One of the happiest moments of my life was the day I learned we’d be having a daughter.
I come from a family of mostly men. A mom and a dad, obviously. But one brother, one cousin (a male), one uncle. That’s pretty much it for the ol’ Thanksgiving dinners, so when—back in 2003—the doctor told us, “It’ll be a girl,” I was giddy.
That joy has never felt misplaced.
As she approaches her 16th birthday, Casey Pearlman does me proud. Do I always feel safe while teaching her to drive? Eh, um, ah. Do I share her appreciation for Britney Spears? Eh, um, ah. Do I limit my meals to cheese products and bread? Eh, um, ah. But on the grand scale, Casey has given me as much happiness as one human can bestow another. And watching her grow from toddler to girl to young woman … just dazzling.
JEFF PEARLMAN: It must be quite the honor for you to be the 400th Quaz Q&A …
CASEY PEARLMAN: Yes. It really is.
C.P.: Sure. Wait. Can you hand me my iPad in the pink bag on the floor?
J.P.:You’re 15, going on 16. When you were little I used to say to you all the time, “We’re gonna have fun. I’m gonna make sure we have fun.” So, serious question—have we?
C.P.: Yes, with the exception of the things only you think are fun. Like sports movies and the beach.
J.P.:So what have been the good things?
C.P.: The fun days in New York, where we would go to Macy’s and the Toys R Us and have Nuts 4 Nuts. The Los Angeles Book Festival. Hmm … what else? Watching horror movies and getting ice cream and going to amusement parks to go on the coasters because everyone else is too scared to do that.
J.P.:So when you were, maybe, 7, I put you on your first truly terrifying roller coaster—Nitro at Six Flags. I was heavily criticized by some, especially because I bribed you. So, looking back, bad parenting move or good? And why?
C.P.: Despite what my mother would say, I think ultimately it was a good parenting move because if I didn’t go on that and wasn’t bribed to go on coasters the next bunch of years, I would not enjoy amusement parks today. And people who don’t enjoy amusement parks are kind of lame.
J.P.:Do you remember sobbing at Hershey Park?
C.P.: Oh, yeah. Fahrenheit. I remember waiting on the line saying, “I can do it.” Then we were at the front and I thought, “I can’t do it.” But being the father you are the bribe went from one game to one game and a soda, to two games, an ice cream and a soda. I could not stop crying. The ladies behind us were like, “Are you OK? Do you need to get off?” I went on, and it was great. And I got three games, a soda and an ice cream.
J.P.:Has your childhood gone fast? Or slow?
C.P.: [long pause]. It depends. The parts in New York I don’t remember going fast. But everything in California was relatively quick. But we moved when I started middle school—so is that my childhood?
J.P.:You’re saying middle school isn’t childhood?
C.P.: It is. But different than elementary school.
J.P.:I remember being a teen and finding it really hard. I struggled dating, I was just an OK student, OK athlete. I was very insecure. Where are you?
C.P.: I find it easy to want to strive because I don’t want to be like the people who don’t care. The people who just show up and they feel like they have to be there—you find out they’re not very successful later. I don’t wanna be that. I see school coming in handy later. So while I’m not enjoying all my classes, taking AP chem over forensics will be better in the long run.
I don’t find high school to be very hard, but because I’m always busy. If I’m not doing work I have water polo, and swim team, and spending time with my friends who don’t do either of those. That takes up so much of my time, so I don’t feel bored. I haven’t struggled much. My high school experience has not been very challenging.
J.P.:You’ve never vaped?
C.P.: I have not.
C.P.: I can tell you people will read this and say I’m lying. ‘Why would she say she has in front of her parents?’ I took health. My whole life I’ve spent time around people who used to smoke. We’ve been to casinos where everyone smokes. I remember a commercial when I was little-—a woman with three fingers, and that happened from smoking. It turns teeth yellow, it smells awful. We’ve had family members with lung cancer. People say, “Oh, vaping isn’t bad for you.” But the juice that goes into your Juul is like multiple cigarettes in one tiny thing. And I’m not very interested in getting lung cancer I can easily avoid.
C.P.: The same thing. I kinda get vaping more, because it seems less dangerous. Considering I have anxiety, and marijuana is a depressant. It’ll make me feel worse. It might not give you lung cancer, but you can still … it kills your brain cells. I don’t need to kill my brain cells.
J.P.:I feel like I have tried, and failed, to embarrass you many times. It seems like a parental duty. Why don’t you get embarrassed by me? Or do you?
C.P.: I don’t get embarrassed. The people who are embarrassing don’t know they’re embarrassing. There’s this girl whose mom talks to our coaches and tells them how they should coach. That’s so embarrassing. Her mom’s not on the team. She doesn’t play water polo. She doesn’t need to be there. That’s embarrassing to everyone—the daughter, the other players. The things you try to do—like shouting, “Have a nice day!” loudly won’t embarrass me. Because it sounds exaggerated.
J.P.:Same with mom?
C.P.: Her things sound very sincere. When she says “Amazeballs”—she says she’s saying it ironically. But I’m not sure. I think she likes saying those things. She thinks they’re words to use.
J.P.:What do you wanna do with your life?
C.P.: I used to struggle with this question. I definitely want to go to college and become a high school history teacher. And when I get older maybe elementary school, because that’s a bit less work. I’d consider getting my doctorate, but not right away. If I don’t get into a college that interests me, maybe I’ll take a gap year. I’d like to travel and maybe teach English in a different country. But not a mission.
J.P.:What are your insecurities?
C.P.: Hmm. I’m not a very physically strong person. Probably emotionally, too. Sports-wise, I’m never gonna be great. Water polo, I’ll never be the star. I’ll never be MVP, so even if I win an award it won’t be the MVP or anything like that. And after this year it’ll be much harder, because it’s a higher level and the players are very experienced. I know my limitations. But that doesn’t mean I like them.
J.P.:So why do it?
C.P.: Exercise. And the snack bars. It’s nice being on a team. I can’t imagine having nothing to do. Without water polo or swim I’d go home and watch TV. A lot of my friends are from sports, and if I stopped I’d never see them.
J.P.:What makes you nervous?
C.P.: What do you mean? In general?
C.P.: I don’t enjoy being put on the spot. I have one teacher who calls on random people in a hard class. A lot of times i don’t know the answer. And he doesn’t let you say, “I don’t know.” You have to say something. I don’ enjoy that. I don’t like unfamiliar situations. I like to know what’s happening and plan out. I need to plan. Tests don’t bother me because you can prepare. Also, for sports, I don’t cry when we lose. It just happens. Whatever.
J.P.:What have been my weaknesses as a dad?
C.P.: You like to push things, but things that are unnecessary. Movies. The beach. Things we don’t want to do but that you really want us to do. Not great.
C.P.: She does the same, but bigger things. Summer camp. Trying a traveling tour. Not interested, but she insists it’s something I want. Maybe I’d enjoy it, but there are other things I wanna do. Those things might sound boring to her, but they interest me.
J.P.:Is your bed your favorite place?
C.P.: No. I wake up between 6 and 7. I don’t sleep in often. I only sleep late if I go to bed at 11 or 12. I like rest. I don’t have a favorite place. Maybe my chair. I prefer my chair to my bed. When I’m sitting downstairs.
J.P.: Do you at all worry about school shootings?
C.P.: Not shootings. But one time a boy put a suitcase on the field and everyone thought it was a bomb. We were in lock-down for two hours. It was an empty suitcase. So dumb. There have been three suicides. But at the school I would have gone to in New York there were three stabbings. Which is better? I don’t know. There are a lot of unstable emotions out there.
J.P.: Are you pretty happy in your life?
C.P.: Yes—at the moment. It depends on the season. Water polo is great, then it ends. I struggle with the spring season, and summer. The change of seasons. Every time I have to start something new it’s a problem.
But it works out for me.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH CASEY PEARLMAN:
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Lil Nas X, cranberry juice cocktail, maple cinnamon roll, “Get Out,” the big dog across the street who just moved, Miley Cyrus, your KISS poster: “Get Out,” maple cinnamon roll, KISS poster, the big dog across the street who just moved, Lil Nas X, cranberry juice cocktail.
• One question you would ask Donald Trump were he here right now?: Why do you enjoy ruining people’s lives?
• Do you ever curse in conversation?: I do not.
• Three all-time favorite musical acts: Backstreet Boys, Green Day, Britney Spears.
• What does your room smell like?: Chlorine and lavender.
• How many times would you say you’ve peed in a pool?: Um, do I need a number? More than 50.
• Grossest thing you’ve ever seen in a pool?: I wanna say poop, but I’ll go with the rat.
• Three places you don’t wanna go to college?: Arizona State, Saddleback, anywhere in Montana.
• Do you think you’ll have kids and why?: Not of my own because childbirth sounds not worth it. People say, “You don’t understand. Mothers have that feeling!” No. Why go through that pain when I can choose a child?
• Why does Norma the dog love me more than you?: She’s sitting with me! Right now! She’s not sitting with you! She only likes you because you take her in the car. And in the car she sits with me.
And today, at 399, I bring forward Emmett Pearlman, my 12-year-old son.
Why Emmett Pearlman, my 12-year-old son? Myriad reasons. First, approaching big No. 400 has made me a bit reflective on the past decade. Second, I wanted the 399th to be meaningful, and what’s more meaningful than your offspring? Third, any worries about “Jumping the Shark” (Google it if you’re younger than 25) vanished the moment I realized there is nothing a shark leap could ruin. This is a small-level Q&A series, not “Happy Days.” Fourth, my kid is smart. Inquisitive. Detailed. Precise. I recognize we all think our kids are smart and inquisitive and detailed, but Emmett’s always possessed a self-awareness beyond his years. So it’s not like asking a kid questions and expecting one-word answers. Fifth, I love the boy. And I like the idea of Emmett looking back at this a decade from now and thinking, “So that’s where I was!”
Unlike most of the interviews in this series, which are conducted (lazily) via e-mail, this chat took place last night at the kitchen table.
Emmett Pearlman, son of a hack writer royalty, you’ve been Quazed …
JEFF PEARLMAN:What are the complications with being a 12-year-old kid?
EMMETT PEARLMAN: What do you mean?
J.P.:I mean, what are the hardships? The difficulties? Is it more good or bad?
E.P.: Most of the problems in my life are not real hard problems. Like, if I can’t figure out a math problem then I look it up online. I don’t really have any problems that are out of my reach of fixing.
J.P.:Do you feel impacted by the Trump presidency? Or is it just hearing me complain?
E.P.: Ha. Um, at school kids repeat what they hear. Most kids don’t follow politics very much. It does come up sometimes at school, but nobody can really have any debates because they don’t know a ton. And the people who do know a ton are usually on one side. Because they know what’s right.
J.P.:Which side is that?
E.P.: Democratic, usually.
J.P.:Are you optimistic for the future?
E.P.: The future of what?
J.P.:The future of the country. And your life.
E.P.: Of the country—I think that people know what’s right and I don’t think that something that bad can go on for too long. And for me, I have no idea. I don’t know if you’re talking careers. If so, I have no idea. I don’t know. I can’t tell what my future will be.
J.P.:So a lot of parents, people my age, are concerned about the impact technology and always having a device is having on people your age. What says you?
E.P.: Most people my age that go on the Internet are just playing games or watching YouTube. Yes, you do have access to pretty much anything. But if it’s taking something pretty much everyone has, it’s not special. You can do what you want, but if you handle that power smartly, it’s not bad. If people are responsible … it’s not your fault, as a parent, for letting them use it. It’s entirely the child’s responsibility. I mean, it depends on age. At my age, you know what you can search and what you can’t. But if they’re under the age of 10, it’s different. At some point people need to be more trusting.
J.P.:Is there no temptation to Google “bloody head after car accident” or “naked people having sex”?
E.P.: Absolutely not.
E.P.: I don’t know. I’m content not having that. I’m fine just playing games on my computer.
E.P.: I think it’s actually been good in a way. Not for basketball, but outside it’s been good. I’m the least competitive person I know, which is good. I don’t think people should be too serious about sports. It’s a game. Winning and losing doesn’t matter. Especially at my age. If I lose every game and I enjoy it, that’s fine. And I do enjoy it.
J.P.:Without naming names, you’ve told me every so often about kids at school you don’t like. What are the characteristics of a kid you don’t like?
E.P.: I was thinking about this recently, actually. I think that part of what makes them popular or annoying—and I’m not talking annoying as in bugging you all the time and being annoying on purpose. I mean the people who think they’re cool and can do whatever they want. Part of what makes them like that is they’re not thinking that much about what it is they’re doing. It’s obvious to the people who aren’t friends with them. But to the people who don’t think about it, it’s not something strange. They say something mean and don’t think about it. It’s just what they do. Act meanly. The weird part is their friends just accept it. That’s what they do. They’re a part of it. But everyone outside that group doesn’t see it as fine. We see the truth.
The problem with them thinking they can do whatever they want is they can do whatever they want. Because everyone else thinks they’re cool. Whatever that means.
J.P.:What’s the jerkiest thing you’ve had a kid do to you?
E.P.: To me? Not much. I don’t get involved with things intentionally. I mean, I haven’t had a ton directly to me. I mean, they cut the line every day at school for lunch. And no one stops them because … I don’t know.
It’s like the graffiti thing you told me about in New York [JEFF NOTE: I explained to Emmett how New York City stopped graffiti on subways by cleaning it every night. If no one cleans it, what’s the motivator to stop?]. There’s no point in stopping them because they’ll do it again. It makes me angry. I tell them not to cut me. They usually don’t listen and I just move.
J.P.:You’ll meet them again on their long plummet to the middle.
E.P.: It doesn’t affect me.
J.P.:You love robotics. Why?
E.P.: I think part of it is the way my teacher gives us assignments and teaches us. She teaches us … she gives us instructions and if we need help she’ll give us it. We can ask. But if we don’t want help we don’t get it. We can do our own research on the Internet, which I like because it inspires you. You can build whatever you want. In my free time I’ve built robotic arms, I built something I wear on my hand and it shoots things. You can build what you want and I think it’s really fun.
E.P.: History. It’s repetitive. We don’t do anything out of the ordinary. It’s study guide, then vocabulary, then papers. Over and over again. On different units. I do like learning about history, but the cycle gets boring after a while. We do a lot of group work, and I’m not a big fan of group work. A lot of times it’s not even on who does the work. Also in history we write a lot, and history writing is boring. You read something, then put it back out in a different way. History is learning something and remembering it. There’s not much new.
J.P.:Do you remember how you felt when you found out we were moving to California five years ago?
E.P.: I was pretty little. I didn’t realize what was happening. I thought we were taking a vacation at first. Then I realized we weren’t. Because Casey got sad. Then I got sad. All I heard was “leaving” and “California.” I didn’t know what California was. I didn’t want to go, but I didn’t have a choice.
J.P.:In hindsight, would New York have been better?
E.P.: I don’t know. What’s definitively better?
