Short stories and essays by Shaun Costello, as well as excerpts from manuscripts in progress.

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TOP TEN SITCOMS OF ALL TIME

TOP TEN SITCOMS OF ALL TIME

By Shaun Costello

 

The Honeymooners - As good as it gets

The Honeymooners – As good as it gets

Early television existed on a steady diet of rehashed and recycled material, mostly Westerns that had been exhibited theatrically in the 1930’s and 1940’s. In 1952 Gene Autry became one of the richest men in America when he purchased the old Monogram Studios, and its inventory of 750 “B” Westerns, renaming it Melody Ranch Studios. Autry saw the future, and recognized the vacuum of programming on early television as a gold mine for any enterprising soul with readily available entertainment to sell.

The Singing Cowboy bought the ranch.

The Singing Cowboy bought the ranch.

Those 750 “B” Westerns, newly owned by Autry, filled that programming vacuum with non-stop cowboy culture. A stop-gap measure to be sure, but an enormously profitable endeavor for the Singing Cowboy, until shows specifically produced for television could be developed. And Melody Ranch Studios became a major production facility for Western themed TV shows like; The Lone Ranger, Wyatt Earp, Gunsmoke, Hopalong Cassidy, Rin Tin Tin, The Cisco Kid and many others.

http://www.melodyranchstudio.com/

Most of the earliest shows specifically produced for television, that filled the gaps between Autry’s “B” Westerns, had been successful radio programs. I can remember listening regularly to radio shows like Gunsmoke, Jack Benny, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and The Lone Ranger; all of which became newly produced as television programs. America was hungry for television, and before long, newly produced entertainment began to outnumber Autry’s “B” Westerns.

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis

The Fifties would give birth to a new phenomenon – television’s Situation Comedies. Some, like The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and Jack Benny had been radio hits; but television production was now in high gear, churning out original sitcoms like You’ll Never Get Rich, with Phil Silvers as the shameless Sergeant Bilko, Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, Donna Reed, and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, which introduced Warren Beatty and Tuesday Weld. The variety shows like Ed Sullivan, Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, Perry Como, and Red Skelton ruled the airwaves, but the Sitcom was knocking on America’s door with growing success, and would quickly become a staple of the country’s entertainment culture.

I recently Googled the top ten sitcoms and was horrified to find nothing, other than Seinfeld, on any list that was produced before this current millennium. List after list of bubble gum entertainment, all millennial fodder. Sorry kids, but shows like Friends, or How I Met Your Mother hardly qualify to be on an all-time top ten list. I decided right then and there, that the Top Ten Sitcoms of all Time list was a wrong that needed righting, and my Blog seemed like the appropriate venue for this adventure. Many years ago, Groucho Marks was interviewed on Dick Cavett’s late night talk show. Cavett asked him if he watched television. Groucho responded, “Not really. Well, I do watch Bunker. Oh, and the schwartzes.” (Sanford and Son) Both of Groucho’s programs made my list. Whittling all the Sitcoms ever produced down to ten has been difficult. Quality shows like You’ll Never Get Rich, Cheers, Happy Days, and Welcome Back Kotter didn’t make the cut, much as I loved them. Top Ten lists are subjective, so yours will probably vary from mine, but these ten stalwart shows, each born of great writing, and unique performers, all of which sociologically impacted the era in which they aired, in this viewer’s opinion, are the All-Time Champs.

In alphabetical order:

ALL IN THE FAMILY

(1971 to 1979)

Archie Bunker was America's favorite bigot.

Archie Bunker was America’s favorite bigot.

Created, developed and produced by the redoubtable team of Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin, whose names will appear again on this list, seldom has a television character so befuddled and delighted the American audience as Archie Bunker. Bigoted beyond all reason, Archie becomes the perfect tool though which Lear and Yorkin tackle the social issues facing America in the Seventies: racism, homosexuality, women’s liberation, rape, religion, miscarriage, abortion, breast cancer, Vietnam, menopause, and impotence – all seen through the dependably debauched eyes of Archie Bunker. The series became arguably one of television’s most influential comedic programs, as it injected the sitcom format with more realistic and topical conflicts. Carroll O’Connor’s portrayal of Archie yielded what is arguably television’s most controversial and unforgettable character. O’Connor is nimbly supported by the hilarious Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers. In 2013, the Writer’s Guild ranked All in the Family the fourth best written TV series ever, and TV Guide ranked it as the fourth greatest show of all time. In September of 1979, a new show, Archie Bunker’s Place, picked up where All in the Family had ended. It ran four additional years, ending in 1983.

“Those were the days.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WxGYdTZaaY

 

 

 

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW

(1961 to 1966)

Van Dyke's nimble sight gags still work.

Van Dyke’s nimble sight gags still work.

The Dick Van Dyke Show premiered on October 5, 1961, introducing to the television audience two relatively unknown performers who would become multi-media mega stars – Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore. The show was developed by Carl Reiner and produced by Reiner along with Bill Persky and Sam Denoff. Loosely based on Reiner’s life as a television writer, the show follows the adventures of TV writer Rob Petrie (Van Dyke) who is the head writer for the fictional Alan Brady Show. Brady is played by Reiner as an arrogant, egocentric, and of course insecure TV star. A solid supporting cast including Morey Amsterdam, Rose Marie, and Richard Deacon as Reiner’s snobbish, bullying brother in law. An equally solid writing team including Reiner, Persky and Denoff; as well as Garry Marshall, Jerry Belson and Carl Kleinschmitt. Among the show’s directors were Sheldon Leonard, John Rich and Jerry Paris. The series won 15 Emmy Awards. In 1997 the episodes “Coast-to-Coast Big Mouths” and “It May Look Like a Walnut” were ranked at 8 and 15 respectively on TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. In 2002 the series was ranked 13 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time. A bit dated now, but Van Dyke’s nimble sight gags are still tops, and the dialogue’s still juicy.

The trip that kept on giving.

The trip that kept on giving.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Or0CqD1tH68

 

 

 

THE HONEYMOONERS

(1955 to 1956)

Only 39 episodes were recorded.

Only 39 episodes were recorded.

Many of you will be stunned by the years listed above. I certainly was. How can something like The Honeymooners, a corner stone of American entertainment culture have only aired for a year? It debuted as a half hour series on October 1, 1955 and aired its final episode on September 22, 1956. There are only 39 episodes, now referred to as The Classic 39. The show’s history is complicated. Jackie Gleason was introduced to early television audiences on the DuMont Television Network’s Cavalcade of Stars (1949 to 1952). Gleason, who had made his mark on the first television incarnation of The Life of Riley sitcom, stepped into Cavalcade on July 15, 1950, and became an immediate sensation. He offered several skits including – The Loudmouth, Joe the Bartended, Reginald Van Gleason III, The Poor Soul, and The Honeymooners, which co-starred Art Carney, Audrey Meadows, and Joyce Randolph. In 1952, CBS president William S. Paley offered Gleason a considerably higher salary. The series was retitled The Jackie Gleason Show and premiered on CBS Television on September 20, 1952. The show had a five year run, making its finale in 1957. An immediate hit for the network, Gleason’s format was basically of the Variety genre, offering guest performers, a musical interlude with the weekly appearance of The June Taylor Dancers, and Gleason’s standard skits, the most popular of which was The Honeymooners, a comedy sketch about a Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Kramden (Gleason), his pal Ed Norton (Art Carney), and their wives, played by Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph. This sketch became so enormously popular that Paley’s CBS network would lengthen it to a half hour, and offer it as a weekly sitcom. Although the new show was initially a ratings success, becoming the number two show in the country during its first season, it faced stiff competition at the beginning of season two from The Perry Como Show, dropping to number nineteen, and Paley decided to pull the plug. 39 episodes – that’s all that were produced, yet the show and its colorful characters have become a part of American entertainment folk lore. Everyone’s got a favorite episode. Mine is Chef of the Future. What’s yours?

 

My favorite episode.

My favorite episode.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPq_lgtidbQ

 

 

I LOVE LUCY

(1951 to 1957)

The first show to be owned by its creators.

The first show to be owned by its creators.

I Love Lucy was the first scripted television program to be shot on 35MM film (in black and white) before a studio audience. The series won five Emmy Awards, and received numerous nominations in many categories. Although distributed by CBS, I love Lucy was the first television program to be owned by its creators, It was a DESILU production, shot at DESILU STUDIOS in Los Angeles, and owned by Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz and their partners. I Love Lucy was the most watched show in America for four of its six seasons, and was the first to end its run at the top of the Nielsen ratings. The show is still syndicated in dozens of languages, and remains popular with an American audience of 40 million each year.

The Cast:

Lucille Ball as Lucille Esmeralda “Lucy” McGillicuddy Ricardo

Desi Arnaz as Enrique Alberto Fernando y de Acha “Ricky” Ricardo III

Vivian Vance as Ethel Mae Potter Mertz

William Frawley as Frederick “Fred” Hobart Mertz

Richard Keith as Enrique Alberto Ricardo VI (Ricky Jr.)

Twins Mike Mayer and Joe Mayer played Little Ricky as a toddler

Originally set in an apartment building in New York City, I Love Lucy follows the adventures of Lucy Ricardo (Ball) her singer/band leader husband Ricky (Arnaz), along with their best friends and landlords Fred and Ethel Mertz (Frawley and Vance).

Lucille Ball’s real life pregnancy was scripted into the show. During the second season, Lucy and Ricky give birth to a son named Ricky Ricardo Jr, (Little Ricky) whose birth was timed to coincide with Ball’s real-life delivery of her son Desi Arnaz Jr. The American television audience watched their favorite television star give birth to what would become their favorite baby on their favorite show: and the Nielsen ratings went off the charts.

After the final episode in 1957, a modified version continued for three more seasons with 13 one hour specials, running from 1957 to 1960. It was first called The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show, and later in re-runs as The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. In 2012, the original I Love Lucy show was voted “Best TV Show of All Time” in a survey conducted by ABC News and People Magazine.

 

The

The “Chocolate” scene.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NPzLBSBzPI

 

 

THE MART TYLER MOORE SHOW

(1970 to 1977)

Groundbreaking material.

Groundbreaking material.

In the late Sixties Mary Tyler Moore was a hot commodity. Her six season run as Laura on The Dick Van Dyke Show endeared her to America’s television audience, not to mention Hollywood, and the offers were plentiful. When she was offered her own show, which had been developed by James Brooks and Allan Burns, she took full advantage of her celebrity, taking a feather from Lucille Ball’s cap – why be a passenger on your own journey, when you can Captain the ship yourself. The show, originally entitled Mary Tyler Moore, would become the first production of MTM Enterprises, and would parody MGM’s Leo the lion, by featuring a cameo of a kitten meowing under the company name. Mary Tyler Moore would become a sociological breakthrough for television, with the first never-married, independent career woman as the central character. Mary Richards is a thirty-something single woman who settles in Minneapolis after breaking up with her boyfriend. She lands a job as Associate Producer of the evening news show on WJM-TV. The show’s characters consist of Mary’s co-workers and neighbors. Her Boss Lou Grant (Ed Asner), egocentric and inept anchorman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight), “Happy Home Maker” Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White), her upstairs neighbor Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper), and another neighbor Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman). The characters were so strong that three became spin-off shows. Ed Asner starred in Lou Grant (1977 to 1982), Valerie Harper starred in Rhoda (1974 to 1978), and Cloris Leachman starred in Phyllis (1975 to 1977). The show was one of the most acclaimed programs in American television history, winning Emmy Awards for Outstanding Comedy Series three years in a row ((1975 through 1977). In 2013 The Writers Guild of America ranked The Mary Tyler Moore Show Number 6 in its list of the 101 Best Written TV Series of All Time.

 

The Seventies was a great decade for sitcoms,

The Seventies was a great decade for sitcoms,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihLJrcS8lsg

 

 

M*A*S*H

(1972 to 1983)

Suicide is painless.

