the October 26, 2018 VOD premiere of his (reviewed) Gravitas Ventures documentary "The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons From A Mythical Man" aptly was mythical. "Murray' and an earlier Avallone joint "I Am Santa Claus," which chronicles the off-season lives of men who play St. Nick, show that this guy has equally strong imagination and curiosity levels that he exercises in a manner that enriches audiences in the same manner that Murray popping up at a kickball game or a college party enhances the lives of those who are there.
The titular urban legends in "Murray" are seemingly purely random visits by the titular star of "Saturday Night Live" (a.k.a. "SNL") and cult-classic '80s film comedies such as "Stripes" and the original "Ghostbusters" films. Hearing about those encounters puts the idea of "Murray" in the head of Avallone; obtaining the coveted toll-free telephone number that Murray uses in lieu of an agent or a manager created hope that the man the legend would participate in the film.
Scenes throughout "Murray" depict Avallone either rehearsing a message for the voicemail of Murray or recording and deleting one. We also see his mother get into the act. This illustrated the challenge of summoning Murray; he is like a cat in that he ignores those who attempt to entice him but literally or figuratively jumps in the laps of people who ignore him.
Of course, speaking with someone who had the highly sought-after number required asking Avallone to share it, His denial of that request was less surprising than if he had divulged that information. Avallone added that "I can't tell you how I got it; it was a friend of a friend." Avallone emphasized that that friend was not a celebrity.
Avallone added that he regularly called the number for a year-and-a-half to no avail; these calls continue at less frequently.
Truth or Fiction
Avallone stated that a reported Murray sighting that he included in the cold open of "Murray" was the first one that he heard. He then speculated that it was partially true.
This tale involved Murray coming up behind a man who was using a urinal at a bar; the rest of the story was that Murray put his hands over the eyes of the man. Avalllone opined that Murray did walk up to someone at some time and put his hands over the eyes of his "victim."
This led to discussing people making up Murray stories in reliance of limited documentation of many true one. Avallone provided a perfect response in stating that "I know people who do that; I don't like that. I am a documentary filmmaker; I like the truth."
This final word on this topic was that "What's great about the Bill Murray stories is that 99-percent of them are true."
Murray on Murray
Avallone shared that he has no indication that Murray has seen the film; he added that Bill's brother Joel has seen it and likes it a great deal. The documentarian added that he likes to think that Murray would like "Murray."
Avallone expressing the fantasy that Murray would show in the back of a theater and give him a thumbs up during a post-screening discussion expresses the thoughts of Murray fans everywhere.
Another expressed desire regarding the impact of "Murray" was that viewers "start to think more like Bill Murray." he added that Murray reminded him of Santa in that "he comes in and leaves them smiling."
Waldo on Weed
Only knowing that the latest project of Avallone is titled "Waldo on Weed" prompted asking if the title character was either a cannabis expert or a stoner. It turns out that Waldo is the son of a friend of Avallone; the title refers to the boy using cannabis oil to treat cancer.
The statements that "Brian and Waldo are really fun characters," and that the film is about "what a father would do to save a son" provide to good reasons to discover where''s "Waldo" when it is released.
The similarities between Avallone and Murray extend beyond sharing a great offbeat sense of humor; they both passionately pursue their bliss and seek to provide the rest of us with the same. There is no doubt regarding the truth of the tale that they both awesomely succeed.
A telephone chat with '70s child star/current working actor/successful director Moosie Drier confirmed that puberty is not fatal to every classic sitcom kid. Our talk as Drier drove from a voice-over session for the Fox series "The Gifted" to pick up 12 year-old son Clayton from school was a genuine pleasure. The downside for folks seeking dirt is that there is very little to begin with, and the kind and sweet nature of Drier required not pursuing ANYTHING potentially embarrassing about his personal life.
The proverbial "how it all began" was the (reviewed) recent Time Life DVD release of the sixth and final season of the truly pioneering edgy mid-60s to early '70s fast-paced sketch-comedy show "Rowan & Marti's Laugh In." This series that carefully straddled the line between vaudeville and burlesque personified the philosophy that sacred cows make the tastiest hamburgers.
Drier moving up from regular appearances to being a featured member of the "Laugh-In" ensemble the final season prompted my dubbing him the "Cousin Oliver" of the series. The kismet began with a tweet to that effect along with an interview request coinciding with a rare occasion on which Drier checked his Twitter account. The next part of the story was that Drier had been friends with the real Cousin Oliver Robbie Rist and still playfully teased him about that role. The ONLY regret regarding the interview was forgetting an intent to comment that Rist was a jinx.
Drier agreed to an interview despite not granting many journalists that privilege. An initial nice surprise was learning that a surprisingly large overlap existed between his friends since childhood/celebrities of all ages and my childhood idols who have been just as terrific as Drier regarding speaking with me.
Spirit of Tab Hunter Lives On
The most striking impression of Drier is that a warranted comparison with '50s matinee idol Tab Hunter extends beyond the enduring all-American boy good looks of both men. These actors who grew up without a father have positive outlooks and loving natures that put 99-percent of us to shame. The simple fact is that Drier not getting one red cent from sales of "Laugh-In" DVDs and not promoting any project makes speaking with me a purely selfless act.
An interview in which Hunter thanked this operator of a "boutique" website for taking the time to talk with him cemented the sense that I would personally mourn his passing when it occurred. His death this July showed that that prediction came true. That loss still is felt. The better news is that 50-something Drier likely will be with us a few more decades.
A Child Star By Any Other Name
A desire to avoid asking Drier questions that he has answered a million times before prompted an online search for his real name; the failure to find anything reinforced that he is selective regarding interviews.
Drier shared that Moosie was not his God-given name but said that he has never been called anything else. He added that he had his legal name changed to Moosie and that it was on his driver's license.
