(Note from Robin: During my years in television I met a very unique person who was always making monster movies. Turns out he became a real, honest-to-goodness screenwriter, and has remained a loyal friend. Here's a guest blog from him in what I hope will be a regular series.)
My name is Steve Latshaw. I have been called a screenwriter, filmmaker, sometimes actor, occasional television journalist in the 80s and 90s (except that I couldn’t stand to wear contact lenses but it lead to a brief stint on the TV series ADVENTURES OF SUPERBOY and other career opportunities, so what the heck.)
Mostly, I am known as a screenwriter. I didn’t start out that way… I began my semi-illustrious Hollywood career as a director, making low budget monster movies in Florida. I thought of myself as the “Roger Corman of Florida” (a maverick indy filmmaker) in those days, although critics of the time and since often compared me to Ed Wood. It’s certainly true that one of my movies of that era, JACK-O, featured starring roles played by both John Carradine and Cameron Mitchell. It didn’t help that both of those giants of cinema were dead at the time we made the movie… and appeared courtesy of unused out-takes provided by our producer Fred Olen Ray ...
After five such features, I moved the family to Los Angeles to really begin my film career. As Orson Welles (who also began at the top) once said, after that, “it was all downhill.” Of course he was referring to CITZEN KANE, not JACK-O. I didn’t work for a couple of years – it’s a closed town, this Hollywood, and no one cares what you’ve done in Florida or Illinois or, for that matter, Barstow. But gradually, I found work as a screenwriter (its own bizarre story), got my balance again and some thirteen years, one divorce and thirty-five produced movies later, here I am.
My credits you can peruse to your heart’s content on imdb.com. I work in the straight-to-video tier, mostly with stars like Treat Williams, Daniel Baldwin, Michael Dudikoff and that ilk. The biggest stars I’ve worked with so far are Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. In fact, I am currently working on my second project with Dolph, which is very good news for me, as his star is on the rise again. But it shows you where I fit in the spectrum. Mostly, I like to think of myself as legit. Produced. Experienced. The Real Thing. Because I possess whatever skill necessary to finish a reasonably decent and commercial screenplay in a reasonable amount of time I am reliable. And so I get hired. It is, as they say, a living. Sometimes. But more about that later. It’s what I do, not who I am.
Who am I? A movie nerd. The same kid who haunted his public library looking at movie stills from the 30s, 40s and 50s because the local TV stations in Decatur, Illinois usually didn’t run those movies. Especially the old westerns, serials, monster movies and various and sundry B pictures I loved. So I looked at those old pictures of Hollywood and California. But sometimes I’d get lucky. I jumped up and down when the occasional Roy Rogers or John Wayne movie popped up on screen, or Bogart, or Errol Flynn… watched with rapt attention as ROBOT MONSTER lumbered through Bronson Canyon or COMMANDO CODY zoomed over the big, dusty boulders at the Iverson movie ranch in Chatsworth, CA. And I cried after watching the original A STAR IS BORN or reading the last chapter in Errol Flynn’s biography, vowing at the tender age of 15 that I’d never end up the way those sad cases did. Bit players like Roy Barcroft and Kenne Duncan and Lionel Atwill were my heroes.
So what I guess I am trying to say is that I mostly came to Hollywood to chase ghosts. And there are plenty out here. I’ll be chasing them in this blog for you, while stopping from time to time to offer my perspective on the movie business, or provide descriptions of chance encounters with the famous and semi-famous. I’ll give you a little taste today.
Lunch Monday. Art’s Deli. Favorite Deli Hangout in Studio City. Jerry’s Famous Deli also good but suffers from High Prices and We’re-Now-A-Chain syndrome. Art’s is more homey. Art himself told me once the key to Deli success is you must maintain three lines of business at once… walk-in customers/restaurant, pick-up/delivery and catering. One will always carry the other two. Art also refers to the giant color photographs of sandwiches on his wall as Jewish Erotica, so go figure. Personally, I like the Reuben. For obvious reasons.