J.P.:Mom and I really enjoy the relationship you have with your sister. It’s interesting, because she’s 3 1/2 years older than you, you don’t have a ton of activities in common. Yet you seem to have a pretty tight bond. Am I misreading that?
E.P.: No. I think what it is is we don’t have much room for arguments. Casey usually stays in her room, so I don’t see her that often. It’s weird, but I guess that makes for less arguments. We don’t share that much, so we don’t argue over stuff. We used to fight for the Kindle, but no more. And when we are together we usually agree. I don’t know. I think we know what we like and we know our limits and we know not to do something that annoys the other person. Why would we fight?
J.P.:It seems like you like her …
E.P.: I do. I also hate having arguments. Usually they don’t resolve anything.
J.P.: I take credit for this, but you have a very strong hip-hop knowledge for a kid your age. Why do you like that genre so much?
E.P.: I don’t know. Why does anyone like any type of music? There’s no answer. Different people like different music. If you were a major country parent, maybe I’d like country.
J.P.:I doubt that.
E.P.: Me too.
J.P.:Five favorite rappers?
E.P.: I’m gonna put … can it be a group?
E.P.: Does it need to be in order? I don’t like order.
E.P.: OK. Tupac, Nas, then it becomes a bunch of people I like. Definitely MC White Owl. Run DMC. And A Tribe Called Quest.
J.P.:You wear sports jerseys every single day. I usually get them on eBay for about $8. You seem to really love them. Why?
E.P.: Um, I like the way they look. They’re pretty easy. I don’t have to think about what I wear every morning. I wake up, see a jersey, go, “OK.” I’m not very fashionable, but I like sports and I like when no one knows who the person is. And I like that I don’t have a constant sports team. I like that I can wear whatever jersey I like. These are the two questions I always get, and they’re asked back to back. First one—”Do you like that team?” And the answer is almost always No. Then they say, “Why are you wearing that jersey then?” As if you can only wear jerseys of the team you like. I say, “Because I like wearing jerseys.” I don’t like going into that much detail.
J.P.:Which are your three all-time favorite jerseys?
E.P.: The Walter Payton jersey is great. I like that one. I like my Doug Williams Oklahoma Outlaws jersey. And my Greg Fields Los Angeles Express jersey. Those are my favorite jerseys, not favorite players.
J.P.:Do you feel like your childhood is moving by quickly, slowly, or none of the above?
E.P.: I think that it’s just going what it seems like. Every year goes the same amount. I don’t know what other lives feel like, so what do I compare it to? I feel like it’s gone at a normal pace.
J.P.:I feel like parents worry about screwing up their kids. Like, I think, “What is he getting from me that’s not good?” Any thoughts?
E.P.: About what?
J.P.:Have I given you bad stuff?
E.P.: Not anything in particular.
J.P.:Are you enjoying your life?
E.P.: Yeah, definitely.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH EMMETT PEARLMAN:
• What would you like your name to be if it weren’t Emmett Pearlman?: I like the name Emmett. I don’t know. I’m not on the lookout for names right now. Maybe Emmett with one T.
• Three all-time favorite athletes: Walter Payton, Eli Manning, Emmitt Smith. Just because he has the name Emmitt.
• What’s the best thing about your mom?: Hmm … I dunno. She’s a very nice person. That’s not very exciting, but it’s true. It’s better than not being a nice person.
• One question you would ask Herschel Walker if he were here right now?: Do you regret anything in what your career became?
• Rank in order (favorite to least): The beach, Memphis Showboats helmets, American Idol, going to the movie theater, Na’il Diggs, Ethiopian food, your dog Norma, your great-grandma Norma, the number 8, sleep-away camp, Eminem: This is gonna be tough. Norma the dog is number one. I’m gonna go Great Grandma Norma No. 2. But they’re very close. I see Norma the dog more day to day. For No. 3 I’m gonna have to put sleep-away camp. Then Ethiopian food. I really like Ethiopian food. Then Eminem. Then I’m gonna put the number 8 because it’s a nice round number. Then I’m gonna put Memphis Showboats helmets, even though they’re not that great. Then Na’il Diggs. I met him once, so I don’t know him well. But he was cool. I’m gonna put the beach there. I don’t absolutely hate the beach, but I’d much rather have Ethiopian food. Then I’m gonna put going to movie theaters. I don’t like movie theaters. I feel I can get the same experience at home, but also get up and do what I want. I don’t like American Idol. I feel like a lot of the people aren’t even good. The Voice has much better talent. And American Idol isn’t realistic. I just find it boring. And if they have a sad back story they go through. And if they don’t, they don’t.
• Four thing that gross you out: Maggots, warts, drawing blood, throwing up (I got that from Mom. It’s just not fun). Oh, and bonus. Those really big, loud bugs. The ones whose wings are really loud.
• How do you feel about having a Bar Mitzvah in a year?: I dunno. I’m looking forward to it. I think my Hebrew is OK. I don’t think it’s something necessary for the rest of my life, but I think it’s cool to have. My friends won’t understand what’s going on. They’re not Jewish.
• Five places in the world you’d love to go: Five? Five’s a lot. OK—Africa. Anywhere in Africa. Madagascar. Galapagos. Iceland. And if I could teleport there instantly, the North Pole. And then I’d teleport right back.
• Tell me three things about Grandpa Stan: 1. He likes naps. 2. He likes back scratches. 3. He has a lot of good stories.
• Why won’t you play me more often in FIFA?: Because I don’t like FIFA as much as other games. Why won’t you play me in Super Smash Bros more often?
Universal Independent Wrestling, Wrestling Independent Network, Extreme Championship Wrestling, Mid-Eastern Wrestling Federation, American Commonwealth Wrestling, Int’l Pro Wrestling, Lethal Arts Wrestling, National Wrestling Alliance, American Wrestling Association
Premier Wrestling Xperience and PWX Pure.
I currently work production and referee for PWX and PWX Pure in Charlotte, NC. I travel there about once a month.
So earlier today I found myself on Twitter, reading thoughts on the passing of King King Bundy, when I saw this …
Very sorry to hear of the passing of wrestler/actor King Kong Bundy (Chris Pallies). I had the privilege of refereeing a match with him in 1994 on an American Commonwealth Wrestling (ACW) show in PA. He was very down to earth. My condolences to his family and friends. #5countpic.twitter.com/YKFsDFWEkR
I mean, what’s more Quaz Q&A than a wrestling referee? Especially one like Jeff Capo who—over the past three decades—has handled matches in Universal Independent Wrestling, Wrestling Independent Network, Extreme Championship Wrestling, Mid-Eastern Wrestling Federation, American Commonwealth Wrestling, Int’l Pro Wrestling, Lethal Arts Wrestling, National Wrestling Alliance, American Wrestling Association, Premier Wrestling Xperience and PWX Pure.
Truth be told, I don’t know what most of those organizations are. But Jeff Capo does, and he’s seen the highs and lows, twists and turns of humanity from the inside of a ring, often covered in sweat and blood and whatever else it is that professional grapplers ooze.
So I thought it’d be cool to bring Jeff here to discuss the joy of the sport; the job of a ref; the legacy of Bundy and the athletic wonder that was Tito Santana.
JEFF PEARLMAN:So Jeff, you’re a longtime professional wrestling referee, which fascinates me for this reason: What do you do? I mean that without a hint of snideness. I’m just genuinely interested. If the matches are choreographed, what is your role? Are you actor? Do you keep things moving? Do you ever have to intervene? For legit athletic reasons?
JEFF CAPO: The referee’s role is to be the voice of law and order in the ring. Yes, matches are predetermined. The referee is there to count pinfalls, warn wrestlers if they are using illegal tactics and possibly disqualifying them. We also work with the timekeeper or production personnel to keep the matches within the time limits. This is particularly important if you are doing tapings or live TV. Also, we are there for the safety of the wrestlers. Accidents do happen, so if medical attention is required, the referee may have to call for it.
Am I an actor? I guess in the strict sense of the word, yes. I have never had to intervene, if you are referring if the match turns into a “shoot,” where someone is legitimately trying to hurt an opponent.
J.P.:I know you’re from Catonsville, Maryland, know you started reffing in 1993. But how, exactly, did this career begin for you? How does one become a wrestling referee?
J.C.: My road to becoming a referee was not typical. To give a bit of background, I started watching wrestling in the early 1970s. I was able to pick up a TV station from Washington, D.C.—Channel 20. On Saturdays they had a block of programming which featured Roller Derby and WWWF wrestling. I was hooked immediately. I saw my first live show in 1985 at the then-Baltimore Civic Center. It was a WWF show that had Jimmy Snuka and The Tonga Kid vs Roddy Piper and Cowboy Bob Orton.
In 1989 I was attending a luncheon for Jim Cornette and the Midnight Express. There I met Ed Zohn, a local indy wrestling promoter. I attended my first indy show, run by Ed that June. I wound up working in a couple indy promotions around Baltimore, like UIW and WIN. Those taught me a lot about the business and what went into running shows. In November of 1993, I received a phone call from the late Axl Rotten. They were running a show in Baltimore using a mix of ECW and local talent. One of the referees for the show had backed out. Axl and I had known each other for a couple of years at that point and he knew I studied the matches. He felt I had the skills to be a referee. So I reffed my first match on November 14, 1993. I got taken out of the match after receiving a chair shot to the head courtesy of Axl. And so it began …
J.C.: Well, Bundy was obviously a big star in the business. He had worked for several groups, including World Class Championship Wrestling, AWA, Mid-South, NWA and others before landing in WWF. He wrestled in the first three Wrestlemanias. Sometimes the folks who had been to the big leagues expected to be treated like rock stars and such. He was not that way at all. He was very down to earth and we had a nice conversation. It wasn’t long after that show that he returned to the WWF.
J.P.: I once was the “celebrity” ring guy at a professional wrestling card in New Rochelle, N.Y. The headliner with Jimmy Snuka, and as the fights were occurring in the ring the other performers sat at tables a stone’s throw away and signed autographs for $10 a pop. Honestly, it was pretty sad and depressing. And I wonder—how common is that? And what is the plight of your average, non-Hulk Hogan pro wrestler?
J.C.: What you describe is considered a serious breach of etiquette. Wrestlers should not be out there when others are wrestling. Wrestlers should be at their tables before the show starts, during intermission and after the show is over. It’s OK to have the tables “open” during the show, but they are usually manned by friends and family.
J.P.:Soup to nuts, how does a night go for you? What I mean is, you’re working a card. It starts in two hours. What are you doing in the leadup? What don’t we see?
J.C.: Well, at two hours before the show, everything is done. Usually, we’re at the show long before that, putting the ring together, setting up chairs and guardrails, getting all the TV equipment and lights put up. This also may include picking up folks from the airport if anyone is flying in. Setting up tables for folks to sell merchandise or sponsors that may be at the show. It takes all hands on deck to get it done. Then it has to be all torn down and packed away and the placed cleaned before we leave for the day.
J.P.:What’s the difference between a veteran wrestling referee and a rookie? What are the things you do better now, with experience. What are the early mistakes?
J.C.: Most early mistakes I see are not getting out of the wrestler’s way. I am much better at anticipating the move and which directions they are moving.
J.P.:What’s your craziest story from your career? The experience that gets told over and over at holiday parties?
J.C.: I was working an American Commonwealth Wrestling show in Pennsylavnia promoted by Ed Zohn and the late Mark Bodey. During the first match, the ring broke. Every match after that I had to tell the guys to fight on the floor, and the final was a “Reverse Battle Royal” where the concept was everyone started on the floor and to be eliminated was to be thrown into the ring.
J.P.:What’s the worst injury you’ve ever seen happen in the ring? And, as a referee, what is your job in that moment? Do you need to keep the show going or help the guy in agony?
J.C.: There was an indy show in Maryland, and a guy got busted open bad and bled everywhere. The match ended, but I had to clean up the ring.
J.P.:I remember when I was a kid, and it was finally revealed that the matches were largely choreographed. And there was this belief the whole thing would crumble. But it didn’t. People didn’t seem to care. Why do you think that is? What are wrestling die-hards seeking?
J.C.: Wrestling is entertainment, so there is always a suspension of belief. Just like going to the movies, the stuff on the screen isn’t real. It’s a form of escape we use.
J.P.:I don’t know how to feel about Vince McMahon. How should I feel about Vince McMahon?
J.C.: That depends if you are a “pro wrestling” fan or a “sports entertainment” fan. Pro wrestling fans generally dislike McMahon. Sports entertainment fans think he is a god who can do no wrong.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JEFF CAPO:
• Worst injury of your career?: I got hit in the eye with a rivet that popped off a ladder during a ladder match.
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Tommy Dreamer, Jerry Jones, Monopoly, Martin Lawrence, the Oak Ridge Boys, coconut cream pie, Smurfette, the number 3, Margot Robbie: 1. Margot Robbie; 2. Tommy Dreamer; 3. The Number 3; 4. Monopoly; 5. Smurfette; 6. Jerry Jones; 7. the Oak Ridge Boys; 8. Martin Lawrence; 9. Coconut cream pie. • Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: There was a flight from Rochester, N.Y. back to Baltimore after a bad snow in Baltimore. We nearly landed on top of another plane.
• One question you would ask Cedric Ceballos were he here right now: Didn’t know who he was. I don’t follow basketball
• Five reasons one should make Catonsville, Maryland his/her next vacation destination: 1. Fourth of July parade; 2. Great shopping area; 3. Locally owned business; 4. Close proximity to Baltimore and D.C.; 5. I live there!
• You spot a random hair on your hamburger at Denny’s. Remove the hair and eat or send it back?: Send it back.
• The world needs to know—how does The Miz have a career?: Being in the right place at the right time.
• Bryce Harper just signed a $300 million deal with the Phillies. Celine Dion calls—she’ll pay you $300 million to spend a year living naked in her Phoenix doghouse, eating only sliced turkey and attached to a 12-foot leash. You in?: Nope.
Back when I was editor of the University of Delaware’s student newspaper, there was a quiet photographer who would pop into the office and accept assignments.
Her name was Alisa Colley. She was blonde and quiet and very good at taking pictures.
And, well, that was about it.
Fast forward two decades. Alisa and I are Facebook friends, so I check out her bio and somehow wind up here—at her IMDB page. And it’s friggin’ loaded. Name a movie or TV show, it seems as if Alisa has worked it as a second camera assistant or a camera loader or a film loader. I’m not being sarcastic here. Read her sheet, and it’s big production after big production. And while I was (am) dazzled by the work, I never actually took the time to ask Alisa about her career.
So … here we are. From hanging in Donald Trump’s apartment to being attacked by Derek Jeter and LeBron James to having to endure far too many hours near Steven Seagal, Alisa’s life is one unique Hollywood moment after another after another.
And now, she received the Academy Award of mediocre weekly Q&As …
She receives the Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:OK, Alisa, before we go anywhere with this—you sent me an e-mail that included the sentence, “I’ve been in Donald Trump’s apartment in Manhattan.” Um … what? Please explain.
