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Otto Preminger

May 23rd, 2018

 Otto Preminger

Otto Preminger (1905–1986) cane to Memphis in 1957 to promote one of his new films that he produced and directed and he was on a talk show that I directed. After the show ended I went out to the stage to meet him and tell him I was a huge fan of so many of his films. I told him that my wife and I were thinking of moving to Hollywood... to try to make it in films... and I would like to get his opinion. He invited me to bring my wife Joan and join him for drinks that night at his hotel to discuss it.

After enjoying a few drinks and talking about our dreams he told us that... we were a charming couple but his advice was to stay there in Memphis, have a couple of kids and lead a happy life together. Hollywood was a tough nut to crack and we had no inside connections.

Not what we wanted to hear, so several months later I quit my directing job and we headed west.

Several years went by and Joan and I were both, by coincidence, working on "Where the Boys Are" and Otto came onto the stage to check things out. He was producing the film, not directing. Joan and I cornered him and asked if he remembered us. I doubt that he did, but we reminded him that he had warned us against coming to Hollywood... but here we both were, working on one of his films.

His reply was... if you want it bad enough, you'll make it happen.... just as it had for him as well.

A Long-Distance Romance

January 17th, 2018

A Long-Distance Romance

I was in the army in 1954, stationed at a small microwave relay station outside Fontainebleau, France. Every Sunday I was driven into town to attend church on the army base there. I sang in the choir and couldn't help but notice one of the very attractive army brats in the choir who kept giving me flirty looks and smiles. It turned out that she was the chaplain's daughter.

It wasn't long before I was being invited over to the chaplain's home after church every Sunday and, while her Mom prepared some great home-cooked meals, Joan and I played card games, talked a lot and got to know each other. She was very talented when it came to singing, was a senior at the American/French high school in Paris, and was about to graduate with honors. While we both liked each other and had a lot in common, neither of us made any advances toward one another. We were just good friends and enjoyed each other's company.

But one day just before my discharge from the army--the Korean war had ended and I was released a month early!--while I was helping clear off the dinner dishes, her mom confided in me: "I guess you should know this: Joan really likes you and will miss you when you return to the states." Whoa! I had never thought of Joan that way. She added, "Even though she's a senior in high school... she only 14." Gulp.

Shortly after I returned to my home in Memphis, I quickly got a job as a cameraman at one of the local television stations: WHBQ-TV. Several months later I started receiving letters from Joan. The Chaplain and his family had been transferred to San Francisco and Joan was enrolled in the Performing Arts program at Chapman University in Orange; she lamented that she missed me and wished she could see me again. Enclosed were several pictures of Joan that made my heart sink. Wow! This beautiful girl really likes me?

The letters kept coming and we started talking to each other on the phone at nights and discussing how it would be great if I moved to Los Angeles, since I wanted to work in the movie industry and she did too, and Chapman was so close to LA. Before long our talks were getting serious, and her folks began to call and tell me how much Joan missed me and how wonderful it would be if we were together--perhaps even as husband and wife?

Meanwhile, Joan was mailing more pictures and more love notes and telling me how great it was in Los Angeles and I finally made the decision: I wanted to marry her. I bought and sent an engagement ring to her parents' home while she was there for summer vacation and they hid it under her pillow and I proposed. By telephone. And much to my joy, she said yes.

We set a date and place: We would be married at the Presidio Army Chapel, (The Presidio is now a national park at the Golden Gate Bridge), with the service to be conducted by her Chaplain father. Even my parents and siblings and some close friends would drive all the way from Alabama to California to attend the wedding.

When the time came, I left Memphis in my car and drove straight through to San Francisco and, after cleaning up and making myself look presentable, I soon found myself in Joan's arms and we kissed for the very first time. Ever!

The wedding took place at the Presidio as scheduled with more than a hundred invited people attending, and everyone was happy that this fairy-tale romance had really come true.

What was the outcome? You probably guessed right--the marriage lasted for only a few years, but it did have one very happy ending: we had a daughter, and we remain friends to this day. And Joan went on to become the actress she wanted to be, and I became a director once again. What's wrong with that?

