Yes, they get old. They go. But I'm a bit overwhelmed by the passing of Paul Newman -- the career, the philanthropy, the race-car driving, the gorgeous, iconic man himself -- so I'm not sure where to start. So many Newman roles are not only brilliant, but mean a lot to me personally including, Hud (where he's the most charming son of a bitch you'd ever want to meet, or if you're smart, not want to meet), the fun, sad and inspiring Christ parable Cool Hand Luke, the uber-cool yet moody and complicated The Hustler, The Verdict (which has one of the greatest openings in screen history -- Newman playing that pinball machine) and some of his less talked about pictures, like Pocket Money (with Lee Marvin) or the underrated Sometimes a Great Notion (which he skillfully and beautifully directed). I'll be writing more about these pictures, but for now, I'm returning to a Newman performance that fills me with such happiness, that it occasionally surprises me with its gritty, twinkling power. It's a sports picture after all, and though beloved by legions of fans, feels under-appreciated -- George Roy Hill's hockey classic Slap Shot. Slap Shot is not only the greatest sports film ever made (period) but one of Newman's greatest roles within his long, outstanding career.
I’m not being hyperbolic; it’s just that perfect. A pure sports film, Slap Shot encompasses all aspects of the game: It’s about the team, it's about the coaches, it's about the towns, it's about the politics and, with almost transcendent gusto, it's about the dirt. Hilariously vicious dirt that boasts some of cinema’s most toxic lines -- lines I can’t repeat here (or rather I can't do justice to, it's better if you watch the clip at the end of this entry). And it boasts the greatest use of that Maxine Nightingale song -- a tune that shouldn't be allowed in any other motion picture ever again. I can only picture cold busses, booze, rust brown flairs, Newman's fur trimmed leather jackets and Strother Martin while hearing this song -- and that's how it should be.
And again, there’s star Paul Newman who, in his older, ruggedly handsome visage, carries the picture with an odd sort of foul-mouthed dignity we simply don't see in movies these days (and so naturally -- if an actor is doing blue, it's always so damn obvious). Playing a middle-aged minor league hockey player/coach, he’s a tough, quick-witted guy, but in quieter moments, touchingly doubtful about his future. He’s attempting to save his washed-up team, and that requires, not surprisingly for hockey, a need to amp up the brutality.
Enter the picture’s greatest addition, the Hanson brothers, a trio of Ramones-resembling prodigies who absolutely annihilate on the ice, but end their days playing with toys in their hotel room (they also, quite memorably, speak in bizarre twin talk that no one can understand). No matter if fellow player Michael Ontkean (whose bitter wife, played by Lindsay Crouse, is so sick of the hockey life, she's become a drunk) isn’t taking to the newer method, the boys get the job done and make the crowds happy.
But their triumphs aren’t simply played for audience gratification, since there’s a lot more to Slap Shot than carving, backstabbing and high, hard ones — there’s complicated adult drama (particularly regarding Newman and his ex-wife, Jennifer Warren) and an extra amount of thought mixed with the humor regarding violence, and just where the hell some of these men’s lives are going. And every single character is quirky, lovable and authentic, with Paul Newman's performance ranking as one of the most fascinating in his career (and those leather outfits! Sweet Jesus, Newman could pull off the slinky brown ensemble).
Also interesting is that, while it's hands-down the most profane sports movie ever made, all of this tough talk was scripted by Nancy Dowd, a woman -- and it received much heat for her salty language and creative uses of the "f" bomb. And it pulls no punches in the mean department. Especially when a frustrated Newman informs a woman that her elementary school son "looks like a [expletive] to me... You better get married again soon 'cause he's gonna wind up with somebody's [expletive] in his mouth before you can say 'Jack Robinson'."
Can you imagine the hero of a movie saying this today? And without every member of the PC police on the actor or picture's case? Or worse, shallow "shock" loving viewers watching the film simply because he utters such nasty dialouge? He's pissed. He just says it. It's not a stupid Dane Cook routine, it's hockey. It is Paul Newman. Oh how I already miss the man.
(Please excuse the poor quality of the clip below -- it was the only one I could find...)
In the 1968 Blake Edwards comedy "The Party" (alternative title "Hollywood Party") Peter Sellers plays a bumbling bit part extra who accidentally gets invited to a wild Hollywood shindig. Mayhem and pratfalls ensue.
Tonight is my Peter Sellers moment.
