Memories of Marfa 1955, Part 1 with Marcos Pena

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Courtesy of Richard C. Miller/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images. 

Marcos Pena, a native to Marfa, Texas, born August 3, 1936 worked at The Hotel Paisano until he retired later in life. In 1955 he was making $0.36 an hour. When the train arrived on July 5, 1955 it was like a boomtown. The townspeople were all excited about the movie coming to Marfa. They were already building up the set for “Giant.”

In 1955 the town was segregated so African Americans and Hispanics couldn’t go into the same places to eat as white people, or use the same bathrooms, or even drink out of the same fountain. If you weren’t white when an Angelo came down the street you got off the sidewalk. Marcos himself was exposed to derogatory remarks that were prevalent at the time. All of which was going on during the time Hollywood came to Marfa. The cast never called him anything but Marcos. When he was first hired at the hotel, he didn’t have a lot of respect. Mrs. Mallan who owned the hotel at the time was from New York, when she hired him she said, “ I am going to hire you to work here, but if I don’t teach you anything I am going to teach you manners. The best were, “Yes, ma’am, Yes, sir, please and thank you” that sort of thing. And that is also the way he later went on to bring up his own children. The Palace Theater was for the white people and the Texas was for Mexicans. They only had a movie 2 or 3 times a week for the Mexicans and if they ever let a Mexican into the Palace Theater across the street they had to be upstairs, they couldn’t be downstairs where the white people were.

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The following two images used with permission from CMG Worldwide.

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The hotel was always full of people. They had a crew out of El Paso, Gillespie Catering Service that was there just to do all the cooking for the people involved in the film. While working at the hotel he got to meet most of the stars in the film. To him they were all a people just like him. He got real friendly with Chill Wills and Mercedes McCambridge who he used to take to church on Sundays, Saint Mary’s, the catholic church in town. She was beautiful lady and when the movie was over she offered him a job and offered to take him to CA to work.

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Dean and other dining at The Hotel Paisano.

The stars would take their meals at The Paisano. What he remembers most about the summer of ’55 is the people lining up at the windows of the café, there at the Paisano trying to take a look at the movie stars. The hallways of the hotel were decorated with their framed, autographed pictures from previous movies, but people were stealing them. Rock Hudson came over. Where he made money, and he appreciated it was with Elizabeth Taylor, when he’d take her breakfast in the morning. The Chamber of Commerce when she first arrived in Marfa, gave her a silver bowl, engraved from Marfa this and that, a personal gift to her. She kept it at the makeup room. When he took her breakfast there it was always full of money. She would just reach over there and give him a handful of money. That was his tip. Then Marcos got to meet Michael Wilding who was married to Elizabeth Taylor at that time. Elizabeth was staying at the hotel and so was Rock Hudson. Taylor’s husband came over and took her out of the hotel, rented a private home here in Marfa, and moved her over there. It is the house still standing in front the elementary, it belonged to Mrs. Barton, the big white two-story house on the corner of West Columbia and Gonzáles. James Dean and Chill Wills rented out a house at 811 Columbia and North Mesa Street.

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Current street view of the home where Elizabeth Taylor stayed.

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Current Street View of the home where James Dean and Chill Wills took up residence after the Paisano.

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Courtesy of Richard C. Miller/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

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Used under permission from CMG Worldwide.

Marcos first met James Dean when they wanted to go rabbit hunting. James Dean was real friendly, a happy guy, wild. He was young and full of life. Marcos carried their luggage and took their meals to the set. There was a pool table in the basement of the hotel and they’d play there of the evenings sometimes. Marcos had a room there in the basement and it was where he slept. Dean was pretty good at pool but mainly liked to have fun and mess around. When they were making that movie the Paisano hotel did not have a swimming pool then. That area was where the catering companies kept their stock of fruits and vegetables that kind of stuff, and there was a window that was a form of sunlight for the basement. James Dean used to like to crawl out of that window just to kind of mess around and would go out there and snag fruit and bring it back to the pool room where they were playing. Dean seemed to enjoy his stay in room 223. Marcos remembers Dean driving over to the ice plant in Marfa from time to time. Jake Edwards who owned a Chevrolet dealership in town supplied the brand new cars for the stars to use while they were in town. They liked to hang out was at Carolina’s (The Old Borunda Café*) for Mexican food right there on highway 90 on the corner of Dean Street and San Antonio.

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Courtesy of Richard C. Miller/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images.

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The Old Borunda Café was the first Tex-Mex Restaurant in history. It opened on July 4, 1887 with 3 owners/cooks over the 89 years it was in operation. Today it is the home of Para Llevar.

Many thanks to Marcos Pena for sharing his memories, his son Jessie for collecting them for me, and Joe Duncan for informing me that Marcos would remember a lot from the Summer of ’55. Thank you all for your time, patience, and kindness. As well as the current owners over at Para Llevar for further information and Dorothy Schultz of The Fairmount Historical Museum for helping me locate the image of the cast dining at The Paisano. It is also my hope to be able to bring part 2 at a later date with memories from other Marfa locals.

The Photography of Richard C. Miller and an Interview with His Daughter Peg

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Richard C. Miller is best known for his work photographing celebrities such as James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. Capturing Norma Jeane in 1946, he showed a softer side to the actress who would become Marilyn. Richard also bonded with James Dean over their mutual ownership of Porsches while capturing moments in time from the set of “Giant.” Miller also photographed Pier Angeli, Fred Astaire, Gene Autry, Lauren Bacall, Carroll Baker, Harry Belafonte, Chuck Berry, Tony Curtis, Doris Day, Audrey Hepburn, Rock Hudson, Mahalia Jackson, Grace Kelly, Eartha Kitt, Hedy Lamar, Sophia Loren, Jayne Mansfield, Johnny Mathis, Kim Novak, Ronald Reagan, Debbie Reynolds, Roy Rogers, Jane Russell, Elizabeth Taylor, and Betty White. Miller impressively taught himself the time-consuming and difficult method of carbro printing, which produces vivid images from pigments rather than dyes. I sat down with his daughter Peg to learn a little more about what he was like as an individual.

