Author Stephen Schochet is a professional tour guide in Hollywood who years ago began collecting little-known, humorous anecdotes to tell to his customers. His new book is called Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies! The book contains a timeless treasure trove of colorful vignettes featuring an amazing all-star cast of icons including John Wayne, Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney, Jack Nicholson, Johnny Depp, Shirley Temple, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Errol Flynn, and many others both past and contemporary. Tim Sika, host of the radio show Celluloid Dreams on KSJS in San Jose has called Stephen, “The best storyteller about Hollywood we have ever heard."
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your interest in Hollywood.
I'm a tour guide in Hollywood and years ago I started collecting little stories to tell the customers and had the idea that the tales could be told anywhere. I had always been interested in the movies and history so it was kind of a natural fit for me. When I first started I had a study buddy named Ivan. During our breaks we would research information about old Hollywood and share it with each other. I remember one time we met on Hollywood Boulevard and said to me in a low, conspiratorial tone," Steve, man, you what I found out today? That Thomas Edison owned the rights to the movie camera and the early moguls like Mayer, Warner, and Zukor they had to pay him tributes. They why they left the East Coast and came west -- they were outlaws, baby!" The more information we found out, the more fun it was to give the tour. And I've got a good memory for stories so having different material kept it fresh, I think for the customers as well. Anyway, eventually I had the idea that these very short anecdotes could be told anywhere and that's what led, after a few other projects, to the idea for the book.
2. Have you met any of the famous people that you talk about in your book?
Jimmy Stewart, George Burns, and Lucille Ball were always friendly and waved. Fred Hayman's boutique on Rodeo Drive was a great store (now defunct) where I used to be able get my customers cappuccinos spiked with Kailua and brandy -- I'll tell you the more people drank the more they enjoyed the tour. A bunch of stars came in there, like Cybil Shepard, Suzanne Pleshette, Vanna White, the one who I really enjoyed meeting was Zsa Zsa Gabor who took pictures with all my customers. The bartender was a beautiful girl named Laura, she looked like Cindy Crawford. Zsa Zsa walked to the bar, complimented Laura and asked how she kept her skin so nice. Before Laura could answer Zsa Zsa suggested that Laura stay away from booze -- then asked her to put some extra brandy in the cappuccino. Then she laughed so she had a good sense of humor.
3. Tell us about Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando being next-door neighbors and working together.
They were next-door neighbors and sometimes Jack would be puttering around in his garden and he would hear this disembodied voice coming over the fence and they would conversations like Tim Allen and his neighbor in Home Improvement. Previously they worked together in the movie The Missouri Breaks. Jack had been looking forward to it, I think at that time Brando and Lawrence Olivier were the two actors everybody wanted to work with, but Marlon by that time was really lazy and never bothered to learn his lines. He'd always be reading cue cards and wouldn't Jack in the eye in their scenes together. Finally Jack got frustrated and asked Marlon to stop doing it so Brando then placed an assistant in his trailer with a radio transmitter who would read the script, which Brando would hear through an earpiece. Unfortunately, the radio transmitter inadvertently picked up police broadcasts. One day Marlon was doing a scene, suddenly looked startled, came out of character and said," Oh my God! There's been a robbery at Woolworths!"
4. What famous star scared tourists at Universal Studios?
It's the first story in my book:
The Universal Maniac
In 1999, an Australian gentleman told me about an interesting experience he and his family had at Universal Studios. They were on the backlot tour passing one of the theme park’s main attractions, the Bates Motel used in the 1960 horror classic Psycho, about a murderous young man named Norman Bates who loved his mother a little too much. As the guide gave out information about how director Alfred Hitchcock shot the picture, a tall man, dressed in drag and carrying a large knife, emerged from behind the old set and charged toward the tram. The narrator seemed to know nothing about the Norman Bates look-alike and clammed up completely. The make-believe killer wore such a convincing maniacal expression that some of the paying customers were frightened and screamed when he raised his weapon. Then the “fiend” pulled off his wig and he turned out to be comic Jim Carrey; the thirty-seven-year-old star was clowning around during a work break. After his laughing “victims” calmed down, Jim was happy to pose for pictures and sign autographs.
5. Why did a close family member ask Walt Disney for his autograph?
I have a whole chapter about Walt, he was such a fascinating character:
Walt Disney’s Daughters
Walt Disney’s two daughters, Sharon and Diane, grew up sheltered from the limelight. The children had no images of Mickey Mouse around their home. Their father didn’t go to many parties, preferring to stay in after a long day of work. Sometimes he would playfully chase the youngsters upstairs, cackling like the evil peddler woman in Snow White. When they behaved badly, Walt would admonish them with a raised eyebrow; his stern demeanor inspired the character of the wise old owl, in the 1942 animated feature Bambi. As toddlers, the brainy Diane and beautiful Sharon stayed blissfully unaware that their parents worried about them being kidnapped and allowed no pictures of the sisters to be publicly circulated. Once in 1939, a curious classmate questioned six-year-old Diane about her family. She went home and said, “Daddy, you never told me you were that Walt Disney,” and asked him for an autograph.
