Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Movie Star, Aerobics Instructor, Dentist

George Hardy travels to screenings around the country. Fans cheer him, mob him for autographs and recite all his lines.

But Hardy is not a movie star.

He is a small town Alabama dentist.

And his movie isn't celebrated because it's that good.

But because it's that bad.

Worst ever. (And the subject of a Fresh Look on Life.)

Hardy came to Utah a few decades ago to do a residency in pediatric dentistry and stayed and joined a practice in Holladay.

He'd always been a ham. He's quick to point out that he was a cheerleader at Auburn University.
And he had a brief stint as a TV aerobics instructor on Hooked on Aerobics, the BYU program that got airplay across the country.

One of his patients suggested that Hardy, no doubt because of his outgoing personality, get an agent and try acting in commercials.

Eighteen years ago he got his first audition. It was for a 'B' rated horror film produced by some visiting Italian filmmakers.

Hardy remembers lots of cigarette smoke. And the fact that the filmmakers didn't speak English.
"All I remember is Claudio, the director, saying 'You have good energy! You have good energy!'"

That's Claudio Fragasso, screenwriter of "Women's Prison Massacre" and "Terminator II" (not the 1991 sequel starring Arnold Schwartzenegger, but the 1990 Italian version) and second unit director of "Zombie Creeping Flesh."

Hardy got the part.

The movie was called "Troll II."

It had nothing to do with "Troll" (I).

And it had no trolls.

Just goblins.

Vegetarian goblins who fed people green Kool-Aid, green yogurt, sour milk and corn on the cob with green icing -- food which apparently turned human prey into vegetable matter -- and then ate them.

Hardy played Michael Waits, whose family goes on a house swapping adventure in the town of of Nilbog. (That’s "Goblin" spelled backwards. Ingenious.)

Direction, because of the language barrier, was non-existent.

Productions values were rock-bottom.

The goblins were little people outfitted with laughable rubber masks and (literally) potato sacks. (The wardrobe was provided by Laura Gemser, sex symbol star of the Emanuelle series -- "Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals," "Emanuelle Reports from a Women's Prison" and "Erotic Nights of the Living Dead" -- turned costume designer.)

The script, written in Italian and translated into English (it apparently lost something in translation), made no sense.

Joshua: A double-decker bologna sandwich!
Creedence: Aaahhh! Think about the cholesterol! Think about... THE TOXINS...!

(In "The Wizard of Oz," Dorothy defeats the witch with a bucket of water. The young lead of "Troll II" has a double-decker bologna sandwich.)

"Some of the older actors mentioned that, when they saw some of the effects, 'Well maybe it'll look better in post-production,'" said Michael Stephenson, who, as a 10-year-old, played the lead in the film.

It didn't.

The film, amazingly enough, never got a theatrical release, but went straight to video.

Hardy got a copy and popped it into his VHS machine.

"I remember trying to get through the first two or three scenes. I was just sick to my stomach."

"I'll be really honest, I just couldn't do it, I just couldn't," Hardy hides his face in his hand.

"That was so bad, that was so bad, so bad."

Hardy got about as far away from Nilbog as he could. He set up a dentistry practice in his hometown in Alabama.

When he got eyeglass video monitors for his dentistry practice, he did show his patients Troll II to distract them from the drill.

"Did it get rid of the pain?" I asked.

"They completely forgot about going to the dentist after watching "Troll II.""

But Hardy, himself, never watched the whole thing through

Not until last year.

Now he's seen it 15 times.

About a year ago, Dr. Hardy got a phone call from a student producing a radio documentary about the film.

"Do you know about the world-wide cult phenomenon around "Troll II?"" the student asked.

Hardy had no clue.

The film had been banished to late night cable TV, and just in the past year or so, it developed a cult following.

Hardy went on line to the Internet Movie Database and saw all the postings on "Troll II" message board.

