Larry Vaughn with Mentora Vaughn Gratrix

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Stallone Strikes Again

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Every champion was once a contender who refused to give up.
— Rocky Balboa

Back in 1976 when I started my job as a film buyer, I had never heard of Sylvester Stallone. It’s amazing how Stallone not only wrote but also starred in Rocky, a classic film that made him a household name. Fast-forward forty years to 2016, and remarkably the “Italian Stallion” has a good chance of receiving his long-overdue Academy Award for his performance as Rocky Balboa in his newest film Creed.

Silvester and Larry 2

I first heard of Sly when my boss, Eddie Stern, was out of the country on an extended vacation. I was a newbie to the film department and wanted to prove that I could handle things while Eddie was away…

Excerpts from Hollywood’s Chosen:

My adrenaline got more than a good workout when Eddie and Jerry were in China. When it came to bidding for movies, I was throwing money around like it was play money. Sure, I made some great deals for the company, but I also bought my share of losers, just as Eddie had known I would.

Then sometimes I got lucky. One afternoon Betty announced, “Larry, Joe Kennedy is on line three.” Joe was the Florida branch manager for United Artists. I found out early on that Joe preferred doing business with our competitors rather than with Wometco Theatres. Joe continuously stayed upset with Eddie because Eddie . . . was notorious for bypassing Joe and doing his business directly with UA’s New York office.

I picked up the phone, and after some small talk Joe got to the point.

“Kid, don’t shoot the messenger. I received instructions from New York. We have to take The Sunshine Boys out of the Bay Harbor and move it to Loew’s Bal Harbour Theatre.”

I couldn’t hold back my anger. “Joe, Eddie personally made that deal with your boss, Jerry Esbin, months ago. You can’t up and pull the picture at this late date. You know the best gross in the state will come out of the Bay Harbor!”

“Kid, you and Eddie need to be thankful that you don’t bid our product on Miami Beach. Besides, I have another picture that was scheduled to play in Loew’s Theatre that I will gladly move to the Bay Harbor.”

I thought to myself, “If Eddie found out that I let Loews steal The Sunshine Boys, he would kill me! Joe is taking advantage of Eddie being out of the country and doing a favor for his good friend Bernie Myerson, Loew’s film buyer.”

“Okay, Joe, let’s cut to the chase. Who do I have to talk with at United Artists? I am not giving up the film.”

“Kid, last time I checked it was not your film to give up. I believe United Artists made The Sunshine Boys, and not Wometco.”

“Joe, I am going to hang up and call Esbin and voice my displeasure at what you are trying to do.”

“Kid, you don’t get it, do you? Esbin is the man who told me to call you!”

There was silence on the line. “Ummm, La’rie, do you want the other picture or not?. . . .It’s one of those underdog films about a boxer who goes from nobody to somebody.”

“What’s the title, and who is in it?” I asked. . . .“Wait a minute, Joe. Is this the film that was shot in twenty-eight days on a shoestring budget of a million-one? And the guy who wrote the story is also playing the lead in the picture? What’s his name, Stalwart?”

“No, ummm, I don’t think it’s Stalwart.” I heard a heavy sigh. “Hold on, here’s his name. It’s Stallone. His name is Sylvester Stallone. The movie is Rocky.” Joe replied.

I thought to myself, “When Eddie gets back, I might be the next victim to go through that swinging door that I’ve heard so much about.”

I mumbled, “Okay, Joe. Book Rocky in the Bay Harbor.”

“Thanks, kid. I mean La’rie. Tell ‘His Highness’ I owe you one.”

Well, the rest is history. Rocky, the little picture I was forced to play on its release date, turned out to be the biggest-grossing film of 1976. It grossed over two hundred and twenty-five million dollars domestically and was honored with three Academy Awards, including the coveted Best Picture of the Year.

Leave it to Sly to still be in the ring. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Stallone isn’t a contender this January for an Academy Awards nomination. I’d love to see him go all he way with a knockout Oscar win.

Trivia: Sylvester Stallone was nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay) for Rocky in 1977, which made him the third man in history (after Orson Welles and Charles Chaplin) to receive these two nominations for the same film.
— Wikipedia

Want more of Sly? Check out this story: This Crazy Untold Story Made Sylvester Stallone Famous…

Tom Hanks — BANGO — I am a star!

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I’ve made over 20 movies, and 5 of them are good.
— Tom Hanks

There are so many things to love about the talented actor Tom Hanks. As a teenager, my first encounter with Tom (as I affectionately like to call him) was in the movie Big. We’ve blogged on other Tom Hanks films: What You Don’t Know About Forrest Gump and Is Saving Mr. Banks Worth Saving? I recently read an article about a letter eighteen-year-old Tom Hanks wrote to the Oscar-winning director George Roy Hill. (You can read the full article here Hollywood Reporter Tom Hanks.) When I read Tom’s letter, I laughed so hard! I love the gumption Tom Hanks had as a teenager, and of course the crazy part is Thomas J. Hanks had it right—for us who know him as Tom Hanks, we all know that his career could certainly be summed up as “BANGO—I am a star.”