The origin story of the name is that former New York Yankee Bill "Moose" Skowron was a friend of the father of Drier.
Bewitched, Newhart, and Jeannie
Drier, who mostly does voice-over work and directs plays and television (including an episode of the sitcom "Reba"), stated that he stopped acting roughly 20 years ago. He then noted that his girlfriend of five years Erin was a child actor.
Clues that included Drier sharing that the early acting career of his highly significant other was more high profile then his led to correctly guessing that her last name was Murphy. The subsequent gushing about Murphy by Drier included calling her "one of the coolest" and "one of the sweetest" people alive awesomely reflected the spirit of the '60sfantasycom "Bewitched" in which Murphy played young witch Tabitha. The kismet this time was watching a "Bewitched" episode on DVD right before speaking with Drier and without any knowledge of his relationship with Murphy.
Drier stating that "Erin and I kind of laugh about it" in reference to growing up as child stars males one happy that these kids have someone who can relate to their relatively unique growing pains. He also shared that he "wasn't seeing many child actors in my adult life until he started dating other child actors."
The discussion about Murphy led to my expressing sympathy related to a moderately high social-media profile making her and Drier easy targets for assertive fans of hers. He laughed and said that he was surprised how many times that someone asked her to twitch her nose. He pointed out that an amusing aspect of that was the twitch was the magic trigger of series lead Samantha, and that Tabitha would rub her fingers together to perform her spells.
Drier expressed the practice of fans associating child stars with their roles by stating that "people really identify the actor with the character if they played it long enough." He added that "for better or worse that actor will always be identified with that one role."
A personal association regarding Drier is his role as the young son of divorced wacky neighbor/best friend Howard Borden (Bill Daily) on "The Bob Newhart Show." The below photo shows Drier playing his part in that classic sitcom.
The first bit of kismet this time is that good Midwestern boy Daily is another star who has granted your not-so-humble reviewer an interview. His kindness extended to giving me a signed genie bottle from his '60sfantasycom "I Dream of Jeannie." This experience was consistent with Drier identifying Daily as one of his favorite people.
The inability of fanatics (rather than fans) to distinguish between the actor and the role led to discussing Daily "Jeannie" co-star and fellow awesome Unreal TV interview subject Barbara Eden. Drier started this conversation by stating that he knew the son of Eden and still occasionally visited her,
Drier then stumped the chump in sharing that he played the son of Eden in a May 1973 TV Movie that was the failed pilot for the sitcom "The Barbara Eden Show." This show played homage to "The Dick Van Dyke Show" by having Eden divide her time between dealing with egos and other problems as the head writer of a soap opera and family-oriented problems on the home front.
Drier stated that he did not recall his role on "Laugh-In" expanding in the final season; he did remember the producers bringing in child actress Mona Tera to perform with him. A related memory was appearing with Tera on the cover of the L..A. Times television listing supplement. The following photos are "Laugh-In" ones of Drier and Tera.
Drier did have many fun behind-the-scenes stories. The sweetest was the habit of Lily Tomlin using down times to invite him to join her in the over-sized chair used in the skits in which Tomlin played precious five year-old Edith Ann. Tomlin sometimes speaking to Drier in her Edith Ann persona and sometimes in her own voice made this story even better.
The most scandalous tale was that Drier constantly smelled marijuana smoke around the dressing-room door of star Alan Sues. Murphy being special to Drier and the campy and flamboyant style of Sues required mentioning "Bewitched" star Paul Lynde. Drier spoke for every child of the '60s and the '70s in saying that "Paul Lynde was my hero as a kid; how frickin' funny was that human being." Learning that Murphy shared those sentiments was an interview highlight.
Richard Nixon was the first name that Drier cited as someone who was exciting to meet on "Laugh-In." He rattled off several more of the seemingly infinite roster of A-Listers who made appearances. That series landing Drier an appearance on a Sammy Davis, Jr. television special was the provided example of "Laugh-In" stars recruiting Drier to appear on other programs.
Drier lacked any memories regarding the seemingly abrupt cancellation of "Laugh-In." He did comment that "it [sudden cancellation] is common in the industry. There is so much red tape."
Drier had more insight regarding "Bewitched" packing it in after eight years. He shared that the series was set for a ninth season but that a reason that he provided off the record prompted abandoning that plan. One clue is that any speculation regarding the story behind ending things most likely will be inaccurate.
Oh God Cousin Oliver
Our discussion about Cousin Oliver portrayor Robbie Rist began with Drier expressing his childhood love for "The Brady Bunch," which added Oliver in response to the Brady kids getting older. Drier added that he was not up for that role and that "Robbie and i have been friends forever and still are."
The bromance between Drier and Rist really came through in discussing Drier guest-starring on the "Bully For You" episode on the mid-70s Saturday morning sitcom "Big John Little John" in which Rist played the 12 year-old version of an adult who alternated between being a kid and a grown-ass man. Memories of playing the bully tormenting Little John until that target became Big John clearly delighted Drier.
An awesome modern note regarding all this was the story of Drier hosting a Hollywood Hills mini-reunion for child stars of the '70s five years ago. A highlight for Drier was meeting Murphy at that event; a highlight for "Brady" fans was the group surprising Rist with a "Jump the Shark" award for playing Cousin Oliver. (I believe that Drier stated that some Brady kids were present.) The neglected opportunity this time was whether the presence of Rist jinxed the gathering in any manner.
I also learned that Drier and Rist were up for some of the same roles but did not compete for the Rist role as the adopted son of Ted Baxter on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
The Big Join Little John theme also applied regarding Rist and Drier competing to play the son of the character whom actor/country singer John Denver portrayed in the 1977 Carl Reiner comedy film "Oh, God!." Drier rightfully thought that the straight blonde hair and glasses that made Rist look like "a little John Denver" made that kid a sure bet to play his kid.
