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William Castle Blog - Part 2

Hugo Cabret, Georges Méliès, and Martin Scorsese

“A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message all come together…in The Invention of Hugo Cabret.” I read this wonderful book by author, illustrator Brian Selznick. It amazed me. It is about an orphan, clock keeper, and thief. “Twelve-year-old Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric girl and the owner of a small toy booth in the train station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. “

Selznick says, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret is not exactly a novel, and it’s not quite a picture book, and it’s not really a graphic novel, or a flip book, or a movie, but a combination of all these things.” The nearly three hundred pages of pictures takes up an entire double page spread, and the story moves forward because you turn the pages to see the next moment unfold in front of you.

What I loved so much about this story is that it was not only about Hugo Cabret but Georges Méliès.

The book’s primary inspiration is the true story of turn-of-the-century pioneer filmmaker Georges Méliès, his surviving films, and his collection of mechanical, wind-up figures called automata.  Selznick decided to add automatons to the storyline after reading Edison’s Eve by Gaby Wood, which tells the story of Edison’s attempt to create a talking wind up doll. Méliès actually had a set of automata, which were either sold or lost. At the end of his life Méliès was broke, even as his films were screening widely in the United States. He did work in a toy booth in a Paris railway station, hence the setting. Selznick drew Méliès’s real door in the book. It is reported that Méliès did sell some of his films to a company where they were ultimately used to make heels for shoes.

Because of his ability to seemingly manipulate and transform reality through cinematography, Méliès is sometimes referred to as the First “Cinemagician,” and the father of special effects.

His most famous film is A Trip to the Moon (Le voyage dans la Lune) made in 1902, which includes the celebrated scene in which a spaceship hits the eye of the man in the moon. Also famous is The Impossible Voyage (Le voyage à travers l’impossible) from 1904. Both of these films are about strange voyages, somewhat in the style of Jules Verne. These are considered to be some of the most important early science fiction films, although their approach is closer to fantasy. In addition, horror cinema can be traced back to Georges Méliès’s Le Manoir du diable (1896). A print of the film was acquired by Thomas Edison, who then duplicated and distributed it in the United States, where it achieved financial success; however, Edison did not pay any revenues to Méliès.

In 1913 Georges Méliès film company was forced into bancrupcy by the large French and American studios, and his company was bought out of receivership by Pathe Freres. Méliès did not grasp the value of his films, and with some 500 films recorded on cellulose, the French Army seized most of this stock to be melted down into boot heels during World War I. Many of the other films were sold to be recycled into new film. As a result many of his films do not exist today.

After being driven out of business, Méliès became a toy salesman at the Montparnasse station, with the assistance of funds collected by other filmmakers. In 1932 the Cinema Society gave Méliès a home in Château d’Orly. Georges Méliès was also awarded the Legion d’honneur  which was presented to him by Louis Lumière.

Méliès died in Paris and was buried in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

His 1899 short film Cleopatra was believed to be a lost film until a copy was discovered in 2005 in Paris.

This Thanksgiving weekend Martin Scorsese adaptation of this remarkable novel hits theaters in 3D.

I will be the first in line.  Hugo, Méliès, Scorsese what could be better?

WC

Natalie Wood, Thelma Todd–Lost Leading Ladies

Some say the ghost of Thelma Todd still enjoys the Malibu sunshine. At least that’s what the owners of a building on the Pacific Coast Highway have claimed for years. A production company now occupies the space once known as the “Roadside Rest Café.”

Every Friday evening for as long as I can remember, I used to drive by this building on my way to my house in Malibu.  I would look up at its decaying structure and wonder about the death of Thelma Todd.

You see, on the morning of Monday, December 16, 1935, Thelma Todd was found dead in her car inside the garage of her lover and business partner, Roland West. The house was just above Todd’s restaurant, The Roadside Rest Café. Her death was determined to have been caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. Police investigations revealed that she had spent the last night of her life at the Trocadero, at a party hosted by Stanley Lupino. At the restaurant, she had had a brief but unpleasant exchange with her ex-husband, Pat DeCicco. However, her friends stated that she was in good spirits, and were aware of nothing unusual in her life that could suggest a reason for committing suicide.

