Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Mr. Dark Shadows

A word about Dan Curtis... just a word, because I'm in the middle of actually writing my script and no doubt this bit of procrastination will take me off my game for a while... but I was researching something to do with my screenplay on Wikipedia and came across the name "Dan Curtis" ... a name that I cannot see without taking pause. Giving thanks. And so, I must here on this blog that nobody reads, will read -- must in print give my thanks to someone who really changed my life for the better and whom I owe big time... a debt that I will never be able to repay now that he's dead. Still, I must say a word about Dan Curtis.

I met Dan as a kid, a very young kid just out of college. I remember my interview with him... I was sent by a temp agency that specialized in Hollywood gigs to work as a writer's assistant. I was warned by the woman who sent me out that Mr. Curtis had a bit of a reputation, and did I think I could handle it. What was his rep? "I've sent over 7 girls there so far and they've all either been fired or quit... the last three were in tears." Apparently, Dan had a reputation for making the girls cry.

Then I met Dan... and out of fairness, I can see and believe that Dan probably did make the girls cry... but Dan was very misunderstood... first off, he didn't talk, he barked. He yelled too.. but it wasn't out of anger, it was just the way Dan communicated... dan was very passionate about everything, and okay a bit grumpy... but Dan was NOT a mean person, not a bad guy at all... in fact, once I got to know him, I must admit that Dan Curtis probably became more of a role model as a writer... if I ever were to have a real mentor in Hollywood, it was Dan. He gave me a chance to experience everything in making a feature film (and a TV miniseries too... people forget, Dan Curtis was a totally split personality guy who could do both serious vampire horror stuff, like create Dark Shadows, and the Night Stalker and produce all those Dracula, horror flicks for years and years... but also he gave us The Winds of War, War and Rememberance, Intruders... lots of stuff... he was the king of vampire flicks on TV and the miniseries). Dan was a generous guy. He gave to charity, lots. He gave people chances, lots of actors that others would not bank on, would not give chances to... and you know who you are... they owe Dan big time. He talked tough, very tough and he cursed like a sailor, that's for sure... I've never seen anyone curse the way Dan did (remember what David Letterman said about him when Dan was on the show about the Winds of War... about him "poneying up the money"... we used to laugh about that one, because Letterman so had the Dan inflection spot on, minus the cursing, of course). He was smart, he knew story, knew people... knew what moved them and what turned them off and he put all of that into his scripts, his films, his work. I'm sure there are many out there who could tell their stories of Dan, probably many have. But this is just little ole' me's take on how he changed my life for the better.

I was hired that day as a writer's assistant, a temp... within a day, Dan was handing me scripts and asking me what I thought about them... and after that, he wanted to know what I would do to fix then... pretty soon Dan and I wrote together... no, I never got that elusive writing credit on a produced film... but I wrote a lot with Dan, we did lots of horror stuff... rewrote Jekyl and Hyde... a great version, if I do say so myself (though he never wanted to do any vampire stuff, isn't that funny). I wrote with the Trilogy of Terror Zuni fetish doll on my desk... the same doll that honestly scared the crap out of my as a kid when I watched late night TV a rerun of that film... I don't think there's been any film then or since that scared me as much as that damned doll... so of course I insisted it sit on my desk to "inspire" me).

There's tons of things I could say about Dan, all those stories he told me... how he let me watch movies be scored (that was a real thrill), how he let me watch the editing process and how he trusted me to be the one to see and comment on the dailies to the film we were working on... I was just a kid, barely out of my teens and to have such responsibility, to have someone like him trust me so much... it really gave me confidence and helped me mature and grow as a writer, a filmmaker, a person. For that I will forever be grateful to Dan Curtis... Mr. Dan Curtis.

One of my greatest regrets is that I never got to say goodbye to Dan, to see him before he died, to comfort him when his beloved Norma died. My mom got sick and things happened and well, I had to be in CT to take care of her and I'm very glad I did... very glad indeed. But when I heard that Dan died... when I read it online, in the newspaper (it barely got a blurb in the Connecticut papers and dammit, Dan Curtis was FROM Connecticut... Bridgeport, actually)... it hurts greatly... I don't know if he ever realized how grateful I was to him for being the person to encourage me to write movies... to inspire me... to give me the confidence that yes, I was good and I could do this and do this well... dan was always so sure I would make it in this business, he told me so many times over tuna fish sandwiches in the commisary (we both loved those damned tuna sandwiches... we could've eaten anything but no, it was always the same... creatures of habit the both of us)... and how he loved to sit outside and have a parade of famous actors pass by and give their thanks go him, their regards... it was like sitting with the Godfather sometimes... the stories I would hear. Dan Curtis touched so many people's lives in Hollywood and so many people's lives in the world with his stories and vision... and heart... such a great heart and passion to tell a good story...

It's no wonder I'm finally writing a vampire movie (and graphic novel) now is it. I'm sure Dan influenced me... sure there's a bit of his vision that permeated through my brain and is now coming out on the page. So often Hollywood and the Vampire thing are used as metaphores. I mean, it's no coincidence that every damned vampire movie or tv show is set in Los Angeles since the dawn of time (except for Dark Shadows... collinwood and LA had nothing in common, good for Dan, always the original). Well, if Hollywood and it's people are like vampires that are supposed to suck you dry, I am living proof that can tell you that it can also be a badly needed transfusion, that will nourish you to life.

And to Dan, I can honestly say, the thought of going to LA and not being able to see you and say Hi, is the first time you've made me cry.



Linda said...

Someone always reads anything you believe no one will... P.S. Love your copyright blurb!