12 Most Unforgettable Show Biz Memories
We’re going to take a slight detour from my usual focus with this 12 Most post in that it’s going to be personal. Most of our posts have generic appeal, but this one is specific to this writer and my quarter-century working in showbiz. What’s that old joke about showbiz? You know the one about the guy who cleans up the elephant poop at the circus. He’s asked why he stays with such a stinking job, to which he replies, “What, and leave show biz?”
Everyone loves a good showbiz story. Heck, we see more train wrecks in the lives of “the stars” than almost anywhere else, right? Why are the newsstands filled with the latest about Brittney, Charlie, Justin (Bieber or Timberlake), etc.
The fun thing, for me, is that I have so many memories to choose from – good and bad. My career was almost exclusively in prime-time television production and development “back in the day” before cable, the ubiquity of video recording/watching options, and even the Fox Network. This was when the three networks – CBS, NBC, and ABC – ruled the airwaves, garnering 90+ per cent of the available watching audience on
any given evening. It was a fun time, much of it in the eighties, too, when money was loose (along with other things that will constitute a R-rated post someday?). So, in no order of significance or priority, here are my 12 most memorable show biz memories:
1. Getting Don Johnson Out of Jail
The first television movie I developed, sold, and produced, at the tender age of 23, was the memorable award-winning, precedent-setting “Ski Lift to Death.” No, it won no awards but it was the #1 movie the night it aired on CBS in 1978. It starred, among others, Deborah Raffin, Veronica Hamel, Howard Duff and a then unknown DonJohnson. One night in a bar in Banff Springs, Canada where we filmed, the ever-joyous DJ tried to pick up the wrong woman: the girlfriend of a Canadian Mounted Policemen who happened to be sitting next to her. After the fight, DJ was in jail and this young producer was negotiating with the judge to get him out. I made a deal. We got him during the day – to film – and “they” could keep him at night. We finished the movie and I doubt Mr. Miami Vice has ever been back to Canada. I wonder if there’s a warrant out for him?
2. George Lucas
During my ABC years, we got the opportunity to do the TV movies based on the Ewok characters from “Star Wars.” Because it was George Lucas, there were stringent rules. We were allowed negligible input. One ABC rep was allowed to go to the production site in Northern California, once a week, to see the dailies of filming. I was the designated driver. Each week’s dailies were worse than the previous week’s. It was a disaster. I
spoke with Lucas’ entourage, but it was “the emperor has no clothes” as no one dared to say anything to Mr. Lucas. I got nowhere. They finished production. Lucas, who may not have seen ANY of it up to that point, hated it as much as I did. He got Fox to bankroll re-shooting the entire film and he secretly directed it himself!
3. Working with Ron Howard and Mickey Rourke
Still in my early twenties, I produced a television movie, based on a true story, called “Act of Love.” We filmed in Washington State and it was one of the first acting roles a young Mickey Rourke ever had and one of the last acting roles Ron Howard took before turning his attention to directing. I have the distinct memory of talking with Mickey Rourke about a movie idea he had about boxing, in the hotel where we were staying, and him waxing on and on, maybe for hours, about this idea. At the time, I thought I was in the presence of an incarnation of James Dean.
4. Going to the set of “Wet Gold”
While working at ABC-Television as Vice President of Television Movies, I felt it was my job to go to the set of a movie we were filming in the Bahamas with a very young (around 17 years old) Brooke Shields. A 100-foot yacht was going to be used for the filming and I felt it my responsibility that I bring my girlfriend and accompany my best friend, the movie’s producer, on the yacht’s journey from Florida to the Bahamas. At the time, the 1984 Olympics were taking place in Los Angeles and being broadcast on ABC. The night before the trip on the yacht, I attended a gymnastics event. Two days later, on what turned out to be the VERY high seas of the Caribbean, I and everyone else on the yacht were watching the very same gymnastic events I had just attended, between taking turns puking our guts out due to the churning seas. I loved the contrast of place and time.
