“THE HOLLYWOOD KNIGHTS”
About The Production
It is Halloween night, 1965 the end of an era.
Tomorrow, Tubby’s Drive-In (the home of the “Big One” will shut down forever, victim of the wrecker’s ball and civic rage. The Hollywood Knights will lose the hangout where they have cruised, mooned, joked and picked up girls and heartburn since the club began.
But the Knights aren’t about to drive meekly off into the California sunset. As their leader, the nutty, notorious Newbomb Turk, puts it: “Gentlemen…tomorrow we may be history. Tonight, we shall become legends.”
Let the revels begin.
“The Hollywood Knights” is a Columbia Pictures presentation of a PolyGram Pictures production and a Floyd Mutrux film.
The irreverent comedy about a youthful group of young men and their last night of glory — was written and directed by Mutrux and produced by Richard Lederer, William Tennant was executive producer. The cast, liberally sprinkled with new faces, is headed by Robert Wuhl, Tony Danza and (in alphabetical order), Fran Drescher, Moosie Drier, Leigh French, Randy Gornel, Gary Graham, Sandy Helberg, James Jeter, Stuart Pankin, P.R. Paul, Michelle Pfeiffer, Gailard Sartain and Richard Schaal.
It is Robert Wuhl as Newbomb who inspires the Knights to meet the enemy the Beverly Hills Home Owners Association, which successfully campaigned to get Tubby’s torn down. Heading the home owners are MacIntyre Dixon as upright, uptight attorney Jack Freedman; Leigh French as Mrs. Freedman, a nymphomaniac matron with a penchant for parked cars; and Richard Schaal as Bob Nevans, the shakiest pillar of the community who ever debauched his best friend’s wife.
The battle lines are drawn.
Using the doomed drive-in as a casual command post, the Knights reduce a pair of Beverly Hills cops (Gailard Sartain and Sandy Heiberg) to blubbering wrecks turn a high school
pep rally into a flatulent festival…invent a tangy new cocktail for a country club gala…treat Hollywood streets like the Daytona Speedway…and pursue the time-honored goal of American
youth — making out.
Meanwhile; in hallowed Halloween tradition four Knight pledge’s have been stranded naked in Watts. But the bedsheets they borrow from a convenient clothesline prove no security
blankets in the neighborhood they’re in.
Still more meanwhile. Knight Tony Danza, of TV’s “Taxi,” is trying to persuade his carhop girlfriend (Michelle Pfeiffer) to give up her dream of a movie career in favor of marriage.
And yet meanwhile…Knight Gary Graham is enjoying his own dream, behind the wheel of a “Chopped” and “channeled”
’40 Coupe, a going-away present from his friends before he takes off for a flyspeck on the map called Vietnam.
Keeping up with the meanwhiles…Newbomb has finally broken through the resistance of Frank Drescher as Sally, the sexiest JAP (Jewish American Princess) at Beverly Hills High.
But premature ejaculation turns out to be the only sign of maturity he’s ever shown.
Dudley, the chubby, asthmatic school “grind” (Stuart Pankin) has been kidnapped — and is discovering that girls are even more fun than algebra. The Knights have wired the Tubby’s Drive-In restrooms for sound and are broadcasting the intimate revelations of the “Ironbox Twins” (Roberta Wallach and Joyce Heiser).
And to complete the meanwhiles…Mrs. Freedman and Nevans have been locked out of his car with her clothes inside as a passing parade of mooning Knights cruises the suburban streets.
The 1965 setting of the film represents the last gasp of innocence before Vietnam, Watergate, energy crises and the Ayatollah — filled with equal measures of nostalgia and screwball humor. But as “The Hollywood Knights” took shape, the fun won out even more in writer-director Mutrux’s screen-play.
“The nostalgia is there in the cars, the clothes, the music, and most of all, in the attitudes of the characters,”
Mutrux says. “For instance.. .there’s a lot of talk about sex in the picture, but to use the slang of the period, nobody ‘goes all the way.’ It’s a point of reference rather than an act.”
