Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Interview:-- Joan Staley (Actress - Classic Movies & Television)

 "Elvis, do you really want me to slap you?" 
~ Joan Staley ~  

  So my friends and I were talking about first crushes. First tv and movie crushes.  For me, it was easy.  It was Alma. (Joan Staley)   I broke into the double-digit age of 10 in 1993.  That was the summer I discovered my favorite Don Knotts movie while flipping thru cable one Saturday morning..."The Ghost and Mr. Chicken."

Everyone has seen it.  It was a funny haunted house story similar to an episode on Andy G. with a cast of familiar characters, trippy organ music, and the prettiest girl I had ever seen...Alma.

She was beautiful alright.  I was love-stung so bad, I swear I could smell flowers coming out of the TV set.  And best of all, she was nice.  She didn't like the smart alec, the wise guy, or the show-off.  Alma was digging Luther (Don Knotts) and that just made her that much prettier.  And from then on...

But unfortunately, time and puberty wouldn't let her wait for me.  I still watch "The Ghost..." every chance I get, and I still keep that first celluloid crush protected alongside Jamie Lee Curtis, Molly Ringwald, and other movie crushes that were yet to come in my adolescent youth.  Anyway, I went on to 5th grade and learned that Joan Staley went on to tally-up 30 other films including an Elvis movie, which is just plain cool.  Plus over 300 tv shows. Did a bit of singing. Has managed dozens of artists from Mel Torme to Manhattan Transfer. And was Playboy's Miss November back when the magazine still meant something. I guess even at 10, I knew she was special.

Joan Staley

Casey Chambers:  The first movie I saw you in, and it's still one of my all-time favorites, was "The Ghost And Mr. Chicken." (1966)  I like everything about this movie.

Joan Staley:  I love that movie.  I saw it just the other night on television.  And it really holds up.  That was one of my last films.

I had been doing a television series called, "Broadside" (1964-1965) which was a female counterpart to "McHales Navy."  The pilot was done on the "McHale's Navy" (set) and followed some of the same structure.  It ran for a year on ABC.  I played Roberta "Honey-Hips" Love, who was in the Navy as a WAVE and was an ex-stripper.  It was a total dumb blonde type character.
TV Guide Jan. 1965
Anyway, Eddie Montagne, who was the producer of that television show said, 'Joan,  I have something I want you to do.  It's with Don Knotts.'  And I said, 'Sold!' (laughs)  It was wonderful when Eddie Montagne told me that my part in "The Ghost And Mr. Chicken" was going to be a straight role.  He gave me a brief thumbnail and I said, 'Absolutely.'  So, that's how it came about.

And I loved working with Don Knotts.  He was great!  He was a total perfectionist.  And he was incredibly prepared.  We shot the movie in 17 days.

Casey Chambers:  That sounds incredibly fast.

Joan Staley:  Yeah, it was.  We followed virtually television scheduling.  And "The Ghost And Mr. Chicken" outgrossed the Cary Grant movie released that same year.  So the studio was very happy.

Casey Chambers:  Eat my dust, Cary!

"The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" Trailer (1966)

Joan Staley:  Absolutely.  And Dick Sargent was co-starring in it, too, and he and Don and I went on a tour.  We covered the South and the East for about two weeks, just hitting one city after another.  Sometimes two cities in one day.  And that was...exhausting! (laughs)  But the movie was opening in those cities and that's what killed it.  And Don was such an incredible worker.  He was fighting a blood clot in his leg, which I didn't know about at the time and should not have been on the road.  But it was taken care of.

Casey Chambers:  So, when you guys were touring, you would actually appear at different theaters where the movie was playing?

Joan Staley:  Right.  Most of them were theaters and some of them were just for the newspapers and press conferences, where lots of questions would be fired at us.  But usually, it was at the theaters.

Casey Chambers:  When did you finally get to watch "The Ghost..." for the first time?

Joan Staley:  While we were on our press tour, we never saw the whole thing.  It was always piecemeal. (laughs)  It wasn't till we got back in L.A. that we watched it for the first time.  And I enjoyed it.  I thought...Wow!  This really clicks all the way through.  The character actors that they had, even in the minor roles, were stars.  Some of them had been stars in silent screen.  So they were all pros.  And it all was pretty much one take unless there was a malfunction of equipment.

Casey Chambers:  I recognized quite a few of them. And it was fun picking them out.  Real thespian veterans.  Was there a favorite scene or otherwise that you recall from the shoot?
Joan Staley:  Well, one scene...and it was not a favorite...but it was the picnic scene.  They used reflectors on an outside shot to catch the sun as well as the hot lights.  And their purpose was to reflect the sun back onto the actors.  They literally burned my eyes.  Or one eye.  They had to rush me to a doctor.   So, that was definitely not a favorite scene for me, (laughs)...but it was a memorable occurrence.

I think my very favorite was the chicken soup scene when we're inside the coffee shop.  Don was so wonderful to work with.

Casey Chambers:  The "I'm having chicken noodle soup with Alma!" scene.  Where you're already at the crowded diner, having to share a table with a customer finishing up his meal.

Joan Staley:  It was all I could do to keep from cracking up. (laughs)  Don cracked up first and then we were both snickering all the way through the scene.  The other actor trying to finish up his chicken noodle soup had to be so straight-faced.  It was just so funny.  That was a tough scene to shoot because there were three of us and each time a different one would start to crack up.  That was not a one take shot. (laughs)  And I also enjoyed the porch scene with Don.

Luther (Don Knotts) and Alma (Joan Staley)

Casey Chambers:  That was one of the sweeter moments from the film.

Joan Staley:  Yes, it was.  It was just Don and myself.  We worked very well together.  And it was such a joy, after all of the westerns, and the saloon girl characters, and the silly characters, to be able to simply play it straight.  It was such a joy.

Casey Chambers:  What was it like being a fixture on the studio lots back then?

Joan Staley:  Early on, I was under contract through MGM. And I spent a year there.  This was during the death throes of the contract MGM always had contract players.  It was tutelage.  They had a drama coach.  Not so much for on set or on film, but just sequences.  Telling you where to place your hands.  Never to show the heel of your hand to the camera.  Maestro Cepparo was the vocal coach.  We'd follow into his studio on the MGM lot.  Followed Howard Keel for voice lessons and Vic Damone.

I was an MGM Deb Star.  Every year, the wardrobe people would nominate one person from the studio for what would be considered future stardom.  It was like...society.  A coming out party.  And I was a Deb Star one year. (1962)  It was quite an interesting sequence of events.

Casey Chambers:  That's good stuff.

Joan Staley:  Yeah, it was.  And then my contract expired and I became freelance.  I then started at Warner Brothers, not under contract, but I started doing a lot of Warner Brothers shows.  And then I went under contract to Universal because they wanted the character of Roberta "Honey-Hips" Love for "Broadside."  We had a contract with ABC for 36 episodes.   I also did a lot of other shows at Universal.  I did all their westerns.  "Wagon Train," etc.

Joan Staley
 (Miss November Playboy 1958)

Casey Chambers:  What was the first TV show you got to dip your toe in?

Joan Staley:  "Perry Mason."  I did several of them and my parts kept growing in content.  I don't remember the succession of the roles, but I have done over 350 television shows and I have been involved in 30+ films.

You made the rounds at the studios all the time.  The pictures.  And ya got to know the casting people for each show.  And you could actually go in and meet someone.  And, of course, I had an agent who would set up appointments for me.

Casey Chambers:   It sounds like a lot of running and dashing all over the place.