Drier getting cast was only the beginning of the story. His mother calling the mother of Rist to share the news prompted that woman to cry over her son not getting the role. The rest of the story was that mother then speaking to Drier and telling her that she was glad that he was the one who got the role if Rist could not have it.
The following photo of Rist as Cousin Oliver shows that the comparison to Denver is highly warranted.
Discussion of Drier playing soda-fountain worker Riley on the pre-"Saved by the Bell" "Bell" style '80s live-action Saturday morning kidcom "Kids Incorporated" prompted the most surprising reveal in our hour-long conversation. He volunteered that he did that series to pay off a tax debt about which he learned when he was emancipated at the age of 16. The rest of the story was that Drier learned at the time that his mother had not filed or paid taxes regarding his earnings.
The exceptional nature of Drier particularly came through in this portion of the conversation. The aspect of "Kids" that had a singing group comprised of kids that seemed to range in age from 10-to-15 treat 18-to-20 year-old Riley like a doofus and their house boy prompted jokingly asking Drier if he ever felt like slapping (early 21st century singer) Fergie of The Blacked Eye Peas. He took this is stride and stated both that Fergie is Stacy Ferguson to him and that he has the honor of being one of the few people allowed to call her by her birth name.
The praise continued with Drier describing Ferguson as "an angel" who was "not like a Hollywood child brat in any way." He added that she is "super talented."
An especially fun moment came in telling Drier about watching part of a "Kids" episode to prepare for our conversation. The plot revolved around Riley pretending to own the club where he worked in order to impress a visiting high-school rival. That guy showed up in an expensive car and wearing haute couture. My telling Drier that I did not watch the entire episode because I predicted that Riley got caught in his lie and 'fessed up and that his buddy then admitted to being as big of fake prompted Drier to laugh and reply "You're probably right."
Say Good Night Moosie
"Bob Newhart" being the only known exception to Drier being directly or indirectly closely associated with a series in which it is easy to imagine the characters continuing to go about their daily (no pun intended) business after the sets go dark for the last time seems very apt for this righteous dude. He simply continues the habit that has persisted for 40 years of showing up when called to act or direct and does not stress when the calls stop coming regarding a particular project.
On a larger level, it is nice to think that 100s of people have probably benefited from small kindnesses (such as his likely putting a quarter in soon-to-expire parking meters) by Drier without having a clue that he is the kid from the HILARIOUS ice-cream shop scene from "Bob Newhart."
[EDITOR'S NOTE: The impact of reviewing this venture into Blogland four years after first posting it the day after the suicide of Williams embarrassingly still makes the eyes of your not-so-humble reviewer leak. (This is from a guy who loves making "it's too soon" jokes SECONDS after just about every tragedy.)]
This anniversary coming a few weeks after the death of "Mork" creator/producer Garry Marshall makes this post even sadder. Marshall did not evoke the same level of emotion but had an awesome talent for discovering folks who did."
Most celebrity deaths are a source of personal amusement to the extent that Natalie Wood jokes, the Jessica Savitch "The Date of Her Death, The Death of Her Date" t-shirt, and similar humor related to bizarre celebrity deaths from the '80s (and even Diana and much more recent bon mots along those lines) still evokes smiles. The fact that the very recent death of Robin Williams is quickly receiving so much press and that online comments seem universally respectful shows that this one is different.
Williams simply is the comedian of the earliest Gen Xers. I will never forget "Mork and Mindy" premiering on a Thursday in October 1978 in the dark days before even VCRs.
This was the day to which I refer to as the date of my shotgun bar mitzah, which involved conducting the bare minimum of a service and only doing that to appease my grandmother.
My parents wanted to take me to dinner that night, but I wanted to postpone that meal one night to watch "Mork." They prevailed, and I scanned the TV listings each week to ensure catching the pilot when it reran.
Writing these thoughts also evokes memories of getting chucked out of Hebrew School and having to get a private tutor for being unduly disruptive and irreverent in the former.
Responding that it was when all our detested relatives come over to mooch off us was not the desired response when asked what made Passover night different than every other night. Further, relentlessly challenging the logic of setting a place for a ghost at the table did not go over well. (This also involved several "there he is" and pointing to blank space moments.)
It is nice to think that these incidents would have made Williams proud. He once commented during "Mork" that Chinese people eat Jewish food on Christmas (or perhaps New Year's) day. He additionally remarked during a more recent interview for German television that the reason that there is no comedy in Germany is that they killed all the funny people.
Additionally, "Mork" fans will never forget Williams regularly calling co-star Pam Dawber a "shika goddess."
Another memory of the hipness of "Mork" relates to my mother coming in the room just as Williams comes bounding down the attic stairs wearing nothing but a shower cap and a towel in anticipation of attending a baby shower with Mindy in an early episode. The puzzled reaction of my mother must be similar to parents coming across their kids watching early SNL episodes a few years earlier. The fact that the "old folks" do not get the humor is part of what makes it cool.
A few years later, Jonathon Winters joining the "Mork" cast adds wonderful humor to otherwise dismal episodes. This development relates to Williams earlier stating that he did not feel guilty about stealing Winters' career because Winters was not using it.
Another Williams memory from that era relates to a prep. school classmate having the "Reality, What a Concept" album. Current thoughts regarding repeatedly listening to that recording in my friend's dorm room now creates thoughts that prior Perkins Hall residents sat around listening to George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, and Bob Newhart albums.
The next Williams memory relates to "The World According to Garp" being the first selection in the film club series to which I subscribed as a college freshman.
