Craig Edwards: When and where did the world gain a Beverly Gray?
Beverly Gray: I assume you’re talking about me, but I’ve discovered there are lots of Beverly Grays in the world. One teaches cello in Scotland; one is involved in equestrian events; one lectures on the Underground Railroad. There’s also a series of girls’ books, dating from the 1920s, called the Beverly Gray series, by Clair Blank. Beverly is an intrepid red-headed reporter who solves mysteries all over the world. None of these Beverly Grays is me, or even close. Happily for me, I do not date from the 1920s. I was born in Hollywood, California around the middle of the last century, which makes me a Baby Boomer in good standing.
|Not the Beverly Gray we're concerned with here,|
but we will see this post's subject at a World's Fair...
CE: What are your earliest pop culture memories?
BG: At about the time I started kindergarten, my mom announced that we were going to see a movie with another mother and her son, who was just my age. The movie, I was told, was called Hans Christian Andersen. Because a five-year-old boy would be coming along, I immediately assumed this must be some sort of cowboy movie. So much for gender stereotyping. The film, of course, was a Frank Loesser musical starring Danny Kaye as the great Danish author. I’ve never forgotten it.
|Ms. Gray at 4 years of age, working under the tutelage of famous dancer|
and choreographer Carmen De Lavallade, who later went on to acting roles
in films like John Sayles's Lone Star.
Photo courtesy Beverly Gray.
CE: When did you know you wanted to work in the entertainment industry?
BG: Actually, though I was always fascinated by Hollywood glamour, I never planned on an entertainment industry career. I have always adored live theatre, and much of my youth was spent (or perhaps misspent) reading plays and acting in stage productions. But by the time I started college it was clear to me that I was not cut out for the precarious life of an actor. I loved reading and I loved campus life, which led me to fantasize about teaching literature at some ivy-covered college. That’s the reason I earned my PhD in American lit. My entry into the film business was completely accidental. (See below.)
CE: How did you go about breaking in to the entertainment industry?
BG: As a graduate student, I decided that, in addition to writing academic papers for my profs, I would also enjoy writing smart, witty theatre reviews that would be read by my fellow students. I volunteered, but the arts editor at the UCLA Daily Bruin was a theatre snob, and decided I was too much of a novice to cover drama. That’s why he sent me to the movies, and I spent several years writing mostly movie reviews. When Roger Corman needed a new assistant, he contacted (in typical Roger fashion) the faculty head of UCLA’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter. The prof knew nothing about Roger, but did know that I – one of his department’s grad students – had an interest in movies and popular culture. He recommended me for a job interview, and the rest is history.
CE: What was the first project you worked on?
BG: At Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, you worked on many projects at the same time. The first screenplay I ever read was Charles Willeford’s script for Cockfighter. On my very first day I was asked to make extensive notes on Cockfighter in preparation for a story meeting, but I also quickly found myself writing press releases for Caged Heat, working on a nurse movie, and helping to chart the distribution of our films in drive-ins across the nation.
CE: Which film project are you most proud to have been associated with?
BG: From the early days, I’m most proud of Death Race 2000, because I never expected it to become a cult classic. Roger has credited me with thinking up the twist ending, which is definitely something I remember fondly. Later I worked on some 170 projects of varying quality, but I’m proud of staying (relatively) sane throughout it all. On one memorable December day, I earned two screenwriting credits by turning in rewrites of two very different scripts ( a martial-arts flick and a Spanish ghost story) initiated by others.
CE: I love Death Race 2000 - another movie I've purchased about four times now in different formats! What project are you least proud of?
BG: Not sure I can answer, because of those 170 low-budget films (give or take a few), some of which were ground out under very trying circumstances. But I’ll always be embarrassed about my short stint as a reader (the lowest of the low) at Interscope Pictures. I was asked to make a judgment on the quality of the writing in Emma Thompson’s adaptation of the wonderful Jane Austen novel, Sense and Sensibility. Knowing that I was expected to be as harsh as possible and that I had less than a day to read the script and turn in my report, I quickly found all sorts of things to criticize. Later, long after Thompson won an Oscar for her adapted screenplay, I re-read the novel and then the published version of the script. In an article for Creative Screenwriting, I was glad to set the record straight, noting just how capably Thompson had brought Austen’s work to the screen. One of these days, I plan to tell that story in greater detail in Beverly in Movieland.
CE: I look forward to it! What was the closest thing to a typical day working for Roger Corman?
BG: There was no such thing as a typical day. That’s what made working for Roger Corman so much fun. Once I walked into his office and found several ballerinas in full Swan Lake regalia perched on his desk en pointe. (They were shooting a magazine spread.) Normally I myself read through mountains of scripts, wrote copious script notes, and had long meetings with writers, but I also interacted with directors, sat in on casting sessions, discussed upcoming projects with Roger, and went to the Corman studio to play small roles in a number of films. We were frequently in crisis mode, but we also laughed a lot.
