Archive for December, 2009

SCTV The Final Chapter

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

This will be an abbreviated update, mostly more pictures (see below) from our now legendary SCTV Reunion weekend at Second City earlier this month.

I am told the new Nathan Heller, BYE BYE, BABY, will not be out from TOR/Forge until the first half of 2011. That means it really will be ten years between Heller novels. If Heller’s new publisher is willing, I will make sure this doesn’t happen again. I am pushing for the Winter list, which means the book would be out in a little over a year.

I am working hard on KISS HER GOODBYE, the third of the Mike Hammer novels developed from unfinished Mickey Spillane manuscripts. In fact, I wrote on Christmas Eve Day and Christmas itself. Probably no writing on New Year’s Eve, because I have a Crusin’ gig at the West Liberty Country Club.

In the Not Exactly News dept., I am in early stages exploring getting the first four Quarry novels (from the ’70s) back in print in new uniform trade paperback editions. There may be limited hardcovers or a slipcased signed version, too. More when I have more….

Farewell to the oughts, and welcome 2010!


SCTV Reunion
Shaking hands with the very gracious comedy legend, Eugene Levy (“As a comic, in all seriousness…”)

SCTV Reunion
Apologizing to Dave Thomas for making a fool of myself at our first meeting at a San Diego Comic Con, and to Martin Short for accosting him outside the Second City restroom. Comic geniouses.

SCTV Reunion
With Harold Ramis, who I pestered all weekend. He’s a special hero to me for his SCTV work and the classic film GROUNDHOG DAY.

SCTV Reunion
With the wonderful Catherine O’Hara.

SCTV Reunion
Letting Catherine O’Hara know she was great on CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM.

SCTV Reunion
With Colin Mochrie, self-professed PERDITION fan and hands down nicest celebrity at the Second City event.

SCTV Reunion
Barb with David Koechner, star of the very funny WAITING (and much more). Sweet, gracious guy. Why did he prefer posing with her to me?

SCTV Reunion
With the incredible Fred Willard. (Me: “You’re a madman.” Fred: “There’s a lot to be mad about!”)

SCTV Reunion
With Tim Kazurinsky (right) of SNL fame (appearing on THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MIKE HAMMER VOL.2: THE LITTLE DEATH), and his nephew, screenwriter Josh Shull (center).

SCTV For Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

SCTV ReunionJoe Flaherty as Guy Caballero, moments before rising from his wheelchair to acknowledge his standing ovation.

Let’s start off by wishing you and your family happy holidays. We are expecting Nate home for Christmas, with our cheerfully insane “granddog” Toaster, a Blue Australian Heeler named for the robots on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. And Crusin’ has a gig on New Year’s Eve at the West Liberty, Iowa, country club, where a lot of my old high school friends are members. Really looking forward to that. We have snow here and things are looking suitably scenic. Last night, Barb and I watched two Perry Mason shows from the latest DVD boxed set (one an Erle Stanley Gardner based show, “The Case of the Duplicate Daughter,” and those are the really good ones) and had cups of cocoa courtesy of Jane Spillane. Watching Perry Mason with cocoa and marshmallows provided by Mike Hammer’s creator’s widow reveals that even my dullest evenings are surrealistic.

I was pleased to see a really nice, insightful ROAD TO PARADISE review pop up from Brian Drake — a little after the fact, but with RETURN TO PERDITION under way, good to see.

Ed Gorman asked me to do a new interview for his site; I did one not long ago, but took him up on it anyway. I had to respond to some of the comments on the piece. My son gets uncomfortable when I do that, but I feel comments are different from reviews (writers really shouldn’t respond to reviews, and I’ve only broken that rule a handful of times).

I also commented on comments at a Cinema Styles, where a wonderful, smart review of THE LAST LULLABY appeared. But a couple of the comments were beyond the pale, and I just couldn’t let them ride.

I am working on the third Mike Hammer Spillane/Collins collaborative novel, KISS HER GOODBYE. Really just getting started, but it’s an interesting challenge. Mickey had taken two runs at this story, with very different plot elements; so I have around 100 pages of one version, 50 or so of another version, plus notes on both. Weaving these together will be a fun challenge. Elements of this story became BLACK ALLEY, the last Hammer published during Mickey’s lifetime; but about all that is left are a few names, the notion of Mike Hammer coming back to the city after recovering from gun shot wounds (a common start to Mickey’s later Hammer stories, both published and unfinished), and the notion of the mob moving into the era of computers.