Suicide is painless.

The long-running and incredibly successful TV series known as M*A*S*H was an adaptation of Robert Altman’s hilarious 1970 motion picture of the same name. The series was developed by Larry Gelbart. The writers included Gelbart, Alan Alda, Mike Farrell and McLean Stevenson. Gelbart kept Altman’s theme music (Suicide is Painless), and most of the original characters from the movie. The series follows the antics of the members of the “4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital” during the three years of the Korean Conflict. A wide range of bizarre characters interact in a show that spanned 256 episodes over eleven seasons. Cast members include: Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, McLean Stevenson, Loretta Swit, Larry Linville, Gary Burghoff, Mike Farrell, Harry Morgan, and Jamie Farr. I can remember where I was when Kennedy was shot, and during New York’s great blackout in 1967, and where I watched the last episode of M*A*S*H. The show’s finale on February 28, 1983, Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen became, at the time, the most-watched, and highest-rated single television episode in American television history, with a record breaking 125 million viewers (60.2 rating and 77share). Many of the scripts in the early seasons were based on tales told by real MASH surgeons who were interviewed by the production team. Like Altman’s movie, the series was as much an allegory about the Vietnam War (still in progress when the show began) as it was about the Korean Conflict.

 

Members of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.

Members of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3PMwNofIxE

 

 

THE ODD COUPLE

(1970 to 1975)

Great characters can survive many casts.

Great characters can survive many casts.

It’s often the case that a theatrical character, given a signature performance by the perfect actor for that role, becomes unwanted territory forever after for actors seeking a role to play. Would any actor be believed as Patton, after the world has seen George C. Scott? No one in his right mind would consider attempting it. But then, rare as they might be, there are exceptions. When Neil Simon wrote the Odd Couple for Broadway, he created two characters, Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, whose quirky personalities were so delightfully extreme that they might be performed by a variety of actors, with equal appeal to an audience. Simon’s original Felix was Art Carney, and his Oscar was Walter Matthau – perfect actors for those juicy roles. I saw The Odd Couple on Broadway with that cast three times, and at the time I couldn’t imagine any other actor playing either role. They were perfect. No one else could ever play those parts. It would be like trying to imagine anyone other than Zero Mostel as Max Bialystok. Then came the 1968 movie. Jack Lemmon was given the role of Felix, and the chemistry between Lemmon and Matthau was every bit as good as the Carney/Matthau combination had been in the stage play. I can remember looking forward to seeing the movie with some trepidation, having loved Carney in the play. But I was surprised – Lemmon was fabulous. This happens rarely. Then, in 1970, The Odd Couple, which had been an incredibly successful stage play, and equally successful movie, became a television sitcom. But who would play Felix? Who would play Oscar? Would a famous movie star like Jack Lemmon lower himself by acting in a TV series? The television version of The Odd Couple was developed by Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson for Paramount Television. Among the original casting considerations were Mickey Rooney or Martin Balsam as Oscar, and Dean Martin or Art Carney as Felix, the role Carney had invented on Broadway. Eventually, Tony Randall was cast as Felix, and Randall lobbied hard for Mickey Rooney to play Oscar. But the show’s producer, Garry Marshall, lobbied even harder for Jack Klugman, and Klugman got the part. So now we have Randall and Klugman as Felix and Oscar, and, surprise of surprises – they were great. Among the show’s directors were Marshall, Belson, Jerry Paris, Hal Cooper, and Alan Rafkin. The writing team included Marshall, Belson, Neil Simon, Mickey Rose, Ron Friedman, and Rick Mittleman. The Odd Couple is a permanent fixture in anyone’s recollections of the Seventies. I just loved the Seventies.

Felix and Oscar

Felix and Oscar

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HGyUhRGeuM

 

 

SANFORD AND SON

(1972 to 1977)

 

Crusty and Cantankerous Fred Sanford

Crusty and Cantankerous Fred Sanford

When Groucho Marks told Dick Cavett that he watched “The Schwartzes”, he of course meant Sanford and Son, a ground breaking sitcom with an entirely African American cast of characters. The show was based on the BBC’s hit sitcom Steptoe and Son, and was developed by, I told you they’d be back, Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin; although Lear went uncredited. Has there ever been a more irascible and cantankerous character than Fred Sanford? He seemed like NBC’s answer to All in the Family – the black Archie Bunker. Fred Sanford’s bigoted banter – “Son, there aint nothin’ as ugly as a ole white woman.” – was tempered by his kinder and gentler son Lamont (Desmond Wilson), who is often bewildered by his father’s venomous opinions. The show was filled by an equally irascible cast of characters: Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page), Grady Wilson (Whitman Mayo), Bubba Bexley (Don Bexley), and Rollo Lawson (Nathaniel Taylor). Sanford and Son was a ratings hit throughout its six season run. In 1977 Redd Foxx left the series to do a variety show for ABC. There were three NBC spin offs: Sanford (1980 to 1981), Grady (1975 to 1976) starring Whitman Mayo, and Sanford Arms (1977). The writing team included: Ray Galton, Norman Lear, Alan Simpson, Bernie Orenstein and Saul Turteltaub. In 2007, Time Magazine included the show on its list of the “100 Best TV Shows od All Time.

 

“Son, there ain’t nothin’ as ugly as an ole white woman.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHkNPa7FveA

 

 

 SEINFELD

(1989 to 1998)

The last of the great sitcoms.

The last of the great sitcoms.

The last of the great sitcoms. Created and developed by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, the series would remain a ratings colossus throughout its nine seasons, topping the Nielsen charts in four. The syndication royalties were astronomical, making Jerry Seinfeld a very, very rich man. In 2000 he would purchase Billy Joel’s oceanfront house in Amagansett for 35 Million Dollars. In 1997, the episodes The Boyfriend and The Parking Garage were respectively ranked numbers 4 and 33 in TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. In 2009, the episode The Contest was named number 1 on the same magazine’s 100 Greatest Episodes. In 2013, The Writer’s Guild named Seinfeld the 2nd best written series of all time (The Sopranos was #1). The show is set predominantly in Jerry’s Upper West Side apartment, the surrounding neighborhood, and the corner Diner. The characters, a craftily cast bunch if there ever was one, include: Jerry’s High School buddy George Costanza (Jason Alexander), Jerry’s former girlfriend Elaine Benes (Julia Louise-Dreyfus), and Jerry’s neighbor across the hall Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards). Seinfeld was produced by Castle Rock Entertainment. In syndication, the series has been distributer by Sony Pictures Television since 2002. Week after week, season after season, Seinfeld consistently delivered cleverly written, hilariously performed, and craftily delivered shows on a level of the very best ever aired on television. The writing team included: Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry Charles, Peter Mehlman, Steve Koren, Jennifer Crittenden, Tom Gammill, Marjorie Gross, Elaine Pope, and Spike Feresten. The Directors included: David Steinberg, Art Wolff, Tom Cherones, Andy Ackerman, and David Owen Trainor. As with The Honeymooners, everyone has a favorite Seinfeld episode. Mine are any containing the Soup Nazi.

Collecting some hardware.

Collecting some hardware.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2lfZg-apSA

 

 

TAXI

(1978 to 1982 on ABC – 1982 to 1983 on NBC)

Odd ball characters played by equally odd ball actors.

Odd ball characters played by equally odd ball actors.

The series, which won 18 Emmy Awards, including three for Outstanding Comedy Series, follows the lives of a handful of New York City taxi drivers and their delightfully abusive dispatcher (Guess who). Taxi was produced by the John Charles Walters Company, in association with Paramount Network Television, and was created and developed by James L. Brooks, Stan Daniels, David Davis and Ed Weinberger. The show is basically a one set production, the action taking place in the fleet garage of the fictional Sunshine Cab Company. The formula here seems to be: create an extraordinarily off-beat bunch of characters, cast these characters with an equally off-beat bunch of actors – throw it all in the hopper, and, with clever scripting and direction, hope for the best. And the best is exactly what happens. The employees of the Sunshine Cab Company are a motley crew, including frustrated actor Bobby (Jeff Conaway), struggling boxer Tony (Tony Danza), art gallery receptionist Elaine (Marilu Henner), and tyrannical dispatcher Louie (Danny DeVito). For almost everyone, the cab company is just a temporary job that can be left behind when they make it in their chosen professions. The hardened core of the company is disillusioned Alex (Judd Hirsch), who’s sure he will be driving a cab for the rest of his life. Burned-out ex-hippie minister Reverend Jim (Chistopher Lloyd) and mechanic Latka Gravas (Andy Kaufman) to round out the group. I don’t think there has ever been a funnier character on television than Danny DeVito’s devilishly despotic Louie. James L. Brooks’s formula worked to a tee, delivering six seasons of delicious nonsense.

 

Louie knows a thing or two.

Louie knows a thing or two.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-c4cd_Lm-Q

 

*

© 2015 Shaun Costello

A LETTER TO MY CONGRESSMAN – A Homeless Veteran’s Journey

August 3, 2015

Congressman Thomas J. Rooney

226 Taylor Street – Suite 230

Punta Gorda, Florida 33950

Dear Congressman Rooney,

I am a 71 year old Veteran who, until recently, was homeless. Through the interdiction of your office in Punta Gorda, and the help of organizations like Jewish Family and Children’s Services, The Punta Gorda Veterans Village, and the VA’s Hud/Vash program, I have been able to find permanent and affordable housing. When confronted by demands from the HUD office, to provide documentation from the IRS that was impossible for me to obtain, I turned to your office in Punta Gorda for help. I was graciously received by your staff, who gave that help with enthusiasm and dispatch. Within 48 hours, and with the help of a Congressional liaison named Linda Berkman, I received the necessary documentation in the mail. This is supposed to be the way America works, but all too often, does not. I am grateful to your staff for their assistance, and for the gracious demeanor with which that assistance was given.

During my months of homelessness, I was exposed to the system, on many levels – good and bad, through which homeless Veterans struggle to navigate, with the hope of eventually finding permanent and affordable housing. From the VA’s Medical Center in Bay Pines, to local transitional housing situations like Stillwater House in Port Charlotte, and the Punta Gorda Veteran’s Village, run by the Volunteers of America; and the VA’s Hud/Vash program, I have lived through it, and thought it my responsibility to share my experiences, both positive and negative, with your office. The positive aspects of my transition from homeless Veteran to affordably housed Veteran should be applauded; and the negative aspects, so desperately in need of fixing, need to be fixed. The plight of the homeless Veterans has become a media-intensive issue in America, and it seems only right and just to bring my own experiences to the attention of my Congressman, particularly since that Congressman’s office had been so helpful to me.

The VA's Medical Center at Bay Pines Florida

The VA’s Medical Center at Bay Pines Florida

So, here is an outline of my journey, good and bad, from homeless to affordably housed. But first, let me preface this description by explaining that homelessness has been on my horizon for the last two years. Because, for most of my life, I was self employed, my Social Security stipend is quite small, and impossible to live on. Supplemental income that had enabled me to pay my monthly bills dried up, leaving me with a deficit at the end of each month, and I was aware that those months had become numbered. During the past few years I have sought the help of many VA representatives who have given no help whatsoever. Prevention of homelessness seemed to have no place in the VA’s agenda, while chronic homelessness was a different matter. I saw a man named David Donohew on three separate occasions. He ran the Veterans Office at Charlotte County Human Services. Donohew seemed like an affable and friendly guy, but each time I saw him he told me the same thing, “Come back and see me when you’ve been homeless for one year. Then I can help you.” This made no sense to me. By not preventing homelessness, the VA was exacerbating the situation. I needed to get into the VA’s system, in order to profit by it. And so I did.