During production, some of the film’s interrelated stories grew in importance while others virtually vanished. The youthful cast was not surprised. Mutrux had set the ground ruleson the first night of principal photography:
“What ‘works’ is going to be In this picture. What_ doesn’t isn’t. A lot of you have never been in the movies before except by ,buying tickets. If you’re terrific, you’re going to spend more time on screen than you ever imagined.”
Among those who fulfilled that prophecy was Robert Wuhl, a:young comic-who’d written gags for Rodney Dangdrfielt and Stiller and Meara and supported himself through odd jobs – like appearing on “The Dating Game.” He was playing, the Comedy Store, a Hollywood showcase where the exposure is more lavish than the pay scale when Mutrux found him through a “comedy of errors.”
“Another young comic from the same club came in to see us,,” Mutrux recalls. “He was a nice kid who ate a tennis ball. That was it! His whole act. He put a tennis ball in his mouth and it disappeared.”
Producer Richard Lederer visited the Comedy Store to give the comic another look. He stayed late, caught Wuhl’s performance and arranged an immediate-, and successful screen test.
“I related to the Newbomb character immediately,” says Wuhl. “When I was growing up in Newark, New Jersey, I never made out, either. Newbomb’s sex life is based on the law of averages. He figures that if he hits on 300 chicks, sooner or later, one of them is going to say yes.
“Meanwhile, he’s having a ball. Newbomb is one of those gross guys who can get away with anything.• Some people will tell a dirty joke and yoere offended. Others will tell the same story and you laugh. -iThat’s Newbomb., He does the crazy, outrageous things we’d all like to do and gets away with them.”
For Wuhl starring in his first motion picture was a waking dream. He is a lifelong movie buff with his own oblique notions on filmmaking, including the theory that Neil Sinon’s funniest movie was “After the Fox,” starring Peter Sellers and Victor Mature, wbome he considers the screen’s ultimate star.
“Years from now, the artistry of Victor Mature will be appreciated,” he says with a Straight face, “How many true geniuses ever come along? History will record that acting was Olivier, writing was Shakespeare physics was Einstein and Hollywood was Victor Mature.”
Two other actors whose roles expanded, as “The Hollywood Knights” took shape, were Sandy Helberg and Gailard.Sartain. Helberg is a stand-up comic who began his screen career with a one-line role opposite Ray Milland in “Terror in the Wax Museum.” Sartain is an ex-Tulsa, Oklahoma, TV personality who played the Big Bopper in “The Buddy Holly Story.”
As Officers Bimbeau and Clark, they are the churlish champions of what_passes for law and order in Beverly
Their relations with the youth of the community are expressed in Bimbeau’s plaintive plea to the chief of police:
“Can’t I beat the #!#*!#*! out of those little #!#*!#*!…just tonight…just a little?”
Mutrux knew Sartain — by reputation.
“I was aware that musicians like Gary Busey, Leon Russell and Elvin Bishop — the so-called Tulsa mafia — idolize him. When we worked together, I found out why. He is one of the most talented people on this planet, a brilliant composer, writer, graphic artist and conversationalist who overflows with humanity.”
(Editor’s Note: Gary Busey credits a guest shot on Sartain’s Tulsa talk show as the first step on the road that led to his Oscar-nominated role as Buddy Holly.)
Perhaps the most recognizable face among “The Hollywood Knights” is Tony Danza, co-star of the high-rated TV series, “Taxi.” An ex-Golden Gloves champion who has continued fighting despite his acting success, he reported to the “Hollywood Knights” location fresh from a first round knockout at Madison Square Garden. Mutrux calls Danza’s role — as a grease monkey whose girlfirend is drifting toward a future he won’t fit — as the film’s most difficult.
“It’s the back story, an oasis of sentiment in a sea of insanity,” he points out. “Tony makes it work.”
To re-create the mid-sixties, Mutrux started with the key set, Tubby’s Drive-In. He found a fire-damaged A&W fast food stand in Van Nuys, California, and rebuilt it from the ground up. Then he staffed it with fresh-faced car-hops, surrounded it with vintage vehicles and erected a neon sign which identified it as “The Home of the Big One.” A kitchen was installed which turned out authentic cheeseburgers and greasy french fries
The result was more colorful than a sound stage facsimile. But it also complicated the filming of “The Hollywood Knights.”