Joan Staley:  Yeah, you really were.  You carried your wardrobe in the car because you might have an appointment in the morning for one type of character and something else in the afternoon.

Casey Chambers:  A lot of chasing down jobs and rumors on the studio lot.

Joan Staley:  Yes, it was very busy.  And it could also be very disappointing because you'd make the rounds of the studios never knowing if you were going to be asked to read.  And it would be a cold read.  They would just open the script to a place and you'd read one sequence from a character and they would say, 'Thank you very much.  We'll let you know.'  And didn't! (laughs)  But I was good at cold reading and at capturing the character.

Casey Chambers:  Cold is tough.

Joan Staley:  It is. It is tough.  And usually, the casting directors didn't even give you a thumbnail.  You didn't know if you were a good guy or a bad guy.  Sometimes they did.  And it was wonderful when they did. (laughs)  It made it a lot easier.  But there was a lot of discouragement.  You had to go into them happy and bubbly.

Casey Chambers:  Enthusiastic, sure.

Joan Staley:  Exactly...and you'd get knocked down and be left never knowing when you got a character.  They'd call you later.  After a day or so.  You were getting shot down a lot. You were either too tall, too short, too fat, too blonde, too dark.  Many of the casting directors would know what they were looking for.  Or know what the director was looking for.  But there were a lot of the casting directors who just didn't.

Casey Chambers:  Well, I'd like to switch gears and jump to another iconic film you made from the 60's..."Roustabout." (1964)

Joan Staley:  With Elvis.

"Roustabout" Trailer (1964)

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, I was hoping you might share a little story about working with "The King," if you wouldn't mind?

Joan Staley:  Sure!  When I was living in Memphis, there was a disc jockey by the name of Dewey Phillips.  And back then, he was the king of the South.  He was the king of Memphis.  And Sun Records, which is where Elvis got his start, was also in Memphis.  And he would come in and plug his records and Dewey would play them.  And he would get interviews.  And one of those interviews overlapped on a meet-and-greet.  So me and my first husband, who was a cameraman for a local television station, got to meet Elvis.

Casey Chambers:  This would have been back in the '50s, right?

Joan Staley:  Oh yeah.  It was in 1956.  And we became casual friends with Elvis.  We were invited to some of the celebrations at Sun Records.  He had a birthday once at Sam Phillips' house and I was cutting his cake.  So, it was casual.   We were good acquaintances.  When he started making movies and became this huge monster star and I had also made my way into Hollywood...Elvis had already made a couple of other pictures with co-stars named Joan.  Actresses with the first name, Joan.  And I saw him one time and said, 'When's my turn?  You've worked with every other Joan in town...when is my turn?' (laughs)

Joan Staley and Elvis at Sam Phillip's house (1957)

Shortly thereafter, I was cast in "Roustabout."  He was a nice man.   We were on set.  We had several sets in the film.  But there was a scene where he was going to take off and just leave me.  And I was supposed to slap him.  And I said, 'Elvis, do you really want me to slap you?'  And he said, 'Yeah!  I do karate.'  I said, 'Oh come on!  Karate is not slapping' (laughs)  So when we came to that point in the scene, I hauled off and whacked him!

Casey Chambers:  For real?

Joan Staley:  For real.  I said, 'Do you want me to pull it?  Do you want me to pull the slap?'  Because I was at a camera angle where I could have pulled the slap and not hit him.  But he said, 'No! No, no, no!  I want you to slap me.'  I said, 'Are you serious?'  And I could talk to him because I had known him in Memphis.  So I said, 'Okay!'  And the slap that you hear in the film is the one that I delivered.  That was not dubbed in.

Casey Chambers:  I'll never hear "Don't Be Cruel" the same way again! (laughs)

Joan Staley:  Yeah, his head shook!  Anyway, a story that I have only told once before...and not in recent years...was when we were shooting "Roustabout."  Elvis invited me back to his house with the guys and stuff.  And we had a chance to talk about Disneyland, this and that or whatever it would be, and I asked him, 'What do you miss the most that your stardom has taken away from you?'  He gave me the strangest look.  And he said, 'Wednesday nights.'

I said, 'What do you mean, Wednesday nights?'  And he said, 'Wednesday night church services.'  Those are the services where they just did prayer and singing.  No sermons.  They just had praise.  He said, 'I miss the music.  And I miss the Wednesday night services.'  And I've never heard that in print.  And if you listen to his gospel music and you listen to his voice, there is a poignancy that isn't there in the other songs.  He had fun with the other songs.  And he worked 'em well.  But there is a poignancy in his gospel music that puts shivers on my spine.  He was a nice guy.  I'm so sorry that he died the way he did.  He lost his way.

Casey Chambers:  It was sad.  I loved hearing that story.   Cherry-picking another one of your films, I'd like to ask you about your western adventure..."Gunpoint." (1966)

Joan Staley:  Yes, that was my picture I did with Audie Murphy.  He was a nice man, too.  And you know the story of Audie Murphy, right? He was a medal of honor winner.  Cited for incredible bravery.  We were filming on location in Utah for that picture.  And that was a rough location.  We came into St. George, Utah which is a lovely city now, but back then it was mostly just motels and rest stops on the way to the capital city.  But it was beautiful scenery.

Anyway, there was this one sequence...and before I go on, let me tell you that I have been in Paris.  That's where I graduated from high school.  I have been to the top of the Eiffel Tower.  I mean, my senior year in high school, I was hanging, ya know, over the side of the Eiffel Tower.  And in those days, they didn't have any protection like they do now.  So I didn't think I had any problems with heights.

But there was a sequence in this movie where we were going up the side of a cliff.  They had told us on the way up, we were using good horses.  And to hold onto the horse in front of you by the tail and hold on tightly to the reins on the horse behind you...'cause we were walking them.  We couldn't ride them up.  And the horses were not at all thrilled with going up, I must tell you! (laughs)

But that's the way we went up.  Then when they changed the camera shot, they wanted me to be standing on the side of this cliff.  After the shot, they said, 'Okay, Joan.  C'mon.  Cut. We're fine.'  I couldn't move.  And I said, 'Y-y-y-you want me to come down?'  And they said, 'Unless you're going to spend the night up there, yes.'  And I couldn't.

I was so embarrassed because they had to halfway shut down the production.  The camera guys were already carrying their reflectors and stuff down.  They were slipping and sliding, but they got down the side.  And I couldn't move.  I was scared to death.  Here I was starring in this picture and I couldn't move. (laughs)  Everybody in the crew was watching.  Everybody in the cast was watching.  And I'm the only one on the side of the cliff.  Finally, the director said, 'Joan, just sit down and slide.'   And s-l-o-w-l-y, that's what I did.  The whole way down.  They had a bit of a cheering section going on for me.

And Audie was a practical joker.  There was this one time when the cast and crew were staying at a typical motel.  And the stuntmen would all congregate in one of the rooms before they decided to call it a night.  And Audie threw in a bag of snakes.  He just wanted to see what everybody would do.  And, of course, they scattered.  He was a kid at heart.

Casey Chambers:  Was it around this time that you decided to take a break from show business?

Joan Staley:  It was.  And I didn't leave show business entirely.  I broke my back the last year of my contract with Universal.  My husband Dale (Sheets) and I were horseback riding and we had some of our kids with us.  And by the way, the name Staley was my married name from my first husband, Chuck Staley.

