The first leg (2,366 miles) of my 8,000 mile drive to the Pacific and back this summer

lEAVING THE END OF mAY

Prepping our trusty (hopefully) 2003 Roadtrek camper van for its first big journey.  Catheryn flies to Denver, then we head west through Nevada/Utah deserts. Stop in San Francisco/Petaluma  to visit friends and Evan, and pick-up Philip, who’s flying in from Portland, Maine.

Leisurely drive up the California Coast to spend a few days in Redwood National Park, then back to SF.

Catheryn and Philip fly east,  but I drive back the northern route through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, then down through Baltimore to visit old friends– then home to Davidson, NC.

The first leg of the trip West– Davidson to Denver, about 7 days mostly off-Interstate.

Will shoot vast quantity of stills and video, and blog each night for Atlas Obscura— mostly from State and National Park lands.  The van has a kitchenette, so will buy/cook food from farmer’s markets and groceries– with some exceptions.  Seeking quirky museums, ghost towns, old theaters, and all manner of roadside curiosities, personalities, and neglected cultures

Welcome

Robert Maier is a writer, producer, educator, specializing in cinema.

My First Memory of Christmas and a Song for the Kids

Old time Coca-Cola ad with Santa Claus holding a Coke bottle

Santa Coke

 

This ad was made the first Christmas I can remember, and so I’ve always associated Coke with Christmas.  Many friends, especially John Waters, do too.

In celebration, here is a young boy’s ditty honoring holiday joy:

Jingle bells, Santa smells
Cow pie on his sleigh,
He sat in it,
Now he’s havin’ a fit,
PU lets run away.

 Oh…
Dashing through the snow,
To the outhouse ‘cross the road
My butt’l be so cold
Sittin’ on that hole.

I surely wish that my
Dream comes true tonight.
An indoor can
For this ol’ man
Would be a warm delight.

 

John Waters’ Infamous Roach Xmas Tree Ornament

xmascard

The roach is lying feet up in the bottom of the ball.  These were sent before John Waters had 2,000+ on his xmas card list (and I was still on it).  I don’t get xmas cards from him anymore, because I was naughty.  Imagine that.

P.S. not for sale.

Visions of the South- “The Charlotte Observer” Observes Etiquette of Cleavage Display

Edie-the-egg-lady-webHere are two photos, inspired by a shocking exposition in the local paper.   The first is of underground movie actress, Edith Massey, in a scene from the notoriously unfashionable movie, “Pink breastFlamingos.”

Edith has committed the fashion crime of allowing her breasts to actually touch!

Photo 2, Actress Sofía Vergara at a Hollywood premier, displays  the “natural and elegant look,” with breasts pushed flat and out-of-sight. The pinnacle of good taste for your holiday party look, according to The Observer’s fashion- casualty writer, Olivia Fortson.

Charlotte, North Carolina is home to many who’d rather be in New York.

It’s a squeaky clean city, where “upscale” and “exclusive” are most aspired-to adjectives.  The “Charlotte Observer” is the local standard bearer of charming Southern social conformity, and regularly publishes howlers like this, full of Dos and Don’ts, so that local country club doyennes can be perceived to be as “achingly chic” as the Saturday night crowd exiting a Path Train in downtown NYC.

Don’t let this happen to you ladies.  But do enjoy some good laughs in the article

One of the article’s expert advisors had this to say about his fashion creds…

One word for what we are all about: connaissance, French for “in the know.” Knowing which Celine satchel will be the “it” bag this season and what Miucci Prada has up her sleeve for the season to come. Even better, Coplon’s knows you. From the runways in Paris and Milan to New York’s most up and coming atelier, we’ll know what look will work for you before you’ve even thought about it.

Check out the Charlotte Observer Article here. http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/12/11/4538516/how-much-is-too-much.html#.Uqmv1-I9K71

Art inspires

gasoline_24-bDavid Campany – artist, writer, curator, and Reader in Photography at the University of Westminster – recently published Gasoline (Mack, 2013), a book of newspaper photographs depicting gas-related events between 1944 and 1995. It is a sampling of twentieth century car-culture, filling stations, and other accouterments, primarily in the United States. The prints were collected from North American newspapers in the process of liquidating their print archives.

Gasoline is split into two sections – fronts and backs of the photographs – separated by a short interview with Campany, printed in silver text on toothy black paper. The book is soft-cover, but stiff, with a red paper dust-jacket, similar in size and color to a school folder. The title shares the cover with a photograph of a woman in her vehicle, arm draped across the steering wheel with her face obscured. The car, the woman’s hair, and the sunlight are all airbrushed to perfection. It could be an advertisement or a fragment from an early Rosenquist painting.

