How “awesome” got its groove back.
Tired of hearing this once-proud adjective routinely uttered by others for utterly mundane reasons, my friend Ben Reavis and I recently mapped out an ambitious drive westward with awesomeness in the classic sense guaranteed.
Case in point, the Grand Canyon. Might even Hollywood seem reasonably awesome to a pair of Northeastern small-town movie buffs? On the morning of Nov. 6, we hit the road, spoiling for an answer.
Moreover, we eagerly anticipated overnight pit stops hosted by key contacts among fellow 16mm-film collectors who, most generously, enabled our Hollywood experience to begin well ahead of schedule.
For instance, in Denver, we were hosted by Genie Keep, daughter of innovative Hollywood sound engineer Ted Keep, co-founder of Liberty Records and Grammy winner for his hit “Alvin & the Chipmunks” recordings.
A trailblazer in electronic music, Keep chose The Ventures to record the “Hawaii Five-O” theme and also recorded soundtracks for 1970s Hollywood blockbusters, including “Jaws.”
We burned the midnight oil as Genie, 47, regaled us with stories of her “misspent youth” as a Hollywood brat lollygagging on movie sets where celebrated bratpackers, including Demi Moore made “St. Elmo’s Fire” and others of that ilk.
Genie said she typically fetched pizza for Moore and company between takes and got to know everyone on a first-name basis.
The following evening, we were accommodated by Genie’s brother, Ted Jr., in his Las Vegas home.
INFERNO TIDAL WAVE
Late-night excursions down memory lane continued as he recalled after-school excitement observing his dad’s occupational challenges, for example, reining in orchestra members who strayed from their marks while recording John Williams’s music for “The Towering Inferno” (1974).
Ted Jr.’s own adventure on the set of that iconic disaster flick included watching a massive water tank emptied onto the titular blaze, drenching Paul Newman and the rest of the all-star cast in the process.
We were all ears as our host, 49, recounted this boyhood memory as though he’d just experienced it.
BRUSH WITH GREATNESS
Our favorite brush with greatness came in L.A. while hanging out with 1960s child star Pat Cardi (”Gunsmoke,” “The FBI,” “Rawhide,” “The Fugitive,” etc.).
Now 62, he has worked in virtually every Hollywood capacity, from delivery boy to prop man to writer-director-producer, and he is a raconteur second to none.
Cardi’s vivid anecdotes about his career’s near-misses captured the imagination as much as those about his hits.
At 13, he was producer Irwin Allen’s first choice to play Will Robinson in “Lost in Space,” but a contractual snafu intervened. At 26, he turned down Francis Ford Coppola’s offer of a part in “Apocalypse Now” to get married.
Topping the list of Cardi’s own favorite Hollywood experiences, he worked repeatedly with the late Jeffrey Hunter, who portrayed Jesus Christ in the 1961 biblical epic “King of Kings” and later commanded the U.S.S. Enterprise in the first “Star Trek” pilot.
“Jeff was a gem,” he said.
The gracious Cardi pointed out many historic sites while driving us around surreal Hollywood locations where even seemingly ordinary stretches of concrete turned out to be noteworthy.
He indicated street corners around which the Keystone Kops careened a century ago, flights of steps that challenged piano-delivering Laurel and Hardy in their Oscar-winning “The Music Box” and even a patch of sidewalk where his cousin was sideswiped by a pre-teen Miley Cyrus on her bike.
“That figures,” I quipped.
Meanwhile, of all the studio tours to which our 16mm connections granted us carte blanche, including the Warner Bros./Columbia ranch, Disney was the highlight — complete with a vast archive of relics dating back to Walt’s humble artistic beginnings in his uncle’s home after first moving to L.A. from his native Chicago.
All the vintage Disney classics not shot on location were filmed there, among them “Mary Poppins” and “Pinocchio” — the latter with an extraordinary three-plane camera designed specifically for animation.
Oh, what a thrill, partly because, according to our guide, personal tours into the Disney inner sanctum are rare. Needless to say, this revelation left us feeling rather special.
And maybe just a tad awesome.
Former Press-Republican movie critic Andy MacDougall is the region’s only remaining public exhibitor of 16mm film.