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Thursday, October 16, 2014
Creator and voice of ALF, Paul Fusco, talks with TV STORE ONLINE about his early '80s Showtime special Santa's Magic Toy Bag, Alf, and the state of children's television...

TV STORE ONLINE:   I had never seen Santa's Magic Toy Bag (1983) prior to yesterday....

FUSCO:  Yeah, that's probably because it aired on Showtime back in the early '80s.  After that--it ran for a brief time on some syndicated stations across the United States before it went back into the vault--which is where it was been ever since then.   It's come to DVD because of Legend Films.   A girl that I've been working with there grew up with Santa's Magic Toy Bag and she's been pushing for it to be released.  I really didn't think there was any market for it--but it turns out that there is a fan base for it because of the people that remember seeing it first on Showtime back in 1983.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Santa's Magic Toy Bag was really your third major work....You had done The Crown Of Bogg (1981) and The Valentine's Day that Almost Wasn't (1982) prior.  How did Santa come to fruition?

FUSCO:   Well, The Crown Of Bogg was a Halloween show.  I made it with my own money, which was kind of stupid--because no-one should ever do that.   But we made it on spec and Showtime saw it and they became interested in working with our company that my partners and I had started for The Crown Of Bogg.   Back then, Showtime had a fledgling children's television division.  They were showing children's programming in the morning and in the afternoons in the early '80s.  They saw The Crown Of Bogg and asked us to produce six shows for them with different puppets and on different holidays.   We didn't have much money to work with but once we figured out where and how the spend the money that they had given us for the specials we were off and running.  Santa's Magic Toy Bag was the last of the six that we produced for Showtime.   I think that Santa's Magic Toy Bag is the best of the six as well.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Where were you creatively at the time that you created this special and the lead character "Sherman"?  He's a Christmas toy maker but no-one at the North Pole appreciates his outside-the-box toy designs or thinking, and maybe I'm reading a bit too much into Santa's Magic Toy Bag here, but this whole special, for me, is an allegory for the frustrated artist who is trying to create in a uncompromising commercial setting...

FUSCO: (Laughing)...Right.  Well, when I first started out I was working in television production on a local children's television show.   I always felt that there was nothing on television that was made for kids.  Even growing up with Rocky & Bullwinkle...as a kid you laughed at it, but you didn't always get the jokes because they were designed for adults.   Going back to Bugs Bunny and the Warner Brothers cartoons...While I grew up watching those on local television--those were originally made to play in theaters for adults.  They were short films that played before you saw CASABLANCA (1942).   

When the '80s hit and we entered the era of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Kung-Fu and that violence that started to creep into Saturday morning television--I saw that there was nothing on television for kids to laugh at.   I took the same approach with Alf.  I never wanted to write down to the audience or the kids that would be watching the show.    We always did story lines that we thought were funny, or intriguing, or topical for the time.     Knowing that it was intelligently written and knowing that we weren't playing down to anyone--we knew that it would successful.  That's what I tried to do with Santa's Magic Toy Bag and the previous Showtime holiday specials that came before it.   I wanted it to be funny, edgy, timeless, and I wanted them to be totally original stories.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Where does your interest in puppetry come from?  You were born in the early '50s--so you must have seen something like Stan Freberg's '50s television puppet show Beany and Cecil?

FUSCO:  I think that was part of it.   As a teenager--I did magic, ventriloquism, and stand-up comedy.   So it comes from a combination of all of those.   Then I hooked up with a guy who used to work with Jim Henson on The Muppets and he showed me something that Jim Henson had discovered back in the '60s--that the television screen, the lower edge of it, was the stage for these characters.  With my background in television production--that really intrigued me. I became fascinated very quickly with the possibilities of the production with the puppets.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Were you already unconsciously considering the character of 'Alf' in your head by this time?  I'm reaching here....we have Alf, the character, and here in Santa's Magic Toy Bag we have 'Sherman' who only wants to be an Elf....

FUSCO: (Laughing)...You're reading too much into that...That's coincidence.

TV STORE ONLINE:  You can't blame me for trying!

FUSCO: (Laughing)

TV STORE ONLINE:  I really love the music in Santa's Magic Toy Bag...Can you talk a bit about it?

FUSCO:  It was done by my wife, Linda Fusco, and another person named Richard Schellbach--who was part of my production team.   By the third special--we were scampering around to find people to do the music and we weren't really getting anything that we liked.  Linda and Richard said, "We can do better than that."   So they did!  They did the music for the last two holiday specials.

TV STORE ONLINE:  At the end of Santa's Magic Toy Bag...Santa Claus reads a letter he has received from a little boy named "Paul" who wants an electronic kite.  Is "Paul" you?

FUSCO:   Yes!  And there are other members of my production team mentioned in the end as well.   We just filled the end of with inside jokes for us.

TV STORE ONLINE:   This is a set of loaded questions....Even though I didn't see Santa's Magic Toy Bag when it first aired...I'm struck as a adult--watching it for first time--just how much of that timeless quality it has. Like you mentioned earlier was your goal with it....   It really makes me feel like a eight-year-old kid again. There's an innocent to it that is really missing from things produced today in the modern milieu of children's programming.    Why do you think that is?

FUSCO:  I just think that the times have changed.   Look at how many television stations there are today.  People can access anything online that they want now.  One thing--the innocence of a child is something that will never change.  If you took a child who was completely void of the violence of the video games today--and you set them down in front of something like this--I think that they're going to love this.  They will enjoy it because their innocence is still intact.  Take Seasame Street for example.   That's a show that has been on for over thirty years now.  They've had to tailor the show for the new generation of kids that are watching it. The old shows don't move fast enough. Everyone's attention span has shortened.  We want our information and our news in thirty-second bites.   No-one reads newspapers anymore.  The media has changed. The way we get information has changed.  Society has changed. Back in the '80s--it was a kinder and simpler day. But I still think that if you have something good and funny--people will find it.  That's why all of these new television stations are popping up now and airing only shows from the '60s and '70s.  There is a escapism there.   The fact that a show like Bewitched is still on television on some of these new stations...My God, that show is...

TV STORE ONLINE:  Wonderfully surreal...

FUSCO:  Exactly...and talk about a suspension of reality!  Even something like Gilligan's Island...What a horrible show, but people watched it because it was funny.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Do you think that the way people are parenting today has anything to do with it now?  On this new DVD for Santa's Magic Toy Bag...there is a blooper reel of the puppet characters swearing with bleeps throughout...When I was a kid--I would have loved to have seen this stuff, and my parents probably wouldn't have cared if I watched it actually.  But with parents today--it seems a point of worry and contention...  

FUSCO:  Possibly.  I  was not a big fan of actually putting the bloopers on the DVD.  I wasn't a fan of it--not because I thought that there was anything objectionable there--I just thought that it took away from the magical and innocent qualities of it all.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Right, it breaks the fourth wall...

FUSCO:  Exactly, and you see the puppets making mistakes.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  Last question...  What are you working now?

FUSCO:  We're trying to get a Alf movie off the ground.  So watch for that.

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Canadian actor Paul Hubbard on his role as "Flash Gordon" in the now lost cut scene from Bob Clark's classic film A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983).

