Marilynn Wales passed away on Tuesday, September 16.
Marilynn and her husband Gary Wales had been friends of mine since I first met them back in 1967 when they invited me to their home for dinner. The dinner almost didn't take place as I parked the Lusso at the curb and went to the Wales' front door and knocked. I'll pause here for the laughter to subside from all those who have been to their house.
Somehow, I made it inside and we spent an enjoyable evening; a teenager, a stock broker and his wife who shared a passion for interesting cars and uncommon people. Over the years, we spent a lot of time together and there seemed to be one adventure after the other with no let up in the enthusiasm we all had for our chosen interests. Marilynn was a perfect match, not just for Gary but for his friends and lifestyle as well. In all the time I've known them, I never had the sense that Marilynn was anything less than a fully-committed car enthusiast and Gary's unrepentant co-conspirator in life. I was quite fond of her and the thought of Marilynn has always put a smile on my face.
To think of Gary is to think of Marilynn as, to me, they are inseparable. Together, they have provided me a lifetime of memories--and then some...
The other day, I was asked how many cars I've owned and the answer was
'too many to count'. Best known for my adventures with Ferraris, my
first car was a series 1 Jaguar E-Type coupe and I've enjoyed other
Jaguars over the years as well including a Mk IX sedan I acquired from
my friend Gary Wales and a few XJ6 sedans that I thoroughly enjoyed. The
Mercedes 450SEL I drove impressed me as being bullet-proof and very
comfortable for the long, high-speed rides into the desert where I was
shooting one film or another and the air conditioning kept me ice cold
regardless of the 100+ temperatures the desert was inflicting upon us.
bought a lot of cars overseas beginning when I was 16 or 17 buying
older Bentleys in London and Maseratis in Milano. Traveling to places
like Bromley, Surrey or Southampton and one especially memorable drive
to Parma in Italy with Tom Meade to purchase a couple of Maserati
Mistrals made the acquiring of these cars as exciting to me as owning
them. It seemed that each transaction had a story to go with it that
gave pleasure long after the car had passed to another. Also part of the
package was driving these cars before they were picked up by the
shippers--the Bentleys taking me around London in the 'Swinging 60s' and
the Maseratis guiding me through what remained of Italian Neorealism in
I sold a few cars that required a particular sort of
buyer or, to quote my father, "What you need for this one is a sap!" he
would say without treading too heavily on the fact that I was the sap
who bought it for resale. One of these was a terrible Chevrolet Corvair
that, if memory serves, still had a bit of compression in one of its
cylinders. In the morning when the engine was cold, you could hear gusts
of wind escaping from the chambers as the engine cranked over and it
was futile to think that the spark plugs would generate enough heat to
cause the metal to expand sufficiently to seal the heads and the block. I
was able to find a happy buyer for this amazing machine when I
experienced a confluence of good luck.
The first bit of luck was
that I discovered an aerosol spray at the auto parts store that was so
explosive you couldn't use it within miles of a house that had central
heating. This product one would spray into the carburetors standing as
far back as my arm length would allow while my father would crank the
engine over from the relative safety of the driver's seat. If you have
ever seen the jumbo size of Aqua Net hairspray (available in gas station
mini-marts everywhere) you have an idea about the size of the can I was
using. Early morning starts usually required three of these. The
gentleman who showed up at eight o'clock one morning as I was attempting
to fire up the engine from cold was as impeccably dressed as any I had
ever seen in Los Angeles and had uncommonly fine manners in addition.
Also, he was drunk, which I count as my second bit of luck. He sat
good-naturedly on a nearby fire hydrant as my father and I continued
to crank our way through the second and third aerosol bottles of Ka-Boom or
whatever it was called wondering if we would run out of the spray or
battery power before the engine started.