ALISA COLLEY: I did the New York unit of a movie called Self/less with Ryan Reynolds in 2014. He rented out his apartment to be used as the location of Ben Kingsley’s character‘s home. You can make a lot of money renting out your home to movie shoots. However, it means 50-100 people with more equipment than you can imagine occupy your house. His house was as tacky as you can imagine. And filled with fake artwork. The locations department preps the locations before we get there and they would have never left priceless artwork on the wall.
Trump, of course, claims it’s the real thing. A little bit of cardboard protecting a priceless painting? Oh, come on. He was there, but I didn’t meet him. I’ve worked with several people who have the bad luck to work with him or have contact with him. I’ve never heard anything redeeming. I’ve heard enough personal stories to believe all the ones we hear on the news.
J.P.:So you’ve worked on literally dozens of films in camera management, ranging from “Men in Black 3” to “Notorious” to “School of Rock.” Which seems like such a randomly quirky cool profession. So … how did this happen? Soup to nuts?
A.C.: The film industry is one where you can get an entry level position with little experience and learn on the job. The entry level position is called a production assistant. You are basically a go-getter—go get this, go get that. I started working as a PA in college. My degree is in photography, so I was interested in motion picture camera work. States and cities all have film commissions; public employees who are the contact for production companies who want to shoot in a particular area. Some of them provide classified-type ads where they advertise jobs. I started applying for short jobs in Philly, a lot of times working for free. From there you start creating contacts. I get all my work word of mouth. In my case, the director of photography or cinematographer gets hired, then they hire a first assistant cameraperson, then the first AC hires me as their second assistant cameraperson. You need to live where the jobs are, generally either New York City or LA, or recently Atlanta. Since I am an east coaster, I moved to New York City in 1998. I had a couple of contacts and branched out from there. I worked as a non-union camera assistant for a year and then joined the union in 1999.
I am a member of International Association of Stage Theatrical Employees local 600. Film crew workers are craftspeople—grips, electrics, props, scenics, makeup, wardrobe etc. You can start as a PA and move into any of the craft positions. Our jobs are solid middle class jobs with pension and health care provided thru our union, but paid for by our employers (the producers and studios). You don’t need to go to film school to work on movies and TV shows. The industry is actually pretty family based. One local was started in 1922. I worked with a prop person whose grandfather operated the fan that blew Marilyn Monroe’s skirt up on The Seven Year Itch. On any job, there are a lot of relatives and people with the same last name. Sons following fathers into the family business originally and now a lot of daughters.
A.C.: I worked a couple days on that show! It’s both fun and exciting … and boring. It can be like any other job. It has its moments. Different places, doing different things every day. As a crew member, you stay pretty busy. Every day we have a call sheet. It lists the scenes that we are going to do and what we have planned to do for the scenes specifically. We don’t just show up and start shooting. The director and key crew members have visited the location already and planned out the shots. Props, wardrobe, special effects, etc. have all been planned and prepared. When we arrive to begin shooting a scene, it has a set of guidelines. Rehearse, block, light and shoot. The actors and directors rehearse the scene. This is often the first time the actors and director rehearse the scene in the location with the props, wardrobe, set dressing, etc. This is the time where spontaneity, creative decisions, acting decisions are made within the parameters of what’s been planned. Then crew is called in for the blocking rehearsal. This is where the crew sees what the actors are going to do in the scene.
My job during the blocking rehearsal is to physically mark each position for each actor with tape. We decide how we will cover it—ie how will we actually shoot the scene. Camera angles, camera movements, etc. We set the first shot, generally a wide shot called the master. Then we light the scene. Lighting a scene can happen quickly or it can take a long time, depending on the situation.
Then we shoot! Each shot is called a setup. Once scene can have one setup, or more than 50. The best way to understand this is to watch a scene without the sound. Count how many different camera angles there are. Kind of shooting the same scene 100 times, but each time is different. The crew is busy during all of this. Setting up lights, cameras, rehearsing camera moves. Or prepping for the next scene, the next week, etc. When you see us standing still, it’s because we are rolling or rehearsing and need absolute quiet.
The most recognizable aspect of my job is I am the one who slates. I am the person you see on those behind-the-scenes clips holding the clapperboard. I call out the scene and take number, for example scene 137A take 2 and then say “marker” and hit the sticks. The slate is showing the editors the camera roll number and the scene we are shooting The letter refers to the camera setup and the take number is how many times we did that particular setup. It serves two purposes—A. Gives a visual ID so they can catalogue the film footage and B. To sync the sound up. The sound is recorded separately from the camera. When I call out MARK, I am telling the editor there will be a clapping sound seconds away. They align the visual of the clapperboard to the sound of the clap.
Each show is different as well. A show that has a lot of action is going to be different to work on verses a show that has a lot of talking. I’ve done three of the Marvel Netflix comic book-based shows. Daredevil season two, Luke Cage season two and Punisher season two (quick plug, it’s out now—check it out) I enjoy the action-packed shows because they are a lot of fun and challenging. We get do car chases, fight scenes and shootouts.
J.P.:You don’t have to name names (but you certainly can)—but what’s the biggest asshole moment you’ve experienced/witnessed on the job?
A.C.: I did a movie with Steven Seagal calledPistol Whipped. That should sum it up. And he’s as you would expect. Every day was an experience. And if it was bad for us, think of the poor actress who had to do a love scene with him (Jeff’s note: A moment of respect for Renee Elise Goldsberry)
J.P.:Along those lines, what’s the kindest moment you’ve had with an actor/actress/director?
A.C.: Filmmaking is a collaboration. The best producers and directors recognize everyone has a part in making the movie/show happen. The best times are when we are co-workers like in any work setting, contributing to a common goal. The most talented actors and directors are usually the most low key and down to earth. I can have a easy conversation with a grip as well as with Tom Hanks.
A nice personal moment was on the TV show Smash. Generally all the songs were recorded beforehand, the actors lip sync to the recorded version when we film. One day they hadn’t a chance to record the song beforehand, so we recorded it as we filmed it. Bernadette Peters sang Everything’s Coming Up Roses from Gypsy. She is amazing. The personal story is this: I would bring my dog Dazzle to work. Dazzle was hanging out one day by our equipment. Bernedette is a dog lover and rescue advocate. She stopped to say hello to her and sang her a song that she made up. Basically the Dazzle song, a little song about one-minute long, just for Dazzle.
J.P.:Working on a film, can you tell whether the project is terrific or awful. I mean, we can use “School of Rock” as an example. Fun, peppy, joyful flick. Were you aware that’s how it would turn out? Can you read what the final project will look like from being there?
A.C.: Yes, you can tell if it has a chance from the script. If you don’t have a great script you won’t have a great movie or show. The actors, action sequences, beautiful photography can make it a good movie or parts of it great. School of Rock is a perfect example—good script, great energy and performances. The kids who were in the band were all amazing musicians. The battle of the bands sequence was a lot of fun to film. Jack Black had a oxygen tank back stage to take hits on because he was working so hard. It’s held up well considering it’s 15-years old. This summer I was shooting in a orthodox Jewish neighborhood in New York City. I was talking to the kids watching us film. A girl about 12 asked what movies I had worked on. I mentioned School of Rock and she got really excited. I was surprised they never did a sequel, but there is a Broadway musical.
They wanted to use a Led Zeppelin song for a scene in the movie. Led Zeppelin does not often grant permission for their music to be used in movies. We filmed a shot of Jack Black asking for permission to use it with the crowd chanting in the background. And it worked! Check out the clip.
J.P.:Your resume includes this sentence: “Responsible for the care and maintenance of professional motion picture camera system that is constantly evolving and updating.” OK, I get what you mean in the literal sense. But what does this mean? What does it entail?
A.C.: A standard TV show or movie will have two cameras working every day. We call them the A and B cameras. Each camera is a package, consisting of the camera and all its support system. Each camera requires a camera operator, first assistant camera or focus puller, and a second assistant camera. The A camera is the primary, dominant camera, the B camera is considered secondary, getting additional angles and coverage. Each camera contains hundreds of extra parts and cables to make it work, with a package value of $150,000-to-$250,000. We also carry a steadicam package to be able to do steadicam shots. One of the camera operators would be a steadicam operator. A steadicam package has a value of a camera package. We often carry at least one additional camera package, a C camera, to be able use on shooting days where they want additional shots, like stunts. In addition to the camera package, we have a lens package, usually between 20-40 lenses, with a value of $200,000-to-$500,000. We are responsible for over $1 million worth of gear! We also may provide monitors for the director and producers to view what we are shooting. We have additional camera-persons, specifically called loaders, who would set up the monitors and are responsible for downloading what we shoot, either in film form or digital.
I primarily work as a “A” camera second assistant. In that position, I am considered the point person for the camera department. I oversee the department making sure we have everything we need for that particular shoot day, and most importantly making sure the sum total of everyone’s work, the exposed film or hard drives (when we shoot digital) is transferred to safekeeping. I am hiring additional crew members if we are doing a big stunt and have multiple cameras running. If the director and cinematographer need a particular piece of equipment for a special shot, I need to source it and schedule it to use for the day it is needed and arrange for its transportation. We work out of a camera truck, generally a 45-foot trailer pulled by a semi. And it is packed with camera gear. And, like any job, there is a lot of paperwork involved.
Camera assistants are also consider technicians. For film cameras, we were more like mechanics. Now that most cameras are digital, we are more computer technicians. We are expected to know exactly what each camera can do and how to make them do it. If it is having problems, we are expected to be able to get it back working again.
J.P.:The first line of your resume reads, “Experienced Manager and coordinator looking to transfer my skills to a new field.” So, Alisa, why?
A.C.: Well, that would bring us to the “glamorous” side of the film industry. I am an hourly employee, hired on a daily basis. Even when I am on a longer job (the longest a job will last is about 10 months, 23 episodes), I am a daily employee. I am only guaranteed work for that day. Your boss gets fired, the show gets canceled, you’re out of a job. Just because you worked the show last season, doesn’t mean you will be back next season. Here is a great story that illustrates this: A co-worker was working on a TV show for the CW Network. They were shooting the sixth episode, two had aired. The ratings were very poor. That morning the producer gathered everyone around and gave a speech. He told them even though the ratings weren’t great, the network loved the show and wanted to give it a chance. So no one should worry about the poor ratings. Six hours later, they are about to break for lunch. The same producer comes out and says, “Sorry, we’ve been canceled. We aren’t going to finish the season, we’re not going to finish the episode, and we aren’t even going to finish the work for today. Oh, and lunch is ready if you want a meal before you’re officially unemployed.”
We work long hours in all sorts of weather. Our workday is—at minimum—12 hours, with some days lasting 15-to-16 hours or more. When the polar vortex happened in January, I had night exterior work. I’ve been on New York City roofs in 90-plus degree summer weather. Rain, snow, etc.—we work in it. The job is very physical as well. The cameras weigh 25-to-30 pounds and the supporting equipment weighs just as much. We move as much as we can on carts we push that, when fully loaded, can weigh 250-to-500 pounds. A standard TV show will have seven carts of camera gear we use on a daily basis. A lot of the locations we shoot in require us to hand carry the equipment in. Daredevil season two we frequently shot on rooftops. If we are lucky there is a elevator to the top floor and we only have to carry the gear up a couple flights of stairs.
I have a resume ready for non-film work. One injury or illness could make me unable to work in my field. I have co-workers who have had joint surgeries, other physical job related injuries and general illness. I’ve broken my toes at least four times when gear landed on my feet. I’ve been doing this 20 years, and during that time I’ve had slow periods due to strikes by other unions, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, productions shooting in Canada because it was cost effective, etc. The film industry is very reliant on tax incentives passed by state governments. New York has a tax credit that has attracted a lot of production and created a lot of jobs. If the tax incentives go away, the studios may elect to shoot somewhere else. Ten months is the longest I have ever worked on one job—a TV show called Mercy. It was canceled after one season. Since my employment is precarious, I keep a non-industry resume ready just in case.
J.P.:What’s the absolute strangest experience you’ve had on the job?
A.C.: Not the strangest, but I’ll give you a fun sports-related story.
I worked on the Derek Jeter Re2pect ad for NIke. It was a big ad. We shot for a week. The opening shot, the camera is behind Jeter as he walks to the mound. I’m between him and the camera waiting to slate. He doesn’t realize I’m behind him and he swings the bat and hits me in the hand. Not hard, just like a rap on the knuckles. He immediately turns around to see how I am and tell me he’s sorry. I say, “It’s no problem, I’m fine, you just glanced my hand.” I slate and run over to slate a second camera. I look over and my crew members are looking at me shaking their heads and saying, “What are doing? You should have fallen down and grabbed your head and asked for a ambulance! That’s Derek Jeter—you would have been set for life!”
Shortly after, I am working on Trainwreck. We are doing a scene where Bill Hader and LeBron James are playing basketball. LeBron throws the ball and hits me with it. He starts to apologize and I drop to the ground and grab my neck and pretend I am hurt. When I got back up, I told him my Jeter story. He got a kick out of it.
J.P.: You’ve worked in film during the #MeToo movement, the Harvey Weinstein explosion, etc. And I wonder—what have you seen/experienced/etc in this regard? Is Hollywood gross when it comes to women? Has it been a thing as long as you’ve been working? Has it changed at all?
A.C.: I haven’t had any bad experiences to the level that is being talked about with #metoo. That being said, actresses are in a much more vulnerable position that I am, especially when they are starting their careers. I’ve experienced the same type of things that most women experience in their careers. Looking back in history, the film industry is like many others. There were some jobs that women/people of color were allowed to do and a lot they weren’t. The unions were closed off to women and minorities. I work with a producer who had originally wanted to be in the camera union. She tried to join and she was told straight out they weren’t letting women in.
Now there are more and more woman and minorities represented in the crew and talent. My union is still pretty white male dominated, though. No one was surprised about Harvey Weinstein. It was common knowledge he was a creep.
• Three memories from working on “Death to Smoochy”: Making Danny DeVito hot toddies every night for the martini shot(the last shot of the day) We shot in winter. One night I was so busy I didn’t have time to get it to him. The next day in the middle of the blocking rehearsal he stopped and pulled me aside and told me how sad he was. He looked forward to it every night!
Edward Norton was known to be a serious guy, not very personable. We had this remote controlled fart machine we used on some of the crew. We did a scene where Catherine Keener leaves him in a cab, I believe. We did one take with the fart machine in the cab. It goes off and Edward Norton stays in character and says “ But we’ve farted in front of each other”
It was a pleasure to work with Robin Williams. As you would imagine, once he gets started he doesn’t stop. I didn’t get to see much of it as I was the film loader on that job. I put unexposed film in the film magazines and take out the exposed film. With Robin Williams, you put three cameras on him and roll until you run out of film. I could barely keep up with keeping them supplied with fresh film so they could keep shooting!
For “Cold Mountain,” a large part of the movie was shot in Romania. The U.S. portion was shot in South Carolina and Virginia. We were in Charleston, S.C. and Jude Law was the main actor for our scenes. His wife went into labor early, and had to leave suddenly. Since we had nothing else to shoot without him, we got vacation days until he was able to come back! For one scene we shot Jude Law on the beach looking towards the ocean. Behind him was supposed to be a plantation house with slaves working. Since there were no longer any seaside plantation homes, we got on a plane and flew to Virginia. Then we shot what was supposed to be behind him!