What was your father like? What about him stands out most in your mind today? What do you miss about him most?

He lived life on his own terms, which meant that he wasn’t a traditional dad or husband but was a joyous, curious, vigorous, and engaging person. He treated all people the same—he talked to children as if they were his peers, for instance.

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What would you say is the most important thing he taught you?

That it’s OK (and sexy!) to be a smart, strong woman—he loved that about his wife and daughters.

How did he feel about living to the age of 98? Did he ever mention anything about his feelings on aging?

He used to say, “I think I’m getting old!” like it continually surprised him. He also said, “I want to see how it all comes out!” But the night before he went into the hospital for the last time, he said to his grandson, “I’m ready to go now.”

Is there anything about him that you think the public would be surprised to learn?

He was a Golden Gloves boxer.

He worked as an actor for a short time before becoming a photographer. Did he ever talk much about that? Do you think he missed it at all?

He never talked about it.

Did he ever mention what it was he loved most about photography in general?

Through photography, he could see the order, the lines, in the world. It helped him make sense of things.

Do you know if he had any particular images that were most dear to him?

He loved individual images, but they were of all kinds: carbros, celebrity photos, black-and-white landscapes.

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Norma Jeane

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Did he ever mention what it was like to work with Norma Jeane or if she seemed to change much after she became Marilyn?

He thought she was a sweet young woman who changed for the worse when she became famous: he found her insecure, unprofessional, and unkind to the people who served her.

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Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis on the set.

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Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson on the set of “Giant.”

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James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor

He also worked on the set of “Giant”. Did he have any stories from that time?

He really loved Dean and thought they would have been friends if Dean had survived. They bonded over Porsches, and that bond carried over into the way Dean cooperated with him. Dean would see him about to take a shot and would do something to make it even better. For example, Dean saw him about to take a picture of him sitting on a sofa with Taylor lying beside him and a glass of bourbon on the table. So Dean picked up a Life Magazine that featured Taylor on the cover as Mother of the Year. That photograph is one of his most popular.

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James Dean with Robert Marquez (left) Joe Vasquez (right)

It must have been something to be hired on to shadow James Dean during filming? Did he ever mention how Dean’s early passing affected him at the time?

He was devastated by it.

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How did he feel about his various works becoming so iconic?

He was remarkably cool-headed about it—he didn’t need to have anyone tell him that his work was first rate (although he would have welcomed an “attaboy” from his best friend Brett Weston, who never gave them). But he was glad to know that his pictures wouldn’t be trashed after his death, and he did burst into tears when he wheeled up to his self-portrait at the Getty show on carbros.

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What would you like the world to remember most about him?

He was a dedicated artist, but he was also a curious, charming, and loving man.

Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?

Being the daughter of an artist isn’t easy—no father/daughter fun nights, for instance. And he could be selfish, pig-headed, and intransigent. But he was proud of his girls and loved us very much, and he loved our mother. As for me, I loved and appreciated his wonderful spirit more and more as I got older, and I always venerated him as an artist.

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Pier Angeli and Family

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Fred Astaire

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Gene Autry

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Harry Belafonte

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Chuck Berry

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Tony Curtis with Kelly

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Tony Curtis with Janet Leigh and Kelly

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Audrey Hepburn

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Mahalia Jackson

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Grace Kelly

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Eartha Kitt

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Lassie

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Sophia Loren

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Jayne Mansfield

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Jayne Mansfield with Mickey, Jayne Marie, and Miklos Hargitay Jr.

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Johnny Mathis

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Kim Novak

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Eleanor Parker

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Ronald Reagan

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Debbie Reynolds and Mother

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Roy Rogers

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Jane Russell

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Betty White

All images used with permission from Richard C. Miller Photographs, LLC.

An Interview with the Owner of The Hotel Paisano, Joe Duncan

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The Hotel Paisano at dawn.

With construction beginning in 1930 El Paisano Hotel in Marfa, Texas was designed by Henry C. Trost. During the 30’s and 40’s it was frequented by tourists seeking the benefits of the dry West Texas air and cattle ranchers coming to Marfa to do business. Most notably it was the base of operations during the filming of “Giant” in 1955. Where director George Stevens, and the cast and crew took up residence. (James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rock Hudson, later rented out the homes of locals, but are reported to have enjoyed a brief stay in their rooms at the Paisano).

In 2001 the hotel was brought back to life by hoteliers Joe and Lanna Duncan. The following interview and stories from the staff employed during filming are brought to you by Joe.

For those not familiar with your story can you tell us a little about where you are from? How did your early days there influence you most to be who you are today?

I am from Fort Davis, 21 miles north of Marfa. My parents had the historic Hotel Limpia in Fort Davis so I grew up in the hotel business there.

What led to the purchase of the first property you decided to save? What did you learn from the process?

In 1991 we purchased the Hotel Limpia from my family. We learned it is a lot more fun owning your own business rather working for your parents.

How many properties do you have now and which do you hold most dear?

We have owned and restored 7 historic homes and 5 historic hotels over the past 30 years. They are all special projects with their own special characteristics.

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The hotel as it was in 1978. Photo by Kirby Warnock.

Can you tell us how it was to purchase the Paisano in 2001?

We purchased the Paisano on the courthouse steps at a tax auction. It was a very exciting day.

Why did you most want to save that particular building?

The Paisano was our first property that we had bought that was already on the National Register of Historic Places. A very notable building.