Dear Mr. Hill,

Seeing that … I have seen your fantastically entertaining and award-winning film “The Sting,” starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and enjoyed it very much, it is all together fitting and proper that you should “discover” me. Now, right away I know what you are thinking: ‘Who is this kid?’ and I can understand your apprehensions. I am a nobody. No one outside of Skyline High School has heard of me. … My looks are not stunning. I am not built like a Greek God, and I can’t even grow a mustache, but I figure if people will pay to see certain films … they will pay to see me.

Let’s work out the details of my discovery. We can do it the way Lana Turner was discovered, me sitting on a soda shop stool, you walk in and notice me and — BANGO — I am a star.

Or maybe we can do it this way. I stumble into your office one day and beg for a job. To get rid of me, you give me a stand-in part in your next film. While shooting the film, the star breaks his leg in the dressing room, and, because you are behind schedule already, you arbitrarily place me in his part and — BANGO — I am a star.

All of these plans are fine with me, or we could do it any way you would like, it makes no difference to me! But let’s get one thing straight. Mr. Hill, I do not want to be some bigtime, Hollywood superstar with girls crawling all over me, just a hometown American boy who has hit the big-time, owns a Porsche, and calls Robert Redford “Bob”.

Respectfully submitted,

Your Pal Forever,

Thomas J. Hanks

Jaws 40 Years Later …

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You’re gonna need a bigger boat.
– Roy Scheider

Forty years ago this past June, I saw Jaws for the first time. Moviegoers, like me, left the theatre with a new fear of the ocean and the creatures within. The news has been full of shark attack stories lately. Every time I hear of shark attacks, I still think of Jaws and this crazy film buying story. I worked in an era where multiplexes didn’t exist. Film buyers had to fight hard to get movies for their theatre company. Picking the right film oftentimes was a gamble…


Excerpts from Hollywood’s Chosen:

Doneata and I arrived at the Park Terrace Theatre forty-five minutes before the feature began. . .All the advance publicity from Universal Pictures was true: Jaws was two hours of edge-of-the-seat entertainment. About forty-five minutes into the film, the great white shark came roaring up out of the ocean for the first time, and when it did, it scared me half to death!. . . .I knew I had just seen the biggest picture of the year, and quite possibly the biggest picture ever made.

Driving home from the theatre . . . my mind drifted back to a few weeks earlier. Several  of us film buyers who represented all the theatre circuits in Charlotte were having a very important “split” meeting in the office of John Huff, VP and head film buyer at ABC. We met together to discuss “splitting” the upcoming summer’s movies among ourselves rather than bidding against each other for the right to play a particular movie. Negotiating among ourselves to decide who would play a given film was always much less expensive than bidding against each other for the right to play a film.

Well, this was a very interesting split meeting because every film buyer in the room desperately wanted Jaws to play in his company’s theatre. We spent the better part of an hour trying to decide which circuit would play Jaws and what it would take to satisfy the other circuits that didn’t get to play it.

In desperation, I offered an unconventional solution:

I cleared my throat and began speaking. . . .“Gentlemen, shall we cut high card, and winner take all?”

That unexpected suggestion seemed to have every bit the effect of a slap in the face, or you might say a wake-up call, to those weary, tired men in the room.

Huff broke the silence. “Well, why not? Does anyone have a better suggestion?”

One of the men, who was not noted for his card-playing abilities, was picked to shuffle the cards. After shuffling the deck, he placed it on the corner of Huff’s desk. One by one, each man walked to the edge of the desk to make a draw. One man would walk over and draw quickly. Another would act very cautiously, as if there were a snake under the top card. Each of us knew this was a million-dollar draw.

Huff and I were the last to take a card. Huff motioned for me to step forward. He said, “Mr. Vaughn . . .” I thought to myself, “What happened to ‘Larry’?”

Huff continued, “Since this was your bright idea, I think it’s only right for you to have the honor of drawing for ABC.”

I smiled on the outside but was quite tense on the inside. As I reached for the deck, I said, “My pleasure.” I picked a card and cupped it in the palm of my hand.

Acting somewhat irritated at me, he said, “Well, get on with it! Let’s have a look at it!”

In a Frisbee-like manner, I tossed the card toward the center of the desk. I then watched each man’s expression as he saw the ace glide to its resting place atop the large mahogany desk. Immediately, Huff released a huge sigh of frustration as the other men frowned, shook their heads in disbelief, and mumbled to themselves as they walked slowly back to their seats.

