Another Interview with Shane Stanley

 

Matthew, Shane & Danielle

Matthew Lawrence, Shane Stanley, Danielle C. Ryan.

Shane Stanley has a long line of creative ancestry from his Great-Grandfather who was a stage actor in New England to his grandfather, the artist Frederick Stanley, and down to his father, filmmaker Lee Stanley, the drive to create seems to be an inherited trait.

As a child actor he appeared in over 100 projects before moving on to work behind the camera. Best known for his work on “Gridiron Gang” with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson he has produced and directed countless television commercials, music videos, and motion pictures, as well as writing the book, “What You Don’t Learn in Film School: A Complete Guide to Independent Filmmaking” (which is required reading at many of the top learning institutions). His most recent work can be found on the action film, “Double Threat” starring Danielle C. Ryan, Matthew Lawrence, and Dawn Olivieri.

 

What would you say has been your favorite film to work on so far?

You know, every production is special, and the creative experience is never the same. I quip each film is like a love affair. Exciting, new, and gives you butterflies when you get the “go ahead” but soon after starts to become ever consuming of your thoughts, your time, energy, and emotions. Ultimately, you know it will come to an end and leave a lot of scars in the process. You take away so much from each production; the people you meet, the hurdles, the nice surprises, and those scars… oh, there are many scars, (laughs). I would say “Double Threat” is special because we created and filmed the movie during the heart of the pandemic. Six months after being on lockdown, I called writer, CJ Walley and said, “We have a choice; 2020 can kick our ass or we can make it our bitch!” We chose the latter, had a script in six days, casted the picture and called our crew and went out and made a movie in record time. It was being back with everyone that made it so special because we had all been in isolation for over six months and everyone was there for the love of the game and to reconnect with their film family. We didn’t know if we really get anything when it was done or if we’d even be able to finish shooting with so many problems happening on the few other films that were shooting at the same time. We took over 400 COVID tests during our four-week period and not one person popped positive. I accredit the discipline our cast and crew had to see it through to honor our protocols and stay safe so we could cross the finish line.

What was it like to run Charlie Sheen’s production company? You have said you learned too much about life and the industry there. Can you elaborate on that?

My father got me into the business at nine months old where I worked as a child actor and crewed on his films when I was able to start lifting gear and understanding what was happening, and that was a safe, family environment with a lot of love and respect with an atmosphere of unity. Much of the work I did growing up was on his projects or with people we knew so I was sheltered from a lot of the bullshit and drama that comes with the business. I worked in and around my comfort zone until I was about 22, then had the opportunity to branch out into the television network and studio film system. But I was an underling, working on sitcoms as a production assistant or assistant coordinator for a movie of the week so I wasn’t privy to the fights, the casting couches or crazy that seems to infect our industry. When I started working with Charlie, my exposure to ‘real Hollywood’ went from 0-60 in a blink of an eye. I want to emphasize during my time running his production company, Charlie was nothing but wonderful and had assembled a great team. But it was the people I was thrusted into interacting with I hadn’t experienced before that really was an eye opener. Studio executives, agents, and managers, the hanger-oners and all the baggage that comes with it. The things I experienced working with “Hollywood proper” (or Ho-Ho Wood, as I call it) really opened my eyes to the real world and all the things first-hand you only read about. When you’re being flown first-class to Cannes and other prestigious events, you basically have the world at your fingertips and people will do or say anything to get to someone like Charlie and you must filter a lot of that out. Not something that was easy at 22 nor that I was necessarily good at. What’s funny to me is Charlie has a reputation. During my three years working with and around him daily, I never saw him take a drug or mistreat anyone. He’s got a huge heart and yes, he’s a bonified “Hollywood Bad Boy” but one of the coolest human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing who sincerely wants those around him to rise and shine. In our industry its rare a collogue wants you to succeed. Our industry is filled with the most insecure people you will ever meet. Charlie was all about helping those around him to be the best they could be and made sure they got the recognition and introductions to get to the next level. Many of the people who have helped me along the way are people I met directly through Charlie like Zalman King, Cassian Elwes, Avi Lerner, and so many.