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Do you happen to know what dates James Dean, Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor stayed there before renting houses in town for the remainder of their trip?

Not exactly. Filming of Giant started on June 6, 1955. I believe that these main stars stayed at the Paisano for only the first week or so however they were in building almost every day for meals in our restaurant.

How did the cast and crew past most of their down time at the hotel do you know?

Eating in our restaurant.

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Do you think “Giant” will always be what people think of foremost when thinking of the hotel?

Today that is what the hotel is most known for however that may change as decades go by and the movie fades.

What do you think it is about Marfa that draws people worldwide?

I think the Texas landscape around Marfa is a huge draw. The lack of residents in the area keep it pristine and nice

What projects that you are currently working on are you most excited to show the world next?

We are always looking for more historic properties to own and fix up.

Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?

Thank you for your interest in The Hotel Paisano and Giant!

On July 21, 2021 Joe agreed to give me a tour of The Paisano, during which I was shown a few of the rooms the cast stayed in and relayed stories of their time at the hotel as passed down from the staff that worked there at the time. The train from Hollywood arrived June 5, 1955. James Dean was the first off the train to reach the hotel. He came straight through the doors and proceeded to nap on one of the couches that were still in the lobby at the time, leading staff to point it out to each other as he slept. There was also the story of how the Bob Hinkle bonded with Elizabeth Taylor over chili cheeseburgers from the local drive-in when he and the 3 stars of the film went there for supper one evening (more of which can be found in the book “Call Me Lucky”). And one of how Elizabeth Taylor stood at the doors of the lobby/courtyard waiting on her husband Michael Wilding to arrive with her dogs that had been flown in. He simply delivered them in a bit of a huff and left. According to staff at the time all of the cast and crew were very kind and polite, with James Dean being reported to fit right in. Before the 3 main stars rented out houses in town, James Dean took up residence in room 223, Dennis Hopper was in 220, Elizabeth Taylor in 212, and Rock Hudson in 211. After the other 3 rooms were renovated to become suites with the intent of the hotel becoming a condominium in later years, room 223 is the one room left that remains the most like it was during the filming.

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Remembering John Gilmore on what would have been his 86th birthday

July 5, 2021 marks what would have been the 86th birthday of the iconic true crime author John Gilmore. Known for his vivid and hard-hittingly honest Hollywood memoirs, John was also a talented actor and artist. Best known for his works on The Black Dahlia, Elizabeth Short (“Severed”), Charles Manson (“TheGarbage People”), Marilyn Monroe (“Inside Marilyn Monroe”), and James Dean (“Live Fast — Die Young: My Life with James Dean” and “The Real James Dean”). His books “Laid Bare: A Memoir of Wrecked Lives and the Hollywood Death Trip” and “L.A. Despair: A Landscape of Crimes & Bad Times” offered an unabashed look into the lives and times of both some of the most beloved icons of our time to some of the darkest days of Hollywood. He also researched the lives of Bonnie and Clyde from the time he was a teenager, pouring all he had learned into his last work, “On the Run with Bonnie and Clyde.” He left this world on October 13, 2016 leaving behind his son Carson and daughter Ursula.

In the short time I knew him John came to be the dearest and closest friend I have ever known. Leaving me with words I shall carry with me always. Namely, “Bonnie never shot nobody.” And most importantly, “You are fine as you are, however you are. What the world thinks of you does not matter. Because, what the fuck does the world know anyway?” Which is something I think we can all stand to be reminded of as we go through life. I cannot help but remember him fondly for his amazingly vivid works as well as his sincere kindness and grit, which are a unique combination of traits that I sorely miss. As someone who lived to work and was the best at what he did, John Gilmore left behind the gift of his words to capture the imagination and minds of generations to come.

An Interview with and the Art of John Cerney

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The art of John Cerney has delighted the eyes of audiences along the Midwest and California for decades. The massive roadside cutouts add personality to the land they inhabit while reminding people of the roadside art of a bygone era. https://www.johncerneymurals.com/

What was it like growing up in Salinas when you did? What are some of your most fond memories of those days?

I had a normal childhood growing up in Salinas, although my family probably moved about 15 times from when I was born until I left high school. I attended several schools because of this, so I made different sets of friends along the way. My parents had a loveless type of marriage, but me and my three brothers were never left wanting. They finally divorced when I was a high school senior so by then we were left to our own devices. My childhood was a time when the kids could just go off on our own and find our own fun where we could find it.

My fond memories as a kid aren’t so much about Salinas, but more of the sense of wonderment that most kids experience…going to my first major league ball game, traveling on vacations and seeing things you only saw in magazines, seeing movies at the theater. The kind of magical feelings that as an adult, and with knowledge and experience, I don’t quite feel anymore.

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How did you first come to discover your love of art?

I first became enchanted with art, as far as doing it myself, was when I was working in the lettuce business after high school, and in my free time, I decided to paint my old pickup truck…every square inch of it…with all sorts of things. James Dean on the hood! Clint Eastwood….King Tut….cartoons…maps…a Picasso on one of my doors. My very first creation, then, was a public art piece, which I would return to years later. I would leave the lettuce business at 26 and attend a junior college, where I took a few art classes on a whim. It was my slow progression into learning from teachers and artists. I continued on and got an art degree from Cal State Long Beach in Southern California.

I have to add that I did enjoy artistic ‘things’ even younger. In high school, I was the go-to guy to design posters for friends who were running for office, and I also took 3 years of drafting, which gave me a new set of skills that certainly helped along the way.

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How did your work progress from portraits to murals? How do the two differ most?

