Yesterday, I went down to the Westin Hotel by LAX to help my friend set up his table at something called “The Hollywood Show”. And because of my daily good deed, I experienced nothing less than the Woodstock of fan-based celebrity convention. Everyone from serious collectors to dedicated film and TV nerds were there in droves. You could literally meet everyone from Linda Blair to George Wendt; “Norm” from Cheers, whom I ran into and said hello. I’ve known George since 2,000, when I brought him to a big comedy gala I produced at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. George and Linda and everyone else was there to do one thing. Meet some of their fans and sell autographs. Broadly calculating, you could talk with your favorite celebrity for approximately $6,000 an hour. Added up over two days, that’s “Jaws” money.
While it may seem to be a bit of a weird thing to pay to see some stranger move a black marker on a glossy print of something they did 30 years ago, nonetheless, this is what this Hollywood ritual is all about. Big time important cultural celebrities meeting their fans and being paid upwards to a hundred bucks to talk with you for 60 seconds and sign your thing. The big draw this weekend is Richard Dreyfuss. Lines around the block. The star of Jaws, only outranked by the shark himself and, of course, the film’s elusive young director, Steven Spielberg. On board was shark designer Joe Alves, a diminutive man, responsible for the design of “Bruce” the shark, as well as the production design of Close Encounters.
Richard Dreyfuss is an American treasure. His incredible authentic and vibrant performances in such iconic films such as Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, American Graffiti, The Goodbye Girl, and one of my all-time favorite smallish films, “The Big Fix.” I got to talk with him a bit, referring to himself as former class president of Beverly High, to which he responded rather directly – that the election eventually went to city council, indicating there was some voting mix-up. Of all the great roles he brought to incredible life, Richard Dreyfuss will forever remain in my mind as the furry-faced intellect and shark expert Hooper.
Also at the event were actors Elinor Donahue from the 1950’s family TV series Father Knows Best, 1980’s singer Melissa Manchester, the drummer from Dr. Hook, and acting legend Bruce Dern. For me, it was like literally entering the back of the television and meeting all these wonderful characters and the real people behind them. Perhaps my favorite of these celebrities was Carl Gottlieb. Carl, not only wrote the screenplay to Jaws, he also co-wrote The Jerk with Steve Martin and was a staff writer on The Smothers Brothers, along with Rob Reiner and Steve Martin. Carl also played “Iron Balls McGinty” who gets kicked in the nuts by Steve Martin in The Jerk; only Steve is the one who is left with a broken foot.
The biggest selling book about the making of a movie of all time is Carl Gottlieb’s The Jaws Log. A great account of how this seemingly impossible movie was made and all the great adventure and personality behind the production. Written by Jaw’s screenplay scribe Gottlieb, the book is a must read for all movie lovers. I highly recommend it.
Since I was working behind the scenes for one of the celebrities, I went to the special anti-room, where there was coffee and bagels for the special guests. And, while I was waiting for my mini-bagel to get through its transformation in the toaster, some guy starts talking with me about how much he hates the fact when “they put jalapeno in bagels”. I turned and told Hal Linden, Mr. Barney Miller himself, that I agreed with him. And then asked him if he knew the British called bagels “beigels” (pronounced “Bye-gulls” in England). He said he did not.
All of a sudden, I was as surprising at the shark in Jaws.