Idea stolen fair and square from americansuburbx.com

Visions of the South

cyclewideRan into a couple guys out for a ride, enjoying the crisp fall weather along theBlue Ridge Parkway outside of Little Switzerland, North Carolina.  Their bikes were eye-popping, and they had driven nearly 100 miles from Sevierville, TN.

vestSaw many Harleys out on my ride, with a substantial increase in trikes.  Prices for these shiny beasts approach $30,000, and personally I’d choose a Miata convertible to escape the wind and the rain.  But these guys surely wouldn’t be caught dead in a Miata.

yellow

Nevertheless, looking at them leaves me full of wonder, and I’m glad there are people in the world who do such meaningful, nutty things and these are some of the best artists I’ve seen in a while.  trunk

This car shows a “convenient”  way to carry your lunch.  Thanks to Mr. W.G. Shular for being a fearless artist.

John Waters’ Cry-Baby Main Location “Milford Mill Swim Club”- Up For Auction in Baltimore

milfordmill3900_quarrylake1The Swim Club used as the primary filming location for John Waters’ Cry-Baby is up for auction.

The Milford Mill Swim Club in the Catonsville suburb west of Baltimore City has been closed for more than a year, and is now more than bit worn around the edges.    It was a favorite teen hangout in the 1950s, and a big inspiration for Waters’ comedy that pit the rival social gangs, the Drapes and the Squares, against each other. milfordmill3900_sign

The swim club was actually an old quarry that closed when the owners hit a spring and sold cheap to an enterprising local family made lemonade from lemons.  The 18 acre site was a perfect place where teens could show off their hot rods and hot bods.  There were plenty of hiding places in the woods where they could smooch and drink cheap beer and wine, smuggled in trunks of their cars.

milfordmill3900_bathhouse1

Cry-Baby rented the swim club for several weeks in May, 1990, before opening day, but the shoot went over schedule, and the owners threw a fit when they weren’t able to open for their regular crowd after Memorial Day.  They held up the very unhappy producers for big bucks to make up for their loss.

The neighbors, were at first fascinated by the movie goings on, which included frequent appearances by its star, Johnny Depp (before he was really famous). But they began to loudly complain about the 100 ft. high Musco movie lights that lit up half the neighborhood, and noise of the crew when they switched to a week of night shoots that began at 9pm and went to 6:00am.

milfordmill3900_office_pavillion1The worst night was the staging of a hot-rod chicken race with squealing wheels and window-rattling straight pipe exhausts that eventually attracted the cops and local politicians, because there were so many complaints from neighbors.

I was the unfortunate location manager in the middle.  They finally allowed us to finish the night when we promised it would be our last shoot, and we’d never come back there.  Ah showbiz!

Searching for Royalty Checks from Low Budget Movies

sugarman posterThe day I saw “Searching for Sugar Man,” I received my first-ever royalty check from MGM/United Artists for a union film I worked on back in the 80s.  “Sugarman” won the 2012 Academy Award for best documentary.  The movie is a mind-bending story from the 1970s that  goes against the grain of typical show business success stories.  It’s about how success can be achieved by someone no one ever heard of, in a place that doesn’t count, then be forgotten and re-discovered in a series of weird coincidences.  It is a common story in show business.

“Searching  for Sugar Man” tells the story of singer-songwriter, Sixto Rodriguez, who played bars and coffee shops around Detroit. Rodriguez came up in the wake of Bob Dylan.  A former executive at Motown Records agreed to a record deal after Rodriguez was discovered by two respected Detroit record producers who agreed there was money to be made in the world of protest singers and folk music.  Sounds like the big break every artist dreams of, but the public disagreed, and like so many other singer-songwriters of the time, his records didn’t sell, and he vanished.

If Rodriguez had moved to Greenwich Village, like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul, and Mary and others, to be a part of the hyped-up  singer-songwriter scene there, it may have been a different story.   But Rodriguez was not interested in offering himself up to the hype machine of New York record labels.

Rodriguez would have sunk into eternal obscurity, except a bootleg of his record was smuggled into South Africa.  His protest songs charmed the local white progressive population who suffered under the apartheid regime of white supremacist thugs, and yearned to join the world-wide counter-culture ushered in by artists like the Beatles and Dylan.

South Africa at the time was the world’s pariah, and Western artists avoided the country like the plague, starving the progressives of the music and culture they wanted so badly.