I had parked the car at
the top of a hill to facilitate the car's first morning steps, so to
speak, believing as I did that the car would have to journey a ways
before level ground should be attempted and especially eschewing
anything that could be seen as an incline. My new found gentleman friend
was delighted by the car and was soon pressing cash into my hand. I
counted it and gave him back his change as he had overpaid in his
excitement. It was then that he said he was buying the car for his
ex-girlfriend; an astonishing admission that brought the proceedings to a
halt. This really isn't the sort of car one buys for an ex-girlfriend, I
told him. It was one thing for him to buy the car for himself after
witnessing the morning start-up ritual but to pawn it of on a woman for
whom he had cared was quite another. The more I tried to dissuade him,
the more insistent he became about buying the car and, in the end, we
concluded the transaction, which brings us to the third bit of luck. I
don't think he was ever able to remember where he had purchased the car.
a buyer, however, the most interesting purchase for me was when I
bought a 1971 Lincoln Continental Mk III. I had wanted one ever since
seeing William Friedkin's film The French Connection in which one
is featured. By 1989, I finally decided to see if I could find one
knowing that the odds were against me locating one that was in 'as new'
condition and I wasn't wanting a car that needed a restoration or that
had been poorly restored. When I found an ad for an example that sounded
like what I wanted, I called and received the strangest phone interview
I've ever received or given during a car purchase. "Why do you want a
Mk III?" "What kinds of cars have you owned?" "How will you be using the
car?" "Do you hand wash your cars?" I had the feeling that I was
adopting a child rather than buying a car but I began to have an
understanding of the seller. I asked him if I could come look at the
car. He told me he would think about it and call me back. The next day,
he did and I was given directions to his home.
I arrived to
discover that this man kept his Mk III in a carpeted garage; the other
family cars were relegated to the outdoors. There was nary a scratch on
any of the paint or bright-work and the black leather interior was
flawless. This car looked as though it had just been driven home from
the Lincoln dealership! The mileage on the car was negligible given its
eighteen years. He offered me the service history worksheets and
receipts for inspection. I knew I would never find such a Mk III
anywhere else. I had absolutely no leverage on this transaction
whatsoever. What are you asking, was all I could say. I wanted this car.
He looked at me and said, "I don't know." He promised to call me after
he had thought it over and I left more than a little perplexed.
that day, the man called me and quoted a price that was about a third
of what I had been expecting. I was flabbergasted. "I wasn't really
going to sell the car," he told me "but I'll sell it to you because you
are the right person for this car." I didn't question him on his
reasoning or motives but I got over to his house in Woodland Hills just
as fast as I could with cash. It was an unusual transaction, to say the
least, and I realized how lucky I was to experience another transcending
confluence of luck in an extraordinary automotive experience.
believe I was the right person for that Mk III but I must admit that I'm
glad the seller never saw his car on the poster of my film Dead Right
in which the car was featured. Seen, as it is, on the dusty dry lake
bed of El Mirage, the poor man would no doubt have suffered a heart
created the 'Audition Set' protocol because, very often, an actor does
not get to see the sides until he or she is in the room reading the scene as
a cold reading. I wanted as much of the audition performance to be set,
rehearsed and perfected even if the actor has yet to see the dialogue.
what we create is four responsive reactions from the Action/ReAction technique that help define and
demonstrate the actor and his or her brand that can be blended into any
scene regardless of the dialogue. To underscore this point, I changed
the dialogue sequence in this video creating different scenes but with
the same series of pre-rehearsed reactions. The dialogue and emotional reactions create a different 'back-story' each time and provide
nuance and something unexpected in each performance that Maddie Howard delivers in this exercise video.
I create an
'Audition Set' tailored to the brand signature of each actor with whom I work via Skype. No two are the same and they are designed to highlight that which is special about the actor.
There is quite a lot to be said for surrounding oneself with creative
people. They provide an energy exchange and an atmosphere in which an irreverent and innovative approach to what has been standardized and
sanctified is understood, encouraged and even admired. Imagine this
reaction to a particular film that was released in 1960 by the
non-creative element: But Monsieur Godard, you don't have any transition shots! Furthermore, you jump ahead in the middle of a take without so much as a cut-away!
once responded to one of my screenplays by saying it was poorly
written. I asked what she didn't like about it and she told me the
margins weren't the correct width. I smiled realizing I was dealing with
someone who was more concerned with the blank spaces surrounding the
page than the content written on the page. Literally and conceptually,
we weren't anywhere near the same page. Never mind that the feedback I
was getting from the major production companies in town was that it was
the most entertaining script they'd ever read; one even asked me to
autograph the script for them. Anyone giving such importance to the
empty white spaces on the page would never have understood what I had
written and would have made a dog's breakfast of it had they ever gotten
hold of it as a property.