Anyway, we were horseback riding around Griffith Park and the horse that I was on was a Stallion.  And something spooked him.  Or he just wanted me off, I'm not sure which.   Horses have a lead foot that they start out with.  And he started changing leads.  He started spinning.  And then he switched leads.  And he did this about four or five times.  I reset successfully each time.  And then on the last one, he changed leads and I went...'I'm going off.'  All I could think of was I wanted to make sure the reins were tightly in my hands because he bucked.  He bucked me over his head and I wanted to hold onto the reins so that he wouldn't step on me.  So I held the reins and I landed in some metal.  And I broke my back.

Casey Chambers:  Now that's scary!

Joan Staley:  Yeah, it was.  I tried to get back on the horse, and couldn't handle I got off and walked him back.  We stopped by my mother-in-law's house to drop off the kids and I laid down on the floor and could not get up.

Casey Chambers:  I dropped an ice tray on my foot once and I howled like a baby!  You're amazing!

Joan Staley:  Well, I think I was in shock, honestly. (laughs)  My husband took me to the hospital.  They X-rayed me and said, 'Joan, I'm sorry to tell you this, but you've broken your back.'  And I started to laugh.  Laughing was not the right thing to do because that made it hurt even more.  Anyway, I spent the next couple of months in a brace.  I could not get up out of bed.

Casey Chambers:  Good lord, you're Wonder Woman.  I can see how that would slow down your film career.

Joan Staley:  It was all, "This can't be true!' (laughs)  I had met my husband, Dale, at Universal.  He was an executive and was gorgeous...and we started dating and consequently got married.  We've been married for 49 years.  We have 7 children.  And 7 grandchildren.  And 24 great-grandchildren.

Casey Chambers:  That sounds like a nice legacy you've grown.

Joan Staley:  It is.  When Dale left Universal, we started up a personal management company for artists, singers, and actors.  And our first client was Mel Torme.  A fabulous singer.

"Autumn In New York Medley"  -  Mel Torme

Casey Chambers:  Oh yeah, Mel is huge.

Joan Staley:  Yeah.  We managed Mel his whole career.  In fact, we still manage his estate.

Casey Chambers:  Do you have a favorite song?

Joan Staley:  Every piece of music that he did.  Mel was a master musician and he, too, was a total perfectionist.  One of my favorites was "Autumn In New York."

Casey Chambers:  He was known as The Velvet Fog, right?

Joan Staley:  Yeah, and that was a name given to him that he hated.

Casey Chambers:  Why did he not like it?  It was a good thing.

Joan Staley:  It was a compliment, but he didn't see it that way.  It was given to him by a disc jockey named Robin who had a show in New York called "Robin's Nest" and Mel didn't care for that.  But he did succumb.  The license plate on his Rolls-Royce said...El Fog.

We managed Mel for 35 years and that led to many, many, many other artists.  Some of whom we still manage.  We are very excited about managing The Four Freshmen, who are in their 24th incarnation and still internationally touring.  Brian Wilson, whom we've met many times, has said that if it wasn't for The Four Freshmen, the Beach Boys wouldn't have had the sound that they did.

Casey Chambers:  It sounds like you guys are just as busy as ever.

"Zaz Turned Blue"  -  Was (Not Was) feat. Mel Torme (1983)

Joan Staley:  Yeah, we are.  And Mel had a saying and it's true...'When you rest, you rust.'  And so many people will retire, they'll play a little golf, and pretty soon, it's...bye-bye!  And we're not ready to go yet.

Casey Chambers:  Something to think about.  Well Joan, thank you so much for letting me cherry-pick a few of your many achievements.  I really appreciate it.

Joan Staley:  Casey, thank you very much.

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers
Follow me on FACEBOOK

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Interview:-- Gary Troxel (The Fleetwoods)

"If you decide
to call on me...
ask for Mr. Blue."
~ The Fleetwoods ~

It was 1959.  Think about that.  There were no Beatles or Stones.  No Facebook.  No Isis.  And certainly no Pokemon Go.  It was a different time.  Hell, it was a different world!  But love was love.  And a love song was a love song.  Always has been.

Now granted, the music might have been a bit more gentle, in nature, back then.  A little more polite.  But  there certainly was no less...yearn in the burn.  Or ache in the break.  It was all there.  The desire and the angst of being in love.  And The Fleetwoods were mapping out musical roads that weren't nearly as defined as they are today.  With a gorgeous melancholy sound,  The Fleetwoods were the only artists to score two #1 hits in 1959. Sure, the times are much different doubt about it.  But love is love and not fade away.

The Fleetwoods
Gretchen Christopher, Gary Troxel, Barbara Ellis

Casey Chambers:  In 1959, The Fleetwoods released their first #1 hit...the classic "Come Softly To Me."  And you guys wrote that song yourselves, is that right?

Gary Troxel:  Yes, that is correct.  And it was by total accident, I think.  The girls (Barbara Ellis and Gretchen Christopher) had written their part of that song already.  I don't know that they even had a title for it yet.  But after they'd been singing it one day...Gretchen and I went walking down Capital Way in Olympia (Washington) on our way down to the record store and I just started singing...

'Mm dooby do dahm dahm, dahm do dahm, ooby do dahm dahm, dahm do dahm'.

And Gretchen says, 'Hey, slow that down a little bit and see if it goes with what Barbara and I were singing.'  And it did. And that's how it happened.  A complete...I don't know if it was really an accident or not...but it's really odd stuff.

Casey Chambers:  A whole lot of magic.

Gary Troxel:  It sure was. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  So when you guys took the idea back to your singing mate, Barbara...she was on board right away?

Gary Troxel:  Oh yeah, she was for it.

Casey Chambers:  Where did you guys rehearse in those days?

Gary Troxel:  Usually in someone's car.  We recorded out of Gretchen's house because her dad had a tape recorder.  A portable tape recorder.  And that was the tape that actually went to Bob Reisdorff in Seattle.  And if we were singing, we were usually singing together in a car driving down the road.

Casey Chambers:  What was the crowd reaction when you first began performing that song?

Gary Troxel:  The first time we sang it for the public was at a talent assembly at Olympia High School...and they went nuts.  Everybody was telling us we oughtta record it.  And I'm going, 'Right, are you kidding?' (laughs)  Gretchen's the one who took the ball.  She got us together.  She got that recording.  She took the song up to Seattle and she made it happen.

Casey Chambers:  And the song just took off from there?

"Come Softly To Me" -- The Fleetwoods / "Mr. Blue" (1959)

Gary Troxel:  Well, we just couldn't believe it.  It was amazing.  And as time went on...every day we'd hear the song more and more.  That's the way they used to do it.  They only played so many songs on the radio and then they'd start them all over again.  And ours was one of them.  You couldn't turn the radio on without hearing that thing.  And it was pretty catchy.

Casey Chambers:  Teenage cuddle music, no doubt.  I watched the footage of The Fleetwoods performing "Come Softly To Me" on Dick Clark's show.  What was that experience like?

Gary Troxel:  It was scary.  I was petrified.  I'm just amazed.  I mean, I was sweating bullets.  Oh my goodness!  But we were also on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and that was even worse, as far as nerves...because Bob Reisdorff did not go with us that time.  So we were on our own.  And they went and shortened up "Come Softly To Me" which we should not have let them do.  They put us in cowboy-cowgirl outfits. Then they only had one microphone for me and the two girls.  And then, they had a choir behind us singing my part!

Casey Chambers:  What a douche move Ed pulled.  Why would the show do that?

Gary Troxel:  I don't know.  It was just something that they thought they needed to do.  And so they take away everything that we are, ya know?  Even our looks.  I thought it was horrible.  And it was a bad experience for us, as far as we were concerned.

Casey Chambers:  Now Dick Clark's show was in New York, as well.  Did you guys drive across the country or did they fly you out?

