Thursday, January 22, 2009

Film: Robert Clarke, To "B" Or Not To "B" – A Film Actor’s Odyssey

(Robert Clark & Tom Weaver, Midnight Marquee Press, 1996)
A pleasant read about an obviously pleasant guy, but regrettably the book seems to be out of print.
Robert Clark, who died in 2005, was one of those B-actors whose face we all know but whose name most of us have never noticed, an actor that has graced a broad variety of "Guilty Pleasures" in roles of varying importance, including: The Body Snatcher (1945/trailer), Zombies on Broadway (1945 – a personal fave), The Man from Planet X (1951/trailer), The Astounding She-Monster (1958/trailer), The Hideous Sun Demon (1959) and Beyond the Time Barrier (1960).
People like this are always interesting to learn more about, especially since one seldom has the chance to do so, other than for the occasional superficial interview in some obscure film or video magazine.
Due to the length of his career, the people he has worked with, the breadth of his filmography and the number of B-classics he worked in, Robert Clark should have been an especially enticing subject, and an autobiography therefore all the more appetizing. But, regrettably, Mr. Clark is simply too pleasant to be very interesting. No secrets, no surprises, no extraordinarily exciting revelations—just a pleasant, good natured stroll down memory lane. An easy read, but so light and airy that it leaves nothing behind.
Okay, so one doesn’t necessarily have to write a tell all sleazorama like Van Doreen’s wonderfully readable Playing the Field, but a little grime never hurts, and there must have been more happening behind the scenes than he tells us. It is doubtful that Clark was such an exceptionally unobservant person that he had no dirt to dish, so the cleanliness of the memoir must be due to his overly pleasant demeanor. But then, what can one expect from who ended his twilight years as an active member of The King Family?
Still, beggars can’t be choosy – and as superficial and lightweight as this book is, it’s not only better than nothing, but a quick and fun read.
Images (from the web):
Top: The book.
Middle: Poster to The Man from Planet X.
Bottom: The good man himself.

For your viewing pleasure: The Hideous Sun Demon (1959)

Celebrity: California Dreamin’

(Michelle Phillips, Warner Books, 1987)
The true story of The Mamas and The Papas as told by ex-member Michelle Phillips, the best looking (at the time) and least necessary of all four constituents, and last surviving member of the band. A quick, pleasant little book which reads more like a verbal chronological than a written biography, remarkably low on the bitchiness scale considering Michelle Phillips public persona as presented, developed and groomed by her former running character in the old nighttime TV soap, Knot’s Landing. Where is she today?
As she narrates it, her mobile youth spent all over the US and Mexico is as equally interesting as her career as a Mama, but regrettably not as fully detailed. As a young singing hippie, working in one band of her husband’s after the other, she seems to do a lot of stupidly thoughtless things, more out of simple dizziness than anything else. Probably her worst trait is that she continually falls in love and fucks the various men that John Phillips befriends and works with, which puts a considerable strain on both their personal and working relationship... but what the hell, she’s simply being bohemian!
Unintentionally, the book does bring the idea across that all members of The Mamas and Papas other than Mama Cass really weren’t capable of much by themselves,
even if they were talented. Much like The Monkees, the four singing semi-hippies together clicked like the ingredients of a good cake; likewise, alone they might’ve been good, but they just weren’t good enough—Cass’s early death (not from a ham sandwich but from a failed heart) might render this discussion moot, however. As Michelle Phillips isn’t one for much introspection, no deep insights are to be found in California Dreamin’. More than anything, the book is a simple reminiscence of a time happily remembered, warts and all.

Images (from the web):
1. The book.
2. She was a dream, wasn't she?
3. Beauty – here today, gone tomorrow.

