Friday, October 2, 2015


The original movie car now has 348 Tri-Power and a 3-speed turbo-hydro automatic transmission.
Hi fellow American Graffiti fans! I spoke with Mike Famalette, owner of the American Graffiti Impala that went up for auction today Thurs, October 1, 2015.  The starting bid was $800,000. There were no buyers. This is not necessarily a sign of any lack of interest.  I was told that often times that once valuable items aren't sold on the first day of auction they have a better chance the next 10 days when the auction moves to the internet. The following is a transcription of our conversation on his car and various other topics and opinions.

I had called Mike earlier tonight and left a voice mail. He was kind enough to call me back and we spoke for about an hour. He said his wife and son are down in Los Angeles with him right now. They were there for the live portion of the auction.  The names of the sellers are PROFILES IN HISTORY, which is a Hollywood memorabilia auction house.  According to Mike, the original three-speed manual transmission comes with the car as well as a California DMV validated registration card issued to Lucas Film LTD.  Mike said he saw Graffiti star Candy Clark’s shooting script for the movie was up for auction and a typed copy of her royalty shares. "I think her script went for $6,000" In addition, the auction also included an original poster for “American Graffiti”

Mike clarified, as one of the reasons for wanting to sell his car now is the rising capitol gains tax. If you sell your diamond ring or your house the federal government wants to tax you at 20-28% depending on what your selling and it may go up to 40% next year. "So, I thought I'd just go ahead and give my money to my family rather than the government while I still have control over it," he said. I told 'em 'What ever they sell the car for anything over $285 is pure profit to me, 'cause that's what I paid Henry Travers for it back in 1972.'" [laughs]
Changing the subject briefly, Mike mentioned that his friends Jeff and Steve made him a beautiful copy of the original license plate as a present. "I gave them the original movie license plate that Henry Travers [American Graffiti Transportation Supervisor] gave to me so they could take a few pictures of it. I think it's made of particle board. Its much nicer than the ones they sell.  Too bad they aren't selling them." 
An example of one of the poor versions of the Impala License plate

Mike had always kept in touch with Henry Travers and family ever since he first purchased the car from him back in 1972, before the film had even come out. So he knows a lot of gossip and such so I asked him to confirm a rumor. I asked him if its true that Henry Travers gave the original Milner coupe license plates to Rick Figari (owner of the movie Milner coupe). Mike replied, they told me they sold them to him quite a while ago. But, they just gave me the one for the '58 impala.  They just took it off the wall where it was mounted and said here you go [laughs].   We also discussed a few other film-related things. He told me that he recently spoke with Jackie Travers (widow of Henry Travers) and she told Mike that her Son-in-Law is the owner of the original American Graffiti Vespa driven by Toad, [believed to be a 1959, Piaggio Vespa GS 160]. "It's beat up and needs a lot of work," he said, "but they tracked down some information on it and found out it was used by actors like Charleston Heston while working on movies.  He and gangs of others used Vespas for traveling around on the back lot of the movie studio and to get back and forth to the commissary.
Even the tough guy movie stars in Hollywood had a natural liking for the Vespa; Marlon Brando, Dean Martin, John Wayne, and Charlton Heston were all seen riding Vespas between sets, and off screen as well.

 Mike also mentioned that Jackie is trying to unload some of her American Graffiti mementos that her late husband, Henry had put together such as the prototype posters and pictures that you would never have seen before.  The people in Petaluma were trying to get her to donate the items to the museum but she wants to sell them. So keep your ears open and eyeballs peeled for the time when Jackie is ready to sell the classic rare mementos from the nostalgic film.
An unusual sized (30 x 40) Quad Sheet from England advertising both the film and the great double soundtrack album.  Notice the use of the term, "birds" as a phrase only used in the UK. Here we used to call young girls "chicks."

Attempting to share his car's legacy before he sees it for one last time, Mike left his Impala with Dave Acheson for a while so he and mechanics could copy it and make an accurate clone of it. I reminded Mike, "That was nice of you," [We both chuckled]. David Acheson who lives in Oregon built a beautiful ’32 Graffiti coupe and sold it to Jeff Zastrow. Yours truly had the opportunity to drive the coupe a few months ago in Novato, CA and it was awesome. Mike said, "if I were ever going to build a Graffiti ’32 yellow coupe clone I’d build it exactly as Dave did."  I know he'll make an excellent 58 Impala clone.  Did you read that Dave?

Reiterating his disdain for taxes, Mike complained, "The whole capitol gains thing really makes me mad whenever I think about it. My CPA said to me, the best-case scenario is 20% and the worst-case scenario, if they change it next year, is 40%.  I'm not giving the government 40% of the price of my car, that's a rip off!"  I don't blame him one bit. The government is over-taxing the low and middle class. Perhaps the legislators should take a pay cut if they want to generate more income for the country, I said. 