Barb and I spent much of the week shellshocked from the incredible double-feature experience of the SCTV reunion at Second City in Chicago (see the photos courtesy of a wonderful audience member from Vancouver, who will remain anonymous, as these were largely sneaked during the performance). It’s hard for me to express how much this experience meant to us, but we’ll probably share our own photos next week, some of which reveal me in a state of crazed bliss. We are talking about an evening that began with Guy Caballero (Joe Flaherty) recognizing his standing ovation by bolting up out of his wheelchair and grinning goofily.

The other half of the double-feature was the day we spent (Monday December 14) with Chicago sportscaster Mike North, his lovely wife Bebe, and producer Carl Amari. It was a long, incredible day. Whether it will lead to the movie project we are all hoping for remains to be seen, but I found North — a working class guy made very good — an unaffected, affable, hilarious, gifted man. He invited me onto his Comcast sports show, “Monsters in the Morning,” and we talked PERDITION and movies with his co-host Dan Jiggets (also a great guy). I think Mike and Dan (and Carl, on the sidelines) were surprised by how at ease I am on camera, plus what a wise-ass I am willing to be in public. We followed Mike on a tour of his Rogers Park roots (which included lots of bars being pointed out) and spent some time at Norte Dame high school, where he coaches basketball for no pay and big personal rewards. I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Carl gave me a box of the finished CDs of THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MIKE HAMMER VOL. 2: THE LITTLE DEATH. We listened to one on the way home to Muscatine — we had only heard a rough mix before. If you haven’t ordered this yet, you are at the wrong website. I am very, very proud of this, and will be sending some review copies out soon, so I hope that before long some web attention will be shared with you here.

Again, happy holidays. Hug your family. Give gifts. And most important, watch the original MIRACLE ON 34th STREET and Alistair Sim’s CHRISTMAS CAROL…otherwise it isn’t an official Christmas.


SCTV Reunion
Barb Collins, right, and audience member Jen Ritchies, left, before the SCTV reunion show.

SCTV Reunion
Harold Ramis as Moe Green, Eugene Levy as Bobby Bittman and Flaherty as Sammy Maudlin.

SCTV Reunion
Ramis, Levy, Catherine O’Hara as Lola Heatherton, Flaherty on “The Sammy Maudlin Show”

SCTV Reunion
Andrea Martin and Dave Thomas as Edna and (the late) Tex Boyle (“Those little piggies are greasy”).

SCTV Reunion
Thomas and Martin Short in a classic Second City sketch.

SCTV Reunion
O’Hara and Martin (Pirini Scleroso). A rare Second City sketch that became an SCTV classic.

SCTV Reunion
Barb, Al and audience member Lisa Lecuyer.

SCTV Reunion
Cast (and their producer, unidentified) take a bow.

SCTV Reunion

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

As I write this (Sunday night), I am in a hotel in suburban Chicago. Tomorrow I shadow sportscaster Mike North as the first step in what I hope will be an exciting film project.

Just in is a nice review of ANTIQUES FLEE MARKET from Craig Clarke, who hasn’t always been a fan of Barb and me working together, but definitely seems to be coming around.

Barb and I have spent the Friday through late Sunday afternoon at Second City in Chicago, for the famous improv theater’s 50th anniversary celebration. Many huge comedy stars were present (Steve Carrell and Steven Colbert the biggest draws), and scores of familiar comedy faces from legends like Shelly Berman and Robert Kline to SNL vets like Tim Meadows and Rachel Dratch. Barb and I went to Second City regularly in the ’70s and ’80s (until hotel and parking costs drove us to the suburbs for our Chicago shopping getaways) and followed many of those who entertained us on the famous Second City mainstage to SNL and other show biz glory — among them, Tim Kazurinsky, Mary Gross, George Wendt, and many more. Of that company, Larry Coven became a friend and appeared in two of my indie films (MOMMY’S DAY and REAL TIME) and brought the legendary Del Close into MOMMY’S DAY for a cameo role (making me Del’s final film director). Del was a big fan of the Nate Heller books — he would come to my Chicago signings — and that’s an honor I cherish.