I still do lots of portraits in my mural work…almost all of my work has people in them. I spent my early years as an artist working in Southern California in the TV industry. Then I was doing mostly pencil drawings, for actors, producers and writers. There is certainly more pressure to produce a portrait for a client, so it has to be a good likeness, and even improve upon it if I can. There’s more looseness involved if I’m painting people in my normal outdoor murals, say where a farmer just has to look like a farmer. The viewer doesn’t care at all if it doesn’t look quite like Fred, the model. What I was learning along the way, however, was to get better at replicating the photo I was working from. I feel that now, if I’m working from a good photo, my job is almost done…I just have to paint what I see.

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What is the most challenging issue you deal with when working on such a large scale?

What I found after becoming strictly a painter, and working large, is that it’s not as tedious as doing my pencil drawings. My hands can be looser. After a day of drawing with pencils, my fingers and hand would be beat up. The only challenging thing about working larger is that I’m getting older, and handling sheets of plywood, setting posts in the ground, working with concrete…those things are slowly becoming more challenging. I have some neck issues I have to be careful about. There will be a time where I’ll return to my drawing table when working so large becomes tougher.

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Do you ever get dizzy having to climb to work on the pieces? If so how do you deal with that?

I never get dizzy, or worry much about heights, but I realize that my scaffold climbing days are numbered. I’m 67 now, and I feel that I’ve got another 7-8 years left in me. Of course, I could pay others to do that part of the job for me, but I haven’t wanted to give up that control yet.

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Is there a lot of work that goes in to maintaining the pieces so they are in their best condition? How often do you have to touch them up?

The lifespan of my installations varies, often with what part of the country they’re placed. Anywhere from 7 to 20 years. It’s the downside with working with plywood. It’s a cheap enough material that helps makes the murals affordable to clients. Some of the work I’ve created around Salinas I’ve totally re-done after 10 years, but the usual scenario is that they live out their life, and they then get removed and thrown away. I get the occasional graffiti, which I can repair in my area…and I get the occasional thieves who steal a figure, if they’re the life-sized cutouts. I’ve had three alien figures in a mural in Roswell, NM that have been stolen. What I’ll do is repaint them, and the next time I’m in the general area of Roswell, I’ll stop in and install the new one. The paint I work with is terrific, so there’s not really any ‘touching up’ that takes place. By the time the paint looks bad, the plywood has likely already lived out its life.

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Do you still do the occasional portrait or do you focus entirely on murals at this point in your career?

I still get the occasional portrait, but what happened during the pandemic year in 2020 was that I ended up painting 12-13 pet portraits. Businesses were afraid to spend money on ‘frill’ projects from me, so I had to hustle and hit up friends and family for small cutout paintings of their pets. I could attach them to a base and they could sit on a mantle or a desk. People portraits I do once in a while, but only for friends or family. I discourage that from the public, as I still want to concentrate on my public art.

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How does it feel to be able to earn a living doing something you love?

I’ve been doing this for so long now that I don’t often even give this question much thought. I do realize, however, that I’m in a small subset of artists who actually make a living at it. I’ve never had to feel the pressure of creating art and HOPING that it sells so I can pay the rent and feed myself. I don’t think that I set out to plan my career with the main objection to make money…two things conspired to make that happen. I work realistically, and early on, I placed my work out in the public. I guaranteed that I’d have a large audience, and that audience included marketing people and businesses. They saw my work and thought of ways themselves to boost their business…that, or the vanity type projects from folks with money.

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Do you enjoy being able to remind the public of the roadside art of yesterday through you work today? Why do you think we see less of that now than in the past?

When I think of roadside art of the past, I think more of the whimsical advertisements, like the Burma Shave placards that were erected every few hundred feet with catchy poetic lines, or the large barns with gigantic letters advertising chewing tobacco, or caverns down the road. There were the occasional farmers who would weld tractor parts into farm animals and place them alongside their property line next to a highway.

If there were artists who did what I do now, I’m not aware of it, but there certainly could have been. These sorts of installations don’t have a long life. I think the reason why other artists don’t work like I do is because it really isn’t profitable. I donate one or two of these highway installations a year, and besides the cost of the materials, my travel, and my time, one of these might amount to $20,000 in lost revenue and the cost out of my pocket. It’s just not an enticing proposal for an artist. I’m just fortunate enough to make enough money with my commissions to be able to switch gears and create these pet projects. I know, however, that I benefit by having the public see this side of my work and that it generates new work down the road. It’s like leaving a giant business card with every installation I create.

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What projects are you currently working on that we can all look forward to seeing next?

I’m leaving this next week for Memphis, TN to install two giant musical icons, Elvis Presley and Tina Turner. These are commissions from a client who has bought a couple of old buildings near downtown Memphis and is converting one of them into a playful concert setting, with a stage being built that I will place the two 18 feet tall plywood figures on top of, as if they are performing together. The client says that this part of Memphis has been in a state of blight for several years, so he wanted to add some sparkle to the area. I may return this fall to install a few more, including Aretha Franklin, who was born in Memphis. I will also paint a giant Glenn Miller, the Big Band leader, on the outskirts of his hometown of Clarinda, Iowa. That will be later this summer. Currently, I’m painting two giant race cars for the local race track, Laguna Seca in Monterey. I’ve painted 5 cars and a motorcycle for them over the last several years. Because of the pandemic, last year was slow as far as commissions, but it’s rapidly picking up. I’ll take advantage of that and save up for my next personal project. I have 3-4 of those in mind, but none are on the front burner.

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What do you hope the viewer takes away from your work?

My audience is the general public, not so much the high brow art connoisseur. I think I connect with my audience because my work is realistic and relatable. I’m a bit like Norman Rockwell in that I compose my scenes like a short story, with moments from everyday life. I’m always looking for a humorous angle. What I’m shooting for by having my work alongside highways is to present some public art for folks who may not visit an art gallery or museum this year, or rarely. They’re in their car simply getting from point A to point B, and they are likely thrown off by spotting these things off to the side of the road. I want that image to linger in their minds for several miles down the road. I am satisfied if they have been entertained on their journey.