And now, for you visual and aural pleasure, The Mama and the Papas:

True Crime: Family Affairs

(Andy Hoffman, Pocket Books, 1992)
Yet another true crime book about a Mother-from-Hell.
In the pleasant suburbia of Overland Park, relatively close to Kansas City, ice princess Sueanne Hobson, recently married to milquetoast and widowed Ed Hobson, finds Chris Hobson, the 13-year-old son of her second husband, to be such a disturbance to her dreams of the perfect house & home that she has James Crumm Jr., her partially estranged 17-year-old son from her first marriage, and his buddy Paul, knock Chris off. One evening a stoned James and Paul do so by taking the nerve-addling and aggravating adolescent innocent miles out into the countryside where, near a stream and close to a variety of abandoned houses, they first force Chris to dig his own grave and then shoot him dead. Despite Paul’s bragging to friends about how he had killed the "jerk," in all likelihood the police would not have been able to solve the crime and bring anyone before a jury had not two country bumpkins gone fishing and accidentally found the badly buried corpse.
Sueanne comes across as a conniving, cold-hearted bitch incapable of feeling compassion or guilt, but this sickening, cold-hearted and pointless crime that ruined the lives of everyone closely involved is so unbelievably senseless that it is almost impossible to believe that she (or anyone else) would stoop to it. As for Ed, for whom one’s pity slowly turns to disgust as he consistently compounds one stupidity upon the other, either he is indeed a brainless wimp of the first degree or Sueanne really learned a lot at the mind control group she regularly attended. Next to the dead boy, the person who incites the most sympathy is his step-brother killer James; though admittedly guilty of the killing, he comes across as another weak-willed, pliable lost soul, a victim of an unhappy and harsh childhood who, in the hope of gaining his mother’s respect and love, does the unthinkable. Were it not for the damning statement of Sueanne’s daughter Suzanne, first given and then recanted and then — three years after the court conviction — again admitted to, Sueanne’s motive is so unbelievably petty that one could forever doubt that she really instigated the murder. Read this book and be happy that you have the mother you have.
Update: Over the years after this book was published, Mr. Milquetoast initially disappeared from the public eye. But in 2003, his unbelievable and un-understandable actions once again put him in the spotlight. Following the death of his son and the conviction of his loving wife, Ed "Spineless" Hobson joined the Kansas City chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, a support group that also actively works at keeping convicted murderers like Sueanne in jail by blocking their parole. By the late 90s, Hobson’s active participation had led to the position of co-leader of the group, which is when he dropped the bombshell that he still loved his (now) ex-wife and would once again (!!!) actively offer his support to get her paroled when she was to come up again later that year. (Nonetheless, he was both pissed about and against the parole of Suanne’s son James who, after years of being a model prisoner, was released in 1997 and has since been living an up-standing life as an electrician in Texas.) In any event, Sueanne still sits in jail, having been turned down for parole for the seventh time in 2006.

Images (from the web):
Top: The good book itself.
Bottom: The mother from hell herself,
Sueanne Hobson.

Celebrity: Palm Beach Babylon: Sins, Scams and Scandals

(Murray Weiss and Bill Hoffmann)
This book is available at your local flea market or thrift shop under any number of covers, but the content remains the same. Palm Beach Babylon is an unexpectedly entertaining read which gives the short, condensed version of the various scandals amongst the interbreeding rich and famous of sunny Palm Beach, Florida, spanning from the time the resort town was founded by Henry Morrison Flagler in 1894 up until the William Kennedy Smith*/Patricia Bowman rape case in 1991.
Surprisingly enough, the authors, despite being both from the New York Post, actually use words with three or more syllables, and write relatively long sentences with correct punctuation. While there is nothing new or especially insightful added to the various events narrated, the chapters make an easier, more entertaining read than the many long-winded books from which the two reporters gather most of their information. Get the dirt on how none of the Kennedys can keep their weenies in their pants, how Leona Helmsley drives her hubby Harry to try to kill her, how Isadora Duncan screws around with “The Real McCoy” and pumps Paris Singers for all she can, how Larry Flint rents a dowager’s mansion for location photography and wild parties, and more, more, more.
A good book for the subway, bathroom, doctor’s office or anywhere else one is continually required to sit and wait. More photos would have been nice, though – the ones found here were, of course, all trawled off the web.