I felt very sophisticated sitting in a plastic folding chair in a room that reeked of beer and discovering that genuine classic film. Learning in 2013 that Warner Archive was re-releasing the previously discontinued DVD of "Garp" was even more exciting than learning a month ago that Warner Home Video is releasing the '66 "Batman" this November. The even better news is that, as the Unreal TV review shows, "Garp" holds up very well.
The final memory relates to an event during my first year in the real world. My roommate was fanatical about "Good Morning Vietnam" and very excited about seeing it for his fourth (and my first) time at the Bethesda (Maryland) Cinema and Drafthouse. This film seemed tailor-made for Williams, and this was the first of many trips to theaters that borrow the "pizza bowl" model for films.
Part of the genius behind all this is that Williams was brilliantly clever and truly understood the world. It is tragic in the truest sense of the world that this insight often makes accepting the world as it so difficult. The world, and not those who see it the way that is and care enough that it really bothers them, is what needs to change.
Following the example of an online comment that states "Mork signing off; nanu nanu" is apt but very sad. It is better to leave things at "Calling Orson; come in your blackholeness."
As Part One of this two-part post on an interview with former child star Harlen Carraher of the Unreal TV reviewed '60s fantasycom "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" promises, this conclusion to this series follows up the coverage of Carraher's "Muir" years with a focus on his life in the years following that experience.
The awesomeness that is Carraher fully comes across in his sincerely ensuring that anything that he shares that can be interpreted as being critical was not intended as such.
The aforementioned discussion of the "Muir" years includes Carraher explaining that his father being an advertising executive facilitated the acting career of the younger Carraher man. A related aspect of this is that the older Carraher being an alcoholic prevented him from working, thus making Harlen the sole supporter of the family.
Carraher stated very clearly regarding this that "my father was a loving, caring, wonderful father who just drank a little too much." Carraher further emphasized that his father never became violent or abusive in any manner.
The wonderful father-son memories that Carraher shared included the two of them riding a promotional old-style Global Van Lines truck that his father had designed to be displayed at Disney Land right out of that park.
Carraher acknowledged that the financial dependence of his family on him was "a big burden" that became more stressful when "I was no longer in demand." Carraher elaborated by stating that his voice changing when he was 13 or 14 and his beginning to lose self-confidence during that period effectively ended his acting career. This ever-cheerful man further clarified that "the whole acting experience was wonderful" until he reached that point.
Advice to Child Stars
Carraher candidly stated that the only money that he personally received from his work on "Muir" was the money, which he believed was 15 percent of his earnings as a child actor, that the child actor protection act known as Coogan's Law required placing in trust for him. He added that that money financed the education that he received in the engineering program at the University of Southern California.
Citing the drug-related death of '60s sitcom "Family Affairs" former child star Anissa Jones, Carraher strongly advocated that Coogan's Law prohibited distributing any money held under it until the actor reached the age of 21. He explained that most people are too immature to properly manage those funds at 18.
Related advice was that the family of these children save the money that these offspring earned.
On an associated note, Carraher responded negatively when asked if any current child star mentored him when he was cast in "Muir." However, he stated that such a support program was a good idea.
Carraher further praised the work of the non-profit organization A Minor Consideration. The website of that organization stated that its purpose included providing "young performers" "guidance and support." Fellow '60s sitcom star Paul Petersen of "The Donna Reed Show" helms this charity.
[A subsequent Unreal TV interview with Petersen did not go so well. He already was stressed and takes his work VERY seriously.]
A discussion regarding Carraher's children began with the surprising news that his acting career and "Muir" itself did not interest his 14 year-old son Rory, who is heavily into the Call of Duty video game, and the younger sisters of Rory. Carraher and I agreed that having a father who starred in a sitcom would have excited us.
Things took a more serious note in Carraher discussing Rory being diagnosed with a high-functioning level of Asperger's Syndrome. This proud and loving father further shared that Rory attends a traditional school.
This conversation regarding autism encompassed the book titled "Louder Than Words: A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism" that actress Jenny McCarthy wrote about her experiences as the mother of an autistic child.
Carraher stated both "I love her book," and "I really related to it." He added that he came very close to having an opportunity to have McCarthy autograph a copy for him.
Carraher went on to very calmly express that he considered the claims of McCarthy regarding a link between autism and a child receiving immunization shots "outrageous." Carraher further explained that he loved and respected McCarthy but that (like him) she was an actor rather than a scientist." He added that "I don't think that actors should talk about things that they do not know about."
Directing some of the love that Carrraher lavished on the people whose names came up in our conversation his way is the only apt ending for this abbreviated recap of his life. He did not let an experience that very few seven year-olds have go to his head, showed exceptional maturity when his career ended far sooner than it should have (he would have made an awesome Butch on "Nanny and the Professor"), built a terrific professional career, and became an awesome parent.
One of the best things about speaking with former child star Harlen Carraher over the telephone was finding a guy with whom I would enjoy sharing a wonderfully disgustingly sweet "secret menu" cotton candy frappuccino. For the benefit of folks who are not true classic TV fans, Carraher played elementary school aged Jonathan Muir on the '60s fantasycom "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir." (Unreal TV has previously reviewed the DVD releases of "Muir.")
The tremendous charm of Carraher the adult relates to his kind nature, age-appropriate enthusiasm and awesome parental nature. Respective examples of this include persistently playing telephone tag despite not receiving ANY benefit from this interview, exclaiming "that's my favorite movie" on my speculating that he likes "Chinatown," and conveying his tremendous love for his fourteen-year old autistic son Rory and Rory's 12 and 10 year-old sisters.
Carraher sharing so much during our 90-minute chat requires breaking coverage of that visit into two parts. The current focus is on Carraher's "Muir" related experiences. The second part will shift to his thoughts on being a child star and other equally interesting aspects of his adult life.