“People thought it was the real thing,” Mutrux recalls. “They’d drive in off the streets and demand our eight-cent special — a Big One with a side of fries and a shake. When we said we were making a movie, they’d point wistfully to the menu — and prices — and ask couldn’t we serve them anyway?”
Equally important was collecting a convoy of custom cars worthy of “The Hollywood Knights.” Contrary to popular opinion, there is no central depot where filmmakers can order vintage vehicles in mint condition. Instead, Mutrux signed automotive sleuth Billy Davis to search for the “muscle cars” he needed.
The result is the largest and most eclectic collection of hot rods, roadsters and street racers assembled at one time in one place since the first meeting of OPEC. Included are a “chopped” and “channeled” 1940 Ford coupe; the Hemi-Cuda, a combination of a compact Plymouth Barracuda frame and a “Hemi” engine (the largest and most powerful in Chrysler’s history); a 1961 Cadillac “Eureka” pick-up truck; and a 427 Ford Cobra, the fastest production car ever assembled in Detroit, capable of straightaway speeds in excess of 175 miles per hour.
Even the filmmakers and their friends contributed to the growing convoy, including a 1946 “Woody” station wagon, in perfect condition, from PolyGram Pictures president Peter Guber and Mutrux’s own custom Porsche.
A serious logistics problem, in putting “The Hollywood Knights” before the cameras, proved a blessing in disguise. Mutrux had signed William Fraker, the award-winning cinema- tographer of “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Heaven Can Wait.” But Fraker and his crew were still at work on “1941.”
“We had to postpone the start date, which gave us more time than anticipated for casting and rehearsals,” says Mutrux.
“We needed it. Despite what you may have heard, there is a shortage of attractive young talent in Hollywood. You have to look and they turn up in the darndest places. For instance, Gary Graham took a day off from his job– pumping gas – run over on his motorbike and audition for us.
“Carol Ann Williams, the cuddly little surfer in the band-aid bikini, is Cindy Williams’ kid sister. You have to wonder where she’s been hiding from all the talent scouts until now Roberta Wallach, the bigmouth of the Ironbox Twins, is the daughter of Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson.
“We spent months searching for a young comic to play the fat, funny school ‘brain,” and at the last moment, in walked Stuart Pankin…a classically trained Shakespearian actor.
“Randy Gornel caught on because he gave us a terrific punk character. It’s an attitude and I love attitudes. Someone says, ‘That girl is looking at me,’ and he says, ‘Nah…she’s lookin’ through you to look at me.’ That’s real punk.”
Finally, Tubby ‘s opened for business on a Monday night.
Mutrux prefers shooting night scenes after dark — instead of the trickery of “day for night” — although its effect on the participants amuses him.
“There’s something strange about breaking for lunch’ and sitting down with the crew for martinis and burritos at 2:00 A.M.,” he says.
He is also a staupch adherent of the get in, get out and wrap” school of filmmaking. “The Hollywood Knights” had a 43-day shooting schedule but finished in 35.
“My films come in on schedule,” he insists, “not because I’m out to prove anything, but because I think that the first two or three takes are generally the best, anyway. Especially
on a comedy.
“I would go beserk shooting twenty or thirty takes, the way some directors do. It’s self indulgent bull t. It means you didn’t know what you had in mind before you walked on the set. The money that is wasted to print fifteen identical scenes then sort them out in the editing room, is a joke.
“But it’s an expensive joke when you’re playing with someone else’s money. By the fifteenth take, your perception has got to be distorted. I’d rather fill the frame with music, jokes, dancing, fun, and go on to the next set-up when the energy level is high.”
Observes producer Richard Lederer: “There are few directors as disciplined as Floyd Mutrux. Which is a paradox in itself since ‘The Hollywood Knights’ is really about anarchy.’
Adds MutrUx: “Anarchy is different from rebellion. In 1965, the kids were the innocents-. It was their elders, the sanctimonious holier-than-thou hypocrites like the Beverly Hills civic improvers, who were giving thema screwed-up .world to – live in.
