Remembering Sam Shepard
I was sorry to read about the the passing today of the great playwright Sam Shepard, at the age of 73. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his play Buried Child and wrote other works that included True West, Fool for Love and Curse of the Starving Class. He later returned to his very-early days of acting and had a successful career at that, getting an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in The Right Stuff portraying Chuck Yeager. His many other films included Days of Heaven, Resurrection, Baby Boom, Black Hawk Down and Steel Magnolias.
I worked with him on one movie, the very little known Bright Angel, which was based on two short stories by the acclaimed author Richard Ford. It was a solid, small independent film that had a very good cast for such a tiny, unknown movie that included Dermot Mulroney (who was the star), Delroy Lindo, Bill Pullman, Mary Kay Place, Valerie Perinne, Burt Young, Lily Taylor and Benjamin Bratt in what might have been his first movie, along with Sam. And it was in one particular instance dealing with Sam Shepard that was perhaps my finest moment as a movie publicist. (Which I suppose is not saying a lot, given that movie publicity is not filled with fine moments...)
In the film, Sam played a small, but important supporting role (I think as Dermot's father, though I wouldn't swear to that at this point), so he wasn't at the filming location in Montana all that much, maybe a few days. Sam was a nice-enough fellow, willing to chat, though taciturn and a bit distant, seeming to prefer the quiet and being alone, there to do his job.
At one point, a video crew hired by the company came up to Montana to shoot for two days and get material for putting together an "electronic presskit," the EPK They timed their visit to be there specifically when enough of the actors would be around, but most especially Sam Shepard. He would be on the set filming during their second and final night, when we were out on a big field all evening until the wee hours of the morning, a ways outside of our base residence of Billings.
All was fine as the video team was getting their interviews and behind-the-scenes footage...but with one tiny hiccup. The night they showed up on the set, Sam absolutely refused to do an interview. Nope, no way, doing a video interview was not for him, no, absolutely not. I'm not sure if he was against all publicity (I suspect that wasn't the case), or if it was just because this was such a small role and he didn't want it made to seem otherwise, or maybe because it was to be videotaped, rather than a more simple print interview. I did sense that he wasn't a publicity hound and was reticent to do publicity in general, but mainly was adamant about not doing publicity specifically for this. Not at all, nothing. Sorry. Nope. I asked a few times, as politely as possible, but the answer was always a blunt, polite, but crusty, "No."
(I didn't try to do an interview for my own written purposes, but I didn't think I really had to, and so didn't want to push him for it, preferring to put my efforts into the video interview. During his time there, I had chatted with him briefly a few times and got some off-handed replies that were very helpful, which I marked down after walking away, and also picked up random comments from standing with him as he talked with the director about the movie, so I could just use those in fleshing out the production notes I was writing.)
His refusal to do a video interview was causing great stress for the "EPK" crew. Though he wasn't the star, and it was just a small role, he was still the most-famous name in the movie. And he was the reason they were there that night. And they knew they couldn't go back to the production company and say that, "Sorry, no, we didn't get anything from Sam Shepard" and justify what they were paid. (And I knew, having been around on movie sets as a publicist long enough, that to cover their rear I'd no doubt be the one blamed for it all, how the unit publicist just was no help and couldn't get Sam Shepard to talk to them.) They were able to get some behind-the-scenes footage of him when acting, but that wasn't remotely good enough. And as the pitch-black night went on and got later and later, they got more and more concerned. They'd ask me to try again, but there was a limit I could do -- it seemed that pushing any farther than I had risked pissing off Sam Shepard, and not only might he shut down, but I'd be reamed out for mucking up the set. I'd keep my eye on him, seeing how his mood was, go over to chat and listen for any crack in the exterior, but I could tell that the answer was no, period.
And then I had my Great Revelation.
I explained it to the video crew -- I said I knew from chatting with Sam since he'd arrived in Billings that he was a massive admirer of Richard Ford's works, and in fact that was one of the main reasons he agreed to be in the movie, in such a small role. I said to the video director that I thought it was remotely possible that Sam might be willing to answer a couple questions on camera specifically and only about Richard Ford, to help promote a fellow-writer's works. If I could get him to do that, would that be enough for the video? The guy lit up -- that would be great, it would work, and besides, "Once I get him on camera, I'm sure I can get him to talk about some other things." If he couldn't though, he would be really happy to get anything with Sam Shepard on video.
So, I kept an eye on things, picked my moment when it seemed all was low-key, and went over to Sam who was sitting alone, off to the side. It was probably about 2 AM at this point. I laid out my thought to him, might he be willing to talk about Richard Ford -- and Richard Ford only -- to the video crew for about three minutes? To get some well-deserved attention on the novelist? And to my utter relief, Sam said yes, he'd be absolutely fine answering a couple questions about Richard Ford on camera. O huzzah!
When I told the video director, he was overjoyed. They set up their camera, asked their few questions about Richard Ford and -- exactly as he anticipated -- once he got Sam talking on camera, he was politely able to stay pleasant and conversational and keep Sam chatting. And in the end, they got about 15 minutes of Sam Shepard on video.
Afterward, the video director was in heaven. It seemed like he was beaming so much that it shined through that very dark Montana night.
Just to finish things up, here's a short trailer for the movie. It really wasn't a "thriller" like the narrator says, but far more a character study of people impacted by their challenging circumstances, although there was plenty that was tense throughout in the edgy story. And all the better, you'll also get to see scenes here from that dark night out on the field. And a bit of Sam.
Three days ago, I wrote a reminder here that Anthony Scaramucci was NOT YET hired as communications director, and suggested that he'd be well-advised to shut up. Well, as I was saying...