Rodriguez’s bootleg record filled a void, and his rebellious songs became underground anthems for millions—  the South African equivalent of “Kumbaya”  and “ Satisfaction” rolled into one.  Rodriguez’s albums circulated by the hundreds of thousands, year after year in South Africa, in censored and uncensored and legal and bootleg versions.  A myth grew around Rodriguez in South Africa that he had committed suicide on stage to protest a cold, unfeeling world.  To the contrary, Rodriguez had remained in Detroit, worked as a laborer and quietly raised a family. His professional music career abruptly ended after his second non-selling album tanked and his recording contract was yanked.

A South African journalist tracked Rodriguez down  in the late 90s, and brought him to South Africa where sold-out several concert tours—and he was revered for helping bring down the apartheid system.

UA-CheckMy fresh $10.67 royalty check from MGM/UA on my desk, I was intrigued that South African record distributors claim they regularly sent royalty checks to A&M Records in the for the hundreds of thousands of Rodriguez albums sold.  Some say more than a million records were sold.  Rodriguez had no idea that more than a handful of his records had sold anywhere—he never received a royalty check either.  Sussex Records, the original American label was sold several times, and Clarence Avant, its founder cannot trace Rodriguez’s contract after forty years.

So, here’s the classic Show Biz Question: “Where are my royalties?”   The answer?  “There are no royalties, or, hire an attorney and just try to get them.”

Anyone with the slightest involvement in royalties knows this dialogue.  Of course, some stars do just fine collecting them.  Though certainly not a star, I’m astounded that the Directors Guild of America tracked me down after many decades to pay me a measly $10.67.  If it weren’t for a union contract, I’d never have received that.  I wish the Waters’ films I had worked on had DGA contracts.  I’m sure hundreds of others, who worked on low-budget-hell productions that eventually paid off, even decades later, would agree.

Wouldn’t  it be nice if all unions had no/low budget agreements and welcomed all to share in the spoils—rare as they are?  But how un-capitalist is that?  And former low/no budget filmmakers love capitalism, especially when they finally have the wherewithal to hire good attorneys.

 

Edith Massey, “Edie the Egg Lady” the Underground Movie Star: Her Life as an Orphan

Edith Massey as Edie the Egg Lady, played Divine's mother in "Pink Flamingos." It was her defining role, but not exactly what she dreamed of as an star-struck orphan in the 1920s.

Edith Massey as Edie the Egg Lady, played Divine’s mother in “Pink Flamingos.” It was her defining role, but not exactly what she dreamed of as an star-struck orphan in the 1920s.

Through occasional magazine articles, John Waters’ writings and stories, a few paragraphs in movie databases and my short film, “Love Letter to Edie,” brief snippets of Edith Massey’s life story have drifted along the edges of hipster culture in the thirty-three years since her underground movie debut in Waters’ “Multiple Maniacs” (April 10, 1970).

Since she was a little girl, Edith had “always wanted to be in the movies.”  She struggled through a unique and usually difficult life, generally in poverty while living and working on the bad side of  whatever town she landed in.  Her sweet, innocent personality, though, delighted millions of viewers of John Waters’ films—especially when he cast her in his favorite role as an addlepated old bag.  Edie was fine with that.  She was delighted to be the permissive, anything-goes-free-spirited godmother of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ’80s counterculture.

One of Edith’s claims to fame was her willingness to present her over-sized breasts on film.  That, and her senior citizen characters who refused to honor the straight and narrow path were ground-breaking artistic statements of the early 1960s.

Still from "Love Letter to Edie."  Edith plays a barmaid at Pete's Hotel.

Still from “Love Letter to Edie.” Edith plays a barmaid at Pete’s Hotel.

Was she acting, or was she for real?  Even Newsweek wondered,  “It’s not clear whether she deserves an Oscar or a 24-hour nurse.”

In a recent phone call to Edith’s brother, Morris Grodsky, I learned more about Edith’s young life as an orphan.  This previously unpublished information provides additional pieces to the puzzle of her life.

Edith was born in Chicago on May 28, 1918 to a Jewish family.  Her father fought in Europe in World War I, but returned home early, after his lungs were severely burned in a gas attack.  The family moved to Colorado for the healthier air, which was where Edith was born.  Unfortunately, the fresh air didn’t help her father who wasted away and died when Edith was an infant.  Edith’s mother, destitute with three children re-married.  She had more children with this new husband, but he too died within a few years, leaving her alone with five children.