“So the kids.. .these kids…fought back the only way that made any sense. By having fun;,”
About The Music…
From a glass-enclosed booth, inside a Watts record store, garrulous all-night disc jockey “Doctor J” (HARVEY MILLER) spins the sound of the sixties.
Since the public address system at Tubby’s Drive-In is tuned to his frequency, those are the Songs that counterpoint the ribald adventures of “The Hollywood Knights.”
Director Mutrux and music coordinator Rick Eaker waded through several thousand recordings — by the top rock stars of the era — before they narrowed the soundtrack selection down to some fifty tunes.
“The Motown sound was coming on strong in 65, so we’ve given it a good deal of emphasis,” says Eaker. “For instance, we’ve got two hits by the definitive Motown girl group — – the Supremes ‘Baby Love’ and “I Hear a Symphony.”
Other songs which spill over the soundtrack include “One Fine Day” and “He’s So Fine” by the Chiffons…”Surfing, USA” and “Fun, Fun Fun” by the Beach Boys.. .”Rag Doll” by the Four Seasons. ,.”California Dreaming” by the Mommas and the Poppas…”Hello Dolly” by Louis Armstrong. .”Pipeline” by the chantays…”What’d I Say?” by Ray Charles. “Mister Tambourine Man” by The Byrds…and “Shaboom” by The Crew Cuts.
“The songs have been integrated with dee jay patter, weather reports, bits of commercials and so on, to provide a sense of listening — sometimes only half listening — to the radio,” continues Eaker. “Which is what the Knights would do, either at Tubby’s or in their cars.”
The choice of some songs was also intended to comment, subtly and amusingly, on the action on screen.
“There’s one scene, for example, in which Newbomb borrows his brother’s car, parks it in a no parking zone and loses it to a tow truck,” says Eaker. “When his evil-looking brother comes to Tubby’s to ‘nail Newbomb’s #!#*! to the wall, play Wooly Bully’ by Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs.mIt’s a perfect musical description of Newbomb’s brother.”
About The Cast..,
The irtespressible Newbomb Turk is ROBERT WUHL, a Newark, New Jersey, native whose acting ambitions surfaced at the University of Houston. Returning to New york after graduation, he became involved in improvisational theatre and wrote comedy – routines for Rodney Dangerfield (“a great comedian who’s finally getting the recognition he deserves,” says Wuhl) and Stiller and Mears. He also wrote an act for himself and performed it along,. the East Coast, playing youthful night spots and college gigs. He learned, he says, “that comedy is 907 timing and 507 writing. That may be lousy arithmetic, but it’s true; without timing,
there is no such thing as a funny joke.”
Moving to the West Coast, he appeared on The Dating Game” and soon became one of the regulars at the famed Comedy Store — a showcase that has helped boost other comedians suet’ as Robin Williams, David Letterman and Gabriel Kaplan. “The Hollywood Knights” is Wuhl’S first motion picture appearance.
Current project for Wuhl: A television pilot of a series concept-helms created, entitled “History 101,” which looks at the screwball side of the great events of the past.
Duke, the young mechanic who’s on the verge of becoming a Knight out — at least with the girl he loves — is TONY DANZA. A Brooklyn, New York, native who attended the University of Iowa, Danza briefly owned a New York City car wash and a Long Island tavern.
While his ring record — eight victories in ten bouts was leading to Madison Square Garden, his acting career was also getting underway. Cast in the starring role of a TV pilot, “Fast Lane Blues,” he saw the series vanish in the annual network shuffle.
But the producers of another proposed series “Taxi,” were waiting in the wings. With Datza co-starred, “Taxi” became one of television’s highest-rated recent successes, and
in turn, led to his motion picture debut 7- in “The Hollywood Knights.”
Sally, the focus for Newbomb’s erotic fantasies — who finally gives in a moment too late is FRAN DRESCHER, a-former Miss New York Teenager. (1974) who studied with the distinguished’ coach, Herbert Berghoff, then broke into the acting ranks via commercials. – She made her motion picture debut in “Saturday Night Fever” and followed under Floyd Mutrux’s direction as Alan Freedks fetching, funny secretary in “American Hot Wax.”