One creative influence on me was an
out-of-control young man who I found very entertaining and who went
about making videos--short films of all sorts--using a Panasonic S-VHS video
camera. His name is Lightfield Lewis and his personality is as distinct
as his name. He came from a show business family (his father being
Geoffrey and his sisters Juliette and Dierdre) but he seemed completely
his own person and was capturing a unique vision of the world with his
camera. Lightfield would come to my house and show me his latest footage
and I, in turn, would expose him to films like Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger.
thing that caught my attention was a particular feature of Lightfield's
camera; it was a Gain Up button that, when activated, altered the video
image causing it to look less like video and more like a very grainy
film stock that had been colorized in the fashion of Andy Warhol's
poster of Marilyn Monroe which Warhol had made from silk screens based
on a publicity photo from the film Niagara. I especially liked the evolution of references from digital to silk screen to film icon. I wanted to make use of this effect.
When shooting my web-based soap opera Confessions,
I was delivering layers of truth and reality. There was the reality of
the confessional booth and for that we used 'straight-ahead' video. Then
there was the reality and relative truth of the confessions that were
being revealed as flashback and composite shots featuring the
in-the-booth reality combined with flashback. I decided to use the
'Lightfield' effect for the flashback and composite shots to
differentiate them from the truth of the confessional encounter and to
provide a dream-like illusion of the penitent's memory or fabrication.
think the effect worked very well and gave an unusual visual texture to
the program. The video seen here is a poor transfer taken from a VHS copy of the original and has lost some resolution along with much of the color's original vibrancy. I can't look at it without it bringing to mind the whole
'Lightfield, Warhol, Marilyn, Niagara' chain of events.
The celebrated bit of road known as the Sunset Strip has gone through a
lot of changes since I first made its acquaintance by watching 77 Sunset Strip
on television and having customary Sunday brunch with the family at
Scandia or occasionally reserving Scandia's wine cellar for exclusive
dinner parties where one is attended by staff separate from the service
in the restaurant upstairs. In the mid-to-late 60s, I visited the Strip
on weekends--cruising night--in my Ferrari GTO and spent afternoons
having (pre-Starbucks) cappuccinos at the Via Veneto hanging out with
friends and people-watching--much as I do at Caffe Primo today--and
using the Ferrari Breadvan and GTO with Matthew Ettinger to maximum effect, if
you can imagine.
Gazzarri's would later be memorialized in John Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
where it was seen as The Crazy Horse West. Nicky Blair's still occupied
a spot near Sunset Plaza Drive and Dino's Lodge, featuring the likeness
of Dean Martin on the front of the restaurant, was a going concern.
Long before it disappeared to be replaced, ultimately, as my favorite
Strip restaurant by Le Petit Four (where I filmed my 'talking heads' for
Elysée Wednesday: Drive!), my dining room on the Strip was Cyrano.
elegant, mahogany paneled brasserie with low-key lighting offered
delicious, continental food and the service was excellent. I always had
the same waiter who, given his accent, might have been French, more
likely he was Belgian but--if you are a betting man or woman--you would
put your money on the probability of his being from Nebraska. He was very
attentive and knew our preferences. More often than not, he could place
our order without being told what we wanted. Furthermore, he never told
us "Enjoy" which is one of the characteristics of a truly great
waiter, if I may say so.
Gio, which everyone seemed to pronounce
as 'Gee-oo' rather than the correct 'Jo', was the maître d' who knew a
thing or two about the restaurant business and hospitality. Many was the
time that I arrived at the peak of their busy hour--alone or in company
with friends--finding myself behind a crowd of people at the door
waiting for a table. Gio would see me and motion us in through the crowd
seating us immediatamente. There's no place like home!
at Cyrano were memorable for the food, the service and the company. I
remember one evening conversing with Matthew Ettinger and Warren Oates
at the bar. You would think we would be talking about movies but it was
more of a philosophical discussion and I'm not sure any of us knew what
we were talking about, which made it no less memorable.
were to ask me what made Cyrano particularly special, I would have to
say that, whenever I dined there with Matthew, it was always a contest
to stick the other with the bill. I don't know that either of us kept
score but we were well matched as competitors in this game. Since we
both knew what was coming, the point was to make our escape in a manner
that was unpredictable.
