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March 20, 2009:

THE GOOD ONE

Bruce Kimmel Photograph bk's notes

Well, dear readers, I’ll tell you one thing – after writing these here notes, things come back to me that I haven’t thought of in decades. Last night, for example, after the last couple of notes where I wrote about Nudie and Stages and Together Again, I remembered a couple of other things that I’ve really never written about anywhere, certainly not in detail. One thing I remembered was back when we were doing Feast at LACC, I did a little show called An Evening With Bruce Kimmel (Who?). It was a little precocious of me to do a “retrospective” of my songs when I was twenty-two, but I never lacked for chutzpah. I remember it was me, Alan Abelew, Diana Canova, Valerie Gillette and a gal named Jackie Crilly. I can’t remember whether it was in one long act or two shorter acts. I know we did songs from everything I’d written up to that point (Start At The Top, Feast, Atticus, and other things from when I was younger) – it was fun to do, and I have photos from it that are pretty amusing – I look like I’m twelve years old, as do the rest of the cast. Later, somewhere in the mid-70s, we did a new version of the show in the black box space at City College, and that was really fun. Then we did the show for a couple of performances at the Matrix Theater. I don’t even remember why. I do remember it was sold out both times and that we recorded both performances (which I have on reel-to-reel tape). This time it was me, Alan, Diana, and Annette O’Toole. The first person I’d asked to do the track that Annette ultimately did (and am I GLAD she did) was Kay Cole, but that didn’t work out. This time there were a lot more songs to choose from, because there was The Comedy Of Errors, Nudie, Feast, and some songs I wrote specifically for the evening. And we premiered some songs from what was meant to be my second film. And that’s the other thing I remembered last night – a film I rarely think about and even more rarely talk about. After Nudie, Paramount asked me if I had anything else. What I had was what I thought a terrific idea – they seemed interested, but when Laverne and Shirley hit, that was the end of their interest because Nudie suddenly became something that was potentially embarrassing to them, instead of the success it should have been with the proper push and marketing.

There was even a little blurb in Army Archerd’s column that I was soon going to have a “three-pic-pact” with Paramount and that my second film there would be called “Sailors.” (I’d hired a publicist named Stan Rosenfeld, who did a really good job for me.) Because I’d always loved the sailor musicals, i.e. On The Town, Anchors Away, and others with Gene and Frank and all those wonderful players, I thought it would be funny to update the genre to the 1970s – so I came up with a story about three young people who grew up in a teeny-tiny town in the mid-west – which was all they knew of the world. Well, that and movies they watched on TV – and their favorites were the sailor musicals. So, they enlist in what was then called the Now Navy, thinking it’s going to be just like it was in the movies they loved. And they find out quickly just how wrong they are. They try to sing and dance on the ship, much to the shock and dismay of their crewmates. They come to LA and get shore leave. LA at that time was, like New York, just a little sleazy. They sing and dance around LA – they meet three girls. One works at a Kissing Booth at New Pike in Long Beach, one is an aspiring Roller Derby Queen (Rosie, the Roller), and I can’t remember what the third one did. It followed the general formula of On The Town, and the script I wrote had some really funny things, along with, I’m sure, a lot of stuff that would ultimately have been rewritten. The songs were, I thought, pretty good, especially the three songs for the girls – oh, I just remembered – the third gal worked at Farmer’s Market selling – wait for it – what is it, fish. When we did the Evening With show, we did all three songs, and I have to tell you Annette stopped the show cold with the song sung by the girl who works in the kissing booth – I Kiss For A Living (But I’m Living For A Kiss).

My then agents, The Gersh Agency, loved the project. Phil Gersh himself took an interest, and set up a meeting with an old-time Hollywood musicals guy – I recognized the name, but I really didn’t know what he did exactly. His name was Saul Chaplin. Mr. Chaplin thought the idea was fantastic, and he liked the script. A meeting was set up for me to play him the songs. He and I met at his friend’s house, his friend being composer Bronislau Kaper, who was one of my favorites because of his fantastic score to Mutiny On The Bounty, not to mention Auntie Mame. I played my songs for Mr. Chaplin – he liked some of them and thought some could be better, and he was right, of course. He was probably in his early to mid-70s then, and I just didn’t get the right kind of vibe from him – I wasn’t sure he really understood what kind of film Sailors was going to be. So, even though he wanted to produce and work with me, I told Phil Gersh I didn’t think he was the right guy. It was something I’ve been embarrassed about ever since. I should have jumped at the chance to work with someone like Saul Chaplin, and had I maybe the film would have been made. I learned a valuable lesson – do NOT judge anyone by their age. Shameful. And I never did it again.