*He was acquitted of the charges in 1991, but 13 years later in 2004 he was back in court in Chicago when a former personal assistant by the name of Audra Soulias also charged him of rape, but the case was dismissed in 2005. The smoking Gun has a nice and sleazy article on the latter event here.

True Crime: Unholy Matrimony

(John Dillmann, Berkley Books, 1988)
A nifty, interesting and literately written read about a convoluted murder for money, involving two almost unbelievably cold-hearted and sleazy murders and a beautiful, very naive victim. Back in the early 1070s, young Patricia Albanowski, after a quick romancing, marries fake-psychologist Claudius James “Jim" Giesick, who, along with the massively fat and massage-parlor-owning Reverend Sam Corey, had been seeking a perfect victim to insure and kill. Soon after, while the newlyweds are in New Orleans on their honeymoon, Geisick and Corey stage a hit and run accident in which Patricia dies, a death worth about a quarter million. Had the two murders used more cunning and shown a little more faked compassion in the aftermath, in all likelihood Detective John Dillmann, despite his empathy for Patricia’s bereaved parents, would also have simply accepted the event as an accident, as it so obviously seemed to be, and yet another murder would have been gotten away with. Unholy Matrimony narrates Dillmann’s investigation, beginning with his initial dread of such a mundane, pointless investigation, through the slowly developing belief that an unprovable murder had been committed, to his eventual breaking of the case. The murder itself isn’t all that exceptional, though the bold, cold-blooded thoroughness in which it is planned and executed is noteworthy. The two murders involved, however, are truly an interesting, unbelievable duo of sleaze bags, one would think more prone to be found in the pages of a pulp fiction detective magazine than in the real world. Dillmann does a commendable job at both solving the case and at narrating it, though his Brady Bunch family life gets on the nerves sometimes.
Update: Though sentenced to death originally, Corey had his sentence reduced to life in prison. Giesick got out of jail in 1986 after serving a bit more than half of his 21-year sentence. In 2001, he pleaded guilty to fraud, but by now he is probably out again and courting your daughter.
A television film of the events was made in 1988 by Jerrold Freedman starring Patrick Duffy and Michael O’Keefe.

Images (from the web):
Above: The good book itself.
Below: The TV film.

Film: Guilty Pleasures of the Horror Film

(Gary J. & Susan Svehla, Midnight Marquee Press, 1996)
One of those film books which are not only simple in concept and fun to read, but entertaining and informative as well (providing "bad films" are your thing). Not to say that one will agree with what the various writers included say, however, for the very concept of a "guilty pleasure" lends itself to many a beer-fuelled argument. The first of two volumesthe second entitled, appropriately enough, Son of Guilty Pleasuresthis book is a collection of twelve essays from twelve different writers of film criticism (all regular Midnight Marquee contributors), each article a personal justification of some filmic fiasco of days gone by. For the most part, the various critics are surprisingly on target, focusing on obscurities or embarrassments of the past that truly ascend beyond their feeble roots or questionable pedigrees to achieve an individuality that deserves more appreciation than they get in this age of conformity. Once upon a time – say, about the time this book was initially published – most of the films mentioned herein could only be viewed by a select and lucky (?) few – especially following the demise of the age of the afternoon or midnight Creature Features programs – but nowadays some films such as Maniac (1934/trailer) can even be downloaded for free on the Internet (check out The Internet Archive, for example), while others can be found on DVD at your local 99 Cent stores. Some, like Rodan (1956) and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970/trailer), can still be taped on local stations late at night or lent from the local library, but they also tend to be the films everyone has seen once too often anyway. (Actually, Rodan seems much less a "Guilty Pleasure" than Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971/trailer), the latter complete with a scene of Godzilla in a deep pit being covered with a never-ending load of Smog Monster shit.) The most arguable articles in Guilty Pleasures of the Horror Film are about the most recent films, the 1976 version of King Kong and David Lynch’s Dune. Critics asideI don’t listen to them even as I write as onethe flaw with King Kong is simply that it is boring and looks cheap, while Dune is less an embarrassment than it is a film that needs to be viewed in a context completely separate from its literary roots to be seen as a failed but exciting and daring movie event. In the end, Guilty Pleasures of the Horror Film is a book that defies criticism due to its very subject. Much like the act of watching bad films, either one likes to read about bad films or one doesn’t. Insofar as that all the writers know their subjects, can indeed write, and believe in their stance, the given selection is a personal one—as a "Guilty Pleasure" tends to be. Read it or don’t, but if you do, you’ll probably want to hunt more than one title down.
Images (trawled from the web):
1. The book cover.
2. Maniac lobby card.
3. German poster for
When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, showing a babe that could rule me any day.
4. Rodan poster.