The detectives of the LAPD concluded at first that Todd’s death was accidental, the result of her either warming up the car to drive it or using the heater to keep herself warm. Other evidence, however, pointed to foul play. The Grand Jury ruled her death as suicide. Since her body was cremated, a second, more thorough autopsy could not be carried out. It was believed that she was the target of extortion, but refused to pay. It is also possible that she was locked in the garage by her assailant after she started the car. Blood from a wound was found on her face and dress, leading some to believe that she was knocked unconscious and placed in the car so that she would succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Todd’s death certificate states her cause of death as accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. She was cremated; after her mother’s death, her remains were placed in her mother’s casket and buried in Bellevue Cemetery in her home town of Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Complicating matters, there was an apparent murder two years later involving Todd’s ex-husband Pat DiCicco and another movie actor as the victim.

Thelma Tood was found in her car because she was late to work. She was supposed to be at the Roach Studios, where she was starring with Laurel and Hardy in THE BOHEMIAN GIRL.

It is one of the great mysteries of Hollywood that always made me wonder…In any event, Thelma Todd was only 30 years old. And she had so much life in her.

Does she still haunt this Malibu structure or is she somewhere else.  I have been told she has been seen in different places in Hollywood.  Perhaps I will see her one day and we can have a little chat at one of her favorite Hollywood Haunts.  That would be nice.  Her death has always confused me.

But today, in the news is a story about another Hollywood death that has always baffled me.

Thirty years after Natalie Wood’s died, the LA Police are re-opening the case. I was dead when Natalie drowned, but in life I had lived only a few houses away from her on a street called Canon Drive in the flats of Beverly Hills.  She lived in such a pretty house, with lovely flower pots, and pretty little shutters.

Her death has been another great mystery.

As it came to pass, it was decided that the woman with the big brown eyes hit her head on the dingy that was attached to their boat anchored near Catalina Island.

Her husband Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken were on the boat with her.

The captain of the boat is now coming forth with a new book and a new story.

Why do these leading ladies have to die so young and so tragically?

Natalie Wood and Thelma Todd you deserve peace.

WC

90210

I was able to find my way home yesterday.  How strange and sad.  I walked into the home I bought after I made “Rosemary’s Baby.”  It was a beautiful place in the flats of Beverly Hills and it had room for a tennis court.  My wife, Ellen, loved to play tennis.  And she was damned good. We built a tennis court and we all carved our initials in the wet cement.  I forgot to see if they still exist.

I stopped by Saturday afternoon and peaked around.  It felt familiar but odd.  Smaller, different, and definitely no cigar smoke lingering.  The new owners had cleaned that out.  They had cleaned me out. After all I left that home 34 years ago on a gurney.  I never returned.

I stood in the room where I died.  The soda fountain was still there, in the den off the kitchen–but I felt nothing.  No sense of my family, no once upon ago memories, no regrets, not even any dreams.  It just was.

I connected to the house but not the home.  The home was my family and it was clear that they had long gone.

What are roots anyway?  Is it a community you once lived in? A home you shared with the family you loved?

As I write this, I come to understand that roots are memories.  And you, my friends, keep me alive.

Thank you all for the warm embrace, your willingness to suspend you disbelief, your kind words and even kinder thoughts.

I am one lucky ghoul.

WC

Dinner with an Old Friend!

I will be at the famous Musso and Frank’s tonight.  Have you heard of this famous Hollywood Haunt?

Tonight, I will be here to keep on eye on a dear friend of my daughters.  Yes, I heard he will be there.  I met Jon Richmond years ago.  He was just a young man, an adolescent really but I could see a twinkle in that young man’s eye.  He had a love for life, a quick wit, and an even quicker intellect.

He quickly became friends with my daughters.  I am not entirely sure how I felt about that but I held my breath and hoped for the best.