Why do you think it is important to be able to learn something from both the good and the bad moments that we encounter in life?

Life is unkind and sadly, now more than ever filled with a lot more of the bad and the ugly as opposed to the good. I have always learned and grown from adversity, my mistakes, and getting sucker punched and try to take those lessons with me moving forward for the simple reason of not making the same mistakes twice or how to make sure you don’t get yourself in situations that will put you in a bad place. One thing I really pride myself on is how people are treated on our sets. Yes, we’ve encountered our share of assholes and when we do, make sure we don’t involve them anymore, but I have found respect and kindness go so much further than a sharp tongue or tossing hot coffee on someone because you’re not getting your way, or in most Hollywood cases, are so bloody insecure about yourself, take it out on others to feel better. We’re a film family and yes, family has its ups and down but it’s from the bad I have seen that makes me really strive to have something different on our sets and how we conduct ourselves.

Shane & Matthew Lawrence

Shane Stanley and Matthew Lawrence

How did it feel to be back out filming after the COVID lockdown? Oh, it was wonderful. Almost like a reunion of dear friends, everyone coming together who had been apart for too long. It was almost like a movie within a movie where the end of the world is near and there’s only the few survivors who have outrun whatever the boogie man is, and you don’t know what’s happening to the rest of society. We had built our own bubble for a month and a half, and it was really kind of special. As I said before, it was evident people were there because they missed it and really wore their heart on their sleeves. Due to the mandates placed upon us by the unions, with super skeleton crews and all the other COVID protocols, we all had to wear several hats. I usually run a very thin crew which usually consists of 30-40 people. But we never really exceeded twelve, so it was imperative everyone did their part and when you were done with your work, look around and see who you can help. I even looked over at one point and saw one of our stars helping the grip department tear down C-stands. I mean where do you see that on a non-student film?

How do you think the COVID experience will change the film industry of the future?

I think it was a reminder that we can do so much with so little. I think COVID will be with us for quite some time in one way or another and we will feel the sting of it for the rest of my life anyway. But like in so many other ways, things eventually go back to ‘normal’ as it has in society, it will happen in the industry as well. There’s still mask mandates and testing and certain protocols, but now that we’ve learned to function and interact with COVID, were not as scared or freaked out by the unknown. I know filmmakers and actors are doing everything they can to get away with not following the rules set upon us and ya know, I don’t blame them. I didn’t say I agree, but I understand. The costs for us to follow COVID protocols on “Double Threat” were over $40,000. That was a huge hit, especially on such a tiny film that we went into way underfunded and really cut into our production value. I just wrapped a film; “Night Train” and it was just as bad, but we had a proper budget so were better prepared and had the padding. But it keeps me up at night thinking about what we could have gotten additionally with that kind of money put ON the screen and not going into putting Q-tips up people’s noses and having someone on set reminding us to keep six feet apart. I can say proudly with a much bigger cast and crew, again we got through that film without a single positive test.

Do you think most people in the industry will have a different view of their work and what they hope to accomplish with it

I think for us ‘indie-rats’ yes. For sure, because if you’re following the rules – spending a ton of money that won’t go to the screen which in turn will often cause you to keep your crews smaller I can’t imagine how it couldn’t change your mindset or approach. Will if effect Hollywood proper? Well, “Jurassic World: Dominion” was the first studio film to go into production during the pandemic and besides the inconveniences, they had endless resources and a full staff because they could afford it. When you make a $200 million film, adding a few hundred thousand dollars to a line item that says “COVID” on the budget isn’t a big deal as compared to us little guys who may have $500,000 or less to make a film and it can really hinder you.

What did that whole experience teach you about the importance of entertainment in general?

It reminded me that it’s ‘only a movie.’ While filming I lost six people very close to me to COVID and that’s not including family members and friends of our cast and crew. We were dealing with the George Floyd protests, various riots, an insurrection, etc. etc. So much shit was going on – and constantly – yet here we were in the middle of the desert playing in the dirt like a bunch of kids. We’re a blink of an eye to the hands of time and, especially now with everything going on and so quickly so it makes you think; “do we really matter other than offering 90 minutes of escapism to the few that actually tune in to see what we’ve made?” My money says, “no.”