Gary Troxel:  No, we flew.  And what happened is that Friday we were on his daytime program in Philadelphia.  Then we flew again that evening and did his Saturday night show in New York.

Casey Chambers:  So when you got there, what happened?  Did you have the opportunity to interact with some of the other artists performing on the bill?

Gary Troxel:  Oh sure.  If you were on the daytime show you were usually the only star or the only entertainer.  But on the Saturday night shows, there were usually three or more acts.  And it was at an old time theater.  It was called the Little Theatre on 44th street.  And it was a real theater.  And they had real dressing rooms and so forth.  So we did meet everybody.  And kind of an interesting aside is that once you went in the building in the morning, they wouldn't let you out.  Because of what could happen to you.  You were kinda trapped inside all day long.  So you'd eat in there and just spend your whole day in there.

Little Theatre in New York City

Casey Chambers:  So they provided all your necessities...but nixed the souvenir shopping across the street.

Gary Troxel:  Yeah.  They don't do that stuff anymore, but they did back then.  For that show, anyway.

Casey Chambers:  Who were you rubbing shoulders with backstage?

Gary Troxel:  Dick Clark was just great.  He was just as nice as what you see on television.  One of the people we met there was Frankie Avalon.  He's the first one we met when we went to the theater the first time.  He jumped out we walked into the theater, it was really dark...and he jumped out and said, 'Congratulations!  You just knocked my "Venus" off the number one spot.' (laughs)

And ya know, we also met Paul Anka.  He liked to play a lot of jokes.  He had a big rubber spider that he would drop down onto the other side of the door.  He'd throw it through one of those windows above the doors in the old dressing rooms.  I heard the girls screaming bloody murder, so I knew to be expecting something.  And sure enough, here came that spider down my window. (laughs)  He did that kind of stuff. Probably still does.

Casey Chambers:  The first song I ever heard by the Fleetwoods, and probably my favorite, was "Mr. Blue."  Very good stuff.  How did that song get in your hands?

Gary Troxel:  The guy who wrote "Mr. Blue" lived in the San Francisco area.  He knew we were going down there to sing at different high schools and had gotten ahold of our producer, Bob Reisdorff.  And Bob arranged for him to meet with us at the motel.

Casey Chambers:  This would be Dewayne Blackwell, right?

Gary Troxel:  Right.  And while we were down there, he played a tape for us.  I think he had three songs.  And one of them was "Mr. Blue."  Everybody liked it, but me. (laughs)  Oh boy!  And now it's my favorite Fleetwoods song, so I don't know what to say.

"Mr. Blue"  --  The Fleetwoods / "Mr. Blue" (1959)

Casey Chambers:  First impression and you just weren't feeling it.

Gary Troxel:  Nope, I sure wasn't.  I could I be so far off?  'Cause everybody was...oh, they weren't jumping up and down...but they liked that one the most of the three he played for us.  I didn't think too much of it until after we took the tape back with us and sang it a few times.  Until we recorded it.

Casey Chambers:  And that melancholy gem went on to become your second #1 record.  And radio still loves that song.  But the first time I ever heard it was in "National Lampoon's Vacation" (1983)...of all places.  I remember waiting until the end credits just to find out who performed that song.

Gary Troxel:  With Chevy Chase!  Yeah, I thought that was great.  I think technically they're supposed to ask the artist before placing it in a movie, but they never do.  They never ask us.   But so far, I think the movies have done a good job with our songs.

"National Lampoon's Vacation" (w/"Mr. Blue")

Casey Chambers:  How do you ever find out when one of your songs has been incorporated into a film?

Gary Troxel:  Well, we never find out ahead of time.  One of the biggest surprises for us was when they made "American Graffiti" (1973).  Barbara was living in Orange County, I think, and it was after we were done recording...but anyway, she found out just by accident that they put our song "The Great Imposter" in this movie.  And the movie was already out!  We didn't know a thing about it.

Casey Chambers:  Gomer says shazam!

Gary Troxel:  Yeah!  Well, pay us right now...and thank you! (laughs)  It was great.  Because they also sold soundtrack recordings of that movie.  It was like another payday for us.

Casey Chambers:  Good times.  Plus new generations get introduced to your music that way, too.

Gary Troxel:  Yeah, they sure do.  And it is a cult film, so I assume that it will be played over and over so it can be drilled into their heads as time goes by. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  The Fleetwoods had three Top 40 hits in '59 which brings me to..."Graduation's Here"...and it was another one you guys wrote.  The song offers up a much simpler time to my ears.  And I know everything wasn't all jello and pudding back then...but I'm totally on board with the innocence of the memory.

"Graduation's Here"  -- The Fleetwoods / "Mr Blue" (1959)

Gary Troxel:  Yeah, that song was special because it was about our last year of high school.  And we really did have a senior skip.  And the funny part about that song is...I didn't skip that day.  Of all things!  I was kind of in the dark on that one.

Casey Chambers:  The "skip" tradition still continues today, so let me offer you and all the teenagers from the past a big thank you!  When you were growing up in Washington, what did your record collection look like?

Gary Troxel:  I didn't have one. (laughs)  I didn't have any money.  I did not have a job.  I had no records.  But I sure listened to the radio.

Casey Chambers:  Who were some of your early influences?

Gary Troxel:  Myself, I liked Glenn Miller and Tex Beneke and the groups that he sang with.  Which I think was kind of our style with progressive jazz chords and so forth.  Not over the edge, but just real good stuff.  And we all liked that.  Well, I never heard Barb say she grew up listening to Tex Beneke.   I'm not even sure she knew who he was.  But I did. (laughs)

"Chattanooga Choo Choo" -- Tex Beneke 

Casey Chambers:  Harmony seemed to be cool to the rule and The Fleetwoods sure had a nice sound.  You must have known right away that you blended well together.

Gary Troxel:  Yeah, I guess we did.  We didn't have to struggle and all.  The only real struggling we ever did was when we'd have to do an album and everybody wanted to do a certain song.  And sometimes we just couldn't do it, because no matter who sang the was too high or too low for the other harmonies.  So it just wasn't something easy to do.  We had to pick and choose.

Casey Chambers:  Do you still get the bug to go out on stage and perform?

Gary Troxel:  We still get a show here and there.  We quit going to the east coast because we're tired of the long flights. They always break it up, so we have to change planes.  After complaining for years, we just decided we're not going to do it.  I think our next show is going to be in Denver in October. It's going to be an oldies show.  'Cause we're getting older, ya know? (laughs)  And then we're going to be doing a show in January in Los Angeles.  And that's about it.  So, we've almost retired.

The Fleetwoods bringing down the house

Casey Chambers:  Well, those shows are going to be a lot of fun and bring back a lot of memories for your fans.

Gary Troxel:  Yeah, I guess as long as they can sell the tickets. (laughs)  So far so good.

Casey Chambers:  Well thanks so much for taking the time to do this.  I certainly enjoyed talking with you.

Gary Troxel:  Oh, you're welcome.  And thanks for looking into it.  Thank you.

The Fleetwoods Official Website

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers
Follow me on FACEBOOK.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Interview:-- Walter Egan (Singer/Songwriter)

"We shared our hopes,
our dreams, 
and our goals...
and the fundamental roll."
~ Walter Egan ~

The ecstasy and agony of summer break.
First hellos and last goodbyes.
Worries are small and possibilities are endless.
It's when we realize, maybe for the first time, that time is fleeting and completely out of our hands.
Yes, summers are great. I mean, it's summer after all.  But one never forgets that "special" summer. The one you earmarked for permanent memory burn.  The one you protect.