But when Mr. Richmond came to my home in Beverly Hills one Thursday afternoon I knew he had something on his mind.

“Can I take Terry to see “The Rocky Horror Show?”

“Of course not,” I said adamantly. “No way in hell.”  I knew the subject matter was provocative and as a stage play quite risqué.  What was this young man thinking?

But Mr. Richmond did the darndest thing.  He talked me into letting my daughter go with him.  I don’t know how he did it, but I’m sure it was because my gut told me I could trust this 17-year-old boy.
And I’m glad I did.  My daughter and Jon have had a long friendship.  He stepped in to walk her down the aisle when she got married.  I was already dead.

He always put a smile on my young daughter’s face, was able to reassure her that their was indeed a sunny side to life, and has stayed loyal through the years.

Tonight he dines at Musso and Frank’s and I for one can’t wait to see him.

According to the www.latimemachines.com, “the back room of Musso and Frank’s is where great writers and other famous creative people like F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Saroyan, William Faulkner , Raymond Chandler (who is rumored to have written some of “The Big Sleep” here), John O’hara, Christopher Isherwood, Erskine Caldwell, Lilian Hellman, Horace McCoy, Lowell Thomas, Robert Benchley, Thomas Wolfe, Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Jo Pagano, Dorothy Parker, Dashiell Hammett, Elliott Paul,  John Fante and Budd Schulberg hung out. Even the great composer Igor Stravinsky was known to visit.

Charlie Chaplin’s favorite table was the first one on the left when walking in the old room from Hollywood Boulevard. Charlie Chaplin’s favorite dishes were broiled lamb kidney and also boiled lamb with caper sauce. Raymond Burr’s long time table is in the back of the “new room” closest to the bar.

Steve McQueen favorite spot was the counter seat coming in from Hollywood Blvd. against the wall (bartender Ruben Rueda had to throw him out a few times for getting rowdy – but they remained friends).

Rudolph Valentino was also a client and he loved – what else – the spaghetti (which may have been an exotic dish back then).  Other clients included the illusive Greta Garbo (who liked to hide from reporters here and dined on spaghetti and “near beer” during prohibition. She was also once spotted here with a Swedish prince.), Gary Cooper who loved their tenderloin beefsteaks, Ginger Rodgers who favored Rum cake for dessert, Cesar Romero, Jackie Coogan (who boasted that he had been eating at Musso and Frank’s for over 50 years), John Cameron Swayze (who loved the flannel cakes) Carrie Snodgress (obviously not a Hollywood name!), Henry Armenta, Dorthy Comingore, Ben Gazzara (who liked smoked salmon, with onions and capers), Vincent Kartheiser (one of my favorite actors), Richard Thomas, Danny Trejo, Elliot Paul, Bruce Herschensohn (who ordered a grilled cheese sandwich),William Hollier, Percy Kilbride, Quentin Tarrantino, Raymond Burr, Elliott Gould, Gloria Swanson, Charles “Hank” Bukowski, Ian McKellen, Mickey Dolenz, Orson Welles, Philip Scheuer, Mack Sennet, Mel Gibson, Drew Barrymore,  John Barrymore, Stanley Ring, Joel McCrea, George Hamilton (who liked the Chiffonade Salad), Horace McCoy, Buck Henry, Cheyenne and Christian Brando, Nicolas Cage, Richard Collins, William Shatner, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Jack Nickolson, Marty Feldman (who celebrated his 43rd birthday at Musso’s), Jonathon Winters, Cecil B. DeMille, Bebe Daniels, Edward G. Robinson, Robert Florey, Frances Dee, Jon Hamm (another one of my favorite actors), Ed Lauter (who met his wife here! A Musso’s romance), Johnny Weissmuller, Jesse Lasky, Madonna, Sean Penn, Paul Douglas, Carol Howard,  Jack Smith, John Voight,  Barbara La Marr, Mary Pickford, Rich Little, Myrna Loy, Sandra Shaw, Bette Davis, Johnny Depp and John Beal (who liked smoked tongue and creamed spinach).”

