GTO 3987 on Mulholland

GTO 3987 on Mulholland

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sole Survivor

A recent stop for lunch at the Green Tree Inn in Victorville on the way to Las Vegas brought back a flood of memories about a month I spent living there in my youth. I don't mean to say that I lived in Victorville. I actually lived at the Green Tree Inn for a month while working on a CBS TV movie titled Sole Survivor. I took all of my evening meals at the inn--and more than a few margaritas--and spent long days filming on El Mirage, a dry lake bed in the desert where a B-25 had been disassembled into two halves to make it look like it had crashed.

The project was directed by my mentor and family friend Paul Stanley and featured a cast that included William Shattner, Richard Baseheart and Vince Edwards and was a fiction loosely based on the discovery of the B-24 Liberator bomber the "Lady Be Good" that was found in the Libyan desert after the crew got lost and ran out of fuel. I was supposed to be taking final exams but my cinema teachers Peter Gibbons and Elliot Bliss who, as it happened, were heads of the camera and sound departments respectively at CBS allowed me to complete the exams on the film location under my own recognizance.

I had a great time on this shoot. In addition to the B-25, we had lots of "Champs"--the British military jeep--to ride around in and there is nothing like a film crew on a remote location for a month to provoke all kinds of mischief and pranks. I say nothing of the carloads of women who drove in from as far as a hundred miles away to see what all the fuss was about. I frequently had my dinner with Alan Caillou, an older actor/writer who had been a desert rat during WWII and was willing to recount his many wartime anecdotes while we ate together. Alan and I had a common interest in vintage Bentleys. At the time, I was going to England to buy Bentleys for resale in Los Angeles and Alan drove a cycle-fendered Bentley as his daily transportation. I remember seeing him wearing driving goggles while speeding about with the windshield folded down. It was during these dinners that I was introduced to margaritas, which Alan favored. I drank one to his two during our meals and barely made it back to my room afterward.

When I wasn't dining with Alan, I would have dinner with Paul Stanley and we would talk about how the production was going. Usually, Richard Baseheart would stop by smoking a Montecruz. At the time, I had only the slightest notion of who he was. Later, I came to enjoy his films--especially the film noir He Walked by Night directed by Anthony Mann and the Italian films in which he appeared during the fifties. On the weekends, Paul would take his fuel-injected '59 Corvette onto the lake bed for some high-speed fun. Though I had the GTO at the time, union regulations precluded my bringing it to the location.

I met some very interesting people on this shoot--producer/writer Steve Shagan, director of photography James Crabe and Alan, of course. John Wayne's son Patrick was also part of the cast. I owe an apology to one crew member whose room I rang at 2:30 in the morning pretending to be the hotel operator giving him his 5:30 wake-up call. He showered, dressed and presented himself to the lobby before realizing that his wake-up call had come a little early.

Sole Survivor was a seminal event for me. I was so taken with El Mirage and the magic of the desert that I returned there to shoot a few of my own movies--Desert Center, Success, Terminal Velocity, Dead Right, Double Cross--and would have gone back more often had I the opportunity. I still might find an excuse to shoot another film there.

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