Sunday, February 28, 2016


Welcome back to Kip's American Graffiti Blog, my friends!  Way back in 1999 Entertainment Weekly magazine ran a fantastic article on American Graffiti. I found the text at the Clovis library about 10 years ago on line. I decided now was as good time as any to print it for our readers.  I added the photos myself. I really like the way the participants reflect on their summer of '72 and the way the individual quotes piece together to make a progressive story.   I think you'll enjoy this as much as I do!  


 Chris Nashawaty 


In the summer of 1972, a 28-year-old director named George Lucas began shooting a semiautobiographical film about California car culture. His only previous feature--a head scratcher of a science-fiction flick called THX 1138--had tanked.  
Lucas' first feature, a science fiction film, THX 1138 that expanded upon one of his student films
 With a $750,000 budget and a cast of unknowns, American Graffiti wasn't much of a gamble for Universal Pictures. But it was a gamble that would ultimately pay off big: Not only would Lucas turn his hot-rods-and-hormones cheapie into high art, his film would go on to rake in $55 million in its initial release and snag five Academy Award nominations. On the 25th anniversary of its trip to the Oscars, we asked the kids who made American Graffiti to relive the creation of a pop-culture classic. 

Bruised by the failure of THX 1138 and the consensus that it was cold and clinical, Lucas reached back to his youth and came up with a "warmer" story. A car enthusiast since growing up in Modesto, Calif., Lucas decided to focus on cruising--which he later called "a uniquely American mating ritual involving automobiles."   
Lucas & Coppola

FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA (producer): George and I met at Warner Bros. while I was making Finian's Rainbow. He was a student, and he'd won an award that allowed him to go there and watch a movie being made. He became like a younger brother.   

WILLARD HUYCK (co-screenwriter): I was at USC film school with George. He was just this goofy guy. When George was shooting a scene for THX in L.A., he said, "I've got this great idea; I want to do a film about when we were all in high school, cruising."   

COPPOLA: I think George was traumatized by THX and realized that his career was going to be dependent on how accessible people found his work.      

HUYCK: He would fly down from San Francisco with his briefcase, which had his underpants and deodorant in it. And Gloria [Katz], George, and I sat for about two weeks and talked about all of the great things that had happened to us in high school. 
Graffiti co-writers, Willard Hyuck & Gloria Katz

GLORIA KATZ (co-screenwriter): Our draft was extremely long. It was like 160 pages, and everybody was freaking out. So we got the tiniest type known to man, and it became 125 pages.   

NED TANEN (then a Universal executive): It was the first script I'd ever read where the soundtrack was the script to some degree. What amazed me was I was the last person in town to ever see this screenplay. Every company in town passed on it.   

KATZ: American Graffiti was viewed as the lowest form of movie alive because it was about that subspecies of human being--teenagers. It was really the movie nobody wanted to touch. 

TANEN: After The Godfather opened, Francis was deservedly considered "the genius." And when he signed on as a producer of Graffiti, it got the movie made.   

COPPOLA: I told George I'd be happy to be associated with it in whatever way would be helpful. And he said, "Well, would you produce it?" I was very seriously thinking about financing Graffiti myself. I had all this money that I'd made with The Godfather. But when I heard Universal would finance it and we'd all be given a piece of the picture, I figured, Well, it's the second-best thing. 


"Graffiti" Casting Director Fred Roos
FRED ROOS (casting director): We went through weeks and weeks of interviewing hundreds of actors. It was not hard to get an interview for American Graffiti.    

RICHARD DREYFUSS (Curt): I'd been doing some TV, and I felt I was kind of on the brink of a film career.

ROOS: I hung out with Richard in my circle. We called him "Ricky" in those days. I thought he was very talented. He was kind of a smart-ass--that was part of his charm. 
Richard Drefuss
RON HOWARD (Steve): Word was out that this was a musical. And I thought, "God, I really can't carry a tune." So when I went in, I told George I can't sing. And he said, "Don't worry about it." The Andy Griffith Show had ended four years before. But I was really thrilled because this was my first non-child actor role. 

ROOS: Ronny was so identified with Opie that he wasn't getting parts and he wasn't really on the radar. 
Andy Griffith & Ronny Howard
PAUL LE MAT (John): I'd just been kicking around Hollywood driving a cab and working at a gas station. I think a major reason I got the role is because George Lucas is so cheap. There was no actor in Hollywood who would do it. I got $600 a week. 

Paul Le Mat as "Big" John Milner during a video taped rehearsal
ROOS: Paul had studied acting but had never acted. He was a serious boxer. And I'd wanted him for a part in John Huston's Fat City, but his managers asked for too much money, so the part went to Jeff Bridges. 