And of course, there are those dearly departed guests mentioned above who still frequent Musso and Frank’s.  I am in good company.

In 1999, a famous psychic claimed he saw the spirits of Errol Flynn, Orson Welles, Charles Laughton, Carole Lombard, Peter Lorre, Raymond Burr and Tiny Tim while visiting Musso’s!

If only there would be a psychic tonight.

I wonder if Jon will be able to feel my presence.

After dinner, I will step across the street to Larry Edmund’s bookstore–a book store specializing in film!  What a perfect evening.  I hear my daughter might be there to sign copies of my autobiorgraphy and House on Haunted Hill: A William Castle Annotated Screamplay.

But for whatever tricks fate plays I am not able to see or feel her presence.  I can only hope see feels mine.

WC

A Fan Becomes A Friend!

This illustration was made by the very talented Charlie Largent.  Isn’t it wonderful?  I connected with Charlie via Facebook and now find myself haunting the poor man.  The fantastic book cover for “House on Haunted Hill: A William Castle Annotated Screamplay” was created by him and a beautifully written introductory piece from “House on Haunted Hill: A William Castle Annotated Screamplay” called  Funhouse on  Haunted Hill was written by him.

He took the time out of his busy life to connect with a dead man.

Thank you Mr Largent.  You are an artist and a gentleman. A writer and a friend.

WC

The Last Ghoul Left Standing…

It is time that all the faux ghouls and goblins go back into hiding until next Halloween. What is left is this real ghoul who is ready to come out and play!

Much has happened during this past October. My new novel “From the Grave: The Prayer” has debuted. My daughter, Terry has resurrected William Castle Productions, debuted her novel “FearMaker: Family Matters,” as well as published my working script from “House on Haunted Hill.”

Many have enjoyed my coming back “From the Grave” but some of you think it is just another gimmick– another William Castle trick.  Or perhaps a treat!

What must I do to prove that I am all around you!

My daughter wrote a poem 34 years ago. I had died just hours earlier. It was a full moon.  I hovered in the corner of her coral colored room as she wrote these words…

“A full moon is love and death and destiny.

As it rises and as it sets,

A full moon is…

Love and death and destiny.”

I think the full moon gave my daughter comfort as did the notion that I was all around.  She felt me that night, I know she did.

I am not sure she believed that I would, could, should come back from the grave but this is my destiny and it is hers.

As I have said, I left a note at the foot of Saint Sarah, the patron Saint of the Gypsies, one week before I died. That note was terribly misconstrued.

Now I find myself struggling to figure out what it is to be dead and most of all why I can see, touch, hear, feel three teenage kids and one ten year old boy, but I can’t seem to see, hear, touch, feel my daughter?  I could the night that I died– I hovered in that corner for as long as I could. The next thing I knew,  I was re-awakened thirty-four years later in the crypt of the Dark Saint, Saint Sarah, with only an inkling of what I once was.

Most of us are consumed with death when we are alive. We wonder if there is life after death.  We like to believe we live on.  I am luckier than most because I live on in the hearts and souls of so many wonderful fans. But I also continue an existence in the home I reside in on a lonely hilltop in Southern France, in the Luberon Valley, in a spot called Gordes.

I bought this house to give away as a gimmick in 1959! Thank God I never got to use this gimmick.

Am I lonely?  A bit. But thanks to your inventions I find myself able to write, to chat, to flirt with those of you on the other side of the veil!  I hope this is only the beginning. I am a restless ghost, with more questions in death than I had in life.

I must admit that at moments like this I wonder if I am alive and you are all dead!

Has this somewhat morose thought ever crossed your minds?

I don’t mean to scare you. But you know I love the screams!!!

WC

John Waters and Film School Experiences

Yes indeed Mr. John Waters was at USC film school over the weekend.  He was kind enough to plug my new novel, “From the Grave: The Prayer.”

Then again he spoke about me and my novel with LA Weekly.

“They talked to John about horror films and (director) William Castle, and they understand John from the point of horror films. It was the first article that I read where they understood the influence of these horror film directors on John’s work and were able to articulate those influences.

