I’ve been very busy lately, having recently moved to Summerland just a stone’s throw from Montecito and Santa Barbara, California, and I now realize that I’ve been remiss in writing my Blog and have lots of catching up to do. Where do I begin? I think this is a good place to start. It’s soooo Hollywood!
Last Fall, a dear friend of mine, Leonard Morpurgo, one of Hollywood’s leading international publicity executives who has traveled the world from California to Cannes for more than 30 years, told me that had written a tell-all, no-holds-barred manuscript about the greatest movie stars and celebrities of those past decades, from Gary Grant to Steve McQueen to the Duke of Windsor to Charlton Heston, and Warren Betty, Leslie Caron, Peter O’Toole, Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir Alec Guinness, Richard Harris, and many, many more. But there was one problem. Leonard didn’t have a publisher. It happened that I was having a discussion about several of my own projects with Michael Baumohl, the president of Global Book Publishers in Beverly Hills. The rest is history. I gave Leonard his contact information and Leonard made a deal with Michael to publish his book. I have a copy of the book in my bookcase. The inscription says, “For John who made this book possible – (signed) Leonard Morpurgo”. The book is very informative and lots of fun to read. I highly recommend it. It’s available to purchase, for $14.95, on the internet: http://www.bookpubintl.com
Steve McQueen — I had co-written a story treatment titled “Fast Freddie” with Allan Balter, a writer who I had worked with, along with his partner William Reed Woodfield, on the TV pilot “San Francisco International” at Universal City Studios. Mort Engelberg, a former UA executive who had produced “The Hunter,” starring Steve McQueen and directed by Buzz Kulik, contacted me about the story I had written with Allan Balter several years before. Mort said he pitched the story to McQueen and he was interested in doing it. There was one problem. Allan was now under exclusive contract to MGM Television and would be unable to collaborate with me. Allan was furious at this missed opportunity. He signed over the rights to me, and made it clear he would never talk to me again. In fact, he didn’t. He had recently married Natalie’s sister, Lana Wood. I never got the feeling they were a happy couple, and Allan died of a heart attack not long after their marriage.
I guess the project I had co-written with Allan Balter, “Fast Freddie and his Brother John,” to be produced under Ray Stark’s Rastar banner was ill-fated. I was supposed to be driven by the studio to Santa Paula Airport to meet the reclusive Steve McQueen who supposedly holed up in a hanger with his vintage motorcycles and airplanes. On the day of our meeting I received a phone call saying our meeting was cancelled. I was insecure and thought McQueen had changed his mind about doing my project. Only later did I learn this was about the time McQueen learned he had cancer.
I had met legendary producer Ray Stark many years before when I was Assistant Cameraman, on David L. Wolper’s NBC-TV series “Hollywood and the Stars” – On Location: “Night of the Iguana.”
Charlton Heston — I co-produced a number of NRA (National Rifle Association) commercials with him as their spokesman. Heston insisted on a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label Scotch in his dressing room, and although he finished off the bottle during the course of the day, he knew his lines perfectly, hit his marks on the set, and was 100% sober during the shoot. I have a lobby card hanging on my office wall, from “The Ten Commandments,” saying “To John,” signed by Charlton Heston.