SCTV Reunion
Photo courtesy Metromix Chicago

But the real reason Barb and I were at the 50th anniversary event was the one-time only reunion of the cast of SCTV. They did two shows Friday night (Dec. 11) and did a panel about the show on the following morning. I guess I’ve never revealed my obsession with SCTV here. It’s an enthusiasm I share with Barb, but also my longtime comics partner, artist Terry Beatty. SCTV debuted in 1977, right around the time I got my first home video machine, and I taped every show. I have rarities few people even know of (a Cleveland special, a Dave Thomas time travel mini-movie, a Bobby Bittman bio). To me, SCTV was the comedy Beatles…and their reunion was the Beatles reunion that never happened.

The cost was enormous (don’t ask). It was a benefit for Second City performers who need financial and health assistance, and the “cheap seats” ($175 each) were gone before I even heard about the event. Frankly, we could not afford to go. But we couldn’t afford not to, as a used car salesman would say.

Present were Flaherty, Ramis (who’d been only on the first two seasons though a guest later on), Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Eugene Levy and Dave Thomas “as the Beaver.”

The reunion Friday night was comedy nirvana. I got to speak briefly with both Joe Flaherty and Harold Ramis before the show, and both were apologetic before the performance (Ramis said: “Good luck with the show tonight”). In truth, they were under-rehearsed (on the panel, Catherine O’Hara revealed that they had put it together via e-mail, with one rough run-through Friday afternoon). They used scripts at times (worked into the pieces — i.e., the newscast sketch), and in the first scene they fumbled any number of times. But as the love from the audience washed over them — and as each amazed and proud cast member watched the geniuses around them shine, they found the zone. It was a mix of Second City standards (some of which had given birth to SCTV regulars, like Ed Grimley, Pirini Scleroso and Edith Prickely) and routines from SCTV itself (Dr. Cheryl Kinsey’s instructions on how to fake an orgasm, Count Floyd’s 3-D glasses pitch), with occasional new stuff — most impressive, an extended Sammy Maudlin show mostly about Ramis’ Moe Green replacing the late William B. William (John Candy), but featuring incredible dance gymnastics from Andrea Martin, who did a flat-out amazing medley of “great” Canadian pop tunes with Levy’s Bobby Bittman. I could not have been happier opening a fat envelope stuffed with royalty checks (which I could use after springing for the tickets). Time Out Chicago also had a great review of the reunion.

Their panel Saturday morning was as good as the reunion show — they shared backstage stories, and were funny and entertaining, particularly when Levy goaded Thomas into defending the notorious “Vikings and Beekeepers” sketch. They spoke movingly about Candy. I got to ask a question from the audience, which was about how the famous folk they’d impersonated had reacted, and Thomas told of Richard Harris being furious, Martin of Streisand being oblivious, and Short of Jerry Lewis being gracious. Just wonderful.

Over the course of the weekend, I had the honor of speaking to Ramis several times, and Levy and Thomas, as well. I spoke to Short briefly and he was gracious, and Flaherty, who is a wonderful guy. The two gifted female members of the cast made themselves scarce, and were the only autographs I did not snag for a DVD cover. Over the weekend I managed to get signatures from other SCTV regulars — Tony Rosato, Robin Duke, and John Hemphill — as well. Rosato has been in ill health but looked fine, though he did not perform. Duke led a troupe of Toronto alumni (“Women Fully Clothed”) that was a knockout — Duke is one of the funniest women who ever walked the planet.

I was a real fanboy all weekend — really disgraceful — snagging autographs whenever I could. Everybody was gracious, with one exception — Steven Colbert blew me off. There was no one around and it would have taken him maybe three seconds. Very disappointing. Others were generous, from Belushi to Berman, from Colin Mockrie to David Koechner. Edie McClurg (Hermit Hattie of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse!) became our immediate new best friend. Jeff Garlin was such a sweetheart of a guy, you could understand why Larry David wants to hang with him.

Speaking of Garlin, of the non-SCTV events we went to perhaps the most amazing was his Saturday afternoon “Combo Platter.” He was joined by Fred Willard and Chicago comic David Pasquesi in about 90 minutes of spontaneous stand-up. Garlin did nothing prepared — he worked off the audience, gave stuff away that he’d gathered at the event (hotel cookies, a Second City Christmas ornament, some old DVDs his parents gave him) and got half an hour of genuinely hilarious stuff out of it. When the others came on, they did a sort of pass the baton routine, where they started off with an audience suggestion (“Tiger Woods!”) and kept handing off to each other as they explored golf, marriage, cheating, sports movies, and on and on. Some of it may have tapped into bits the artists had done — Pasquesi is a sharp, smooth pro — but mostly it was off-the-cuff. Willard is a genuis of insanity, and both he and Pasquesi would get Garlin laughing in a distinctive wheezing high-pitched way that threatened to kill their host on the spot. I have liked Garlin on CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, and have both his DVDs (the film I WANT SOMEONE TO EAT CHEESE WITH and the stand-up YOUNG AND HANDSOME). But I had no idea he was this casually brilliant average joe comedian.