JW: Terry Castle just put out her father’s book, From the Grave: The Prayer, and you have to sign a life insurance policy when you sign the book. It is so great — it just came out.”

Well, I have undying affection for Mr. Waters, not just because he plugged my new novel or was responsible for bringing me back “From the Grave,”  but because he is a true gentleman!  He has grace and class and that twinkle in his eye.  I love that twinkle.

But it got me thinking about some of my visits to films schools.  And I had to laugh as I remembered one experience.  I would like to share it with you all today.

My film Strait Jacket was was being previewed  for a film school that shall remain nameless.  At the end of the film, I was there to answer questions from the young and enthusiastic film students.

One gentleman raised his hand, “Mr. Castle,” he began, “In the scene when Ms. Crawford exits the train, home from years in the insane asylum,  you used fog to envelope the bottom half of the shot.  Was this because you were hinting at Ms. Crawford’s ‘clouded’ sense of reality?”

I remember taking a big puff on my cigar. (You used to be able to spoke anywhere!) I let the smoke circulate the classroom.  I was then ready to answer.

“You are a bright young film student,” I began.  “You have a promising career ahead of you. And you are absolutely correct.  Indeed I used the fog to suggest the inner turmoil in Joan’s character’s soul.  I wanted to make sure the audience understood how tormented she was and how she questioned reality.  Fog seemed like a great way to suggest such inner demons.”

The young man was pleased with his question and even more pleased with my response. So was I!

I will tell you now why I was so pleased.  I hope you won’t think ill of me.  I used fog because I didn’t have enough money in the budget for an entire train shot. I had to hide the bottom half of the scene.

I liked the young film students reason more.

Like I always say, “Desperation breeds Inspiration.”  Now go out and produce your own film.

WC

Marilyn Nash: Our own Auntie Mame!

Once in a lifetime a man meets a renaissance woman, and I was lucky enough to meet one.   Her name was Marilyn Nash.  I actually met her through her first husband, infamous screenwriter, Phil Yordan.

But our friendship lasted a lifetime.

When I met Marilyn, she was under contract to Charlie Chaplin.  Yes, she was in Monsieur Verdoux. Yes, she was the woman with the big hat.

But Marilyn wasn’t Hollywood glitz–no, she was the real deal. Her strength, her compassion, her joie de vivre were to be envied.

Although she might be caught smoking a cigarette in an ornate cigarette holder, Marilyn was the most down to earth actress I had ever met. How do I know this?  Well, I know this because my wife, Ellen, hated everything to do with Hollywood but loved Marilyn.  Marilyn would become one of Ellen’s very best friends.

When I proposed to Ellen, Marilyn insisted we get married at her home.  And we did.  She was very upset when my bride showed up to her own wedding wearing the same dress as her identical twin sister, Ruth. “That’s just not right,” Marilyn would say.  “This is YOUR day.” But the festivities began, and we toasted with the finest champagne in sparkling glasses and feasted on caviar. “To life!” I can almost hear her say.

After I passed thirty-four years ago, she stood by my wife and taught her how to live again without me.  I love her for that.  She was a true friend to me and an even truer friend to Ellen.

When she was fifty and was asked her age, Marilyn would unabashedly say, “I’m 64-years-old.”  Then she would wink as she was complimented for looking so good for her age.

Marilyn built her own house, traveled the world, had adventures in countries most people just dream about visiting.  Her kids loved to call her Auntie Mame!  “Yes! Live! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

Marilyn didn’t starve, she drank up life.  But she also cared deeply for those she loved.  She kept her friends close and for forever. She was the most loyal person I have ever met.

The world lost Marilyn today.  But just like me, she will live on.  Her sons Douglas, Dennis, David, and Dan will make sure of it.  So will her adopted daughter Terry.

Forever

WC

A Ghost’s Ghosts

When I was a very, very young man I found myself living in Greenwich Village.  I had lost my parents, had no money, and craved family more than anything. I wanted to be in the theatre.  But times were tough. I knocked on many doors but found it impossible to break into a world that fascinated me since I was a little boy.