On April 14 of this year, then officially a homeless person, I checked myself into the Psychiatric Unit at the VA’s Medical Center in Bay Pines Florida. I would spend nine days in this facility. The staff, from top to bottom, seemed experienced and capable. I saw a psychiatrist and a social worker every day I was there. They were goal oriented and the goal, in my case, was finding permanent, affordable housing. Most of the patients suffered from drug and alcohol addiction, or combat related conditions like PTSD. I suffered from none of these problems. I just needed an affordable place to live.

The psychiatrist was eager and focused on getting me into some kind of transitional housing so that I could resume my life. The social worker was enthusiastic but inexperienced, so that she needed constant back up for any questions or problems. She wanted to help me find housing, but had no real world knowledge of what that housing would be. The nursing staff, without exception, were attentive, and caring. There were Veterans at this facility with serious problems and they seemed to be getting serious care. Two days before I was discharged, the social worker told me that she had found me transitional housing in Port Charlotte, where I had lived for the last ten years. This seemed like good news. The problem was that the social worker had never visited any of the facilities she was to recommend, so she relied on the opinions of the people who managed them. I was to go to Stillwater House, a transitional housing facility subsidized by the VA, and live there while I attempted to find permanent, affordable housing. I was excited at the prospect, having listened to the glowing description of the place from the eager but inexperienced social worker. I was told that my all-inclusive rent would be $300, which seemed reasonable enough.

The letter I sent to Todd Abbott at Renaissance Manor asking for a refund. I sent it three times.  The letters were ignored.

The letter I sent to Todd Abbott at Renaissance Manor asking for a refund. I sent it three times. The letters were ignored.

On April 23rd I was discharged from the Bay Pines facility and headed south to Port Charlotte. I arrived at Stillwater House about Noon that day. It was a small, two story building located in the center of Port Charlote, close to the library, the Cultural Center, and the local hospitals. I was greeted by a woman named Trish (I never knew her last name) who showed me a few of the available rooms. I was stunned. The rooms were tiny, dirty, and decrepit. Trish then announced that I needed to give her a rent check for the $500. I was to pay each month. I was horrified. I immediately got on the phone with the social worker at Bay Pines, who had bought Trish’s glowing description of her venue, and told her the reality of this place, and the $500. that Trish was trying extort from me for rent. She called back, giving me the name and phone number of Gilbert English, who she claimed would be able to help me. She also told me that the rent would be $300. and to pay no more. I chose the least offensive room, gave Trish a check for the pro-rated portion of the month’s rent, and got on the phone with Gilbert English. He seemed friendly, and told me he would meet me an hour later at the Coalition for the Homeless in Port Charlotte.

Gilbert English turned out to be my salvation. I spent about an hour with him, during which time he gave me several names and phone numbers, and the order in which I should call them. For any homeless Veteran who might wind up reading this document, and who lives in this part of Florida, Gilbert English is the man to see. His number can be found through any VA social worker. The first person on Gilbert’s list that I called was Michelle Hammond at Jewish Family and Children’s Services, a well funded, Veteran-friendly organization that Gilbert said could provide help. The second was a man named Tom Yanoti, who worked at Punta Gorda Veteran’s Village, a transitional housing facility. I spent an hour with Michelle the next afternoon, providing her with personal information, and making a list of the documentation that would be necessary for me to provide in order to receive their help. I then stopped by Tom’s office and got on the waiting list for space at Veteran’s Village.

Stillwater House appears to be a storage venue, where needy Veterans are shelved and forgotten.

Stillwater House appears to be a storage venue, where needy Veterans are shelved and forgotten.

For the next three and a half weeks I would live at Stillwater House, while every day setting up and going to appointments with the objective of obtaining affordable permanent housing. At 8AM on the day following my appointment with Gilbert English my phone rang. It was Gilbert, checking up on whether I had called the numbers he had given me. He was pleased to find that I had two appointments already, and rewarded me by letting me know that he had given my name to the Hud/Vash office in Bay Pines in order to get me into the Hud/Vash System. This was good news since Hud/Vash was the portal to a Hud voucher, which would enable me to obtain affordable housing. Gilbert is a relentless advocate for his Veterans.

Life at Stillwater house could best be described as problematic. Stillwater House exists under the corporate umbrella of Renaissance Manor, both being non-profits that are federally subsidized in order to provide low cost housing and care for those in need, primarily Veterans. As at the psychiatric unit at Bay Pines, most of the Veterans at Stillwater House are substance abusers, or have serious psychiatric problems requiring care. Unfortunately, at Stillwater House, care is the very last thing they receive. Not once, in the three and a half weeks I lived there, did I see the presence of a single medical professional of any kind. The facility is completely unsupervised. This is tragic because most of the men who live there are in need of psychiatric counseling. Instead of providing care for its residents, Stillwater House appears to be a storage venue, where needy Veterans are shelved and forgotten.

My first week there, one of the Veterans told me that I had mail, which could be found on a table in the lobby. It was one of those super strong plastic envelopes that the VA uses to ship pharmaceuticals, impossible to open without a knife or scissors. When I picked it up I noticed that it had been cut open. Every Vet knows these containers, and that they contain prescription drugs. Someone, one of the many substance abusing residents, had sliced it open hoping to find recreational drugs. None of my prescriptions fit that description, so nothing was missing, but I was disturbed that someone had violated my mail.

I waited a few days, giving myself time to think it over, and decided that it should be reported. I called Trish at Renaissance Manor. I told her that something disturbing had happened and that I would like to discuss it with her in person. She demanded to know the nature of the event, but I insisted that it was not a matter for telephone discussion. She said that she was quite busy and couldn’t see me. I then called her boss, a man named Todd Abbott. He was not in and I left several messages on his voicemail. The next day, I assume because Todd Abbott told her of my calls, Trish called me and told me to come to her office at Renaissance manor in Punta Gorda. When I told her of the opened mail, she was defensive, dismissive and adversarial. She seemed angered that I was reporting a problem, almost as though by reporting it, I was creating it. It seemed that Stillwater House was a mess that she did not want to deal with. Later that day Todd Abbott called me and had basically the same attitude. Problems at Stillwater House? Ridiculous. Abbott made some vague suggestion that he would do something about it, but of course, never did. So the Veterans at Stillwater House, many of whom were in need of counseling and care, continued on without it, shelved and forgotten, victims of a corrupt bureaucracy, and the laziness of management. There were many incidents during my stay at Stillwater House that were a result of behavioral problems exhibited by needy Veterans, too many to mention here. Stillwater House, in my opinion, should either be closed, or placed under new management. These men need care.

During the next few weeks I was relentless with Tom Yanoti, stopping by his office every other day, reminding him that I was his next best tenant. Veteran’s Village appeared to be a well run facility, and I desperately wanted to move there. I quickly moved up on the waiting list, and moved into apartment 221 on May 18th. The next day I sent an invoice to Todd Abbott at Renaissance Manor, asking for a refund of the rent I had paid for the month of May, which I had paid in full on May 1st. My request was for that pro-rated portion of the month (13 days) that I was not in residence, having moved to Veteran’s Village on May 18th. It is now August and I have sent Todd Abbott three invoices, with cc’s to his boss Scott Eller. They have gone unanswered. So, the management of Stillwater House are not only abusers of Veterans in their care, but are deadbeats as well. Why am I not surprised.

Veteran’s Village takes up four two story buildings and houses up to forty Veterans.

Veteran’s Village takes up four two story buildings and houses up to forty Veterans.

Punta Gorda Veteran’s Village would become my home for the next month, and was an altogether different kind of facility. Located on Taylor Street in Punta Gorda, the Veteran’s Village takes up four two story buildings and houses up to forty Veterans. It even has a swimming pool. Like Stillwater House, Veteran’s Village houses many Veterans with drug and alcohol problems and psychiatric disorders. But unlike Strillwater house, here the Veterans are offered the care they need. The manager is Kerrie Wilson, who has a difficult and sometimes thankless job to do, and does it well. Homeless Veterans can be a disgruntled and difficult group, who can, and sometimes do, lash out at those who are trying to help them. During my time there I saw Kerrie fall victim to much undeserved criticism from Veterans she was trying to help. I found her to be a caring, even loving overseer of a difficult bunch. Two days a week Kerrie receives help from Linda Briggle, a small woman with enormous energy, who, when confronted with a problem, simply rolls up her sleeves and attacks it. One day a week Kerrie and Linda are joined by Barbara Sousa, whose official title is: Grant Per Diem Liason/VA Homeless Program. (Liaison is misspelled on her card) Barbara acts as liaison between the Village and the VA. She is knowledgeable, and offers Veterans help navigating their way through the sometimes complicated maze of the VA bureaucracy. I will be forever grateful to these people for the help they gave me and the care they showed me at a time when I needed both.

At Jewish Family and Children’s Services I was turned over to a woman named Mindy Saldana, who would become my case worker. Mindy is a tireless and caring advocate for those in her charge. During the following month, JFCS would pay almost a thousand dollars to have my car repaired, purchase a new bed for the apartment I would eventually obtain through Hud/Vash, pay the security deposit on that apartment, as well as deposits for utilities, and supply my new apartment with many household items. JFCS, an organization I previously was unaware of, would become an integral component in my return from homelessness to a normal life.

Obtaining a HUD voucher should be the goal of any homeless Veteran who is serious about permanent housing. Navigating the VA’s Hud/Vash system is not without its difficulties, but if you are resourceful and determined, it can provide a homeless Veteran with the road to affordable housing. My Vash case worker was new at his job, so I took it upon myself to make sure that the HUD people were provided with the enormous amount of documentation they require in order to qualify for their help. The Vash personnel are the VA’s liaison to HUD, which holds the purse strings for housing. HUD has the power, and power corrupts, so I found the HUD people a bit arrogant to deal with. They hold all the cards and they know it. My advice to any Veteran going through this process is to remain patient, but to be determined and persistent. Do not wait for anyone to do anything for you – do it yourself.

After several interviews with HUD personnel, during which I had to provide, in my opinion, a ridiculous amount of documentation, I was granted a HUD voucher. It was now up to me to go out into the community and find available housing that my HUD voucher would pay for. This was no easy task. The voucher is County specific. I live in Charlotte County where the availability of affordable housing is quite limited. I was able to obtain lists of apartment complexes that were Hud-friendly and got on many waiting lists. The HUD voucher has time constraints. You have three months from the date the voucher is issued, to obtain appropriate housing. If you do not, then the voucher becomes invalid. So I pounded the pavement in search of an appropriate apartment. By sheer luck, I wound up at the Charleston Cay apartment complex in Punta Gorda. The manager Keith Livermore, told me that there was a six month waiting list, and asked if I was a Veteran. When I answered yes, he told me that Veterans go to the front of the list. Within two weeks I had a two bedroom apartment. I moved in to the Charleston Cay complex on July 25th.

Moving into my new apartment. The move was paid for by JFCS.

Moving into my new apartment. The move was paid for by JFCS.

My journey, from checking myself into the VA’s psychiatric facility at Bay Pines, to moving into my new apartment took three and a half months. I had to navigate my way through the mine fields of bureaucratic obstacles that lay waiting for any pilgrim who undertakes this process. I received so much help along the way from friends, family, and the organizations I have mentioned here, for which I shall be forever grateful. To any homeless Veteran reading this epistle, who wishes to undertake the same journey, I would give this advice: You’ve got to want it to make it happen. Do not get discouraged. It’s not easy. Stay the course. You’ve got to be determined and persistent. Do not take no for an answer. If I could do this, so can you.

I send this chronicle to you Congressman Rooney, with the hope that your good office can take the lead in Congress to eliminate the problem of homeless Veterans in America. I hope that becoming aware of my personal journey, will inspire you to take action. To help and federally fund those organizations that are so helpful to homeless Veterans like; Jewish Family and Children’s Services, The Punta Gorda Veterans Village, and so many others. And to defund and close down facilities like Stillwater House, a storage venue for Veterans in need, who are ignored and forgotten while in residence.

I hope that you find this information useful.

