Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My Biggest Regret in Eight Years of a Southern California Existence

In early April 2009, my family and I went to San Juan Capistrano for the day, where I would either live or retire if I loved Southern California, which will never happen. And I would have to be wealthier than I am now for that to happen. A lot.

I was so smitten with the everlasting peace of the area, a sense of history that will never fade, that I wrote an amteurish poem about my feelings. I looked up that poem today to make sure I had exact what I saw in San Juan Capistrano before I sent a message to author Kate Buford on her website about a few things dealing with Burt Lancaster that I'm seeking for my book.

Mom, Dad, Meridith and I walked around that downtown area, next to railroad tracks, passing what looked like many historical houses. Then we walked through Antique Row, which bears many antique shops, and we stopped at what looked like the largest one there.

I love antique stores. I don't collect them, but it's that deep, abiding respect for history in those stores that I feel so strongly in my own work, that'll keep me in nonfiction for years to come, continuing to explore the history of various things. At that antique store, I went into a small room off the main floor at the front of the store which held old issues of Time and Life magazines, along with other magazines that I don't remember because there weren't as many of them as those two. On a small table in front of me was a carefully wrapped set of envelopes for $12. I went back and forth on whether I wanted them, because in the upper right-hand corner, "Burt Lancaster" was stamped in blue. I e-mailed Buford because I thought that the envelopes were stamped "Burt Lancaster Productions," but he started Hecht-Lancaster, one of the first production companies run by an actor, and one of the very few to last in that time period, which then became Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, and after that ended, he started Norlan Productions (A combination of his wife's name, Norma, and his surname), but nothing in Buford's biography indicated in later years that he started a production company called "Burt Lancaster Productions." I think those envelopes indeed said "Burt Lancaster," but I wanted to make absolutely sure with Buford that that was probably the case.

I didn't buy those envelopes. And sitting on the couch today, finishing Buford's biography, I thought about those envelopes. I don't know if Burt Lancaster ever touched them or even saw them, but surely he had to have ordered them. I didn't need that kind of proof, but I think I just wanted a piece of the history of an actor who figured so largely in my teenage years by being in the first Airport movies, minor as that history might have been.

There is one thing that sort of makes up for it. At the Academy library in Beverly Hills, you're given the option of requesting photocopies of pages of documents you're poring over, whatever you need. You pay 50 cents a page, plus a mailing charge, and you receive the documents within a few weeks after your visit.

I requested that 10 pages be photocopied, and with a 75-cent mailing charge, that came out to $5.75. My visit to the library was on January 10, and I received a gray catalog envelope containing my photocopies on January 25. A few pages pertain to special effects production for Airport, especially about snow effects. But the document that made my heart flutter were call sheets for The Concorde: Airport '79, detailing the production schedule for Tuesday, January 30, 1979, the sets to be used, the actors required along with times for them to be in makeup and then on set (George Kennedy, Alain Delon, and David Warner weren't needed that day because the Concorde flight deck set wasn't being used), and call times for various crew members, including the cameraman and the camera operator, air conditioning on stage 12, and a dialogue coach. On the first page, there's a "special note" that states: "Cold weather gear for the Utah shoot will be handed out today. See Lambert Marks." That was for the crash sequence at the end of the movie. Utah stood in for Patscherkofel in Austria.

I've still got so much to do for this book that'll give me many thrills, but the biggest thrill thus far was getting the photocopies of these call sheets. All the years I watched the Airport movies, and I have part of its history. I could never imagine such a thing when I first watched these movies over and over on videotape. I noticed the effort that had gone into them with actors and special effects and all that, but not to this extent, not to pull apart each movie and see what's inside. I've kept these photocopies in their original envelope and I'm keeping it safe. I may want to use the call sheets as photos to be included in my book, but those are rights to seek much later, once I'm well into writing it.

I wish I had those envelopes, and I think it'll always remain my biggest regret of these eight years. Which goes to show that if you find something that relates to a major part of your life, grab it. Don't think about it. Just grab it.