When discussing "lost gem" albums, Walter Egan's 1978 offering "Not Shy" certainly falls under that category.  With a distinctive California rock sound, Egan delivers hook after glorious hook of "roll-down-the-windows" summer fun. But he does so while gently reminding us just how confusing and frustrating it all can be.  He's made plenty of good music, both before and since, and his last album "Myth America" (2014) is an especially welcome treat.  Walter Egan is a man for all seasons, no doubt...but "Not Shy" will always be June through September.


Casey Chambers:  Your 1978 album "Not Shy" is a pop-rock joy and the closing track..."Hot Summer Nights" is just one of the standout gems.  What do you remember about that song?

Walter Egan:  Well, that's a very interesting story.  The producers for my first album..."Fundamental Roll"...were Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. That would have been 1977.  And I was quite taken by Stevie and all her talents.  We'd be hanging out during those recording sessions and as it evolved, Stevie had this song that Fleetwood Mac didn't want to record.  So, kind of to score points with her, although I really liked the song, too...I told her, 'I'll do it.'  So, I began performing it on my tour.  We were on the road for quite a few months that year.  And it was a good song. It was a big finisher. "Sisters Of The Moon" was the name of the song.

Anyway, so flash forward to the recording of "Not Shy."  When it came time to record what was gonna be the big climax...just as it had been in my live set...the climax of the album was going to be, "Sisters Of The Moon."  Well, Lindsey was the sole producer of my second album at this point...along with myself and Richard Dashut.  And he said, 'I don't think you should record that. Why don't you go home and write a song?' (laughs)  And I was like, 'this is supposed to be the big climax, Lindsey!'  But I took the challenge and went home.  It was in August of 1977.  I was living in Beverly Flat, which at that time was still a funky kinda canyon in the west part of L.A.

And I started reflecting on how the summertime was a time for music. Especially in high school. My formative years.  When we had all that time to spend on music and that's all we did all summer.  I started writing a song about being in bands and sort of reminiscing about the camaraderie of being in a band together.  It was a very personal song.  And it only had three chords...a D minor, a B flat, and an A.  It had this riff and I just kind of got into it.  The next morning, we recorded it.  It wasn't even a whole day old.  And it went on to be the most covered song I'd ever written.

"Hot Summer Nights" - Walter Egan / "Not Shy" (1978)

There were versions in French, Swedish, German, and Japanese.  I did a cover version with new lyrics in the surf band...The Malibooz.  The hit version was by the group...Night...which was Richard Perry's first release on his Planet Records.  They had a Top 20 song with it in 1979.  My version of it was the follow-up to "Magnet And Steel," so you would think that it would've had a great shot.  But by the time Columbia released it, it had sort of passed its prime.  It should have come out right at the end of the summer just as "Magnet..." was peaking.  But it didn't come out until November.  And it just got caught up in the wintertime.  And then it came to life again in 2009 when Eminem used it as part of his comeback single, "We Made You."

Casey Chambers:  How about that!

Walter Egan:  (laughs) So the moral of the story is when Lindsey Buckingham says to go write a song...Go write a song.

Casey Chambers:  That's a great story.  And yeah, I heard your version first, so that's it for my ears.  But how did the band, Night come to record that song anyway?

Walter Egan:  There was a guy who was working in the A&R department at Columbia at the time.  His name's right on the tip of my brain and I can't remember it.  But he, I believe, presented it to Richard Perry.  And here's another weird coincidence.  I had never met Richard Perry during all that time.  I had moved back to New York in the early '90s and got in a band with Richard's brother, Fred.  And we had a band called the Brooklyn Cowboys and we've done some really excellent CDs.  So I got to finally meet him way back in...I guess it was '96 when I got to meet Richard at his house.

Casey Chambers:  That's cool.  After all that time.

Walter Egan:  Yeah, and I kidded him about the modulation that he inserted in the solo.  I thought it was a bit excessive (laughs) and I told him so.  It was fun.  Good times.

Casey Chambers:  Your signature song, "Magnet And Steel" is a beautiful piece of work.

Walter Egan:  Thank you.

Casey Chambers:  Did you know from the beginning you wanted the song to have a kind of doo-wop flavor?

Walter Egan:  Yes.  As a matter of fact, it's very good that you point that out, because that was the seed for that song.  The Stroll was the beat.  That 6/8 kind of thing.  Very '50s feel to the beat.  And I actually have a recording on a cassette that I've transferred of me working out the song and singing many verses that never made the final cut.

But I hadn't gotten the chorus quite right yet.  I believe the lyrics were...'don't turn away now' instead of 'with you I'm not shy.'  I think it was even called "Don't Turn Away Now."  And it was just not a very special lyric.  I hadn't really finished it.

"Fundamental Roll" - Walter Egan (1977)

We had been doing recording sessions for "Fundamental Roll"...a song on there called "Tunnel O' Love."  And Stevie was singing her wailing, banshee, background vocals.  This was at Sound City.  The now famous Sound City.  And that was the night I just went...'oh my God, how am I so lucky?'  Ya know, all the superlatives you could think of about someone falling for Stevie.  In my young youth, at the time, it was just another girl who was very talented. I didn't even know who they were when it was presented to me to have them produce my record.

They were very much a cult item at that point.  But Fleetwood Mac was just starting to break.  So, it was just very amazingly fortunate timing.  They wanted to keep their Buckingham Nicks identity outside of Fleetwood Mac and have this project.  So, Stevie was doing vocals.  I mean if you listen to "Fundamental Roll," it's very much like a Buckingham Nicks/Walter Egan album.  Stevie and Lindsey are just all over it.

Casey Chambers:  No doubt. Good stuff for the lobes.

Walter Egan:  You should check it out again.  It's really amazing.  I hadn't listened to it in a long time and I just kind of revived a couple of those songs from that album.  But I started listening to it and I was like...'Wow!'  It's pretty amazing to think how she's such an icon now and how, at the time, she was just the girl singer in the band. (laughs)  So anyway, I totally fell for her.  On the drive home from Sound City in Van Nuys...I had to drive out to Inland Empire California...around Claremont, which is where I was living.  And as I got on the 101 freeway...and this was about 4:00 a.m. in the morning...there was a Continental with a diamond window.  What they used to call a pimpmobile.

Very tricked out with the lights underneath it and the fringes and all that.  And the license plate on it was NOT SHY.  It said...NOT SHY.  And for whatever reason, that just hit me.  There it was.  It was sitting right in front of me and I just took it.  And by the time I was home in Claremont, I had basically come up with this 'magnet' metaphor.  So, it was this whole weird amazing feedback loop of me falling for Stevie, writing this song about Stevie, and having Stevie perform on it. (laughs)  It just had this kind of amazing magic to it, I guess.  I was lucky enough to sort of date Stevie for about a month in 1976.  And so, ya know, it was quite an adventure for the young lad.

"Magnet And Steel" - Walter Egan / "Not Shy" (1978)

Casey Chambers:  You landed on Boardwalk!  Awesome share.  When you were in the studio recording it, how did you work out the vocal arrangements?

Walter Egan:  The backgrounds on "Magnet And Steel" sort of came to life as we were running the song down in the studio. I don't remember specifically, it just fell together naturally.  It was Lindsey, Stevie, and Annie McLoone singing those parts.  And I think part of it was, I was still very shy about my vocals.  And I suggested that the first line of the chorus...'with you, I'm not shy' the background singers singing it, so I could come in stronger on that second part.