I loved living in Greenwich village. I was surrounded by artists. These artists were as poor as I was and they became my family.

I found myself today wandering the streets of Greenwich Village.  Things have changed.  New York University has bought up so many of the old apartments that once were crammed full of starving artists.  But as much as it has changed, it has stayed the same.

It was a difficult time, but I believe living amongst these talented painters, sculptures, writers, I began to understand the human psyche.  And I realized I was much more complex than I had ever imagined.

I had ghosts.  Indeed.

I finally found my way into the world of the theatre.  I had every job imaginable!  From actor to stage manager to director.

But Hollywood called.

Today I want to relish times gone by.  Today I want to sit in a cafe, read a real live newspaper, enjoy a glass of wine, and wait for the sun to go down– because tonight I will go to yet another performance on Broadway.

I am enjoying this day a bit anxiously awaiting for my new book, “From the Grave: The Prayer” to debut.  I hope you all like it!

And my dear daughter has her own book coming out this Halloween season.  Hers is entitled “FearMaker: Family Matters!”  She has acknowledged me in such a sweet way.  You must read her lovely little tale of terror.  I guess it’s in the blood.

Ghosts indeed.  Fears absolutely. Insecurities, yes, yes, yes!  I hate all these things.  I did think all this would pass when I passed away.  But I drink my red wine  and I feel my ghosts.  A ghost’s ghosts.

And I reflect.

Last night I went to see The Mountaintop–a wonderful new play by Katori Hall.  What a talent she is!

Sameul L Jackson and Angela Bassett are spectacular.

But,  I hovered in the Bernard B. Jacob Theatre stunned.  You see, I was here year ago.  When Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi as the titular vampire, opened on Broadway in 1927. I was there…in this very theatre. The theatre has since been renamed.

But what I remember is that a famed critic for a major New York newspaper fainted during the first performance.  The play had to be halted until he was revived in the lobby.  It became a big hit, and I never forgot the play, the star, or the poor critic who fainted and gave me inspiration for the films I had yet to make.

Here is to you Mr. Lugosi.  Without you I would never have made the films I made, created the gimmicks I did, or written the novel I have just penned From the Grave!

WC

Monster Kids Old and New

Why have I written a novel for Young Adults?  That’s an easy question to answer.  I remember so many of you, eyeballs dilated, staring through darkened theaters, ready and willing to scream for your lives. You sat with popcorn bags in your laps and you enjoyed every single minute of the unforgettable scares you endured when you were 12, 13, 14 years old.  You suspended your disbelief. And for that I forever grateful.

But as you by now probably have come to know, I am not done yet.  And yes my novel is for the kid in all of you, but I am hoping that a new generation of Monster Kids arrises from their soccer games, piano lessons, endless hours of homework and discovers what a thrill it is find yourself under you covers, flashlight in hand, scaring yourself silly with a chilling novel of horror and suspense.

I promise you one thing, childhood is precious, and it is gone far too quickly.

Ask any Monster Kid from the 50s, 60s, or 70s and they will tell you they had the time of their lives, sitting alone in darkened movie theaters,  sneaking to watch fright night theater on the television, reading novels of horror and suspense that left they sleepless all through the long night.  And they all will tell you that they want that same feeling again.  In fact, they are still willing to suspend their disbelief today and go with me on this on this quest to find the spirit of times gone by.

“From the Grave: The Prayer” is not just novel written by a dead man…it is so much more.  In its pages are the hopes and dreams of a Monster Kid who had the audacity to dream big and make those dreams happen.  A Monster Kids who unexpectedly finds himself still remembered, even loved.  “From the Grave: The Prayer” is for you my old, loyal fans and to those new Monster Kids who might stumble across me and my novel, late one night…and with a flashlight, even if it is an app on their iPhone, and get to feel the delicious sensation of having your own wild imagination take you on your own personal ride down nightmare lane.

Monster Kids old and new, I am back “From the Grave!”