Lost Forever?  The cut Flash Gordon sequence
TV STORE ONLINE:   Last year we spoke with actor Scott Schwartz, who played 'Flick' in A CHRISTMAS STORY and he had mentioned how the Flash Gordon scene that featured you was cut from the film, and that it is now lost....Do you know if it's out there anywhere?

HUBBARD:  I've heard the same thing actually.  I would really love to see that scene again.    I only saw it when Bob Clark screened the film for us before it was released.    I was shocked later on when I heard that it was cut out.   I'm hoping its not going to be one of those things where it resurfaces long after I'm gone.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  Can you take me through the scene?

HUBBARD:  Well, the producers threw a bunch of money at it.  They really spared no expensive.   The set was amazing. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  There's been a few pages of the script that have surfaced for the scene in recent years...

HUBBARD:   Right, Bob Clark really gave the scene with Flash Gordon an extra effort.   The costumes were incredible.  We actually did a couple different scenes for the film where I played Flash Gordon.  I don't know if it was a problem with the name "Flash Gordon" being unavailable for copyright reasons or if it was just for the sake of the movies duration, but, well...these things just happen.  Even though the scene was cut--my name was left in the end credits.   So the film has been good to me all of these years later even.  
Script page for cut scene with Hubbard as Flash Gordon

TV STORE ONLINE:  Did you have to audition for Bob Clark to play Flash Gordon?

HUBBARD:  I did.  I read a few times for it.  I was in my early '30s then and I was in good physical shape for it.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  Was the scene shot in Canada like other parts of the film?

  We shot it on a stage in or around Scarborough, Ontario, Canada.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Do you recall anything about the type of direction Bob Clark offered you or the actor who played 'Ming' Colin Fox?   In the script is says, "When Flash Gordon sees Ralphie--tears come streaming down his face..."

HUBBARD:  You couldn't play it straight.  He was Flash Gordon, so he had to be heroic and bigger than life in his stature, but at the same time humble towards 'Ralphie'. Because he thanks Ralphie for saving the world!    I just walked that line when I was doing it.    I was really proud of the work actually and when I found out that the scene was cut--I was devastated by it.  It was a blow.

Photo from www.achristmasstoryhouse.com
TV STORE ONLINE:  Was Jean Shepard around for the shooting of the scene?

HUBBARD:  Oh yeah.    He was wonderful.  Same with Darrin McGavin and Melinda Dillion.

TV STORE ONLINE:   A great moment in the scene per the script page is where Ralphie shows up and Flash says, "Ralphie!  You've escaped the space crocodiles!"

HUBBARD: (Laughing):  That's right!  I remember that. You know I haven't seen those script pages since we shot that and I can still remember that dialogue... They had so many crazy things on that Flash Gordon set.  They had hand operated monsters.  It was fairly complicated actually.

Listen to the music from the scene:

TV STORE ONLINE:  You were tied up by tree branches that were in the shape of snake bodies...I believe in the script you're tied up to a Cobra tree...

HUBBARD:   (Laughing) That's right.   Yes.   That was really fun.

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung
For more with Paul Hubbard please visit his official website here.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

 Nashville Hall of Fame Musician Charlie McCoy talks to TV STORE ONLINE about recording Blonde On Blonde with Bob Dylan, playing with Charlie Rich, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash...

TV STORE ONLINE:   I was doing some research today on you and I stumbled across a clip on YouTube of a band called 'The Escorts'...

McCOY:   Oh, yeah.  We would just play together on the weekends for the hell of it.  We were pretty young and we all liked to play rock-n-roll back then and you couldn't always do that in the early '60s living in Nashville as studio musicians.

TV STORE ONLINE:    As a career musician working in and around Nashville what are your thoughts on the ABC television series Nashville [2011-current]?

McCOY:  Well, I love it.  I think it's very well done and they have some great music on that show.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Some people might not know about the fact that you've released quite a few solo albums under your own name....I'm quite a fan of the 'Harpin' the Blues', 'Good Time Charlie' and your Little Walter stuff on YouTube....

McCOY:  I've actually put out thirty-eight solo albums to date....

TV STORE ONLINE:  What are your favorite Little Walter cuts?  I'm only familiar with his work with Muddy Waters..

McCOY:   Little Walter had some great solo stuff.   I guess 'Juke'....if he would've had a hit song that would've been it.   As far as I'm concerned...he's the greatest blues player of all time.   Every time I listen to him I hear something new.

TV STORE ONLINE:   As a Muddy Waters fan....I once read in a book on Muddy that Little Walter was the first blues harp man to play on stage with his harp against a microphone...

McCOY:  That's possible, but don't quote me on that.   The earliest records you can find of Little Walter have him blowing electric like that.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I love how some of those early recordings are in the "red".

McCOY:  Absolutely...

TV STORE ONLINE:  I'm a huge fan of Charlie Rich and I love his early '70s sound....In particular his version of 'Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues..."

McCOY:  Well, Charlie Rich was a amazing artist.  He had hits with three different record labels and over three different decades...

TV STORE ONLINE:  I love his Sun Records stuff....

McCOY:  Absolutely.   Stuff like 'Lonely Weekends' and 'Who Will The Next Fool Be'... are pretty incredible.  When Charlie came up here to Nashville and had a stint with Mercury Records I played with him on 'Mohair Sam' and some of his other Mercury cuts...

TV STORE ONLINE:  Right, how did that opportunity come to you to play with Rich?

McCOY:  Well, I was the go-to guy for [Producer] Jerry Kennedy.   Normally, Bob Moore played Bass on Charlie's records but with that he wanted it to be kind of R&B.  At the time, I was doing quite a bit of Bass work around town and Jerry called me to come in.

TV STORE ONLINE:  With Mohair Sam...What was the recording of that like?

McCOY:  We did it very quick.  In those days you'd work in three-hour sessions and in that time period you'd knock out at least three or four songs.   When you went in, the producer would tell you kind of what he was looking for and you'd just go after it.   Back then, we didn't have the technology to do things over-and-over and if you made a mistake in the studio as a musician...well, you didn't want to be that guy.  We recorded everything quick because we had to.

TV STORE ONLINE:   What was the first session you ever worked on?

McCOY:  Well, before I even played on a session I attended them.  The first session I ever attended was for Brenda Lee.  I watched her record and from that day on I knew that I wanted to be a studio musician.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Working with someone like Charlie Rich...What kind of artistic liberties or contributions are you allowed to make as a studio musician?

McCOY:  In the early days...no-one had charts to work with.  You heard the song and you memorized it.  I guess it depended on the producer.  Jerry Kennedy was a liberal guy so he'd allow you to just come up with what you could.  The job of a great producer is to hire great musicians, and then he should reign them in and have them go in a certain direction. Whereas, someone like [Producer] Billy Sherrill, he was more hands-on and he was in charge of every note that was played.   Both of those producers made records that are considered classics today. They are records that are still played on the radio.

TV STORE ONLINE:  So how did you come to get involved with Bob Dylan and play with him on Blonde On Blonde?

McCOY:   That came about because of Bob Johnston.  Bob had first come to Nashville as a songwriter.  He was writing songs for Elvis Presley's songwriting company.     When Elvis would get ready to shoot a new movie--his team would send out the script to the various songwriting companies and writers would compete to see what songs they could get into his movies.     I came to work with Bob, because he had called me to ask if I could help run his sessions for some demos for Elvis.   