Shane & Dawn Olivieri

Shane Stanley and Dawn Olivieri

What is the one thing you dislike most about the entertainment industry and what do you love most about it?

What I dislike most is also in part of what I love the most, the relationships. I dislike the superficial relationships. You know, when you’re hot, you’re hot. When you’re not, well… It’s kind of like that in every industry but with entertainment in general there’s a lot of fluff and relationships built on sand. I get it, from the crew standpoint you work from gig-to-gig, so you bounce around a lot and it’s hard to set roots. But on the executive side, it’s all bullshit. When they need you, there are times the phone rings off the hook, and you’ll get over 300 calls or texts a week and when they don’t, crickets. You may only hear from your wife or mother until well, you know, your next project starts up. I just wish people could be more genuine or transparent in this industry and I think what pisses me off the most, is when they do ignore you for months or years at a time, they have no shame and calling you when they need you again. I get it, it’s like that in life a lot, but it’s such a small industry and you encounter and need the same people often through the years, I just wish it wasn’t so full of superficial cons.

As someone who must be constantly moving, what do you like to do when you finally take the time to relax?

Ha! That’s funny. Relax… yeah, sadly that’s not in my DNA. My poor wife. When I finished up “Night Train” in April, I told her I would take the next couple months to chill and do whatever she wanted to do until late June, when I start prepping my next picture. It’s now mid-June and I haven’t had a day to do anything but work. She’s amazing and gets it, but it pains me that my work is never done. We do take time for each other every day, but we scrapped a trip to Europe with some dear friends last minute because of the responsibilities that arose and production’s need for my involvement in casting and location hunting if we wanted this picture I’m shooting to happen. It’s been that cycle for me since 2003 and I can say honestly, I have not had a real vacation or check out from the grind in almost 20 years.

DoubleThreat_KA_900x1285

You most recently released “Double Threat.” Can you tell us a little about that one?

Well, it’s about a woman living with a split personality disorder who gets entangled with a strait-laced man on a pilgrimage to scatter his late brother’s ashes. Problem is, she’s being hunted by the mob, so this poor guy’s self-healing road trip becomes hell on earth. What we learn is one side of her is the sweetest, girl next door woman you could ever meet but when the shit hits the fan, she becomes a lethal assassin. One thing I am most proud of, and it isn’t my doing, is our star, Danielle C. Ryan did all her own stunts. Matthew Lawrence did as well, which was primarily driving during our chase scenes but Danielle, wow. Check out her fight scenes and horse-riding skills and tell me that isn’t mind blowing. That’s all on her. She’s the real star and special about this film, it isn’t me.

Do you ever get nervous about how films will be received by the public?

No. Of course you would like a film to be well-received and loved by all and do remarkably well. I have been very fortunate to be a part of some very successful projects and some stinkers I wish did better. But you know I learned something about 15 years ago… they’re only movies and the only difference between a hit and a stinker is you get more ‘atta-boys’ than you do on the duds. The ride lasts just about as long and people move on to the ‘next’ a week after the film comes out regardless, so I have learned not to get wrapped up in reviews or public opinion. I just love making movies with the people I love and if the public gets excited about it, great. If not, I know I loved the experience and I hope those involved did too. Of course, you’d love to be loved, but as I mentioned early, we live in such fast-moving times, by the time you revel in the success of “Top Gun: Maverick”, we’re all pumped about “Jurassic World: Dominion”. Next week it’ll be another “Star Wars” installment or a Marvel movie. You just can’t keep up and love you or hate you, the world will move on and quickly.

Your next film “Night Train” is also an action film. What was it about this story that made you want to bring it to life on film?