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No. But I did work with someone who was in a small plane crash with a famous actor. They were traveling to a shooting location. The plane had to do a crash landing. He said as they went down all he could think of the headline: Famous Actor, four others dead in plane crash. Everyone survived!
I did go up in small plane with a co-worker who was a flight instructor. The pilot he was instructing was a another co-worker who had flown a plane for one hour before. We did some controlled stalls where you stall the engine and restart it. Then they asked if I wanted to do some mildly acrobatic moves. I said no.
• In exactly 15 words, make a case for “Arthur” (the new version) as an Academy Award-winning film:Helen Mirren. She elevates any movie that she is in. And it had the Batmobile.
• One question you would ask Al Roker were he here right now?: What’s your secret? He doesn’t stop working! Those morning show people get up earlier than me and I get up pretty early!
Why? Because they’re food magicians, taking two apples, some coconut, yesterday’s chicken and a box of napkins and turning it all into edible gold. To watch a master at work is to observe the greatest of craftsmen. The master chef makes people happy. The master chef makes people crave. You can love someone’s music or hate someone’s music. You can see art and cry and see art and curse. But when something tastes good—man, it’s bliss.
That’s my long way of saying that today’s Quaz, the 393rd in this wackadoo series, is a king of kings. Jeffrey Mora is the CEO of Food Fleet, as well as the former Los Angeles Lakers chef and the man who set up and oversaw food service at the Burbank Airport. He knows everything about the business—from banana chicken to dirty bathrooms to making the perfect meal.
And now he’s the Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:So Jeffrey—you’re a superstar chef who has cooked for everyone, everywhere. And I wonder this: Can anyone be a quality chef? Like, are some people born with the gift and others not? Or, with studying, love, etc, is yours a profession anyone can master?
JEFFREY MORA: I don’t think there is a simple answer to this question. Like with many things some people just have the gift. In my profession I would say that holds true with pastry chefs more than chefs. We say they have the touch, some have skills that no matter how long you are doing it you won’t get to that level. The difference between pastry chefs and chefs, is that pastry is more precise more exacting and involves more artistry on the level that we are talking about. You can look up the Coupe De Monde as an example of world class pastry chefs, and for chefs the Bocuse D’or. I think with anything, your love and passion for what your doing will help you become great. When teaching or lecturing, I always ask this seaming simple question: “We have all had good and bad hamburgers, what is the main difference between the two?” I always get the same answers—the meat, the bun etc. The real answer is the person cooking it—do they care enough about what they are doing to make it great? Do they toast the bun properly? How do they layer the lettuce and tomato? Do they put it on top or on the bottom of the bun? It does make a difference on how it eats.
This profession is a very difficult one with long hours, lots of manual labor, stress etc. People always tend to look at the glamour side of what we do, the celebrity chef side. The reality is a lot different. You really have to have a love and passion for it. Its hard work. that being said it can be very rewarding. There is no better feeling in the world than making something that people love to eat.
J.P.:You’re the owner chef of Food Fleet, a food truck booking company. And, as weird as this might sound, I’ve always wondered why, exactly, humans in the 2010s seem to just love eating from a truck. It’s weird, right—this phenomenon. So how to explain it?
J.M.: Eating street food has always been a phenomenon globally. I think Anthony Bourdain helped bring it more to the forefront in the states with his shows, and his passion for it. People like the eating from a truck for the same reasons people like eating from hawker stalls in other countries. You can find one person making one great dish, and doing the same thing every day. This makes them become a master of it. That is one reason, the other is more variety, and convenience. Most of the time when you go out to eat from a truck there are a number of them so as a group you tend to have more choices.
J.P.:You were in charge of the Los Angeles Lakers food service for eight years. So what’s unique about the way professional athletes eat? And how would you say diet directly impacts performance at that level?
J.M.: I would say what is unique is the fact that food and nutrition is directly related to performance and recovery on that level. Most athletes these days have their own chef and nutritionist . Each individual is unique in his own way. What one body needs is not the same as another. Caloric intake on a daily basis changes from day to day. Game day as opposed to training days. The real key and what makes it unique for me, and what the real challenge was, was to incorporate their needs into foods that they liked and wanted to eat.
Otherwise it was pointless. For the Lakers the challenge was putting out 15-to-20 different dishes every day that each one could pick and choose from that was best for them.
J.P.:Specifically, what was it like feeding Kobe Bryant? Was he as intense about nutrition as he was work? What do you recall?
J.M.: Kobe was very regimented in everything he did. He had a routine that didn’t deviate. Most of the time he only ate breakfast at the facility.
J.P.:How did this happen for you? What I mean is—when did you know you’d dedicate your life to food? When were you first aware you had legit talent?
J.M.: My mother was and is a great cook. Growing up she made dinner every night. My father and mother worked side by side growing up with another family, both of them immigrants. My family is from both eastern Europe and Italy. They would come for dinner and my mom would cook and most Sundays we be at their house for the big Sunday meal. I was fortunate that I grew up around great food and knew what that tasted like.
When I was in my teens working, they would do a pot luck once a week, and the others always complemented me on what I made. They began to look forward to what I would bring. I worked in some small little quick-serve places as well.
When I was 19, I told my dad I think this is what I want to do. My dad was a barber and one of his customers was the GM of Old Country Bakery. He was involved with the local chefs association. He made an introduction for me to a chef who was running a small little six-month program. Once I got in it, I couldn’t learn fast enough. I would spend all my time there. When I was ready to graduate, the Century Plaza Hotel was opening its new wing, and the chef got me an interview for an entry level position. This would hopefully allow me to be taken on as an apprentice in six months. Once at the hotel, I began to excel and grow. About one year in, the chef had me enter a contest for Westin Hotel chefs. We were not chefs but he required us to all enter. I ended up winning one of the categories—the first apprentice to ever do so.
I always felt like I was behind and needed to make up for lost time. The chefs, sous chefs and cooks at the hotel were mostly from Europe, so they began their careers at 14. I was 20. I felt like I had lost six years. I put in an average of 100 hours a week back then. I spent time learning from anyone who would teach me. The hotel—being so large with so many outlets and kitchens—was the perfect place to grow.
J.P.:How do you feel about the Food Network, and the 8,000 shows about people becoming chefs, trying to become chefs, proving their mettle as chefs? Does it cheapen your craft? Does it do the opposite?
J.M.: This question is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the Food Network has had a huge positive impact on our industry. The general public has a better knowledge and understanding of food overall. They seek out good food more than ever before. They have become better at knowing what good food is.
On the other hand it gives people a false sense of what it takes to be a chef. Everyone today uses that term as a generality: Chef, Master Chef. It lowers our standards. First and foremost you want to be a good cook, a great cook. Chef means a great deal of things but not everyone who is a cook is a chef. The show “Master Chef “is an example, There are only 70 Master Chefs in the United States. It’s a grueling 10-day test and if you fail one part your out. The success rate for passing is 1 in 12. To become a certified executive chef takes at least seven years after becoming a certified cook.
J.P.:What’s the absolutely weirdest experience from your cooking career?
J.M.: It is hard to pick just one thing, I have cooked in over 20 countries. I fed President Clinton right after the Northridge quake, I participated in the cook’s tour for world hunger in South Africa, I went on an expedition in the Amazon with Cousteau. Being on that expedition was quite the experience.
J.P.:You set up and oversaw food service at the Burbank Airport. I never, ever, ever think about airport grub. So what are the complications and difficulties of such a task? And how do you think airport food options compare now to when you started at Burbank?
J.M.: Feeding 5,000 people a day for one. I would say when I started back in 1990, overall, people’s expectations were low. Quality food service at the airport wasn’t as much of a priority. Most of the time back then you got a meal on the plane whether you flew first class or coach. For me, I approached it in a different manner. Most other operators treated the customer like a captive audience. I never did. Burbank was a business airport, with regular customers. I wanted them to realize that they could get a good meal before they flew out. We made everything from scratch from the pizzas to the hot dogs. I remember having to change the way I made hot dogs . Coming from New York I wanted a great dog with the casing on it. The first day I had to refund $500 because people were peeling the casing off the dog. I had to make skinless dogs. It’s still true today—skin on hot dogs is only on done on the east coast.
In the beginning, the restaurant made the least amount of money. After the first year it was one of the highest grossing locations. We had a great group of regulars.
We received an award for the healthiest airport food service in the country back in 1992.
J.P.: Is there a factually such thing as great food v. shit food? What I mean is—if a guy loves the Whopper and hates what he had at Per Se, is the Whopper good and Per Se shit? Is that person simply wrong, or incapabale of knowing good food?
J.M.: I think this question all comes down to perceived value. There is nothing wrong with the Whopper or Per Se. The main difference is did you get your money’s worth from both.
People will complain about a $5 meal as much as a $500 meal. You will be more pissed off at the $500 one. We all have our likes and dislikes. How and where we grew up and with what influences and exposure to different types of food helps.
I was asked once to go up and help a chef friend of mine who was struggling to understand the new restaurant he was working in. It was a very well-established place with a long history. They had abalone on the menu for $80 a portion. It came breaded with mashed potatoes and vegetables and a simple sauce. They would sell 5-to-8 orders a night. He changed it to a pickled ginger sauce with other garnishes. It went down to two orders per night and he couldn’t figure out why. It was white truffle season at the time, and a lot of places in New York were selling white truffle risotto or white truffle baked potato for $80. While they both go well with the truffle, I asked him why they paired the potato with the truffle. He didn’t have an answer. I told him, well, If I am going to take a risk and spend $80 on a dish like that, there better be something on there that I will eat if I don’t like the truffle.
He finally got it.
J.P.:Is there a way to look at food or a restaurant and know whether it was prepared in a clean and sanity kitchen? If so … what?
J.M.: The best answer to this question is when you go into a place, go directly into the restroom. If it is clean and well maintained the likelihood that the kitchen is will be a lot higher. If its dirty, you can see they don’t care at all, the chances are the kitchen isn’t clean either. I always look at the little details. Are the ceiling vents clean?
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JEFFREY MORA:
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Brandon Rush, Melvin Mora, Mario Batali, Paul Stanley, Taco Bell bean burritos, scissors, a new roll of paper towels, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Capone: I would have to start with Melvin Mora, we have the same last name and he played for the Mets. Paul Stanley, Brandon Rush, scissors, paper towel. Taco Bell. The last three in no particular order, I would rather have to eat the Taco Bell then spend time with any of them .
• What are three foods you loathe?: Bad Chinese food, bad Mexican food , bad Italian food.
• What are three foods you cherish?: Celery root, truffles, chestnuts.
• I threaten my kids with the idea of “banana chicken.” Is there a way one could make banana chicken and have it taste OK?: I would say there are a few—one is make sure you dip it in coconut milk before breading, and use Panko. Second is to make a dipping sauce the kids like.
• The 46th president of the United States will be?:Leon Panetta
• Worst kitchen injury you’ve ever suffered?: I spliced off a piece of my index finger on a meat slicer and got 14 stitches
• In exactly 14 words, make an argument for Olive Garden: 14 words—the first is why, the second is why and the third is why. They are consistent. You will get the same meal at everyone of them.
• Who would you rather hang out with—Daryl Hall or Johnny Gill?: I think I would have more fun with Johnny Gill.
• Four memories from your first-ever date?: All I remember is she had bad breath when I went to kiss her.
• Who was the absolutely kindest athlete you’ve ever worked with?: There are many who stand out—Metta World Peace, Shaq, Lamar Odom to name a few.
This is going to sound a bit weird, but Mike Brennan is here—in large part—because of the above photo.
I’m not exactly sure how it came to this, but I was scanning Twitter a few weeks ago when his profile crossed my field of vision. And (BAM!) it was eye catching. The paint-splattered glasses and white T-shirt. The striking hair, dancing this way and that. The brushes, pushing up an all-knowing grin.
I was hooked.
What followed was a deep dive into a remarkable, fascinating visual artist who has departed the ministry, faced crippling depression—and now finds himself here, bringing joy to the masses with dazzling pet portraits, one-of-a-kind paintings and a book, “Dear Snow,” that breaks down (happily) why one should do his all to avoid winter and its accompanying bullshit.
Mike Brennan, man of 1,000 colors, you are The Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:OK, Mike, so I’m just gonna start blunt—what the hell is a “Rockstar pet portrait”? And how did this come to be a thing for you?
MIKE BRENNAN: A “Rockstar pet portrait” is a custom pet portrait I create using vivid colors. It’s for when you know your pet rocks, and want everyone else to know, too. I started creating pet portraits as part of my coming back to my art after a 10 year absence. It was through experimenting and playing that I discovered my love for these portraits. And it just seemed right, given my love of animals, in particular dogs. I have two dogs myself (both rescues)—Biscuit, a golden retriever mix and Cooper, a Chihuahua mix. Pet portraits help celebrate those special relationships we have with our pets, and the art can come to symbolize the fond moments we share with them.
J.P.:You’re obviously a very talented artist. And I wonder—is that something you’re born with, or taught? Specifically, I guess I mean, well, I suck at art. Always have. But had I been born into an artist colony, with gifted parents and paintings everywhere, does that change? Or am I—artistically—who I am born to be?
M.B.: First, thank you for your kind words. I think some people are born with more of a natural ability, so it might come easier for them. But I believe it’s a learned skill. If you put in hours and hours you will get better and better like anything else.
Someone might be better at color theory and usage, while someone else might be more skilled at technical and precise type of drawing. We are drawn to certain types of art because of our experiences. And then we invest more time practicing and learning and growing because of that interest.
J.P.:I know of you because I recently Tweeted about my joy of living in warm weather, and you noted your book from last year, “Dear Snow: One Man’s Angry Rant Against Winter.” Which brings me great joy in title alone. So why this book? And what’s your beef with snow?
M.B.: OK, so my hatred of snow runs deep. It wasn’t always that way. When I was a kid I was able to enjoy sledding and building snow forts and the like. But once I became an adult and was the one responsible for snow removal the gloves came off. Snow is nothing but a hassle, stealing time and energy. It complicates life and at a moment’s notice.
The time that “Dear Snow” started to form was back in the winter of 2010. I was having a particularly difficult snow removal session. My earbuds broke while shoveling. I was freezing and frustrated. And when I was near done, the plow came and filled in the end of the driveway I had just finished.
Imagine Steve Martin’s character in “Trains, Planes and Automobiles.” Just a regular guy trying to get by and all of winter seems to be conspiring against him. So I did what any regular Joe today would do—I took to Twitter and ranted my first “Dear Snow” post.
Over the next few years as my angsty tweets grew, people began to follow along, wondering what I was going to post next. The snarky comments came freely.
In December, 2017 we had a surprise storm that got me riled up again. My friends all kept telling me how funny my posts were and I joked about making them into a book. But my friends were all really encouraging me to make it happen.