Now back to the mid-1980s. I decided to write my first non-musical, a comedy like the ones I used to love when I was a teen first going to the theater. Even though by then it was completely unfashionable to write anything but a two-act play, I purposely wrote my play in three acts. I called it The Good One. Not only was it in three acts, but each act had three scenes, which gave the play a really symmetrical feeling. The show was about an aspiring songwriter who’s having to write singing telegrams to make ends meet. He’s just broken up with his girlfriend and is having a really hard time with it. And so he decides to place an ad in the LA Weekly – a singles ad. He actually places three of them, asking to meet a completely different type of girl in each, and lying about himself to make it seem like he’d be the type each of the three gals would want. At that time, the LA Weekly was hugely popular and their singles ads were the reason – it was how a lot of people were meeting. I, in fact, had gone on several dates by meeting people through the Weekly ads, which, of course, had given me the idea for the play. Each act began with a scene with the lead character Warren Bickley (played by me) and his best friend (played by Rick Waln) talking about whatever the upcoming date was. The second scene would be the meeting with each date, and the third scene would be the after-the-date wind up. In the first ad, Warren lies that he’s into exercise and health and in great shape. He meets Debbie, an exercise and aerobics nut (played by Debby Zipp – I think that was her name). In the second act, he lies and says he’s into all things kinky and weird and he meets Tura Tura, a girl who surpasses anything he might have imagined kinky could mean (played by the great Gail Edwards). In the final act, he doesn’t lie – he just writes what he really wants – and he meets a girl, who turns out to be someone he’d always wanted to go out with from high school – she’d recognized his name and answered the ad (she was played by Penny Peyser).

This time, since I was the writer and star, I was smart enough to hire a director to oversee everything, a fellow named Jim Bradford (an LACC alum). I still did a little of the comic staging, but otherwise the show was his and it was very helpful to have him there. The three actresses were great, as was Rick. In rehearsals, we knew the second act was great – everything about it worked and Gail was beyond amazing. She made the part. The writing was funny, but she took it and made it her own and was absolutely brilliant. My favorite bit of staging was in the third scene of the act when we’re in the loft of my apartment. The set was wonderful and while it wasn’t a really high loft it was elevated quite a bit. I one section, she’s got me down to my boxer shorts and she literally throws me down to the bed, which is a mattress on the floor. I hit the mattress, bounce off it and off the loft (yes, off the loft) and onto the couch below. It took me a few days to figure out exactly how to do it – we cleared the set of everything but the couch so that if I couldn’t stop myself I wouldn’t hit any sharp corners of tables or chairs. I found that I had to hit the mattress exactly at a certain angle, bounce off and as I landed on the couch my arm had to grab the back of the couch so I wouldn’t bounce off IT. Once I had the choreography of it, we put the rest of the furniture back and I tried it and it worked perfectly and I never missed in our entire ten-week run. It was a huge laugh, too. But everything Gail did was a huge laugh. I just had to sit there and react – an actor’s dream. All the first scenes of each act worked very well, with Rick turning in a charming performance. The Debbie Zipp scenes were okay and got laughs, but the third scene in act one never felt that good to me, although I never rewrote any of it. There was nothing wrong with it, it just could have been funnier. The third act was the scary act. Our producer, the same lady who’d done Stages, came to me after our dress rehearsal and begged me to just cut the third act entirely. I told her there was no play without the third act and I asked her to trust that the audiences would “get” it and that I felt by that time they would really be rooting for my character and that would propel them through the scenes with the relatively straight character of the third gal. She told me it wasn’t going to work, and she was very sure of it.