Casey Chambers:  Were you surprised the label chose to push that song out first?

Walter Egan:  That came about kind of late in the process, I think.  It was the oddball song in the mix definitely.  It had part of the "Myth of Sisyphus" on it.  Ya know, the guy pushing the rock up the hill...but never quite getting it up the hill.  Part of that myth fell on me when I became famous for this kind of crooning MOR song.  It's an honest, rock kind of ballad, but it sort of got coupled into that smooth yacht rock stuff.  And yet I was always more of a rocker. I was playing hard edgy songs with good melodies and clever lyrics, I thought.

Casey Chambers:  Oh absolutely.  Still, "Magnet..." is just a great song and it seems to keep gaining fresh legs popping up in movies.

Walter Egan:  It does. It does.  It was in "Boogie Nights" and "Deuce Bigelow."  And "This Is 40" and "Overnight Delivery." That was an interesting one.

Casey Chambers:  It must be a great feeling to watch a movie and have one of your songs sneak into the story.

Walter Egan:  It is very much a surreal event.  Depending on if I'm alone or with somebody.  It's my own little movie.  It's like when I go to the grocery store and it comes on and people are walking around singing along with it.  I just think it's so funny.  I sort of remove myself from the moment.  It's really kind of fun.  I've also been an answer in a number of crossword puzzles, which is even more mystifying to me.  (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  That's very cool.  9 Across: "Not Shy" songwriter. 4 letters. (laughs)  I'd like to jump to another one of your albums..."Wild Exhibitions." (1983)

Walter Egan:  Okay!

Casey Chambers:  One of the gems from that album is "Fool Moon Fire"...and you made a rather entertaining music video to go along with it.

"Wild Exhibitions" - Walter Egan (1983)

Walter Egan:  Thank you. (laughs) "Fool Moon Fire." My last charted single.

Casey Chambers:  Could you talk about that one a little bit?

Walter Egan:  It was filmed around the Silver Lake area in L.A.  There was a theater there we were able to rent.  Some people think I modeled it on "Thriller" but my video came out eight or nine months before the "Thriller" video did.  I don't know that he got the idea from me...but I certainly had the idea.

Casey Chambers:  I didn't know that.  But, yeah, the similarities are definitely there.

Walter Egan:  Well, yeah.  We could have a sour grapes conversation some night and I could tell you about all the things I think have been stolen or borrowed from me.  I mean, there's a lot of stuff like that in this business.  And it's hard.  Hard to draw the line between...'was that taken or was it homage?'  But that song..."Fool Moon Fire" was about me as a night person coming to grips with...kind of a metaphoric werewolf in my soul and thinking other people might have that as well.  And so that was the meaning of the word, 'lycanthropy' in one of the verses...that's the official term for werewolfism.  I think it might be the first song with that word in it to crack the Top 40.  But not the last, because Shakira apparently used it in her "She Wolf" song. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Maybe so, but you still get credit on first dibs, right? (laughs)

Walter Egan:  Exactly!  And we took it literally when it came time to do the video.  Most of the ideas were mine as to how to stage the music in it.  So it was a lot of fun to do.  It was all done on a very small budget.  Most of it was filmed from 4:00 in the afternoon to 6:00 the next morning.  So the whole thing was done in that time frame.

I was on Backstreet Records which was Tom Petty's label.  And that was with MCA which was even though they didn't go through the time lapse of me turning into a werewolf on camera, we were able to use some of the old monster movie footage.  But that was actually me with all the werewolf hair on my face. (laughs) And every hair had been glued on.

It was tedious for that to happen.  And the guy that did the makeup...his friend came in.  And his friend happened to be one of the actors from the old TV show "Leave It To Beaver." (laughs)  Richard Correll.  And that was a very surrealist moment for me, cause I'm a huge fan of the show.

Anyway, we did the shoot.  And as the sun was coming up the next morning, they had to take all the hair off my face to do the transition me being picked up.  And I'm thinking that maybe we should have done that in the beginning because the alcohol solvent that they used to get it off with was just painful. The look on my face at the end of that video when my girlfriend picks me up in the face was just...I was just totally burned out at that point.  I was like, 'good can we get it over with?'

"Fool Moon Fire" - Walter Egan / "Wild Exhibitions" (1983)

Casey Chambers:  A fool moon "face" fire! (laughs)

Walter Egan:  It's funny watching that video now...there's a lot of silly things I remember from it.  But yeah, it was cool.    And that song was doing really well.  It was climbing the charts with a bullet.  Got into the Top 40.  And then all of a sudden, it lost its bullet.  And that coincided with...well...during the run of that record, the presidency of MCA was up for grabs.

The guy who had been president and who was my booster at Tom Petty's Backstreet...his name was Danny Bramson and he wanted to be president at the same time a guy named Irving Azoff wanted to be president.  And Irving has a way of always winning in his own very creepy way.  And so he wound up taking over.  But it was a pretty bitter struggle to see who would be president.  A lot of name calling and stuff.  And so when Danny lost, he was out the door.  I was Danny's project.  And Irving didn't want to have anything to do with anything that Danny had anything to do with.  So, he pulled the plug on "Fool Moon Fire."  And it pissed me off.  Y'know, it's a great record.  It had David Lindley playing electric violin on it.  I think Nicky Hopkins might have even been playing piano on that song.  So it was a really cool record.  And that's the sad story of the music business.

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, well to quote another good song on that's..."Such A Shame."  And I mean that sincerely.

Walter Egan:  Very good. Very good. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Here's a fact a few rock fans may not be aware of...Gram Parsons recorded one of your songs.

Walter Egan:  "Hearts On Fire."  That was kind of my calling card when I went to L.A.  That was my success.  I was able to go 'here's what I've done'.  I had written that after spending the day with a guy named Ray Benson, who was the guitar player for Asleep At The Wheel.  I've always kinda had one toe in country rock anyway.  I was very intrigued by Gram Parsons and then I got to meet him.  When he and Emmy sang together for the first was in my kitchen!  So I got to know him.  In a good way.  'Cause he had a very demonic possession thing where he could turn into this really obnoxious person when he would get drunk or really stoned.  And I got to see that part of him later on, too, but that was after he had recorded "Hearts On Fire."  And yeah, I mean that was a big thrill for me. Because it was a breakthrough.  And it was somebody who many ways, really idolized.

"Hearts On Fire" - Gram Parsons / "Grievous Angel" (1974)

Casey Chambers:  Very cool.  Are you still rockin' the stage?

Walter Egan:  I'm still doing it as much as I can.  I've got a really good band.  I'm going out next week to play a concert in Berkeley, California...which is at The Art House on Saturday the 18th.  On the 25th, I'm playing in Miss Pamela Des Barres' backyard in L.A. doing a house concert there for the third year in a row.

Casey Chambers:  Oh man, I bet that'll be insane.  Spill the wine!

Walter Egan:  It's gonna be fun.  And then we're going to play a Malibooz show opening for The Yardbirds on July 21 at the Canyon Club out there. So, even though I live outside of Nashville, I try to get to California as much as possible.  I'm still writing songs. I'm still recording. So yeah, yeah, I'm still alive.  It's my new phrase this year..."I'm still alive."

Casey Chambers:  So fans can expect a new album soon?

Walter Egan:  Indeed.  The last time I did the Berkeley concert, which was two or three years ago, I wound up getting an album out of it.  My last album was called "Myth America" (2014) which I think is kind of a funny title.

