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Vol. 1, No. 3    October 2020
HOOPTEDOODLE
             “One of these days, you're going to make it.”
            I don't know how many times my late mother, God bless her, said that to me over the years, as I pounded away at my writing career. Of course, what went unsaid, or at least implied, was that she didn't feel like I'd made it YET.
            I wonder, and I kind of imagine that we all wonder, from time to time, if we've “made it” – if we're even CLOSE to “making it” – in our chosen professions. And then I think about a couple of people I've been very fortunate to know and have as friends: Roy Clark and Barry Friedman.
            You'd think that Roy Clark, of all people, would have figured he'd had it made. He was a bona fide multimedia superstar who did far more than his share to nudge country music into the mainstream. He had hit records. He drew thousands upon thousands to his concerts. He even had a Tulsa elementary school named after him. And I don't think it's overstating things to say that his 1976 tour of the USSR, when he became the happy, benign face of American for millions of Iron Curtain viewers, may have had something to do with the thawing of the Cold War. 
            And then I think about something Roy told me years ago. He said he saw stardom as a ladder, stretching high into the clouds. He said put his foot on the first rung as a young teenager, when he started playing in his father's square-dance band. Then came local radio and TV appearances – another rung. Then his own group. Then an opportunity to front Wanda Jackson's band. 
            Higher and higher he climbed, eyeing the high clouds in the sky, where he figured his ladder to stardom finally ended. 
            “And then, one day after all those years, I stepped up another rung and finally, finally, stuck my head through those clouds.” He told me with a big Roy Clark grin. “And do you know what I saw?”
            I said I didn’t.
            He gestured toward the sky. “I saw that ladder, John,” he said, “going on forever.”
           That's the way it is for a lot of us – especially, it seems, if you're in the business of creating something, whether it's books or music or movies or art pieces or whatever. I was fortunate enough, as a graduate student on the G.I. Bill, to study under a great writer and writing teacher, Marilyn Harris, who often said something to the effect that contented people don't write books. The idea was that if you ever got satisfied, you'd stop.
            While I don't have the empirical evidence to prove it, I believe that most writers never stop writing. And like Roy Clark, most writers and musicians and actors and other artists never really believe that they'll ever make it to the top, simply because that damn ladder goes on forever.
            On the other hand, there's a story my good pal Barry Friedman passed along to me a couple of years ago. In addition to writing commentary and books (his latest, FOUR DAYS AND A YEAR LATER: AN ELEGY, is a heartbreakingly candid recounting of his son's fatal drug overdose, and what followed), Barry has for years made a good part of his living as a standup comedian. Every year, he does a two-week gig as a headliner at a club in the Bahamas, which provides him with, among other amenities, prime seaside lodging.
            One morning, he was sitting on the patio, writing, when, he said,  a woman who had been walking by the place for about a week stopped. She'd seen him every morning, she said, and she wondered just exactly what he did all day.  
            He told her he wrote; in fact, he was working on a novel. “I'm the comedian here,” he told her, “so I have plenty of time.”
            “Must be something.”
            “Yeah. I keep thinking how great it would be if I actually made it in either profession.”
            “Oh, you've made it,” she said.
            “Thank you, but not even close.”
            “Yes you have.”
            They went back and forth for a moment, until she finally yelled at him, smiling: “You've made it!”
            “Why do you keep saying that?” Barry asked.
            “Look at you. You're in the Bahamas, looking at the ocean for two weeks, writing a book and doing comedy. Stop arguing with me. You've made it!”    
        Although this whole notion of “making it” is something I think about a lot, I think it's especially on my mind right now because of something I spotted on Twitter the other day. It's called “Paramount Unproduced Properties 1983-1997,” and it gives the loglines – that is, synopses of a sentence or two – for all of those unmade feature films. 
            OLD FEARS is one of 'em. That's the novel Ron Wolfe and I wrote, first published in '83, which had been optioned by Wes Craven before he let it go and Paramount picked it up. As I recall,  the studio wanted it for Jack Sholder, the director who'd done the second NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (in 1985) and would go on to direct a really nice alien-possession movie called THE HIDDEN (1987).  Paramount hired a guy named Jeb Stuart to do the screenplay.
            Recently, I emailed Ron about the Twitter mention of OLD FEARS, and he wrote me back about an interview with Stuart that he'd just come across. In it, Stuart said he'd been pretty desperate for work back then, and his agent landed him two scripts that had to be written at the same time. “I really loved the Paramount concept,” said Stuart, referring to OLD FEARS, “but had some initial trouble with the producers.” So he turned all of his attention to the one that wasn't ours. 
            It was, instead, DIE HARD, the action-movie blockbuster that grossed somewhere around $140 million and made a big-screen star out of Bruce Willis. 
            Now, there's certainly nothing that says a movie version of OLD FEARS would've had that kind of success if Stuart and the producers at Paramount had gotten along. But at least the film would probably have been made. (It wasn't, of course, but we have high hopes once again, as OLD FEARS is currently optioned to Sony Pictures Television.)
            If there's a point to all of this, it may be that while there's no clear line of demarcation associated with “making it,”  if someone does this sort of thing long enough, he or she is going to have to deal with a few agonizingly near misses.
BOOKS
     
