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Vol. 2, No. 2    February 2021
MUSIC
            You may have seen my website/Facebook post about Garth Brooks' February 7 birthday, in which I advanced the notion that the Tulsa native had dealt with superstardom just about as well as anyone could've. Since I happened to be writing about country music for the TULSA WORLD newspaper in the late '80s and early '90s, when Oklahoma acts really took over Nashville, I was able to observe the careers of Garth and other musical Okies from an excellent vantage point. I had, if you'll accept the metaphor, a ringside seat at a big circus, where I could sit and study these performers as they progressed from sideshows (the bar-band scene) to the edges of the big top (a major-label deal) to the center ring (country-music stardom). Although there were a couple of exceptions,  the bulk of them, certainly including Garth, maintained their equilibrium admirably, never seeming to forget where they came from. 
            I think especially of the supremely talented Ronnie Dunn, whom I'd first gotten to know and like when he was playing the Tulsa clubs, often upstaging the headliners he opened for. (This, of course, was well before he joined with Louisianan Kix Brooks to become half of the biggest country-music duo of all time.) Another special act coming up in those days was Vince Gill, a consummate musician and very good guy. Vince projected such a laid-back quality that I once wrote a review calling him “country music's Perry Como.” Next time I saw him, I told him I hoped he hadn't been offended by the description. “Oh, no,” he said. “Perry Como's COOL!”
            (If you're too young to know who Perry Como was, just ask a baby boomer. Or Google, although online info might not convey just how big a deal Mr. C. was in his time.)
            I'd first seen Garth's show in 1989, at a club out at 21st and Garnett called Tulsa City Limits, which was the place up-and-coming national country acts usually played when they came through town. At the time – August 10 – he and his band were touring in support of his first single, “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old),” released by the big-time Capitol Records, and it was blazing up the charts.
            I was unprepared for Garth's terrific, high-octane appearance. It was such a mixture of showmanship, high spirits, and great music that, searching for a way to explain it, I wrote that it was like watching Bob Wills front Paul Revere and the Raiders. (Although I've caught a little hell for that off-trail comparison, including from my friend Rosetta Wills in her book about her dad, THE KING OF WESTERN SWING: BOB WILLS REMEMBERED, I still stand by it.) And I concluded my review with these words: “This may seem like a lot of hoopla for an act that's just getting started nationally. But after seeing what he can do in concert, I'll go out on a limb and predict that Brooks, showman and talent that he is, is going to be country music's Next Big Thing.”
            Over the succeeding months, I watched that prediction come true – and then some. By 1991, Garth was pretty much the biggest thing in all of pop music, selling out venues within hours.  For an appearance of his in Tulsa, people were trying so hard to get tickets by phone that their calls actually overloaded the system, causing it to crash.
            And now, a little bit of insider newspaper stuff: There's a reason most interviews with touring acts were done over the phone (and still are). Management and promoters and booking agents all wanted the story to run BEFORE the performer hit town; that way, it would stimulate ticket sales. Interviewing someone once he or she was in town really didn't do anyone except the readers any good; running a story a few days before the event was good for everybody. 
            Unless, of course, the act was so big that the show was already sold out.  
            That was the case with Garth's August '91 show. Every ticket had been sold many months earlier. The WORLD could've run a front-page story on him and it wouldn't have brought in any additional revenue. 
            However, as the date approached, our entertainment-section editor Cathy Logan, whom I still love, came to me and told me that our executive editor “wants an interview with Garth.”
            At the time, the WORLD's executive editor usually didn't pay much attention to what was in our section. He liked his news hard and considered entertainment soft. There was so much buzz about Garth, however, that even he understood the WORLD needed to spill more ink on the hometown boy.
            “Cathy,” I told her, “You know there's no need for Garth to do a phoner. There hasn't been a ticket available for that show since January.”
            She shook her head. “I know. But see what you can do.”
            So I did. I sat down and called Bob Doyle, Garth's manager, in Nashville, and explained the situation. Bob was another one of the good guys, but I figured it would be a very tough sell. Adding something else to his client's schedule – given Garth's dizzying daily commitments – would be a little like trying to slow down a locomotive. 
            “Well, John,” he said. “You know Garth's crazy busy these days. But let me talk to him and see if he'd have any time at all. I can't guarantee anything, you know.”
            “I know,” I said. “Thanks.”