Hopefully achieved objectives of this conversation included not asking the same questions that Cararhcr had been asked 1,000s of time and to provide some depth.
Carraher stressed that pursuing an acting career was his choice. He added that his father was an advertising executive with contacts that facilitated that activity. This career in that context began when Carraher was 18 months old. He also shared that he was the first voice of Sprout in the Green Giant television commercials.
Carraher described the casting process for "Muir" as a cattle call; he shared as well that he did not recall that anyone whom he beat out for the part went on to do anything big.
Carraher attributed looking like "Muir" star Hope Lange, who played the titular widow, and being able to remember his lines as primary reasons for his getting the role.
Even before discussing the background summarized above, Carraher asked that I tell co-star Kellie Flanagan, who played Carraher's slightly older sister Candy Muir on the series, that he hoped that she was well and that he was sorry that "I was a little brat" if I spoke with her, On being asked to elaborate regarding the second comment, Carraher explained that Flanagan was "like my big sister, and I was a typical little boy at the time."
[EDITOR'S NOTE: The interest of Carraher in connecting with Flanagan and Flanagan expressing the same interest in an interview in another forum prompted tracking down the latter and providing her the contact information for the former. She is just as nice as her fictional brother, and hopes run high for an interview with her in this space.]
Carraher expressed similar regard for a pre "The Partridge Family" Danny Bonaduce in reference to Bonaduce guest starring on "Muir." Carraher nicely but strongly asserted that Bonaduce got the role based on his talent, rather than on Bomnaduce's father Joseph writing the episode in which Danny appeared.
Charles Nelson Reilly
The combination of the persona of "Muir" star Charles Nelson Reilly being so flamboyant and the even late '60s not being the most enlightened of times prompted asking if that characterization of highly anxious Claymore Gregg prompted any negative public feedback. Carraher responded "absolutely not."
Carraher then described Reilly as "very professional and very kind," that "I really enjoyed working with him," and that "he was perfect for the role."
Carraher added that Reilly was a horrible driver and ran down a boom man while filming one scene; this stage hand lived but broke his leg.
The brief discussion related to sexuality in the context of this topic included Carraher volunteering "I'm very straight myself" but expressing an awesome acceptance for gay folks. He is sincere in stating that some of his best friends are gay.
The conversation turned to Scruffy, the wire fox terrier who played the Muir family pet of the same name in the context of Flanagan commenting in an interview that Scruffy was paid more than Flanagan. Carraher responded that he did not recall that but stated that that would not surprise him. He explained that the animal trainer on the series was one of the best in that profession.
The bonus tidbit that Carraher shared regarding Scruffy was that the original intent was to name him Rusty in reference to the rust that formed on the hull of a sailing ship.
A question regarding whether any of props in the series were from the 1947 "Muir" film prompted the enthusiastic response "I don't know; I would be thrilled to know that it was."
Carraher elaborated by stating "I am a huge Natalie Wood fan." This was in the context of Wood starring in the 1947 film.
Carraher stated that Wood never visited the set of the "Muir" series and that he had never met her. He added that his brother appeared in the uber-awesome Wood film "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice" but that Harlen never visited that set.
The portion of our conversation regarding "Muir" guest star Bill Bixby revealed that Carraher and I were on the same wavelength. A confession that "Muir" remained one of my Top 10 favorite shows but that I liked Bixby's '60s fantasycom "My Favorite Martian" a little better prompted Carraher (most likely with a wide grin on his face) to state "me too."
Carraher stated that he did not recall Bixby discussing any techniques regarding the special effects on "Martian" but that Bixby was one of the nicest guest stars who appeared on "Muir." One aspect of this regard was Bixby being very gracious when seven or eight year-old budding photographer Carraher asked to take candid photos of him.
This lead to discussing personal aspects of the life (and genuinely tragic death) of Bixby that included his being a terrific father in real life. This in turn related to both a general discussion of Bixby's sitcom "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" and comments in Unreal TV reviews of that series that Bixby seemed to be the kind of dad that many children of the '60s and '70s wished that they had. Carraher agreed and added that he loved "Father."
Carraher followed up by stating that future "Coach" star Shelley Fabares was equally gracious about Carraher taking her photo when she guest starred.
Carraher provided the best way to wrap up this portion of the recap of our talk early in that conversation. A mention of highly prolific singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson appearing on the show prompted Carraher to joyfully sing "you put the lime in the coconut and then shake it all up." This awesomely conveyed that Carraher thoroughly enjoyed acting on the show and retained the spark of childhood that all of us require,
Online correspondence with producer/director/writer/cinematographer Michael Williams of Mississippi-based Shendopen Films since reviewing his "Others" like 2017 suspense horror film "The Atoning" provided a strong sense that this 30 year-old talent represented the best qualities of independent filmmakers and that he was living a well-deserved happy life. It was equally clear that Mrs. Williams raised the boy right.
Williams subsequently sharing his (also reviewed) 2014 post-apocalyptic dust bowl drama "Ozland" further cemented our friendship. The central "Of Mice and Men" relationship and the themes of looking for a better place in a dystopian society and of ascension prompted good relatively deep dialogue. Lighter correspondence revealed that his talented "nephew" Mick played Toto in the film.
A terrific telephone conversation with Williams earlier this week confirmed that he is one of the good ones. His offering exclusive photos for this article was the icing on the cake.
A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man
The quality in both senses of that term of "Atoning" and "Ozland" makes it clear that the filmmaking skill of Williams comes from within; his cinematography on "Ozland" alone creates intense excitement regarding a possible Blu-ray release of that film.