With Halloween on the way, here's an offer we're making to newsletter subscribers only: When you order any book featured on my website (SEVENTH SENSE, SATAN'S SWINE, SINISTER SERPENT, TWENTIETH-CENTURY HONKY-TONK, RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE), I'll include – absolutely free! – a copy of either GHOST BAND, my 2006 ghosts-and-big-band-music novel from HAWK Publishing Group, or HOT SCHLOCK HORROR, my 1992 survey of low-budget fright flicks that the legendary producer David F. Friedman called “the best genre-movie book I've ever read.”  Both are original printings, and I'll sign and personalize them if you'd like, just as I'll be happy to do with the other books you order.
            (As I often tell folks, you can get the rare UNautographed copies if you prefer.)
           There's no extra postage or other charge for either of these free books. Just let us know in the note section at checkout which one you want with your order, and we'll take care of it.
              This offer is good throughout the month of October. 

 
The John Wooley online store can be found here. Digital versions are also available at amazon.combarnesandnoble.com, or your favorite online dealer. For more info, click here
MOVIES
    And speaking of Halloween . . . .
            You may already have seen both of these films, but in case you haven't,  I highly recommend two good old pictures, 1932's FREAKS and 1944's MURDER IN THE BLUE ROOM. They're are very different, but both are right up there in my all-time Top Ten.
            FREAKS is, of course, the better known of the duo. Done by the famed horror director Tod Browning (Lugosi's DRACULA, Lon Chaney Sr.'s THE UNHOLY THREE and LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, etc.) for MGM, FREAKS was considered so gruesome and unseemly that the studio pulled it from release. Now, almost 90 years later, it still packs a wallop.
            The premise has to do with life in a traveling carnival, with the “freaks” as, more or less, the protagonists – along with Wallace Ford as Phrozo the Clown and the appealing Leila Hyams as Venus, who has a seal act – and a couple of “normal” people, upper-echelon stars of the carny, as the villains. Done before the Production Code really started censoring Hollywood movies, it's fairly graphic about the relationships between the characters – and, ultimately, about the fate of the antagonists. It's a disturbing but deeply engrossing picture that probably wouldn't be great for very young kids.
            On the other hand, the engagingly goofy MURDER IN THE BLUE ROOM is pretty much suitable for anybody with a love for the films of yesteryear. It's a musical mystery-thriller concerning the goings-on in an old house after a mysterious room is opened for the first time since being sealed up following a decades-old murder. Universal Pictures B-star Anne Gwynne, always a welcome presence, is the female lead, but a singing and dancing trio called the Jazzy Belles absolutely steal the show. Made up of young show-biz veterans, Betty Kean, June Preisser, and Grace McDonald, the Jazzy Belles were apparently an ad hoc group put together to replace the comedy team the Ritz Brothers, who had been slated to star.
            You can't take MURDER IN THE BLUE ROOM seriously for a minute, but it's one of the briskest hours you'll ever spend with an old movie. I watched (more than once) a nice print on YouTube. If you'd like to hear more about it, Michael H. Price, Joey Hambrick, and I sing its praises in some detail as one of our FORGOTTEN HORRORS PODCASTS, available here.
ERRATA
     Finally,  a couple of corrections to last month's newsletter. It was actually Vol. 1, No. 2, not No. 1, and in the Music section, a typo turned the name of the fine Tulsa-based saxophonist Steve Wilkerson into Steve WINKERSON. Sorry, Steve.
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   That's it for this time. Thanks very much for reading – and happy Halloween!
            JW

 
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