Bob ended up getting six or seven songs into a couple different Elvis movies and I worked as a musician on those recordings with him.     We had a bunch of songs that didn't make it into the movies and so Bob took those to New York to pitch them around.  They ended up in the hands of a Columbia Records A&R man.  He said, "These demos are great.  Did you produce these?" 

Bob was smart enough to tell the man that he had and the A&R guy said, "Would you consider producing records here for Columbia?"    Bob ended up producing a session after that here in Nashville with Patti Page for Columbia.   It was the theme song for the movie HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964).   I played on that as well.   It was a hit for Patti Page, and because of that...Columbia decided that he needed to do something else for them.  They put him with Bob Dylan.   Bob moved to New York City and we stayed in touch.  He said, "If you're ever in New York City--get a hold of me--and I'll give you a couple of a tickets to a Broadway show..."    Not longer after that--I found myself in New York City. I called him up and said, "Can I get those Broadway tickets?"  He said, " Sure, come over to the studio this afternoon.  I'm recording Bob Dylan and I'd like for you to meet him."

I went over to the Columbia studio and Bob introduced me to Dylan.  He said, "Hey, I'm getting ready to record a song.  Why don't you pick up that guitar over there and play along?"

The song that we played was 'Desolation Row'. 

I think Bob Johnston had a plan from the start to lure Dylan to Nashville to record the album.

Johnston told me later than after I had left the studio he went to Dylan and said, "See! That was easy, wasn't it?  If we go to Nashville the recording of the new album will be much easier than it will be here in New York."   So Bob Johnston talked Dylan into recording his next album in Nashville, and Dylan recorded three of his best albums there.

TV STORE ONLINE:  When you met Dylan in New York City at the studio, had you been familiar with his past work?

McCOY:   Of course.  'The Times They Are A-Changin' had made a huge impression on me.   So when he asked me to play along with him that day I was a little bit taken by surprise because while I played guitar I didn't really consider myself to be a great guitar player.   Dylan hit me with this eleven minute song and tasked me to play all of the fills in it.   

TV STORE ONLINE:  With Bob Dylan deciding to record in Nashville...Do you think that it did anything for the music scene after he had left?

McCOY: Oh Yeah.  With Dylan coming here to record...Well, it was like he had put his stamp of approval on us.  The flood gates just opened up.   It got me really busy...(Laughing).    I was running all around.  I was working all hours of the day. There were some very tired weeks in there.  By that time, I was also starting to record a lot of with Elvis Presley and between Elvis and Bob Dylan I was running out of steam because those guys were all-night type of guys.

TV STORE ONLINE:   And not skipping over Elvis...You played not just on those early '60s demos for Bob Johnston but also some of Elvis's early '70s work like 'The Next Step Is Love'...

McCOY:  That's right.  I played organ on that.  When it was all said and done--I played on five movie tracks for Elvis and on seven of his albums.  I played on 'Big Boss Man', 'High-Heeled Sneakers'.  I played on his gospel album and two of his Christmas albums.   Elvis loved recording in Nashville and he loved the studio because it was his safe place. 

TV STORE ONLINE:   Blonde On Blonde--I'm dying to hear these stories....

McCOY:  Well, I can remember the first day of recording... We didn't do much that day.... We were booked into the studio for  2 p.m and Dylan's flight came in late from wherever he was coming in from and he didn't make it into the studio until well past 6 p.m. that day.   He and Bob Johnston walked in and Bob said, "he's not done writing the first song yet.  So just hang loose..."    It was us, the usual Nashville rhythm section and also Al Kooper and Robbie Robertson there.    We waited.  Then we waited some more.  

Finally at 4 a.m., the next morning he was ready to start.   We started with 'Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands'.   A fourteen-minute ballad.  Everyone was in that studio saying, "God!  Please don't allow me to make a mistake."   It was tough because we had been waiting for so long and had been up all night waiting.    Taking this approach to recording was unheard of in Nashville. It just didn't happen in this way.   None of us had encountered anything like it before.  I figured it took us thirty-nine-and-a-half hours to record Blonde On Blonde with Dylan and it took us nine-and-a-half hours to record John Wesley Harding with him here.

TV STORE ONLINE:    Why do you think it took Dylan so long to record Blonde On Blonde?  It seems to me as if it was the zenith of his creativity as a musician and songwriter....

  You know, I think he was unsure of himself and he was unsure of us.  He was also writing as he went along.    When he came to Nashville again to do John Wesley Harding--he had the whole album already written and that went together very quickly.

TV STORE ONLINE:   I've wondered from my reading about Dylan if he wasn't feeling the pressures around him?  His audience had wanted him to be the voice of their generation....It seemed like he had been going too hard and too long.  As if he needed a break?

McCOY:  I felt that was just normal for him.   I felt that John Wesley Harding was something brand new for him.  To do Blonde On Blonde....To record that in such a long and drawn out fashion just seemed (to me) that it was something that he was used to doing.

TV STORE ONLINE:  And you played guitar on 'Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands'?

McCOY:  I did.  I ended up playing several different instruments on Blonde On Blonde.  I played Harmonica on 'Obviously Five Believers' and I played the Trumpet on 'Rainy Day Women #12 & 35'.  Then on John Wesley Harding I played the Bass.   I also played Bass for him on the recording of Nashville Skyline as well.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Playing Bass on Nashville Skyline must have been incredible especially playing on 'Lay Lady Lay' and on 'The Girl From The North Country' with Dylan and Johnny Cash?

McCOY:  Well, I was good friends with Johnny.  I had played on several of his albums.    I was used to working with Johnny.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Going back to your playing on 'Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands'....  Was your part just something that you worked out with Dylan and Johnston?

McCOY:  I was just playing acoustic rhythm on that.  I was just following.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Does Dylan give any directions?

McCOY:  No, not really.  We just played along.  I was session leader and I was supposed to be the middle man between the artist, the producer and the band.   When you would ask Dylan for some feedback he really wouldn't give you anything.  You'd say something like, "Hey Bob, how about we try such and such...?"  He's only say, "I don't know, man.  What do you think?"  Finally I went to Bob Johnston and said, "You know, I'm asking him about such and such and I'm not getting any answers.  I don't know if he's happy with what we're doing or not."  I eventually just stopped asking him because I figured that if he wasn't happy with what we were doing he'd probably tell us.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Going back to your playing on Rainy Day Women #12 & 35...How did that come to fruition?

McCOY:  That afternoon that we were supposed to record--Bob Johnston said, "Tonight, Dylan wants to record a song with a Salvation Army Band sound.  Let's use a Trumpet and a Trombone.  Can you get a couple guys in here tonight?"   I said, "With the Trumpet...You want it to be good?"  He said, "No, man...It's supposed to be Salvation Army..."   So I played the trumpet and I called a friend of mine to come in and play the Trombone.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How many takes on the recording of something like Rainy Day Women?

  Just two or three takes.  He came in and ran the song down.  It was pretty obvious as to what we were supposed to do.  Bob Johnston said something like, "I want you guys to yell and holler like it's a real party during it."  When you listen to the record now...Those noises you hear in the background were done live while we were recording.  It wasn't overdubbed in later.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How about 'Obviously Five Believers'?