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Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?

Hmmm…can’t think of anything of substance here…well, maybe this. I’ve been asked if it bothers me that once I’m dead and gone, and my work, which will have withered away shortly after I’m gone, that my career will only exist in photos and memories. My answer is no, since I don’t believe in an afterlife and it will be of no concern of mine how I’m thought of for generations and centuries to come. I’m content with maximizing my time on Earth and to ply my craft as long as I’m able.

An Interview with Filmmaker Kirby Warnock in Honor of the 25th Anniversary of “Return to Giant”

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James Dean and George Stevens on the set.

In the summer of 1955 the town of Marfa welcomed Hollywood to Texas. The film “Giantstarring James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rock Hudson left an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of generations of filmgoers around the world. In celebration of the 25th Anniversary of “Return to Giant” there will be a screening of the documentary at the location that welcomed the cast and crew of “Giant” during filming. The iconic Hotel Paisano will be hosting the event June 3, 2021 at 7 pm. I recently sat down with filmmaker Kirby Warnock to learn more about how the film came to be. 

Can you tell us a little about your earliest days in Texas? What are some of your most fond memories of that time? Why do you think it seems to make such a lasting impression on most people? 

I spent nearly three months out of every year out on our grandparents’ ranch near Fort Stockton. It’s only 84 miles from Marfa, so we were down there a lot. The best memories are the open spaces and getting to “play cowboy” in the 50’s and 60’s. We rode horses all day and had a great childhood.

What was it like to visit Marfa with your mother and brother back in 1957? What do you remember most about that particular trip?

My dad drove us out on the Evans ranch to see the remains of the Reata. Made a big impression on me because it was the only other 3-story building in the county, and it didn’t have a back. I thought part of it had burned down in a fire, but my mom said they used it to make the movie, “GIANT.” I thought it was about “the attack of the 50-foot man,” and didn’t see the film until 1972 or 73 when it was on NBC television.  Then that visit came rushing back to me. When Liz and Rock pull up in that car in front of the Reata I shouted, “I’ve been there!” (YouTube link to my dad’s home movies here: Giant Set, 1957  )

Why do you think the film Giant” seems to have had such an impact on the popular culture of our time? 

It represents Texas as we want it to be. Big, larger-than-life people in a big country, still holding onto that cowboy past in modern times.

What was it about it that led you to make a film about its filming?

I had heard stories out here from folks who remembered the 1955 location shoot. That was a big deal, because back then they didn’t make films about Texas IN Texas. “The Searchers” was shot in Monument Valley and all of the Roy Rogers westerns were shot in California, so “GIANT” looked like the west Texas I knew.

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Bob Hinkle and James Dean.

Are there any moments from the making of the documentary that stand out most in your mind?

Yes, Bob Hinkle recalling when he got the news that James Dean had died. Very emotional. You could tell he and Jimmy had grown very close during that shoot. They were already planning Dean’s next film, a biography of Billy the Kid, then it all ended suddenly. I also enjoyed Darlyne Freeman telling of when she and her girlfriends threw a Coke party for James Dean in Marfa. Fun stuff!

What were some of the challenges you faced in capturing everyones memories in film?

I couldn’t get Liz Taylor to talk to me. That was disappointing, but my understanding is that “GIANT” was not a particularly pleasant experience for her. She had just delivered a baby when MGM loaned her out to Warner Bros, so right after childbirth she had to go out to west Texas where it’s 100 degrees and in the middle of a 7-year drought. She also divorced her then-husband, Michael Wilding, during the shoot and started dating her new husband Mike Todd. It was a pretty rough emotional time for her, so I can see why she didn’t enjoy it. Who would want to talk about an unpleasant time in their life?

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James Dean with Edna Ferber.

Was there anything you were surprised to learn?

How amiable and approachable James Dean was. The Marfa town folk simply loved the guy. That surprised me because we all picture Dean as being brooding and moody, but everyone found him to be like one of them. It’s a stark contrast to his on-screen persona and the biographies about him that focus on his teen angst.

Do you have a particular interview in the piece that you hold most dear or do you value them equally?

I like Darlyne Freeman’s memories of the shoot. She was a majorette in the Marfa band at the time and got to perform for the cameras when Earl Holliman comes home from the war. Then she got to meet James Dean and hang out with Chill Wills and Monte Hale. It’s small-town Texas meets Hollywood, the stuff that dreams are made of.

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George Stevens Jr., Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and George Stevens.

Are your viewers surprised to see what Marfa was like before the artists took up residence there? How has it changed most since the summer of 1955? Do you think the town would have become as iconic as it is had it not been for the film Giant”? How do you think it changed the town most?

Marfa was a dying cattle town when we filmed the documentary back in 1996. The downtown was sitting empty, and there were no art galleries or trendy restaurants. It was more vibrant in 1955, but when we shot the doc, both movie theaters were out of business and the Hotel Paisano was sitting empty and abandoned. I think it would still be a draw because of “GIANT”, but now it is bustling with hipsters and artists. It’s odd, to me, but I’m not an art patron so I really don’t need to understand it. All I know is that Marfa is jumping now because of these changes.

What can attendees expect from the 25th Anniversary screening being held this coming June?

A chance to sit in the very same room where James Dean, Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor used to eat dinner every night and watch people’s recollections of that time. To be in the spot where it all happened is pretty cool, in my opinion. We’ll probably have a few remaining folks from the 1955 shoot on hand, but most of them have passed on by now, which makes me sad. Mainly you’ll get to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and that’s the key word, an experience. It’s something you can’t get on Instagram or Facebook.

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James Dean and Rock Hudson.