Williams shared that his parents and his teachers at Oak Hill Academy facilitated (rather than encouraged) his interest in film. He provided the general example of receiving permission to prepare video projects, rather than assigned written reports. A specific example was his group making a film instead of writing about "The Red Badge of Courage."
Williams added that Oak Hill excused him from fulfilling graduation duties that conflicted with a film festival. This festival subsequently benefiting his career reinforced that value of that accommodation.
Parental support came in the form of being happy so long as Williams got a college degree in "something;" his earning the Top Film Student Award for 2009 from the University of Southern Mississippi is one of many indications that letting him do his own thing paid off.
Flattery Through Awesome Imitation
The aforementioned similarities between "Atoning" and "The Others" and the common elements between "Ozland" and both its stated source material and the Steinbeck story "Of Mice and Men" opened the door to discussing whether Williams watched "Oz" and "Others" with thoughts of how he would have made those films.
Williams responded that he had forgotten about "Others" until he was 1/2 through filming "Atoning." He added that he "was more inspired by 'Beetlejuice;' I have loved it since I was five years-old." He also stated that he has always loved "Oz." The appeal of "Beetlejuice" related to depicting the life of the haunter, rather than that of the haunted.
On a more general note, Williams stated that he based the well-filmed highly atmospheric style of "Atoning" on "Insidious." The exclusive images below from the filming of "Atoning" nicely illustrate that style.
The "scoop" of the interview came when Williams stated that an episode of the television series "Ancient Aliens" inspired "Ozland." The theme of that offering was that aliens coming to earth may assume that any novel that they discover is a true story. Williams stated as well that "in the creation of 'Ozland,' I tried to stay away from the movie." He did state that the flying monkeys from the Disney film "Oz the Great and Powerful" inspired (successfully) making an even scarier monkey for his movie.
Being an Out Religious Southern Man
An enviable relationship with freshly graduated commercial interior design student Cody Moore, an equally strong bond with his family, and being an active church goer all contribute to Williams being the good guy that comes across in his films. It seemed just as clear that the relationship with Moore provided the incentive to risk his closeness with his relatives and his church by coming out.
Williams shared that a prior relationship prompted coming out to a few close friends, one of whom subsequently rejected him. He added that he and Moore had dated for 10 months before Williams came out to his family (who already had a good sense of the importance of Moore) and his community-at-large.
The strong support of the community for "Ozland" and "Atoning" compounded the fear of Williams that these people who meant so much to him would reject him for being gay. His positive simple statement regarding all the people in his life was that "I realized that no one really cares, with a few exceptions."
Further hearing that Williams "can be out in public as a filmmaker [in Mississippi] and as a church member" was very nice. The fact that Williams scheduled our interview to not conflict with attending church and having lunch with his family during the week perfectly illustrated this.
An amusing aspect of this related to discussing that Garry Marshall determined that his marriage benefited from his staying at a hotel whenever he made a film, even if he was shooting in Los Angeles. Williams lightheartedly responded that Moore did not like the manifestations of the stress that "Movie Mike" experiences during a shoot. Not probing any further seemed best.
"Ozland" As Gay Allegory
Although emphasizing that he purposefully makes films with general themes and does not center them around gay characters. Williams shared that "Ozland" reflected some of his personal thoughts at the time of making that film. He noted that the big-brother/protector character Emri discussed whether he ever would find someone to love.
This led to Williams politely stating that he was "very adamant that these are not homosexual characters" and then stating that "I hate society not allowing love without a perception of sexuality." In this case, the love between Emri and his naive fellow drifter Leif was of the brotherly variety.
Williams added that another "Ozland" theme was that there always was common ground.
Although not discussed, the perception that Emri and Leif were gay extended beyond naughty thoughts regarding two good-looking young guys essentially isolated on a desert island. Many gay men fantasize about a handsome Mr. Right who either does not ridicule us for fearing witches and flying monkeys and cares enough to get furious when we are life-threatening stupid or who still is so innocent that thoughts of these creatures create terror. This particularly comes through in a scene in which Emri does a hilarious imitation of the tin man out of love for Leif.
Working With 'Innocents'
The performance of child actor Cannon Bosarge being a highlight of "Atoning" and 20-something Zack Ratkovich doing a superb job as Leif in "Ozland" prompted asking Williams about his secret for getting good performances out of "innocents." It turns out that it comes down to a talent for casting.
Williams quickly replied that he could not take credit for Bosarge; he noted that he first cast that tween thespian in a short film in 2012 or 2013 and had him in mind when writing the role of Sam in "Atoning." Williams emphasized that he still required that Bosarge audition for the role of Sam.
Specific praise included statements such as that Williams "can talk to Cannon like an adult" and noting that Bosarge is "on point more than some adult actors." Cuteness entered the picture when Williams commented that he would see Bosarge be focused while acting but revert to being a kid by doing things such as playing a bottle flipping game in the corner during a break.
The behind-the-scenes photo below relates to an adorable scene in which a gleeful Sam makes pancakes, oblivious to his trashing the kitchen and ending up with inedible results.
Regarding Ratkovich, Williams shared that that actor won him over by reading a monologue about the Wicked Witch in a manner that convinced Williams that Ratkovich believed in the witch. Williams also stated that the preparation of Ratkovich included studying YouTube videos of the reactions of 8-to-12 year-old kids at birthday parties.
One can only hope that Williams gets inspired to make a "Freaky Friday" body-switching film that casts Ratkovich and Bosarge as the (young) father-and-son.
Well-earned admiration for Williams prompted asking about plans for releasing a collection of his short films; he responded that he considered releasing those movies as DVD extras on apt feature films. The provided example was including his 25-minute 2013 super-hero "Kane" with a full-length film from that genre if he ever made one.
Williams reported that a few scripts that he had written were not ready to produce. The better news was that a film titled "Antler" that Williams described as an "E.T." style thriller was progressing.