Photography PrintsArt Prints

Art Deco - The Paris fair of 1925

June 10th, 2016

Art Deco - The Paris fair of 1925

The arrival of an art deco style first became evident in Paris in 1925 at the influential world fair, the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, which was visited by 16 million people between April and October of that year. With the world in recovery from a shatteringly destructive war, visitors came to witness the very latest in modern art and design – paintings, furnishings, homewares, jewellery, the decorative arts – made in countries as diverse as Austria, Britain, Denmark, Russia and Sweden. The show had a global impact and the style that evolved from it became known as ‘jazz modern’, ‘moderne’, or ‘zig-zag modern’ – the term art deco wasn’t coined until the 1960s.

During the 1930s, the art deco look progressed in America into ‘streamlining’, a no frills, contoured look that took its inspiration from the svelte ocean liners, cars, aeroplanes and zeppelins of the time. Streamlining was applied to all sorts of things, from cigarette lighters with decorative ‘speed whiskers’ to denote movement, to bakelite radios in bullet shapes, and round silver teapots.

It was very Hollywood.

Chapter One

April 11th, 2015

Chapter One

Chuck Staley

It was the Fourth of July, 1993. Early, before six A.M. But the sun was already warm and George Heffelfinger knew that it was going to be hot and steamy in the nation’s capitol by mid-afternoon. The gray-haired senior anchorman for INN was once again departing for his annual trip by air from Washington to Boston, where he would ride as a guest of honor in the festive holiday parade, just as he had for the past twelve years. Heffelfinger had no idea that his own violent death moments from now would be the lead story that night on every television newscast in America.

After shooting down the runway at an exuberating speed, Heffelfinger expertly pulled back on the wheel of his sleek new Gulf Stream Turbo Commander and cleared the bright, green-leafed trees that grew at the outskirts of the airport, then banked the twin engine plane to the left and was soon flying above the rippling waters of the Potomac River.

Life was good, he told himself. Sure, he was getting older and would have to relinquish his position behind the network anchor desk to some young upstart soon, but right now he had nothing to complain about. At least he wasn’t rotting away in some Mid-Eastern prison like Gray Sanders, the network’s foreign correspondent who was missing for — what was it now — over three months? Sanders had simply disappeared one day while on assignment in Baghdad, and while the entire nation kept a watchful eye on “The Six O’Clock News” each night hoping to learn of the newsman’s whereabouts, no one in the federal government would admit knowing anything. It was as though the journalist had simply vanished into the atmosphere.

But Heffelfinger knew better. Or at least he thought he did. He glanced to his right where below him was the prosperous Virginia suburb of McLean, home of the CIA. When he returned after the holiday, he planned on making some inquiries of his own there. It was on that thought that the plane exploded in a blinding flash of light and a deafening sound and George Heffelfinger’s life and career ended forever.
* — *

Gray Sanders stood nude in the darkness of his solitary cell — his bearded face gaunt, his hair long and tangled, his once-strong body bruised and beaten — systematically tensing his muscles in isometric exercises.

First his hands and arms. Then his feet and legs.

Later he would attempt to do pushups and sit-ups on the urine-soaked floor of the concrete cubicle while waiting for the official orders for his execution to arrive from Baghdad. Would they come today? Sanders was beginning to hope so. His dysentery was worsening, his strength slowly ebbing. Better to face a firing squad eye to eye than to wither away into nothingness from sickness.

The American TV journalist knew no one was attempting to free him. No one. No last-second diplomatic intervention from Washington. No daring rescue. He was on his own, fulfilling his avowal that the identities of those behind his secret government assignment to the Mid-Eastern country of Iraq would be buried with him in his grave.

Puffing the fetid air in his windowless cell while pulling on his clothes after his morning workout, Sanders cursed and smashed a pestering flea on his arm. The hungry beggars were everywhere: in his filthy striped pajamas that served as a prison uniform, in the squalid army blanket he slept under each night, in his grimy, unwashed hair and beard. “You mean little bastards are really gonna miss chewing on me after I’m gone,” he growled.

