How I got into the Movie Business
Back in Chicago the stretch of Lawrence Avenue from Alba Bowl on Kedzie to the motorcycle hangout by the bank building on Bernard was my home. Alba was my prime nighttime hangout, a 24 hour bowling alley where big money games rolled all night long. We lounged on the cars out front, looking for action, yelling at the girls in cars passing by, going off on sorties, four, five, six in a car looking for a bottle or an easy score, down to Bughouse Square to yell at the speakers, cruising out to the then new O'Hare airport at 3AM to walk the deserted air conditioned terminals, back to the corner to sit drinking coffee and eating fries at Bonfire till the manager grew disgusted with the endless coffee refills and threw us out. As the night wore on and the streets grew empty we went looking for trouble.
For a while on Sunday nights trouble was to grab a thick newspaper and go looking for an unlocked Caddy or a Lincoln in a driveway (not in our neighborhood, no driveways there and no Caddies either) to open the back door, roll the window down an inch, light the paper on fire, toss it in and close the door. When the car was filled with smoke we would honk the horn till the guy came out and saw his car with a black cloud pouring out of the window. They always opened the door and then the flames flared up and then the guy ran around trying to figure out what to do — funny huh?
For money there was always an Oldsmobile to strip of its spinner hubcaps, or a convertible to slip into, cutting the canvas where the top dropped behind the seat and then whoever was the skinniest guy would wriggle through the slit into the trunk, popping the lid and emerging into the streetlight night with a new spare tire, a set of golf clubs, a salesman's samples — good times.
In the morning when the darkness ebbed and the streets reappeared it was time to quit. We’ed eat fried egg sandwiches with ketchup and mayo sitting at the counter of Cooper & Cooper then head over to the barber shop on Kedzie where we laid back in the chairs like the punks we were and had our faces shaved by old men with straight razors, the thick pink gel they lathered onto our faces smelling like success.
When I think of those times I never forget lying there with Pete Walver in the next chair, not yet President of the Chicago Outlaws but already with plenty of reputation for crazy, Pete turning to me and saying “Stick with me and you’ll be farting through silk” and me saying “I already am” and dropping my levis to show him.
I got arrested again, twice, and the only thing that saved my ass was a probation system so slow my California record hadn’t caught up with me yet.
The second arrest was for ADW, assault with a deadly weapon and that scared me. I wasn’t tough. The weapon was a thick cane I was swinging in a brawl between an Irish family from the neighborhood and the Italian one the hung out on the corner but if it got to court I knew I would get at least another probation and then surely some clerk would match things up. Eventually, the whole thing got quieted down but I was surely going to fall one day soon. Then the movies rescued me.
I was already shooting stills. Between my knucklehead moments I had picked up a camera and learned how to make pictures. A neighborhood Bar Mitzvah photographer took a chance on me and soon I was making a hundred bucks on a weekend, two Rollies with Honeywell strobes, one loaded with color, one with black and white, me in an ill-fitting suit going from table to table, “Hi folks, I’m here to get a nice picture of you for the family. If you five will please get up and go stand behind those people on the other side of the table…that’s it, you look great, a little closer…..ok, everybody smile”…..and…pop the light would flash and I was on to the next table. It was a living but I got ambitious. I wanted to know how movies were made.
In the early sixties Hollywood was still the center of the movie universe. A crew might come to Chicago every year or two and shoot something on location but that was about it. There were two guys though that made films in Chicago — Herschell Lewis and Dave Friedman. Herschell was an ad guy and Dave was a carny. I never knew how they hooked up but they had and they had carved out a niche making $20,000 nudies and selling them into the “art house” circuit. The first picture I ever worked on was called Boin-n-g! and it was a classic nudie with a preposterous plot and a half dozen showgirls hiding behind beachballs. I learned to clean the camera and load magazines and set focus. I was hooked.
They paid me fifty bucks and ran my ass seventy hours a week but I loved every bit of it. When the time came around for their next show they hired me to drive their VW bus filled with an old Mitchell, six Master Lights and a box full of makeup and props to Florida. I was in the movie business and we were about to create a genre.
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