For purpose of disclosure, I should inform you that it is my intention to post this letter on my Blog: shauncostello.com

Best regards,

Shaun Costello

UNBROKEN – The movie…Heart felt, Purposeful and Boring.

UNBROKEN…2014…Angelina Jolie

 Movie poste unbr

I finally got around to watching Angelina Jolie’s film of Laura Hillenbrand’s extraordinary book UNBROKEN. Jolie certainly enlisted the “A” Team, in terms of support. Joel and Ethan Coen wrote the screenplay. Roger Deakins’ cinematography was dazzling, as usual. All the production’s department heads were the best that money could buy. Why then, does this film lack the luster of the book? I found the film to be flat and impersonal – even criminally imitative at times. The fault here lies with the inexperienced director. She painted a pretty picture, but told a mediocre story. The plot is fractured, and the pace listless. While reading the book, I can remember wanting to jump up and cheer for its intrepid hero Louie Zamperini. In Jolie’s movie, there seems to be little to cheer about. Unlike the book, the film seems so purposeful, that its purposefulness is a distraction. The film can’t get out of its own way. It tries so hard to make some kind of statement that the purpose for that statement is lost. It almost seems like the neophyte director was in such awe (who wouldn’t be?) of her creative team, that she forgot she was in charge of them. Good story telling cannot be staffed out – it need’s one sure hand to guide the ship.

Laura Hillenbrand is the author of two extraordinary historical books.

Laura Hillenbrand is the author of two extraordinary historical books.

Hillenbrand has written two brilliantly constructed and extraordinarily successful historical sagas, both of which were produced as motion pictures – Let’s take a look:

Gary Ross's Seabiscuit followed Hillenbrand's story, and consequently worked as a motion picture

Gary Ross’s Seabiscuit followed Hillenbrand’s story, and consequently worked as a motion picture

SEABISCUIT…2003…Gary Ross

Ross, who wrote his own screenplay, did not seem intimidated by the enormous success of his source material – he seemed to embrace it. This was not just a story about a horse, but a historical tapestry of four broken souls, drawn together in heroic triumph within the intimidating shadow of America’s Great Depression. Ross’s first brilliant move was to hire the reassuring and America-friendly voice of historian David McCullough to do the narration. From the first sentence of voice over, the audience was aware that this was not just a race track movie, but a slice of Americana beautifully delivered by Ross, who seemed to understand the importance of Hillenbrand’s steady plot construction, and, for the most part, followed it.

Director Angelina Jolie at work on Unbroken

Director Angelina Jolie at work on Unbroken

UNBROKEN…2014…Angelina Jolie

I found Jolie’s Unbroken to be a gorgeous mess. Perhaps, had I not fallen in love with Hillenbrand’s book, I could have absorbed the film more objectively. Unlike Gary Ross’s movie of Seabiscuit, Jolie seemed so in awe of her source material that she forgot to follow it. Her movie, while beautiful to watch, feels uneven in its construction. There was a cleanliness to the art direction that seemed gritless and laundered. From the interior of the bomber, to the Olympic Stadium in Berlin without a single swastika flag displayed, to the life raft, to the prison camp – it all seemed just too tidy, too digitized. Like a visit to the present-day Auschwitz, which has been

Jack O'Connell as the intrepid Louie Zamperini, shown here with his tormentor

Jack O’Connell as the intrepid Louie Zamperini, shown here with his tormentor

turned into manicured park, clean and lovely to look at; while walking through it, it becomes difficult to imagine the horrors that took place there in 1944. Both Seabiscuit and Unbroken are period stories that took place in easily recognizable slices of recent history. Ross used period gimmickry to his advantage, from McCullough’s familiar and reassuring voice, to Bill Macy’s hilarious radio announcer. Jolie’s images did not give me an authentic feel, which is absolutely necessary to support a period story.

Alec Guiness and Sessue Hayakawa in David Lean's classic BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI

Alec Guiness and Sessue Hayakawa in David Lean’s classic BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI

And the prison camp – What could she possibly have been thinking in trying to imitate the character relationship between Alec Guiness and Sessue Hayakawa in David Lean’s Bridge on the River Kwai. The relationship between Louie Zamperini and his camp commandant bore little resemblance, in Hillenbrand’s book, to the characters in Lean’s classic film. And just whose idea was it to duplicate, almost exactly, several very recognizable shots from the Kwai film? Homage or copy-cat culture? The Coen brothers are notorious for taking an element from one of their favorite old films and cleverly reworking it into a amusing visual shard in one of their movies. But the duplication of cinematographer John Hildyard’s photographic composition on the Kwai film is not clever, it is simply imitative and distracting. Make your own film, not someone else’s.

The intrepid and triumphant Louie Zamperini’s character is played with skill by actor Jack O’Connell, but the performance seems to lack cohesion, and in some scenes believability. Zamperini carrying the log (see the poster) is presented visually far too much like the doomed Jesus carrying the cross to Golgotha. Again, a silly, almost embarrassing distraction.

Director Angelina Jolie shown here with the real Louie Zamperini shortly before his death.

Director Angelina Jolie shown here with the real Louie Zamperini shortly before his death.

Jolie’s Unbroken is nothing to be ashamed of, but this material in the hands of a seasoned story teller like Peter Weir, could have yielded something memorable. One can only hope that, if she wishes to continue directing, Angelina Jolie understands the mistakes she made here, and learns from them. Directors who are in awe of their source material (see Sidney Pollack and Out of Africa) never deliver what they could have, had they been confident and comfortable translating the book to the screen.

 

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WILD ABOUT HARRY…..The first reviews are in!

WILD ABOUT HARRY

A friend who knew him well remembers HARRY REEMS

by Shaun Costello

 Harry - Book Cover final version

 

The reviews are coming in:

Harry 4 B&W shots_edited-1

Porno World Explained

on July 13, 2015
Captures the essence of the City as Costello, a young man looking for work, lands a starring role in the most unexpected place! His story is as captivating as that of Harry Reems. I imagine this is how Hunter Thompson might have approached the subject!
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Birds of a Feather

 on July 5, 2015
Well-written and detailed stories about Reem’s life from Costello’s perspective, from their first meeting through the early days of pornographic films…There might not be any surprises here, but Costello’s enthusiasm and knowledge more than compensate for this historical biography about the road to a new kind of sexual freedom. People’s present reactions to pornographic images would be completely altered had it not been for these harbingers of sleaze. Even if I am more interested in its psychology — the dark side of the mind that creates or masturbates to FORCED ENTRY or WATERPOWER — this detailed history will take you on a ride to another time. And you can never go back again.
*
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Looking for the dirt!

on June 26, 2015
A fun and filthy read about fun and filthy guy, looking for the dirt and finding it: a story of drugs, smut, mafia, the rise to fame and coming down hard – and getting away and getting away with it. Recommended.
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A Touching Tribute by One Adult Industry Legend to Another

 By Geert Claeys on June 7, 2015

Format: Kindle Edition

My earliest memory of Golden Age hardcore he-man Harry Reems stems from somewhere back in the still budding Eighties. Our (Belgian) household was still a few years removed from acquiring its first VCR, mighty pricey back in the day, but the local video store would offer cumbersome play-only devices described as “movie boxes” (anyone else remember those contraptions ?) for an affordable weekend rental, throwing in a couple of complimentary tapes as part of the deal. As with any VHS renter, one of the flicks I picked was of an adult nature, in my case the 1974 carnal classic

Making a phone call on The Deuce could be hazardous to your health

Making a phone call on The Deuce could be hazardous to your health

Sometime Sweet Susan. So it came to pass that my mom (!!!) and I – aged about 15 or 16 at the time – sat down on a Saturday night to sample our first flavor of in-house intimate entertainment. Mom, God rest her weary soul, was a desperate housewife well before TV made the term fashionable, possessed of a tiger’s temperament trapped in the starting to sag shell of a stay at home spouse and mother of eleven, eight sons versus three daughters. The bloom of youth prematurely trampled by daily drudgery, Lord knows she could stand a salacious vicarious thrill to help her make it through the night. Turned out titular Susan, the pic’s perky protagonist, was a particularly troubled young lady with a split personality (the proverbial good girl/bad girl) in dire need of psychiatric support. Enter Harry Reems as the Good Doctor (I didn’t see Deep Throat until several years after) rushing in aid of our ailing heroine. I swear you could have heard both mom and me gasp at his first appearance. Although an amiable actor, certainly by adult standards (a frame of reference I was still unfamiliar with at the time), it was his look that did it for us. Yes, we really were that shallow ! A fine torso with magnificent muscle definition, yet light years removed from the pumped physique of the next decade’s gym bunnies, covered with a thick layer of fur as our favorite tell-tale trademark of virility. Mom liked ‘em hirsute and, then still unbeknownst to her, so did the youngest of her boys… The Sixties’ sexual

Fanny was a Puerto Rican stripper who taught young Herb everything he knew about sex

Fanny was a Puerto Rican stripper who taught young Herb everything he knew about sex

revolution had produced an unprecedented permissiveness on worldwide cinema screens by the time strapping young Herbert Streicher, a nice Jewish kid from Brooklyn, figured these newfangled fornication flicks were a great way to make ends meet while waiting for his big break in thespian territory. The ultimately short-lived “Porno Chic” phenomenon took sex films out of their storefront ghetto and moved them into fancy first run theaters. For a brief shining moment, it seemed as if carnal cinema had come of age and had permanently taken up residence in the major league to the approval of adventurous audiences everywhere. In such climate, illusory though it was to prove, it was not unthinkable for a struggling actor to seriously consider the option of taking it off and putting it in for pictorial posterity without a care as to how or whether this might affect his future chances. After all, he wasn’t doing anything that didn’t come naturally to most people. At worst, should fornication films prove but a fleeting fad, they would probably sink without a trace leaving no one the wiser, right ? Unfortunately for Herb, who had been trying on professional monikers with “Tim Long” the most persistent until “Harry Reems” finally stuck, an unassuming little XXX flick was to decide otherwise… Gerard Damiano’s groundbreaking Deep Throat and its legal hassles that were to kill off the legit careers of all involved, headed by Reems serving as primary scapegoat, have been extensively covered by Bailey and Barbato’s essential 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat. Shaun Costello, a fellow performer from the industry’s infancy who would graduate to feature filmmaking while upholding an astonishing “Real World” front, was there at crucial junctures in Harry’s life. Now he lifts the veil on the man whose very image was to become synonymous with the prototypical Seventies porno stud : a lean mean fornicatin’ machine with the trademark

Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty were the first two Hollywood celebrities to come to Harry's aid.  Fund raisers were held in New York and Hollywood for the Harry Reems Legal Defense Fund

Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty were the first two Hollywood celebrities to come to Harry’s aid. Fund raisers were held in New York and Hollywood for the Harry Reems Legal Defense Fund

handlebar mustache. A close buddy and ally since their days in the trenches, Costello chronologically charts the rise and fall of the reluctant adult industry icon in an instantly ingratiating, flab-free style giving you the how’s and why’s without resorting to amateur analysis or purple prose. Which is not to say that he merely records the bad boy shenanigans he shared with his subject, as evidenced by an astonishingly astute account of an acid trip that reads like something akin to Beat poetry. Carnal cognoscenti are well aware that Reems starred in Costello’s fledgling filmmaking effort, the sexually explicit Vietnam vet on a rampage flick Forced Entry, and the exhaustive chapter on that film’s genesis alone provides enough reason to pick up a copy of the book. Already associated with congenially comedic capers through Throat and other farces of its ilk taking their cues from burlesque theater, the actor gave one of his most atypical performances as the deeply disturbed gas station attendant whose twisted views on morality

“I’m Marlene Willoughby. Catchy name, huh? It’s not my real name, of course. I’m Polish. You probably couldn’t even pronounce it.”