I believe I scored the last shot before
Cyrano finally closed. Matthew and I were having dinner with our
girlfriends and as the meal was winding down, I advised Judy, my
girlfriend at the time, to excuse herself as though she were headed for
the powder room and wait for me in the car. A moment or two later, I
made the same move but not before letting the waiter know in an aside
that it was Matthew's birthday and would he please bring a cake with
Matthew was making his own plan to sneak out with his
girlfriend before Judy and I returned to the table but before he could
make good his escape, he was met with several waiters singing Happy
Birthday and expecting him to blow out the candles. By this time, I was
down the road wondering where to go for desert. My car phone buzzed
(pre-cellphone) and I confirmed Matthew's suspicions and thanked him for
the meal. Let it be said, though, that Matthew gave as good as he got...
There are all sorts of attributes that make a restaurant special. Cyrano had them all.
I came across David Hockney's iconic photo-collage Pearblossom Highway
the other day and realized that this particular work and the
intersection it interprets is as iconic for a period of my film career
and personal quest as it is for the artist's idiosyncratic creativity
which he refers to as "drawing with a camera".
Back from Paris
where I had established myself as a writer, producer and director, I
found myself making one movie after another being lucky enough to have
investors who wanted to return for second or third projects in which I
employed my unusual style of guerrilla filmmaking with my troupe of
actors writing the scripts as I went along. There were a few 'signature
elements' to all of my productions at the time--shooting in out-of-town
locations and including places like Las Vegas and Mexico for their
poster value--but none more significant than Pearblossom Highway in
making these films what they were.
The intersection that Hockney
depicts is the final, definitive turn into the desert leaving any
semblance of civilization behind and taking one through a series of
small crossroads towns like Little Rock, Llano, Pearblossom and,
finally, onto El Mirage, the dry lake bed I first visited when I worked
on the CBS movie for television Sole Survivor in my teens. Making
the right-hand turn at the stop sign that is the focal point of
Hockney's piece transports one into a Twilight Zone of a sort and it is
quickly understood that the conventions and realities of life as it is
lived in Los Angeles--or any other place, for that matter--have been
left behind. What better place to make a movie?
The desert people
aren't like you and me. They live something of a remote, sun-baked, frontier life
and are content to let you have your freedom as long as it doesn't
impose on their own. Whether or not they realize it, they live per the
common law where there is no such thing as a victimless crime but Heaven
help you if you cause them an injury. We injured no one and they left
us to make our films even pitching in to help out on occasion.
we weren't filming on the dry lake bed, we would find local
establishments along Pearblosom Highway and, without fail, we were
allowed to shoot in those establishments by simply ordering lunch or
dinner if it was a restaurant or drinks in the local pool hall. Desert Center, Success, Terminal Velocity, Double Cross, Dead Right and Two the Hard Way were films that benefited from the accommodations offered by the desert and the particular mood it imparts to visual story telling.
Below, I have included an interview wherein David Hockney talks about his work, Pearblossom Highway.
The poster seen here is an advertisement by BP celebrating the victory
(in its first outing) of Ferrari GTO #3987 in the 1962 1000km of Paris
held at the Montlhéry Autodrome. The drivers were the famous brothers
Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez from Mexico. The pair claimed pole position
in qualifying and finished first overall and first in class in the race
winning by a one lap margin. The car was entered by Luigi Chinetti's N.A.R.T.(North American Racing Team).
was an auspicious beginning for one of the GTOs that seemed to own the
racing world in its day winning the International Championship for GT
Manufacturers in 1962, 1963 and 1964. 3987 was one of nine GTOs on the
starting grid at Montlhéry that included fifty-three starters amongst
them the extraordinary Ferrari Breadvan driven by Ludovico Scarfiotti
and Colin Davis entered by Scuderia SSS Repubblica di Venezia. The
Breadvan started from the 15th position on the grid and finished third,
two laps behind GTO 3987.
