Of my many strange but true life stories that are too violent for me, the one surrounding this little cult movie from 1980 is the strangest and truest. Hard to sum it up in one post and I really hope I don't embarrass my dear friend Linda Kerridge, but she knows what a profound impact this experience had on me, even though none of it makes sense. The best things in life don't, though.
Basically, I started hanging out with this young, up-and-coming actor named Mickey Rourke soon after I arrived in L.A. in 1979, age 16. He was 26 or so, and a real puppy dog at the time. Hard to believe now, maybe, but trust me, he was a real sweetheart before fame fucked him up. I had just dropped out of high school and was working full time to support myself as a really bad busboy at Neiman-Marcus in Beverly Hills (where I met another lifelong actor friend, Jon Lindstrom, who was the handsomest waiter in the world at that time, long before Jon Hamm). One night my father's friend Sandra Seacat, now a famous acting coach, and her daughter Greta who was my age and who I'd known since we were wee tykes, picked me up to take me out for dinner after my shift. In the backseat of their car was this guy Mickey, whom Sandra was dating at the time, and he was also her student. Mick and I hit it off immediately since we both loved Elvis along with other common interests and sensibilities. Right away he felt like the big brother I never had, though truthfully I never actually wanted one.
Anyway, then, like now, I was a lone wolf by nature and really didn't like to socialize more than absolutely necessary so I didn't see Mickey on a regular basis until after I saw his bit part in this flick "Fade to Black," which I wound up watching like 20 times in theaters (back then I usually watched newly released movies only twice, and I mean EVERY MOVIE TWICE, since I was so lonely and bored; I do remember seeing Dawn of the Dead seven nights in a row, because I was horrified I couldn't believe it). My repeat viewings of this movie weren't because I happened to know the guy who played the bully that picked on Dennis Christopher's character Eric Binford, who was a movie geek just like me. It was because for some reason I was completely mesmerized by the Marilyn Monroe lookalike that Eric likewise becomes obsessed with and stalks, played by Australian model Linda Kerridge, who had a spread in Playboy to promote the movie. I wasn't the stalker type, and I knew I was way out of my league since I couldn't even talk to girls back then, much less court international models, but I began hanging out with Mickey in the hopes I'd just meet Linda and figure out why I was so inexplicably but irresistibly drawn to her ethereal (from my innocently warped perspective) presence on Earth.
Thing is, Mick had no scenes with her so he didn't know her personally, but he did set up a meeting with the film's director, Vernon Zimmerman, at Duke's Coffee Shop in West Hollywood. Mickey was engaged to actress Debra Feuer at the time, and we became close too. She was like the big sister I never wanted, too. We hung out often at the Pink Turtle in the Beverly Wilshire, among my favorite memories. They got hitched while I was down in Houston staying with my mother's family that had raised me till I was six after being taken away from my schizo mother in New York before I wound up being raised by my father's next wife in a right wing guru cult in New Jersey. Okay, I'm going off script again, but it's all related.
In Houston I was again bussing tables (my specialty, though I was lousy) at the Beef 'n' Barrel, while working on my first novel, Chumpy Walnut, and saving enough money to move back to L.A. It's another long story why I left to begin with and this is already a long story being unduly condensed for your sake.
|My father Robert Viharo at Mickey's wedding to Debra, 1981|
ANYhow, two years go by, I wind up going back and forth between Houston and L.A. twice, till finally I settled in Westwood, where I had initially lived with my father, briefly, until I got my own pad in Beverly Hills at age 17. Yeah, poor kid. I saw Fade to Black another ten times or so over this period, channeling Linda as my muse, quite without her consent or knowledge.
Los Angeles, 1982, springtime. I'd just returned from Houston for the second and final time. One day I decided to go see a double bill of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and "How To Marry a Millionaire" at one of my favorite theaters, the Nuart, across the street from one of my favorite restaurants, Dolores' on Santa Monica Boulevard in West L.A. I always had the eggplant Florentine and I freaking loved their house roll and salad dressing. I'd sit there for hours reading Damon Runyon stories, pretending I was in New York in the 40s.
So I'm sitting there in a nearly empty theater and two gals sit directly and I mean DIRECTLY in front of me. One turned out to be Daryl Hannah but I didn't care then and still don't.
The other was Linda Kerridge. I happened to catch a glimpse of her face in the screen light just before she plopped down and inadvertently obstructed my view of the screen. Like I cared. Who needed a virtual likeness of Marilyn Monroe? My own real life movie goddess had manifested right in front of me like magic, out of nowhere, long after I'd given up on ever actually meeting her. After all my efforts, she came to me.
Because this extremely unlikely twist of fate called for it, I summoned up the will power (cough) to introduce myself as her biggest fan, after she'd gotten wind I was right behind her and moved down a few seats.
I actually followed her out of the theater following the two movies and asked her for her phone number. I'd never, ever done that before, even with regular girls. But I couldn't let her get away and risk never seeing her again. I had to be sure this was all real.