Mike being the gracious person he is, asked if I had the same address because after he sells the car he'd like to send me some of things related to his Impala. He added, if you're interested that is. I quickly replied, "Is a bear Catholic? Does the Pope shit in the woods? What a question.  Before we rapped up our conversation I told him how I might have misquoted him on my last blog post about having regrets with The Tribute Team (A club of owners and builder of Graffiti clone cars whom Mike was a part of). He was quick to point out that they are a great bunch of guys and he has no problems with them. So, that puts that rumor to rest.

So, as soon as we learn of the fate of the beautiful Impala we'll notify you right here on Kip Pullman's American Graffiti Blog. Until then: Brush your teeth and keep your ears clean!

 My interview with Mike several years ago about his beautiful car
~ ENDE ~


Wednesday, September 30, 2015


 Last night I gotta call from my pal, Mike Famalette, owner of the white impala.  He spoke briefly about the sale of his original '58' movie car. The car is going to be in a live auction on Thurs. located in Calabasas, CA. Mike will be there to meet people as they come in the door. The name of the agency or company that is selling his car is PROFILES IN HISTORY a Hollywood memorabilia auction house. They've been promoting it. It's still his car but they get their percentage if it does sell. If it doesn't sell at the live auction they will have a 10-day internet sell. According to Mike, If it still doesn't sell they have a realtor who will try to find a buyer. Under the contract if they don't sell his Impala within 90 days he is out of the contract. BTW I heard Fonzie's jacket is also going to be up for auction. Aaaaay, do I look like I'm made of money?

He no longer wants to look after the car. One of the biggest incentives for selling the car was the politics with the guys (Tribute Team?) and some of the things that's been going on. He also expressed his dismay of how they may be raising the capitol gains from 28 to 40% next year. That was one of his biggest concerns. "I'd rather take care of my family," he said.

I'll talk with Mike in a coupla days and find out how things are going with the sell of the vehicle.  We'll keep you posted right here on KIPS AMERICAN GRAFFITI BLOG.


Sunday, September 13, 2015


Welcome back to another installment of Kip Pullman's American Graffiti Blog.  This post pays homage to drive-in diner, Arnolds that was seen each week on TV's Happy Days.  There is a cross-pollination between the 1973 film, American Graffiti and the TV show, which first aired in January 1974. One of the similarities is  between Mels Drive-in  featured in Graffiti and and the outdoor set of Arnold's diner in Happy Days. This post is a tribute to the drive-up restaurant that looked so real on TV that we wanted to hang out there with the Happy Days gang.

 The association between American Graffiti and the TV series Happy Days is remarkable and the two are definitely linked in some way but not necessary the way most fans think they are. Even though Happy Days starred Ron Howard and premiered in early 1974, which suggests it was inspired by the success of American Graffiti, it actually pre-dates the film, and was as an unsold TV pilot in 1971. ABC aired it in February 1972 as part of the weekly anthology series Love, American Style.


After American Graffiti‘s success, and with the popularity of the Broadway 1950’s style stage hit, Grease, ABC regained interest in the Happy Days pilot and authorized a series.  The show, created by Gary Marshall, presented a romanticized vision of life in 1950s and early 1960s America. The earlier episodes revolved around Richie (Ron Howard) and his friends, Potsie Weber (Anson Williams), Ralph Malph (Donny Most) and local dropout Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler) who hung out at Arnold's. The drive-in was the favorite after-school hangout for Richie, his pals and other Jefferson High School students.

There was no direct spin-off between Happy Days and American Graffiti, but ABC clearly wanted to remind people of the movie. “Rock Around the Clock,” which opened American Graffiti, was also Happy Days‘ theme song for its first two seasons, and even used the same neon style font in its credits. In addition, Arnold's drive-in resembles Mels drive-in featured in Graffiti, as both were the hub of the gang's activities and the place where the kids in both the film and TV show converged.
Where do you hang a tray on a motorcycle?
Arthur's from the pilot episode / 1001 S. Victory Blvd, Burbank 
Before we go any further, here's a little factoid for ya:  In the premier episode of Happy Days the drive-in where the kids hang out was named Arthur's not Arnold's.  The reason for the name change is unclear but Arthur's certainly looked a little more elaborate than Arnold's.
Some of the shots were set up purposely to showcase Arthur's Restaurant sign
Flashing neon and selected lighting gave Arthur's a carnival-like look similar to what Visual-Consultant, Haskel Wexler achieved with the look of Mels in American Graffiti.
Potsie searches the busy drive-in for Ritchie

There were three known owners of Arnolds throughout the 10 years that the show aired. Matsuo Takahashi “Arnold” (Pat Morita) was the crazy, irritable owner of the diner for the show’s third season who also managed the restaurant and flipped burgers for the local teenagers. Arnold later sold the restaurant to a good-natured, easy-going Italian-American named Al Delvecchio (Al Molinaro) who retained the name of the restaurant.  Later in the series, "The Fonz" became Al's business partner at Arnold's Restaurant. 