One, from Blair Sterrett of Provo, invited cast members to a screening in Utah.
Sterrett, of the Lost Media Archive (see the blog entry below), hosted a regular Incredibly Strange Movie Night.

He was looking for films that were bizarre, yet suitable for LDS audiences, and someone suggested "Troll II."

He rented the movie and was dumbfounded.

"I couldn't believe what I had seen," Sterrett said. "I had to keep staring at the case to prove to myself that this film actually existed."

It was just that bad.

He thought there was something strangely Utahn about the movie. The way people dressed, the way they spoke, and the way they acted as if they were performing in a ward road show.

When he found out it was indeed filmed in Utah -- in Morgan, Salt Lake City and on Guardsman's Pass -- and when someone told him one of the actors
was in their ward, it hit him: "I bet they're all here."

Sterrett postponed the screening a couple of weeks and started searching the phone book.

"I thought, how are these people going to react? Are they going to be embarrassed about it. Are they going to deny they were in it?"

A couple of the actors wanted nothing to do with "Troll II."

But several others did.

George Hardy flew out from Alabama.

And in April 2006, the first-ever "Troll II" reunion was held in downtown Provo.

Fans came from out of state.

Since then, there've been screenings and cast Q&A's in New York, Houston and Seattle.

Three hundred people showed up in Boston.

Austin's Alamo Theater sold out. The premiere of "Lord of the Rings" didn't draw as big a crowd there.

(The Tower Theater in Salt Lake City is hosting a screening and Q&A with the actors and the director August 11 at 10:30 pm.)

It's become a Rocky Horror-like picture show.

Audience members recite the lines along with the movie. They sing songs and dance along with the actors. They throw popcorn and, of course,
bologna sandwiches.

"There was a kid that came dressed up as a tree and his friend dragged him in a pot into the theater," Stephenson says.

There are Troll II My Space pages, tattoos, Youtube videos, songs, and Troll II parties.

Six weeks ago, Hardy got a call from Iraq.

"Is this Farmer Waits?"

It was.

Hardy could hear an excited soldier yelling to his friends. "Oh guys, this is Farmer Waits!"

He was holding Troll II parties in Iraq.

"They were showing to the Iraqis and the Iraqis were loving it," Hardy says.
Once Hardy and other cast members ran from Troll II. Now they embrace it.

The dentist sells the video at his practice.

He goes to screenings.

Hardy and his on-screen son, Michael Stephenson, are producing a documentary about Troll II called "Best Worst Movie."

Jason Wright, who played the horny teenage boyfriend of Hardy's on-screen daughter, is now a conservative writer and consultant. The website that includes photos of Wright with Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Andy Card, also proudly highlights his role in "Troll II."

And it was all an accident.

No one was playing it for laughs.

"Everybody on set showed up to make a good horror movie," Stephenson said.
"We all took this seriously. We wanted this to be a good movie"

They failed.


Troll II ranks among the worst movies ever. Among such classics as Plan 9 From Outer Space and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

And George Hardy seems pretty happy about it.

"A perfectly done bad movie," Hardy says. "Perfectly done bad. It delivers."

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Son of the First Jewish Archbishop

Author Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket, says some of the inspiration for his highly successful and rather dark children's books, "A Series of Unfortunate Events," came from...opera. From the condensed melodrama of it.

"...A lot of terrible things happen in a short period of time and they also have time to pause and sing about how terrible it is that it's going on."

Handler, himself, was made possible by an opera. That's where his parents met.

During an interview yesterday at The King's English Bookshop, he explained that at nine years of age his idea of getting into trouble was sneaking downstairs and listening to Alban Berg's opera, "Lulu." His parents, he said, thought the material was unsuitable for young children. (The plot involves murder and suicide and brothels and lesbian countesses.) Though, he said, they didn't appreciate the fact that the youngster didn’t understand much of the German expressionist opera.