CANDY CLARK (Debbie): I was living with Jeff Bridges at the time--we'd met on "Fat City," and we were an item. 
Candy Clark & Jeff Bridges in FAT CITY
ROOS: I remember I was going to New York, and Jack Nicholson said, "There's an interesting girl you should look up." He thought Candy was funny and smart and could be an actress.

CHARLES MARTIN SMITH (Toad): I'd been doing small parts in movies and TV shows, like an episode of Room 222 and The Brady Bunch. I was the kid Greg sold his lemon of a car to. 

Greg (Barry Williams) boasts to Ronnie (Charles Martin Smith) about the car, while winking at his sisters.

CINDY WILLIAMS (Laurie): I met George for literally 30 seconds, and he just went, "Yeah. Great. Okay." 

ROOS: Cindy's chemistry with Ronny was perfect. But she was older than Ronny, and he was a little intimidated about doing love scenes with an older woman. 

Cindy Williams & Ronny Howard prepare to rehearse their sock hop scene.

MACKENZIE PHILLIPS (Carol): I was 12, so I was the little mascot on the set. I was this kid who'd grown up fast who had some pretty wild stories to tell [Phillips' father, John, was a member of the Mamas and the Papas]. I used to regale Candy and Cindy and Harrison [Ford] and Charlie with stories of the Rolling Stones hanging out in my living room and Donovan sliding down the banister and teaching me how to make hash brownies, but not letting me eat them.
Mackenzie Phillips (Carol) pretending to be older than she really is.

HARRISON FORD (Falfa): I was a carpenter, and I was making twice as much as they were offering me to be in the movie. So I refused at first. But when they called back with an offer of $15 a week more, I took it.  
Harrison Ford (Bob Falfa) carpenter & frustrated actor
 ROOS: I knew Harrison from around town, and he wasn't a particularly gregarious, jolly, or forthcoming person to talk to. He was kind of angry at the movie business. But I would also give him work as a carpenter. He put an addition on my house. In fact, the bed my son sleeps in was built by Harrison Ford. It was very hard to get other people to see the future leading man in him because he had this scar on his face--he wasn't pretty.
Kathleen Quinlan (Peg) Mt. Tamalpais High,  class of '72

KATHLEEN QUINLAN (Peg): I was a student at the high school in Marin County where they shot the sock-hop scene. It was like the circus came to town and I got to be in it. 

SUZANNE SOMERS (blond in T-Bird): I was a single mother from a teen pregnancy. I'd been doing commercials and local modeling. I lived in Sausalito and had to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to audition, and there was a 50 cent toll, and I didn't have 50 cents to my name. So when I got to the tollbooth, they told me I'd have to leave something as collateral. I left a lipstick. Fortunately, no matter how poor a woman is, she always has a lot of lipstick.


LE MAT: I remember when I walked into George's office he was sitting in his chair, and I thought, "Well, this is going to be a piece of shit. This guy's gonna make a movie?" He looked more like a guy who did research in a library. 
Young auteur, George Lucas

WILLIAMS: I felt like he was a guy I knew from high school. I was very relaxed with him because we were on the same least we were then. 

CLARK: I had just worked with John Huston, who dressed the part of a director with his safari bush suits and his Sherlock Holmes cape. And George was all T-shirts and tennis shoes. 

HOWARD: I had already been accepted to the USC film school, and George was kind of a legend at USC. But my first impression of him was one of utter confusion because George didn't say much. He's like a chatterbox now compared to how shy he was then. 


The first Mels drive-in built in 1947 was located at 140 S. Van Ness San Francico, CA

WILLIAMS: We went off to San Rafael, Calif., and there was no rehearsal because it was low, low budget. I remember I got $1,000 a week and Harrison Ford got $400 a week. I always love to say that because now he gets millions for waking up in the morning. 
Mackenzie Phillips was 12yrs-old during the filming of Graffiti

PHILLIPS: I arrived alone off the plane with no guardian. They were almost going to have to recast me. But [coproducer] Gary Kurtz and his family said, "We'll take her." So they went to the courts in San Francisco and got guardianship of me. I lived with his family, and they were Quakers. Here I was, this little rock & roll Valley kid, and we'd be singing songs and holding hands before dinner. I was like, "Where am I?" 

FORD: It was done in 28 nights. It was very little time, very little money, and very few doughnuts. I almost got fired for taking more than my share of doughnuts. 