  Dylan couldn't have played that riff.  It was out of his style.

TV STORE ONLINE:  The harp riff goes all throughout the song.   And it's a Little Walter riff, isn't it?

McCOY: Absolutely.   Bob Johnston said, "You should probably play the harp on this one..." 

  For all the time that Dylan spent writing songs in the studio...It seems like he was efficient in the sense that he never wanted to stop when he was in the actual studio...  When he was in the studio he just wanted to keep going and going?

McCOY:  Absolutely.  The thing is...Dylan never made a mistake in the studio.  And you would think that he would've had at least had a little  trouble remembering the lyrics to these songs as we were recording them but he never had any problems in the studio with them.  He was always right-on with the lyrics and the melodies.

TV STORE ONLINE:  You played Trumpet also on "You'll Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine.."
I did.  The song that I most admire though of my playing with Dylan is 'Lay Lady Lay'.

TV STORE ONLINE:     Nashville Skyline, the album, clocks in at being an entire album that runs just twenty-seven minutes long.

McCOY:  I know! 

TV STORE ONLINE:  You also played with Dylan on his 1970 Self Portrait album?  

McCOY:  That was a weird one.  Dylan wasn't even there.   I think what happened there was that he and Bob Johnston were coming to the end of their collaboration.  I wasn't privy to the state of their relationship at that time so I'm not for certain on that though.  Bob had access to some piano and guitar demos that Dylan had made, and so he must have thought that he could squeeze one more album out.   I'm not too sure if Dylan is happy with that record...  Some of that stuff on Self Portrait was hard to play because Dylan was doing piano and guitar demos and also singing on them so the tempo wasn't always steady.  It was difficult to work on that.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Do you think that Nashville had an influence on Dylan?  The music changes radically from Blonde On Blonde to Nashville Skyline in terms of sound...

McCOY:  I saw a huge Nashville influence there.   There is country and folk music in there. In particular on John Wesley Harding, whereas on Blonde on Blonde--it's a very bluesy album.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What are your memories of recording 'The Boxer' with Simon & Garfunkel?

McCOY:  That was amazing.  About four or five months before they came to Nashville to record, I had bought a bass harmonica.    Bob Johnston called me from New York and said, "Paul Simon just called me.  He wants to know if I have a guy in Nashville that can play Bass Harmonica."    So they came to town and we recorded it.  Every note that I played on that was dictated to me by Paul Simon.  He is a genius. He had it all in his head and he really guided me on that. I only played what he wanted me to play.   I wish I could take credit for that but I can't.  It was all Paul Simon.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How about the Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood cover of Johnny Cash and June Carter's 'Jackson'?

McCOY:  That came to be because a engineer here in Nashville was good friends with Lee Hazelwood.  Lee decided that he wanted to record a country album with Nancy and so they came to Nashville.     I was asked to play harmonica and vibes on the album.  They recorded eleven songs and I hadn't played harmonica on any of them.  When it came time to record 'Jackson' I said, "We haven't used the harmonica yet."   So Lee decided to work it in on that cover of 'Jackson'.  Of course we were all very familiar with 'Jackson', because like you said, it was recorded by Johnny and June...

TV STORE ONLINE:   And what about Cash?  You played on 'Orange Blossom Special', right?

McCOY:  I did. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  You've also covered the song in your solo career....How did that whole relationship with Johnny Cash get established?

McCOY:  Well I first got called in to record with Johnny when he recorded two Dylan songs oddly enough.  I was booked in to play on Johnny's versions of 'It Ain't Me Babe' and 'Don't Think Twice, It's Alright.'   I got a call from someone at Columbia Records and they said, "Johnny Cash wants to know if you can play harmonica like Bob Dylan?"    So we did those together and from time-to-time Johnny would call me up and have me come into the studio. I think it was around '65 when he called me up and told me that he wanted to record a vocal version of 'Orange Blossom Special'.  He said, "Why don't you play the solo?"    I had never played it before.  To me, it had always been a fiddle song.  But I remembered the chorus. I started to think that I could get that fiddle sound if I used two different harmonicas at the same time.   When I finished that for him he said, "Show me how you did that..."

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

 Son of cult filmmaker Larry Buchanan, Jeff Buchanan, talks with TV STORE ONLINE about Larry Buchanan's late period films about Marilyn Monroe...

TV STORE ONLINE:  Where did the idea come from for Larry to do a remake of his own GOODBYE NORMA JEAN (1976) as GOODNIGHT, SWEET MARILYN (1989)?

JEFF BUCHANAN:  Well, he had a bunch of outtakes in his possession from NORMA JEAN.  My dad was a big conspiracy theorist.  He was always reading about conspiracy theories associated with Marilyn Monroe to Jimi Hendrix to John F. Kennedy.   That's how DOWN ON US (1989) came about more or less as well...  Someone actually wrote an article about the possibility of Marilyn Monroe being killed via a suppository and how it couldn't be picked up via an autopsy.  This was after GOODNIGHT, SWEET MARILYN.  I thought that it was just one of my Dad's wild ideas at the time that we were making the film....  My dad had a loose connection with a guy named Mark Felt at one time.  Mark Felt was very high up in the F.B.I...  My dad came to me once and said, "I have a funny feeling that Mark Felt was Deep Throat...."   Yet again, I thought that it was just another one of my dad's funny ideas, but then my dad passed away and not long after that--Mark Felt went public and told everyone that he was in fact "Deep Throat" during the Watergate scandal.  

When my dad made DOWN ON US aka BEYOND THE DOORS (1989), he theorized that it was Richard Nixon who had Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin silenced.   Nixon called them "The Pied-Pipers Of Rock-N-Roll"...  My dad theorized that Nixon had them silenced out of fear that Morrison, Hendrix and Joplin could have influenced the vote because they had just lowered the voting age to eighteen-years-old.   

Again, I thought that this was just one of my dad's wild ideas.  Then they released the Nixon files to the public and inside his papers were something like eighteen-thousand pages dedicated to Hendrix alone.    

My dad had always been fascinated with Marilyn Monroe; her stardom, her celebrity,  and her death-- years prior when he was in Texas he had met a guy who he referred to as "Mesquite".  I don't know what the gentleman's real name was, but it's my understanding--and it's the way that it happens in dad's film--the death of Marilyn was a mercy killing.  Marilyn was afraid of going nuts as her mother had.  My dad--in typical Larry Buchanan fashion--thought, "Okay, I have these outtakes..Let's do a wrap-around."  Basically he scripted out the contemporary scenes and we shot for a few weeks with Paula Lane, and then he went to work and edited in his outtakes from GOODBYE NORMA JEAN.   

TV STORE ONLINE:   Do you think that Larry considered the "Mesquite" character in GOODBYE NORMA JEAN as a metaphor for death itself?   It's interesting...During  the final season of the NBC television series Quantum Leap--they did a very similar story line with their take on the Marilyn Monroe/Mesquite relationship....Suggesting a relationship that Marilyn had with her supposed bodyguard/close confident in the final days of her life....