I called her a few times and finally she agreed to meet me. I think the first time was at Duke's, since she lived in the Tropicana Hotel. We also went to Ship's Coffee Shop in Westwood once. I LOVED Ship's and Westwood was my frequent haunt in those days. My oldest friend Greg Goyo Vargas and I often hung out there, too.
Here's more irony:
My favorite sequence in Fade to Black was and remains when Eric Binford is wandering around Westwood Village after "Marilyn" accidentally stands him up for a planned rendezvous at Ship's Coffee Shop, an icon now long gone. The scene is a perfectly preserved time capsule of that era in my life. I saw ever single movie on every single marquee he passes. In fact, one of them is Hide In Plain Sight, co-starring...wait for it...Robert Viharo. I took Linda to see Creepshow at the Westwood Village Theater once. In retrospect that seems like an odd selection. I was an odd dude. Unlike now.
Lots happened after that, like I introduced HER to Mickey and Debra. Linda introduced me to her friend, actress Tessa Richarde, who was in another of my favorite movies of the time which I won't mention. It's so great to be in touch with Tessa again, too!
|Linda and Tessa, back in the day|
Linda also wound up starring in a one-act play of mine called "A Wrong Turn at Albuquerque," which was performed once at the Actor's Studio in West Hollywood, directed by my father. It's included in The Thrillville Pulp Fiction Collection, Volume 3, which features Chumpy Walnut and short stories of mine from the past few decades.
|Lavender Blonde, which I initially wrote in 1987 but revised for publication in 2011, is my very liberal reimagining of the Mickey/Linda era in L.A., now featured in The Thrillville Pulp Fiction Collection, Vol. 2.|
Two standout memories: Halloween, 1982, when Linda, Mickey, Debra, Sean Penn and his girlfriend at the time Pamela Springsteen, Lance Henriksen, Lenny Termo, and me at the wheel dressed like Marlon Brando in The Wild One or at least that's what Mickey told me when he decked me out in leather like a male hustler drove around Hollywood and crashed a party in the Hills before landing at Larry Parker's (asshole!) Diner in Beverly Hills. Oh yeah: we were all packed into the 1964 white Thunderbird with dice painted on the doors that Mickey had just given me as a present...TRUE. (Full story and more including how I nearly accidentally killed Tom Waits with that same car in this blog post.
|“Whaddya gonna do ya little baby? Huh? You little shithead!”|
Yet another lurid, vivid Technicolor memory was when Linda and I ran into Sean Penn and his girlfriend (or wife) at the time, Madonna, at Musso and Frank's of Hollywood. It was when they were filming Shanghai Surprise so Sean had jet black Elvis hair and Madonna was all platinum. My "date" put her to shame, though.
Later, after my first real girlfriend Nancy and I broke up and I spent a year living in a notorious residential hotel called the Condor in North Beach, San Francisco, right above Carol Doda, Linda and I were housemates in Mickey's house in Mandeville Canyon during the summer of 1986. She was very sweet, gracious and patient with me. It was obvious I was still intensely smitten without any rational reason or encouragement but I never had the nerve, courage or even desire to "make a move." She was truly an angel to me. But my naive youthful projections of her as a larger-than-life emblem of all my romantic dreams never allowed me to feel totally comfortable around her. I was a crazy kid. Unlike now.
|Photo I found in Mickey's office which he left me keep. My old residence the Hotel Europa on the corner of Columbus and Broadway in North Beach, San Francisco looms ironically and iconically in the background.|
I realize this makes me sound like John Hinckley but I was totally harmless. Just self-delusional. I was so nervous around girls I actually wrote this waitress at the Good Earth an entire book of poems instead of just asking her out on a date. We wound up living together for over a year.
That was Nancy.
Fast forward through many more crappy jobs and doomed romances and the Parkway and Thrillville and Christian Slater and everything else that happened to me over three decades: a year or so ago I reconnected with Linda via this thing called "Facebook." I haven't seen her in person since 1986, after leaving L.A. for the final time to settle in the Bay Area, where I met my true love. We now live in Seattle, I walk dogs for a living, still write books, and I've never been happier.
Adding to this supreme contentment is that all these years later, Linda is still in my life. It must mean something, but I no longer try to figure this stuff out. I just let the magic run its course. I am so proud and honored to call her my friend.
So now you can see why I never imagined my ultimate destiny as a Seattle dog walker. It made more sense Christian Slater would wind up making that movie of my book. That aside, there’s really nothing I’d change. I’m perfectly content with how my life worked out, all things considered.
|My beloved adopted home of Seattle.|
|My 28th annual Elvis Christmas card|
|Our 21st Christmas card as a couple!|
Next: VIC VALENTINE, SPACE CADET!
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"Thrillville," my official theme song by The Moon-Rays
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broadcast from Missoula, Montana.
Podcast interview by Steven Gomez for The Noir Factory, August 2017
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ONLINE SHORT FICTION
A WRONG TURN AT ALBUQUERQUE (1982) and THE IN-BETWEENERS (1987)
PEOPLE BUG ME (2013)
ESCAPE FROM THRILLVILLE (2014)
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HARD-BOILED HEART from Gutter Books!