When did you first know you wanted to be a filmmaker? Who were some of your earliest influences?

When I made this film back in 1996. I just wanted to tell a story. It worked out okay. I don’t know if I had any “influences” but I loved the movies that John Ford made. He knew how to tell a story.

What advice would you offer to other wishing to pursue a career in film?

Get a thick skin, because you will be told “no” a lot. Don’t let it bring you down. Persevere!

Is there anything youd like to say in closing?

I think it’s amazing that a film made more than 60 years ago (GIANT) still has reach and influence today. Not many movies can say that. It’s also inspired other works, like “Fandango”, and “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.” I hope our documentary, “Return to Giant”, gives folks a snapshot of why “GIANT” still has a hold on us, and why it meant so much to the town folks of Marfa, all these years later. It truly was a unique location shoot. I can’t think of any other movie that enmeshed the locals in it as much as this one, and that’s really special.

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For more information about the upcoming event and to purchase tickets please see:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/return-to-giant-25th-anniversary-screenng-tickets-150032909471           

For more information on Hotel Paisano please see: https://hotelpaisano.com/

All images used under permission from CMG Worldwide. 

“Stone” by Phillip Shabazz

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 STONE

From an old cage, old grave where dew
diminishes the base of a statue, you break out
from the stone again. Inside the hour and a chance
for snow to deepen the air on this day,
you wear the sun’s calm face. Your eyes eat away
the haze where a December sky begins. It never ends
how the future grows gray in the hair,
and the past draws gifts. You linger
and look to a tree Christmas enough to light a god.
Brush away the rubble on your bare feet.
Off your shoulder, rocks fall like bells
swallowed by silence. The day unburies you.
Outside the dark shelter in a yard, the overseer of night
once sized you up—blues from which
your body was made to dwell inside the stone.
Weather its labyrinth of trenches and underpasses.
What bones bent in you turned discolored,
cave-coarse and yoked as a neck
could be beneath stone. So many songs,
caroling outside the door. The tidings
of red poinsettia and music carry the festive
ties up to where full voices mark
your need to empty yourself and be whole:
hand and heart remembered once more
and still here.

Phillip Shabazz is the author of three poetry collections, and a novel in verse. His poetry has been included in the anthologies, Literary Trails of the North Carolina Piedmont: A Guidebook, and Home Is Where: African-American Poetry from the Carolinas. Some previous publication credits in journals include, Across the Margin, Fine Lines, Galway Review, Hamilton Stone Review, Ham Lit, Impossible Task, ImpSpired, Obsidian, On The Seawall, and Louisville Review.

An Interview with Actor/Singer Ben Tinsley

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Texas native, actor Ben Tinsley recently appeared in the film Amaraica: They Lost Our Baby, which is slated for release on HBO in September 2021. The dramatic film takes a fictionalized closer look at the immigration system in America today.

What was it like growing up in Fort Worth when you did?

It was a different, much smaller, area in the 1970s.. But to many Texans at the time, it was still a “big city.” The fat stock show and rodeo were bigger than life. Journalism was still relevant. Disco was cool. The Texas Boys Choir had a huge, tall, sign that you could see from blocks away. Pancho’s All You Can Eat Mexican Food Buffet was still by Westcliff. The Colonial Golf Tournament was in full effect.

What are some of your most fond memories of those days?

Mayfest..and Octoberfest…and the stock show rodeo. Casa Manana being the premiere theater in town…Downtown comvention center programs…”A Place Called Christmas,” where we practiced and performed when I was in the Texas Boys Choir….The Littlest Wiseman, also a TBC-related Christmas annual production at Scott Theatre. And .. my best friend (to this day) Shane Danger and I driving up and down Camp Bowie looking for trouble.

How have things in Fort Worth changed most since then?

Everything. Everything has changed. Merry Go Round Hamburgers on Berry, where I had my first job at age 14? Gone. Sound Warehouse on Berry, where I worked and helped provide security for the rock band Ratt at age 19? Gone. The old Charlie Rose show on KXAS, where I performed with the Texas Boys Choir at age 11? Where we saw George Hamilton (dressed like Dracula to promote Love At First Bite) slide into a limo coming out of Charlie Rose’s studio? GONE. The old Star-Telegram office, where me and my sister hung out at as kids watching our Dad work? Where we also ended up working? GONE.

You grew up with both parents as journalists. What was that like?

I never got away with anything.

What would say is the most important thing you learned from them?

“Listen to your parents.”

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Actor Ben Tinsley, right, hit the red carpet in October with colleague Jacky Chao, left, director of the superhero film “Jackman.” The film was viewed at the “Press Play” film festival at the Angelika Theatre in Dallas. Tinsley was cast as “Professor Boa.”

As someone who has worked as a journalist, singer, actor, and dancer do you enjoy any one of those more than the other?

Music and acting are eternal. There is no one good way to approach either. There are many equally brilliant interpretations. These are the mysteries I enjoy chasing the most. As far as journalism? You never stop being a writer and you never stop asking questions.

Do you ever miss doing all of that since you decided to focus on acting and singing.

No. Not even a little bit.

Who were some your earliest influences when it comes to the world of acting? 

In addition to being a journalist, my Mom was also an actor at Casa Manana when I was a kid. Additionally, she was a literature professor. So. Mom would read a lot of Shakespeare to my very young sister and I, and show us televised performances of Elizabethan masterpieces such as Hamlet.

I was a big fan of Sir Lawrence Olivier because he CRUSHED IT as Hamlet. I always felt Kenneth Branaugh..was Olivier’s spiritual successor.

When Eddie Murphy hit stardom on Saturday Night Live during the 80s, I became a student of his from afar.Eddie Murphy has this comedic brilliance that has always blown me away. The fact that we were nearly the same age gave me hope I could one day be a performer.