Williams further expressed interest in making more music videos. The following YouTube video of his very recent work (featuring Bosarge as a Popcorn Kid) in this area provides proof of the good instincts of Williams regarding this genre
A more immediate project makes excellent use of the cinematography skills of Williams; he is fresh off working under BombCyclone conditions as a crew member of "Driven" by Emri portrayor Glenn Payne. This dark psychological drama hopefully will see the light of day this summer.
Good News and Bad News
The good news regarding the prolific-by-30 career of Williams is that we can look forward to several more decades of him making quality films in a kind-and-gentle manner. The bad news is that well-deserved success MAY result in commerce playing a larger role than art in his film. One can only hope that taking the boy out of Mississippi does not take the Mississippi out of the boy.
Lithuanian Filmmaker Romas Zabarauskas on His Work and Campaign to End Sexuality-Based Discrimination
The blessing regarding the (mostly) guys who make indie films is that knowing their work provides a cool one-percenter feeling of being one of the elite relatively few who are in on the awesomeness; the curse is that the appeal of these labors of love and the men who make them elicits righteous indignation that the studio systems prevents them from making widely distributed films that have the integrity to which every director and writer should aspire. This particularly is true regarding young lion Lithuanian auteur Romas Zabarauskas.
The (reviewed) semi-autobiographical Zabarauskas film "You Can't Escape Lithuania" discusses the extent to which this triple threat producer/director/writer will go to get his vision in front of audiences. The reel-life Zabarauskas refers to the real incident of his sire offering a nude photo of himself as a crowd funding premium to make a movie. One cannot imagine Affleck and Damon issuing similar "junk" bonds if faced with a lack of funds for "Good Will Hunting."
On top of this, Zabarauskas uses both the media of film and the exposure (no pun intended) that his movies provide to further his cause of shedding light on the government-supported rampant discrimination against homosexuals in Lithuania. This is particularly so in the (also reviewed) superb 2011 film "Porno Melodrama," which is light on the former and moderately heavy on the latter.
Logistical considerations required conducting a recent interview with Zabarauskas over email. The American tradition of doing everything in a half-assed manner requires mostly just pasting the submitted questions and received answers below with minor editing.
1. You “escaped” the repressive culture in Lithuania to attend film schools in Paris and New York; why did you go back?
Think global, act local. As a filmmaker, I need to work with the context I know best, and at least for now it's the Lithuanian one.
It's also not a selfless choice. I feel happy by meaningfully contributing to positive changes here. And despite many challenges, LGBT+ community and culture is getting stronger and more colourful here in Lithuania. It's exciting to be part of it.
2. Can you provide any sense of challenges related to dating a more reticent man in such an oppressive culture considering your activism, your films, and posing for widely circulated nude photos?
My boyfriend accepts me for who I am, so it's all fine. And although our culture is indeed oppressive, I consider us both very privileged – we don't face any danger or abuse, we hold hands in the middle of Vilnius and rarely receive any insults for it. As for my "nudes", ya wish – it was only one photo and not widely circulated, simply sent for the backers of my last film to make the crowdfunding campaign more fun and eye-catching.
3. Your films address the above; to what extent are they auto-biographical?
It would spoil my secrets if I'd tell you which things are real and which aren't. Some of the craziest things in You Can't Escape Lithuania are true, I can tell you this much... And the shooting of this film indeed became surreal when reality and fiction started to mix. But perhaps that's a subject of another movie to make.
4. Your films indicate that your parents strongly support your art; has that enthusiasm waned regarding the controversial and explicit nature of your films?
No, my family stays truly supportive. But do you really think my films are that controversial? Rather tame I would say, by today's standards. At the same time, it's hard for me to imagine a film without some sexual exploration. Filming other people's feelings, thoughts, intimate moments – that's somewhat erotic in itself.
5. Speaking of which, have you had any concrete sense of your films (especially “Porno” and “Escape”) impacting reform in Lithuania?
I don't consider my films educational or trying to make a straightforward point for tolerance and equality. But they certainly did contribute [to] promoting LGBT+ visibility and culture in Lithuania. Otherwise, I take credit for pushing some famous people to voice their support for the LGBT+ equality, and others – to come out. I do some social initiatives aside from my movies which might have contributed to changing attitudes more directly. For example, a year ago I published a book "Lithuania Comes Out: 99 LGBT+ Stories". That was truly groundbreaking – never before there were so many Lithuanians coming out so openly, and from such different backgrounds.
6. Do you think that a fear of being outed prevents gay politicians in Lithuania from being more supportive of reform?
Might be! I think that in general most of our politicians are either truly backwards, or pretending to be – in order to be elected. Not much hope here, but it will still change for the better sometime in the future.
7. As a citizen of a repressive country, what do you consider the purpose of Pride? Is it to too show that there are many mainstream gay men and lesbian women who simply want equality and mean straight people no harm or is it an excuse for hairless 18 year-olds to roller skate only wearing Speedos and overweight hairy middle-aged men to parade in dresses?
Well, I see nothing wrong in people expressing themselves in different ways! For me, the purpose of Pride is to commemorate [the] Stonewall Riots and continue the global campaign for LGBT+ equality. We need to remember our history and keep writing it further.
8. What are you working on, and what does your future hold?
I'm currently working on my upcoming film The Lawyer. It will only be ready in 2019, so there is not much I can share with you now, but if you're curious – follow our page on Facebook and be the first to know!
As the above responses demonstrate, Zabarauskas is a bright and committed guy who is committed to the cause and providing inspiration and a voice for his repressed brother. One can be sure that he will be an influence if the Lithuanian government fully joins most of the world in the 21st century.
