Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Author Interview with Stephen Schochet

Today we're talking with Stephen Schochet, author of Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies!

FQ: First, would you tell our readers a little about yourself? How did you get the job as a tour guide in Hollywood? Is that your "day job" now?

I got started being a limo driver in Beverly Hills, my goal was to be a writer and I figured I could do that while waiting for my clients. I was asked by my boss to give tours and began to learn the area. I was always interested in the movie business, behind-the-scenes stories, and history so I shared some anecdotes, got a great response and decided I would enjoy giving tours more than doing the limo job, it was more creative. One of the nice things, for me anyway, was that the tours were unscripted, we, meaning the other guides and myself, were free to say whatever we liked as long as the customers enjoyed it. And learning new material was, and still is a way to keep the tours fresh. I mean you have to look at the same things all the time but when you pass a place like the Chinese Theater there are many different stories to tell, on a tour you only have time for a few so you can change them around, and there is always a new audience.

When I first started, I had a study buddy named Ivan. We were both fascinated by research. One time we met on Hollywood Boulevard, he was saying to me in a low tone so no one else could hear, "Steve, man I just found out Thomas Edison owned the rights to the movie cameras and people like Louis B. Mayer and Jack Warner who didn't pay him a tribute were considered outlaws man! Can you believe that, baby?" You would've thought we were spies or something.

Yes I still give tours and it's a good balance between that and book promotion which I love to do. I also sell tours and sometimes package them with other attractions such as Disneyland and Universal, so my work is varied.

FQ: Did you ever encounter celebrities while giving tours in Hollywood? If so, can you tell us who he/she/they were and how they reacted to the tour? Were they friendly or did they brush you off?

Most of the people have been very friendly. Zsa Zsa Gabor for example was wonderful as far as taking pictures with the customers, so was Kirk Douglas. Johnny Depp the same. One time we were driving on Rodeo Drive and a lady sitting behind me said, "I don't mean to interrupt you but you know Jerry Seinfeld is driving right next to you, don't you?" He was waving trying to get our attention!

FQ: You have a knack for storytelling - was that talent quickly apparent when you first began your job as a tour guide?

Yeah, that's what attracted me to the job, people seemed to enjoy it right away. I remember getting a laugh from the story about George Reeves who played Superman on TV. The bad guy would shoot him six times and the bullets would bounce off his chest, then the villain would throw the empty gun and Superman would duck! I found I was more enthusiastic telling that sort of story than tales of murders and scandals, although I kept abreast of them too.

FQ: In your book, you recount the story of Jim Carrey attacking a tour dressed at "Mother" from Psycho. Anything funny/unusual ever happen while you were giving a tour?

Oh a lot of stuff. I once picked up people from a hotel called the Radison Bel Air Summit; they told me at dinner the night before they had been sitting near O.J. Simpson in the bar, he was not allowed to own a house after his civil trial so he was staying at that hotel and interacting with the tourists. Another time the TV show Santa Barbara was filming a wedding scene at the Greystone Mansion, which was one of our stops and the producers asked the tourists on my bus if they wanted to be extras. They did, but I couldn't join them; I had to get back to the office. Hours later I found out that the Producers had driven them back to their hotels early; they didn't realize TV work required hours of standing around and waiting, and they complained quite a bit. Another time a friend of mine who was an architect was working on a house in Bel Air; I drove by, saw him, and he invited myself and the whole group in to take a tour of the house, it was really cool. The house was actually owned by a doctor but it was in the movie star neck of the woods and was exciting for the people to walk through.

FQ: Okay, fess up, what is YOUR favorite Hollywood story?

That is the toughest question for me, in my book Hollywood Stories, I have over 1,000 anecdotes, I love this one:

At high noon on a cold November day in 1974, sixty-seven-year-old John Wayne faced off with the staff of the Harvard Lampoon on the famous campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The students had issued their challenge by calling the beloved American icon a fraud. Wayne, who had his new movie McQ to promote, responded by saying he would be happy to show his film in the pseudo-intellectual swamps of Harvard Square. After the screening, without writers, the former USC footballer delivered a classic performance. When one smart young man asked where he got his phony toupee, Wayne insisted the hair was real. It wasn t his, but it was real. The appreciative underclassmen loved him and after the Q and A session, they all sat down to dinner. Later Wayne, who was suffering greatly from both gout and the after effects of lung cancer (sadly the Duke only had five years to live), said that day at Harvard was the best time he ever had.

I find the vignette both funny and moving with some biographical information, so that is the sort of thing I'm going for with the book.

FQ: Where do the bulk of your stories come from? Research, tales overheard in the studios, or ???

Plain old book research is the bulk of it but I also talked to a lot of people and listened to a lot of interviews. I try to mix and match things like in this example from the book:

In the 1930s, liberal Democrat Ronald Reagan resisted friends’ suggestions that he give up his movie career to run for office. Gosh, couldn’t a guy just be interested in issues without going into politics? Didn’t people think he had talent? As the years passed, his Hollywood opportunities slowed down, public service became more appealing and he became less defensive. In 1981, the seventy-year-old conservative was able to laugh about a meeting with a congressional Democrat. “We are going to cut taxes!” Reagan told him. “And do you know why? Because back when I was at Warner Bros. in the forties, I suddenly found myself in a ninety percent tax bracket. Ninety percent! Now nobody in this country should pay ninety percent. Well? What do you have to say about that?” The congressman whistled. “Ninety Percent...My God, Mr. President...I never thought you were that good of an actor.”

The punchline for that tale came from an interview I watched with Congressman Dan Rostenkowski shortly after President Reagan's death, then it was a matter of doing some biographical research on Reagan to make the story flow.

FQ: Do you have a favorite celebrity? If so, who and why? Did you ever meet him/her?

Walt Disney, probably, I have a whole chapter on him in the book. I just admire his tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit. I never met him but I saw his now-late wife Lillian a few times being driven around and she waved.

FQ: You are the host of a syndicated radio feature called Hollywood Stories. Would you tell us a little about it and where/when we can find it?

Hollywood Stories was inspired by the late Paul Harvey's radio feature The Rest of the Story; at one point it was on about forty stations. I'm not sure how many now. If people would like to hear it they can go to my youtube channel at www.youtube.com/htales, there are slide shows that go along with the anecdotes, plus music and sound effects.

To learn more about Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies! please visit our website and read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.

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