I thought about it but didn’t want to create this angry fortune cookie type book of page after page of just angry tweets. Then I had the idea to turn it into an illustrated book. I had always loved comic strips like Calvin and Hobbes and the Far Side, so I imagined my book like a cross between those two with some “Trains, Planes and Automobiles” and “Grumpy Old Men.” I, of course, was the main character along with my evil arch enemy “Snow” in the form of a snowman.
J.P.:Along those lines, what was your process for getting the book published? I know, ultimately, you used CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Was that by choice? Did you seek a publisher? And how was the self-publishing experience for you?
M.B.: I collected my past Tweets (thanks to #dearsnow), picked out the best ones and set out to illustrate them. My background is in graphic design, so designing and assembling the book was in my wheelhouse.
I created the book, some T-shirt designs, social media graphics, all while learning how to self publish on the fly through Amazon’s CreateSpace, all in 30 days time. It really has become fairly easy to self publish as far as the process on CreateSpace (now KDP). They’re real good at guiding you step by step.
My choice to self publish came from two reasons: 1. I had no idea how one published a book, and didn’t have any publishing connections. 2. I wanted to get the work out there quickly into people’s hands, and also maintain control over it all.
I like having say over the whole project in self publishing, but when it comes to marketing it, that’s where I wish I had the resources of traditional publishing. I’m a great creator, but not so great maintainer. Once something is completed, I’d rather move on to the next project. That’s a challenge for sure.
J.P.:You teach an online course, “Your Artist Journey.” And as one who earned his masters degree online (and hated every moment of it), I wonder what are the benefits/limitations of online art education?
M.B.: I’m actually in the midst of re-launching my course “Your Artist Journey: Finding Your Voice & Style Through Daily Practice.” One of the benefits to online education is being able to deep dive into something very specific and do so at your own pace. I think we’ll just see more and more online course as time goes on. It matches the way we consume content in today’s culture, if you think about on demand movies with Netflix, and music with Spotify. People want choices, variety and the ability to approach things so they fit into their current lifestyle. Why should education be different?
I enjoyed my time at art school, but the Internet was very young at that point and there weren’t as many resources available. The biggest asset to being at art school was relationship and proximity to the other students learning and the professors who had connections that were helpful post-graduation. That’s still one area I think online education lacks a bit, community. It’s helpful to have things like Facebook groups and other forums to gather people in to have discussion and ask questions, but it’s still easy to hide or not show up. To get the fullest out of education I think it need to be experienced in community.
J.P.:I love hearing artists break down their work, and I loved this one in particular. So … where did this come from in your brain? What were you thinking? How long did it take?
M.B.: This is a mixed media piece called “The Hermit.” It was part of a series I did called “30 Days of Faces” where I explored the relationship we have with the importance of recognizing faces. As far as my process, I started with creating what’s called a monoprint where I applied acrylic paint to a plate then pressed paper onto it so the paint would transfer. These prints were abstract color fields. Once they were dry, I would either draw or transfer a previous continuous line drawing of a face that I felt matched the mood of the print. The final part of the process would be to enhance some features using media like pastels, color pencils, etc. Each piece took a few hours to create.
This particular face was one I came across on the internet. In my mind I created this backstory that this weathered old man had seen some harsh years and now was living in seclusion as a hermit.
J.P.: How did this happen for you? Like, when did you first know you had talent? When did being artistic first bring you joy? When did you know this was your calling?
M.B.: Some of my earliest memories are of creating greeting cards for family members for birthdays. I loved that something I created could make someone smile, and having them hang it on the fridge.
Art has always been about connection for me. I want to create art that fosters a connection either around subject matter, or that creates an experience where there is an exchange. I’m not one of those artists that is driven by process. I’m a heart guy, not a head guy. I want to move people and make the feel. But I also want to build bridges with my art – bring joy and make people smile, or find some common ground. We have enough things dividing people today.
As far as knowing when it was my calling, that’s a bit trickier. I loved cartoons, comic strips and comic books growing up. I was always drawing and my high school art experiences really solidified that this was what I wanted to pursue.
But I had that dreaded starving artist conversation with my parents, and they wanted me to at least go into something art related that could earn more money. So majored in graphic design.
I bounced around from job to job for several years, until I finally hit a wall. I felt like part of the machine, cranking out deadlines every two weeks and not really being able to enjoy my work. It was a “is this it? Is this all there is?” moment. At the same time, I was heavily involved in my church volunteering in ministry. I loved being able to help people and felt the calling to enter full time ministry. And so I did. A wild 10 year ride. I co-planted a church and things seemed amazing and successful. But inside, I was struggling with my place, my identity, and found myself in some roles that really didn’t fit with my areas of gifting. I had taken a 10 year absence from my art, and looking back it was really messing with me.
I ended up suffering from depression, and had to leave the ministry. But it led me back to my art just as a way to climb out of depression. I embarked on a 365 daily art making journey, and almost seven years later haven’t missed a day. I blogged more about it last year if anyone wants to read more and see what 6 years of daily art looks like.
About 2 1/2 years ago I was finally convinced this was my calling. To help people through my art and journey. To make art that makes a difference as well as help others on their own journey. So I started my own business, Mike Brennan Art & Design, where I offer several art initiatives, as well as graphic design and illustration.
J.P.:How do you take it when someone doesn’t like a painting? The ol’ “Yeah, I’m not feeling it.” Does it hurt? Do you not care? Both? Neither?
M.B.: Honestly, I’ve been at this so long and try to be as prolific as I can with creating something every day, that if someone doesn’t like something I try not to let it bother me. We all have those days where we are more susceptible to criticism though. I try to remind myself that the person who didn’t like it probably isn’t my audience for it anyway. And being in rhythm of daily creation, if there’s something I feel like is subpar, tomorrow is a new day with new creations.
J.P.:On Jan. 11 you posted this quote—”Inspiration comes from many places but you have to have your eyes open.” And I wonder, what do you mean? Like, what do you really, really mean?
M.B.: I think inspiration can come from almost anyplace, but you have to be open to it. It’s too easy to run around distracted and hurried all the time and miss things right in front of us. There are things all around us that can inspire us. We can look but not really see. The trick is to broaden our definition of what an inspiration can be, or where it can come from. When you walk through life a little more aware and curious you can notice beauty in textures of rust and decay, or how the softness of a shadow falls on the person across from you while commuting. Inspiration isn’t reserved for when we listen to music that moves us, or see someone performing with excellence that makes us appreciate their talents.
One of the things I like to do is identify posts from other people’s Instagram accounts that grab me in some way visually. I will use many of them to create some art that I can post and tag the original account. It usually creates some nice moments where I can surprise and delight people with my art. I can make them feel noticed and spread some joy. And even if it’s just for a brief moment say “You helped inspire this.”
J.P.:Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?
M.B.: I don’t know that I have a greatest moment. At least not like a single great accomplishment or meeting or opportunity. I really suck at celebrating my wins, as I have a tendency to press on toward the next project. But I would say there have been smaller moments where I was able to help other people in some way either through my art or by sharing life. I’m always in a place where I’m looking for the perfect trifecta – me using my gifts and abilities to help and bless other people, while bringing glory to God.
The lowest is easy. At the end of my full time ministry years, as I mentioned, I was fighting depression. It became apparent that I had to leave ministry, which also meant selling our house, leaving not just a job but friends and family. I had lost a sense of purpose and hope. And shortly after, my father passed away quickly from cancer. It was one of those “Is this what life has become now?” moments where you feel like you are living rock bottom for an extended season of life.
Ultimately, that led me back to my art and a kind of Pheonix moment. Sometimes it’s life’s tragedies that can lead us to some of our greatest victories if we keep moving forward, do the hard work of wrestling and showing up everyday.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MIKE BRENNAN:
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No, I have a strong faith. If it’s my time, it’s my time.
• Four greatest artists of your lifetime: Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jim Henson, Bill Watterson
• Three memories from your first-ever date: Eating at a Friendly’s restaurant in a local mall. Talking a lot because I was nervous but happy she was smiling and laughing at my jokes. The sound of my leather jacket crinkling when I moved as we spent a few hours talking in the car.
• What’s something that will immediately embarrass you?: I used to be super shy as a kid. I remember feeling my body heat rise and my face get all red when people would call attention to me in any way. Thankfully that faded away as I grew up. Today, I think it’s more getting embarrassed for others – like when someone thinks they are killing it in a performance but the whole room knows they are bombing. Yikes.
• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Sandy Koufax?: Sandy. I’m a lover, not a fighter.
• One question you would ask Jair Bolsonaro were he here right now?: Would you mind if I sketched you?
• Is it OK to bring your own popcorn to a movie theater?: Yes, but not pre-buttered. That can get messy in a hurry, and also the grease stains tip off the employees that you are smugglin’ kernels.
• Two celebrity crushes: Only two? Sandra Bullock. Faith Hill.
With all due respect to the first 376 participants, this week’s edition may well be my favorite.
Adrianne Curry is an Avon salesperson who works out of her home in Montana. She happily drinks coffee and gazes at eagles and peddles makeup to help women feel better about themselves. She is content and at peace and in love and, more than anything, an escapee.
See, not all that long ago Adrianne was trapped in the quicksand-like vortex that is fame. It began in 2003, when she won the first season of America’s Next Top Model, thereby propelling her into a dizzying whirlwind of magazine spreads, Playboy covers (two!), red carpets, TV guest appearances, reality shows (she was on the fourth season of VH1’s Surreal Life, which resulted in her meeting, marrying and starring in another reality show with Christopher Knight, aka Peter Brady). She had her breasts enlarged, her ego battered, her confidence shredded.
And then, one day a bunch of years ago, she said, “Fuck this.”
I’m not entirely sure that’s the exact phrasing, but Curry looked around, took stock at her life, and wanted out. No more selfies, no more autographs, no more … of any of it.
Truly, it’s a thrill to introduce Adrianne Curry as this week’s Quaz Q&A …
JEFF PEARLMAN:So Adrianne, I stumbled upon your website and was hooked. Why? Because I’m a huge fan of celebrities who come to the realization that fame is pretty much bullshit. So how did you come to realize fame is pretty much bullshit?
ADRIANNE CURRY: I always knew it was. I never belonged in that world. I’d be scolded because I refused to “play the game.” I wouldn’t date famous people to climb the ladder after my divorce. I think only narcissists and sociopaths can truly make it in entertainment. You have to be willing to do what it takes, and many times that is crushing your opposition. Just like a CEO of a company, a certain lack of empathy for your fellow man is needed. I didn’t have that and my lackluster career reflects it. I did start to get tainted with the fame disease, but I have been to a lot of therapy. I made sure I didn’t fall victim.
The main thing that tipped the scales were the backstabbing friends I had who would gossip about me behind my back. Women who would stand next to you at Comic Con to grow their own brand, and then whisper about you the moment you left the room. It broke me. There was no loyalty and certainly hardly any real love. I no longer wanted to be around so many bad people. Upon meeting my guy, we quickly realized LA would destroy us and we both bounced. After a few years out of the game, all the star fuckers and fake friends fell off. They couldn’t vampire off my “star” anymore. I was no longer a vehicle to get them more recognition.
J.P.:Because this is my Q&A, and I’m the president and CEO of jeffpearlman.com, I’m allowed to ask what I want. So I must ask this: Adrianne, on your blog you wrote a post about your new vacuum, the Shark Apex Duo clean AX950. And you love it and it’s world-changing, and that’s great. But, eh, Adrianne, you posted that entry on Oct. 7—and the image shows the vacuum alongside a Christmas tree. Adrianne, maybe I’m just a naïve Jew … but what the hell if your tree doing up in early October?
A.C.: It’s my AUTUMN tree. I have a lot of decorations that go up for Christmas and I do not get help from my spouse outside of him observing. This tree is 10-feet tall and I have two more 7 1/2-foot trees that need to go up. I thought it would be fun to make a harvest tree so I could have the big boy already up and running for decorating. It takes over two days to set it up properly, so it will save me time. Usually, I put it up right before thanksgiving undecorated to save me time. My entire house is decked out in fall. I am a decoration queen.
Speaking of Jewish, I just taught a fellow top model contestant what a Tchotchke is today when she inquired what kind of wedding gift I would like. Random.
J.P.:So I have a 15-year-old daughter. She’s tall and blonde and quite pretty. And for years we’ve been approached by modeling agencies, by modeling reps, by friends saying, “You really should have her modeling.” And the wife and I have turned it all down—A. Because we don’t want her objectified; and B. We wanted her to have a normal childhood. You are a model. Much of your existence has been modeling. Were we wrong? Right? Both? Neither?
A.C.: One hundred percent right. She would have learned her only value is her looks. I have been to so much therapy to deal with the damage my agents did to me. I struggle with all the imperfections they pointed out “get a nose job, you’ll really make it!” I feel fat, I crumbled and got a boob job I regret. There is nothing beneficial for anyone to have a job based on the fact that they are pretty. It creates sociopaths, narcissists and very insecure people. You get older, then you struggle with feeling you are losing your value, even if you know you aren’t. If modeling came without the fucked-up agents and sick old men preying on 15-year olds, I’d say go for it. I am really glad I made it later on in life. It still messed me up. Major body issues. I am super lucky everyone made sure they told me I was fucking ugly growing up. it wasn’t until after I won Top Model that people would say I was pretty. It created a pretty conflicted image of myself. If I had a daughter, I think someone would meet the other end of my shotgun if they suggested she be a model.
J.P.:One of the best essays I’ve ever read on fame is from your site, headlined CELEBRITIES DESERVE IT! TALES FROM THE OTHER SIDE. In particular, you write this: “Worst, are the ones about my past relationship. I wish that person the best life they can possibly have. Our time together was highly toxic and unhealthy. I don’t want to be reminded of it. It sucked. I could go my entire life with never ever hearing about that person again and miss absolutely nothing. If not for other people, I’d rarely if ever think about it again in my life. I did my time in therapy to heal. Good luck and God speed!” And I think the argument some would make is, “Hey, you went on TV and made this public. Hey, you did a reality show titled (literally), ‘My Fair Brady.’” I’m not saying I agree (I don’t), but it’s how people think. And I wonder how you’d respond to that genre of thinking; the idea that once you put it out there, hey, tough shit, kid.
A.C.: I say, FUCK YOU. I won Top Model three months sober from opioids. I had a bad past and I was so mentally stunted, I might as well have been 15 when I got married on TV. Empathy and compassion is something humanity has lost due to access to social media. We are all becoming monsters.
Seriously. Did you shit your pants in school? Piss yourself? Only a bully piece of shit would remind you of it for the rest of your life. People who do this are insecure and miserable in their own lives. It makes them feel good to trash on other people. I would understand if I was still out there selling my soul for money. If I entered celeb boxing matches, took every reality TV show offer, played out the dynamics of my current marriage for all to digest. I learned. I matured. I am not jumping around trying to get the attention of TMZ. The train wreck is over, though, I don’t think I was as bad as some. I turn down every show offer that comes my way. Don’t expect me to be kind to you if you think you’re going to shit on me. I am not 20-years old anymore. I am a 36-year old woman who gained love and self respect for myself, even if you don’t have any for me. Eat shit. I flip on the TV and feel pity and compassion for the poor souls trying to fill the empty void in their hearts with validation and attention from the mob. They turn on you. They always do.