What I have been focused on for the past few years and plan to continue with is making movies about strong female characters. I want to take the Hal Needham approach of his films from the 70’s like “Cannonball Run” and “Smokey & the Bandit” but put the women in the driver’s seat and let the boys ride shotgun and “Night Train” does just that. A single mom struggling to make ends meet as a Hollywood teamster evades capture by a ruthless FBI Agent while running black market medical supplies in her legendary souped-up pickup truck. The FBI agent is also a woman, hence “Smokey & the Bandit”. We have our star also as part of the 200 MPH Club, so we had 10-time World Record holder Valerie Thompson ride her motorcycle for us at almost 200 MPH, the ONLY stunt Danielle C. Ryan didn’t do in our film, as we really like to let women in our films show the world what they’re made of and capable of doing.

What do you enjoy most about working on action films?

I love that no matter what is scripted, you always, always get something different that you’d never expect or prepare for – and in a good way. The fight scenes in “Double Threat” are second to none. Trust me. The chase scenes in “Night Train” are even better. What was interesting about “Night Train” was that the script had about a 10-page chase scene written in that was very good involving our two heroines. But while shooting, it took on its own personality and we ended up going in an entirely different direction with it, which I think plays out much better. You don’t get that kind of element of surprise when doing drama or rom coms. But when you break out the heavy artillery, you strap in, hope for the best, prepare for the worse and expect the unexpected which has always been a huge blessing for me, and a hell of a lot of fun!

Danielle C. Ryan & Matthew Lawrence

Danielle C. Ryan and Matthew Lawrence

I understand you will also be directing a studio film on a romantic comedy next; can you tell us more about that?

I can’t talk too much about it (yet) because with those contracts come a lot of NDAs, but I will say it’s a great project I am really looking forward to being a part of. It’s a faith-based film but with a lot more edge, romance, and action than the studio or genre is used to which is why I think they called on me. I was absolutely honored and humbled that they did, and I only hope that I can do them proud and do the story justice.

Do you think it is important that a filmmaker work across as many genres of film as possible?

To a point, sure. I am not someone who would pursue Sci-Fi or horror. They’re not my thing and I don’t really have a passion to do them. But there are so many genres out there and I have done work in most, so I think it’s good to flex those muscles when the opportunity arises. I like to be stretched and you never know where or what it can lead to or bring in the future. Either way, I am embracing it with my whole heart and am excited about it and the new relationships I am making along the way. One thing for sure, is I am out of my comfort zone, especially when it comes to the pre-production of the film because its studio backed. I traditionally am involved from concept-to-delivery of a picture and the script was brought to me with a partial cast in place and a Line Producer and film editor were part of the package as well. I do all my own line producing and editing myself on my in-house films, so it’s kind of strange to just focus on the directing and helping as much as I can in producing it, which I do from soup to nuts traditionally.

Is there any one genre you enjoy working in more than others?

I love our action comedies and action thrillers. I am not going to lie, those are my favorite but again, I enjoy a challenge and working out of my comfort zone, so I am always open to work in different genres. Again, Sci-Fi and horror, I am not interested in, but you have adventure, romance, comedy, action, thrillers, drama, and the like out there and I love to work in all of them and am open to explore ways in doing so quite often and several are in deep development for the future.

How do you decide which projects you want to bring to life on film?

As an indie-rat I’m lucky if I get to make one, maybe two films a year. Each of these films will take 18 months out of my life from start to finish, so I must really think things through. Is this something I want to work on for the next year-and-a-half? Is this a story, characters, and a film package which I will be editing for several months I can stomach sitting through 300 times until it leaves the nest? Is this something I will (hopefully) be proud to put my name on and is it something that will translate abroad and earn our financiers a return on their investment? I don’t make movies for North America, red carpet events in Hollywood, or Instagram likes during the process. I make movies I hope we can sell around the globe. There are roughly 54 territories and 172 countries that buy films. North America is one territory consisting of mainly the US and English-speaking Canada. So, I consider if the genre or story is going to translate. I involve sales agents and distributors early on to see if it checks the boxes and we think globally for casting. Just because we don’t go after the A-listers, it doesn’t mean our cast ensemble isn’t a valuable package overseas. Often our cast consists of people who are huge stars in far corners of the globe, recurring on TV series from yesteryear that are broadcasting in over 100 countries every day. So here, maybe an actor is known and maybe they’re not, but globally they can carry a lot more weight. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gone into some projects knowing they wouldn’t make a dime overseas and “Gridiron Gang” is a classic example. But when you have a star like Dwayne Johnson and it becomes HIS passion piece and a studio is committed to throw tens of millions of dollars at it and assures you 3,200 hundred screens in the US alone, it’s a different animal. When you make an indie, especially now, you’re looking at a cable TV or a streaming deal domestically but overseas you can really make a huge splash in theaters, television, and brick and mortar video stores which still have life in several territories. I also think long term. Is this a film that will help bolster our catalogue 10, 15 or even 20 years from now so collectively, we have a great package of films we can re-sell for many years to come. As I’ve grown older, I of course want to make films I enjoy or would want to watch that I can execute within the budgets I can secure funding for but also, I really look at the business side of things before pulling the trigger. I have just been lucky lately to be able to make films that for me, get me excited and check those international boxes to give our investors the peace of mind.