Years later, my best friend Matthew
Ettinger owned the Breadvan while I owned GTO 3987 and though their
official racing days had passed, their unofficial racing days were in
full swing as Matthew and I made full use of their performance on a
daily basis. Having driven both of these exquisite cars, I can sum them
both up by saying that both seemed to have been made to fit my needs
perfectly. I can't think of any other car about which I can say this
without reservation. I'm sure that I am not the only one to have had
this reaction after taking a turn at the wheel.
This is what the cars looked like when Matthew and I owned them...
Having developed the Action/ReAction technique over twenty-plus years, I
have seen it grow and evolve into a highly technical approach with
component parts each with their own specific function and purpose. I
have applied the technique to actors, of course, and to businessmen
whose careers relied on being able to resonate constituent groups
amongst the audience for their public proclamations. I have generally
avoided politicians and lawyers in this regard though I would make an
exception for a notable few.
In the process of getting my
students to think of themselves as singer/dancers rather than actors or
public speakers, I have never actually instructed the technique to
singers advising that they think of themselves as an actor--until now.
student in question needed no help whatsoever with music--vocal or
instrumental--as he has that down and is very talented. What I started
with, as I do with any student, is the brand and how he wanted the
public to perceive him as an artist. We discussed the personal brands of
well known artists as examples of how a brand can manifest for a
musician. It took only a few minutes for this to become obvious and
helped to formulate his own personal brand. He now understands that the
DNA of his brand must be evident in every public offering whether a
song, a photograph, a PR interview, a personal appearance or blog post.
there, we moved into a discussion of the technique itself. As a singer,
he was already accustomed to singing his songs in phrases, so we moved
into emphasis and then broached the subject of interstitial reactions.
He had never heard of the concept but quickly understood why they are
important in resonating the various groups that comprise an
audience--after all, growing a fan base is as important to a singer as
it is to an actor.
This was only the first session with him but
he took to it easily and it underscored for me how the technique, though
designed for actors, has relevance to any form of communication.
One of the more interesting restaurants I've enjoyed over the years was
located in Paris though the one I am thinking of was not any of those
that 'auditioned' their specialties to my partner and me when we were
preparing The French Chef, as delectable as they were. In my
Skype sessions, I tell actors that audiences remember what they didn't
expect to see. This serves as a reminder that a performance should avoid
predictability and present something new and nuanced that becomes
memorable rather than banal. This also applies to restaurants.
When I was shooting Point of Departure,
I filmed in some of my favorite cities--Paris, Cannes, Milan, Venice
and (though it is not a city, but feels like one) Monaco. The film was
shot 'guerilla-style' filming where ever I saw interesting locations and
using the celebrated French Système D to get things that
ordinarily weren't on offer or easily acquired. My dinner conversations
with Jean Collomb and reading William Friedkin's The Friedkin Connection
informs me that Claude Lelouch and William Friedkin use the same method
in spite of the fact of having larger budgets. If there is a cinematic
syntax in what a filmmaker puts on the screen, perhaps there is also a
cinematic language in the way he or she shoots the footage.
In any case, I found myself shooting a variety of locations around Paris revisiting Montmartre where I made The French Chef and my earlier film Montmartre.
I shot footage in the Cimetière Montmartre where the graves of Edgar
Degas, Jacques Offenbach, Heinrich Heine, Hector Berlioz, Nijinsky,
Stendhal, Francois Truffaut and Emile Zola can be found wherein my
leading lady visits the grave site of someone dear to her--this as the
taxi driver is waiting to take us to the airport (!!).
was the hotel Georges V where I shot scenes in the suite and made daily
trips to various parts of Paris at various times of the day or night to
get interesting backdrops for the action. I remember sitting late at
night in the middle of the Champs-Élysées with cars passing on either
side of me as I filmed the leading lady crossing the grand avenue with
the lighted Arc de Triomphe behind her. On another
occasion, I took two actors on the spur of the moment and booked us onto
the high-speed train from Paris to Montpellier where I shot scenes with
them in the first class compartment on the train and later in the
station at Montpellier working these locations into the story of a woman
on a quest to find her missing husband.
