Wednesday, April 06, 2016

adventures in movie reviewing: "caddyshack"

From Cindy Morgan's Twitter page
Co-stars Cindy Morgan, Scott Colomby and Bill Murray at the "Caddyshack" premiere in New York 

One of the highlights of my movie-reviewing career was the 1980 New York press junket for Harold Ramis's "Caddyshack," which included the film's premiere on a summer Friday night at the Lowes' State theater (prior to its national release) and an interview session the following Saturday morning at Dangerfield's, a club owned by one of its stars.

But the event was a highlight in ways that I didn't quite expect...

It started off well. The premiere was smashing, free-form and informal and appropriately chaotic.  The entire cast showed up, as well as the comedy ensemble that was currently appearing on "Saturday Night Live," in attendance to support their cohorts Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and Brian Doyle-Murray.  Sitting in front of me were Al Franken and Tom Davis. 

The movie itself, which remains a favorite of mine, was a treat, deliriously funny - a sort of live-action Looney Tune.  Which is apt since Warner Bros. released it. Murray was/is the film's standout, improvising a variation on Wylie Cayote opposite a little animatronic gopher's Road Runner. Bliss.

The next day, a bus was waiting outside the hotel to whisk the press off to Dangerfield's.  Here's where matters got strange.  I'm in the hotel elevator with about six other people.  One guy, thirtysomething, is talking particularly loud and sounds angry.  There's profanity.  Then I notice that he's looking at me.  He's yelling at me. Huh?  I assume he's drunk.  Or on drugs. I get on the bus and he's there, too, still lashing out.  But why?

This is clearly a verbal assault.

OK, now we're at Dangerfield's.  It's packed.  Murray shows up needing a shave, wearing a swim suit and matching top and carrying a pizza.  Rodney Dangerfield plays maître d, seating everyone. Memorable.  But that serpentine guy, now sitting in the back of the place, is still yelling at me. Everyone is staring.  Studio people try to quiet him to little avail.

By now, he knows who I am - that I'm with the press - but the irrational attack continues. I'm told his identity by a Warners person.  He's someone important, very important, someone intimately involved with the film.


"Is this guy nuts?," I think.  "I'm here to help him sell his film."  And, let's get something straight, contrary to Hollywood legend, it is decidedly not part of a critic's job to help sell a film. (At least, it shouldn't be.)

When I get back to the office the following Monday, I receive phone calls from Elijah "Lige" Brien, the head of Warners publicity in the New York office at the time, and from his colleague, Carl Samrock, both apologizing for the bad behavior.  My editor asked me how everything went.  I tell him about the incident and we agree that instead of running any interviews, I'd write something else: a column about how good-natured films are often made by mean-spirited people - a dichotomy that still fascinates me.

The movie industry has never been big on decency.  It's never been able to cope with success and power.  But what happened to protocol?  In the bad old days, a Harry Cohn or a Jack Warner would have fired the guy.

I wrote the essay but never named the person involved.  What was the point?  It didn't matter.  He was one of many movie people who disappoint and disillusion. And I won't name him here. He passed a while ago.

Back in the 1970s, Sydney J. Harris, then columnist for the Chicago Daily News, summed up the entertainment industry most succinctly when he wrote:

"There's no business like show business - and it's a good thing there isn't ... No other business engages in so much public boasting about its 'big heart' and indulges in so much private malice with its little head."  Amen.

Note in Passing: Warners Bros. never addressed my column or questioned why we didn't run any interviews, but it was less less than happy when a colleague (who reviewed for the Wilmington News Journal) wrote about the same incident. That critic was unfairly admonished.



S.H. said...

Joe- I think I know who you are writing about here. -S.H.

joe baltake said...

Keep it to yourself, S.H.

Ilana said...

what a weird story! Given the era and the cast of characters I'm guessing drugs played a role in this person's bad behavior

Jill said...

Joe- I remember reading that column when I was living in Philly. I also remember another reporter - for The Philadelphia Inquirer - writing a similar piece around the same time about an unpleasant interview that she had with a self-important actor. Both articles made a vivid impression on me.

joe baltake said...

Jill, you have a great memory. Yes, an excellent reporter named Jill Gerston wrote a memorable Philadelphia Inquirer story on a similar situation. I won't name the actor she interviewed but I will say that I've always thought that she wrote the definitive piece on show-business nastiness and ignorance. -J

Marvin said...

Joe! Did you ever "find out" why the asshole on the CADDYSHACK press junket was so pissed off at you? And why "you," as opposed to someone else in the press corps? I was fascinated by your story.

joe baltake said...

Marvin- Yes. It had something to do with a small "Fund for Animals" pin that I always was wore on my shirts at the time. "Fund for Animals" was the organization founded by animal activist Cleveland Amory. The pin read, "Animals Have Rights, Too!" For some reason, which I can't explain, the guy was enraged by it. He kept insisting that I "take that thing off." Very bizarre.