"I'd heard the phrase 'lady of the evening," he says," and I didn't know what that meant but it sounded intriguing. It sounded sort of vampiric."

In his hometown of San Fransisco, Handler appeared in operas as a boy soprano.

His father, he said, is a great opera lover and sadly tone deaf and so has been only spear-carriers. His father, Handler said, likes to brag that he was the first Jewish archbishop.

“It was only in the Opera ‘Tosca,’ but still something of an achievement.”

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Elusive J.J. Farnsworth

Before every Alta High School football home game, announcer Rique "Oach" Ochoa summons a particular player.

"Would J.J. Farnsworth come to the press box please? J.J. Farnsworth."

The announcement echoes through the stands and surrounding homes.

But Farnsworth never responds.

We profiled Ochoa during last month's game against the Eagles. (The Fresh Look on Life airs 10pm Sunday, November 4.)

The history teacher has found a way to mix football and education by inserting current vocabulary words with his play-by-play.

impenetrable: incapable of being penetrated or pierced
impervious: impenetrable
permeate: penetrate
fathom: comprehend covert: secret
regale: to entertain sumptuously
epitome: embodiment
exhort: urge strongly
infringe: to encroach
intrinsic: belonging to a thing by its very nature
stringent: strict
surmise: to conjecture

Students get to know the words.

But no one's ever met J.J. Farnsworth.

Because he was a lower string player from Ochoa's East L.A. high school football days.

Jamie Farnsworth. Called J.J. by a teacher/football announcer who gave everyone a middle 'J.'

During his 20 years of football announcing, R.J. Ochoa has been testing the booth mike by, instead of counting to three, calling for J.J.

Not long ago he overheard some students, speaking of J.J., say "Boy, that kid's gone here a long time, hasn't he?"

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Rubber Band Boy

And now, the eighth wonder of the world, (A wonder because so many people wonder "why."): The new biggest rubber band ball in the world.

That title, held for years by John Bain, a Delaware man who began building his ball (Where else?) in a law firm mailroom, has been seized by Steve Milton of Eugene, Oregon (who likes to use it to crush computer monitors. Apparently rubber band balls are very useful for smashing things.).

Bain's ball weighs more than 31-hundred pounds.

Milton's weighs more than 45-hundred.

And Anthony Mallas' ball weighs 25 pounds. We featured the Salt Lake eleven year old and his ball on Two News at Five. Anthony hopes one day his ball will
eclipse both Milton's and Bain's.

Godspeed Anthony.

I scored the piece for gopichand (an Indian folk instrument), acoustic guitar (not the strings, but the wood) and, of course, rubber bands.

It just kinda sounded like the right thing to do.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Question to dying man: How do you feel? Dying man: With my hands.

I can only imagine what the paramedics thought when they rushed into the warehouse to find a half-naked man in a wheelchair wearing a bearskin and Shirley Temple wig who had tumbled off a platform and hit his head while filming a movie with Crispin "Back to the Future" Glover.

They probably shared a reaction similar to that of some of the people I talked to about this story.

At first, for reasons I'll discuss later, I wasn't sure I could tell it on TV. But I figured I had to. Click here to watch the story.

Everybody has dreams. Some dreams are a little different than others. But everybody has dreams.

Even the man in the Shirley Temple wig.

Steven C. Stewart was born in 1937 with a severe case of cerebral palsy, a condition that left him without a lot of control of his muscles. He couldn't walk. His arms flailed about involuntarily. And his speech was very hard to understand.

We're featuring Stewart on a Fresh Look on Life Sunday, March 18, on Two News at 10pm. Watch KUTV's 1977 profile of Stewart here.

No doubt many people who saw Stewart thrashing around and pushing himself backwards down the sidewalk -- that was how he got around -- and heard him trying to speak, thought he was mentally handicapped. But he was not.

"When (people) first talk to me, when I answer, they can't understand. A few listen carefully. They're my friends."