Moosie, the pint-sized skateboarder who leads the keystone constabulary — Beverly Hills section — a merry chase, is played by.MOOSIE DRIER.- The 15-year old has been acting professionally since the age of five when he was a comic foil for Rowan and Martin on the original “Laugh-In.” He has had continuing roles .on “The Bob Newhart Show” and “Executive Suite” and appeared as. John Denver’s son in.”Oh, God!”: and in “American Hot Wax,”
Mrs. Freeman, the Sadie Thompson of civic virtue is played by LEIGH FRENCH, whose Stage career began with the comic improvisational troupe, “The Committee.” Moving to the screen, she has been seen in “White Line Sever” with Jan-Michael Vincent, “Aloha, Bobby and Rose” (for director Mutrux) and “Petulia.”
Wheatly, the punk Night who insists that when.he’s depressed, he looks like James Dean, is RANDY GORNEL. A busy, young television actor, his recent appearances include guest shots in “Please Stand By” and the “Waverly Wonders.”
Jimmy…whose departure for Vietnam foretells the, future of “The Hollywood Knights” and several million other young men, is played by GARY GRAHAM, The slender; sensitive actor who was working as a gas station attendant:not so long ago scored as the young stud, Tod, opposite George C. Scott in “Hardcore.” Most recently, he played a leading- role in the high rated TV mini-series,”Scruples.”
SANDY HELBERG is Officer Clark, the slender, simple-minded cop who’s more concerned about growing a moustache than he is about the growing rate of crime. Helberg is a stand-up comic who followed his first film role — one line in “Terror in the Wax Museum” — with featured roles in “A Star is Born,” “Prime Time,” “Coming Attractions,” and Mel Brooks’ “High Anxiety.”
Rolling Smitty, the owner of Smitty’s Speed Shop, is JAMES JETER, a veteran character actor recently became a member of the California Bar. The actor-attorney began his career with a reperatory theatre in Houston, graduated to the Broadway stage, then played a continuing role in television’s “Little House on the Prairie.” His motion picture credits include “Matilda,” “Oklahoma Crude,” “Bound for Glory” and upcoming “The Number” opposite Richard Harris and Karen Black.
Dudley, the phi beta fall guy for the Knights’ most out- rageous pranks who eventually wins the affection of the club is STUART PANKIN, a young actor with considerable experience in classic theatre. Pankin has appeared on stage with two of New York’s most distinguished troupes.– the Lincoln Center Repertory Theatre and the New York Shakespeare ,Festival.: Movie goers have seen him in “Serpico” and “Next Stop, Greenwich Village.”
Wise-cracking Simpson is played by P.R. PAUL, a movie new comer, whose television has ranged from the stylish “Little Women” to the slapstick “Carter Country” to the munificence of “The Millionaire.”
Suzie Q., the carhop with dreams of screen stardom, is MICHELLE PFEIFFER, whose fresh faced appeal mostly recently turned on the pledges of TV’s “Delta Rouse.” She has also starred in the movie-of-the-week, “Solitary Man,” and followed the filming of “The Hollywood Knights” with “Falling In Love Again” opposite Susannah York.
Officer Bimbeau, whose uniform, car and pride are “trashed” by the rampaging Knights, is GAILARD SARTAIN, for many years one Of Oklahoma’s most popular TV personalities. Moving west, he became a writer (and occasional performer) on TV’s “Hee Haw,” then appeared as “The Big Hopper” in “The Buddy Hollys Story,” opposite his close friend Gary Busey. Prior to filming ‘The Hollywood Knights,” he was featured with Steve Martin in “The Jerk.”
As movie producer Bob Nevans, RICHARD SCHAAL believes that adultery should be left to adults — which is why he is trying to bring down Tubby’s and its young clientele. Schaal.’s lanky good looks and flair for comedy have been seen on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Rockford Files” and “Police Woman,” and in such movies as “Steelyard Blues,” “Slaughterhouse Five” and “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.”