BUCHANAN:   Well dad had actually met this "Mesquite" guy in person.  My dad was always really great about not revealing his sources.  He didn't even tell me who the guy was.   But he had gotten enough information from this guy--where he went and started doing a lot of his own research on Monroe's death.  He looked at the autopsy results.  He read everything that he could get his hands on.   My dad was never up front with me regarding whether he actually believed the possibilities of the story for the film.  The same thing goes with my dad about his research and ideas into the Kennedy assassination.   I'm not sure that he saw the "Mesquite" character as a metaphor--as a sort of grim reaper, but again, he's not here-- but if he was--maybe he'd confer with you.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Going back to the Misty Rowe footage from GOODBYE NORMA JEAN (1976)...There's that line where Misty Rowe as Marilyn says, "Is it possible for a girl to want something so much that she'll die for it?"  Do you think that Larry supported that notion?  That Marilyn had this sort of unconscious desire for immortality?

BUCHANAN:  That's a tough question.   I think that my dad felt for Marilyn Monroe.  I think he understood her.   The ironic thing about Marilyn Monroe is that she struggled for so long with the notion that she wanted to be taken seriously as an actress in Hollywood.  Then, THE MISFITS (1960) comes along for her and after that---she was considered a serious actress.   It doesn't seem like she knew what to do with that once she had obtained it.     My dad was always fascinated with the last few photo shoots that Marilyn Monroe did as well.  He used to say that he thought that by looking at those photos of yourself -- she understood that she was getting older.  My dad was so obsessed with making films, but at the same time he did it with such a light air.   He took a very Don Quixote approach to filmmaking.  He took the film medium very seriously, but when things didn't work out he'd just sort of laugh it off.    I think that he had an empathy for Marilyn.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How did you find Paula Lane for the film?

BUCHANAN:  Well, we were in Monterey at the time prepping the film, and someone told him about her.  He had been looking for look-a-likes.  He flew out to Las Vegas to see a show with her at a casino, because she did have a background as a Marilyn Monroe impersonator.  He came back and said, "We've found her!  We've found our Marilyn."   We brought her here and we shot with her for two weeks.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I've seen the photos that have been published over the years...The macabre photos of her bedroom where her body was found...The bedroom is impressively re-created in the film....

BUCHANAN:  The Art Director definitely studied those photos.   Her name was C. Cracko.   She took it all very seriously.  She found all the right curtains and that lamp.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I love the opening sequence in the film...Of Paula Lane singing into the camera wearing that white SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1952) Marilyn Monroe dress...The film has a dream like quality...Did Larry ever talk with you about visual approach to cinema?

BUCHANAN:   Not really.  On the films that I worked with him on I would try to push him to get more from his Director Of Photography or Art Director.   My dad knew about every aspect of film production.   It never ceased to amaze me.  Because my dad worked so fast.  He would take a Director Of Photography aside and said,"Look, I'm not trying to step on any toes..But we don't need this, or this, or this.  We just need to shoot at this f/stop from this angle."   And it always turned out exactly the way he had planned it.   

TV STORE ONLINE:   One of the more artistic choices in GOODNIGHT, SWEET MARILYN is how the film is set across the 1950's and '60s, yet there is a use of '70s and '80s rock music throughout...

BUCHANAN:   He had funny instincts about his work.  I remember once there was a funeral scene that he was shooting in one of his earlier films and he put a rock-n-roll song in the background of the scene and a French critic saw it and said it was brilliant.   He never waxed philosophical about his films.  He went by instinct.  He did have very clear ideas on the nature of film editing.  He went into the editing of his films with very clear ideas.  He'd say, "Look, this isn't a film that we have to worry about box office receipts on..We can do whatever we want here..."  The music he used often times came out of his budget on his films.   The music that he used might not have been what he had really wanted to use per say, but he used certain music (s) because it was all he could afford on the budget.
My dad always had a list of ideas or films that he wanted to make--films that he could never get off the ground.   At the end of his life--his promise to me was that he was going to open up his shooting schedule and take some time to really work with the actors like he hadn't been able to prior.  I was asking him to take his time and set up a dolly shot that he had wanted to do but never really attempted before out of time restraints and budget.   I mean, almost all of his films were shot in two-three week periods.  Most of his films...They would shoot six pages a day on them!

TV STORE ONLINE:  The end sequence in GOODNIGHT, SWEET MARILYN....There's that candid conversation and sex scene with Paula Lane as Marilyn and the masseuse....Lane as Marilyn says, "I'm the greatest sex symbol of all time...but no one has seen me on the screen in any of my films this intimately..."   Do you think that Larry approached his films with the understanding that there needed to be a mix of melodrama and exploitation?

BUCHANAN:  One thing that my dad was a fan of was the old movies from the '40s and the power of the screen kiss...He used to talk at times about some of the sex symbols of the '40s and '50s and how they had such an incredible sex appeal that it wasn't necessary for them to do any nude scenes. I think that he understood that the times that had changed but he approached it all with a certain class.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Do you think that Larry's first Marilyn film--GOODBYE NORMA JEAN--just came to fruition out of his fascination with her?

BUCHANAN:   Yes, I think so.  He talked about how he had met her a couple times during his early days in Hollywood.  He had met her when she wasn't yet the star that she became.   I got mad at my dad while he was shooting that film because I was in high school at the time and I was begging him to allow me to come and visit.  I  wanted to be a part of it and he wouldn't let me.  I don't have any stories about the production because I wasn't there for the shooting, but I remember that when it was finished my dad took the film to the Cannes Film Festival and screened it. It did very well there and Misty Rowe, who played Marilyn in the film, went with him and she walked up and down the Croisette dressed as Marilyn Monroe.   My mom went too that year, and she's told me since that the paparazzi was so enamored with Misty as Marilyn that they weren't paying attention to the big Hollywood stars that were there.

When GOODBYE NORMA JEAN came out...Playboy Magazine listed it as one of the worst films of 1976 and someone sent a copy of the issue to my dad.  He flipped to the mention and then threw it onto a coffee table.  I picked it up, read it and said, "Dad?  Doesn't this make you upset?"  He said, "Why would it make me upset?" I responded with, "Because they're saying that GOODBYE NORMA JEAN is one of the Ten Worst Films of the Year..."   He said, "Jeff, take a look at the other nine films in that list.  Each of those films were big Hollywood productions with major stars.  If they knew what we spent on our film--they would be embarrassed that they even looked at it..."    He always said that he made films for the budgets of the catering on any of those major Hollywood movies.   He thought that it was great that they were just talking about his film.
When Elton John released his song 'Goodbye Norma Jean'--it really helped the film.   But, interestingly, my dad had never picked the title for the film because of that song.   It was an interesting coincidence.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I love that "Wammo Ammo" musical montage that we see in variations in both GOODBYE NORMA JEAN and GOODNIGHT, SWEET MARILYN...

BUCHANAN:  I know.  I believe that was shot by Nick von Sternberg, who was the son of Joseph von Sternberg...He shot a few films for me dad.

TV STORE ONLINE:    One of the things that I admire about both of Larry's Marilyn films...And maybe it's my sole observation...But when you watch either of the films--it seems like all of the actors with the exception of Misty Rowe as Marilyn look like one another.  It's as if Larry did that so the audience would get a unconscious message that Marilyn was so much of a beauty that she eclipsed all others around her...