You asked how we decide on which projects we want to bring to life. That is a great question and one I explain often to writers in my classes, especially who are shopping their scripts around and wonder why it’s so hard to get a movie made. I break down for them that their own passion piece must go through so many business decisions from a committee of folks who if they miss, and produce something that tanks, they cost a studio millions of dollars and everyone their job. Much like in the music business of old, if an A&R rep says “no” they’ve got a better chance of keeping their job. Writers especially are so myopic and every one of them believe they’re either sitting on the next “Whiplash”, “Game of Thrones” or whatever the flavor of the month might be. I love the passion and would never want to extinguish anyone’s hopes or dreams for their work to come to fruition but very rarely a non-produced writer really sees the big picture and all the elements that go into deciding if a film is globally marketable or can translate or is worth a company’s time to invest in.

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

Thank you for such a great interview, Tina. I always enjoy getting questions from you, they come from a pure heart and from someone who cares – and it’s evident. I look forward to our next.

DoubleThreat_KA_896x504

Double Threat” can be found on the Amazon Prime, iTunes, InDemand, Vudu/Fandango Now, Vubiquity, Dish, Hoopla, Microsoft Store/Xbox, Google Play, DirecTV, and Redbox platforms.

Amok Books Announces New Edition of “Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia” for the 75th Anniversary of the Murder

JohnGilmore

Author John Gilmore in front of residential hotel where Black Dahlia suspect died in fire.

 

LOS ANGELESJan. 3, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — On January 15, 1947, the Black Dahlia murder hit Los Angeles like a bombshell. The savage death of beautiful 22-year-old Elizabeth Short, an aspiring starlet and nightclub habitué known as the “Black Dahlia,” commanded the attention of post-WWII America. In the seventy-five years since her murder, the Black Dahlia has become a magnetic icon in American pop culture, a mythical symbol of noir Hollywood. With Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia, acclaimed author John Gilmore plumbs the dark core of this terrifying story. Here is the real Elizabeth Short—the enigmatic Black Dahlia.

The Black Dahlia murder—unlike such earlier headline-grabbing cases as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and the Lindbergh kidnapping—was the first to grip the psyche of post-war America with its stark carnality. The question of who killed the Black Dahlia stands today as one of the most intractable mysteries in the annals of true crime.

Director David Lynch described Severed as “the most satisfying and disturbing conclusion to the Black Dahlia case. After reading Severed, I feel like I truly know Elizabeth Short and her killer.” In his hard-boiled yet haunting prose, Gilmore evokes some of the spookiest corridors of old-time Los Angeles, the wartime world of Hollywood bars, dance halls and rooming houses where, as the author puts it, “no one remembers the names.” Severed also unfolds the tangled inside story of the police investigation into the murder and the Hearst-stoked media frenzy that paralleled it.

Severed remains the first non-fiction book to offer a documented exploration of the Black Dahlia case endorsed by law enforcement and forensic science experts. Gilmore reveals the twisted psychology and down-and-out life story of the murder suspect, including transcripts of his taped “indirect confession.” In his book The Cases That Haunt Us, legendary FBI profiler John E. Douglas (author of Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit) states that “Gilmore has done extensive research into the Short case. . . Had Detective St. John had the opportunity to interview Arnold Smith, the outcome might have been different.”