CE: You've written a wonderful biography of Ron Howard.
CE: Is he the best filmmaker to have graduated from The Corman Academy? If not him, then who?
BG: Quite a question! Ron Howard is perhaps the top all-around commercial filmmaker who came out of Cormanville. The variety of his output is extraordinary, and he’s also functioned very well as an executive, given his longtime co-leadership (along with Brian Grazer) of Imagine Entertainment. I suspect that not everyone knows how much he’s contributed to television as well as movies. (See Arrested Development and From the Earth to the Moon as prime examples.) But I’m certainly not going to say Ron Howard’s a better filmmaker than Francis Ford Coppola in his prime, and I believe no one can match the cinematic genius of Martin Scorsese when he’s at the top of his game. James Cameron’s talent for spectacle can’t be overlooked, and I’m also partial to John Sayles’ totally independent approach. Just don’t ask me to name a “best”!
|Link to the Kindle edition at Amazon HERE|
CE: Okay, we'll leave it at that! What is your greatest unfulfilled ambition in the film industry?
BG: One day, if I find the right collaborator, I’d like to see if I can turn out a really excellent screenplay on a topic of interest to me. Something where the emphasis is on human relationships, perhaps, rather than on action and sex scenes.
CE: There is a good story behind your son appearing in this prop photo from Slumber Party Massacre III - how did that come about?
BG: Over at Beverly in Movieland, I tell that story in my “My Son the Serial Killer” post. Here's a link to it:
CE: That's a wild story - and a great post! Four words."The Hollywood Sign is..." Please finish that with 25 words.
BG: . . . the closest thing we have to a true Hollywood landmark. It’s essentially meaningless, but its allure speaks volumes about the magic of the film industry.
CE: Tell us something we don't know about Roger Corman.
BG: He was proud of how long he held on to his wardrobe. That meant some of his sweaters were threadbare, and (since he liked to take his shoes off) it was not unusual to see his toes poking through the holes in his socks.
|Not Roger Corman's feet.|
CE: For those who’d like to know more about Roger Corman, what books do you suggest?
BG: Roger’s own book, with Jim Jerome, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, is an excellent introduction to the way Roger’s mind works. It’s also a highly entertaining read. But no one should take it as the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Understandably, Roger’s memory is selective, and he also chooses not to go very deeply into the question of what makes him tick. For that, I modestly recommend my own book, which in its paperback edition is titled Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers. I’m now working on a major update, which I plan to publish as an Ebook in the near future, but it’s also worth seeking out the paperback or the original hardcover (Roger Corman: An Unauthorized Biography of the Godfather of Indie Filmmaking) to see what it is that Corman alumni love about my work.
CE: I can't wait for that expanded Ebook edition! What's the perfect Beverly Gray breakfast?
BG: Another tough one. I like sunny-side-up eggs; I like oatmeal (or what the Irish call porridge). But if we’re talking about perfection, I think I’ll go continental, and order a good cappuccino with a perfect croissant, the kind that’s hard to find because it’s so crisp and buttery that it shatters when you bite into it. With very freshly squeezed orange juice, of course.
CE: Yummy! What are you up to these days?
BG: Currently my greatest passion is for my blog, Beverly in Movieland. I’ve just finished taking charge of an international biographers’ conference, and now it’s high time for me to go back to my own major projects. I am adapting my biography, Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers, into that expanded and updated Ebook, as I mentioned. I have also written a book-length manuscript about the Sixties and the impact of moviegoing on the Baby Boom generation. It needs some reshaping and rethinking, which is another important goal for me right now. Thanks for asking!
CE: You're welcome! Last question - what is the best piece of advice you can give to someone starting out in the entertainment business?
BG: I was asked this question many years ago, by an eager English major who was taking one of my literature courses at UCLA and who requested a formal meeting to discuss her career goals. I didn’t feel then (and I really don’t feel now) that I possessed the key to success in Hollywood. But I thought I had a good piece of advice for her: if you’re determined to become a screenwriter, just be sure you’ve got a marketable skill that will help you keep body and soul together while you work toward your big break. I hoped she would take my words to heart. In fact, she quickly responded, “Oh yes, I’ve already thought of that.” I assumed she had in mind something totally pragmatic, like expertise in data processing. Instead she proudly announced, “I’m going to be a journalist!” As a journalist myself, I would never bet on a writing career as a steady source of income. Maybe she made it work for her, but I wouldn’t know: I’ve never heard from her since.
Wow, now that's an interview! I want to thank Ms. Gray for taking time out of her busy schedule to chat with me!
Until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!