Desperate, the young widow took them all to a Jewish orphanage outside Denver, and then disappeared.  It was the best she could do.  According to Morris, the orphanage was not a terrible place.  The food was healthy, if not plentiful (he remembered being always hungry).  Their clothes were donated hand-me-downs.  The children had chores; cleaning and sewing for the girls, and grounds-keeping for the boys.   Most of the projects were pointless busy-work things like moving piles of rocks for the boys or washing dishes that weren’t dirty for the girls.   Every weekday morning they walked to a nearby school.  Saturdays were holy days, with nothing to do and Sundays were chore days.

Edith at the orphanage c. 1922.  Photo courtesy of Morris Grodsky, Edith's half-brother who was with her at the orphanage.

Edith at the orphanage c. 1922. Photo courtesy of Morris Grodsky, Edith’s half-brother who was with her at the orphanage.

Boys and girls lived in separate wings of the orphanage and rarely mixed, following religious tradition.  Morris didn’t see Edith, except for a few minutes on an occasional weekend.  The orphanage discouraged sibling contact.  They never celebrated birthdays or other events together.  Parents and relatives never visited.   It was a lonely existence.  The orphans yearned for just one new piece of clothing.

At school, they saw happy classmates with parents who gave them gifts and new shoes.  Every orphan child hoped and prayed to be adopted into a family.  But that day never came, for anyone.  They were outcasts, which must have helped form Edith’s sympathetic personality.  As an adult, she was an instant friend to everybody, and every animal that crossed her path– when I lived around the corner from her in Baltimore, she had 30 cats.

To escape her colorless life, Edith collected movie magazines that were donated to the orphanage.  It was the roaring ‘20s, and they lit up her life like a Roman candle.  She had a pair of scissors and on Saturdays carefully cut and arranged glamorous movie star photos in her own notebooks.  Morris was shocked, when on one of the rare visits, she showed him a stack of the notebooks that must have taken hundreds of dreamy hours to assemble.  He called her “movie crazy” when she swore that as soon as she could get out of the orphanage, she would go straight to Hollywood and get into the movies.

The orphanage had a strict path for its charges.  The boys learned Hebrew, to prepare them to be observant Jews.  The girls, having no role in religious services, were given no religious instruction.  In the eighth grade, the boys were given an academic test.  Those who did well went on to high school.  Those who did not were apprenticed out to local tradesmen, leaving the orphanage to work in family businesses.  Those who went to high school stayed at the orphanage, but were turned out at graduation, to find a job and fend for themselves.

Every girl’s education ceased after eighth grade.  There was no academic exam for girls to go to high school. Their path was to be discharged from the orphanage and placed as housekeepers in local homes, to cook, clean, and sew as they had been taught at the orphanage.  They’d work a few years for free, and then marry a local tradesman, stay home and raise the children, and so complete a healthy heterosexual life cycle.

Still from "Love Letter to Edie" of Edith acting out her dream of being a glamorous movie queen.

Still from “Love Letter to Edie” of Edith acting out her dream of being a glamorous movie queen.

It didn’t always work out that way.  There were girls like Edith who were dreamers and achievers and wanted more than a life of cooking and cleaning.  Being a housekeeper in a family was rarely idyllic.  The girls were frequently mistreated, over-worked, and, probably worse.  Many fled their assigned “homes” for freedom and all they had been denied in the orphanage.

This was Edith’s story.  She ran away several times from several families.  Each time she was picked up by the police, usually hitch-hiking at the edge of town, and returned, until she turned sixteen, and could legally be on her own.  At sixteen, Edith ran away again and headed straight to California.

Edith's thrift shop in Baltimore's Fells Point where she sold whatever anyone dropped off, happily signed autographs, and hoped she will still be discovered for big movie roles.

Edith’s thrift shop in Baltimore’s Fells Point where she sold whatever anyone dropped off, happily signed autographs, and hoped she will still be discovered for big movie roles.

This is where “Love Letter to Edie” picks up.  There is much more to her life than what appears in the short movie; her marriages, her relationship with her brothers and sisters and their families, her music and modeling careers.

Edith died on October 24, 1984, in Hollywood, the land of her dreams, after suffering from cancer for many years.  She was cremated and her ashes were scattered in the lovely “Garden of Roses” at the Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

I wish I had had the presence of mind to record more of her story when I made “Love Letter,” but I was 23 years old, and thought I had forever to pick up the trail again.  Maybe one day.  You can find “Love Letter to Edie on e-Bay.”

This glamor shot of Edith was taken late in life, and was closer to her dreams than her roles in the Waters films.

This glamor shot of Edith was taken late in life, and was closer to her dreams than her roles in the Waters films.