Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, March 5, 2023


I was a big fan of boxing once upon a time, having been brought up watching The Gillette Friday Night Fights, which were part of the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports.  Every Friday night my dad would tune in our black and white TV to watch bouts between fighters like Bobo Olsen, Dick Tiger, Gene Fullmer, and Carmen Basillio, among many others. My fascination with the sport intensified when the brash, comically rowdy, and undeniably compelling Cassius Clay shocked the world by beating Sonny Liston for the heavyweight crown in 1964. Growing up in a lilly-white rural area, I didn't know what to think of this loud young black man, and was astonished that he'd managed to beat big, bad Sonny Liston, whose baleful glare, prison record, and fearsome punching power had convinced most newspaper sports writers that there was no way he could lose to the "Louisville Lip."

But lose he did, after which the new champion of the world changed his name to Muhammed Ali, and the rest is history.  I became a huge fan of Ali, followed his career closely all the way until he retired, which made this day in Hollywood very special for me.  What I didn't fully grasp back then was that the Mecca of west coast boxing was the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, a legendary venue that  hosted everything from wresting to boxing to the hard core punk rock bands of the 1980s.  I never saw the inside of the Olympic until taking a call to help light a commercial being filmed there ... and that's when I began to understand what I'd missed.  Much like a bull ring, the Olympic was a gladiatorial arena drenched in blood of boxing history.

That story is very well told in the terrific documentary 18th and Grand: The Olympic Auditorium Story, recently released by GenPop Entertainment, and what a story it is.*  This isn't just about boxing, but it's about how things were in Los Angeles back in the day, and what a big role the Olympic had in the 20th century history of this city.  This is a great film, well worth seeing. It's not yet available on any of the streaming services, unfortunately -- they drive a very hard bargain for indy filmmakers -- but Blu Ray copies are just twenty bucks, and well worth the price.  If you have any interest at all in boxing, wrestling, or the early punk rock scene in LA, you're in for a rollicking good, eye-opening ride.


Another terrific documentary is Fire of Love, the story of Katia and Maurice Krafft, two young people who bonded over their mutual fascination with volcanoes and made it their life's work -- a passion so intense that it eventually consumed them.  I'd seen a PBS documentary on these two back in the mid-80s, and it pretty much blew my mind at the time, but what I didn't know then  -- what nobody knew --  was that just five years later they'd die together doing what they loved: studying and filming an erupting volcano.  Fire of Love is now streaming on Hulu, so check it out.  


After twenty-one years of delivering bland, soothing platitudes to a dedicated audience of needy people desperate for such bromides, The Dr. Phil Show is finally ending its run -- so now that I'm safely retired and the good "doctor" is exiting stage left with millions of dollars stuffed in his pockets, I can confess that "the Great Man" mentioned in the final anecdote of this ancient post was Dr. Phil.  

Although doubtless beloved by the CBS executives and bean-counters for all the money he brought in, the view of Dr. Phil from below decks at Paramount lot was considerably more jaundiced.  His famously volcanic temper and habit of parking very expensive automobiles where they were often in the way of everybody else at the studio did not endear him to those who wear tool belts at work rather than three-piece suits. His show will live on forever in syndication, of course, and keep money flowing into his bank accounts until the end of time ... but will Dr. Phil ever be truly happy?

I don't know and I don't care. Fuck that guy, and good riddance. 


I have to offer a shout out to Darryl Humber, long the primary force behind Dollygrippery, an industry blog dedicated to explaining the fine art of operating dollies and cranes.  Darryl started his blog (although he hates that word...) well before my own humble efforts, and encouraged me to keep at it when I wasn't sure I had anything more to say.  In late February he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Operating Cameramen for his thirty-plus years of exemplary dolly and crane work on feature films and television.  Although we've never met, I consider him a friend thanks to our occasional e-mail correspondence and commiseration over the sixteen years BS&T has been on line.  

If I was in charge of handing out industry nicknames, Darryls would be "Humble," because he never toots his own horn, beats his chest, or swaggers in print, and I have to assume he's the same on set ... but if I was -- and did -- he'd probably hunt me down and run a four hundred pound Fisher dolly over my foot.  Since I already have one bent and broken toe from a dolly mishap early in my career, I'll just keep my mouth shut other than to say state the obvious: Darryl's a pro's pro at his craft, and well deserving of this honor.

Congratulations, D!


Finally, for what I can only describe as a cinematic exercise in magical realism, here's a view from below decks in a short film called It's a Grips World, starring the late, great Mike Korkko, along with more than a few of his fellow grips and other below-the-liners.  They made this film over the course of months, shooting scenes after work, at lunch, and whenever they could on a variety of sets built for the commercials they were working on at the time.  I was doing a lot of commercials back then, and worked a number of jobs with Mike and his crew. Korkko was famous for a lot of things back then, but didn't achieve true below-the-line immortality until this film was finally finished. The visual quality isn't great -- they shot it on early to mid-80s gear, and the images have suffered over the years with duplication -- but it'll give you a glimpse of, and a feel for, the world of commercials back then.  It was a fun and lucrative time for us all before the Canadian asteroid hit in the late 90s, thus ending life as we knew it in the LA commercial word.

Ah well, the only constant is change, with the real question being when will it come and how bad will it be.

That's it 'til April, kiddos.  Remember -- beware the Ides of March.

* Which is a pretty great name for a production company.