Huff was the first to speak. “Well, if and when there’s a Jaws II, Larry will draw for ABC.”


Movie Trivia: Robert Shaw could not stand Richard Dreyfuss, and they argued all the time, which resulted in some good tension between Hooper and Quint. You would think a shark the size of Jaws would have been enough to keep them in line!

Denzel Washington Inspires Me …

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Man gives you the award but God gives you the reward.
Denzel Washington


Denzel Washington delivered an inspiring speech to the graduating class at Dillard University in New Orleans last month. I’ve always admired Denzel Washington as an actor and a filmmaker. I could list his many accomplishments in the Hollywood entertainment industry, but most of you already know his many talents as an actor. While listening to his speech, my admiration took on a new meaning as Denzel Washington brilliantly shared his heart. He was open and honest about his struggles in college, admitting that at one point during his college career he “was flunking out of college” as he had a 1.7 GPA before getting back on course. His speech was sprinkled with humor and a real sense of his need and dependence on God. Denzel Washington’s words inspired me. Here are a few highlights from his speech:

Put God First: Put God first in everything you do. Everything that you think you see in me; everything that I have accomplished; everything that you think I have … everything that I have is by the grace of God. Understand that. It’s a gift … I’ve been protected. I’ve been directed. I’ve been corrected. I’ve kept God in my life, and it’s kept me humble. I didn’t always stick with him, but he’s always stuck with me; so stick with him.

Fail Big: Do what you feel passionate about. Take chances … professionally. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to dream big. But remember, that dreams without goals are just dreams. And they ultimately fuel disappointments. So have dreams, but have goals—life goals, yearly goals, monthly goals.

You’ll Never See a U-Haul Behind a Hearse: I don’t care how much money you make, you can’t take it with you.  The Egyptians tried it … they got robbed. That’s all they got. You can’t take it with you. And it’s not how much you have, it’s what you do with what you have.

While You’re on Your Knees in the Morning, Say Thank You:  Say thank you for wisdom; for grace; for understanding; for parents. Say thank you in advance for what’s already yours. True desire in the heart for anything good is God’s proof to indicate that it’s yours. And anything you want, good, you can have; so claim it. Work hard to get it. And when you get it, reach back pull someone else up. Each one, teach one. Don’t just aspire to make a living. Aspire to make a difference!

(Highlights taken from this article:


The Ultimate Sacrifice…

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I have long believed that sacrifice is the pinnacle of patriotism.
— Bob Riley

Memorial Day, the holiday observed every year on the last Monday of May, was formerly known as Decoration Day and originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the war. Since that war, there have been many wars where endless American blood has been shed to keep our country free. This Memorial Day we have the privilege to remember and honor those gallant men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice—their lives—so that we can enjoy those freedoms we are blessed with today.

In the film American Sniper, Bradley Cooper, who plays the role of Navy Seal sniper Chris Kyle, makes a statement that symbolizes the true meaning of the American way: “I’ve lived the literal meaning of the ‘land of the free’ and ‘home of the brave.’ It’s not corny for me. I feel it in my heart. I feel it in my chest. Even at a ball game, when someone talks during the anthem or doesn’t take off his hat, it pisses me off. I’m not one to be quiet about it either.”

On a personal note, I was a private in the National Guard. In my era, the war in Vietnam was the news of the day. In hindsight, I wish I could say that I went to Vietnam and was brave like Chris Kyle. But in all honesty, I never went to Vietnam, and I was anything but a model soldier. Here’s an excerpt from a chapter entitled “The Army Way” from my life’s story, Hollywood’s Chosen.

When I first walked into the barracks, I received a lot of flak from the men. I guess I did look a bit out of place. I will not repeat the humiliating names I was called. At six foot three inches and weighing in at a mere 135-pounds in my regular army uniform, well, surrounded by paratroopers, I was a sight to behold. It was obvious the men were insulted that I would be assigned to an airborne unit, and they demanded an explanation as to why I, a National Guardsman, would be assigned to their unit. I wished more than anything that I had an answer.

Prior to their being assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, many of the men had already served in Vietnam as a part of the famous 101st Airborne Division (better known as the “Screaming Eagles”). They wore their pants bloused in their boots, and they looked and acted like they had stepped right out of a Hollywood war movie.

I knew I had to do something to get on their good side. I hated not being accepted by the men. So, instead of arm wrestling, I decided to whip out my playing cards and show the men some tricks. I could make magic with a deck of cards. And it worked. I lured them in with my card tricks. Ultimately, however, it was my style of gambling that really won them over. I owned my seat at the high-stakes card table proudly. I spent all my free time playing cards in the barracks with those physically fit men of steel known as high-rolling, card-loving paratroopers. Mission accomplished. Well, almost. . . .

Trivia: In what war did the most Americans die? How many died?

Answer: Civil War; 750,000