6. What did a former LA police chief have to do with Star Trek?
That was Chief William Parker who took over the force in 1950. If people saw the movie Changeling with Angelina Jolie, they know that the LAPD had a corrupt reputation and Parker instituted a lot of reforms, which earned the public's respect. Parker was hard to get know; his personality, was considered to be both logical and taciturn. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was a former police Sergeant who served under Chief Parker, he wrote speeches for him, really respected him and largely modeled the character of Mr. Spock after him.
7. Why did Steven Spielberg think Jaws would ruin his career and when did he know it was a winner?
Jaws was a really fun movie to write about it! It really changed Hollywood; it brought in the blockbuster mentality to the studios. Executives now refer to them as tent pole movies, a film that is a big event and pays for everything else they do. But the mechanical shark didn't work in the water off Martha's Vineyard and every time a Universal executive would fly out to check Spielberg's progress, he assumed, because it was his idea to film the picture in the middle of the ocean he would be fired. But Steven soldiered on, finished the film, and then there was the preview in Dallas. By that time, Steven was so tired of watching and hearing the same material over and over he had no idea if the film was good. Eighteen minutes into the screening, the shark killed a boy in a bloody attack. Suddenly, a man in the front row got up from his seat and ran past Spielberg into the lobby. The startled director followed him and watched in amazement as the invited patron threw up on the carpet, went to the bathroom, cleaned himself up and then returned to his seat. For the first time in months, Spielberg relaxed, figuring correctly that if the movie made people sick and they still wanted to watch, it would be a hit.
8. How did James Cameron try to end the working relationship with Arnold Schwarzenegger before The Terminator?
In the book that story is called "Let's Do Lunch":
A lunch with Arnold Schwarzenegger caused James Cameron to change his opinion about casting for the 1984 sci-fi thriller, The Terminator. The thirty-year –old director disagreed with his bosses that Arnold was the right man to play the film’s hero, who goes up against a homicidal robot. Cameron planned to insult the Austrian bodybuilder and end the work relationship before it started. But the thirty-seven-year-old Schwarzenegger was charming, suggested some great ideas for the movie and had muscles rippling beneath his shirt; might as well be nice or the famed weight lifter could break him like a twig. It was bad enough that James had no money on him and Arnold had to pick up the tab. Maybe Schwarzenegger could play the Terminator; it made more sense than the producers’ other suggestion. The filmmaker wondered how anyone in their right mind could see former football star O.J. Simpson as a killer.
9. Tell us about the Peter O'Toole funeral story.
One Late Night in Ireland
One very late night in Ireland, Peter O’Toole and Peter Finch shocked a pub owner who wanted to close up. The two inebriated actors offered to buy his establishment for twice as much as it was worth, as long as the alcohol kept coming. A contract was written and signed on a napkin. The next afternoon, the hung-over stars woke up and after some blurry discussions, they recalled what they did the night before. Fearing their business managers would kill them, they raced back to the saloonkeeper and begged for mercy. The man gave them a stern look, then smiled and tore up the agreement. They were so grateful they drank there over the next twenty years, whenever their schedules allowed, till the pub owner died. After downing a few pints, the devastated twosome headed off to the memorial service. Finch and O’Toole delivered long moving eulogies, which drove the mourners to tears, until they realized they were at the wrong funeral.
10. Why didn't Marilyn Monroe want to leave her handprints and footprints at Grauman's Chinese Theater?
She was a bit mischievous:
Marilyn Monroe was thrilled to be immortalized alongside Jane Russell in front of a large crowd at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in 1953. As a little girl, raised in Los Angeles’ foster homes, Marilyn had visited the famed cinema often and dreamed of becoming a movie star. And now at the Hollywood premiere of Gentleman Prefer Blondes, it was coming true. Like other movie legends, Monroe’s hands and feet would be enshrined in wet cement. Hey, wait a minute — she had a great idea. The proceedings were held up as the blonde conferred with one of the Twentieth Century Fox executives. What if the two women left imprints of the body parts that people associated them with? How about if Jane leaned over the wet cement and Marilyn sat in it? Her suggestion was rejected, much to the disappointment of some photographers in attendance.
11. Do you have any new stories that aren't in the book?
I'm always looking for new stories. When I was writing Hollywood Stories I had to pick a stop date, Oct. 31, 2009 otherwise I never would have finished it! Recently I was listening to an interview with Adam West and he told a story I really enjoyed. On the old Batman TV show Bruce Wayne (Adam West) and Dick Grayson (Burt Ward) would slide down the bat poles about 15 feet and land on mattresses. Later they would be filmed coming down into the Batcave in their full costumes and the two shots were put together. One time West yelled," To the bat poles" and did his famous slide only to be startled when he landed on a sleeping wino.
12. Are you working on another book, if so tell us about it?
I have some ideas but nothing concrete yet. Before I wrote Hollywood Stories, I wrote and narrated two audiobooks, which are now available on iTunes, Tales of Hollywood and Fascinating Walt Disney. For me creativity almost seems out of my control, the projects come out when they are ready to.
13. Where can people go to get more information about you and your book?
Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies!
Available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon or wherever books are sold.
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