BUCHANAN:  It's a interesting observation..If my dad was here--he'd tell you if he intended that or not.   He was so sly about those types of things...  You never knew if he was pulling your leg or not.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What was Larry's approach to casting?   He seemed to have a stable of actors that he liked to work with...

BUCHANAN:  Certainly.  He liked to work with Stuart Lancaster and Garth Pillsbury of Russ Meyer infamy...He would go out to see actors in plays hoping to find new talent.   With GOODBYE NORMA JEAN--the hunt for Marilyn was long.  My dad agonized over it.  I think they even held a beauty pageant in a attempt to find someone to play Marilyn.  I can't remember exactly how Misty Rowe came to my dad's attention---but I do remember that he was at the same time--talking to another actress as well.    My dad used to joke that if you walked through the front door you were pretty much cast in one of his movies... He just had that sensibility about him.

I remember, I helped my dad edit STRAWBERRIES NEED RAIN (1970) together.   He came back from shooting the film in Texas and we blacked out all of the windows in the house and we put a Movieola in the living room and we started cutting the film together.   We always worked that way.  

Growing up, I thought that this was how you made movies.  I didn't know as a kid that there were editing facilities. I didn't know that there were places you could go to record Foley effects.  My dad and I would just go out into the garage with a list of sounds that we needed to re-produce and record.   They didn't always sound the best but they worked. Sometimes they worked better than any of the Foley effects you'd hear in big budget films.  Someone once said of my dad's films, "Larry Buchanan's films are so bad that a kind of grandeur seeps into them..."  It's kind of true.  People would be alarmed if they knew some of the budgets that my dad had to work with.   

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Country Western Hall Of Fame musician Hargus 'Pig' Robbins talks with TV STORE ONLINE about recording with Patsy Cline, Charlie Rich and playing piano on Bob Dylan's 1966 masterpiece Blonde On Blonde.

You've heard 'Pig' Robbins play the piano.  There is no question about it.   As a Hall of Fame musician, Robbins has played with the likes of George Jones, Ween, Merle Haggard, Alan Jackson, Neil Young, The Everly Brothers, Ray Charles and Kenny Rogers.   In addition, Robbins had his own music career too, recording music in the late '50s under the name 'Mel Robbins' before releasing a handful of studio albums in the '60s and '70s.  Having had a highly prolific career since starting out on the piano at age seven-learning to play by ear-one must forgive Robbin's memory of the day-by-day events during the recording of Dylan's Blonde On Blonde.

Columbia Music Row Studios in Nashville, TN (2013) where Dylan
and a assembly of studio musicians recorded 
Blonde On Blonde in Feb. of 1966
TV STORE ONLINE:  Before we start talking about Bob Dylan I was hoping that I could get you to talk about your 1959 single 'Save it' that you recorded under the name "Mel Robbins" for Argo Records?

ROBBINS:   Well, that quite a long time ago and I was very hungry.  It was a rockabilly record I did that ended up at Argo which was owned in some way by Leonard Chess of Chess Records fame.   I wrote the song with Mary Biggs, and Mary and I and her husband had been writing songs together.   I don't think that the record ever did anything in the States but it was a fairly big hit over in England at the time it was released.

TV STORE ONLINE:   No doubt you've heard the cover of Save It was done in the early '80s by the band The Cramps?

No, I haven't actually.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Why did you decide to record the song under the name Mel Robbins and not under your given name?

ROBBINS:  I wish I could tell you...(Laughing)    Probably because no-one would remember the name Hargus...(Laughing)

TV STORE ONLINE:  I'm such a huge admirer of another record you played on-one that was recorded in the mid '70s- Charlie Rich's Behind Closed Doors...

ROBBINS:  Right, well, Charlie was a hell of a piano player himself.   Getting the opportunity for me to play with Charlie really gave me a pucker.  If you catch my drift.    I was nervous as hell.   He was standing right behind me at the microphone while I was there playing the piano on that title song.  It was something else.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Did you only play on Behind Closed Doors or did you play on some of the other cuts on that LP?  Did you play on 'The Most Beautiful Girl" or "Peace On You"?

  I played on The Most Beautiful Girl and 'Very Special Love Song' on another one of his albums.   I played on 'On My Knees', and 'Rollin' With The Flow' as well...I did a whole bunch of sessions with Charlie.

TV STORE ONLINE:  You worked with Patsy Cline as well as a session player...What did you record with her?

ROBBINS: I played piano on 'I Fall To Pieces' with Patsy.   I was also on 'If You Got Leavin' On Your Mind.'  

TV STORE ONLINE:   So what can you tell me about working with Bob Dylan on Blonde On Blonde (Columbia; 1965)?   I'm dying to hear your stories....

  Well, it was so long ago that I don't remember everything that happened there.  What sticks out in my mind...I'm primarily a country player.  Back in the mid '60s, country songs were 2 minutes and 30 seconds long, if you had a song that was over 3 minutes-that was a long song.  When Dylan came into the studio with a 7 or 12 minute song-it completely blew my mind.

TV STORE ONLINE:  You were a seasoned studio musician in Nashville by the mid '60s...
[Producer] Jerry Kennedy at a point exclaimed you as the "backbone of Nashville'....

ROBBINS:  I'd been around a while...I had been working for about 8 years by then.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Where you familiar with Dylan's music by that time?  Had you met him prior to working with him on Blonde on Blonde?

ROBBINS:  A little.  There had been some Country & Western artists that had covered a few of his songs.  Flatt & Scruggs had covered him.   I had heard his name around but I hadn't met him prior to him coming into the studio.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What was your first impressions of Dylan when you met him?

ROBBINS:  I thought he was an oddity.   The studio would book sessions for him for 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. at night.  Back then, there were four studio sessions that you would work on any day.  Usually you'd go in at 10 a.m. and work till 1 p.m., then take a break, then go from 2 p.m.-5 p.m., 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and then 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.   We were all used to being there on time and you'd show up and you'd get started.    Any of the country boys that would come in would be ready to start recording, but with Dylan...he would come in at 10 p.m., and say, "Alright boys...I need to finish this song, or I need to start writing this song tonight..."   So, instead of playing we'd end up walking around the hallway of the studio or we'd play a game of cards until Dylan was ready to record.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  You were the only piano player on the Nashville sessions for Blonde On Blonde correct?

ROBBINS:  That's right, but Al Kooper was there in Nashville to play the organ with us.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I've read that [Blonde On Blonde Producer] Bob Johnson made a decision to remove the studio baffles during the sessions for Blonde On Blonde so that specific instruments would leak into the recording of others, which, in turn, produced the sound that the record has today?

You know I have a vague memory of that know.   I don't recall specifically at what point that would have been done, and I can only tell you that I played on "Rainy Day Women" and a few others on Blonde On Blonde...

TV STORE ONLINE:  What can you tell me about the recording of Rainy Day Women 12 & 35?

ROBBINS:  That's the only song I can remember recording in detail with Dylan! (Laughing)   I remember it because it was a commercial hit on the radio.  Dylan had wanted the sound to be similar to that of a Salvation Army Band on that.   I can't even remember all of the musicians that played on that with us now.   Dylan had instructed us to start to hooting and hollering during the recording as well..