"Myth America" - Walter Egan (2014)

Casey Chambers:  Love it.  The title is fun to say and open to interpretation, too.  I've been spinning "Stop Bein' You" off  "Myth..." for a few days now.  I'll put a link to it.  Good stuff.  Walter, this has been a real treat.  I'd like to thank you for all the good music and for taking the time to do this.

Walter Egan:  Yeah, well I appreciate your interest. You have a good evening.

Walter Egan Official Website
Walter Egan Facebook

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers
Follow me on FACEBOOK.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Interview:-- Michael Jan Friedman (Author and ST:TNG Comic Book Writer)

"Where would
you recommend
I take this?"
~ Michael Jan Friedman ~

With nearly 60 books notched on his pencil, many appearing on the New York Times bestseller list, it's safe to say, author Michael Jan Friedman knows his way around the alphabet. Add to the list some television and radio work and you've got yourself a pretty fine box of candy.  Call it good and wake me in the morning.

But, for this reader, being handed the heavy baton to carry forward new Star Trek ideas as the writer for the Star Trek: The Next Generation comic book series is the feather.  If there is anything more cool-breeze than being linked to the iconic Star Trek a medium that is cool unto itself...the list is short.  Like many fantasy and sci-fi ideas, Michael dreams them in aurora and remembers them in words.  As Pete Townsend once said, "Nothing is everything."


Casey Chambers:  Michael, you were the writer for the popular "Star Trek: The Next Generation" comic book series. (1989-1996)  How did you land that gig?

Michael Jan Friedman:  Well, I had first started writing novels for the Pocket Books Star Trek program.  I guess I had maybe written three of them and was invited to their Christmas Party...which was basically a couple of pizza pies and sitting around a conference room. (laughs)  And I met a guy named Bob Greenberger who was the Star Trek editor at DC Comics.  And we kind of hit it off.

At the time, DC was only publishing an original series comic.  But Bob said pretty soon the license was going to be renewed and was going to include the new show..."The Next Gen."  And he said at that time, we'll talk.  When DC got "The Next Generation" license, Bob offered me the gig.

It ran 80 issues.  And I did like...77 or 78 of them.  To tell you the truth, I really thought of it as my property. (laughs)  I was always a little annoyed whenever Bob said, 'Yeah, we're gonna give someone else a month here and there.'  But it was a great opportunity.  I loved doing it.  It was a lot of fun.  It was like writing a second "Star Trek" TV show.

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, they read like episodes, too.  When you're writing a monthly comic like that, how do you determine how many issues a story is going to be?

Michael Jan Friedman:  Well, it's kind of an instinctive thing.  There's no science to it.  I'm sure there were stories that I wrote in three issues that I could have written in two or even one if my life depended on it.  But they just felt like two issues or three issues or four.  I think four issues was the longest arc I did.  But, ya write the outline for the story and kind of break it down and see where the high points are and take it from there.  It's not a science.  It's more of an art.

ST:TNG (issue #1)

Casey Chambers:  What was the hardest part about working on this comic?

Michael Jan Friedman:  Well, the hardest part about writing "The Next Generation" comic was the approval process.  You were always trying to second guess the writers on the TV show.  Ya know...'let me try to come up with a story that they're not going to come up with.'

But a large percentage of the time, I would come up with something thinking, 'well they're never going to do this.'  And of course, I'd get a response back from Paramount saying, 'We can't tell you why we're not approving this storyline...but we're not.'  Of course, I understood whenever they said meant that they had the same story development.  Which is very common.  If you're proceeding from the same premises, it's hardly unusual for writers to come up with the same story possibilities.  So, that was the hardest part about working on that comic.

The easiest part was working with the artists.  The letterers and the colorers.  It was always a great feeling to write a script and then see it rendered.  I think every comic writer has a little bit of an artist in them.  And to see how the artist interpreted the script and rendered it was always really exciting.

Casey Chambers:  It sounds like Paramount approval could be a big matzah ball.  So when the first issues hit the stands...what happened?

Michael Jan Friedman:  Well, one thing I learned really quickly was that Paramount didn't want me to include any original characters.  They wanted it very much about the television cast.  Which was not at all the case with the DC comic Peter David and others worked on before "The Next Generation" comic came out.

So I was, at first, proceeding from the idea I had to put in secondary characters who could then die or leave or get pregnant.  But that wasn't the case.  They (Paramount) wanted it to be very much about the TV characters.  So I learned that very quickly.  In terms of the response to it, it was wonderful.  I mean, the sales were great.  Fans loved it.  I got lots of great comments.  So, it was a wonderful start.

Casey Chambers:  One of the stand-out stories in this series is when you have Q changing everyone onboard the Enterprise into Klingons. (issues #33-35)

ST:TNG (issue #33)

Michael Jan Friedman:  Yeah, Q was a really interesting character.  But I liked him more for what he could do...than for who he was.  You could have a lot of fun with that.  And so one thing he could do was turn everybody into Klingons. (laughs)

When you're writing a comic as opposed to writing a book, you want to be visual.  You want to think in terms of...what in this story are they going to put on the cover that's gonna help sell this book?  What are we gonna show in the inside in each panel?  Where am I gonna get the action from?  'Cause there has to be action.  Even in a cerebral story, which "Star Trek" tends to be, you need more than just talking heads.  You need action.  And where is that gonna come from?  So Klingons running wild on the Enterprise was a great visual idea.  I knew the artists would salivate when they read that script.

Casey Chambers:  I know it's been 20 years since the series wrapped...but do you remember having a favorite story?

Michael Jan Friedman:  My favorite one...probably "The Worst Of Both Worlds" which were issues #47-50.  It's when the crew posits in an alternate timeline...where the Borg have been successful in taking over the Federation.  Looking back, I would say that was my favorite arc.

Casey Chambers:  Thanks for sharing that.  Now you had mentioned Peter David earlier.  The two of you collaborated on a great mini-series called "The Modala Imperative."

"The Modala Imperative"

Michael Jan Friedman:  Yeah, Peter and I are good friends and we've actually collaborated on a number of projects.  And very often with Bob Greenberger.  It has always been very comfortable collaborating with those guys.  Writing is such a solitary life.  It's not as efficient to work with other people, but it is more pleasant.  And it's necessary, in a lot of cases (laughs) to get you out from behind your desk and talking.

In the case of "Modala...", Bob engineered that.  They gave us an opportunity to mix the generations.  To an extent.  Not to a great extent, but to an extent.  He knew that would be a big sales boost, so he went for it and got Peter and me to write the two 4-issue parts for it.

Peter had been writing the original series at that point and I was on "Next Gen."  But for "The Modala Imperative"...we switched.  He actually got the better assignment, because he was able to bring...who was it...Spock and McCoy, I believe...into the "Next Generation."  McCoy had already been established.  Spock was going to be eventually.  It was a great series to work on.  The art was terrific.  Adam Hughes did the covers.  It was great.

Casey Chambers:  Can you remember buying your first comic?

A "House of Secrets" comic 
(circa 1961)

Michael Jan Friedman:  It was a "House of Secrets" comic from around 1961.  I don't know that I spent my own money on that comic, but I do know I picked it off the newsstand.  I believe I went to the store with my father.  My parents, unlike some parents, remembered fondly their days of reading comics and they actually encouraged me to read them because they knew...reading comics was reading.

I've since found it on the internet.  And it's interesting.  The cover didn't look exactly the way I remembered it, but all the elements were there.  And it was great.  It was science-fiction and I love science-fiction.  Shortly after that, I bought some DC comics.  And then, when Marvel came out, I bought "Fantastic Four" (#1).

And I had the infinitely hideous financial sense to trade it for "Secret Origins" (#1)...which I liked a lot better!  But in any case, you can tell I was starting to read comic books in the very early '60s.