Publishers Weekly declared that Severed “delves deeply into one of Hollywood’s most celebrated murder cases.” Through Gilmore’s relentless spade work, the spectral luster of this most spectacular unsolved murder in American crime history seems not diminished but enhanced. The updated third edition of Severed includes a new foreword and afterword, expanded photo section, index and never-before-published evidence and forensic material from the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office. Ultimately, John Gilmore boils down the undying allure of the case to this haiku-like equation: “The pale white body severed in two and left for the world to view, and her name: Black Dahlia.” 

About the Author:
John Gilmore has been internationally acclaimed for his true crime books, literary fiction and Hollywood memoirs and biographies. Described by the Sydney Morning Herald as “the quintessential L.A. noir writer,” it is fitting that Gilmore should be the one to have penetrated the mystery of this archetypal Los Angeles murder. Gilmore’s father was an LAPD officer at the time of the Black Dahlia murder, his mother was a would-be starlet with MGM and Gilmore himself was a rebellious young actor in the ’50s, carousing with the likes of James DeanDennis Hopper and Vampira. John Gilmore died in Los Angeles in 2016.

Available online:
Amazon
https://www.amazon.com/dp/1878923315/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_2ABTFH9MK4X17TS9VG7W
Barnes & Noble
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/severed-john-gilmore/1100238397?ean=9781878923318
Bookshop.org
https://bookshop.org/books/severed-the-true-story-of-the-black-dahlia-9781878923318/9781878923318

Contact:
Stuart Swezey
Publisher, Amok Books
323-219-0363
www.amokbooks.com

SOURCE Amok Books

Amok Books Black Dahlia by John Gilmore

Cover, Severed: True Story of the Black Dahlia by John Gilmore

An Interview with Jerry Payne on James Dean & Fairmount

JerryP

Dave & Jerry Payne at the Shell Service Station.

Jerry Payne is a well-known and beloved native of Fairmount, Indiana. He is, of course, the inspiration behind Jerry Payne Days which features a vintage tractor show. He was the owner of the Shell Service Station, which later became, Payne’s Service. Growing up in that same business he became acquainted with James Dean via the friendship of their fathers. It was an honor to have the chance to put some of those memories down in writing. Many thanks to Mark Kinnaman for taking the time to record his answers for me as I couldn’t be there myself.

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

Jerry Payne: It was a wonderful experience. I was born in 1939. I got to finish high school at Fairmount High School. Life was simple then. World War II was over and the Korean War hadn’t started yet. Life was simple. It was simple that I can’t explain how simple it was. Anyone could find a job. I had a friend who worked at the RCA the last two years that we were in high school. Fisher Body came to town. One of his friends said, “They’re hiring at Fisher Body. Let’s go put in an application.” They went to put the application in and as soon as they filled it out the guy said, “Do you want to go to work?” So he worked in two factories the same day, and retired from Fisher Body after thirty years of service.

Tina Ayres: What do you love most about living in Fairmount? Why do you think it has such appeal to so many people from all over the world?

Jerry Payne: The most fond memory was that life was simple then. There wasn’t anything that couldn’t be achieved. If you decided to do something you could get it done. It is the hub of the universe. There is no other town this small in the United States that people from all over the world come to visit. It is a friendly place and life is still simple here. People from all over the world come here and enjoy the simple life.

Tina Ayres: What was it like to see your father at work? What would you say is the most important thing you learned from him? How did it feel to follow in his shoes by running the station yourself? Do you ever miss that?

Jerry Payne: It is the hub of the universe. There is no other town this small in the United States that people from all over the world come to visit. It is a friendly place and life is still simple here. People from all over the world come here and enjoy the simple life. The most important thing I learned from him was honesty. Running the station, it was something I grew up around and doing. We served three generations of people in Fairmount and it was probably the most heart wrenching decision that I ever had to make to decide to close.

Tina Ayres: Is it true that he and Winton Dean were friends?