Coop and Ruth have been invited to a party at the home of their friends George Meyer and Maria Semple. George is a writer and producer for the Simpsons who credits include the Simpsons Movie (including the smash hit "Spider Pig"). His wife Maria is also a writer and producer who has worked on a number of sitcoms. Between them, 17 Emmy nominations and 7 wins. Maria's also the daughter of Lorenzo Semple Jr., another Hollywood writing notable who was largely responsible for creating the 1960's Batman TV series and wrote Sean Connery's final Bond movie, 1983's "Never Say Never Again." Meyer and Semple are avid collectors of Pop Surrealist art, including a few pieces from Coop. Tonight they are throwing a farewell party, as they will be moving in a few days to a new home in Seattle. I've been accidentally invited to tag along.
After lurching through traffic along the 10 and the 405, we snake up Mulholland Drive to a narrow road leading up a mountain, packed bumper-to-bumper with parked Priuses. "Maybe we should grab that spot," I suggest. "Haven't you ever been to a party with valet parking?" laughs Ruth. Hell, I've never been to a party that didn't have a plastic bucket for keg donations.
When we arrive at the top of the mountain we are greeted in the driveway by a winsome member of the Valet Girls, the troupe of hot fembot parking ninjas who are handling car management for the party. "First non-Prius of the night," she says of Ruth's Benz. Apparently the big new automotive trend in Hollywood is conspicuous non-consumption; I marvel at the irony of eco-hairshirt hybrid shitboxes being parked by supermodel servant girls. I also marvel at the valet's shapely hinder.
Then, there was the house.
This is Ursa Major, the estate built by the late Wilt Chamberlain in 1971 as a rival to Hef's Playboy Mansion. It is also the site where Wilt famously claimed to have carved 20,000 notches in his bedpost. The sheer mathematics of it beggars belief (2 different women per day for 27 years) but who am I to question? After all, he was the Hall of Famer. And with an original interior decor like this, he was obviously all business when it came to entertaining female guests.
George and Maria bought Ursa Major from Chamberlain's estate in 2002, after which it underwent a major renovation/restoration taking several years to complete. Sadly, the purple fur waterbed sex room is
gone, but the house is now returned to its original structural glory.
When we enter the Brobdignagian 14-foot front door we are greeted by George; a lanky, bearded Ichabod Crane topped with a bowl cut. Warm and cordial and disarmingly goofy, he's not at all what I had expected in a big shot Hollywood producer. We chit-chatted with him for a few moments before I was distracted by a couple of huge Robert Williams canvases hanging on the wall.
After grabbing a few hors d'oeuvres we head out on an alcohol safari. On the way we soon encounter the lovely and gracious Maria. Next, Paul Reubens, better known to many as Pee Wee Herman. Coop and Ruth have met him before, and introduce me. Seems like a nice enough fella, who compliments my 1950's vintage glasses. After grabbing drinks (Rum and Coke for me) we all go off for the 50-cent house tour.
Apologies for the crappy underexposed cell phone pics, but not wanting to appear a hick tourist from Iowa I arrived without a proper camera. Okay, maybe I am a hick tourist from Iowa, but I don't want it to be any more obvious than necessary. On with the low-resolution show.
Master bedroom, bigger than most houses, and overlooking the distant LA skyline. I remark that the very air here is redolent of Wilt DNA, but I am told that the remodeling contractors removed most of it using ultraviolet searchlights.
One holdover from the Wilt era -- the mirrored skylight ceiling above the bed, allowing Ruth to snap a quick self portrait.
We head downstairs for more drinks. While waiting at the bar behind a gaggle of gals, one strikes up a conversation. "Didn't you come here with Coop and Ruth?" she asks. "You're not one of them fucking right wing Republican assholes are you?"
I look around uncomfortably.
"I told Coop that if George Bush knew who he was, he would throw him in jail and have him SHOT in the fucking HEAD."
Discretion being the better part of valor, I explain that I am merely the wastrel son of an Iowa hog baron, here only for the debauchery. I tip my hat, grab my rum & Coke, and head out for more sightseeing.
The wing of the house containing George's office also houses some wonderful fanboy objets d'art, like a few of Coop's ink pieces -
as well as a load of original comics and cool weirdo advertising junk. Vote Kibaki!
The real stunner was the collection of Soviet space program items, like this stenciled escape hatch door (MAN INSIDE! HELP!) and an actual control panel from an orbiter. Used by real cosmonauts, in actual outer space!