Anyway, Lunch Monday at Art’s. Was meeting my pal Billy Hinsche for lunch. Billy is a longtime rock and roll star. Back in the 1960s he was one third of that powerhouse teen trio DINO, DESI & BILLY, Dino being Dean Martin’s son Dean Paul, Desi being Desi and Lucy’s son Desi and Billy being Billy. Their big hits included “I’m A Fool” and “Not The Lovin’ Kind.” You may have caught them on the Ed Sullivan show. They auditioned, by the way, for Reprise Records under decidedly harrowing conditions. The audition took place in Frank Sinatra’s living room. The audience consisted of Lucy Arnaz (aka Lucille Ball), Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. But I digress. Anyway, Billy is a consummate musician (guitar, piano, anything you want) and went on to play for some 30 years as a member of The Beach Boys band, singing hits like “Sail On Sailor” in front of audiences as big as 500,000 (Washington DC Mall… July 4, 1985). (Robin’s note: I was in Washington D.C. covering that concert and it was such a zoo. So much alcohol, consumed by so many, photographed by we few!) Being a confirmed, life long Beach Boys fan, I have also been a Billy Hinsche fan. He’s been a great friend for the last ten years and my entrée into the world of the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson.
So anyway, we’re at Art’s Deli. Billy lives in Vegas but when in LA on business likes to have the Pastrami at Art’s. So we’re having the Pastrami at Art’s when famed LA character actor Miguel Ferrer walks up to the table. Turns out he and Billy were best buds at Beverly Hills High and have remained friends ever since. Miguel’s Mom was Rosemary Clooney. His Dad was famed actor Jose Ferrer and George Clooney is his cousin. But Miguel, balding, muscular, bearded most of the time, gruff voice, is one of the most engaging character actors in the business, in features, and frequent starring roles in TV series. An amazing resume. Look him up. But what we sit there and talk about is High School, relationships, who married who, family stuff. Fun stuff. Normal stuff. Cool. Nice. Soon, we’re talking about the pending possible SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild) maybe strike. Hopefully not. But it’s these sort of normal conversations that remind you that you made it, you’re making a living, you’re in the business, you’re respected. And I need that. We all need that in this business. Because out here, we need a hell of a lot of validation to get through the day. Some guy once said Hollywood is the only place you can starve from encouragement. I didn’t say it. But I know what he meant.
On to the ghosts.
I live in Burbank. I am a block from something called Toluca Lake, which was primarily a lake surrounded by a golf course called Lakeside Country Club and lots of nice houses where movie stars like Bob Hope and WC Fields lived and radio personalities like Dick Whittinghill had lots of drinks and golfed lots of balls. It’s still a nice place, with the wonderful old school steakhouse called THE SMOKEHOUSE nearby (try the cheese bread). I live across the street from Warner Brothers and, more importantly, around the block from the original, first, Bob’s Big Boy. And I’m five minutes from Hollywood. But it also means I’m about 30 miles from ocean or desert or, most importantly, old movie locations. And a guy’s got to get out. Know what I mean?
A While Back I visited a place described in the imdb.com as “California Highway 118 between Simi Valley and the outskirts of Moorpark, CA… Southern Pacific Railway crossing. At Strathearn.” What this really is is a movie location from my childhood.
In 1968, when I was 9, my Grandfather Clyde “Pop” Wheeler bought a Super 8mm projector and camera. It triggered my obsession with movies, naturally, but also came with its own movie. Something called “Have Badge, Will Chase,” starring Abbott & Costello. What it was was an edited version of “Abbott & Costello Meet The Keystone Kops” (1955). In it, Bud & Lou, on a motorcycle with side car, outrace a train, then get stopped (along with the Keystone Kops) in the middle of the track as the train roared down on them. This was the first old movie I held in my hands, the first black & white, dust and boulder-strewn images I have had of Southern California and Hollywood. I watched it, over and over again, year after year, until I wore it out. And now, 40 years later, on this Sunday afternoon, I drove down an asphalt road, along a railroad track bordered by a dirt cliff. I reached a railroad crossing, turned around and faced the way I came.
There it was. I was standing in the original camera position used by the Universal-International film crew. On that hot, dusty day in 1955, they called “Action!” and camera rolled as Bud & Lou sped across that very railroad crossing where I stood – big cliffs in the background - as a massive, belching locomotive tried to catch them. That location hadn’t changed much in all those years. In the late afternoon sun it still looked like 1955.
And after all these years, it felt like it was 1968. And I was 9 again, and had actually climbed inside that moving picture image flickering from my Pop’s movie projector, like Alice … well, Steve, In Wonderland.
In the right frame of mind you don’t have to go looking too far for your childhood out here in Hollywood. It’s just around the corner, waiting for you to come out and play.
December 4, 2008
In Steve's honor, here's a picture taken during the shoot of his film ON LOCATION FLORIDA, which was hosted by Robin Chapman. Robin is seen here with Steve's now grown son Ryan.)