A.C.: It was 2015 when I snapped and was done with Hollywood. In 2016 I decided to move to Arizona with my guy. In early 2017, I started pissing my pants in my sleep. Yay! Great! I couldn’t watch a movie without leaving the theater 14 times to pee. I was bleeding a lot and something felt very wrong. I was pretty scared, but my husband convinced me to stop living in denial and go to the doctor. I had a huge fibroid grow out the top of my uterus and smash into my bladder. We didn’t know if it was cancer or not, but it had to be removed either way. I had a myomectomy. It is really painful. I did get some cool pictures of my uterus outside my body! During my downtime waiting to hear back from the lab on the results on the tumor, I watched Edward Scissorhands. High as a kite, I apparently signed up to be an Avon Lady with hopes of cosplaying Peg, the Avon Lady. My kit arrived a week later. Thank god. It gave me something to focus on during a very rough time in my life. I put my all into it and really loved it.
Old colleagues in the industry thought I had gone mad. People started making fun of me for “how far she has fallen” … like fame is the only thing that ever defined me or made my life good in any way. Fuck ’em. Some people want a normal job where they don’t have to worry if their coworker is trying to fuck their husband, use them to achieve something for themselves or steal their gig. Avon is that for me. I got better from my surgery and found myself completely immersed in something that gave me joy and purpose. It was better than any TV show or magazine cover I ever landed. I got to help women and chitchat with them via email. It made them feel good, I picked out product for em. It’s a much better existence for me. It is safe. I finally feel … safe. Safe and sound with a home office full of product and former fans who are now friends/customers.
J.P.:You live in Montana, you’re married, you’re out of the spotlight. What’s your general day to day life look like?
A.C.: I wake up. It’s freezing! We don’t want to use our propane outside for cooking because when the snows get deep, the truck wont be able to make it on our property to refill our propane tanks. We feed our cat and dog, start a fire in the wood stove and sit down in our offices to drink coffee. I work a bit before going outside to give the horses a few carrots. I clean my home daily because I am obsessed with it. I cook breakfast and dinner from scratch. I watch my husband chop cords of wood out my window to hold us off in the winter and help him stack it in our garage and front porch. Soon, my car will be garaged because it isn’t four-wheel drive and I wont be able to make it down the mountain. I have a home gym in our walkout basement that I hit up more than the one all the way in town. Plus, it will come in handy when we get snowed in.
I get to see deer, elk and black bear wander around. if we are lucky, some bald eagles will go fishing in the lake down the street that we can see from our home. I stream three times a week, doing makeup on our horrid internet. I have no cell service. Any phone call I make is via wireless internet and it is bad internet. I hiked a bit more in the summer and spent a lot of time in Glacier National Park. We also played a lot on the ATV. I am really excited for our first winter here. At night, I look at the Milky Way and feel my nose sting with the chill in the air, before turning into sleep. I try to make sure I work a minimum of five hours a day, so I am in my office a lot. I put a ton of bird feeders out the window but now that winter is almost here they all left. We had great horned owls, America’s largest woodpecker, magpies, hummingbirds, etc. Sometimes, I step outside just to hear the thudding silence. especially now that it is cold.
Things are different out here. You depend on your neighbors. A huge pine tree fell across our drive and we had to chainsaw it up to get home one day. One of our neighbors had to wait for my husband to pull it off the road to get by. The issues that plague bigger cities don’t seem to exist here. I tune out politics and social issues because I am just sick and tired of the anger. We have one life on this earth. Sadly, most of us ignore the actual earth. Just last week I was vacuuming my basement. I looked up into the eyes of a huge buck in my window with two females next to him. i shut it off and we stared at each other for a bit. It was pretty rad.
A.C.: No, Top Model did. Revlon told me they never planned on giving the winner a prize. Tyra told us every week we were fighting for a prize. When it aired, suddenly the voice-over was different from what she said. Shit got ugly. I got 0 money for my win … and that is what drove me the most. It was ugly and I cried many tears over the years. They refused to even show me in other seasons as a winner. I was erased from Top Model history for telling the truth. I am glad my standing up for myself ensured they didn’t fuck anyone else over. I am still proud that I won.
A.C.: We didn’t want the stress or the cost of a wedding. The moment we said we were engaged was the moment things started being projected onto us. Reasons of why we should have a wedding, who we should invite, etc. Matthew and I have felt very much that it is me and him against the world. Some pompous shitfest of us plastering on fake smiles and shelling out our savings for future property on booze and dinners sounded absurd. We are simple. We wanted simple. I think many people forget that a wedding is really only about the bride and groom … not their friends, families … just them. Our wedding was more intimate and meaningful than any wedding I have ever attended. Had people been there, it wouldn’t have been as meaningful. It also would have been in some shitty location we didn’t want to accommodate guests. We drove almost five hours in a car with our photographer. I don’t think people would have been OK with that. The stress of worrying about others would have ruined the peace and joy we had that day. We did have a bear attend, so that was rad.
J.P.:Why do you think people so gravitate toward the famous? It always seems so weird. Famous people fart, poop, vomit, spit, have runny noses. They play firefighters in films—but don’t fight fires. They play superheroes—but have no super powers. So why are we so drawn to it?
A.C.: Same reason people believe anything they see on that there TV. People like to lose themselves in fantasy. Most famous people abuse drugs, are psycho assholes, etc. Look at Mel Gibson. Everyone was so shocked at those recordings. I wasn’t at all. I’ve seen worse. If people understood how lonely fame was … how empty … how fame does not give you money to pay bills … how mobs of people are there waiting to turn on you at any moment … they wouldn’t wish it on anyone. They just look at the smoke and mirrors everyone projects and make believe that it is real. It isn’t. After all of this, I still admire musicians. Not because they are famous, but because they create beauty. An actor gets a script and plays a game of make believe. A musician tells a story … and lulls you into their reality with their words and the strum of their guitar. I’m more likely to pay to see Roger Waters than to see Hugh Jackman.
J.P.:You posted a photo of your wedding dress on Instagram and wrote, “What is sexy? I picked my wedding gown because of its simplicity and flowyness. I didnt want tits flopping everywhere or it be so form hugging I couldn’t walk. Im over that shit. I was comfortable as fuck and looked FIRE.” I love this. In general society, who do you think decides what’s “sexy”? And why do we allow it?
A.C.: Instagram decides what is sexy now. Doing squats with your vagina ending up three inches from a camera is what is sexy. There is no mystery anymore. The old me looks like a tame kitten nowadays. Thankfully, I grew up and realized I bought into objectifying myself to get ahead. Now, all these kids (and adults) are posting booty twerking, under boobs, butt cheeks. Photos of a beautiful girl or guy in clothes don’t get likes. Everyone feels this emptiness inside. They feel “likes and comments” are the way to fill that painful void. People look up to the The Kardashians—whose own mother peddled the wares of all the women in the family to make a buck.
It makes me sad. Sad for society. Sad for all the women and men I see adding to it. I feel the internet has turned into the tale of Narcissus. Rather than interact with each other in real life, we are all doomed to stare into our flip screens at our own image..posting a never ending flow of images we admire of ourselves for people to like till we fucking die. I myself am in selfie recovery. If Matthew takes my pic to market Avon or just in day to day life, fine. However, I am not going to hold up my own phone anymore to admire myself. It’s a bit of a sickness.
• One question you would ask Twiggy were she here right now: What do you think your caloric intake was in a day? Also, when you said Twiggy, I immediately thought of Marilyn Manson’s bandmate first.
• Five reasons one should make Kalispell his/her next vacation destination: Glacier National Park, Northern Lights, Moose, Bear, Elk.
• Why Game of Thrones?: Because it was inspired by The Lord Of The Rings … and because Ned Stark is my spirit animal … being a good and honorable person only costs you your head.
• In 18 words, can you make an argument for a restaurant that only serves Honey Nut Cheerios?: No. I fucking hate them
• How did you meet your husband?: I was streaming Hearthstone on Twitch … we were both Guildmasters on World Of Warcraft and I Googled him … and saw he was the most handsome man in all the world.
• Five words you overuse: Fuck, dammit, shit, obviously, apparently
• Did being praised as “hot” ever matter to you? What I mean is, you’re on a multitude of “hot” lists. Did you care?: Nope. Being “hot” got me nothing but a few assholes that felt so empowered by it that they cheated on me with everyone. I much preferred “cool chick you could burp with and have a beer”… even though I don’t drink. Or—”baddest ass music tastes.”
• The 46thpresident of the United States will be …: Trump. Just because it will make people implode.
• Is The Surreal Life a show that should still exist? Or never have existed? (Confession: I loved it): It cant anymore. Everyone is a super famous reality TV star on their twitch, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, etc. Reality TV is dead because everyone is trying to be a super famous celebrity as far as the eye can see.
This is gonna sound sorta weird, but while I’m not a fan of classic Hollywood, I’m a fan of fans of classic Hollywood.
What I mean is: The time period rivets me. But when I watch films from the black-and-white era, well, I sorta kinda fall asleep. I just don’t find the acting particularly convincing, the storylines particularly intriguing, the conflicts particularly realistic. Women are objects, men are dashing, villains are lame and over the top.
With this, Lara Fowler would certainly disagree.
A past winner of the CiMBA Award for Best Classic Movie Discussion, Lara is an expert on classic cinema, and as we speak she’s completing a biography of Marion Davies, the legendary actress who, ahem, I’d never heard of. She’s a film historian and author, and would gladly change her name to Happy McGill for $5 million of Celine Dion’s dollars.
JEFF PEARLMAN:OK, so Lara, you’re currently working on a biography of Marion Davies, the actress and producer who died 57 years ago. And, if I’m being honest, I’d never heard of Davies before. Which leads me to think most people haven’t heard of Davis before. Which leads me to think, for you, this is first and foremost a labor of love. So … why a book on Marion Davies? And what’s the goal?
LARA FOWLER: You’re certainly not alone in not having heard of her. Nowadays, if people know her at all, they know her as the mistress of William Randolph Hearst or “the woman from Citizen Kane.” If you’ve ever seen Citizen Kane, there’s a perception that Kane’s wife, Susan Alexander, is based on Marion Davies. It’s far more complicated than that–the character is a composite–but the perception has ruined Marion’s reputation in the general public. Susan Alexander is a no-talent hack opera singer whose career is pushed along by Kane, and she really has nothing to go on. That couldn’t be further from the truth about Marion Davies. Marion was a silent film actress (she also made it in sound films, but her peak was in the silent era) who was under contract to Cosmopolitan Studios, run by Hearst, who was also her real life romantic companion. She spent most of her early career weighed down in very heavy costume dramas, because Hearst wanted the public to see her as he saw her–as a saintly, otherworldly angel. She was good in these dramas, but the truth was that she was a phenomenally gifted comedienne. Everyone saw it, including Hearst, but he couldn’t bring himself to cast her in comedies.
Finally, in the late 1920s, he did–and the results were spectacular. She was doing screwball comedy before anyone else was, and when you watch her comedy work, she’s clearly the comedic predecessor to people like Carole Lombard, Lucille Ball, and Carol Burnett. It’s fascinating to watch. I want to bring her back into the public consciousness, because in addition to her comedic significance, she was a woman who charted her own path and lived her life her way. She was a modern, progressive woman.
I began the process of writing the book in 2013, when I realized how much I loved the research and writing process that went into my blog. An interview with Barbara Stanwyck biographer Victoria Wilson about her research spurred me to begin, and when I began thinking about subjects…Marion Davies kept coming up. She had been on my mind since I was 13 years old and first learned about her, I always found her fascinating. I would try to expand my list of potential subjects, but I just couldn’t think of anyone as fascinating as Marion Davies. I took it as a sign, started my research, and the puzzle pieces started to come together very quickly. It’s been 5 years now.
The goal is to restore Marion Davies’ reputation from the Citizen Kane realm and back to her rightful place in film history. I’ve been lucky to be able to talk to many important people in Marion’s life–people tell me you make your own luck, but the fact that multiple important people are still alive, some pushing 100 years old, really is pure chance. I’ve been able to talk about Marion at Hearst Castle, the Annenberg Community Beach House, UCLA, and at the TCM Classic Film Festival, and my research has taken me all over the world. It’s a wild adventure and she’s brought me so much joy. I couldn’t have chosen a better subject, and she’s such a pleasant person to write about. Everyone loved her. Biographers have to live with their subjects 24/7, and she’s just such a positive “presence.”
J.P.:So you’ve written a ton about classic Hollywood, which makes me wonder—how do you feel about modern Hollywood? About the 785th superhero movie? About the 300th film staring an animated dog of some sort? Where are we, quality-wise, in 2018 cinema?
L.F.: That’s a fascinating question with many facets to it. Hollywood has never existed in a vacuum, it has always reflected the trends and social issues of the outside world.The popularization of television in the 1950s led movie studios and theaters to experiment with new techniques to get people into the seats, and that’s how 3-D movies came into the mainstream. The fall of the Motion Picture Production Code in 1968 allowed studios to really make the kinds of movies that reflected the social movements of the 1960s, which got people into the theaters. Now, with the internet and the fact that people can stream movies at home for free, Hollywood has to come up with new and exciting things that will get people out of the house. The thought process really hasn’t changed that much. I see Hollywood today as reflective of our time. They recycle what clearly works, financially and otherwise, just like they always have. Think of all the Andy Hardy movies that were made during WWII. All the Lassie movies, the Rin Tin Tin movies…the list goes on. We’re creatures of habit.
In terms of quality, I think there was a loss in creativity that came with the fall of the Motion Picture Production Code. The MPPC, while it was basically censorship (it dictated what could be shown in movies coming out of Hollywood) and censorship is never a positive thing for a society, it brought the most talented and creative writers and production people to the industry. The studios were going to make the movies that they wanted–they just had to make sure that these innuendos and suggestive references flew under the radar of the censors. So that necessitated the best of the best–and from those creatives, we got brilliantly suggestive movies that said everything they needed to say…without saying much at all. Now, everything is shown to us and there’s very little left to the imagination.
J.P.:What’s your all-time favorite film? And, specifically, why? What takes it from here all the way to up there for you?
L.F.: Ah, the dreaded “favorite movie” question! When people ask me this, I usually say It Happened One Night. To me, it’s the perfect movie. It’s got it all–humor, drama, great acting, a phenomenal script, top-notch directing–it really doesn’t get much better than that. And I’m not alone, I’m happy to say–it was the first movie to win the Big Five at the Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay). That feat has only been matched two other times in history–with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Silence of the Lambs.
Also, The Thin Man always makes me happy. No matter what is happening in life, I can turn on The Thin Man and I feel instantly better, it’s the best medicine. The dialogue is so modern, and the relationship between Nick and Nora shows us that a husband and wife can be friends and equals
J.P.:So I’m reading your blog, and all about Olivia de Havilland. And you have these two side-by-side photos—one of Olivia when she was young, and one of her as a senior. And maybe this sounds dumb, but is it ever jarring or sad or … whatever to write about bygone film eras, and now see the people as old or, oftentimes, dead? Do you know what I mean? You live the films and the contained emotions. Then—they’re old and crusty and … yeah.