Non-Fiction: COPS

(Mark Baker, 1986, Pocket Books)
In Cops, Baker once again pulls another Studs Terkel and interviews "over 100" cops across the USA, using excerpts from what they say to allow them to tell "the unforgettable true story of America's police." Well, dunno if it's unforgettable, but the book is definitely a lot more interesting than his other book, Women.
What Cops have to say he breaks down into various chapters headed, amongst others, Police Work, Blood Brothers and Curtains. And they have a lot to say, most of it interesting, telling everything from their fears to the perks, the freaky to the mundane, the good to the corrupt, the beginning to the end. The book does a good job of making a feared and mostly disliked (unless they are needed) group of people a lot less mysterious, a lot more tangible, if not even more human. They gotta deal with some pretty weird shit out there, to say the least. Naked ladies copulating with dogs on front lawns, knife fights involving huge Aunt Jemimas, lonely housewives who love men in uniforms, shootouts and murders—Barney Miller and Hill Street Blues it ain't.
Regrettably, the chapter about The Borderline, The Bad & The Ugly tends to destroy any sympathy for police that the other chapters might build, if only because it presents a picture of the police that is closer to the reality of what most people either see on television, have experienced themselves in the past or simply have developed as a picture due to their innate fear and distaste for authority figures with a gun. Actually, many scenes described in the book seem ripe for fictionalization and inclusion in either some cop show or a future Ed McBain novel. A real page-turner, Cops is hard to put down, and could easily be twice as long as its present 371 pages and still not bore. If you see it at Goodwill, buy it.

True Crime: The Woodchipper Murder

(Arthur Herzog, Zebra,1990; reprinted 2001)
The probable inspiration of the Coen Brother’s excellent flick Fargo, though they have never given it credit (the film itself includes a line stating it is based on a true story, but the two brothers have themselves gone on record that the statement is a joke).
Herzog’s book is a factual, heavily researched and overly detailed account of airline pilot and lady’s man Richard Crafts’ almost perfect murder of his Danish stewardess wife Helle Crafts, who, though still living with her husband at the time of her death on November 18, 1986, was pursuing a divorce.
In all likelihood, were it not for the fact that Keith Mayo, the private detective she had hired to find and photograph her husband in the company of one of his adulterous relationships, "found her sexy," the idea of Helle having been murdered would probably never even been pursued by the placid, disinterested local police. It was Mayo’s insistence, financially supported by a variety of Helle’s friends, that eventually led to the case to be treated as a murder rather than simply as a women’s leaving home, husband and children for places unknown, as Richard Crafts presented her disappearance.
While not saying it directly, Herzog’s description of the events leads the reader to believe that had the state police not taken over the case, Richard Crafts could well be a free man today. The all around slowness, churlish rivalry and inability to work with others that the local police displayed while half-heartedly pursuing the case verges on being incompetent or childish, if not criminal. Despite all the forensic and circumstantial evidence collected and presented in the court, the case went to trial twice—the first one ending in a mistrial, due to the stonewalling of one lone juror—before Crafts was convicted and sentenced to fifty years.
And how did he do it? He killed her, froze her, cut her body into pieces with a chainsaw and then fed the remains through a woodchipper, effectively destroying her completely, but for a finger, a few bone chips, some hair and pieces of teeth.

Images (all found on the web – top to bottom):
1. The good book itself.
2. The good man himself:
Richard Crafts
3. The victim:
Helle Crafts
3. The search and some of the evidence found.
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