(punishing women for making themselves sexually available to all and sundry) blow up in his face when the tables are turned in deliciously ironic fashion. Although Reems was to subsequently feign shock at the movie’s heady mix of real sex and phoney violence in his 1975 autobiography Here Comes Harry Reems !, it remains one of his standout achievements, providing a strong glimpse of what might have been had mainstream movies embraced rather than rebuffed him. Costello chronicles Reems’s fall from grace in harrowing detail, deftly side-stepping sensationalism at every turn. The actor’s own words quoted from various credited sources paper over the periods when the longtime pals’ paths would diverge. Their fleeting reunion towards decade’s end, when Costello was on his way up with bigger budgets allowing for more ambitious endeavors (the “Warren Evans” era, for those in the know) and Reems was fighting an ever escalating alcohol addiction in order to cope with the mounting frustration over his erotic entrapment, yields one of the book’s most poignant passages guaranteed to break a reader’s heart. Had the author ended right there and then, he would have wound up with one hell of a cautionary tale. Thankfully, life rarely comes as cut ’n dried as your average Movie of the Week would have it and Harry Reems ultimately did have a “life after porn”, finding both God and true love as well as widespread acceptance by his small town community in the unexpectedly enlightened State of Utah. Of all the lavish illustrations, mostly candid movie stills and eye-popping poster art, one stands out in particular. It’s a teeny tiny snap shot of Harry and his wife Jeannie Sterrett at the Inside Deep Throat premiere. Even the usually unsentimental Costello goes on record to concede that this apparently unassuming lady did nothing less than save his life. Moving back to where I started from, my mom never wished ill on anybody, not anybody who didn’t deserve it anyway, certainly no past or present object of her cinematic affection, secret sex fantasies or whatever the case may have been. Knowing her as well as I did, I’ve got a pretty good hunch she would have been tickled pink to learn that this lovely hunk o’man who stirred her loins many decades ago finally found happiness and got to lead a good life before his untimely passing at the age of 65. Makes me kinda happy as well, truth be told… Dries Vermeulen a/k/a the former (and future ?) Dirty Movie Devotee temporarily trapped in Limbo

DEEP THROAT became such a box office phenomenon that the Religious Right came out in force to demonstrate across the country

DEEP THROAT became such a box office phenomenon that the Religious Right came out in force to demonstrate across the country

“Shaun Costello has written as beautiful a tribute as anyone could imagine. A fantastic evocation of a time, of a place and – most of all – of a friendship.”

by Julian Marsh on June 1, 2015

From The Erotic Film Society in London

For such a prolific director – at least 66 films between 1973 and 1984 – Shaun Costello remained one of the New York XXX scene’s best kept secrets for many years. One reason is the number of noms-de-porn he worked under. He made more than his fair share of films that are now recognized as classics but not always under the same name – he was ‘Kenneth Schwartz’ for FIONA ON FIRE but ‘Warren Evans’ for DRACULA EXOTICA, for example – and this prevented him from getting due recognition until relatively recently. For notorious roughies FORCED ENTRY and WATERPOWER, he was ‘Helmuth Richler’ but ‘Amanda Barton’ made the sensitive PASSIONS OF CAROL. At Avon Productions he was ‘Russ Carlson’ and for a while he was even ‘Oscar Tripe’; plus there were numerous uncredited one-day-wonders.

In ONLY THE BEST, published at the dawn of the video era, critic Jim Holliday indicated that one person was behind some of these pseudonyms; but pre-internet it was pretty much impossible for even dedicated pornologists to crack the Costello code.

A slushy night on

A slushy night on “The Deuce”

With the advent of the web, the IMDb and IAFD and dedicated discussion forums where smut-hounds could compare what they’d discovered, facts began to surface.

Then something occurred that every film historian dreams about; Shaun Costello himself joined the forums. He posted on IMDb. He corrected. He clarified…

And suddenly his incredible career came into sharp focus. Not just those 66 films that he helmed but around the same number of appearances from 1971 to ’89 – and that doesn’t include loops – plus at least 50 films he produced and a similar number of writing credits. It’s a wonder he ever found time to sleep.

On the evidence of WILD ABOUT HARRY, his by turns hilarious and moving memoir about his friendship with Harry Reems, during the pre-DEEP THROAT days of Big Apple hard-core, sleep was often the last thing on his mind. Whether he was editing into the early hours – the only way he could afford post-production facilities – or heroically carousing with his buddies – ‘the Three Musketeers of 42nd Street’ – those years in the late 60s and early 70s seem to have been one madcap adventure, where anything was possible.

A voracious film fan, from art-house masters to grindhouse smut, Shaun absorbed everything. He fell into the pornographic loops business by happy accident, just as they were on the borderline of becoming legal, or at least tolerated, in the adult bookstores of the Deuce.

Herb and Jamie. Gone now, but not forgotten.

Herb and Jamie. Gone now, but not forgotten.

And he was there when a handsome, young, legit actor – still known by his birth name, Herb Streicher – made his debut in an explicit 8mm film destined for ‘under the counter’ sales.

(Assumed names were cast aside faster than underwear: Herb wouldn’t settle on Harry Reems for a couple of years, after he’d tried on ‘Tim Long’ among other aliases.)

It wasn’t just the start of a professional relationship – Shaun cast Herb/Harry as a disturbed Vietnam Vet in FORCED ENTRY, his first feature as director – it was the beginning of a deep friendship.

And now Shaun has published this memoir of those heady days – and that double entendre is very much intended – as a tribute to his buddy, who passed away in March of this year. Anyone who knows the recipe for Automat Soup (a container of ketchup and hot water, if you’re asking – gourmets break some gratis crackers on top to simulate croutons) will probably already have a copy.

But what if you’re not a dedicated devotee of the Deuce and are wondering whether to purchase? Or what if you – horror – have to ask, ‘What’s the Deuce’? Well, let Mr Costello explain…

“The Deuce” at night.

‘The Times Square subway station, my portal to the neighborhood, was an intense assault on the senses. A sudden, almost overwhelming surge of smells and filth hit you as the train doors slid open to the rush of urine, and cotton candy, and damp humanity, and hot dogs on their revolving spits, and vomit, and baked goods like crumb cakes and bran muffins and pretzels, and the garlicky pungent scent of Gyros slowly rotating, and everything suddenly interrupted by someone chasing a pick-pocket through outstretched hands asking for dimes, and a tidal swarm of the disenfranchised huddled in groups, trying to stay warm. And this entire sensory phantasmagoria was musically scored by the overmodulated sound of Kool and the Gang wailing “Jungle Boogie” from the cheap speakers over the door to the subterranean record store. And then the cold again as you climbed the stairs to the street, and there it was, “The Deuce”.’ (from WILD ABOUT HARRY © 2015 Shaun Costello)

From this vivid evocation of arriving at 42nd Street, you should immediately have discerned that our guide to all this decadence has a very neat turn of phrase indeed, which he puts to fine effect throughout the book. It’s prose that encapsulates the sights, the sounds, the smells, the animal excitement of the city – and the only reason not to enjoy it is that it makes you break down and cry, lamenting the passing of such delightful debauchery. ‘Delightful debauchery’? Well, yes. Shaun Costello is aware of the oxymoron. On the one hand, he’s a cultured chap, dating a wealthy heiress. On the other, he’s working his way up the porn ladder. And he’s having fun all the way, along with his lifelong friend Jimmy and – of course – Harry, who is seemingly ever ready for an adventure.

Harry as a homocidal Vietnam Vet on a murder spree in FORCED ENTRY

Harry as a homocidal Vietnam Vet on a murder spree in FORCED ENTRY

Such as one hallucinogen-fuelled romp which takes them from Times Square to the East Side via various apartments whose inhabitants are woken at unearthly hours, before disgorging them on a pitch-and-putt golf course by the beach… all described with a panache that matches Hunter S Thompson’s knack for conveying altered reality.

When DEEP THROAT made Harry a porno chic superstar, his world suddenly became a round of press and promotion and personal appearances, followed equally swiftly by the traumas of the authorities’ attempts to prosecute him for merely appearing in the film. During this period, Shaun lost contact with his buddy, so he has to rely on the interviews that Harry made when he reappeared from anonymity (he’d become a real estate salesman in Colorado) in the wake of the documentary INSIDE DEEP THROAT, to describe what happened.

Initially I was worried that this could turn into a cut and paste job, but Costello has chosen and edited the quotes with great sensitivity. It’s rather like that moment in a jazz number, when the star soloist comes forward. We’ve enjoyed Shaun talking about his friend and now we get hear Harry’s own voice. And what a lovely voice it is, especially talking about his conversion to Christianity and the spiritual belief that saved him from alcoholism (with the aid of a 12 step programme). This sort of tale could so easily be preachy. And how often have former porners turned on the business, their former friends, their whole past life, when they found God?

But Harry – or Herb – was clearly such a sweet guy – and his story of salvation comes over as so genuine – that even if you don’t believe yourself, you can’t help but feel glad that he found that faith because it saved his life.

And then there’s a coda: a meeting years later; a final phone call. It’s deeply touching and heartfelt. Shaun Costello has written as beautiful a tribute as anyone could imagine.

Any quibbles? Just one. I was left ravenous for more of Shaun’s own autobiography. From his contributions to various forums, I know he has great tales to tell and that he tells them in an exceptionally entertaining manner. I hope that further memoirs will be forthcoming from this fine raconteur, drawing on about his raunchy history.

Harry on the golf course during his happy years in Utah.

Harry on the golf course during his happy years in Utah.

But that is not the aim of WILD ABOUT HARRY. It’s not a long book but it’s an intensely warm and wonderful one.  A fantastic evocation or a time, of a place and – most of all – of a friendship.

Julian Marsh

The Erotic Film Society

It gets wild, all right!

By Robin Bougie on June 1, 2015

Format: Kindle Edition

Very worthwhile look at the life and times of 1970s and 80s porn performer, Harry Reems by director Shaun Costello. If you’ve read any number of Shaun’s elaborate blog posts about his experiences working in adult films back in the day, you know that he’s got a flair for storytelling — crafting very readable tales from his memories of being in the XXX trenches. The man has lived some crazy stuff amongst some amazing personalities, and lived to tell the tale! Here, he focuses on his intimate run-ins, on-set adventures, and informed opinions with and about Mr Reems — the famous co-star of Linda Lovelace in DEEP THROAT. There are some good photos and such as well, but the real draw here is the text. The story about the making of the infamous “roughie” porno FORCED ENTRY alone is worth the price of admission. A real “must” for those who have an interest in vintage adult filmmaking, and for those who want to know more.

Praying for salvation in the land of smut.

Praying for salvation in the land of smut.

A MAJOR WOW!

By Jeff Eagle on June 1, 2015

Format: Kindle Edition

Shaun Costello’s story about Harry Reems had me at page one. Even if you didn’t know Harry you will feel as if you did. Shaun crafts a memoir that brings the Golden Age of adult films to an outrageous and hilarious story between two friends and the deliciously demented people they ran with. The stories are so well written you will feel as if you were there… or wish you were. It’s a great read about some great guys in a great era. You won’t be able to put it down.

THE FLEET'S IN....Sailors on shore leave head directly to

THE FLEET’S IN….Sailors on shore leave head directly to “The Deuce”

Great writing about a time and place almost forgotten by many!

 By Elizabeth Main on May 29, 2015

Format: Kindle Edition

I was so happy to come across this book, I loved it. A time and place that only the writer could bring to life the way he did. Completely held my interest with every word. I love the way the writer explained their relationship along with the character development. A real page turner, great fun summer read, could not put it down.

JOE'S FRIENDLY SERVICE...The location used for an early Harry Reems film FORCED ENTRY.

JOE’S FRIENDLY SERVICE…The location used for an early Harry Reems film FORCED ENTRY.

More reviews will be added as they appear on Amazon.

