We called our comedy troupe "Three And A Half ". David Arkin, Betty Thomas, Herve Villechaise and me.
We created a improvisational sketch comedy show and performed on weekends at The Hollywood Canteen on Melrose Ave back in the 1970's.
One of our sketches opened with a dark stage. The announcer says "And now, another episode of
Little House On The Prairie". The lights came up. On the stage was a small toy cabin.
That always got a laugh. But when Herve Villachaise walked onto the stage in a western outfit, standing 3 feet tall in cowboy boots, the laughs got bigger.
Our show was well received and we continued our run at the Canteen for several months. Some great opportunities were born from the show. Herve was cast in Fantasy Island
I landed the role of Adam Stephens in Tabitha
and Betty went on to work on Hill Street Blues.
David Arkin did several films with the legendary director Robert Altman.
Most remember Herve for his role of Tatu on Fantasy Island.
I remember him for his friendship, sense of humor, his passion for the arts. He was a true romantic. A small man with a big heart. And he loved his French Wine, Women and Coq Au Vin!
One evening he showed up at my house with a wild bird and a bottle of Burgundy. He said he was going to cook up a french dish. He proceeded to light a fire in the stone fireplace and when he felt it was ready he tossed in the bird. Sometime later, Voila! We dined on the most delicious Coq Au Vin.
Years later when I read about Herve's suicide, it broke my heart.
Not long after that I attended David Arkin's funeral. He died too young as well.
Two very talented actors, wonderful human beings and good friends. They are missed. I am so grateful our paths crossed for that moment in time.
Betty is now a successful film director.
Me... I'm a talent agent. Much like Eugene Levy's character in "For Your Consideration". Morely Orfkin.
When I was 12 years old our family moved into a new house in a suburb of Los Angeles and across the street from a geeky kid named Dennis. We were the same age and we soon became friends. My younger brother, Cary, and I helped Dennis out with his special effects experiments that he was conducting in his backyard and garage. Flying saucers attacking the neighborhood, stop-action latex monsters destroying a building, Battleships exploding at sea (well, actually in our pool). Cary and I were the actors in his special effects tests.
Dennis also had a great collection of photo stills from all the sci-fi and horror films from the 1950's. We asked him where he got them and he wouldn't tell us. That's when we came up with THE PLAN. Espionage.
One day we were all working on a giant flood experiment in Dennis's backyard. While Cary kept Dennis busy building the fake dam that was going to burst, flooding everything in it's path (toy cars, trucks, trees), I snuck into Dennis's room and bingo! I found the address to The National Screen Service in New York.
A passion was born.
Cary and I would save up our paper route money and then send away for the photos from some of our favorite films. We would request any photo that included the monster. A couple of weeks later the package would arrive!.
We’d rush out to the mailbox, tear open the envelope and stare in awe at the amazing photos. The total joy in seeing shots of Frankenstein, “Oh yeah!”
Rodan, “The big bad bird!”
Gorgo, “El Destructo!”
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad with a shot of The Dragon. “Cool!”
We continued collecting photos and lobby cards and posters and soon had quite a collection. The three of us combined our collections and put together a monster museum in my garage.
Here I am with my little brother and Dennis Muren in our Monster Museum back in 1961. That's Dennis on the left.
Forest J Ackerman the editor of Famous Monsters magazine came to do an article on us.
A couple of years later we moved again. To Hollywood. We lost touch with Dennis, but he continued his dream. He made his first full length feature film "Equinox" when he was at Pasadena City College. He borrowed the money from his parents to finance it.
It’s out now in a special edition DVD through The Criterion Collection. In the extra features on the DVD, Dennis talks about his days making special effects experiments with us in his backyard.. He even shows some clips. There I am, a 60 foot giant stomping on my little brother. Crushing him to bits with my Tennis Shoe.
When Star Wars premiered at the Chinese Theater in 1977 and I saw Dennis Muren's name in the credits under special effects, a warm feeling came over me.
I was still an actor in his special effects experiments. Different backyard. Same dream.
Dennis went on to win more Academy Awards than any other special effects artist. He recieved a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Visual Effects Society. Presented to him by George Lucas.
When you have a father who saves the world from Martian Invaders, you should feel pretty safe at night. Right?
Yeah, that's him on the phone. My dad, the Colonel.
I know it was just a movie. And it was a long time ago that we rode our bikes down to the local matinee and shelled out our fifty cents for the Saturday double feature. But to this day, every time I see sand, I can't help but think of "Invaders From Mars."
Occasionally, I catch myself searching the backs of stranger's necks to see if that little Martian device is protruding out. Crazy, I know.
In 1977, I walked into a post production facility in Hollywood and was greeted by George Lucas. He was putting the finishing touches on his latest film. He led me into a sound booth. From there I could see a small movie screen on the wall. He explained to me that I was going to be voicing a character in his film. He gave the go ahead and the movie screen came to life.
There, in front of me, I saw my first X-Wing zooming through space. At the controls was WEDGE ANTILLES..also known as RED 2.
Wedge was being played by the terrific Scottish actor, Dennis Lawson. The first words out of his mouth..."Look at the size of that thing!" He spoke in a thick Scottish brogue. George gave me a few directions. I put the head set on and stepped up to the microphone.
"Look at the size of that thing" I said, seeing the Death Star for the first time. George gave me the thumbs up. And I continued on. "I'm on him Luke,"... "Right with you boss."... "What about that tower?" ..."Fighters coming in point three!" ... "I'm hit!"
In between takes, Mark Hamill entered the sound stage and plopped down on the sofa. Blue jeans and bare feet. He was full of life and great energy and it was a pleasure to meet him. A couple hours later I finished the job. George shook my hand. I was now the voice of Wedge Antilles in Star Wars.
An additional bit of Star Wars trivia...George also had me voice another sequence in the film. A briefing room scene with Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles. In this scene a different actor was hired to play Wedge. Dennis Lawson was unavailable so Colin Higgins took his place. The line I voiced in this scene:
"That's impossible, even for a computer."
Luke responds, "It's not impossible, I used to bulls-eye womp rats in my T-16 back home. They're not much bigger than two meters."
...when I walked out of the sound studio and stepped onto the Hollywood sidewalk, I had no idea what I had just become a part of.
As I walk along the Hollywood Stars (Bing Crosby, Rin Tin Tin, Rita Hayworth) on the way to my office, I think about my life's journey and what brought me to this place in time. I've lived in Hollywood most of my life. Grew up in a family of actors and later became one myself. I've been an actor, a television and film writer, and now a Talent and Literary Agent. As my Hollywood journey continues I invite you to walk along with me. I'll look back from where I've been and up ahead. Who knows what's around the next corner...