"Secret Origins" (#1)

Casey Chambers:  It was a great era for comics.

Michael Jan Friedman:  Yeah, Marvel was just starting.  And with my little kid sensibilities, I liked DC a lot better.  It was clean.  It was brighter.  It wasn't as gritty.  Ya know, Marvel seemed to me to be...I don't know...kind of too real.  Too gritty.  Too violent, maybe?  It took a couple years for me to really understand Marvel and embrace it.

Casey Chambers:  Switching gears, in '95 you also wrote an episode of the "Star Trek: Voyager" TV series. ("Resistance" - S:2/E:12)  Tell us about that.

Michael Jan Friedman:  Well, Kevin Ryan was my script writing partner.  We had pitched to "The Next Gen..." a few times.  And "Deep Space Nine"...we had pitched to Ron Moore one time.  So we were in pitching mode.  And almost invariably, we would give them six pitches and four or five of them would already be in development.  It showed that we were thinking along the right lines.  But they were listening to a thousand pitches a year, so it wasn't surprising.

You had to be very, very lucky.  And the pitch we hit paydirt with was...(Captain) Janeway plays a Dolsanaya to a Kazon...Don Quixote.  So all these "high content" pitches, which are the best kind you can come up with, are from somewhere.  And this one was from "Don Quixote."  And that's the one they bought.

When they went into production, of course, they made some changes to it.  They actually changed the Kazon to a sort of a "race of the week" kind of thing.  A Nazi-esque ruled planet with the Don Quixote character being a former revolutionary.  And he thinks Janeway is his daughter.  So, he's a deluded but noble person just as Don Quixote was.  Janeway is very much grounded in reality and rejects his delusions just as Dolsanaya did.  Eventually, she sees his nobility and willingness to sacrifice himself and in the end embraces his illusion.

Just to show you how precarious the pitching process is...we had pitched (the story) to Jeri Taylor, who was one of the executive producers.  And she said, 'Gee, you know, I really like this idea.  I'm gonna take it to the rest of the staff.'  And the next morning, she calls us back and she said, 'Hey, you know what?  We're gonna buy it.'  Which, as you can imagine, was a euphoric moment for us.  Then she says, 'But you'll be interested to know that we had substantially the same pitch this morning.  And had you guys pitched this afternoon instead of yesterday...we would have been forced to buy that other pitch.'

Casey Chambers:  Luck and timing, no doubt.

Michael Jan Friedman:  Yeah.  You have to be not only good and on point, but very, very lucky.

Casey Chambers:  That's a great story.  Do you remember watching it for the first time?

Michael Jan Friedman:  I do. I do. I was sitting in my den with a bunch of friends and neighbors and it was very cool. (laughs) It was very cool.  Although I'll tell you cool as that was, I don't think it was as cool as when I sold my first book.  Because the jump from being a print writer to a TV writer was substantial.  It was huge.  But not as big as the jump from being no writer at all to being a guy who is publishing a novel.  In my professional career, that was the most euphoric moment for me.  That was back in the mid-'80s when I sold my first book which was a fantasy novel called, "The Hammer And The Horn."  There's a story behind that too if you want to hear it.

Casey Chambers:  Absolutely.

Michael Jan Friedman:  I was writing a humor column when I went to the University Of Pennsylvania and one of my friends there...his family had a literary agency in New York.
And he said to me, 'Mike, I love your stuff.  When you come to write a book...and I know you're gonna bring it to me.  Because, by then, I'll be working for my father and my grandfather.'  I said, 'Sure. Great.'

So, when I wrote, "The Hammer And The Horn", I brought it to him.  He took a few days to read it and said, 'Mike, this could be the next great science-fiction classic.  Or, this could be a pile of horseshit.  I don't know.  I don't read this stuff.  You need somebody who reads science-fiction and fantasy.'  And he turned me on to another literary agency.

I called them and I said, 'I'm a new writer.  I have this book. This guy sent me over to you.'  They said, 'Well...thanks, but we're not taking any new writers right now.'  And, in my bravado, loathe to take no for an answer, I told them, 'Don't you want the next Stephen King?'  And they said, 'Actually, we're very happy with the current Stephen King.'  This was really Stephen King's agent, unbeknownst to me. (laughs)

But then I thought to ask them a question which I'm very happy these days that I asked.  'Where would you recommend I take this?'  And they sent me to an agency that eventually did end up representing me.

The woman there, Karen Hoss, was very good and saw exactly what I had to do to whip my manuscript into shape. She took it to Warner who was launching a new science-fiction and fantasy imprint named Quaestar.  And the editor, Kathy Malley, bought the book almost instantly.  And the next thing I knew, I was a published writer.

Casey Chambers:  Asking that one question might've changed everything.  Now you can afford to go back and buy that Fantastic Four you traded! (laughs)

Michael Jan Friedman:  Yeah. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Since The College Crowd Digs Me is primarily a music site, I'd like to ask about the kind of music you enjoy and what readers should check out or revisit.

Michael Jan Friedman:  Well, ya know, I'm a folk and folk rock kind of aficionado.  And it's probably not very cutting edge, but I love Peter Paul and Mary and their predecessors. Bob Dylan.  Simon and Garfunkel.  One thing that recently caught my attention is a cover of "The Sound Of Silence" by Disturbed.

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, it's a surprising take.

Michael Jan Friedman:  Yeah, you wouldn't expect them to cover "The Sound Of Silence" and it's unbelievable.  It's haunting.  And the video is tremendous.  They really put a different spin to it. I don't know about the album, but I would recommend that song.  And I think everybody should listen to some folk and some folk-rock regardless of what else they like.

And I actually had the occasion to meet Art Garfunkel.  Guess it was a year and a half ago.  He was recovering from larynx surgery, I think it was, and trying to get his chops back.  Well, Pete Fornatale...he was a very popular DJ around here on Long Island...was turning 70. And since Simon & Garfunkel were turning 70, he stationed an event at our library.  It was a Simon & Garfunkel retrospective.  There was a power point presentation.  And it was tremendous. And he said, 'Since you've been such a great audience, I have somebody who wants to come out and say hello.'  And he surprised us by introducing...Art Garfunkel.

Casey Chambers:  That would've been great!

Michael Jan Friedman:  Yeah, and he sang a few songs.  And he wasn't perfect because he was recovering from the surgery.  But he was Art Garfunkel.  I mean, when he was was just magic.  It was one of the high points of my life.

"April Come She Will" - Simon & Garfunkel

And he told a story that night about when he and Paul Simon were starting out.  How they were just two kids from Forest Hills and they were trying to make it.  And I guess they had cut "The Sound Of Silence" and it didn't do that well.  And so they went on tour in Europe for the summer and somebody called them and said they'd like to remix it and put in some more instrumental stuff.  And they said, 'Sure...what do we got to lose?'

And when they came home, they were sitting in Paul's car in Forest Hills and heard their song which had been remixed.   And the DJ screams, 'It's number one!' And Paul turns to Art and says, 'Boy, number one in the charts.  I wonder what those Simon & Garfunkel guys are doing right now?' (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Little do they know...

Michael Jan Friedman:  Just sitting in the car listening to the radio.  So yep, that's my taste in music.

Casey Chambers:  Michael, thank you very much for taking time out to share a few stories today.  I really appreciate it.

Michael Jan Friedman:  It's my pleasure.  It was great talking to you.

"I'm Reading A Book" - Julian Smith

Official Michael Jan Friedman Website

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers
Follow me on FACEBOOK