To the 2 people who read my blog, you know that I’m obsessed with Sherry Lansing. I know everything about her, including the fact that she’s married to a movie director named William Friedkin. I didn’t know much about him other than the fact that he directed The Exorcist. For some reason, I listened to an interview he did at the New York Film Academy, which was surprisingly hilarious, and so I figured I should watch some of his movies. I did and now, Sorcerer and To Live and Die in LA are two of my favorite films.
I was particularly astonished by To Live and Die in LA. It’s a perfect action movie with a very surprising twist about 15 minutes before the final act, one of the best, most natural (no CGI) car chases I’ve ever seen, and a terrific soundtrack by Wang Chung. The cast is also amazing. 31-year-old William Petersen is DEVASTATINGLY handsome and Willem Dafoe looks impossibly young. M has the same big hair as William Petersen does in the movie and if he stands away at a distance and I squint, he kind of looks like William Petersen.
Sorcerer was also terrific. The very tragic, twist ending is an appropriate finale. I know Friedkin wanted Steve McQueen in the lead role but Roy Scheider was really good in this as well.
Also one note about The French Connection - young Gene Hackman is very cute!! I was shocked that Gene Hackman used to be young once. I only know him as an older actor.
I then read Friedkin’s biography The Friedkin Connection. It’s terrific and I encourage any movie lover to read it. Friedkin has the most fascinating stories about how his movies were made and is a hilarious writer. He is also very honest about the extreme highs and lows he experienced in the movie industry and the many mistakes he made along the way. He seems very humbled by it all. My favorite section was when he talked about meeting Sherry and their life together.
I’ve included some of my favorite quotes from his book. I hope I’m not asked to take these down. I want to show just how great his book was. Hopefully you enjoy reading these passages as much as I did.
The opportunities Friedkin regrettably passed on:
Pg. 1: An oversized manila envelope lay on my desk when I arrived at the production office of Cruising. I opened the envelope and pulled out acrylic and spray-painted works on paper, collages of faces and bodies with scrawled words and splashes of color in the style of graffiti. I found them amusing but not to my taste. A handwritten note accompanied them telling me how much the young artist Jean-Michel Basquiat admired my films and how pleased he would be if I would accept these early works as gifts. I threw them in the wastebasket and never acknowledged the note. A few years later, a Basquiat painting from that period sold at auction for 14 million dollars.
At about the same time a demo recording was sent to me that contained rhythmic soul-disco tracks behind a high falsetto voice. The music was original but not something I appreciated. There was a handwritten note from the young recording artist, Prince, wondering if I’d consider doing a “music video” of one of his songs for the fledgling network called MTV. I didn’t respond.
I passed up an ownership stake in Mike Tyson when he was first discovered by Cus D’Amato. I declined 1/3rd ownership of the Boston Celtics and the opportunity to be one of the producers of Star Wars.
A funny story about the tree dynamite explosion scene in Sorcerer:
Pg. 334: Marcel didn’t nearly have enough explosives to blow the tree. In desperation I called a friend in Queens, New York, known as “Marvin the Torch.” Marvin wasn’t his real name but a non de plume bestowed on him by Jimmy Breslin. But he was a “torch.” He blew up failing businesses for insurance money, “turning grocery stores into parking lots,” as he put it. In a room of a thousand men, he would have been among the last three you would suspect of being an arsonist. He was in the beauty supply business in Queens. We used to call his wife “Mrs. Torch.”
When I called, she got on the phone. “Hello, Mrs. Torch,” I said. She wasn’t amused. I asked if I could speak to “Marvin.” “He doesn’t do that anymore,” she screamed at me. “This is for a movie, Mrs. T, it’s not for real.” When “Marvin” got on the phone, I explained the problem, and he came down to the Dominican Republic three days later. He arrived with two suitcases of flammable “beauty supplies” and the next morning blew the tree to smithereens.
Hitting rock bottom and meeting Sherry Lansing:
Pg. 401: I was 55 years old and hit bottom. I thought about what else I might do with my life. There have been successful filmmakers of my generation, before and since, who didn’t survive disasters like Rampage. They never directed another film. It was entirely possible the same fate awaited me. My personal life was also in shambles. I had been unhappily married and divorced three times; I had two young sons I dearly loved but professionally, I was the instrument of my own downfall.
Pg. 402: One morning in mid-March 1991, I was on the San Diego Freeway heading south to Hollywood Park, the racetrack. My car phone rang. Tita Cahn was calling me to see if I would take her to an Oscar party. Her husband, Sammy, didn’t want to go. I wanted to go to the track, but there was something plaintive in her voice, and for some reason - the mystery of fate - I turned the car around.
When Tita and I arrived, standing in front of me was a tall, beautiful brunette with a welcome smile. Frankly, the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. “Sherry, you know Billy Friedkin,” Tita said. “You’re much too young and cute to be Billy Friedkin,” the brunette said. “You’re much too young and beautiful to be Sherry Lansing,” I stammered. In that moment, the course of my life changed. Many of our friends thought our relationship wouldn’t work - she was one of the most sought-after women in Los Angeles, beautiful, elegant, and self-sufficient, while the arc of my career was on a downward curve - but after 3 months, we decided to get married. We both wanted a private ceremony, just the two of us.
Pg. 408: As Sherry was becoming a legendary studio head, I was on a downward slide, but she never allowed my spirits to falter, always offering support, encouragement, and the deepest love I’ve ever known.
It was an uphill climb to the bottom. I used to collect newspapers and magazine articles and make notes of personal experiences, with the idea of one day developing films from stories that interested me. Eventually stuff piled up in closets, gathering dust. A lot of it is still in my closet, a constant reminder of failed ambitions and broken dreams.
I owned a 16 room apartment on Park Avenue, a house on Big Bear Lake, a condo in Snowmass, Colorado, and a house on Mulholland Drive in LA. With little income, I could no longer afford those extravagances, so Sherry and I moved to a small house in Bel Air. I also owned a Turner watercolor and a Corot oil, which had to go.
What is this?
An anthropological look at how people think about money. Created and edited by Star Li.