After reloading our highballs glasses we find the Wilt Chamberlain shrine. I had forgotten that a young Wilt toured with the Globetrotters for a time before going to the NBA. On closer inspection, I discover the poster is for an exhibition in Waterloo, Iowa.
Another paean to Wilt in a hall bathroom: high contrast 70s nudie babes. Wocka chicka wocka chicka.
Back over in the conversation pit, refreshed with more rum, Coop and Ruth introduce me to their friends Kate Flannery and Chris Haston. Chris is a photographer at NBC, and Kate's a cast member on "The Office" who started her career as a member of the Second City improv group in Chicago. Nice conversation about the Windy City. Then, strangely enough, I spot somebody I (sorta) know -- screenwriter / blogger Roger L. Simon. We had previously talked on the phone several times but never in person, so when I introduce myself he seems rather flabbergasted. And, perhaps, nervous. Despite that, he introduces me to his wife Sheryl and we chew the fat about the blogosphere. In hushed tones, lest we provoke more rage from Progressive Entertainment Industry Lady.
More drinks. A few more minor celebrities spotted, like Mary Lynn Rajskub, Chloe from 24. Most of the people here are writer types, from the Harvard Lampoon mafia that have controlled much of the comedy d0cks in Hollywood since the dawn of Saturday Night Live. George is a former editor of the Harvard Lampoon and wrote for SNL before joining the Simpsons. I meet several other Lampoon alumni including Michael Ferris. With all the writers in the place, a lot of the talk about the recently settled strike, and the relief. I never mention my sad little comedy blog, but my tales of life on an Iowa hog farm seem to horrify and amused them.
Suddenly, I feel the presence of a warm aura, as if I were basking in the glow of a sunlamp of pure transcendant majesty, or if I were in a hotel pool and sensed a wafting current of excellence-piss. I turned to behold Kato Kaelin. He is remarkably well-preserved, wearing a pukka necklace adorned with porcelain titties, and accompanied by a stunning brunette who radiates studied ennui as she sits on the couch arm.
"Hey man, you're Coop."
"The artist with the Devil stuff."
"That would be me."
"Hey man, that's cool."
Say what you want about the man, but he has a talent for facial recognition. Which probably helps in his current career in doing whatever it is he does. Chris Haston urges Coop and I to squeeze in with Kato to preserve the auspicious, Yalta-like moment.
I fetch another drink. Coop finds a dynamite plunger and goes Wile E. Coyote . I'm guessing this photo will keep him on the no-fly list for a few years.
Another drink, and we discover a plexiglas hatch on the floor. Beneath it, the huge pool that encircles much of the house.
"Let's jump in," says Ruth.
Unfortunately, I had by this point consumed enough rum to lose most of my ability to ignore dares.
"Yaaaaahhh! Yaaaah!!" I reasoned.
Safety first, though. A quick check of the temperature and guesstimate of the depth. Feh, no prob, I was in the subzero Midwest only a few days before.
Ruth and I perform a graceful, fully-clothed jackknife into the dark watery depths.
Holy sweet mother of Mothra, that shit was cold. Gelid cold. I was looking for icebergs, and think I heard a band play "Nearer my God to Thee." My testes ran screaming for the safety of my abdominal cavity, but only got half way.
Luckily the ginormous hot tub was only a 3 minute dogpaddle away. Its steaming bubbles coaxed my nuts back to stock ride height and my vocal pitch back down to audible range. Ruth and I return through the hatch and dripped chlorine on the floor to cheers.
Eat your heart out, Peter Sellers.
Time to head out. We say our farewells to George and Maria.
"Here, have a box of lemon bars," says Maria. "We over-ordered." Hmmm, I though. Hollywood party "lemon bars" topped with heapings of "powdered sugar."
"Thanks," I said, looking askance and winking. "I bet the 'powdered sugar' is 'delicious.' "
On the way back to Coop and Ruth's house, still dripping and guarding the lemon bars, I get a call from Tammi Jo. She's still in Palm Springs, still sick as a dog.
"How'd the big party go?"
"It was okay. You didn't miss much. No Chuck Sitzmann pig roast kegger anyway."
Back in Silverlake, before turning in, I decide to sample the "lemon bars" with "powdered sugar." Turns out they were actually lemon bars with powdered sugar.
Which leads me to my question: anybody have tips on removing lemon bar from a sinus cavity?