L.F.: That doesn’t sound dumb at all. It’s a great question. I think I’m used to it–sometimes it’s jarring to think just how long ago all this was, because you essentially live in that world and it’s real to you. But to me, it’s just as real to think that in many cases, most if not all of the people in that world are dead. I enjoy learning about their lives, from the beginning to the end. The sad thing is when a member of the Hollywood “old guard” dies, which is happening more and more frequently. There are very few left now. I interviewed Joan Fontaine for the blog just a few months before she died, and her death hit me very hard. For me, Joan Fontaine as a 96-year-old woman was the same Joan Fontaine as I saw on the screen. It was just a different stage of her life. I met Olivia de Havilland in Paris at the age of 94, and had the same feeling. She was the same person–just older. I was happy to meet them both, and had no feeling of sadness at their age, just joy.
J.P.:How did this happen for you? The interest in film? The interest in classic film? Was it a childhood passion? Did a certain movie flip the switch? When did the lightbulb go off?
L.F.: My grandmother was a lifelong film aficionado. She wanted to be a film critic when she was a child, but that path was not an easy one and she ended up going to nursing school instead–but her first job out of nursing school was at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital (now Cedars Sinai) in Los Angeles, where all the movie stars went for treatment. She took care of Betty Grable, Judy Garland, Farley Granger…and she would tell me stories about what they were like. Concurrently, she would show me movies from that era that she thought I would like, starting with Lili, starring Leslie Caron. I became obsessed with Lili, wanting to rent it every time we went to the movie store–to the point where my grandmother finally said “Let’s find something else.” I’ve always felt that my grandmother would have made a great film programmer, because her next movie for me was Meet Me In St. Louis. I’ve programmed film festivals before and if I were organizing a classic movie lineup for children, I would absolutely choose Meet Me In St. Louisto follow Lili. Beautiful Technicolor, simple yet meaningful storylines, an ensemble cast. I fell in love with that one, too, and then fell in love with Judy Garland. I saw every movie she ever made by the time I was 11, and started branching out to the movies her co-stars made. It grew exponentially from there.
J.P.:So I used to work at Sports Illustrated, and readers would often long for the 1970s, and all these bygone writers. But when, while writing for the magazine, I started thinking the modern writing was actually better. More colorful. More intellectual. Just … better. And you might hate this, but I think film is far better now than the material I’ve seen from the 1940s and 50s. It just strikes me—at its best—as more sophisticated and developed. Tell me why I’m on crack.
L.F.: Modern writers, actors, and directors stand on the shoulders of the people who came before them. There would be something wrong if the people in the 40’s and 50’s didn’t help further the craft. Remember that in the 1940s, movies were only about 50 years old and the industry was still growing and changing. What you see as sophistication and nuance is actually a shift in the language of cinema as it has aged. The other day, a colleague brought up a fascinating idea to me–the fact that in the language of silent film, there’s something of a “rule” that if the characters don’t indicate that they hear something, that thing doesn’t make a sound. It’s the perfect setup for physical and situational comedy–but that rule faded out of the cinematic lexicon once sound came in, and now people who aren’t familiar with silent film often ask “Why didn’t the character hear that train?” Audiences have become more sophisticated as the movies have aged.
I run a classic film Meetup group, and even among my attendees, from time to time someone will start laughing at a line they consider trite. That, then, leads to a conversation about how these movies were fundamental in shaping the nuance and sophistication that we see in filmmaking today, just like the English language of the 1500s shaped the language that we use today.
But…if you want recommendations for some absolutely powerhouse movies from classic Hollywood, I would be eager to give them to you. You’d be blown away by some of the movies that were made in the pre-Code era.
J.P.:How do you research? I mean—let’s talk Davies. What’s your process? Where are you finding most of your info? How much of it is interviews vs. archives? Where do you do most of your work?
L.F.: There are several people left alive who knew Marion well, and even one who knew her when she was still working (Marion retired in 1937), so I’m extremely lucky there. I’d say about 50% of it comes from archival and scholarly research, 40% from in-person or recorded interviews, and then the remaining 10% from miscellaneous other sources. I unearthed a set of interview tapes that Marion’s previous biographer conducted in the late 1960s with many, many people who have long since died. Those tapes are extraordinary, and have given me information that I couldn’t hope to find anywhere else.
I am able to travel, which is another benefit that I have in writing this book–so I’ve been to archives all over the United States, the UK, and France. Depending on the nature of the information, I will take notes or make copies, then save them in my files. When I get home, I will review and organize them into physical or digital file folders, and begin to put the puzzle pieces together. I did solid research (no writing) for the first 2 years. Then I started the writing process from the middle out. I wrote the most compelling part of the story first, then branched out from there. Now, my manuscript is essentially complete and I’m organizing and editing to make sure everything flows properly.
J.P.:What separates a great movie from a good one? Seriously–what are the factors? The elements? And are some films factually great? Or is it all, come day’s end, opinion?
L.F.: Good question! Some movies that are considered “great films” are just not everyone’s cup of tea. To return to Citizen Kane, for example–there’s a huge segment of the population that just doesn’t like it. That’s personal taste–even though it consistently ranks as the #1 “greatest movie” of all time. I do think much of the notion of “greatest” is based on opinion, but there are certain movies that just come together so perfectly that their greatness can’t easily be argued. Casablanca, I think is one of those. The acting, the writing, the directing, the cast, and the forward-thinking nature of the movie come together for a movie that is objectively great. If I can love on Casablanca for a second…here we are in the middle of WWII, no one actually knows whether or not the Allies will win or lose the war, and yet when the French and the Germans both sing their national anthems at Rick’s cafe and try to out-sing each other…the French win. It’s not left vague, the movie takes a bold and potentially dangerous step and essentially declares that the Allies will win the war. It’s remarkable, and gives me chills even as I write this.
J.P.:You’re a freelance script writer. Which means … what exactly? How does that work?
L.F.: I write scripts (and do research and editing) for Turner Classic Movies. Essentially, I research a movie, then put together a script that serves as a blueprint for the host when the host goes on TV to introduce it. It’s a lot of fun, and exactly what I love to do! My passion is for working in the trenches with research and analysis of the film industry. I was asked recently if I would ever like to become a screenwriter–I don’t think so. That’s a whole different skill set that involves more creative writing than I’m doing right now–and there are people who are far more gifted with those skills than I could ever hope be.
J.P.:So I’ve had several of my books optioned for movies—and nothing ever gets done. Everyone talks a good game, everyone says who should play who, everyone tells you how great you are. Then—nothing. Lara, you’ve been around. Why so much bullshit in Hollywood?
L.F.: I’m sorry that’s happened to you. I know that they were sincere with you, that they loved and saw movie potential in your work, or else they wouldn’t have spent the money to option your books. Options are tricky things, because if they’re going to invest this much money in something, they want it to be as perfect as they can be. If they can’t get the exact right actor to play the lead (perhaps he’s asking too much money, perhaps he’s busy with other projects), the costumes are going to be too expensive, or the stars (so to speak) don’t align in exactly the right way at the right time, nothing happens. It all comes down to money, and it always has. But maybe you’ll get that long-awaited phone call sometime in the near future!
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH LARA FOWLER:
• Five all-time best Marion Davies films: Show People, The Patsy, Blondie of the Follies, Little Old New York, Five and Ten
• One question you would ask Marvis Frazier were he here right now: Did you feel burdened growing up in the shadow of your father?
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Raymond Hatton, Billy Waddy, palm trees, the pandas at the zoo, “China Seas,” “Deadpool,” chocolate cherry milk shakes, OutKast, Trident gum: You’re going to make me rank pandas at the zoo? Don’t make me choose between Jean Harlow and pandas! 1. I feel guilty not putting the pandas first; China Seas. Jean Harlow is a personal favorite; 3 Raymond Hatton because I really like the 1923 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame; 4.Trident gum is good; 5. Palm trees are great but the fronds are hard to clean up; 6. Chocolate cherry milkshakes. I’d like them better without the cherries; 7. I never got into OutKast, I was the middle school weirdo listening to Billie Holiday on my walkman; 8. Deadpool, because I didn’t see it so I can’t really have a valid opinion; 9. Billy Waddy is down here because I don’t do the sports thing.
• In exactly 20 words, tell me how you feel about the film, “Titanic.”: It’s a childhood pleasure. I love Kate Winslet and she’s good in it, though I hear she doesn’t think so.
• Six greatest actors of your lifetime: Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jack Nicholson, Gary Oldman
• What’s the last dream you remember?: I was speaking to someone, used a word incorrectly and she laughed at me.
• Three memories from your senior prom: 1. The prom king was a kid who beatboxed in class all day, and the prom queen was a girl who wore a leather motorcycle jacket to prom; 2. I lost my glasses (yes, I was that much of a nerd even then); 3. I eventually took off my shoes.
• On a scale of 1 to 100, how afraid are you of death?: I’d probably have to give it a neutral 50. I make a reasonable effort not to die, but I don’t live my life afraid I’m going to be killed.
• You’re offered $5 million to write Celine Dion’s biography. However, you have to move to Las Vegas for two years, sleep on her floor, bark in public and permanently change your name to Happy McGill. You in?: If she’d do the same.
• What’s your all-time favorite movie line?: This requires some context for anyone who hasn’t seen Some Like It Hot. “Daphne” is actually Jerry, and has been posing as a woman throughout the whole movie. Osgood has fallen in love with “Daphne” and proposed marriage. I’ll bold the line that’s the kicker.
Osgood: I called Mama. She was so happy she cried! She wants you to have her wedding gown. It’s white lace.
Daphne: Yeah, Osgood. I can’t get married in your mother’s dress. Ha ha. That-she and I, we are not built the same way.
Osgood: We can have it altered.
Daphne: Oh no you don’t! Osgood, I’m gonna level with you. We can’t get married at all.
Osgood: Why not?
Daphne: Well, in the first place, I’m not a natural blonde.
Osgood: Doesn’t matter.
Daphne: I smoke! I smoke all the time!
Osgood: I don’t care.
Daphne: Well, I have a terrible past. For three years now, I’ve been living with a saxophone player.
Osgood: I forgive you.
Daphne: [Tragically] I can never have children!
Osgood: We can adopt some.
Daphne/Jerry: But you don’t understand, Osgood! [Whips off his wig, exasperated, and changes to a manly voice] Uhhh, I’m a man!
About Bob Barker and Burgess Meredith and Cesar Romero and the employee discount at Nordstrom. She gushes and gushes and gushes, which makes her both an absolute delight and the perfect Quaz. Kyle brings to this forum a little bit of everything—she’s a product of famous parents who never valued fame; she’s an outspoken political Tweeter who never ran for office. She worked in a department store and performed on “Circus of the Stars” and had a huge crush on Robin. She was a “Price is Right” model, a movie of the week staple, a “Love Boat” smoocher.
JEFF PEARLMAN:So—you’re fascinating. As you say (correctly) on your website, you’re the daughter of Hollywood royalty. Your dad starred in “Bringing Up Buddy.” Your mom had been “Miss America” and acted in a gazillion things. And I wonder—how are you normal? Because it seems like fame, showbiz, attention … it all can reall warp a person. And you seem … unwarped.
KYLE OLDHAM: Unwarped. What a refreshing word in this crazy world of Hollywood. It all starts with Mom, Dad and Gramma. My sister and I were very lucky to have two extremely normal parents. We grew up in the northwest part of the San Fernando Valley … far, far away from Hollywood or Beverly Hills. Still in the same house. If they were both working? Gramma (THE general) wouldn’t take any of my sister’s or my whining—ever. Dad worked on probably every show in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and a few in the 90s. Mom, of course, had Barnaby Jones and that’s when I started to get the whole “Hollywood” thing. Kids at junior high up the street wondered why I came all the way to the Valley to go to school. People assume a lot. During Barnaby? Mom drove a Dodge Dart. That’s what you can take away from my famous parents. That car? Became my first car. And I loved it. No pretense on possibly getting a fancy car … why would I? Mom drove it!
J.P.:So you spend many years modeling on “The Price is Right.” Which … I mean—crazy. Awesome. Unique. So how did that happen? How did you land the gig? And what are things we wouldn’t know about working the show?
K.O.: Price is Right. Best. Gig. Ever. I went to the show with my best friend and a buddy from high school. Somehow I ended up getting called, correctly guessed the price of a trash compactor and I was on stage. Surreal. Bob Barkers executive assistant had gone to school with my mom and when she realized I was moms daughter? A few weeks after I was on as a contestant, they called to see if I’d like to try out as a model. Holly was going to leave, and they were looking for a replacement. So I did two weeks of shows, we all got along, Holly ended up not leaving and I was given a relief position if you will. If the girls were sick or out of town? They’d call me. On and off for 14 years. Like I said … Best. Gig. Ever.
I learned a lot about how they choose (back in the day … don’t know if it’s changed) contestants. Everyone always thinks I got picked because of Mom or Dad. Not true. When you’re interviewed by the EP, all he has is your first name (on your name tag). If he sees something/someone who looks like they have a personality? He cues his assistant to jot down a few details. Then they go back in and put people in order. The database has to be checked to see if you’ve ever been on Price before (If so? You’re out), or if you’d been on another CBS game show within the last year (also out). That was when they learned my last name (Aletter), said “Hey isn’t there an actor named Frank Aletter & wasn’t he married to Lee Meriwether and doesn’t Kyle look just like her?”
J.P.:You appeared on “Circus of the Stars” with your mother. I can think of nothing I’d less want to do. Soooo … how did that happen? And what do you recall from the experience?
K.O.: Circus of the Stars … what a blast. My mom did the show first with Peter Fonda. Him riding a motorcycle on a wire with a “trapeze” underneath. Then my sister did trapeze with Mom, and the next time? It was Mom and I doing the Cradle. And it was in Vegas! We got to see a lot of celebrities we already knew, and made a bunch of new friends, too. But we had to work out and practice twice a day for three months. The cradle is a stationary piece of equipment 40 FEET IN THE AIR! Yes, there was an airbag but good grief, one false move and you’d bounce out of the airbag to the floor. We did a bunch of tricks, hung neck to neck, then she spun me … wheeeee. Then I did splits in a pair of rings, again… 40 FEET IN THE AIR!! Spinning spinning spinning.
And we as a family (Mom, sis & I) ended up traveling with the actual circus. Much longer story. Haha.
J.P.:In 1993 you gave birth to your daughter Ryan—and your acting career came to a halt. And I wonder, looking back, why this had to be? Was it your choice? Was it an industry that sorta treated women like shit once they reached a certain age? Was it depressing? Were you OK with it?