MTV in the 1980s really sparked my creative and dramatic imagination. Both my actor’s mind and my writer’s mind.. There was a lot of interesting things going on in those videos.

My Dad was in a movie titled The 4-D Man. Way back in the day. He was never comfortable talking to me about it. But I tracked down the footage after he died. Pretty awesome stuff, really. 

It is important to note that my parents preceded me into both journalism and acting. My mom and I have both created, filmed and published our own documentaries. Our own movies.

Probably my hugest acting influence is Patty McCormick and her husband Dr. Leonard McCormick. I met them in 1986 at Tarrant County Junior.College South Campus when I was still a private in the Texas Army National Guard on the GI Bill.

That was ground zero for my true acting learning. A lot about Stanislavky. And exposure to the acting brilliance of my classmates Sean Matthews, Jim Cain, and Rodney Honeycutt. Among many others. Dennis Cainright. Charley Rubey.

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Ben Tinsley, left, is seen here alongside director Mark Rios during a scene from the mob movie “A Family Thing,” now avail on Amazon Prime.

What was it about their work that made you want to do pursue the craft yourself?

It was the magic they all wielded. I wanted it. I wanted nothing more than to be as fearless and powerful as they were and still are.

What was it like to film parts of Amaraica: They Lost Our Baby in the actual law office of Immigration Attorney Francisco Hernandez? Did your relationship with him come in handy when preparing for the role of an attorney yourself?

Apparently, there were some communication wires mixed up in regard to our using the office that day. Not really sure what happened.

But Francisco and I go way… back. Like, to 1985. He’s my brother from another mother. So when he realized I was part of this production, he felt a lot better about letting his office be used.

After that, the scenes were filmed without a hitch.

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Ben Tinsley, center, host of the Texas Newsroom show on Power Play radio in Dallas, discusses “Amaraica,” with its architect, visionary director Tim Sparks, and with immigration attorney Francisco Hernandez.

What are your feelings on the current Immigration system in the United States? In what ways would you most like to see it improved?

ICE must go.

ICE has become a symbol of terror and fear in the Latin community.

Babies taken away from mothers, involuntary sterilizations. ICE officers posing as cops and deporting all Latin-looking people they can get their hands on — even folks with the legal right to stay here.

ICE should be disbanded and replaced with a less political, less Third Reich-oriented, agency.

And every member of ICE who violated human rights under the Trump administration needs to be prosecuted.

What can our readers expect from the film?

An awesome, sad, and fascinating glimpse at a very real problem through the eyes, or camera lens, of visionary filmmaker Tim Sparks. And some amazing acting from everyone.

Athena Hayes and Ben Tinsley as police homicide detectives in “Never Odd Or Even.” (2019) Filmed in Nacogdoches.

Are you excited about it being picked up by HBO Max? When can we expect to be able to watch it there?

Tim says by September of next year. It has, I believe, already played in the Fort Worth-centric film festival. It won “Best Feature” in the New York Latino Film Festival. All because of Tim.

Do you have any interesting stories from the set you might at liberty to share with our readers?

Francisco was very dismayed to see that my Immigration lawyer character ate so many powdered donuts while sitting at his desk. (laughs)

He’s actually sent out advisories telling friends and colleagues the donuts were not his.

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Ben Tinsley and Shane Danger, friends since age 9, recently helmed the “Storage Flippers” proof of concept Reality TV show pilot.

What was it like to be part of a film that was filmed in your hometown?

It was awesome. Texas cities need to provide more tax incentives for movies to be filmed in the Lone Star state. Texas scenery looks so amazing in movies!

What do you hope the viewer takes away from this particular film?

A sense of empathy with this problem and possibly even a feeling of responsibility to help end it.

What projects are you looking forward to working on next?

I’m using the Nic Cage method: As many as possible.

Is there anything you’d like to say in closing? 

It took me 30 years as a college-degreed news reporter to admit to myself, what I REALLY wanted to do was be a full-time film actor. 

So that’s what I became. It’s never too late to change course.

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An Interview with Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult

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Formed in Stony Brook, NY in 1967 Blue Oyster Cult is best known for hits like (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, Godzilla, and Burnin’ for You. With over 25 million records sold to date they have established themselves as one of the most iconic bands of our time. I recently sat down with Buck Dharma to learn a little more about the October 9, 2020 release of their long-awaited album, The Symbol Remains available on CD/LP/Limited Edition Color LP/Digital.

What was it like growing up on Long Island when you did? How did your father being a jazz musician affect your love of music early on?

Long Island was great in the ’60’s. With the exception of the Vietnam war, and political assassinations, things were pretty good for young people and the country. My dad turned me on to a lot of his music, the big bands and the cool school jazz combos. I saw a few of those artists live, Chet Baker and Maynard Ferguson. Horn players made an impression on my lead guitar style. It’s funny my dad never really “got” rock and roll, although he got comfortable with contemporary pop music eventually.

Are there any moments from the course of your career that stand out most in your mind today?

It’s almost a blur but every rung of the career ladder was a thrill. I got to see much of the world I otherwise would not have. I met a lot of great people from all over. Musically, we did great performances in every place, from clubs to stadiums. Seeing England in the early ’70’s was great, it still had a lot of the vibe of Hard Day’s Night.

Why do you think some of your most popular songs have become timeless? How does it feel to see them still being enjoyed by fans of all ages?

I don’t know why the songs that have endured did so. I guess they resonate with the mass consciousness. I’m gratified that they did.

How have you evolved as a musician since your earliest days? Do you feel grateful to still be doing what you love?

Sure, as a musician, I appreciate melody more than ever, and sentiment. Yes, I’m happy to play and sing as long as I can do it well. When it’s time to stop, I will. 