His good friend, Roger Brown, calls him "the most enthusiastic, energetic, inspiring person I've ever known."

Stewart, among other things, lobbied for rights for the disabled (The first curb was cut in Salt Lake City because of Stewart.), wrote radio commercial copy, produced a radio show, once conducted the Utah Youth Symphony, ran for the Utah legislature, worked in public relations, wrote two books and appeared in two movies, one of which he wrote. (We'll get into that later.)

Brown says Stewart believed if he wanted to do something, he could.

"I think a lot of people think that fate or destiny plays a part in their lives and they don't have any choice, but those are people who never met Steve Stewart."

He didn't like to hang out with other people with handicaps, Brown says.

He didn't like their attitude.

He got his attitude came from his mom.

"She (instilled) in Steve the drive and desire. That he was a normal human being," his friend David Brothers says.

He was the first handicapped child in Davis County schools. Thanks to his mom.

"The teacher thought I had no right to be there," Stewart told Two News. "So every year my parents had to fight to keep me in school."

He said he always knew he was different, but it didn't hit him until he got out of high school.

"All my friends were getting married, having children. I felt alone."

He lived at home until his mother died when he was 29.

And then he moved into a nursing home. He had to. That was the only way he could get government assistance.

That was where former KUTV producer (and later news director) Diane Orr and the late C. Larry Roberts interviewed him for a profile for the station news magazine "Extra" 30 years ago.

He was writing letters, spending two to four hours to type each one, to elected officials to complain about the way the system treats the disabled.

Stewart told Larry Roberts that he had an idea for a movie. Roberts introduced Stewart to his friend, photographer and set designer David Brothers. And Stewart convinced Brothers to help him write his script.

Stewart slowly dictated the words and Brothers typed them.

"And the story just got weirder and weirder," David Brothers says.

And Brothers couldn't get it out of his head.

He introduced a his friend of his, actor Crispin Glover ("Back to the Future," "Williard"), to Stewart and three of them decided then, 27 years ago, that they were going to make Steve Stewart's movie.

Fast forward to the year 2000.

Stewart was in his 60's and his health had deteriorated.

His lung had collapsed. Because of lack of muscle coordination and the danger of asphyxiation, he could no longer take solid food by mouth.

From a nursing home, he contacted Brothers and Glover and told them it was now or never.

"Well I did think he said, we should make this before I kick the bucket," Glover recalls. "You kinda say, don't kick the bucket yet, jokingly, but ultimately it was true. He kept himself alive to make the movie."

Stewart had appeared in Glover's previous movie, the aptly-named, "What Is It?" It was an avante guard piece involving a cast of people with Down Syndrome, nude porn stars wearing animal heads, swastikas, snails and Steve Stewart.

That was when the paramedics showed up and thought who knows what.

Glover and Stewart were playing "dueling demigod auteurs" when Stewart tumbled off a platform and onto his head.

"I'm so glad that we didn't kill him," Glover says.

Stewart rolled away from the incident with a half-dozen stitches in his head.

"He was a tough monkey," Brothers says.

Glover and Brothers started making plans to shoot Stewart's movie.

Glover took a lucrative job, playing the creepy Thin Man in "Charlie's Angels," in part, so he could pay for the production, which cost him 150 to 200 thousand dollars.

Over the course of a year, in a non-descript Salt Lake City warehouse, in between Stewart's hospitalizations, they made "It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE."

The film (which I have not seen) is a dark fantasy. A man in a wheelchair seduces beautiful women and then kills them.

And Steve Stewart played the leading man.

There are no subtitles. In Stewart's cinematic world, everyone understands what he says.

And he gets the girl.

Something that usually didn't happen in real life.

But not because he didn't try.

Brown says Stewart would convince strangers to push him inside ZCMI so he could try to chat up the women behind the perfume counter.

"That woman. I've gotta go meet that woman," Brothers recalls. "He was fearless. He really was fearless."