K.O.: I had bought my first house at 27 or 28, and realized that I needed a “real job” to keep it. So I had a knack for sales/customer service (which in my early twenties came in handy as a cocktail waitress … I made $120-to-$150 a night in tips on a Tuesday.) Good acting genes (for remembering drinks and faces) and a general need to make sure people had a good time. Even though I did “The Day After” at 24 (I mean … sheesh it was one of the most watched MOW back in the 80s), my agent at the time wasn’t getting me any interviews after that. I still did a few plays with Mom and Price still happened even after I had my daughter. But I also had a husband (now ex) who literally told me one day that I needed to find a job. We needed the money. My daughter was 8-months old. I just wanted to be a mom. But that’s how I ended up at Nordstrom.
Best store, best customer service and I’d get a discount? Sign me up. Plus I started in menswear, but the makeup department manager had kept her eyes on me and thought I’d be a perfect fit. Again, customer service, don’t BS the customer, sell them only what they need? Instant rapport and repeat customers. Worked there for about two years, but then got a reprieve from the husband and didn’t have to go back to work until my daughter was about 8. By the time she was 10 her father and I were separated, then divorced and I found a permanent job. Plus there was a time about five years ago when I would bartend on Friday nights and Saturdays just to make extra cash. I’ve never shied away from working, ever. And if acting came back into my life? I would welcome it with arms opened wide. I’m one of those that never completely closes any doors.
J.P.:So your mom starred as Catwoman in the 1966 TV classic, “Batman: The Movie.” And, I’m not gonna lie—I absolutely love it. Like, love love love. What do you remember from the time period? How did you feel about her playing Catwoman?
K.O.: “Batman: The Movie”—I have to agree with you Jeff, I LOVE LOVE LOVE it as well. I mean it is pretty cool to say, “Yeah … my mom was Catwoman.” Have to admit, my memory is still really sharp from that experience and I was only 6! I just know I had a crush on Robin. But soon learned I had an even bigger crush on Burgess Meredith and Cesar Romero. They were so kind, gracious and fun. My sister and I got to got to set twice. Once in the Batcave (I KNOW RIGHT??!!) and the second time out to Paramount ranch for the submarine fight scene. I know that I had a blast. My sister was only 3, so her memory is a bit sketchy. The one thing that pains me to this day, is that Burgess gave me one of his latex noses which inevitably was lost in the 1971 earthquake.
And we as a family had stayed close to Adam until the day he passed. He, Burt and Mom would do conventions together. Mom still does them (as she raises money for her charities) and occasionally gets to still do them with Burt.
J.P.:In 1981 you played “Suzy Marshall” in an episode of “The Love Boat.” This makes me insanely jealous of you. What was the experience like? What do you recall? Did you go anywhere even slightly near an ocean or a boat?
K.O.: HA! Jealous? That’s funny. I was playing my mom’s daughter (such a stretch!) but her out-of-character mom was trying to help her daughter land a rich guy. I was only 19 and had my first kissing scene. The gentleman who played opposite my character was this great guy and when we did the kiss? He faked as if he hit his head on one of the ships “pipes” on his way out the door. Then he said to the director, “Can we try that again?” and looked at me and said, “Not bad kiddo, not bad at all.” Haha … really great guy. What’s even crazier is we have stayed close to almost every single regular cast member all these years. Ted Lange, Gavin MacLeod, Jill Whalen, Bernie Kopell. Side note … I invited a good friend from high school to set, you might know him. Tom Ramsey. Haha. Probably not the best scene for him to watch me film but he got a kick out of the experience.
And as I said … fake pipes. Not even close to ocean, wind, water or boat.
J.P.:Bob Barker is obviously an iconic figure in game show history. So I’ve gotta ask—what was he like to work with? Kind and decent? Mean and petty? Smelly and suave? What do you recall?
K.O.: Bob Barker. How do I begin? I had mad respect for him as he and Mom had done the Rose Parade together, so meeting him on the day I was a contestant? I was giddy. Then when I had the opportunity to watch him work? Good grief. What a pro. I got to watch him do the same schtick and it never fell flat. Brilliant. And he knew, because I was an actress that he could ask me to “throw to a commercial” and I wouldn’t screw it up. Nine times out of 10, if I could crack him up? Even better. Consummate professional. Kind and decent. Never mean, ever. Suave, yes. But not in a creepy way at all. He even had Mom come to the show and kept her as a surprise for the audience. The only thing he ever asked of me was, “Can you go blonder?” I said, “Barker, if that means I can keep working with all of you people? Hell yes.” So I was literally Marilyn Monroe blond. And I’ve stayed a “blond” to this very day.
J.P.:Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?
K.O.: Greatest moment in my career? I’d almost have to say every time I’ve ever worked with my mom. Even though she gets pissed (not really) about how fast I can memorize and retain. Ha. Lowest moment? Right now. I haven’t worked (at that “proper” job I mentioned earlier) for over three years due to a bunch of spine surgeries. And other surgeries. I miss working. A lot.
J.P.:You’re very involved in your church. You’re also quite liberal. It seems, across America, Christianity has sort of been drawn, in large part, to Donald Trump and his wave. Why do you think that is? What’s gone wrong?
B.O.: Great question. I try to live my life as my mom has led hers. Kindness matters. Love matters. Hate is not a word I use often at all. I tend to have a positive outlook no matter how dire things look. Some of that comes from my faith, and a lot of it comes from seeing Mom never have an unkind word for anyone, ever. A lot of my positive stance comes from literally surviving all these surgeries. Faith was introduced to us at an early age. But I had quite a few years when I wasn’t leading my best life, and when I started rereading my Bible? It was at a time when the general message stuck.. Embraced it, and never looked back. I don’t try to “sell” anyone my faith, as I know how much that would bug me in my early 30s, so if someone asks me how, with everything that has happened to me, I stay positive? I just simply say, “Because I have faith.” And I believe it.
That being said, I can’t explain the craziness of DT and his fervent followers. When the hypocrisy of elected officials use faith as a way to “win”? Ugh. It disgusts me. But I know plenty of people who are very religious, in media and even they don’t know how to give their conservative view without getting skewered.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH KYLE ALETTER OLDHAM:
• Both you and your daughter have traditionally boy names. Why?: My mom, Lee. My sister, Lesley. My daughter, Ryan. Mom started it by having a “boy” name. I was named after Richard Kiley, a dear friend of my mom and dad. He was also a massive star on Broadway. And my now ex? Told me on our second date “First baby? Boy or girl? The name is Ryan.” I was like … OK, cocky boy.
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Jerry West, vanilla scones, quacking ducks, Phish, Harley Davidsons, Gavin Newsome, Joe Flacco, “Remember the Titans,” Leon Spinks: Man … this is tough. But gotta say “Remember the Titans” (Every time it’s on? I stop to watch), Jerry West (cuz I love all sports), Gavin Newsome, Harley Davidsons, Joe Flacco, quacking ducks, Phish, Leon Spinks, Vanilla scones.
• The world needs to know—what does Bob Barker’s hair smell like?: Smells like lots of Emmy awards..
• One question you would ask Doug Flutie were he here right now: I would ask him if he really wanted to do Dancing with the Stars, or did they come looking for him?
• Five reasons one should move to Los Angeles: The Beach. The Sunshine. Earthquakes vs Hurricanes. (Earthquakes don’t have Seasons). Did I mention sunshine and THE BEACH?!! Oh yeah and a pool in your backyard. Boom.
• The drought terrifies me. How about you?: The drought? There’s a drought? I thought it was just “weather.” I joke I joke. Because otherwise I cry.
• In exactly 14 words, make a case for peach pits: Will you accept “What diner was made popular by Beverly Hills 90210?” Peach Pit.
• I wasn’t thrilled with the Dodgers brining back Matt Kemp. Your thoughts?: My thoughts? Dude! How can you be unhappy about Kemp!! Come on! Seriously.
• Five words you overuse: Ha. Staaaap. No! Gorgeous. Okay.
• I have an idea for a game show—“The Price is Crappy.” You’re the host, contestants come on the stage, we fool them into thinking they’ll win money and then we throw rotted tuna in their drinks. We’ll pay you $10,000 an episode to host. You in?: No way. If my appreciation of Barker and the show didn’t give you this answer? No amount of money would matter. It’s just how I’m wired.
Every so often, however, I’m willing to make an exception.
Today’s Quaz is a 33-year Massachusetts mailman. He asked to remain nameless because he’s still employed by the United States Postal Service, and some of the answers below could cause him to be reprimanded or, perhaps, fired. So—because this is fun and quirky and terrific—I made the exception.
For the first time ever, your Quaz delivers mail.
It’s a goodie …
JEFF PEARLMAN:OK, you’re a longtime postal worker with more than three decades in the business. So I start with this—what’s your absolute craziest story from your career?
POSTAL WORKER: I have worked for the post office since 1985, so I have had several hundred co-workers and supervisors. There are many crazy things and situations to pick from. I would say the most bizarre thing I have seen is a fellow carrier getting fired because he pleasured himself in the back of his mail truck, and he videoed the whole thing on his phone. He sent it to his ex-girlfriend and she reported it to the postal inspectors and he ended up getting fired. We also had a Supervisor who rode his bike to work and then he would give himself a sponge bath in the restroom. Many, many crazy things during my exciting postal career, lol.
J.P.:So obviously you know the term, “going postal.” And I wonder A. How you feel about it? B. Is there any legitimacy to it? Does working in the postal business for a good chunk of years possibly cause one to lose his shit? Become angry? Etc?
P.W.: I personally was annoyed at the term “going postal” because I think it shed a negative light on the many great people who go to work every day and do a great job. For all of us to be associated to some degree with a few unstable people … I always thought was a bit unfair. I think the term came about because of one of the first mass shootings was a postal worker in Edmund, OK many years ago. I think there are many professions that can be very stressful, all for different reasons. I think a lot of times the stress isn’t even job related. It’s financial, it’s marital or relationship issues. Any number of things. As far as stress in the post office, sure there’s stress. Most of that has to do with how qualified management is in that particular station. Unfortunately, in my 33 years on the job I honestly can say I have been around only a handful of people who know how to deal with employees, treat them with respect and still get their job done.
J.P.:I’m sure you’ve had your handful of angry dogs in your career. How do you deal with them? What’s the best approach?
P.W.: Dealing with dogs is definitely something you get a knack for. First thing is to make sure you always have dog repellant with you. One of the benefits to having your own assignment every day is you learn who has dogs and other pets. Before you get your own route, you easily could be on a different route every day, so having the repellant is a must because you’re not familiar with that neighborhood. Dogs and cats can come out of nowhere at anytime. The best approach with a new dog is to act casual around it and don’t show any fear. The best is when an owner says, “Don’t worry, he doesn’t bite.” Yeah, he doesn’t bite you …
J.P.:So when we lived in New York we had a mailman who, every holiday season, would whistle Christmas songs as he approached the door—and only as he approached the door. Clearly he was reminding us about seasonal tips. What do you think of that? Cheesy or OK?
P.W.: Any mailman who whistles Christmas songs during the season is being a dick. As a carrier, you do your job every day and talk to your customers and be friendly. If they choose to tip you at Christmas, great, if they don’t than that’s OK, too. We have had carriers who left a route right before Christmas to take another route. Then the week leading up to Christmas they actually drive around the old route to see if there are any envelopes on the mailbox. That is not cool. The way that works is, if the guy who took over your route sees an envelope with your name on it, he’s supposed to give it to you.
J.P.:How has e-mail impacted your professional life? Do you see a day when the postal service will become obsolete?
P.W.: E-mail has definitely impacted the Postal Service, as well as people paying their bills online. First class mail has been steadily dropping for those reasons. The future of the post office right now is totally in the hands of parcel and package delivery. If the post office ever loses the account they have with Amazon, we will be in serious trouble. The amount of parcels has increased steadily over the last 10 years.
J.P.:How do you deal with a package that features nearly illegible writing? I’m sure you’ve had plenty of times when it’s unclear whether the address is 53 Emerald Lane or 92 Emery Lane. So is there a process?
P.W.: When either a package or a letter has a funky address on it, due to bad handwriting or rain or damage, I usually show it to a couple of guys to see if they can see something that I can’t. If there is no way to figure it out, the usual move at that point is to mark it “Insufficient Address” and it will go back to the sender.
J.P.:Do customers ever weird you out? Freak you out? Hit on you? Scream at you? And is there some sort of code of decorum you need to turn to?
P.W.: I have come across many strange customers. I have had guys open the door just in their underwear, or just a towel around their waist. Many times you can smell pot coming out of the house. Some people will yell at you because of a bad experience they might have had with a clerk at the post office. They get mad because someone mailed them something and they want to know where it is. The best way to handle that is to stay cool and give them the number to the post office and the supervisor’s name, so they can call him for more info on whatever the problem is. I have had gay guys dropping hints at me and invite me in (no thanks). Another area you find weird things is when you take the mail out of the blue collection boxes. I have found food, feces, Ziplock bags with piss in them. Every day brings something new.
J.P.:How did this happen for you? I mean, you’re a kid from Mass. I’m sure you had hopes and dreams, and I’m guessing at age, oh, 8 they didn’t include working for the postal service. So, soup to nuts, how did this career come to be?
P.W.: I grew up a big sports fan. Played sports all through elementary school and high school and never really stayed focused on my future. I got decent grades, but looking back I know I could have done much better. My father worked for the post office for many years, so after I graduated it didn’t look like college was possibility so I took the postal exam. I took the test in January of 1984 and I was hired a year later.
J.P.:How did 9.11 and terrorism impact your profession, if at all?
P.W.: Well, 9.11 put everyone on alert for a while. We had to use caution when collecting mail from boxes, be observant for any packages that might look different. The Anthrax scare was also something that caused a lot of concern in our profession. We actually had to call the State Haz Mat team in one time due to a powder substance coming out of a package. Nothing came from that, thankfully.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH THE POSTAL WORKER:
• One question you would ask Viola Davis were she here right now: I would ask Viola Davis what her favorite episode of How to Get Away with Murder was.
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Fred Lynn, retirement plans, San Francisco, Post-it Notes, Jewish holidays, Etta James, gender-neutral bathrooms, Captain Kangaroo, Meek Mill, Delta Airlines: San Francisco, Fred Lynn, Gender-Neutral bathrooms, Post it notes, Etta James, Retirement plans, Captain Kangaroo, Jewish Holidays, Delta Airlines, Meek Mill
• Three reasons one should still subscribe to a newspaper?: 1. Still love walking into a store and buying a newspaper; 2. Nothing better than having coffee and reading the paper on Sunday morning; 3. Buying newspapers keeps a lot of good people employed.
• How did your senior prom go?: Didn’t attend.
• Three all-time favorite athletes: Larry Bird, Jimmy Connors, Tom Brady
• In exactly 12 words, make a case for Billy Sims: Being drafted by Detroit cost Billy Sims a chance to be great.
• What’s your hidden talent?: My ability to debate.
• Do you think millennials sorta suck?: Yeah, I find them very annoying and obnoxious.
• Two things you need to do before you die?: Fly in an F-16 and travel cross country
• Why can’t I stop eating breakfast cereal late at night?: Because cereal is a great late-night snack