About the Filmmakers…
FLOYD MUTRUX had written such successful screenplays as “Scarecrow” and “Freebie and the Bean,”. and had made a critically acclaimed documentary, “Dusty and Sweets McGee,” when he directed his first feature, “Aloha, Bobby and Rose.”
The result was impressive. A suspenseful story of two . young lovers — on the run from a tragic practical joke — “Aloha, Bobby and Rose” outgrossed most of the year’s (1975) more ambitious entries. Young moviegoers took to its emotional honesty; reviewers praised its energy and innovative use of music and sound.
Directing his own scripts was a logical progression for the native Californian, a television “Quiz Kid” at the age of ten, and an-actor in his teens. Before he finished high school in Venice, California, Mutrux appeared on screen in Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” and on stage (at the Los Angeles Music Center) in Carl Reiner’s Enter Laughing.”
After living in Houston, where he appeared with the renowned Alley Theatre, Mutrux enrolled at Columbia University. There, he supported himself by writing sketches for the Second City roupe and working as a waiter at the legendary jazz club, the Village Vanguard.
At the outset of the student riots, he dropped out of school 7- to become a campaign worker for Senator Robert F. Kennedy during the 1967 primary. He was with the senator at Los Angeles,’ Ambassador Hotel on the tragic night of Kennedy’s assassination.
After writing, television commercial’s – including Pontiac’s award-winning spoof of “Bonnie and Clyde” — Mutrux sold his first screenplay, “The Christian Licorice Store” to Cinema Center Films. Next came scripts for “Two Lane Blacktop,” “Abilene Eagles,” “Bank Job,” “Scarecrow” and “Freebie and the Bean” (on which he also served as executive producer).
Following -the success of “Aloha, Bobby-and Rose,” Mutrux filmed “American Hot Wax,” a chronicle of the early days of rock and roll and its controversial messiah — disc jockey Alan Freed.
Next up for Mutrux: “Dick Tracy,” based on the popular comic strip sleuth and set in Chicago in the late 1930’S.
Few motion picture producers know more,about marketing their product than RICHARD LEDERER, who joined the producing ranks after a long, colorful career in advertising and publicity.
During 15 years as Vice-President of Warner Bros., he designed and implemented the campaigns for some of the industry s most resounding hits.
Lederer’s introduction to motion picture promotion came while he was a code specialist with the Signal Corps during World War. II. Bob Ferguson of Columbia Pictures knew Lederer as a young writer with a flair for ingenious copy and asked him to try his hand at ad lines including a headline for a Judy Canova picture.
The result — “Judy Hits The Crackpot Jackpot” — never reached Ferguson because Army censors were convinced it was some new and sinister code. But at the end of the war, there was a job with Columbia waiting for Lederer. He stayed there until 1950, when he moved to Warner. Bros., where he eventually headed the studio’s world-wide advertising promotion and publicity activities.
In 1976, he was appointed to Warner Bros. Creative Affairs Division, Shortly after which he produced “The Heretic.”
WILLIAM TENNANT, the executive producer of “The Hollywood Knights,” is President of the Motion Picture Division of PolyGram Pictures.
Previously Vice President for Production at Columbia Pictures, Tennant has packaged and overseen production of projects with such leading filmmakers as Norman Jewison, Steven Spielberg and Sydney Pollack. His early experience as a partner with Ziegler, Ross and Tennant Agency has proved invaluable to his role as Polygram production executive.
At the agency, he represented directors John Schlesinger, Raman Polanski and Mike Nichols, as well as writer William Goldman, the publishing houses of McGraw-Hill and Doubleday & Company, and the estates of writers F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck. While a partner with the agency, Tennant either represented or packaged such hits as “Butch Cassidy and
the Sundance Kid,” “Midnight Cowboy,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” and “Downhill Racer” and “The Exorcist.”
After selling his interest in Zeigler Ross and Tennant in 1973, he turned his attention to motion picture production full-time — first with Columbia, then with PolyGram. Under his leadership, PolyGram Pictures has expanded its already forceful film activities to become one of the leading production companies in the industry, with an emphasis on youthful entertainment.