Sunday, March 25, 2012


Gary Busey burst into public consciousness in 1978 with his portrayal of Buddy Holly. His performance earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and launched a promising career. Busey is known for his intensity, both on and off screen. I discovered this firsthand in 1987 while working on the film "Act Of Piracy." The movie was shot on the Greek island of Skiathos. Two days before production, it was my job to pick up Gary as he arrived at the small island airport. He'd just finished shooting a film in Mexico and he'd had a horrible experience. As we drove back to the hotel, he began to ramble. "This place looks just like frickin' Mexico. The trees, the ocean. This is a nightmare. I can't go through that again. Tell me this place is not like Mexico." He leaned toward me, waiting for a response. "We're in the Mediterranean, Mr. Busey. It's nothing like Mexico." "Thank the lord," Gary answered. He was quiet for a moment then he spoke again. "So what kind of crap do these Mexicans eat?" This was Gary Busey in a nutshell. Outspoken, hyperactive and utterly lovable. Gary has acted in more than 150 movies and tv shows. In 1988 he nearly died in a severe motorcycle accident while riding without a helmet. He's also struggled through numerous legal and substance abuse issues. Through it all, he has continued acting. I don't know if he continues to eat Mexican/Greek cuisine. (5" x 7", black ink print)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Edward G. Robinson

Edward G. Robinson's 1930 portrayal of gangster Caesar Enrico Bandello in the film Little Caesar created the prototype for the modern movie gangster.  Though he lacked physical stature and leading man good looks, Robinson acted with an authority and passion that dominated the screen.  His portrayal of the cruel and ruthless Rico was so gritty and realistic that many actual gangsters adopted his mannerisms of chomping down on a cigar and snarling orders out of the side of their mouth.  After Rico is machine-gunned down in the final scene uttering the famous dying line, "Mother of mercy!  Is this the end of Rico," the age of the gangster movie had formally begun.

Robinson was born Emanuel Goldenberg in 1893 in Romania.  These were the days of the anti-Jewish pogroms and Robinson's older brother was struck in the head by a rock during an anti-Semitic "schoolyard game."  His brother died from the effects of the blow years later.  To escape the persecution, Robinson's family scraped together funds for passage to America.  "At Ellis Island I was born again," Robinson said.  "Life for me began at age 10."

As a teenager, Robinson hoped to become a rabbi or a criminal lawyer "to defend human beings who were abused or exploited."  He entered City College in New York and discovered acting.  At age 19, he attended the American Academy of Dramatic Art and changed his last name to Robinson. He acted in the Yiddish Theater and moved on to Broadway.

After his explosive performance in Little Caesar, Robinson became typecast in Warner Brothers gangster films.  He acted beside James Cagney in Smart Money and with Humphrey Bogart in A Slight Case of Murder.  His favorite performance came in Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet where he played a scientist who discovered the cure for syphillis.  He hated watching himself on screen thinking he resembled "a miniature gargoyle."

Off screen, Robinson was a distinguished man of great kindness and courtesy. In the lead up to World War II, he donated more than $250,000 to anti-Fascist charity groups.  He was one of the first actors to become an outspoken critic of Nazism.  In 1938, he hosted the Committee of 56, a group of renowned filmmakers who called for a boycott of all German made products.  His political involvement would later cause him to subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee after the war.  After several years of being blacklisted, he was finally cleared of all suspicions.

Robinson was a lover of the arts.  As a teenager, he collected cigar labels and baseball cards.  As his career too off, he used his newfound wealth to purchase artwork.  By the 1950's, his collection grew to include works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Chagall, Degas, Monet, Matisse, Renoir, Seurat and Toulouse-Lautrec.  In 1953, the Museum of Modern Art in New York featured an exhibit of Robinson's collection.  He recorded his thoughts in the exhibit catalogue:

"I am not a collector.  I'm just an innocent bystander who has been taken over by a collection.  It's a rewarding life even if it takes over your house, your family, your income and your life.  If I hadn't become a movie gangster not one of my paintings would have had the chance to collect me.  Here is a paradox: turn killer and you have the means to satisfy your thirst for beauty.  When Hollywood conveyed me, through devious and sin-stained roles, to a succession of sizzling electric chairs, the paintings began to appear.  Crime, it seems, sometimes does pay."