PHILLIPS: I was so young I didn't even know we were making a real movie. I thought maybe we were making an educational movie or something. Almost all my scenes were with Paul Le Mat, and I thought he was so hot. 
Snobby Suzanne Somers

SOMERS: It all seemed very insignificant to me at the time. In the trailer was Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, Paul Le Mat, Ron Howard, and Richard Dreyfuss. And I thought, "What a bunch of losers." I just thought it was a stupid movie in a stupid town with a bunch of people who'd never done anything before. 

DREYFUSS: "Guerrilla filmmaking" is the only way to describe it. It was like "run up on the porch and get the scene before the owner gets home!" And poor [cinematographer] Haskell Wexler--he was also shooting commercials down in L.A. And to this day, I have no idea when he slept. 

HOWARD: George was whipped. Once he fell asleep during a shot. He said, "Action!" and the scene finally ended and George was sitting on the hood of a car and someone had to nudge him because he was asleep and he woke up and said, "Cut! Cut! Terrific! Let's move on!" 
Lucas & Haskell Wexler

CLARK: George and Haskell Wexler looked like ghosts. They didn't sleep or 30 days. George was editing all day after the night shoots. And Haskell was flying back to L.A. every morning. At the end, they weren't even blinking anymore. 

WILLIAMS: Poor George. He was up against everything. A lot of us had worked for Roger Corman, and I think we thought this was the same kind of thing--a lot of cars and a lot of kids. 

DREYFUSS: Everyone on that set believed it was going to be a classic, and I thought they were nuts. I was the guy who believed American Graffiti wouldn't be a hit. 

SMITH: At the wrap party at [Coppola's company] American Zoetrope in San Francisco, George put together about five scenes with some music over it and screened it for us. 
Wexler & Lucas filming at Mels Drive-in
WILLIAMS: They had some Cheez Whiz and crackers, and George showed us a piece of the film. I was standing against the wall next to Harrison Ford, and he leaned over to me and said, "This is f----n' great!" 

FORD: I don't really recall that. But I'm sure it's true. There was an understanding that what were called "youth films" had not represented the experience of young people. I mean, Beach Blanket Bingo was not really a revelation about the mysteries of life. 

SMITH: I was so impressed. But I also knew it was a teenage cruising movie, so I thought no one would notice and it would go straight to the drive-ins because of the subject matter. 
Candy Clark & Charlie Martin-Smith


The first of two drag race scenes between rivals, Harrison Ford in the '55 Chevy & Paul Le Mat in the '32 coupe.

On Jan. 28, 1973--six months after the film wrapped--Lucas and Coppola screened American Graffiti for a whooping audience at the Northpoint Theater in San Francisco. The evening has since become the stuff of Hollywood legend. In Peter Biskind's book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, he writes that Universal's Tanen and Coppola got into a heated fight after the screening during which Tanen called Graffiti "unreleasable." Coppola then reportedly told Tanen, "You should get down on your knees and thank George for saving your job." According to Biskind, Coppola then offered to buy the film from Universal on the spot. 
COPPOLA: Yes, that's a true story. I offered to buy the film...which I now wish I had. 

TANEN: I've never met the man who wrote that wonderful book, but he's managed to quote me.... This has become the most overblown crock of s---ever. They ran the movie in San Francisco, which did not make me happy because I thought it was a set-up screening with all of their friends from Marin County and San Francisco.
Lucas & Coppola at the hop

COPPOLA: I don't remember how we recruited the audience, but we didn't know them. 

TANEN: My reaction was, "This is a terrific movie. But there are a couple of problems, and here it goes on too long." Things of that nature. I had an unpleasant conversation with Francis.... He just became very belligerent, and I became very belligerent. I'll take half the blame. I don't deal well with bullies, and it got a little unpleasant. But not with George. He was at the other end of the theater. 

HUYCK: Francis asked Ned, "You hate this movie?" And he got out his checkbook and said, "I'll buy it. If you hate it that much tell me how much you want." And he said, "What are you talking about? That's silly." Ned was sort of taken aback. 

TANEN: The higher-ups at the studio really hated the movie. They didn't get it. But that was the business at the time. These guys were used to running things their way--they didn't need these kids coming in, saying "Hey, man." And now I was in a position of "How do I even get this movie released?" because they were going to dump it. They were still waiting for Abbott and Costello movies, not waiting for this or Easy Rider. 

COPPOLA: Universal even wanted to change the title. They said they thought people would think it was a movie about feet. So all day we were trying to dream up hokey titles like Rock Around the Block. 

TANEN: I was really caught in the middle. And the minute you work for the studio, you're automatically the enemy. The amazing thing is, 25 years later no one has anything better to talk about than a silly-ass screening. 