A recent telephone conversation with '50s-era actor/singer Tab Hunter in conjunction with his recent (Unreal TV reviewed) documentary "Tab Hunter Confidential" positively (and aptly) proves the Chinese adage regarding being careful what you wish for.
Hunter is as friendly and endearing as many of his roles convey, and that sincerity and warmth makes one want to respect his wish to treat him as an ordinary bloke. Such a desire requires tremendous restraint regarding wanting to portray him as the golden boy whom we all know and love from his films before meeting the awesome real man who detests labels.
The clear and understandable position of Hunter on the subject is "People always want to label people; I hate labels." In this case, this sentiment extends beyond the non-issue 60-year discussion of the sexual orientation of Hunter to early promotional nicknames that include "The Sigh Guy."
This respect also is behind our conversation focusing on the interesting life of a man whose own blessings and curses included natural movie star looks and charm combined with incredible shyness and being born gay at a time that knowledge of that orientation ruins the lives of most people who fall on that end of the Kinsey scale. This is in contrast with discussing those who dun him wrong.
A respect for folks who enduere the world-at-large identifying them as fictional characters and feeling free to accost them every time that they step out of the door always prompts asking if they prefer being addressed by their birth (rather than studio-given) name. The awesome response "The only people who call me Art know me as Art" this time got things off to a great start.
Hunter showed his further exceptional nature in politely expressing a desire to not discuss the highly public circumstances regarding the death of his former co-star Natalie Wood. He went on to express gratitude for Wood's widower Robert Wagner participating in the "Confidential" film and described that pair as a "fabulous couple" then stated that he felt "fortunate to work with exceptional people" throughout his career.
Hunter was equally sincere in discussing his shy nature and (well-compensated) discomfort in being thrust into the limelight based on (with sincere apologies for the label) being dreamy, The extension of this was his discussing being far outside his "comfort zone" regarding discussing such intimate aspects of his life.
The reason for his coming-out is discussed below and does not involve a desire for either fame or fortune. Like fellow (more apologies for the label) Hollywood royalty Greta Garbo, Hunter largely just wanted to be left alone.
A shared love of horses prompted asking Hunter about his filly Harlow, who appears in the "Confidential" film. Hunter responded she's fabulous" and shared that she's a new mother. Hunter added that he named this foal Skylark because he heard Hoagie Carmichael singing the song "Skylark" on the car radio when Hunter was was driving to meet the new arrival.
A question regarding whether the appearance of Hunter's mare Swizzlestick in three of his early films earned the horse a SAG card lead to learning that she was better on screen than performing as a show jumper. The sad reason behind the latter was that she had an ovarian cyst.
The horse talk continued with asking Hunter if he had wanted to guest-star on the talking horse sitcom "Mister Ed." He replied that he did not but that he called a mare whose mouth went a mile a minute while eating her mid-day treat "Mrs. Ed."
The subject of horses also provide the first of several opportunities for Hunter to share a philosophy that can be considered horse sense. He noted that he thinks of working with a horse as "educating," rather than "training," him or her. He added that "shoveling shit" and doing other horse-related chores "was where I got a touch of reality in the unreal world" in which he found himself regarding his acting career.
The conversation turning to the mid-50s article in Confidential magazine that gave the documentary and the autobiography their name started with asking Hunter if he thought that the magazine would have written a completely false story about him if it had not learned of his arrest essentially for the "crime" of associating with homosexuals at a "limp-wristed pajama party." Hunter responded that he did not know.
Hunter then shared a little of the enormous amount of wisdom that his mother had imparted to him. That advice noted the importance of "accepting things as they are, not as I want them to be." Related wisdom was "don't pay attention to that, remember the masses are useless" in the context of tabloid journalism.
Reason for Coming Out When He Did
Asking Hunter about deciding the timing of deciding in the mid-2000s to write "Confidential" prompted more wonderful wisdom. He shared that Ellen DeGeneres told him during appearing on "Ellen" that someone else was planning to write a book outing him. The awesome Hunter response (which presumably he did not share on the air) was that he preferred that the public got the story "from the horse's mouth, not some horse's ass."
Hunter further stated that "what you are as a person (rather than as a label) is the most important thing.
The private nature of Hunter appeared again when asked for the secret of maintaining a more-than-30 year business and life partnership with "Confidential" producer Allan Glaser. He did not share information regarding their personal relationship and stated "I leave the film work to Allan," whom Hunter described as "a damn good filmmaker."
Hunter amended his answer in stating that he and Glaser worked together on the HILARIOUS 1985 Hunter film "Lust in the Dust." A very proud Hunter further volunteering that Glaser single-handed raised the money for "Dust" provided a clue regarding the love that remains strong much longer than most straight marriages.
Pure speculation that the dislike of Hunter both for labels and the despicable treatment (including a horrendously maliciously false report of animal lover Hunter beating his dog in the late '50s or early '60s) of him by the press is the reason for Hunter not marrying Glaser.
The response of Hunter to the question "what's next" prompted the Huntersque response "I don't know."
Hunter next shared his interest in making a film about the "beautiful love story" regarding blind Irish harpist Turlough O'Carolan. The Wikipedia entry on O'Carolan supports the conclusion of Hunter.
Great Knight Hunter
Hunter concluded our conversation only after the publicist who coordinated the interview validly pointed out that we had run quite a bit over time.
The concluding portion of this conversation with this (final apologies for one last label) chivalrous horseman involved Hunter thanking your humble reviewer to speaking with an actor he has adored since seeing him in the 1981 John Waters film "Polyester" and who considers the Hunter musical "Damn Yankees" one of his favorite films.
The natural response to the thanks of Hunter was that he had no reason to thank me and that I had every reason to be grateful to him. This reply (almost certainly with his trademark smile) was that "We should all be thankful.
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