TV STORE ONLINE:  There is a genuine feeling of that on the record...Especially when Dylan starts to laugh in the middle of his vocal...It doesn't sound produced or rehearsed...

ROBBINS:  It wasn't.  Everyone was cutting up on that.   None of us on that were used to doing that sort of thing in the studio.   It was really fun.

TV STORE ONLINE:  And certain substances were traveling around the studio that night during the recording of Rainy Day Women 12 & 35?

ROBBINS:  (Laughing)  Well....I would say so, yes.

TV STORE ONLINE:   So everybody was getting stoned!

ROBBINS:  Well, let's just say that everybody was feelin' good! (Laughing)

TV STORE ONLINE:  Do you think that by recording Blonde On Blonde in Nashville, Dylan helped to change how the music business looked at Nashville as a hub?

ROBBINS:  I sure do.  It changed everything because after Dylan came there others followed.  Simon & Garfunkel came to record. Leonard Cohen.  Peter, Paul & Mary came.  There were so many others that followed.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Do you think that Nashville had an influence on Dylan and Blonde and Blonde?

ROBBINS:  I think so.  I'd say that our mark is certainly on that album.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Is it surprising to you that after 50 years people are still asking you about your work on Blonde On Blonde with Bob Dylan?

ROBBINS:  I am.  I don't know why it's so captivating to people like yourself, I don't know if its because of how people grew up in that era and listened to the music, but I'm certainly pleased to have been a part of it.

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Screenwriter Andrew Birkin (The Name Of The Rose, Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer) talks with TV STORE ONLINE about his start working with Stanley Kubrick on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, NAPOLEON as well as with The Beatles.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I know that we'll get into great depths talking about your experiences working on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) eventually, but I wanted to start this by talking with you about working with Stanley on NAPOLEON, but also about working with The Beatles on their telefilm MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR (1967).    A rumor has been floating around for years that the 'Flying' sequence in MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR was created out of outtakes from the Stargate sequence from 2001...

BIRKIN: Oh, that is certainly not true.   The method that was used to create the Stargate wasn't by then a secret by any means. It wasn't like MGM could've copyrighted the process.   MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR...Half of that film-believe it or not-was shot on 16mm reversal film.  When we would look at rushes in the hotel in the evening I would load up the 16mm projector.  One evening, I noticed that the film that they gave me was the actual negative!   I said, "This isn't a print?"  We shot the film with a very amateur crew.   Ringo [Starr] said, "No, that is the film that went through the camera. Why?  Does it matter?"  I said, "Ringo, if we put this through the projector it will scratch it."   That footage that was shot for 'Flying' wasn't even done in the same process that was used in 2001.    I'm in MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR by the way...I did the stunt driving in George Harrison's car!

TV STORE ONLINE:  Were you around on MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR when they shot that fantasy sequence where John Lennon is shoveling the spaghetti on the table in the restaurant?

BIRKIN:  I was!  I was around for the entire shoot.     The only reason why I was working on the film was because it was only supposed to be a home movie.  Paul [McCartney] had the idea that they could shoot it and then put it on the BBC.  In those days, if you had something that aired on national television it had to be shot by a union crew.   But, they didn't want to spend the money to bring in an actual professional crew.  So they found people like me, and by that time I had just gotten my union ticket and I was rather laughably given the title of Assistant Director.   I, myself, along with the others that worked on the film were more or less paid amateurs.  And my name is spelled wrong in the credits of MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR! (Laughing)

I say that I was rather laughably the Assistant Director because there were four directors on MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR.   You couldn't get anything decided on because you'd have to confer with Paul, and in turn, he'd defer to John.   To talk to John you'd have to get in a car and drive across an airfield where he was in his psychedelic Rolls Royce.  You'd open the door and you'd be knocked backward by the smoke that would come bellowing out.  You'd get in the car and he's say, "Let's have a toke."  I'd say, "We'd like to know what you'd like to do next.  We have people waiting."  He said, "Oh, I don't know.  What do you think?  What does Paul think?  What does George think?"   So then you'd go out to find George and he'd be off somewhere in deep meditation.   It was actually Ringo who took the most interest in the project.  He had, by that time developed an interest in 16mm film and he was shooting his own home movies of it all, and when it came down to it, you'd have to confer with him.

TV STORE ONLINE:  So did you finish work on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and then go directly onto work with Stanley on NAPOLEON?

BIRKIN:  No, there was a bit of a gap in between.   After I had finished working on 2001 I went off to Almeria, Spain to do a picture with Michael Caine.   When I got back was about the time that 2001 had hit theaters.   Just shortly after that Stanley called me and he said, "Can you come out to the studio? I'd like to speak with you about working on my next project."  I said, "What's the next project Stanley?"  He said, "Well, I'd rather not say over the telephone." Stanley liked the idea of having bugs on people and so he thought that if he could bug people then they could certainly bug him, so he insisted that I come out to see him at the studio.  So there I was, in my car and driving a road that I had driven so many times prior.   He was in the same old building and in the same old office at MGM that I had left him at many months prior.   It was a Saturday afternoon, I remember going up to his office and he was all alone there.  I went in and he was sitting there reading all of these letters that children had written him about 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.  These were his favorite letters too.   Stanley felt that children had a better handle on the movie than most adults did.  

The greatest cut in cinema history is in 2001.  It's where the bone goes up in the air and then there is a cut to a bomb.   So many adults didn't get that about the film.  There was a narration that was recorded that was intended to open the film originally but it was cut before the film was released.   It explained a great many things and one of which was how all of these different countries had bombs up in orbit at the same time.  

Stanley told me that children had picked up on this, and that many of adults hadn't actually.

I had told Stanley about how I had just come back from Almeria, and that I had gone to see 2001 and he said, "Oh, you saw it?   Let me apologize to you for not having a credit for you in the film..."  He then went on to tell me about how he was only allowed to give a credit for those that had it in their contracts.  I truthfully had never expected a credit on the film in the first place because I had been a sort of jack of all trades during the production.    He then borrowed one of my cigarettes and said, "You want to know what my next project is?   What do you know about Napoleon?"

I knew a bit about the French Revolution.   I knew a bit about Napoleon.  He said, "I think this is my one chance to make this.  I've always been fascinated by him.   I don't have a script or anything yet, but I want to make this film."   I said, "Okay, what do you want me to do?"    He said, "Well, the front projection system that we used on 2001 worked really well so I'd like to do pretty much the same thing for NAPOLEON. "  He wanted to build foreground sets and he wanted me to go to every place where Napoleon had gone and photograph it just as I had done for him in Africa for the Dawn Of Man sequence in 2001.    He wanted me to visit all of the palaces and battlefields of Napoleon and that would be the beginning of it.  He said, "If you come across anything interesting or if you come across any manuscripts or rare books on him-buy them up on MGM's account and send them to me." 

May of 1968 in Paris, France.
That's what I did.   I took a brief two week holiday and at the end of May 1968 I went to Paris. I landed right in the middle of the student uprisings that were occurring.    At night, I was not marching with the students, but I would position myself halfway between the police and the students.   I became a sort of war correspondent.  I told Stanley about the uprising in Paris and he sent me a memo back that said: "Don't forget, you're there to take photographs of things from two-hundred years ago, not of things that are happening today."  (Laughing)

TV STORE ONLINE:  What were some of the palaces that you took photographs of?