Hearing approaching footsteps crunching on sand outside his cell, his heart skipped a beat; he felt a drop of nervous sweat drip down from his armpit. It wasn’t feeding time — the orders had arrived. It was the jailer coming to lead him before the firing squad. Sanders quickly retreated to the far corner of his cell. He had to prepare himself. He had a plan.

A moment later, a narrow window in the solid steel door slid open and a pair of deep-set brown eyes peered into the darkness of Sanders’ cell. Satisfied that the prisoner inside was not waiting to ambush him, the jailer inserted a key in the lock and turned it. The door swung open for the first time since Gray’s incarceration six weeks earlier and a blinding ray of sunlight splashed inside as the soldier entered.

Sanders had grown so used to his foul body odor, to the officious stench of his own urine and excrement during his isolation in the dark cell, that when the fresh desert air wafted in, he almost gagged. But he held his breath and remained motionless under the army blanket that covered his body.

“Zahafi, get up!” ordered the gruff-voiced soldier when he entered. “Time to go.”

Sanders felt a rush of adrenaline. It was the Iraqi with the pockmarked face who’d often done obscene things to his rancid food before sliding it in to him through the slot in the door once a day.

Receiving no response from the zahafi — the journalist — the soldier propped the door open with his AK rifle to admit light, then stepped across the cell to look at the covered figure slumped against the far concrete wall. He hoped the Ameriki was still alive; he had been suffering from dysentery and no medical care had been offered.

He gave the prisoner’s bare foot a swift kick with the toe of his heavy combat boot. “Yallah, yallah!” Move, move, he commanded in Arabic.

Receiving no response, he leaned forward and stabbed his fingers at the prisoner’s open, fixed eyes. They neither moved nor blinked.

“Do not cheat me out of my first execution, Ameriki,” he said while bending closer to see if he could detect any breathing.

In a flash Sanders’ hand shot out from under the blanket, grasped the guard’s uniform and yanked on it so hard it pulled the foul-breathed man right into his face.

“There may be an execution,” Gray snarled, “but you won’t be around to enjoy it!” Then he thrust up hard the knife he’d fashioned out of his urine can. The jagged metal tore into the jailer’s throat and mouth cavity, severed his windpipe and an artery, and in seconds he was gasping and gurgling, drowning in his own blood.

“That’s for whatever you and your sick grinning buddies did to my swill before you served it to me, kelb.”

Sanders shoved the dying man aside, got to his feet and hurried to the open door. He had been blindfolded when he was brought to the prison compound, so this was his first look outside. What he saw through squinting eyes did not please him.

He was in an abandoned army camp. To his left past the front gate was a desolate highway half-covered with sand. To his right was a helicopter pad with weeds shoving up through broken cement; past that, several shabby wooden barracks where the death squad was bivouacked.

Parked directly in front of him near a clump of bamboo growing along a sewage-filled ditch was a dusty van that Sanders figured must have been the one that drove him and the lynching party to the camp. Then, beyond a coiled barbed wire fence, was the Syrian desert, just an inhospitable wasteland of sand, scrub and black basalt rubble for as far as his eye could see.

“Man...” he breathed aloud. “They don’t want anybody to know about this execution.”

No one was in sight — who was stupid enough to stand under that blazing ball of fire in the sky? — except a lone sentry posted on top of the nearby water tower, his red-checked kefiyah tossing in the breeze.

Sanders reckoned that if he took out the sentry and got to the van, he might make it into the desert before the soldiers inside the barracks caught on.

“Rather die of thirst in the middle of nowhere than give these hoods their satisfaction,” he muttered as he retrieved the jailer’s rifle.

Allowing the door to swing closed with only the barrel of the AK protruding, he took steady aim, the sights zeroed in on the sentry’s head.

Abruptly the soldier turned and began yelling excitedly toward the barracks. Had he spotted Sanders? Then Gray heard it also — a helicopter!

Damn, bad timing! One of the government’s gunships, he guessed, bringing in dignitaries. Perhaps Saddam himself to witness the private execution.