            It wasn't two hours later that the phone rang at my desk, with Bob Doyle on the other end, asking, “Can Garth call you at 12:30 tomorrow?”
            I said sure, and all I'd need was 15 minutes. (I've long maintained if you can't get a decent newspaper-length feature story out of a 15-minute interview, then you're doing something wrong.)
            The next afternoon, the call came in, right on the dot.
            “John? This is Garth.”
            “Garth,” I returned, “before we get started, I just want to tell you on a personal level that I appreciate the call. I know your show here's been sold out for months and there's no need for you to do this.”
            “Aw, John,” said the man who'd soon be named 1991's Entertainer of the Year by both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association, “we go back before those sold-out concerts, don't we?”
            It was, simply, an act of kindness I will never forget, as well as one of the biggest reasons I'll always be a Garth Brooks fan.

 
MOVIES
          A few weeks ago, I got word that my friend Christopher Lewis had died. The former Tulsa resident was in Florida for the winter, where he and his wife, Linda, were refurbishing a vacation trailer. Chris had been dealing with heart issues; our mutual friend Michael Wallis told me Chris was sitting in a favorite chair, watching a documentary about trains – one of his favorite subjects – when his heart, apparently, simply stopped beating.
Chris and Linda Lewis and their dog, Samantha, made up for their own DAN TURNER cameo.
             Like Michael and his wife, Suzanne, I worked with the Lewises on several documentaries, including the music doc STILL SWINGIN' and the Learning Channel special HAUNTINGS ACROSS AMERICA, both of which I wrote. And while Chris and Linda made a lasting mark in documentary filmmaking, many of us will remember them best for their trailblazing trio of horror films for the Tulsa-based home-video distributor United Entertainment (now VCI): BLOOD CULT, THE RIPPER, and REVENGE. 
            For many years, I've widely touted BLOOD CULT, released in 1985, as the first feature aimed directly for the home market, intentionally bypassing theatrical distribution. (Other movies had debuted on home video before BLOOD CULT, but only because they hadn't been able to get into theaters.)  As is the case with any other “first,” evidence occasionally surfaces to challenge that claim, but I think I'm safe in saying that BLOOD CULT was the first real direct-to-home-video hit, making a good amount of money for United Entertainment in a relatively short time, and causing the big players in the home-video industry – which was then all about VHS tapes – to not only take notice, but also to start direct-to-homevid projects of their own.  I remember Chris telling me just how glutted the market had become in the few short months between BLOOD CULT and THE RIPPER – and how, suddenly, you had to have a “star,” a recognizable name, to set your movie's box art apart from the other horror videos on the rental-store shelves. (Chris and Linda hired actor and famed makeup artist Tom Savini to star in THE RIPPER; Patrick Wayne and John Carradine for REVENGE.)
            The Lewises and Bill Blair, the head of United Entertainment (and co-scripter of BLOOD CULT), went their separate ways after REVENGE, and Chris and Linda didn't make another feature film until 1990. By that time, the direct-to-video boom had faded, and their DAN TURNER, HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE (known on video as THE RAVEN RED KISS-OFF, a title I still can't stand) was greenlit as both a made-for-TV movie (for the old LBS network, which served a couple hundred independent stations) and a home-video feature (from Fries Entertainment).
            In covering Chris and Linda's three earlier movies for the WORLD, the horror-movie magazine FANGORIA, and other publications, I'd gotten to be friends with them. For DAN TURNER, I actually went to work for them as the scriptwriter, adapting an old pulp-magazine story featuring the Turner character that had been written by one of my all-time-favorite authors, Robert Leslie Bellem. In fact, Chris had first encountered the character, and the story, in a collection of Bellem stories I'd edited.
Christopher Lewis, star Marc Singer, and me on the set.
DAN TURNER's stars included Marc Singer (as Dan), well-known at the time for the BEASTMASTER movies as well as the TV series V; Tracy Scoggins, of television's DYNASTY; and reliable character actor Nicholas Worth, known especially for his villainous roles (who was anything but a villain in real life), playing Turner's nemesis, Lt. Dave Donaldson. Some great cult-movie actors were also brought in for a day or two of work, including EATING RAOUL's Paul Bartel, one of my all time favorites, and the veteran actor and Oklahoman Clu Gulager, whom I'd gotten to know and admire after he moved back to his native state for a time.