The 1956 Presidential elections come to Arnold's
"I like IKE & my bike likes IKE!"
 Although Happy Days was filmed in Los Angeles, CA it took place somewhere in Milwaukee and fans have always argued over which drive-in Arnold's was modeled after.  According to Tom Miller, one of the show's Executive producers and co-creators who graduated from Nicolete High School in Glendale, WI., Arnold’s was based on the old Milky-Way, at 5373 N. Port Washington Road, which closed in November 1977.  As of this date (9/14/2015) the location is now a Kopps Frozen Custard. In 1977 Miller reflected on the roots of Arnold's: 
“Let’s face it,” he told the old Milwaukee Journal, “Arnold’s is really a compilation of everybody’s recollections of the drive-in of the ’50s. It’s just that the Milky-Way was closest to me when I grew up on Bay Ridge” Ave. in Whitefish Bay.
Outdoor menu board
Ritchie meets Fonzie's cousin, Spike (Danny Butch)
The outdoor scenes were incredible and really gave the show an authentic feel of ‘50s teenage life. One can see various teens parked and eating in their cars or two lovers making out in the background. A typical scene might include Ralph driving into the parking lot in his hot yellow 1929 Ford Roadster Pickup or Fonzie lying across his motorcycle as a young woman files his nails. Carhops were seen interacting with the patrons, and many teenagers passing by as rock and roll blared from the diners’ outdoor speakers. 
Car Hop, Wendy (Misty Rowe) is anxious to serve the boys

Seasons 1 and 2 were filmed with one camera and a laugh track. This probably made filming outdoors in the parking lot of Arnold's pretty simple. We know the drive-in’s exterior was a dressed area constructed on the Paramount Studios back lot supposedly near Stage 19 where the rest of the show's indoor sets were located. However, astute fans had probably noticed the surrounding exterior backgrounds of Arnold’s were not consistent from week to week. 

Sometimes to the immediate right of the restaurant there was a large brick wall. On the other side there appeared to be a tall apartment building(s) mixed in with really tall homes that had Spanish style roofing. Other times there is no wall but a tall grayish stucco building with a sign that reads "All American Frozen Foods." There is also a large neon EAT sign to the right of the interior entrance of Arnold's whose position changes height and locations throughout various episodes and bushes below the sign that disappear and re-appear. 

So what’s with all the changing scenery? Perhaps the Arnold's set was torn down when they weren’t using it. Then when a particular episode called for an outdoor scene at Arnold’s the set was re-constructed on a random part of the Paramount back lot that wasn’t being used at the time. Hey, as my friend Jeff says, Rumors have to start somewhere.  

Carhop, Marsha (Beatrice Colen) reports a crime

Joanie (Erin Moran) poses with the boys. Notice the Bicycle shop in the background
Bicycle shop  (Click on the pics to enlarge)
The exterior surroundings to the left of Arnold's restaurant were rarely seen but in a few early episodes they are visible.  For example, at the beginning of a second season episode we see Ritchie, Potsie and Ralph cruising in his 1929 yellow Ford truck before they pull into Arnold’s parking lot.  First they pass a white bicycle shop (see above picture). This must be where patrons at Arnold's buy their bikes because there's plenty of 2-wheelers in Arnold's parking lot too.

 It was easier for many of the the cast to use bicycles to get around the Paramount back lot.  This may explain the seeming surplus of bikes at Arnold's.  They were transportation and unlike golf-carts they didn't have to be hid from the camera.
Hanging a right to enter the restaurant's parking lot. door to the bicycle shop, directly across the street of Arnold's parking lot entrance is a gas station. This extra attention to dressing up some of the surrounding buildings really helps create an interesting and realistic outdoor ambience. 

Notice the odd looking buildings or homes on the other side of the wall.

In another episode we see the surroundings to the left of the restaurant. Here's a shot of the gas pump from the filling station in the background as Fonzie enters the drive-in parking lot.

Now we can see the white bicycle shop in the background and again lots of bikes at Arnold's too. 

As Fonzie makes his way further along we can see more of the bicycle shop.  There's also a large construction or contractor's sign to the right of the shop.  The wording is indecipherable.

 Fonzie (Henry Winkler) appears triumphant having made it through the parking lot without spilling. Apparently, Winkler had difficulty driving a motorcycle and had crashed on several occasions.
Aaaaay, Kip's American Graffiti Blog is cool!
An atmosphere of fun and action was conveyed in the exterior settings at Arnold’s.  Unfortunately, by the third season the producers made the choice to shoot the TV sitcom indoors with 3 cameras, in front of a live studio audience so filming outdoors no longer became practical. Once Happy Days moved to an all-indoor set the TV show lost something important... a little magic that the series would never regain.

The later seasons shamelessly recycled a few seconds of stock footage from the first two seasons (such as the above picture and the one below) for establishing shots of Arnold's in each episode. 

Arnold's Drive-up restaurant looking abandon before it was finally torn down.

~ ENDE ~