This has not been a good week for the fellow, especially given how clearly power-mad he was. Still, it's an impressive achievement to be fired from a job one hasn't been yet hired for. Particularly when the job is as a communications expert. The larger question is whether he'll remain overtly loyal to Trump or revert to his words during the primary where he slammed Trump for how he "bullies" people, and "the way he talks about women” and for being "anti-American," "divisive" and "an inherited money guy from Queens County" -- and even more.
By the way, do not adjust your monitors, that sound you hear in the background is not static, but Reince Priebus laughing.
And Sean Spicer, too.
Also, know too that the grinding noise is not rusty rotors in need of oiling, but Arthur Schwartz gagging on his bile. (Schwartz, you may recall, is Scaramucci's friend who has been on a smarmy tweetstorm against Spicer and pretty much anything that moves that is not in love and awe of Anthony Scaramucci. He has officially used up his Schottenfreude chips.)
But at least it's nice to know that Trump knows and will hire all the best people.
It's worth keeping this in mind, as well -- what with the fastest press spokesman to be fired, the fastest Chief of State fired, and firing the Communications Director before being hired, what we should keep a lookout for now is Trump to fire someone before they're even announced.
From the Management
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On Sunday, Vladimir Putin finally announced his long-anticipated retribution against the United States for sanctions imposed against Russia. The United States diplomatic staff in Russia was cut by two-thirds, with 755 members dropped, leaving 455. Also two facilities were taken away from the U.S.
What most fascinates me, though, is not what the retribution was, but that Putin's retribution for U.S. sanctions is coming NOW, a full seven months AFTER the sanctions by Obama were made -- not to mention three years after Russia's annexation of Crimea which brought earlier sanctions. It's almost like Putin had been promised by someone not to worry, that the U.S. sanctions would be reversed...
But no, that's not possible at all, who in the world would have given the Russian president that idea.??
At the time that President Obama announced his sanctions against Russia in December for its efforts in hacking and trying to manipulate the U.S. presidential elections, pretty much all analysts commented how surprising it was that Russia didn't respond. The experts noted how unlike Russia it was to not immediately announce its own retaliatory sanctions.
That it not only took Russia seven months to retaliate (not to mention the three years after the Crimea sanctions), but even more to the point that the Russian retribution came days after those sanctions became official when Trump was basically forced to sign them against almost unanimous and veto-proof Senate and House votes, speaks volumes that Russia was waiting to see what would happen. And since -- given the almost-unanimous votes -- it was pretty clear what the attitude in the Senate and House were, there would seem to have been absolutely no reason to wait to see...unless Russia believed there was a reason to wait and see.
And that brings us back to the original point. There is pretty much only one reason Russia might think they had a reason to wait for the sanctions to be dropped. And that's because they were told by representatives of the Trump campaign team.
I don't know if that's what happened.
I only know that I can't think of any other more likely, more reasonable explanation.
I'm sure there are other explanations. Hey, if Jared Kusher can forget 100 people he had meetings with and $100 million in loans and explain it away as basically, "Oops, my secretary screwed up" -- and Don Trump Jr. can forget that there were six people in his meeting about adoption, I mean dirt on Hillary Clinton, or rather seven people, or sorry, make that eight, and explain it away as not important because they (supposedly) didn't get anything -- and if Kellyanne Conway can try to explain reality away because of "alternative facts," then...sure, I'm sure there are other explanations.
But likely and reasonable is the standard.
Not just mine. I suspect the FBI and Special Counsel are operating on the same principle.
On this week's NPR quiz show, Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me!, host Peter Sagal's guest for the "Not My Job" segment is former pitcher for the Chicago Cubs -- and current team executive -- Ryan Dempster. I have no idea why Dempster is a guest since he doesn't have a book being published, isn't promoting anything and isn't a widely-known public figure (although he does do commentary on the MLB Network). The only thing I can figure is that he's really well-liked in Chicago, where the radio show is done, and perhaps another guest fell out and Dempster was available to fill in. That, and perhaps Peter Sagal simply knew how hugely entertaining Dempster is. (When he pitched and I knew he'd be doing an interview, I'd be sure to listen. Not just because he was so funny, but self-effacing and smart. One of the major reasons that MLB Network hired him as an analyst.)
And is he ever funny here. Even if you don't follow baseball, give this a listen. He's a terrific guy and has the audience roaring. The stories he tells about pitching on other team when the crowds were tiny are pure Dempster. Also, I was going to post a video below of the famous impersonation he does of former Cubs announcer Harry Caray, but fortunately host Sagal asks him about it. And even more fortunately, Dempster goes on to tell one absolute hoot of a story about Harry Caray -- one that's so funny in how he weaves it, complete with the impersonation, and with such a great, unexpected topper that even Sagal seems ready to wave the white flag. (Nothing like me over-hyping a funny story, is there? No matter, I think this can live up to the expectation.
Besides, I like too that the story includes current Cubs announcer Pat Hughes, who I love, and have mentioned here. And clearly the Chicago audience thinks as highly of Hughes, since the mere mention of his name brings big applause.
But make no mistake, the joy here is Ryan Dempster. Check it out, whether or not you like sports. It's hard not to like Ryan Dempster.
Other than a Peter Sagal joke about Chicago-style pizza that's funny but not remotely true or actually believe by most people in the city, but sometimes you go for the laugh, this is a full treat.
On the Road...Again
Today, we head back On the Road once more with Charles Kuralt. And this time, we visit Tom Noddy, the Bubble Man, showing the artistry he can do, as Kuralt puts its, "with soap and air." The sound quality is fuzzy, but that's okay -- it's watching Noddy in action that's the joy, even to the degree (remarkably) that at one point Kuralt just watches with no sound, not a word uttered, for a full 40 seconds.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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