 KATZ: Before the movie came out, we were standing in the unemployment line one day with Dreyfuss. We were all collecting. 
Producer, Gary Kurtz, Wolfman Jack & Bo Hopkins

HUYCK: Sherry Lansing [now head of Paramount Pictures] was on line too. 

 KATZ: Richard was talking about the movie, and he was all down on himself. And this guy behind us said, "Are you talking about American Graffiti? That's the best movie I've ever seen!" He had been at some sneak preview. 

TANEN: Universal was trying to get rid of it, and I set up a screening. I called Wolfman Jack and said, "Get me 500 crazy kids tonight." And then I prevailed on the people at Universal to come. As soon as the logo came on and the music began, the kids started dancing and yelling and that was the end of everything. It woke everybody up. 
Wolfman Jack & George Lucas at the press screening at the Avco Theater in L.A., CA
HOWARD: When it came out and did so well, we were all flabbergasted. Not that we thought it was bad. We just didn't think it was going to be respected and be treated like a grown-up movie. 

WILLIAMS: Richard Dreyfuss was off doing The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz in Canada, and he called me one day and said, "What's going on?"And I told him there were lines around the block, and he didn't believe me. 

DREYFUSS: Cindy screamed over the phone, "Ricky, you want to be a star?" And I said, "Yeah!" And she yelled, "Well, get your ass down to Joe Allen [restaurant] in New York. You walk in and they're going to stand up and applaud!" And I thought to myself, "What the hell am I doing up here in Canada?"

Dreyfuss was in Canada filming "Duddy Kravitz" when he learned how popular "Graffiti" had become in the states.

For your consideration Best Supporting Actress

In 1974, Graffiti received five Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Original Screenplay, and a Best supporting Actress nod for Clark. But the big winners that year were George Roy Hill and his movie The Sting. 

CLARK: I thought it would be a smart idea to run a campaign in the trades for myself. I found out later that certain people thought that was very tacky. 

COPPOLA: I was never a real big Oscar-goer. But at that point we were approaching a dreamworld because we had made The Godfather and we had made Graffiti and all of a sudden everything had started to go our way after years of really being underdogs. 

KATZ: We were like Pulp Fiction that year. We were the kids invited to the grown-ups' party. 

CLARK: I was all dressed up with a boa and I was with Jeff [Bridges] and I remember so many people at the awards coming over to me and giving me so much approval. I thought for sure Sylvia Sidney would win. And when they said, "Tatum O'Neal," I couldn't believe it.

Paul Le Mat as John Milner, class of 1960
KATZ: From the Hollywood point of view, everyone connected with Graffiti had come up from the sewer. So we were sitting off to the side trashing everyone. And sitting right in front of us is Lew Wasserman [then chairman of Universal parent company MCA]. And he turns around and he says, "Will you shut up!" 

LE MAT: I was watching the Oscars with my girlfriend, and when George's category came on for Best Director, they had the camera on each of the nominees' faces. And when they announced, "The winner is, George..." his face lit up with this great look of expectation. And then they said, "...Roy Hill!" Isn't that awful? He thought he had it.

Cindy Williams and Milner's coupe


HOWARD: American Graffiti really helped a lot of careers. There was kind of a "Graffiti Glow" which lasted for a few years. We were all in demand in ways we hadn't been before. 

DREYFUSS: The people who are in successful movies are cast. That's kind of a law of nature. It just seemed odd because so many of the actors became familiar and recognizable.

FORD: Not too many doors were opened for me. I went back to carpentry, and didn't really work again until [Coppola's] "The Conversation."

PHILLIPS: American Graffiti opened lots of doors that I quickly managed to close all by myself. By the time I was 15, I was doing "One Day at a Time." And by the time I was 18, I was fired from "One Day at a Time."
Mackenzie & cast "One Day at a Time"

SOMERS: I wrote a book of poetry. And, trust me, that was not what the world was waiting for. Then I auditioned for the Dom DeLuise show Lots a Luck at NBC. And while I was sitting in the commissary, in walks Johnny Carson. And he said, "Hey, kiddo, what are you doing here?' And I was scheduled to be on The Tonight Show within a week. I thought the reason he wanted me on was my poetry, but he wanted "the mysterious blond in the T-Bird." So I look at Graffiti as the one night's work that changed my life. I'm so lucky to have passed through George Lucas' life...and to have had an extra lipstick.


CLARK: Out of the blue, before the movie opened, George gave each of us one tenth of a point [of the gross].

HOWARD: It was a totally and completely uncommon act. I don't know if anyone's ever done anything quite like that. I guess he had 12 or 13 points, and he took one of them and split it among the 10 key cast members. Everyone had worked for scale, so it was such a wonderfully gracious thing to do. It ended up being over $50,000 [for each of us].