HERE IS A LINK TO THE BOOK’S AMAZON PAGE:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00YG1DM1I

WILD ABOUT HARRY

HE WAS A DECADE’S DARLING….AND ITS VICTIM

Harry 4 B&W shots_edited-1 

FINALLY AVAILABLE WORLDWIDE

 

WILD ABOUT HARRY

A Friend who knew him well remembers HARRY REEMS

 

Harry - Book Cover final version

by Shaun Costello

 

He was born Herbert Streicher, on August 27, 1947 to a Jewish family in Brooklyn – and died Harry Reems, on March 19, 2013, a converted Christian, at a VA Hospice in Salt Lake City, Utah. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer. Herb and Harry. A dichotomy he leaves behind for the rest of us to puzzle over. As Herb he was a son, a brother, A Bar Mitzvah boy, a High School track star, a student, a Marine, an aspiring actor, and a loyal and generous friend. As Harry he was a porn icon, and international celebrity, a darling of the TV talk show circuit, a victim of judicial overreach, a convicted felon, a finally-absolved and victorious defendant, a drunk, a drug addict, a 12 step champion, a converted Christian, a successful real estate executive, a scratch golfer, a semi-pro skier, a loving husband, and, at long last, a happy man.

Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty were the first two Hollywood celebrities to come to Harry's aid.  Fund raisers were held in New York and Hollywood for the Harry Reems Legal Defense Fund

Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty were the first two Hollywood celebrities to come to Harry’s aid. Fund raisers were held in New York and Hollywood for the Harry Reems Legal Defense Fund

Before the media circus that surrounded the exhibition, and subsequent prosecution of the movie known as Deep throat, Herb was a good friend of mine. This book is a personal remembrance of an old friend, and the only actor ever prosecuted by the United States Justice Department for simply doing his job. I’m quite happy with the way this story turned out, and I’m quite certain that Herb would feel the same.
I have included almost a hundred color and black and white photographs of Harry Reems, and of Times Square in its pre-clean up days during the 1970’s.

Making a phone call on The Deuce could be hazardous to your health

Making a phone call on The Deuce could be hazardous to your health

This book is a love letter to an old and dear friend, and to the era and environment that spawned his legend.

DEEP THROAT became such a box office phenomenon that the Religious Right came out in force to demonstrate across the country

DEEP THROAT became such a box office phenomenon that the Religious Right came out in force to demonstrate across the country

NOW AVAILABLE WORLDWIDE

THROUGH AMAZON/KINDLE

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00YG1DM1I 

AL’S WAR

AL’S WAR

The picture story of one man’s triumph over 

the juggernaut of the Japanese Empire’s military

machine during World War II

by Shaun Costello

Lt. Al, resplendent in his custom tailored Army duds from Saks Fifth Avenue. Portrait taken in New York in late 1943, before he shipped out to the Pacific to take on Tojo.

Lt. Al, resplendent in his custom tailored Army duds from Saks Fifth Avenue. Portrait taken in New York in late 1943, before he shipped out to the Pacific to take on Tojo.

In 1943, as the beastly hordes of the Japanese Empire marched triumphantly across the vast Pacific, devouring island after island, dancing the hideous gavotte of war, carving a swath of total destruction, moving ever closer to a cowered and frightened America, whose helpless West Coast surely awaited a pitiful fate, one man alone stood in the path of this dastardly aggression. One man, stalwart and proud, threw himself in harm’s way, disregarding the certain danger, ready to save an America brought to her noble knees by the savage onslaught of the yellow menace. One man, strong and unafraid, stood ready to spit in the face of the swarthy Tojo. One man –Champion of liberty, Defender of the American way, and friend of the working girl. One man – Lieutenant Al, the pride of the Army Signal Corps. This album is the picture story of that one man’s triumphant defense of America, singlehandedly pushing those squinty-eyed, buck-toothed yellow bellies back across that same Pacific, back to their jaundiced little islands, to wallow in the raw fish and Geisha culture of their questionable ancestors. One man. Our man. My father. Lieutenant Al.
A Farewell party at New York's Stork Club. My mother, father, Aunt Alice and Uncle Tommy

A Farewell party at New York’s Stork Club. My mother, father, Aunt Alice and Uncle Tommy – late 1943.

Lt. Al, before shipping out. Taken in the Bronx - late 1943.

Lt. Al, before shipping out. Taken in the Bronx – late 1943.

Lt. Al arrives in Papua New Guinea, ready to rumble.

Lt. Al arrives in Papua New Guinea, ready to rumble.

Lt. Al tells his army buddy, "My gun's bigger than yours. I wonder what else they compared.

Lt. Al tells his army buddy, “My gun’s bigger than yours.” I wonder what else they compared.

OUT OF BEER, Lt. Al explores the alternatives.

OUT OF BEER, Lt. Al explores the alternatives.

Before Officer's Training School Lt, Al was just a Private - (Nice haircut) In Basic training at Camp Crowder, Missouri.

Before Officer’s Training School Lt, Al was just a Private – (Nice haircut) In Basic training at Camp Crowder, Missouri.

FISH FOR DINNER - Lt. Al shows off his catch. Papua New Guinea 1944

FISH FOR DINNER – Lt. Al shows off his catch. Papua New Guinea 1944

Lt. Al in the Radio Room - Papua New Guinea 1944

Lt. Al in the Radio Room – Papua New Guinea 1944

Lt. Al - A man and his Bazooka. Papua New Guinea - 1944

Lt. Al – A man and his Bazooka. Papua New Guinea – 1944

Lt. Al knocking back a few cold ones with his Signal Corps buddies. Papua New Guinea 1944

Lt. Al knocking back a few cold ones with his Signal Corps buddies. Papua New Guinea 1944

Lt.Al sitting on his Jeep. Planning his next move against the Japs. Papua New Guinea 1944

Lt.Al sitting on his Jeep. Planning his next move against the Japs. Papua New Guinea 1944

Lt. Al buys pornographic wood carvings from naked cannibals.

Lt. Al buys pornographic wood carvings from naked cannibals.

The mail plane brings pics of little Shaun.

The mail plane brings pics of little Shaun.

A C46 in the sky over New Guinea. Probably bringing photographs in the mail of little Shaun.

A C46 in the sky over New Guinea. Probably bringing photographs in the mail of little Shaun.

Lt. Al and the boys lining up to meet the mail plane. Maybe there will be pictures from home. New Guinea 1944

Lt. Al and the boys lining up to meet the mail plane. Maybe there will be pictures from home. New Guinea 1944

Lt. Al with his native pals. Papua New Guinea - 1944

Lt. Al with his native pals. Papua New Guinea – 1944

Lt. Al looking like he needs a cold one. New Guinea 1944

Lt. Al looking like he needs a cold one. New Guinea 1944

BEER DELIVERY MAKES FOR HAPPY SOLDIERS. Lt. Al and his signal Corps buddies enjoying a few.

BEER DELIVERY MAKES FOR HAPPY SOLDIERS.
Lt. Al and his signal Corps buddies enjoying a few.

A happy Lt. Al gets the news. He's going to the Philippines to tangle with Tojo. New Guinea 1944

A happy Lt. Al gets the news. He’s going to the Philippines to tangle with Tojo. New Guinea 1944

Papuan native vist Lt. Al's tent. This was the first time their picture had been taken. New Guinea 1944

Papuan native visit Lt. Al’s tent. This was the first time their picture had been taken. New Guinea 1944

Lt. Al looking like he needs some R&R. Papua New Guinea 1944

Lt. Al looking like he needs some R&R. Papua New Guinea 1944

Lt. Al in the Radio Room listening to the ball scores.

Lt. Al in the Radio Room listening to the ball scores.

THE STORK CLUB - Lt. Al and his pals enjoy the tropical night life. Papua New Guinea

THE STORK CLUB – Lt. Al and his pals enjoy the tropical night life. Papua New Guinea

HERSHEY BAR DIPLOMACY - The native line up for snacks from Lt. Al and his pals. Papua New Guinea 1944

HERSHEY BAR DIPLOMACY – The natives line up for snacks from Lt. Al and his pals. Papua New Guinea 1944

Lt. Al and his buddies getting ready to move on to the Philippines.

Lt. Al and his buddies getting ready to move on to the Philippines.

Lt. Al photographing the Hospital Ship. New Guinea 1944

Lt. Al photographing the Hospital Ship. New Guinea 1944

GOOD MORNING NEW GUINEA - Armed Forced Radio - Papua New Guinea 1944

GOOD MORNING NEW GUINEA – Armed Forced Radio – Papua New Guinea 1944

On board ship heading to the Philippines, Lt. Al catches some rays.

On board ship heading to the Philippines, Lt. Al catches some rays.

On the way to the Philippines, Lt. Al snaps a few pictures.The swarthy Japs are out there somewhere,

On the way to the Philippines, Lt. Al snaps a few pictures.The swarthy Japs are out there somewhere,

CHRISTMAS 1944 - Lt. Al gets a Christmas Card.

CHRISTMAS 1944 – Lt. Al gets a Christmas Card.

LOOK OUT TOJO - Lt. Al and his pals kick the Jap hordes out of the Philippines.

LOOK OUT TOJO – Lt. Al and his pals kick the Jap hordes out of the Philippines.

BODACIOUS TATA'S BOUGAINVILLE STYLE - Lt. Al is delighted to find topless natives. Bougainville - Early 1945

BODACIOUS TATA’S BOUGAINVILLE STYLE – Lt. Al is delighted to find topless natives. Bougainville – Early 1945

Bullet scarred monument - Manila Philippines 1945

Bullet scarred monument – Manila Philippines 1945

DOWNTOWN MANILA After Lt. Al kicked those Japs the hell out of there.

DOWNTOWN MANILA After Lt. Al kicked those Japs the hell out of there.

USO Dance in Manila Philippines. That's Lt. Al on the far left.

USO Dance in Manila Philippines. That’s Lt. Al on the far left.

P51's lined up and ready to rumble. Outside Manila Philippines 1945

P51’s lined up and ready to rumble. Outside Manila Philippines 1945

PHILIPPINO FOLLIES. Local band entertains the Americans. Manila Philippines 1945

PHILIPPINO FOLLIES. Local band entertains the Americans. Manila Philippines 1945

SAILORS GALORE - The Navy boys secure their landing craft - Leyte Philippines 1945

SAILORS GALORE – The Navy boys secure their landing craft – Leyte Philippines 1945

SHOWTIME USO band helps the troops celebrate the JAPANESE SURRENDER. Manila Philippines 1945

SHOWTIME USO band helps the troops celebrate the JAPANESE SURRENDER. Manila Philippines 1945

Lt. Al joins the occupation forses in Honshu Japan. Here he is having his first Geisha experience. - Occupied Japan 1945

Lt. Al joins the occupation forses in Honshu Japan. Here he is having his first Geisha experience. – Occupied Japan 1945

Lt. Al is getting to like this Geisha thing - Occupied Japan 1945

Lt. Al is getting to like this Geisha thing – Occupied Japan 1945

Lt. Al and his buddies remove their shoes before entering a Japanese Tea Room - Occupied Japan 1945

Lt. Al and his buddies remove their shoes before entering a Japanese Tea Room – Occupied Japan 1945

Lt. Al flexing his muscles after beating up on Tojo and his boys - Occupied Japan 1945

Lt. Al flexing his muscles after beating up on Tojo and his boys – Occupied Japan 1945

THANKS OF A GRATEFUL PRESIDENT - After single handedly laying the whup on the Empire of the Sun, Lt. Al accepts the gratitude of the Commander in Chief.

THANKS OF A GRATEFUL PRESIDENT – After single handedly laying the whup on the Empire of the Sun, Lt. Al accepts the gratitude of the Commander in Chief.

The boys in the Pacific carried family pics with them. Lt. Al was no exception. Yep, that's me in the middle.

The boys in the Pacific carried family pics with them. Lt. Al was no exception. Yep, that’s me in the middle. Time to head home.

BUGS – The illness that ended my career

This story was written in 1994 while I was recuperating at my sister’s house in East Hampton.