Jerry Payne: Yes.

Tina Ayres: Do you happen to remember the first time you met James Dean?

Jerry Payne: When his mother passed away he came to our house with his father. We spent time just talking. We were always long time friends with the Deans and the Winslows. My grandfather and his grandfather farmed together as well as having a trucking business together. When James Dean went to high school he parked his motorbike here to keep the kids from messing with it. And when I saw him on the screen it was the same guy I saw at my house or at the service station.

Mark Kinnaman: And you sort of married into the Dean family. Your wife was a Dean right?

Jerry Payne: Yes. She and James Dean shared the same great grandfather.

Tina Ayres: I have heard tell that Jimmy would often stop in with his father when Winton would be visiting your father. How would the two of you pass the time on those occasions?

Jerry Payne: Kicking rocks. We lived on a gravel road we’d go out kick rocks. Took a quarter, we lived close to a railroad track, we took a quarter and laid it on the track, let the train run over it and smash it. We talked about whether or not we liked Lee Riders or Levi’s 501’s. He chose Lee Riders because they had a zipper fly he didn’t like the button fly.

Tina Ayres: Do you have any stories to tell of him that people might be surprised to hear?

Jerry Payne: Not really. He was just like anyone who you grew up with that you saw daily or occasionally and when I saw him on the screen I was amazed at how in “Giant” he was introduced with the same sized lettering as Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson.

Mark Kinnaman: Adeline Nall told me, “If you want to see what Jimmy was like watch “East of Eden” because it is just Jimmy on the screen.” Did you think the same thing when you saw it?

Jerry Payne: Oh yeah. Her direction, she was our drama coach and speech teacher, and her direction is to know your lines, know the position that your stage position should be, and just be yourself. As soon as you do something other than that you will look like you are acting. And he blew Lee Strasberg out of the water at the Actor’s Studio in New York by just being himself and taking the direction as he was supposed to be on the stage or on the screen.

Tina Ayres: Did you ever get to see him the few times he made back to Fairmount after becoming an accomplished actor?

Jerry Payne: Yes. They always had a Sweetheart Dance at the high school on Valentine’s Day or near Valentine’s Day. He came by got some gas. Said, “Are you going to the dance?” I said, “No. I got to stay at the station and work.” The photographer was with him. He introduced me to Dennis Stock. They went to the dance.  Many, many of my classmates were there and in pictures that Stock took.

Tina Ayres: How did you feel upon learning of his early passing?

Jerry Payne: My mother was friends with the telephone operator in town. When the Winslows got the call that he had been killed the telephone operator called my mother. I can’t remember what time it was. I was in bed asleep. She came in and woke me up and said that Jimmy had died. So we were the second group of people to know of his passing.

Tina Ayres: What is the one thing about him that you remember most?

Jerry Payne: How do you describe what you know about a friend that you’ve had for many years? He was nine years older than I am and he always treated me as an equal. When you were having a conversation with him he was always on stage. He might laugh uncontrollably while you were having a conversation, or he could cry tears just like that. And he might start crying, but he always wants to know what your reaction would be to what he was doing at the time.

Tina Ayres: How do you think he would feel about the annual festival held in his honor?

Jerry Payne: It is awfully hard to say. I don’t know. I wouldn’t be able to answer that. I wouldn’t know how he’d feel.

Tina Ayres: Why do you think people are still so fascinated by his life?

Jerry Payne: He was good looking, very personable, and when you saw him on screen you were looking at what James Dean would be like if you were talking to him. Our nephew Victor Dean and our daughter Jenny Payne were born on February 8 like he was so February 8 is an important date in the Payne and Dean family.

Tina Ayres: As someone who has been blessed with a long life, what do you think is the key to a life well lived?

Jerry Payne: Honesty.

Tina Ayres: How do you hope to be remembered when your own time comes?

Jerry Payne: I just want to be remembered as plain Jerry Payne.

Mark Kinnaman: Who sold candy to the kids? You told me one time you sold as much candy as you did gasoline.