The next night, we played a preview, our first time in front of an audience. The first act went very well, with lots of laughs. The second act, from the first line of scene one to the last line of scene three brought the house down – with frequent applause for bits and lines, mostly due to Gail’s breathtaking performance. And then came the third act. And because the first two acts had done their job, the third act worked like a dream. Even though the girl character was straight and had no “bits” like the other two, the character was very endearing and most of the lines got big laughs and it was even a little touching. The producer came up to me after and apologized. I was just grateful it worked so well.

Even though it wasn’t a musical, my character was a songwriter, so I did play the singing telegram songs, and in the third act played a song called Someone Special, which was all about the phenomenon of classified ad dating. The reviews were pretty good – the actors all came out smelling like a rose, and the play itself got decent notices. Gail would go on to win a Dramalogue Award for her performance – no one who was up against her had a chance. Penny’s performance was wonderful, too – real, charming, and completely lovable. One of my favorite memories was arriving at the theater on opening night (we were at the Pan-Andreas, now the Coast Theater, on Santa Monica Blvd.) and hearing someone yell from across the street, a total stranger – “Break a leg, Bruce!” There were also people at the stage door before and after asking me to sign their Nudie Musical soundtrack LPs, which I thought was funny. And during the run, the mother of the boy who was my best friend in junior high school came and saw the show and said hello afterwards. Her son, of course, is featured heavily in the book Kritzerland. We had a very good run. Rob Reiner saw it one night, and an old school chum, Ian Praiser, who was writing for sitcoms then, saw it on another. A few months later, Ian was trying to sell a pilot – I saw the script. He’d basically taken the friendship relationship from The Good One and used it wholesale. I sort of called him on it, and we kind of laughed about it and I didn’t really care because the plot of his show was quite different. Ian, who was an extra (playing the cameraman) in Nudie Musical, passed away a couple of years ago.

The Good One’s script got a lot of notice – people really thought it was funny, but it resulted in not one job. But, that was the 1980s for me.

Well, why don’t we all click on the Unseemly Button below because I’ve got to get a good night’s sleep so I can look look lithe and firm with abs and buns of steel for tonight, and for my LACCTAA event on Saturday.

Yesterday was also a busy little day, but I’ve just about forgotten everything I did. Let’s see – I got up. That I remember. Then I had to ship a package or three, then I had to deliver two big boxes o’ CDs to a local dealer. Then I came home and did the long jog. Then I had some writing to do, preparing questions for Saturday’s LACCTAA event. Then I had some lunch at Hugo’s, wrote more questions, packaged up some more orders (including one for Miss Constance Towers, star of Anya), approved the Illya Darling master, and began work on the Illya notes.

Today, I plan to do the long jog, and I’ll try to finish the Illya notes so I can get them to the designer – he’s got everything else he needs. I’m trying to get everything to the printer and pressing plant by next Wednesday and everything to the webgal by this coming Monday, so that we’ll have no problem getting the title up for preorder by April 1st. And then this evening I’ll be attending The Chancies, the awards ceremony for the Chance Theater. I will, of course, have a full report, although I probably won’t be back until very late.

And tomorrow is our first LACCTAA event, An Afternoon With David Lee, the very talented and witty co-creator of the beloved sitcom Frasier. We’ll be doing a Q&A and then an open Q&A. I don’t think any of our West Coast lurkers has booked the event and you really should book all of our events – it’s only ten bucks and David Lee is a treasure.

Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, do the long jog, I must write liner notes, I must finish writing questions, I must do errands and whatnot, and I must attend The Chancies. Today’s topic of discussion: It’s Friday – what is currently in your CD player and your DVD/video player? I’ll start – CD, a homegrown CD of Twilight Zone scores from the isolated DVD tracks, plus a home-grown CD of Mancini’s original score (not the re-recorded pop album) for Breakfast At Tiffany’s. DVD, an Eyetalian thriller called The Designated Victim, which I’m told is an unofficial remake of Strangers On A Train. And then Kurosawa’s Dodeskaden. Your turn. Let’s have loads of lovely postings shall we, whilst I now relax and eat a biscotti or three.

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