The writing style is rough and pathetically stylistic. I had not yet learned to write, so please forgive

attempts at cuteness and all of the spelling and grammatical mistakes. I wrote this longhand and

typed it on my sister’s portable Olivetti. Rough indeed, bit I think it’s an important story because it

documents the illness from which I never fully recovered, and which ended my career as a film

director. If any of you ever wondered how, after all the success I experienced, I wound up broke,

the answer is in this story.

BUGS

The illness that ended my career

by Shaun Costello

This photograph was taken at Giza during the First Gulf War. I was on location, making a film about the war for Time Magazine.

This photograph was taken at Giza during the First Gulf War. I was on location, making a film about the war for Time Magazine. A happy time indeed.

This is a link to the film WRITING FOR TIME

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6iohEAsaK0 …

I first visited Time Inc., as it then was, in the Spring of ’88. I met

Kelly Knauer, Claudia Brown, and sane others. They seemed very enthusiastic

about what I showed them. I had developed a technique, not quite

perfected, for using small format video and manipulating the molecules

until the picture had an urgent, exciting look. Kelly kept me in his office

most of the afternoon and introduced me to several Time Inkers, all of

whom seemed thrilled about my work. Kelly has no project now, but as soon

as he does hey, sounds good to me.

Meanwhile the advertising world discovers my “look” and I become sort of

popular. Do some work, make some money.

Although busy, I keep Time Inc. on my ” every two months you get a call

whether you need it or not” list. After many phone calls, in the summer

of ’90, Claudia Brown tells me about this guy, Peter Viola, whose got a

video project. So I call. So I visit.

He likes my stuff, but he’s nervous. He wants to know about 8mm video and

why I like to use it. So I make my “small format video speech”. Something

he’s heard countless times since, ad nauseum I’m afraid. But hey, I’m

consistent.

I tell him about the smallness, the lightness of the camera. How I can hold

it for long periods of time, waiting for a shot to happen. How the camera

doesn’t intimidate people, so you can get past the natural resistance in an

interview a lot faster. How I can let the tape roll, while I wait for a

magic moment t happen. How the smallness of the crew makes for a more

intimate shooting atmosphere. He asks about the cost difference. Good

question. I tell him that money should not be the issue, not the way I

shoot. I tell him that whether he chooses to shoot in 16mm film, Betacam,

or small format video, the issue should not be which costs less, but

instead, which format will capture the images he wants.

I had never used small format video because it was cheaper. I had been

fortunate to work for advertising agencies, as well as corporate clients

who went for the look and feel of what I did,as a deciding factor in

hiring me. Not the cost. I got them more, I didn’t cost them less.

So he hires me. But not before I give him the same five answers to five

thousand more questions. “Jesus”, I think to myself, “this guy is really

nervous.” I remember him sitting on a spare desk, in a hallway, outside his

old office on the eleventh floor in the Time-Life building, telling me

“Shaun do you realize that a week from now we could be in Egypt?” EGYPT!?1?

Christ, I didn’t have a check yet. I couldn’t be in Great Neck.

PETER MAKEADECISION

So, he hires me. Not because I’ll save him money, but because I’ll get him

what he wants. He hires me because I have a passion for what I do. He

hires me because I leave a little bit of myself on every frame I shoot.

It’s not so easy, this small format stuff.

The cameras are always trying to protect themselves, so you have to constantly

fool them into allowing you to get the shot you want. I can remember Janice

Simpson, a Time reporter, interviewing a man in Brooklyn, who had been

mugged seven times. It was the most I struggled with the small format

technology during this project. The aperture kept shutting down. I kept

fooling it into opening back up. The focus shifted. So, I fooled it into

shifting back. Oops, there goes the aperture again. Meanwhile, what is she

saying? Do her eyes sparkle? Do I believe her? Oops, there goes the

aperture again.

It’s not so easy, this small format stuff.

I can not look through a lens without trying to make some magic happen. It’s

both my joy and my curse. Magic doesn’t happen by pointing a camera and

turning it on. Magic happens through struggle and sweat and doing battle

with the visual elements involved, until you’ve sorted them out to the point

where they tell the story that you origionally conceived when you first

looked through the lens. I cannot help but go through this process every

time I push the button. This is why I’m so exhausted after I work. This is

why he hired me.

We shoot the job. We travel. We get along. We see things we havn’t seen

before. We have fun. Peter turns out to be a great client, mainly during

the edit. He protects me from the suits. He lets me tell Time Magazine’s

story my way. I look at the footage, like I always do, I struggle with

the story I’m trying to tell, like I always do. .WHERESTHESTORY, WHERESTHESTORY.

Then, I have a dream, like I always do. I see the story in a pattern of

boxes, wake up in the night and write it down. It makes complete sense to

me. I fax it to Peter in the morning. Chuck, Peter’s boss, tells him, “It’s

great, keep him dreaming.”

So, we finish. But not before we have some minor, but typical, corporate

interference from Time execs who wonder, “Why are they breaking new ground

with brilliance, when mediocer but on-time would do just as nicely?”

BADJUDGEMENT BADJUDGEMENT

An exhausted Peter, video cassette tucked under his arm, hops on the plane

for the presentation in Orlando. “Remember Peter, a year from now all this

will be forgotten. But the work, with your name on it, will live forever.”

So, we did it. I look at it today, and it’s still the best promotional video

that I’ve ever seen. Peter knew what he wanted. I was the right choice

for the job. There was enough money in the budget, and enough time to sort

it all out. Bravo, all concerned.

I take a vacation, shoot seme commercials, four months later I get a call

from Chuck. “REDISCOVER AMERICA”, a 30 second TV spot. I work mostly with

Chuck on this one. Peter is doing 10 projects at once and is looking frazzled.

There’s enough money and time, and it seems to go pretty well. The on-camera

interviews are good, but the spokes person sucks. I hate him. I remember

saying to all concerned, after casting, “Anyone but him”. Of course, he’s

their unanimous choice. Oh, well.

I have the usual struggle with the small format cameras. There are a few

interviews I can’t use, one problem or another. But we’re budgeted enough

so that I have plenty to work with. I make video prints of all the interviews

and put them in an order that seems to make sense. Chuck and Peter

cone to the editing room at Vic Losick’s and we put it together. Looks

good. We agree. Chuck asks, “What about that other black guy, the teacher?”

I tell him there was a problem with the shot.

It’s not so easy, this small format stuff.

We get good feedback from the advertising agency. The finished product looks

good, with the exception of the spokes person with the migrain. Why is it

he looks so right in the Advil spot?

It’s 1991, and I have the best year ever. Win some awards, do a video for

Pace University, and several commercials. DOLLARSDOLLARSDOLLARS

Peter calls me late in the year. We should talk. Chuck does most of the

talking. There are projects in the works but Time-Warner, as it now

is, has installed an in-house, give a child a camcorder, production group.

Their work is dreadful, but the stockholders are saving sheckels so guess

who gets the projects. Chuck says he’s got something he wants to do, but

no money. He uses the FAVOR word. He uses it several times during the

meeting. I figure, “What the hell, these guys have been good to me.”

I tell him I’ll do it, but there’s something about it that bothers me.

Chuck’s got three thousand bucks to do a three or four minute piece. By

the time I buy the stock, pay the crew, and do the transfers, I will be out

a thousand dollars. “But what the hell, these guys have been good to me”.

Of course, I fail to mention that I’ve been good to them. But the money

is not what bothers me. They want to do the edit. MAJOR ANXIETY ALARM.

No client has ever looked at my dailies. EVER. There are so many problems

inherent in the technology that I use that I begin to worry: What if there

aren’t enough shots? What if the miniscule budget doesn’t cover the three

or four days I need to get the material? How will Peter handle the edit,

considering the constant techical fuck ups in the technology: the drop

out, the blanking,etc ?

I remind Peter and Chuck of the origional spiel I gave them, “I don’t use

small format video because it’s cheaper.”. I am very worried about this.

Chuck uses the FAVOR word again and I tell them I’ll do it. But Chuck

knows, and he’s right, that I can’t look through the lens without trying

to make some magic happen. So he figures that I’ll give him something he

can use, even though there is no budget and Peter will be going through the

dailies. I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m very worried

about this.

We shoot the job. I have Steve Robinson do the transfers because I have a

meeting on another project. Steve has worked for me for four years and

knows the drill, but an odd thing happens. I check in with Steve in the

transfer room late in the day, and he’s watching MTV while transfering video

tape. “How’s the footage?”, I inquire, like he’s even looked at it. I

do not have the budget to go through the material again, and hope that he’s

actually seen some of it; inbetween Michael Jackson and Madonna, of course.

The funny thing is that I’m the one whose losing money here. Steve is

getting his normal day rate, but he’s copping an attitude because there’s

no money in the budget for dinners and such. I’m losing money and he’s

slacking off. I have trouble understanding this.

I see the finished video and I don’t like it, but of course I don’t say much

to Peter and Chuck. It’s slow and the shot selection is not what I would

have made, but what the hell, its a finished product, made for nothing. Peter

and Chuck seem pleased.

There are dark clouds on the horizon now. Time-Warner is not my only client

to install in-house, give a child a camcorder production departments. CBS,

ABC, and my two biggest ad agencies follow suit. Well, it was nice while

it lasted. Suddenly I can’t get any work. My savings begins to disappear.

The shaky economy has caught up with me. Trouble with Inge begins. I am

depressed. Peter calls.

Another little video. Another no money for this project. Another favor.

“But what the hell, these guys have been good to me.”

Even though Steve robinson is getting his day rate (I never asked him to take

less) he begins fucking up the audio in a major way. This has been coming

for a while now. I’d been listening to his whining about his unhappy, unfullfilled

life, and dealing with his ever present arrogance. I’d even had to

endure his flirtations. But now, bad audio. I’m so mad at him that I don’t

pay him for the job. I’m running out of money and I figure if I pay him

I’ll lose $800, but if I don’t pay him I’ll make $1000. So I don’t.

We finish the video and the result is about the same as the first. Peter

and Chuck seem pleased and I hate it. There are some good shots, but the

edit is way off and Peter is beginning to grumble about problems he’s

having with certain shots. Problems with certain shots???? He used to do

this for a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Now he’s doing it for five.

He’s lucky he’s not having problems with all the shots.

My personal situation has grown darker. Old clients^have dried up. New

projects are collapsing. Money is scarce. My financial situation has put

a major strain on my relationship with Inge. By late ’92 we are talking

about splitting. Inge has been the one unshakable constant in my life for

the last nine years, and now it seems to be eading. I am unprepared for

severity of the depression I feel. Suicide is now a consideration. But wait

a minute, hold everything. Peter’s on the phone.

Another little video. Another no money for this project. “But what the hell,

these guys have been good to me.”. Wait a minute, where’s the favor part?

Nobody mentions the FAVOR word. Then it comes to me in one of those MARLON

BRANDO APOCALYPSE NOW DIAMOND BULLET IN MY FOREHEAD moments. This is no

longer a favor, it’s a job. The five thousand dollar video has become a way

of life for these guys. This was no longer a “Let’s do this to show the boys

upstairs so we can get money for the big one.”. THIS WAS THE BIG ONE.

Time-Warner, my favorite client had become a charity case. But hey, so was

I. I had finally done what I said I would never do. I was shooting small

format video because it was cheaper. Strangely enough, something else bothered

me even more. Peter and Chuck were both kvetching about their respective

positions at T.W. They were biding their time, they said, until they could

leave and start their own company.

WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

I’m having another DIAMOND BULLET IN MY FOREHEAD moment. These guys were

making these little low budget, no money for this project, do me this favor

videos, while they are drawing salaries from T.W., in order to put together

a sample reel, that I am shooting for them for nothing, so that they can open

a production company in direct competition with me The Scooter

would give this one a thousand “HOLY COWS”. “But what the hell, these guys

have been good to me.”.