PHILLIPS: I still get a check every year. It's not a huge check, but there's nothing like mailbox money.

DREYFUSS: George did that on Star Wars, too, and he made people millionaires.

HUYCK: All the money George made on Graffiti went into his own studio and screening rooms and editing facilities and film equipment. He was financing the research and development for Star Wars. 

COPPOLA: George talked about buying Flash Gordon to make into a film someday. But the people who owned the rights wouldn't sell it to him. So he just thought, "I'll go off and create my own thing."

KATZ: George acted out Star Wars--the whole movie--on the floor of our house. We thought he was out of his mind. I didn't get it. He was talking about Chewbacca and Jedi Bandu. We were like, "What?!"

An original press book clipping

Charlie Martin-Smith as Terry "The Toad"
 SMITH: He [Lucas] talked to us about Luke Skywalker while we were shooting Graffiti. He was mentally plotting it out even then. And we all told him we wanted to be in it. When he told us about these characters called Wookiees who were going to be short and furry, I remember Rick Dreyfuss saying "I'm short...I want to be king of the Wookiees!"

 ~  FIN ~


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Mel's Drive in S.F. News Article 1955

Back in 1955 the famous Mels Drive-in was a thriving chain and it didn't look like it would ever stop growing.  When a local newspaper ran an article on the famous eatery the co-owner, Mel Weiss (prone to exaggeration) was happy to oblige. Below is said article.  Rather than make you strain your eyes and cause early blindness I've transcribed the article below the picture for ya so you can read it in a decent sized font just because that's the type of guy I am.  Enjoy this little section of history!


Youthful Owners Proud of Success.

By Jack Miller

Two youthful San Franciscans have cooked up a delicious business around the great American institution-the humble hamburger.  They are the owners of Mels Drive-Ins. The restaurant chain originated just seven years ago, now sells between 25,000 and 20,000 hamburgers a day. “And, most of those are with onions.” Mel Weiss, one of the owners declared today.  “OUR MEAT bills run over $300,000 a year. We are the largest users of coffee, ice cream, and bread in Northern California.” He estimates the 300,00 pounds of coffee the drive-in chain uses each week makes about a half-million cups of coffee.  How much mustard do we use? “It must be fantastic.  We buy in 25 gallon drums” he said, half amused himself.  MELS DRIVE-IN serves about eight million meals a year now, Mel figures. Since the firm’s annual sales volume is running close to four million, that means the average check is 50 cents, he said.  The other half of the corporation is Harold S. Dobbs, attorney and city supervisor. He was 28 and Mel was 29 when the two decided to go into business together on Dec. 23, 1947.  Neither had been in the restaurant game.  Mel then in the export field once got a whiff of the eatery business from his dad’s restaurant in Denver. “Ours was the first drive-in in San Francisco,” Mel exclaimed in an interview in the Van Ness unit-the first and still most profitable one in the chains.

The average carhop is good for $100 a week with tips
 He said the city was “virgin territory” for drive-ins even as late as 1947 because everyone figured the weather, labor situation and high rents were against the success of such venture here.  “We didn’t know any better.” Because the first unit cost about five times what they expected they had to go heavily in debt to finance it, Mel explained.  “But we did tremendous business from the first day we opened.” That’s despite the opening date-only two days before Christmas. And he added, “We did double the business we anticipated that first month and we have kept it up since.” Mel confident the chain will have 50 units in the next 19 years, feels there is still opportunity for the newcomer in the business. “But it takes a lot more money now.”  The average drive-in today requires an investment of $125,000 to $150,000. He contends it would cost about $3,000,000 to replace the Van Ness layout.

In addition to the 12 Mels Drive-ins, the chains also branched out into 19-cent hamburger emporiums. Called “Hals,” the firm contemplates opening more of them.  The 19-cent institutions cost anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000 each to put up.  “You have to have the right spot so you can build up a volume of business,” he explained.  “When they are good they are good. But when they aren’t you can give ‘em back to the Indians. 
Hal's Hamburgers at Geary and Collins. The restaurant eventually became a Mels Jr.

MELS employs about 600 people. Managers and chefs are on a profit sharing basis. They get 20 percent of the gravy. “If the place makes dough they make it. If it doesn’t they don’t,” the youthful executive said.  The profit sharing plan is the best invention since the discovery of food, he contends.  "It’s the greatest thing in the world.  The company has a surprising little turnover of help. The average carhop is good for $100 a week with tips," he said. “A good one will make $150." He didn’t say what he meant by “good.”

 ~ FINI ~