In 1956, Robinson was forced to sell his art collection as part of a divorce settlement with his wife of 29 years, Gladys Lloyd.  Robinson was devastated by the divorce.  He was also troubled by the difficulties of his only son who had run-ins with police and attempted suicide.

Despite his personal troubles, Robinson continued acting.  He appeared in more than 100 movies in his life.  Prominent roles included psychotic gangster Johnny Rocco in Key Largo, insurance claims adjuster Barton Keyes in Double Indemnity and an aging poker champion in The Cincinnati Kid.  Robinson was well respected and he worked with prominent directors like Fritz Lang, John Huston, Billy Wilder and Orson Welles.  Cecil B. DeMille cast him as a rebellious Israelite in The Ten Commandments.

In 1972, Francis Ford Coppola seriously considered Robinson for the role of Don Corleone in The Godfather.  Robinson's last film role was in the sic-fi classic "Soylent Green" where he spoke about the wonders of earth before the world became toxic.  He died of bladder cancer in 1973 just 12 days after shooting was completed.

Robinson was the inspiration for several animated characters that caricatured his gangster persona.  he appeared as Rocky in the Bugs Bunny cartoon Racketeer Rabbit.  He also inspired Hank Azaria's depiction of Police Chief Wiggum in The Simpsons.  (4" x 6", black ink print)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The River Horse

"Is a hippopotamus a hippopotamus or just a really cool opotamous?"--Mitch Hedberg

Hippos are responsible for more human deaths in Africa than any other wild animal. A full-grown hippo can weigh up to 3 1/2 tons. Hippos are herbivores that live on grass and shrubs. They have no sweat glands but they produce a red viscous fluid to keep themselves cool. This led to the myth that hippos "sweat blood." Their Latin name means "river horse" even though hippos are more closely related to whales than horses.

Hippos rarely breed in captivity.  As a result, most zoo hippos have been caught in the wild. The cost to capture a hippo and transport it to a North American zoo can exceed $250,000. The process is difficult and dangerous. Even though young hippos are selected, they can still weigh up to 1,500 pounds.

Targeted hippos are shot in the neck with a tranquilizer dart causing temporary paralysis. (Prior to 1966, a crossbow was used to propel the dart.) The hippo must be on dry land otherwise it can drown. The capture team has 15 minutes before the drug wears off. If the drug dose is too large, the animal can suffer cardiac arrest.

Once the drug takes effect, the hippo is covered with a net and dragged through the mud with a road grader. A noose is thrown around the hippo's neck and the animal is secured with ropes. The animal is then lifted with the road grader and put in a wood crate in the back of a larger truck. When the animal awakens, it starts to bellow and thrash. This can cause the bull male from the nearby herd to charge the truck in an effort to free the beast. The engine of the road grader is "revved" loud to scare off the bull.

The captured hippo is driven to a holding facility. Handlers continually douse the animal with water to keep it cool.  The hippo is given a thorough medical examination. The hippo will typically endure a long train journey before being transported overseas via plane or boat.

The first hippo kept in captivity was displayed at the London Zoo in 1850. The 2-day old calf named "Obaysch" was caught on the White Nile after its parents were killed by Egyptian hunters. The hunters transported the animal 1,200 miles to Cairo feeding it with cow milk and maize. Abbas Pasha, the Viceroy of Egypt, agreed to trade the hippo, a lioness and a cheetah to Great Britain for a pack of greyhounds. The young hippo arrived at the London Zoo weighing over 1,000 pounds. The animal became an instant hit attracting 10,000 people a day (including Queen Victoria).

In the 1980's, Colombian druglord Pablo Escobar obtained four hippos from a New Orleans zoo. He kept the animal on his ranch in Colombia. After Escobar's murder in 1993, the hippos escaped. Local farmers complained when the animals destroyed their crops. Three of the hippos were tracked down and killed. The fourth was never found.

Hippos were considered a female deity of pregnancy in ancient Egypt.  Hippo ivory tusks are valued more highly than elephant tusks because they do not turn yellow with age. George Washington's false teeth were carved from hippo tusks (not from wood as commonly thought). The attached woodcut was inspired by a French zoo poster from the late 1800's. (5" x 7", black ink print)