Jerry Payne: Almost. Sold a lot of candy. The grade school is just a block away and the high school was two blocks away. Sold three musketeers bars to Jim Davis, the Garfield creator. It was always good to visit with the kids when they came through. There are people who have been candy customers here that have told one or two generations after who I am and I have complete strangers say, “Oh hi Jerry.” It makes me wonder how they would know me without me knowing them. That is part of Fairmount’s friendliness. Everybody in Fairmount is very, very friendly and we welcome everyone that we see that comes through town. When the station was open, after James Dean’s death we knew every car in town and anyone that was a strange car would pull up and without them asking I’d say, “Okay, turn here…go out follow main street on out to the cemetery go across the little bridge to the first driveway that goes in, turn right and his grave his right on top of the hill on the right hand side. Fairmount has always been a very, very friendly place to live and as with all little town if you don’t know what you are doing your neighbor does and they will tell you. When the Museum (The Fairmount Historical Museum) was founded by Hugh Caughill and Harry Mahoney, they did research and there are more people from Fairmount who have changed the world, the way it is than any other place per capita in the United States. There has been authors, there have been artists, Olive West is an artist that is known worldwide, and Mary Jane Ward is now being given credit for psychiatry as we know it today from her book “The Snakepit.”

JerryPayne

Jerry & Shirley Payne.

Memories of Marfa 1955, Part 1 with Marcos Pena

DeanatPaisano2

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.

jdfw098

The following two images used with permission from CMG Worldwide.

jdfw099

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.

240867202_6904079719618288_356481968468158264_n

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.

240172306_366893508326052_6263134066136201167_n

Current street view of the home where Elizabeth Taylor stayed.

Deansbestviewhouse

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

Deanaticehouse

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

jdfw091

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.

Deanonbed

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

Restaurant

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

Millerbaby

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.

MillerCarbro

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.

millernorma

Norma Jeane

millernorma2

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.

MillerMonroeandCurtis

Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis on the set.

MillerGiant

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

millerdean

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.

1016432_1069681836391468_6245811419101670530_n

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.

millerdean3

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.

MillerLinda

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.

millerpier

Pier Angeli and Family

millerpier2

Millerastaire

Fred Astaire

millergeneautry

Gene Autry

MillerHarryBelafonte

Harry Belafonte

MillerChuckBerry

Chuck Berry

MillerTonyCurtis

Tony Curtis with Kelly

MillerTonyCurtisJanetLeigh

Tony Curtis with Janet Leigh and Kelly

MillerAudreyHepburn

Audrey Hepburn

MillerMahaliaJackson

Mahalia Jackson

MillerGraceKelly

Grace Kelly

MillerEarthaKitt

Eartha Kitt

MillerLassie

Lassie

MillerSophiaLoren

Sophia Loren

MillerJayneMansfield

Jayne Mansfield

MillerJayneMansfield2

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

MillerJohnnyMathis

Johnny Mathis

MillerKimNovak

Kim Novak

MillerEleanorParker

Eleanor Parker

MillerRonaldReagan

Ronald Reagan

MillerDebbieReynolds

Debbie Reynolds and Mother

MillerRoy

Roy Rogers

MillerJaneRussell

Jane Russell

MillerBettyWhite

Betty White

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

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

hotelatdawn

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.

Marfa 1978_0003 (1)

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.

hoteltop

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.

hotelobby

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.

courtyard

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

JohnCerneymain

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.

JohnCerney16

JohnCerney1

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.

JohnCerney4

JohnCerney15

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.

JohnCerney6

JohnCerney5

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.

JohnCerney8

JohnCerney13

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.

JohnCerney9

JohnCerney10

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.

JohnCerneyGiant

johncerney

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.

JohnCerney7

JohnCerney14

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.

JohnCerney17

JohnCerney18

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.

BF32262E-E90F-4229-9A7B-9BEB10EDFC38

IMG_4106

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.

JohnCerney3

JohnCerney11

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

JohnCerneylast

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”

Dean2

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.

DeanwBob

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?

Dean4

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.

stevens_past_1

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.

Dean5

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.

Dean

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

stonepoem2

 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.