Jack Lemmon, Bruce Sallan,and Edie Adams, early 1980s
5. A Young Turk in Israel
Before my ABC days, I developed and sold the mini-series about Golda Maier. During its development, we got Ingrid Bergman to commit to star in what turned out to be her last acting role. I got the assignment, happily, of accompanying the first writer on a research trip to Israel. As guests of the government, we had audiences with then Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the infamous General Bar-Lev, and many others. I also met a young Israeli girl and had a sweet romance with her. One evening we stayed up all night and watched the sun rise over the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
6. Screwed by the Big Guys
I got screwed, as everyone does, several times in my career. But, the first was the worst. There was an industry-wide strike that allowed studios to invoke what is called a “force majeure” clause in contracts. This was when I was developing the “Golda” movie and after I’d done the afore-mentioned trip, came up with the story, and secured the participation of Ingrid Bergmann. I was fired and “Golda” was given to another producer. It was the beginning of the end for show biz and me.
7. Screwed by the Big Guys, Part Two
Also, in the eighties, I began trying to get a television series on the air. I sold a pilot idea called “Tag Team” about two retired wrestlers who became cops. We made the pilot with Jesse “The Body” Ventura and Rowdy Roddy Piper. ABC ordered 12 episodes. We spent that summer, in the late 80’s, doing all the prep work. Behind everyone’s back, for political reasons unrelated to anything with the show, the head of Disney – Jeff
Katzenberg – met with the head of ABC – Robert Iger, and killed the show just three days before production on the first episode was to begin. 60 people lost their jobs and it was too late in the season for them to get another. Jeff Katzenberg passed me in the hall, on leaving Iger’s office, and didn’t say a word. Iger told me himself. Katzenberg went on to partner with Steven Spielberg and form Dreamworks, while Iger replaced Michael
Eisner as the head of Disney.
8. The Highest Rated Television Movie Ever
Shortly after I became the VP of Television Movies at ABC, I took over the supervision of a movie my predecessor, Stu Samuels, had begun. Stu was my mentor and it was a great idea. However, the filming had been quite problematic. The idea was developed and shot as a 4-hour, 2-night mini-series but the footage wasn’t working in the 4-hour format. We chose to edit it down to one 3-hour movie. “The Day After” went on air in 1983 to the highest ratings of any television movie ever.
Bruce Dern & Bruce Sallan
9. On a Plane with Audrey Hepburn and Frank Capra
Working in the eighties was a kick, beyond belief. I got to fly First Class and hob-nob with very cool people. On a trip on the MGM plane to New York, some of the other passengers included Audrey Hepburn, Richard Harris, and Frank Capra. Capra was my idol as the director of so many classic films, especially “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I got to speak with him for quite a while and just enjoy being in the presence of a master!
10. An Affair to Remember aka “A Fine Romance”
Another important job of mine, during my pre-marriage days working in showbiz, was to have some kind of romance on every film or pilot I did. Sometimes, an actress would take a fancy to me; sometimes I fell flat on my face. But, my favorite relationship occurred on an ill-fated pilot, called “A Fine Romance,” which filmed in Rome, Florence, and Pisa, Italy. I met a 19-year-old extra on the set. She was a spoiled, pouty, cute-as-can-be, Italian gal who played me perfectly. I mostly got nowhere, but the journey – which included her coming to Los Angeles and New York with me – was quite memorable!
11. Mr. Sallan Goes to Washington
I left my job at ABC under somewhat murky and uncomfortable circumstances. However, I got to produce for ABC one of my favorite movies shortly afterward. It was the last “ABC Theatre” movie, as they retired that storied franchise for no apparent reason. The movie was called “God Bless the Child” and it was the first movie about the homeless. I got to go with the movie, when it was shown to Congress.
12. Ben Affleck and Denise Richards
All stars start somewhere. Some of them don’t care to be reminded of those early days. I did a pilot for NBC called “Against the Grain” which was picked up as a series. Among its stars were a young Ben Affleck and a young Denise Richards. Denise played a cheerleader and fit the part to a “T” and I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. Ben Affleck was a quiet, unassuming young man who I never in a million years thought would make it in Hollywood. Go figure. The series was cancelled after 6 episodes.
I had a great career in television. It provided me with the opportunity to meet and interact with incredible people and to go to places under circumstances that otherwise would not be available. I also got paid well. I was a lucky guy. I mostly treasure these and other memories from that period in my life. But, like sports stars, there’s a limited career life span and mine ended, at my own hands, after just shy of 25 years. Hooray For Hollywood!
Photos Courtesy of Bruce Sallan via Creative Commons
Eye-wear Courtesy of the 1980s via Pearl Vision Centers