I shot Peter’s little video. What the hell else was I going to do. I

replaced Steve with another sound recordist. Steve, by this time was threatening

to sue me for stiffing him on the last video. I was still so angry

that I wouldn’t talk to him. Peter was now complaining about problems with

the footage. Major problems. It seems that the digital processing unit

was blanking more than usual during the transfer process. This had happened

before on both PRIDE AND PASSION and REDISCOVER AMERICA, but I had been

in the editing room to deal with it. Peter could not afford me in the edit

suite now and had instead listened to the editor at EPG, who tried to cover

his ass and gave bogus advice.

It’s not so easy, this small format stuff.

1993 begins. Horror after horror, until I sink so low that everything is

bottom. Dark, slow, hopeless, filthy, suicidal. Pick your own order of

preference.

My health is failing. I’m weak. Cold sweats in the night. Nausea. Diarhea.

Fever. A strange lump on my face that is diagnosed as ingrown facial hair.

My fear, of course, is AIDS. I’m tested. I’m negative. I realize that my

negative AIDS test is the first good news I’ve had in a year.

Blood test results: seems when I was in the middle east I caught Hepatitis,

and developed an antibody to it. Other than that, my illness remains a

mystery. Several projects on which I’m bidding disappear. I start looking

for an apartment. Peter calls.

Another little video. No talk of favors. No talk of no money for this

project. This is simply what he does now. That is; this is what he does

now, while he draws a salary from T.W., in order to put together a sample

reel, that I am shooting for him for nothing, so that he can open a production

company in direct competition with me. YIPES!

This time Peter does a lot of complaining about technical problems that

he’s experiencing lately with my footage. I try to go over his problems

one by one, but he wants to lump them together into one unforgivable pile

of misstakes and call it SLOPPINESS. Not only am I broke and dying, but now

I’m a slob. Hey, whatever turns you on. Of course, I fail to mention cheapness,

or you get what you pay for. Peter once made a video for a hundred

and fifty thousand dollars, and his director was a prince. Now he’s making

them for five, and if there are any technical problems, which invariably

there will be, then his director is a slob. Or am I even a director anymore?

All I know is I’m trying to stay alive, and maybe still try to create a

little magic along the way.

“O.K., when do we start?”

“Not so fast, you slob you, there’s a catch.”

*

Oh boy, just what I was waiting for. Chuck has sold Entertainment Weekly

Magazine on doing a cheap promotional video, somewhere in the $6500 range.

This budget is to include post production, even though Peter will do the

edit.

DANGER WILL ROBINSON

I agree to do it, but it smacks of bad deal. If post production costs,

over which I have no control, go overbudget, thenfunds will have to come

from production costs, from which I’m not making any money anyway.

“But what the hell, these guys have been good to me.”

I move out of the apartment I have shared with Inge for the last six years

into a studio on East 44th street. I suffer depression more intense than I

could ever hope to desribe.

My body goes berserk and throws a seizure, and I 911 to intensive care at

University Hospital. Lots of Doctors. Lots of guessing. No conclusions.

Out in four days, I shoot the E.W. video. Claudio is my new sound man.

He has bad breath, B.O., and no idea what he’s doing. But he works cheap.

Hey, at least he charges accordingly. After the third day of a five day

shoot Claudio wants to know why he hasn’t been paid yet. Poor Claudio.

Of course, no one seems to care that I have not been paid the advance

check as yet, even though we’ve shot three days already and production

cash has had to come out of my pocket. This has been the M.O. for the

last four videos. I don’t get the advance check until the production is

over. In other words I, a slob, have been financing Time Warner, the

largest media conglomerate on earth for the last year. Think about it.

But hey, Claudio wants his money. I enjoy hating Claudio.

The fever episodes are more frequent now. Hospital stays of usually three

days or so. Lots of Doctors. Lots of guessing. No conclusions.

I transfer the E.W. footage and there is a new glitch, something on the

bottom of the frame. Its intermittent. It’s a mystery. Slob stuff,

no doubt. I change cameras. It goes away. It comes back. I call Sony.

I call everybody. Lots of Doctors. Lots of guessing. No conclusions.

Back in the hospital. I’m poked full of holes. TESTSTESTSTESTS

Hospitals, I find out, are a lot like Claudio. They say, “PAY ME”. So I

do something I’ve never done before, I pay the hospital with money that’s

supposed to go to crew and venders. The big rollover. What the hell, if

I’m dead the crew’s not going to get paid anyway. It seemed logical at the

time. I’m now spending so much time sick that illness is becoming familiar.

DOCTORS DOCTORS

PAY ME PAY ME

LOTS OF GUESSING

NO CONCLUSIONS

The wolves are at the door now, crew and vender wise, but I stall as best

I can. Peter has an expanded version of the E.W. video to shoot, and even

though he is now totally convinced of my slobdom, he’s got no choice but to

have me shoot it. The new E.W. footage has to be shot quickly, and I am now

on the edge of ambulatory. The daily shooting is a blur now. Hospital

treatments between shooting days. Keep shooting. Keep shooting. Try to

make some magic happen. DOCTORS DOCTORS PAY ME PAY ME.

I’m laying in a pool of fever sweat in the 44th Street apartment. Somehow ,

I’ve got to get it together enough to get to the West Village to cover a

photo shoot for a Puerto Rican comedian named John Leguizamo for E.W.

I do it with 103 degree fever. The footage is great. I get an odd satisfaction

from the fact that I can still make magic happen, even with a 103

degree fever.

The rest of the shooting has faded. The month after we wrap the E.W. is a

dark amalgam of hospital and apartment. Of darkness and stench and weakness

and crying and fever and hopelessness. All the while, in the distance, angry

venders on the phone and DOCTORS DOCTORS PAY ME PAY ME. I had been given

a check by E.W., which of course, I had given to the hospital. The shit will

hit the fan now. But at least there will be a fan.

In the midst of this chaos the lump in my right cheek, which has been diagnosed

by an esteemed dermatologist as ingrown facial hair, begins to rapidly

expand. Too weak from fever to get to the bathroom, I reach for the mirror

next to the bed and view this new chapter in my personal apocalypse.

10

Small black objects, the size of pencil dots, seemed* to appear through the

pores in the skin covering the lump. They appeared and disappeared again

and again, until I noticed slightly larger objects, that seemed to be moving,

on other parts of my face and arms. Then I felt the movement and the slight

sting, as the objects broke the skin. Tiny insects, which seemed able to

fly short distances, were coming through the skin covering the lump in my

face. I remember hearing the sobs before feeling the tears. All I could

do was cry. I thought I had lost ray mind. I wondered where Inge was.

While I waited for my friends from EMS, I thought about being a child

again. The delicious sensation of protection and nurturing and terry cloth.

FIX ME I’M BROKEN.

I remember looking up from the gurney at the face of the nurse in the E.R.

who was holding her hand over her mouth and gasping “Oh my god”. Ordinarily,

this would be an annoying reaction from a medical professional. But , in

this case, it actually made me feel better. Maybe this was really happening.

Maybe I wasn’t really nuts.

It took a long time to I.D. the bugs. Meanwhile the fever episodes continued.

Oddly, the Doctors do not connect the two. The Doctors seem to be pretending

that the bugs are happening to someone else. Doctors do not deal with bugs.

Doctors deal with fever. Doctors look down at you, with a concerned look

they must go to drama school to perfect, and say, “You seem to have You

seem to have You seem to have ” followed by PAY ME PAY ME.

“Do you think the bugs are connected to the fever?”, I innocently ask my

Physician/thespian/concerned guy. ”Hmmnmmmmm”, he responds, looking more

concerned than ever. Like he really gives a shit, “…what makes you

say that?”.

The tests come back BINGO DIAGNOSIS BUG-A-RAMA

My intestinal and respiratory systems have become a sort of Disneyworld for

Middle Eastern parasytes. It seems I had brought unwanted passengers back

with me from the trip to Egypt I had made with Peter and Steve for Time

Magazine. I had been so careful. Bottled water. Cooked food. No salads.

Maybe it was that Felafel I had eaten with the wife of the Time Bureau Chief

on my last day in Cairo.

11

My esteemed Physician/thespian/concerned guys swing into action. I’m

*

I.V.’d like a porcupine and pumped full of poison to eliminate these pesky

critters. It’s like the big round up. “Take em to Missouri, Matt.”

Back in the 44th St. apartment. The fever episodes are gone now. Of course,

the poison I’m full of, to kill my guests, is making me sick enough to

want to join them. The answering machine is filled with pleas and demands

from people I owe money to: venders, crew, Peter, Inge, DOCTORS DOCTORS

PAY ME PAY ME.

Weak and dazed from nasty combinations of Pharmaceuticals, I pick up the

phone. It’s Peter. A half hour harangue on the virtues of bill paying.

Of course, Peter has not noticed that I have not gone chapter eleven. I

could have used that option, but it’s not really my intention to stiff

anyone. Except maybe for Steve. I just have no money. Also, Peter’s

tirade is landing on a pretty battered psyche. Like the endless squadrons

of tiny Yassir Arafats, with wings and claws, that landed and took off from

the flight deck that was once my face.

It seems that my small army of disgruntled venders, unable to squeaze any

more money out of me, are now pestering Peter. Not to mention Claudio. “Peter

help me. He won’t pay me. What can I do?”. TRY BRUSHING YOUR TEETH YOU MAGGOT.

I love hating Claudio.

Peter suddenly segues from debt diatribe to concerned friend. It’s one

of his endearing qualities. As he’s asking about how I’m feeling, I realize

that he has no idea how sick I’ve been. I’m having another DIAMOND BULLET

IN THE FOREHEAD moment. No one really knows that I’ve been sick. I have

gone through this experience completely alone. My relationship with Inge

had been so fulfilling that any friends I had were now pretty distant.

Ther was only Inge and my work. Now both were gone, replaced by illness

and debt. What a world.

Peter seems genuinely concerned. Why do I love this guy? When Peter is in

his sincere, concerned friend mode he is irresistable. The E.W. edit is

finished to rave reviews and Peter is trying to find ways to creatively deal

with my outstanding debts. He still doesn’t understand why I don’t pay some

of them. This behavior amazes me. Did he think I had a trust fund? Did

he ever realize that I lost money on each of his low budget, no money for

this project, do me a favor, and oh by the way make some magic happen, you

slob you, videos? Did he think that Time Warner sent me a paycheck every

week, like the one they sent to him? Has he long since forgotten my DON’T

SHOOT SMA&L FORMAT VIDEO BECAUSE IT’S CHEAPER warnings? Does He really think

12

that he and Chuck share no resposibility for this mess, when all the while

they have been drawing salaries from T.W. in order to put together a sample

reel, that I have been shooting for nothing, so that they can open a production

company in direct competition with me?

GET REAL FELLAS!

So, now it’s 1994.

Late last summer I decided to be saved by my family. I took with me only

a small amount of light clothing, tee shirts and jeans mostly, and moved into

my sister’s house in East Hampton. I left the rest in the 44th street apartment.

I simply could not face that place again, and have no idea what happened

to the stuff I left there.

My health improved over the winter and other than some occasional wierd

stuff with my face I’m perfectly fine now. I had several phone conversations

with Inge about meeting, having lunch, talking, but she never returned the

call I made to her on her birthday. That was two months ago.

So, what is to be learned from this cautionary catharsis? I know that

telling this tale is the first time I’ve attempted to relive the events of

the last few years. I know that until I’ve done that, I can’t begin the

next faze of my life. Whatever the fuck that is.

So let’s look at the cast of characters.

Shaun, Inge, Peter, Chuck, Steve, even Claudio. Are they good guys?

Are they bad guys? I think that each of them is probably a little of

both. Each of them is probobly looking to gain an edge and avoid some

blame, just like everybody else. And maybe , along the way, try to make

a little magic happen.

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