The chopper swooped down unexpectedly from out of nowhere and let go with a burst of gunfire. The sentry, as if in slow motion, threw his hands into the air and tumbled eighty feet to the ground, his bullet-riddled body creating a billow of dust on landing.

Shading his eyes from the blinding sunlight, he saw that the chopper was, “An Apache! It’s American!” he exclaimed.

Screaming obscenities in Arabic, the half-dozen or so garrisoned death squad soldiers charged out of the barracks, firing at the helicopter with their rifles while fleeing for a nearby concrete bunker.

“Run, you fuckers, run!” shouted Sanders. “Marines to the rescue!” Leaving the safety of his cell, he hopped on bare feet in the blistering hot sand, wildly waving his arms in the air and yelling at the chopper.

“It’s me, you guys! It’s me!”

But when the Apache circled back toward the camp and came in low, indiscreetly strafing the military compound with its thirty-millimeter chain gun, the severity of the situation quickly dawned on him.

“Hey, dumb shit,” he scolded aloud, “these Marines aren’t dashing in for a last-second rescue — they’re exterminators!”

Exterminators, there to kill every living creature in sight with their cannons and missiles — the dead bodies to be torn to shreds and devoured by roaming packs of savage wild dogs, the remote camp to be buried under drifting grains of desert sand, just as the nearby city of Babylon was buried centuries before.

He made a dash for the van, chastising himself harshly while running. “No Intelligence Star for you, Gray Sanders! You screwed up BIG when you let your target get out alive!”

He saw the flash and felt the heat from the approaching Hellfire missile as it bore down on him, rushing to blow him into a million pieces of flesh, bones and viscera.

This is it, Sanders. This is how it ends!

That’s when he screamed...and screamed...and screamed.

“Mr. Sanders, Mr. Sanders,” the nurse in starched whites said while shaking him. “Wake up! Wake up, please!”

Gray awakened to find his pajamas and the sheets on the bed he was lying in wet with sweat; he was gasping for breath and trembling all over.

“Just another bad dream,” said the young nurse with the British accent. “Another one of those dreadful nightmares you keep having, sir.”

It took Sanders a moment to get his bearings — to realize he was no longer at the military encampment in the bleak barren desert but was what? A hospital in England? He couldn’t remember anything beyond the dream that had just awakened him.

“Was I shouting? My throat’s so sore,” he complained.

“I’m afraid so, sir,” replied the nurse while sticking a thermometer into his mouth. After she’d taken his temperature and administered his medication, managing not to answer a single one of his queries, she shut off the light and left the room.

Sanders twisted and turned and attempted to return to sleep but couldn’t. Then he realized what was wrong. Kicking the covers away with his foot, he crawled out of the king-sized bed. Stripping the spread off as he went, he carried it with him into the dark bathroom, wound it tightly about himself and curled up in a corner next to the tub.

In moments, foreign correspondent Gray Sanders — Pulitzer Prize-winning TV journalist, secret undercover operations officer for the CIA — was sleeping like a baby on the cold tile floor.

Decorating a Space - From 2 Decorate Your Home

October 24th, 2014

Decorating a Space - From 2 Decorate Your Home

Many people find investing in fine art giclee is an attractive option for building a portfolio. This type of art can provide an excellent investment opportunity and increase the style to a space effortlessly. Choosing pieces that inspiration and enhance an individual’s imagination are well worth the investment. Art is normally not limited to paint slapped on to a canvas, so you will have many options on your selections.

When decorating a space, there are ways you can give personality to a room. A plant can add dimension but, a fine art giclee gallery can add an interesting and unusual look in a space. There may pieces on the floor, on the table or on the wall. The right art can create an atmosphere you want to achieve. Great art can be a real talking point and make an evening dinner party more enjoyable. Selecting art that creates a cohesive decor or you may prefer to go with something with a similar colour scheme. Others choose to create what is known as an eclectic theme with deliberately unusual combinations.

Few people that enjoy being stuck in a stark waiting room. The right picture that utilizes relaxing colours can help make any environment more serene. Relaxation and easy are important in this type situation, especially if an individual is at an event they are not looking forward to such as physician’s office. In essence the right fine art giclee pieces can help make people calmer in even the toughest situations.