Among the Second City alums was Tim Kazurinsky, who appears on THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MIKE HAMMER VOL. 2: THE LITTLE DEATH. Tim, who rivals Garlin in sheer niceness, said he loved THE LITTLE DEATH and thought it came off great. So do I. So will you (Amazon has it in stock now — talk about stocking stuffer!).


Caveman Rocks

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

A lovely review for my documentary feature, CAVEMAN: V.T. HAMLIN & ALLEY OOP, just came in from Craig Clarke. It really does a great job of describing not only the film but my hidden agendas — i.e., that it’s my secret biography of Chester Gould. If you haven’t ordered CAVEMAN from Amazon or some other source, this review might just convince you it’s time.

A bunch of ink got spilled in Chicago over my upcoming trip to spend some time with sports commentator Mike North and producer Carl Amari (he’s the guy behind THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MIKE HAMMER: THE LITTLE DEATH). I hope to do a screenplay based on Mike’s incredible story — he rose from hot dog vendor to Chicago media superstar — and maybe even direct it. My father, who was the kind of sports nut who would watch the Venezuelan Beaver Toss Championship at four in the morning on ESPN32, would be proud.

Toho Collection

The new issue of ASIAN CULT CINEMA (issue #64 — Fourth Quarter 2009) is out. I don’t think I’ve ever really talked much here about my regular gig at the magazine. It’s edited by Tom Weisser, a great guy and one of the first to really recognize both the artistic worth and sheer entertainment value of Asian genre cinema. Back in the day, I used to buy from Tom gray-market VHS tapes of John Woo and Jackie Chan, among many others, and I’ve been writing a column for him called FOREIGN CRIMES since the start of his great newstand mag. The column is supposed to be about Asian crime films, but I wander afield. This time I talk about the DVD set ICONS OF SCI-FI: THE TOHO COLLECTION, and explore the noir aspects of these fun movies from the house of Gojira (Godzilla to you poor Westernized fools). The magazine’s been around 64 issues, and I’ve had columns in all but two of ‘em (special issues dedicated to nothing but photographs).

We had a flurry of comments last week, after I attacked the film OLD DOGS (nobody defended it). Somehow it became a discussion about how I think STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE is a great film, and how a lot people think I’m out of my mind. This week Barb and I went to the much-lauded Wes Anderson stop-motion film THE FABULOUS MR. FOX, which Rotten Tomatoes gives a 92 percent “fresh” rating, meaning almost all the critics love it. We hated it. Anderson’s movies keep getting more and more self-indulgently quirky and this is the bottom of the barrel. Adult movie critics may like this kid’s movie, but the kids at our screening didn’t. If I’d heard one more precious folksy lick on the banjo, I’d have jammed drink straws into my ears. If the movie were any more smug, I’d have slapped it.

I mention this not to encourage defenses of the film (it doesn’t need any — everybody loves this movie but Barb and me). Rather, I feel that after last week’s post I need to make a couple of things clear. First, narrative art (really, all art) is collaborative — it’s the artist and the recipient of that art, and none of us appreciate or experience art in the same fashion. We each have our own baggage, which you can call taste, but it includes experience, prejudices, and so much more. So I hate arguing about art. What works for you may not work for me (you remember me — the guy who thinks STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE is a masterpiece?).

Second, I am not interested in converting people to my opinions — I’m glad to share my opinions, and hope they elicit smiles and shrugs or some kind of response, but don’t expect to bring you around to my way of thinking, since thinking isn’t the point, or at least isn’t all of the point — art is something you experience. One man’s delicious taco dinner is another man’s Aztec Two Step. Similarly, you are advised not to try to convert me to your way of thinking. It’s just not going to happen.

Having said that (to quote CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM), I have a pretty good record at being out in front of movies that turned out to grow in critical and public stature. I was writing about KISS ME DEADLY being a great film in college film class in 1970. I was going to every screening I could locate of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE when it was supposed to be an embarrassment. On the other hand, the ROCKY HORROR sequel, SHOCK TREATMENT — a wonderful film — has yet to get its due (but at least it’s on DVD).

I have faith. You people will catch up with me. Just don’t ask me to encourage you.