BIRKIN:   Well, I had to make a rubber MGM stamp first.  Because I was trying to get into places like Versailles and Fontainebleau when they weren't open to the public.   There I was this twenty-two year old kid, who was asking to photograph these places and I'd get the door shut in my face.  So I designed a rubber stamp that read "MGM NAPOLEON" while I was in Paris. No one was taking any of my requests seriously, but these were pretty audacious inquires after all.   I had to go into these palaces and roll back the carpets and take down the signs there to try to make it look like it had when Napoleon had been there years before.    The French are suckers for rubber stamps, so I made that and it really helped me to get my foot into the door to get the photographs that Stanley had wanted. 

Napoleon's throne room at Versailles today
Another job I did for Stanley while I was in Paris was to organize the Paris premiere of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.  The film had come out in America by that time of course, and in England, but it hadn't yet made its way to other European countries.    I was tasked to invite the right people to the premiere.  I had to make sure the print was alright.  I had to check over the projector at the theater.  

When I went to do that, I discovered that the projector wasn't working correctly.  It was shuddering a bit, there was something wrong with the gate.   So I fired off a note to Stanley and he had a Cinerama expert come to Paris to correct it.  The local MGM representative in Paris was outraged.  He said, "No one will ever notice it!"  I said, "Stanley would notice, and I'm here as his eyes and ears."  I was so fuckin' precocious back then...(Laughing)

I've estimated that I saw 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY almost a hundred times theatrically in that year.  I saw it as an admirer of the film. I took friends to it.  I saw it at the test screenings at MGM.  I saw it at the Paris premiere. I saw it on LSD and mushrooms even...(Laughing)  I haven't even seen the films that I've made myself as a director that many times! (Laughing)  The first time I saw 2001 when it was released, I was in tears.   I was aware of how the film was to end on paper when we were working on it, but I had no idea that it would turn out the way it did.  When I was working on the film I had a notion that 2001 was going to be the greatest film ever made, and it turned out that I was right about that.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Did you photograph the bathrooms of the palaces for Stanley?

BIRKIN: (Laughing)  After I finished at Fontainebleau and sent all of the photographs aoff to Stanley he sent me a note that read: where's the bathroom?    So I went back to Fontainebleu to take some more photographs and when I arrived I asked the curator where the bath was and he said, "I don't know.  I supposed it was taken out in Napoleon III's day?"   I said, "Well, where is the pipe-work?"  He went on to show me some of the pipe-work out in a tool shed.  We followed the pipes from the tool shed back into the house and it seemed to lead into the flooring and you could see that something was underneath.  The curator said, "Leave it with me. I have to get permission."  About a week later, they pulled up some of the floorboards and underneath was a bathroom which had apparently sunken down.  No one would know where that was today had it not been for Stanley's inquisitiveness. 
I was smoking back then and when I would take a photograph of something I would use a cigarette pack and hold it up as a comparison to show Stanley the size of whatever I was photographing.  I did that often, and when I photographed Napoleon's wedding ring I was allowed to put it on my own finger to photograph it.     

TV STORE ONLINE:  What type of cameras did you take with you to shoot the photos for Stanley?

BIRKIN:   I was sent off with three Pentax cameras, a typewriter, a compass, some maps,  and Stanley's own copy of Felix Markham's biography of Napoleon which he lent me and it contained all of his personal notes in it.   

TV STORE ONLINE:  Markham's book on Napoleon was THE book for him wasn't it concerning Napoleon?

BIRKIN:  Well, he bought the rights to it.   When one is doing a historical drama you need to have the rights to at least one book on your subject even if you don't use it.    He had written notes all throughout the margin of his copy.   I gave him his copy back later on, but I remember there was a scene in the book with Napoleon and Josephine.   It was to take place the night before Napoleon's coronation-where he crowned himself Emperor?    It was a sham.  Napoleon didn't want to crown himself Emperor. But he was advised to do such because if he had not, no one would have taken him as seriously.   With that in mind, they were asked to be left with the orb and scepter on the night before.    In the margin, Stanley wrote: "great scene."  I got the general idea from this because you couldn't help but to imagine a nude Napoleon and Josephine cavorting around with the crown jewels...(laughing)

When Stanley first asked me about Napoleon he had also asked, "Do you know about Betsy Balcombe?"  I said, "No, I do not."   He gave me this entire back story about how Napoleon had first come to stay with her and how she had fallen in love with him, and their relationship. The way that he told it almost brought tears to my eyes.    He was greatly interested in that relationship that she had with Napoleon, but it's not in the script for the film as we know it today.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Taschen Books put out a book about NAPOLEON a few years ago...

BIRKIN:  Right, yes, I have both copies of it.

TV STORE ONLINE:   So, do you think that Stanley's NAPOLEON is truly the greatest movie never made?

BIRKIN:  No, I do not.  I think that the scope of Napoleon would have been impossible even for Stanley.  I think that his script for NAPOLEON is wonderful, but there are certain elements in the life of Napoleon that one finds in relationship to themselves.   What Stanley's script essentially is is a microcosm of a macrocosm.   Napoleon was so multifaceted and charismatic and you see things in him that you see in yourself.   I think his script for Napoleon is every bit as much about Napoleon as it is about Stanley Kubrick himself.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Did you visit Italy for research for NAPOLEON?

BIRKIN:  I did.   I spent a lot of time in France then I went off to Italy.  I went basically everywhere he had gone and in particular I was instructed to go to places where everything was still in tact from the First Empire.   Meaning, that the furniture that Napoleon may have sat on would still be where it had been two-hundred years prior.   I went to Austria.  I went briefly to Romania, because Stanley had thought about going there to shoot the military stuff there.  When I was in Venice, I got a message to return back to England.   I decided to drive it and on the way back I drove through Belgium. I did that so I could stop and get some photos of the battlefield at Waterloo.   Plus Stanley liked for me to get him soil samples from the battlefields.  I had gotten him a sample of the soil at the battlefields in Italy.  

Stanley had thousands of books on Napoleon.  I know, because I bought many of them for him.   I took about 16,000 photographs for Stanley during the research for Napoleon.  Almost all of the photographs in the Taschen book on NAPOLEON were taken by me except for those with the actors in costume.

The night that I was in Waterloo...I went to an inn, a tavern, near the battlefield to stay the night.  I fell into talking with someone there at the bar.  He said, "Would you be interested in buying a copy of Napoleon's death mask?"  I said, "Do you really have one?"  He said, "Yes. It's a copy, but it's a very old one. It was made in the 1880's."   I bought it from him with my living allowance.   When I got back to England, I drove over to the studio.   I grabbed up everything and went inside and put everything down in a conference room.   Stanley came in and I said to him,"I've brought you a Christmas present."   I handed him a box with the death mask in it.  He opened it and the blood drained from his face.  He turned white.  He looked at me and said, "How did you know?"   I said, "What?"  He looked at me and said, "MGM has pulled the plug on NAPOLEON."  I hadn't known!  I knew that something was up because I had been asked to return to England, but I had no clue that that was the reason why!   Not long after, WATERLOO (1970) came, and that was pretty much that.

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung

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