There are no specific guidelines of what makes fine art giclee good or bad. What is true is that some types of art is more appropriate for specific social situations. Darker post modern pieces in the style of artists like Damien Hirst might not be suitable for the bedroom of a small child. Discussing this with someone who owns a gallery will assist you when you are looking for works that will meet your needs and requirements for a reasonable price. While your own taste is important it is equally vital that the pieces fit the right image.

When making choices about an art piece, it will be important that you select pieces that meet your needs. An individual may prefer a piece that is welcoming and light, whereas someone else may like pieces with a distinct edge. Sometimes a person is selecting pieces that appeal to them or that they “feel” may increase in value. Great fine art giclee should appeal to you almost subconsciously.

It should be said that fine art giclee can also be rewarding financially. By making an investment in art, you can see and appreciate the piece rather than read off a sheet or in a newspaper. When visiting a gallery the manager can give more detailed advice on what is the current trend in art and advise on what is being talked about in art circles. When someone owns a piece contacting an auction house to get a valuation will be wise.

There are many cleaners who may not have realized that they cleared away thousands of pounds by removing Banksy pieces from their walls. An unknown artist can have a technique or style you are unfamiliar with and offer a new and interesting interpretation on an artistic genre. You may not realise it yet but your fine art giclee piece could be worth a lot of money one day.

Fine art giclee can enhance the interest and dimension in a space. It improves the decor and feeling in the space and can be kept indefinitely. There are many resources available for individuals wishing to see art that is stunning and distinctive. When you find a piece that appeals to you, you may want to contact the dealer or artist so that you can have a detailed look at the piece.

Chiaroscuro and Tenebrism

August 29th, 2014

Chiaroscuro and Tenebrism

I've begun experimenting with Tenebrism and Chiaroscuro and I thought I would begin here with the explanations of the terms.

Tenebrism, from the Italian, tenebroso (murky), also called dramatic illumination, is a style of painting using very pronounced chiaroscuro, where there are violent contrasts of light and dark and where darkness becomes a dominating feature of the image. The technique was developed to add drama to an image through a spotlight effect, and was popular during the Baroque period of painting.

Chiaroscuro Italian for light-dark in art is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition. It is also a technical term used by artists and art historians for the use of contrasts of light to achieve a sense of volume in modelling three-dimensional objects and figures.

Chiaroscuro also is used in cinematography to indicate extreme low-key and high-contrast lighting to create distinct areas of light and darkness in films, especially in black and white films. Classic examples are The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Nosferatu (1922), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), and the black and white scenes in Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker (1979).

In photography, chiaroscuro often is effected with the use of "Rembrandt lighting". In more highly developed photographic processes, this technique also may be termed "ambient/natural lighting", although when done so for the effect, the look is artificial and not generally documentary in nature. In particular, Bill Henson along with others, such as W. Eugene Smith, Josef Koudelka, Garry Winogrand, Lothar Wolleh, Annie Leibovitz, Floria Sigismondi, and Ralph Gibson may be considered some of the modern masters of chiaroscuro in documentary photography.

Perhaps the most direct intended use of chiaroscuro in filmmaking would be Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. When informed that no lens currently had a wide enough aperture to shoot a costume drama set in grand palaces using only candlelight, Kubrick bought and retrofitted a special lens for these purposes: a modified Mitchell BNC camera and a Zeiss lens manufactured for the rigors of space photography, with a maximum aperture of f/.7. The naturally unaugmented lighting situations in the film exemplified low-key, natural lighting in filmwork at its most extreme outside of the Eastern European/Soviet filmmaking tradition (itself exemplified by the harsh low-key lighting style employed by Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein).

Sven Nykvist, the longtime collaborator of Ingmar Bergman, also informed much of his photography with chiaroscuro realism, as did Gregg Toland, who influenced such cinematographers as László Kovács, Vilmos Zsigmond, and Vittorio Storaro with his use of deep and selective focus augmented with strong horizon-level key lighting penetrating through windows and doorways. Much of the celebrated film noir tradition relies on techniques Toland perfected in the early thirties that are related to chiaroscuro (though high-key lighting, stage lighting, frontal lighting, and other effects are interspersed in ways that diminish the chiaroscuro claim.)