Trains and train
stations figured largely in the story of our heroine's search. I shot in
the magnificent cathedral that is the Stazione Centrale di Milano
originally built in 1864, remembering as I was filming our scenes a bit
of real-life drama that my father and I had witnessed there at four in
the morning decades earlier. It was at a train station in Paris that I
experienced the unexpected, however.
The Gare de Lyon was built for the World Exposition of 1900 and its architecture has not been modernized featuring a clock tower reminiscent of the famous London tower that houses Big Ben. It was there that, after shooting the scenes of my actors in, on and around the trains, I discovered something extraordinary. Le
Train Bleu restaurant.
Imagine a plush and ornate restaurant from the
Belle Epoque looking as though it belonged in a world class hotel or
chateau rather than a train station. It brought forth images from Agatha
Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. Not only did I
want to shoot in this amazing restaurant, I wanted to dine there as
well. So, we did. One of the actors received a phone call beckoning him
to some emergency that required his attention, so I had the leading lady
order a most sumptuous dessert as only the French can make and filmed
her as she ate it slowly, in the hope that her husband would join her.
In the story, they had already missed their first connection and this, I
decided, would be the fall-back rendezvous. As she slowly ate this
incredible pastry and sipped her tea served in what looked like fine
bone china, the hope of his coming to meet her begins to fade and,
without a word spoken, she has descended into the despair of knowing
that she is likely never to see him again.
Though unforeseen and
unplanned, the scene in Le Train Bleu was pivotal to the film, as it was
the heroine's rejection of the emotion that came over her as she sat
alone at her table that drove her actions for the rest of the picture.
Not only did I get a good scene for my movie, I had an excellent meal in
the bargain--this thanks to my saying to my actors, "Wait here while I
see what's upstairs."
I wasn't expecting to see such a lavish establishment in a train station which made it all the more memorable.
They say you can fool some of the people all of the time. Accordingly, I think we should concentrate on this group initially. We can move on to the people you can only fool some of the time at a later date if we deem it necessary. I hope to hear back from my agent about this as soon as he's out of rehab, as I don't think my messages have been getting through."
Elysée Wednesday: Drive!, Episode 1
Ignorance is Bliss by Stephen Mitchell
Kindle or Paperback versions
Exerpt from Ignorance is Bliss
"Out of the corner of his eye, Martin saw Martha shift in her seat. She leaned forward, as though something was about to be decided. This caused her breasts to push up against the neckline of her dress in a way that couldn't be fully appreciated out of the corner of one’s eye. So, Martin turned his head to look directly into the abyss of her cleavage. He was vaguely aware that Murray was talking again."
Carrera Panamericana (1950-54)
Click on poster to buy the poster and DVD
Ferrari GTO 3987
Elysée Wednesday TV
Elysée Wednesday: Drive!
“You ought to meet Steve. The two of you have the same kind of Ferrari.”
Ferrari Berlinetta Lusso
One evening, I was enjoying a John le Carré novel and a glass of Bordeaux...
L'art de l'automobile
My first Lusso prior to restoration
It was only after Sinatra was gone...
Once upon a time...
Meeting Enzo Ferrari
I came across this on a late night stroll in Paris near the Louvre.
Simone Kussatz interviews Stephen Mitchell
(Click on photo)
(Interview) version française
Natasha Loizeau (Interview) version française
Stevie Williams (Interview)
David Gritten reviews (Interview)
At Cannes with Priscilla Lingenheim who taped a segment of (Interview) version française
Rebel, Rebel by Marc Sonnery
Ferrari 'Breadvan' trivia
Stephen interviews Marc Sonnery
Ferrari 250GTO by Stephen Mitchell
Ferraris on Mulholland
Ferrari GTOs at Willow Springs &...
Ferrari GTO in Paris
Kenny Lombino's 16M Scuderia
Stephen Mitchell talks with General Richard Wilmot (part 1)
In 1980, Stephen founded an entertainment industry think tank in the guise of a repertory company for film and
television labeled The New Hollywood Studio System. In 1985, Stephen pioneered a unique application of product integration in branded entertainment with his cable TV series (Interview). In 2006, Stephen authored a protocol for the management and marketing of business executives. He is currently producing a documentary on the Ferrari GTO, one of which he owned for several years.