            I was on the set a good amount of time during the shooting, in the early spring of 1990, and I've told a lot of behind-the-scenes stories over the years in various publications. I think this one is my favorite, so I beg your indulgence if you've heard it before:
            The early part of DAN TURNER, HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE takes place at Bell’s Amusement Park, a wonderful Tulsa landmark that enticed patrons through its gates for 55 years before losing its lease and being dismantled in 2006.
             Our very young sons, Jonathan and Steven, loved going to the place. So when the money came through for the film and the Lewises gave me the assignment, I thought it might be a fine idea to write them and myself into a little Bell's cameo.  The scene I wrote had the fleeing Turner jumping into a car on the White Lightnin' log-flume ride – one of the boys' particular favorites – that's already occupied by a man and his two young sons. One of the cops (Jim Clark) chasing Turner leaps after him as the car pulls away, but misses, plunging into the water.
Chris Lewis and me (made up for my cameo) with a gag shot
             Steven and Jonathan were three and six years old, respectively, at the time, and I’d explained to them that we’d be riding the log ride in a feature film. That was true as far as it went, but – this being a movie – they never actually got to complete a full ride. Instead, we went through several retakes of Marc Singer jumping in with us and the log-shaped car beginning its wobbly way through the water, only to be stopped by Chris before we started up the ramp and pulled back to our starting place. Just after the third or fourth take, as crew members once again pulled us back to the start, assistant director Jill Clark asked, “John, is your son okay?”
            I looked over and saw Steven sniffling a little, a couple of tears running down his face. Always the stoic one of the family, even at age three, he said he was okay and nothing was wrong. I figured the unfamiliar conditions – we were shooting around 5:30 a.m. on a chilly March morning – had something to do with his distress, and when he quickly recovered his composure I didn't think any more about it.
            Shooting on the picture stopped at dawn, and as my wife, Janis, and the boys and I were leaving, Marc Singer, a gracious man, came over and visited with us for several minutes, making sure to engage both my sons in the conversation. Chris, as I remember, also made a point of jollying with the boys. After a few minutes, Janis and I hauled our tired offspring to the car;  I promised them we’d come back to Bell’s soon and take the log ride from start to finish.
            That satisfied Jonathan, who’d been grousing a bit about the whole experience. Steven seemed buoyed by the prospect of a return visit, too. “But, dad,” he said looking a little warily back toward the park where we’d been talking with the both the film’s star and its director, “next time I don’t want that man to jump in with us.”
            I should tell you that our entire scene, sadly, ended up on the cutting-room floor. And I should probably also tell you that we did take the boys back a month or two later, when we all were able to take a couple of rides in a White Lightnin' log – this time, uninterrupted by the exigencies of filmmaking.
MORE MOVIES
         If you're in the Tulsa viewing area and you enjoy '40s and '50s movies that often don't end happily, you're likely to enjoy our sixth season of FILM NOIR THEATRE. It airs at 7 p.m. every Sunday night on RSU Public TV, Channel 35 and at different places on all cable systems serving Tulsa and its environs. Once again, I've got the matchless Ana Berry as my co-host and a great crew led by Emily Spivy, whose direction is so fast and skillful that she would've made a great director in the golden age of Hollywood B-movies and serials, when the pictures had to be made at lightning speed with no sacrifice of quality.
            RSU TV general manager Royal Aills tells me that FILM NOIR THEATRE also streams, but only in the Tulsa market, so if you can't get it on your TV you can pick it up on your computer. Either way, I hope you can give it a look. We're proud of it, and I promise you some honest-to-goodness classic noir films this time around. 
AND FINALLY, BOOKS
          Please check out my latest work, available for viewing on the johnwooley.com website, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and other online venues, and remember that books make wonderful gifts for all occasions. I also humbly ask, once again, that if you've read either or both of the last two books in the Cleansing trilogy (SATAN'S SWINE and SINISTER SERPENT), you take a couple of minutes and leave a star rating and/or short review on the books' amazon.com pages. We've had a lot of people comment on and rate the first book, SEVENTH SENSE, but there are very few on the other two. Robert Brown and I know that people are digging the books, because we hear from them. That enthusiasm just isn't getting to the online sites.
            That's it this time around. Thanks, as always, for reading and for your support of what I laughingly refer to as my career. I do appreciate it and always will. 
                   – JW
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