Larry Vaughn with Mentora Vaughn Gratrix
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Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

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…

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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!

He Had Me at Carrots! Remembering Gilbert Blythe…

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Maybe you don’t think I’m good enough for you now, but I will be someday.
— Gilbert Blythe

Jonathan Crombie, better known as Gilbert Blythe, passed away last Wednesday from a brain hemorrhage at the age of forty-eight. The news was devastating, not only for me, but for so many other women . . . and men (my brothers never liked to admit it because it wasn’t cool, but I knew better!), who like me grew up watching the classic miniseries Anne of Green Gables. Honestly, Gilbert Blythe had me at “carrots!” No one could get under Anne Shirley’s skin like Gilbert Blythe. While their tantalizing love story kept me on a rollercoaster of emotions, Gilbert’s unfailing love and patience in his pursuit of Anne Shirley made him, well, quite irresistible.

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Anne, wait! I’m sorry for teasing you about your hair.
Don’t be mad at me for keeps.

In a very real sense, the memory of Jonathan Crombie will continue to live on. Unlike most of us, actors have a unique legacy because we can watch their films long after they’re gone. Gilbert Blythe and Anne Shirley were my role models growing up. During my dating years, I gave guys such a hard time (not on purpose); but deep down inside, I realize now I just wanted someone willing to patiently woo me, as Gil did with Anne.

And thankfully Gilbert’s legacy will continue. My girls and I are in the middle of reading Anne of Green Gables, and I am anxious to finish the book so we can watch the movie together. I can’t wait to watch their reaction as they meet Gilbert Blythe for the first time. I hope they too will admire his patience, kindness, and strength and that they will look for those characteristics when they are old enough to have a man in their life. And most importantly, I hope they learn that it’s okay to be complicated as a woman—and, yes, even a challenge. Why? Because every girl wants to have this conversation someday:

Anne Shirley: You just think that you love me.
Gilbert Blythe: Anne, I’ve loved you as long as I can remember. I need you. 

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Perhaps LOVE unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship.. as a golden hearted rose slipping from its green sheath.
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

 

USA TODAY’s writer Jayme Deerwester wrote a tribute to Jonathan Crombie’s life:

Crombie is best remembered for his work as Gilbert. He was never bothered by the fame it brought him and even answered to the name Gil when recognized on the street, [Jonathan Crombie’s sister, Carrie] says.

“I think he was really proud of being Gilbert Blythe and was happy to answer any questions,” she told the CBC. “He really enjoyed that series and was happy, very proud of it — we all were,” she said.

The son of former Toronto mayor and Canadian Cabinet minister David Crombie, he beat out fellow Canadian and future 90210 star Jason Priestly for the role. “We never screen-tested him,” Green Gables producer Kevin Sullivan told the CBC. “We met him and he was cast. It was a perfect storm. … It just all worked perfectly.”

“I think for legions of young women around the world who fell in love with the Anne of Green Gables films, Jonathan literally represented the quintessential boy next door,” he said, explaining the actor’s appeal.

“I think there will be hundreds of people who will be floored that this has happened,” he said of Crombie’s sudden passing. “It’s such a devastating tragedy. In reality, Jonathan was as generous, as kind, as sensitive and as ambitious, in some ways, as the character he came to be identified with.”

Keeping in character with his kind, generous alter ego, Crombie’s organs were donated.

Throughout his acting career, Crombie traveled back and forth between New York and Toronto via bus. “That’s how we are going to be bringing him back,” his sister explained to the CBC. “We felt that it was an ode to Jonathan. He would never go on a plane, so we’re going to make the trek from New York to Toronto on a bus with his ashes.”

Read the entire article here: www.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2015/04/18/jonathan-crombie-anne-of-green-gables-death/25994191/

 

“At Least You Could Have Put Some Clothes On”- Meeting Frank Yablans

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Photo: Frank Yablans (right) on the set of The Fury with director Brian de Palma.

“In her memoir, Joan Didion said this about grief,
‘A single person is missing for you and the whole world is empty.'”
—Meryl Streep

This year at the Oscars, Meryl Streep honored those who passed away: “As we reflect tonight on the loss of so many talented people this year, it’s hard not to feel that emptiness because in the time they had they filled our lives with so much. Whatever role they played in moviemaking, the films that they were a part of made us laugh, and think, and cry, and consider life with fresh eyes: they tickled us, raised our spirits when we needed it, challenged our minds, and shocked our complacencies. Through their work, they shared a piece of their soul, and so we will miss them with the same sadness as we miss an old friend. But their work will stand and will remind us how lucky we were to have them with us for a while. There will never be anyone like them, each and every one.”

So many names honored that evening brought back fond memories. However, when I saw Frank Yablans, I smiled as I recalled my first meeting with him. . .

We planned a trip to California to introduce the studios to Ideas, Inc. Everyone seemed impressed with our work, but expressed concern about how their marketing departments would fit in with a so-called “joint marketing venture.” That had been my greatest concern all along.
On that trip I learned, once again, that one should never underestimate Heyward Morgan. One evening we were down at the hotel lounge around midnight. I was worn out from a long day of tooting my own horn to the Hollywood elite. I told Mr. Morgan, “I’ve had it. I’m going to bed.” He said good night and that he would be up later.
I went to my room, got in bed, and was half asleep when Mr. Morgan started banging on the door. “Larry, Larry, you in there?” In undershorts and T-shirt I stumbled to the door. I opened the door to find him standing there with another man. They walked into my room.
Mr. Morgan said, “Larry, do you know who this is?”
I looked at the man, extended my hand, and said, “No, sir.”
The man introduced himself. “Hello, Larry, I am Frank Yablans.”
I said, “Mr. Yablans, would you excuse me while I put some clothes on? I had just turned in for the night.”
Mr. Morgan spoke up. “Phooey with clothes, Larry, I told Frank all about your work. Where is your briefcase?”
Frank Yablans was not only one of the most respected producers in Hollywood, he was one of the most respected producers in the entire world. His movies were household names around the world. Besides being a celebrated producer and director, he was currently the President of Paramount Pictures. And there I was, undressed, hair messed up, sitting on the side of my wrinkled bed telling Frank Yablans how great I was.
He listened, asked questions, and made several positive comments about my campaigns. Then he said, “Fellows, I’m sold! Your work is very good, but you have to sell my marketing guys. Here, write this name and number down. Call Jackson’s secretary tomorrow and make an appointment to see him. Be sure to tell her I told you to call.”
We chatted a few more minutes before Mr. Yablans said good night and left the room. After Mr. Yablans had gone, I looked at Mr. Morgan and said, “Boss, if you ever pull a stunt like that on me again, I’ll shoot you!”
He laughed and said, “At least you could have put some clothes on.”
I slammed the door as he whisked out of the room. Needless to say, I was so wound up from the last hour’s events that I slept very little that night.
(Excerpt from Hollywood’s Chosen, available on Amazon)

Honestly, this story always reminds me of what a remarkable man I worked for—Heyward Morgan. Most movie stars of that day would have had a hard time getting Frank Yablans to visit their hotel room. That unexpected meeting showed me that Frank Yablans and I had something in common: we both had a hard time saying no to Heyward Morgan.