Chuck Staley Concept Art

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

March 17th, 2014

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

"Do You Believe in Ghosts?" was a question asked in the discussions, so this was my answer. I will add more to the story as time goes by.

I would define ghosts as energy. Sometimes temperature change.

When I was very young, my older cousins would take me to empty houses with broken windows and bats flying around and then ditch me, just to have the enjoyment of hearing me cry. So I told myself there were no ghosts or anything to fear. It was just dark. A lack of light.

Then my mother remarried and we moved into centuries old houses that had been turned into funeral homes. My new dad was a mortician.

To take the trash out each night I had to walk through the embalming room in the dark to reach the light switch on the far wall. I never knew if a corpse was on the table or not until I turned on the light. I learned to put fear behind me. If they are dead, they can't hurt you.

Years later I got a deal on a home in the Hollywood hills where a couple had both died in their sleep and the children just wanted to sell it and didn't need the money.

I never saw a ghost, though I often felt a presence. But more than one guest had experiences with the old couple who died there.

One lady I took home from a bar one night said, as we sat on the couch before the fireplace in the living room, "You see that chair? There's an old man sitting there and he doesn't like me one bit."

Another time, an Asian friend of a friend went upstairs in the daytime to use the bathroom and came running back down. "There's an old lady up there and she said she doesn't like Japs and I better leave her rose bushes alone!"

There were other moments as well, but eventually I sold the house. Weeks later I received a call from the new owner. "Chuck, let me ask you something... Is this house haunted?"

I asked why he wondered that: "My sister is visiting me from England and she swears that an old man has been bothering her with lewd suggestions."

I told him a few of my stories and he was really turned on to hear them. I made his day.

But, no, I have never seen a ghost.

My First Costume Movie

March 17th, 2014

My First Costume Movie

After I moved to Los Angeles from Memphis, it took awhile for me to get back into directing television, so a friend got me into the guild so that I could work in movies. A day or so later I received a call to work in a period piece, so we were fitted for costumes one day and went to work the next.

While there I learned that Elvis was also shooting on the lot, so on our lunch break I went over to his stage.

I hadn't seen Elvis since Memphis so when he looked up and saw me in this garb, he cracked up laughing. It was good to see a friendly face from Memphis and he felt the same way too.

Is This Your Place?

March 12th, 2014

Is This Your Place?

I can't think of anything worse than sitting in a room with no artwork on the walls. If that's the case, I hope there are plenty of windows with scenic views. When you buy art, you are buying something that is the next best thing to a friend or loving dog. It will keep you company for a lifetime.

I know, because I started buying art years ago, and I still sit back on occasion and just sip a cup of hot tea and bathe in the moment.

But I'll tell you a secret that you might not know: Your artwork disappears after about 26 days!

What am I talking about? Well, it seems that after that length of time, you stop seeing things right there in your own home.

How do you get them back? You must take a moment, stop and LOOK at the items that you no longer pay attention to. Just stop and concentrate and the item will be apparent to you for a while.

We do that disappearing act with our art but with our spouses as well. We may talk to them, but not really see them.

I learned this years ago by reading Psycho-Cybernetics, a classic self-help book, written by Maxwell Maltz in 1960 and published by the non-profit Psycho-Cybernetics Foundation.

If all this sounds interesting to you, you may want to pick up a copy. It's fun stuff.

My First Automobile

October 25th, 2013

My First Automobile

A Southern Belle poses on this 1938 Buick hearse parked outside a plantation in Alabama. It was my first car--my dad sold Cadillac hearses for awhile and he took that in as a trade-in.

A dozen of us would pile into the hearse, drive down main street of our small town, and all of us make the sound of a siren in unison. Cars would pull over and we got a good laugh out of it. But not for long. After my father heard about that, he took the keys away. Fun while it lasted.


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