No doubt he knew his chances were slim, but "if you're raised with that attitude of anything's possible, you keep trying because maybe somewhere in there, there's someone that would go for it."

The 1977 footage shows Stewart on the dance floor with an able-bodied woman.

"I've loved two girls," he said, "but they couldn't accept me. I want to love, to have sex. I have the same emotions as anyone else."

Stewart was married for 15 years, but divorced.

"Mentally," David Brothers says, "she wasn't up to the challenges of Steve."

Now here he was starring with a cast of beautiful women. Often naked beautiful women. (Because of the explicit nudity I debated whether I could put this story on TV. Even much of the movie trailers wasn't fit for broadcast. In the end I decided that the story was much bigger than the film. It was about Steve Stewart.)

Glover hired, among others, Margit Carstensen, a favorite of German director Rainer Fassbinder, and Jami Ferrell, Playboy's Miss January 1997.

"Tragically, he was a romantic without a means to express it, except for this film," Brothers says. "Steve was exceptionally romantic because he never had a chance to express it, to a real person."

Part of the message of the film, Brothers said, is the man who couldn't walk, couldn't feed himself and could barely talk, was a human being with a full range of emotions.

"I said, 'Steve, you're portraying an unfavorable handicapped man.' He said, 'I don't care. I have that right.'"

"Even though you're disabled," Brown explains, "you may have the darkest, blackest thoughts of anybody out there. So don't feel terribly sorry for me because I have the same black thoughts that someone has who has a normal life."

The film action, at one point, switches from the warehouse movie sets, to a real nursing home. And the audience realizes this isn't a piece of fiction. This is a real man living out his fantasies.

"This movie," Stewart wrote in his script, "is not really about sex or even a serial killer...This movie tends to look inside the heart and mind of a severely handicapped young man.....This movie is to show that these people can have feelings, too. Feelings of good and ill."

"I have never killed anyone," he wrote, "and never intend to."

Brothers remembers the smile Steve Stewart had on his face every day he came to work.

These were the happiest days of his life, he Stewart told Brothers.

"I said, "Oh, Steve, you'll have happier days."

"No!" Brothers imitates Stewart's shout and emphatic flail. "These...are...the happiest...days...of my life!"

Though while living out this fantasy, while filming a nude love scene, Brothers believes, Stewart had an epiphany.

"Is that all there is? Is that all there was?"

The best part of the production, Brothers guesses Stewart realized, wasn't the nude scenes.

"I don't think this is what I really wanted. What I wanted was hanging out with the actresses, but over in makeup and wardrobe."

Stewart relished all the down time on the set. Just sitting around and talking. Forming relationships.

Brown and Brothers say Stewart did fall in love with a 20-year-old actress on the set. But, just as his film character finds the woman of his dreams and is rejected, the love was unrequited.

"A certain sadness (overcame him)," Brothers says, "when he realized he wasn't going to get what he expected. And only he knew what that was."

"Ultimately I think he was a tragic figure because he had no way to express himself, except for though this film. I think that explains the anger in the film."

After the filming was over, Stewart asked Brothers and Glover if they needed him anymore.

"(He) asked us if we had enough footage," Glover says, "and I was very sad to say 'yes.'"

Stewart was asking permission to die.

The doctors wanted to scrap his lungs again, a procedure he did not want to endure again. He wanted to remove himself from life support.

"Steve, of course, we're not done, you can't die," Brothers told him. "I realized that was selfish."

Now Stewart was lying in a hospital bed. He was dying.

Make-up artist and friend Gyll Huff was at his side.

Brothers recalls the conversation.

"How do you feel, Steve?"

Stewart mumbled.

There was five minutes of failed communication. The Huff was able to understand what Stewart was trying to say.

"With my hands."

"That took it to this whole new level of absurdity."