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What advice would you offer the musicians of tomorrow?

Do what you love doing, no matter what it is. You have to work hard, so you might as well enjoy your job. Creating music, try and stand out from others. Make your own way.

What can fans expect from The Symbol Remains? What did you enjoy most about this album?

Symbol is BOC 2020. The 14 songs are wide ranging in style and sound. I’m proud of how good it sounds and how good the playing is.

What do you think is key to a life well lived?

Surround yourself with people that want the best for you, and reciprocate.

What are your personal feelings on life and death and what comes after? How do you hope to be remembered when your time comes?

Luckily, I have recordings that will be my legacy. I’m good on that score. I would like to think there is more out there than meets our eyes. I will leave this world curious about what’s next. 

Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?

Dear Readers: Since there’s no radio for new records from legacy artists, give The Symbol Remains a listen on YouTube or streaming services. I think you’ll like it.

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A New Interview with John Lehr

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John Lehr is best known for his work on the series’ Quickdraw, 10 Items or Less, Jailbait, and Jesse. During the recent pandemic he starred alongside Joseph D. Reitman in the film Coronavirus Conspiracy.

How have you and the family been passing time during the Pandemic? What are some of the most challenging issues you have faced during this time?

Basically, the wheels have totally come off the wagon at the Lehr household. I’d like to say we held it together for a bit at the start of the pandemic but honestly, we have been running around panicked with our hair on fire from day one. I’m surprised we are all still fed and have clean clothes. The kids are in computer school which is a nightmare. I dream about the days when I could dump them at school for a few hours of peace. My home office has a connecting door to my boy’s bedroom. It’s like having the most annoying, snooping co-worker of all time. He’s constantly (and by constantly, I mean well over 100 times a day) barging into my office to “chat” or see “what’s up” or wondering “what I’m working on.” If this were a real workplace I would have reported him to HR a long time ago. Instead, I have to love him, hug him or feed him depending. 

What would you say is the most important thing you have learned from this strange year?

Being a recovering addict/alcoholic, my fallback position is hard wired to be a cynical glass half empty point of view (unless it is half full of bourbon of course) but I have to say I have some genuine gratitude that I didn’t see coming in all of this. There is no doubt this is a horrible time and the forecasts don’t look great but most of the people around me have found some good things to come from this nightmare as well. I am spending more time with my family (which is mostly a good thing) and the shutdown of the entertainment industry has forced me to take a step back and look at the lay of the land. I’m not stopping to smell the roses but I am walking a bit more slowly when I pass them. 

How do you think the Pandemic has affected the film and television industry most? Do you think it will ever fully recover from this year?

The pandemic makes something that is already hard to do… even harder. I don’t know if movies as we know it will be back the way they were, but what do I know. As to shooting, I just worked on a film that worked under the covid protocols and it was definitely different — smaller crew footprint, daily tests, mask enforcement but MOST importantly — no craft services (snacks)! WTF?! It’s always cracked me up that the entertainment industry is the only business I know of that requires snacks at all times. Don’t get me wrong — I love trail mix as much as anyone, but now I’m discovering I can act without it!

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What was it like working with Joseph Reitman on Coronavirus Conspiracy?

Joe is a really talented actor and I learned a ton. As you know my background is improv and Coronavirus Conspiracy was a legit scripted feature with only two characters so it was a huge challenge for me. I know Joe from the Geico caveman days and was thrilled to work with him again. I’m also a fan of his work. He was a total pro — as ready to rehearse and work but fun and receptive as well. Since we were in every scene we had to get the script DOWN almost like a play. I’ve seen a rough cut and he kills in this film. I can’t wait for people to see it.

How did the two of you first meet?

Joe and I met on the set of one of the first Geico Caveman commercial shoots. We were both already in makeup so I had to google him up to see what he looked like. We’ve stayed in touch over the years and I became a fan of his work. When I found out he was co-starring in Safer at Home, I was in 100%.

Can you tell our readers a little about the film and what to expect from it?

It takes place during covid back in March when the lockdown was first underway. At the start, my character wakes up in his bedroom (or rather he thinks it is his bedroom) after heading out to the grocery store for toilet paper and finds himself chained to the wall. And things get weird from there. I sort of describe it as Waiting for Godot meets Brazil.

When is it expected to be released and where will we be able to find it?

That I don’t know. There is a facebook page and I know there is a rough cut already because I’ve seen it! I think the producers have it on the fast track since it is set during covid.

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Did it feel good to just be working during such times as these?

Oh hell yes. So many communities and industries have been hit so hard and Hollywood is one of them. I know crew people and actors who have had nothing since March. It’s really tough on families. I was nervous about shooting during covid of course but I think the unions and industry have done a good job with the covid protocols. I’ve been doing a lot of comedy on zoom (particularly my Cold Sober Comedy show) but there ain’t nothing like being on a set.

Do you think Hulu will ever bring back Quick Draw for a third season? Do you miss working on that?

You never know but there has been no indication that they are looking to bring Quickdraw back. Man that was a fun show. The good news is we all knew it was a special time while we were making it. Everyone had a blast and we all have stayed in touch — mainly because the fans refuse to let it die. I will tell you this: Nancy Hower and I have a feature script ready to go!

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What other projects are you looking forward to working on when all of this has passed?

I just finished acting in pilot and am producing another pilot I hope to pitch in the new year. I’m getting ready to pitch a show now but I’m not writing that one. I’ve been performing on zoom a lot. I’m doing a zoom version of my “comedic lecture” solo show which I am calling Social Distance Learning with John Lehr. Like my live show, I discuss my recovery in a humorous yet meaningful way and have added interactive elements that people seem to like. 

What do you think is key to a life well lived?

Help others.

Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?

I’m shooting an improv based project with Bob Clendenin in mid-November!

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