Thursday, November 25, 2010

"Video Killed The Radio Star."

Happy Thanksgiving, folks.  The new volume of Perry Mason finally arrived, Season 5, Volume 2.  First episode from January 1, 1962, entitled "The Case of the Shapely Shadow."  Still stuck in all this nostalgia.  Just started Season 2 of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  And how about that recent announcement that George Clooney will play Napoleon Solo in a feature remake of the series?  I think George Clooney should play Perry Mason.  He compared himself to Raymond Burr once.  Maybe he's not as heavy as Raymond Burr, but he certainly isn't as thin as Robert Vaughn.  Anyway, "...Shapely Shadow" reminds me of one of my other on-and-off obsessions: The Shadow. 

As a kid, I was a fan of The Shadow radio show, pulp magazines, paperback reprints and early comics.  Who didn't love radio and not enjoy The Shadow?  When Space Pirate Radio began in 1974, despite my love for the original shows, he was still a great character to poke fun at ("C'mon Margo...let me cloud your mind!").  One of the funniest of the early Mad comic parodies was of the Shadow.  After unclouding the mind of Margo Lane, the Shadow is revealed to be about 2 feet tall in slouch hat and cloak, with nose a foot long.  I even named one of my cats in my teenage years after the Mad Magazine character, Lamont Shadowskeedeeboomboom.

So my early born passion for The Shadow motivated me to get involved with the Universal production starring Alec Baldwin  Fans of The Shadow have always had to put up with the contradictions in the character in its various formats.  The pulp Shadow is not invisible; does not cloud minds.  The radio Shadow does.  Orson Welles wasn't the first to play The Shadow, but he was the first to develop it as a character rather than a radio host.  Previous film attempts have all been a batch of mixed blessings, so fans of Walter Gibson's pulp character have never seen a true interpretation.  Throughout the years, the character had been in film development hell with various starts and stops. Many actors were considered and possibly attached to a production: Ben Cross, for one; Liam Neeson, for another (his Darkman had certainly covered similar ground).  So now Alec Baldwin, deprived of the Tom Clancy franchise, is attached, hoping there might be a success similar to Batman (which of course was inspired by The Shadow).

So at this time in my life, I've acquired a small collection of Shadow paraphernalia (second only to my collection on Peter Sellers, and all of them outdistanced by my esoteric music collection).  My love for the subject prompted my to consider publishing a new history of The Shadow entitled "Who Knows What Evil?"  This gets me in contact with Universal and the producers of the film, who invite me to contribute research on the project.  So in January of 1994, I'm back on the Universal Studios lot where I last had spent 3 days filming the prison finale on 1980's The Blues Brothers.  The studio has always been kind of a funny place for me.  I would write an article trashing its assembly line schedule of productions, and then within a month, be working in one of their films.  I was going to mention in my previous blog about jobs, how Universal had once offered me an opportunity to screenwrite for the Incredible Hulk TV series.  But being the purist snob that I was, since I wasn't a fan of Marvel Comics, I turned it down.  Probably blew the best chance for career advancement there, but, hey...can't stop being eccentric. 

But back to The Shadow.  I was fortunate enough to be on the set of The Shadow's private sanctum.  This is the scene where Lamont Cranston is invaded by his arch enemy, Shiwan Khan, played by actor John Lone.  The production staff is treating me with fine hospitality and I am introduced to director, Russell Mulcahy.  He is well known for directing Highlander.  But because of my music background, he is also known to me as the director of The Buggles video that inaugurated MTV (not to mention, his films for Duran Duran).  I told you not to mention that.  So upon introduction, I hum the little ditty and surprisingly he doesn't punch me out. We are friends for the day.  He is courteous and accomodating to me on his set, and even invites me to take his photograph in the director's chair. 

It is a wonderfully relaxed and open set, moreso than others I've either worked on or visited.  Alec Baldwin is extremely friendly, although he smokes like a fiend.  The set is enclosed and Russell directs from outside on a monitor.  He doesn't find it necessary to be that close to the action and viewing this style of directing at the time seems unique to me.  I am witnessing the change in production techniques.  John Lone is very friendly and enjoys talking about his work on Bertolucci's The Last Emperor and Alan Rudolph's The Moderns.  He seems a little uncomfortable in the wig.  Penelope Ann Miller is on the set, though not in this scene.  She is really friendly to me and invites me to stay another day (which will be her final day on set) to interview her.  We talk about the character of Margo Lane, which she seems to find helpful.  I put forth my theory that Margo Lane was inspired by actress Myrna Loy and this perks her up.  Later she will mention this in some interviews, which will bug other Shadow historians who feel Margo Lane had nothing to do with Myrna Loy.  It's fun to see your influence at work. 

Also on the set was Jim Brown, entertainment editor for NBC's The Today Show.  He's putting together a piece for the program.  And down the line, I will get a call from him and an invite to the NBC Studios to bring myself and examples of my Shadow collection for his feature on the film.  Groovy.  I will be a part of one of those discarded DVD extras, where I, along with the principal actors, will comment on aspects of the film.  I suggest to Jim Brown the inclusion of Jonathan Winters, who's in the film and happens to be in the NBC Studios on the day we are filming.  Of course, my producer/director's side creates a suggestion that will minimize my performer's amount of screen time.  Why don't I think of these things at the time?  Either way, the program did air on The Today Show and was seen in most of the U.S., except I think in Los Angeles where it got pre-empted for the O.J. Simpson decision.  Damn you O.J.! 

Also on that day at Universal, I met author James Luceno, who was there seeping up the mood as he had been given the job of writing the paperback novelization of The Shadow film.  A very friendly guy, typical of the spirit of sci-fi authors, he had previously written a Young Indiana Jones novel.  At the time, his ambition was to do Star Wars books, and I am happy to say that he has succeeded admirably in this area.  During the time of his writing The Shadow adaptation, we were in contact.  I sent him all of the background information on the character that I felt would help his book.  Copies of comics and things like that.  He sent me privileged information regarding the character from his side and he was very kind to acknowledge my assistance in his book.  Unfortunately, my own literary effort never saw the light of day. 

All in all, despite the film's shortcomings, it was an extremely delightful connection into a world long gone by.  A mysterious figure, shrouded in fog on a roof somewhere in 1930s Chinatown.  Marvelous!  Who is this figure?  The mystery deepens.  We do know this...if Lamont Cranston was a Man About Town, the best that I can do is be a Man About Blocks.