A month after the production wrapped, Steven C. Stewart died. He left his share of the film, which, because of the limited commercial appeal, Brothers admits will never turn a profit, to that 20 year old actress. But in Stewart's mind, Brothers says, it was worth something.

In his final few days, Brown says, the crew brought some of the "dailies" to the hospital for Stewart to watch.

He had had no food for ten days and was very weak.

But, Brown says, he sat up in his bed. His eyes lit up.

"He was thrilled beyond imagination," Brown says.

Here was a movie that he wrote and starred in.

"I think at that time, he said, 'OK, I've done all. I've done it all.'"

"It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Crispin Glover says he will now tour the country with the film.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Shoes, the Musical

I can only imagine what musical director Ralph Woodward thought when I asked him if the Salt Lake Children's Choir would sing about women's shoes.

A highly astute observer of human behavior, I've noticed that many women have a closet shoe fetish.

Even my mother, an Old World woman who thought a dishwasher was far too extravagant for her family, accumulated dozens and dozens of pairs.
It wasn't until after she passed and we extricated all the shoe boxes from her closet that we realized the true scale of the collection.

My wife has tried to educate me about the matter of shoes and handbags. (There is a well-established correlation between these two items.) All I have gleaned from these discussions, is that Kate Spade makes some women drool.

I figured there was a song in there somewhere.

So I interviewed Utah real estate agent Cindy Wood in her closet with her shoes.

And then I phone Woodward to see if the Salt Lake Children's Choir would sing about it.

The kids were, no doubt, used to making music for a higher calling -- performing Schuman and church hymns -- not singing the praises of Manolo Blahnic. But they gave a fine performance.

And I would like to thank them.

They present performances throughout the year, including their annual Christmas concert.

I don't think their programs includes any shoe songs.

Friday, January 2, 2009

When the golf pro said he had a birdie...

The last time I called golf pro Jeff Water, it was about a cat.

The one that was lying in wait on the seventh hole of the Mick Riley Golf Course and stealing golf balls. (Watch excerpts here.) It turned out to be two cats, Buffy and Gutsy, who had a taste for Titleist. (They didn't like the cheap brands.)

This time he left a message about a bird.

Turned out a starling has made itself the Mick Riley mascot.

Apparently imprinted on humans, the juvenile bird now enjoys perching on golfers' shoulders.

So we shot a Fresh Look on Life about the bird.

The guys at Mick Riley called the next day to tell me I'd forgotten my notebook.

"You should be disbarred for leaving your notebook," Waters said as he handed it over.

He was wrong, of course. I should have been disbarred years ago for passing off golf ball-stealing cats as journalism.

I'd brought my two year old son, Zach, along for the ride and the bird.

The bird wasn't to be found, which was fine with Zach, who was much more interested in the golf carts.
A few weekends ago we'd driven six hours to show him the splendor of the Grand Tetons and all he was interested in was the golf carts driven by the lodge custodial staff

But as I strapped the boy back in his car seat, I noticed a bird on the putting green.

Watching golf.

Its little bird head followed the swing and then the ball and then looked up, as if to say, 'Nice, but you didn't follow through. Got any Fritos?' It then jumped onto the man's golf bag and pecked through the pockets to look for snacks.

I walked over and, a small morsel of raisin bagel in hand, picked the bird up and brought it back over to show my son. Then I set it back on the ground and continued to strap Zach into his seat.

That's when the gregarious, bagel-eating bird, jumped in the car.

It hopped onto the steering wheel.

I opened the driver's door.

It bounced over to the passenger seat.

Now Zach was belly-laughing. This was even better than the golf carts.

Eventually I was able to extricate the bird and it went back to analyzing golf swings and panhandling for Fritos.

On the way home, Zach kept asking for the "birdie bagel."

So, if you frequent Mick Riley, don't worry about that cat hazard on the seventh hole. Regulars say they haven't seen Buffy or Gutsy in quite some time.

But don't give a ride to any strange birds.