As I say each time, I am so pleased that interviews continue to be a legitimate part of this little blog of mine! When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the 80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is David Sterry. He is best remembered by 80s fans for being lead singer and guitarist for the Australian New Wave band Real Life. The band's biggest hit single was "Send Me an Angel" which enjoyed success on the charts in both 1983-1984 and then again in 1989. In addition to that relatively uncommon feat, the band had a few other minor hits, but all of the original members other than Sterry would be gone by the mid-90s. He now carries the band name on his own. You will find out how the band came together, all about their biggest hit and much more as we get on to some selections from my interview with David Sterry...
Q: When did you realize you wanted to be a professional musician? How did you get your start in the music industry?
David: When I left school at 17, I became an apprentice in the printing trade, but hated the job. I left the day I finished my apprenticeship and did a bit of music teaching as I'd been playing guitar since I was ten. I was also playing in some cover bands, but I never thought I'd be able to make a living just playing. Then in 1980, I answered an ad in the local paper. A keyboard player was looking for a guitarist to write songs with. I was loving all the New Wave bands with synths, so I thought I'd have a go. Richard Zatorski and I started to write together. At first we didn't want to form a band, just write good songs for other people. But somewhere along the line we picked up Allan Johnson, our bass player, and started playing gigs as The Wires with a drum machine. Surprisingly, people liked us. We had to change our name because of Wire in England and people convinced us to get a drummer. So along came Danny Simcic. Melbourne, Australia has a fantastic club and pub scene. At that time we could work 7 nights a week, often playing doubles opening for INXS or Midnight Oil and building crowds we'd stolen from them at our own gigs. This was all without a record or demo tape being played anywhere. On a wet Tuesday night in winter, we'd have 2000 people at our resident gig. We must have been earning about a $100 a week each and thought we were millionaires. Record Companies and Managers were falling over themselves trying to sign us. It took us three years from first meeting and learning to write songs to finally releasing "Send Me an Angel" in 1983.
Q: Please discuss your personal musical influences and who molded and inspired the artist you have become. Being from Australia, were you a fan of or influenced by any American music?
David: As a teenager I loved Cream, Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, but I'm a crappy guitarist, so becoming a guitar god was out of the question for me. Australia has a great mix of music from both England and the USA and I guess that mix makes us come up with our Australianish sound. No Aussie bands sound like British or American bands and, for such a small population, the diversity in styles is remarkable. I've always been more influenced by English artists especially when punk set the world on fire and the amazing New Wave bands like Human League, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Depeche Mode came along. That's what I wanted to do. Strangely enough, I've got a little Cream cover band at the moment just so I can play some loud guitar. We're called The League of Extraordinary Oddfellows.
Q: How did Real Life come together as a band? Did you always have aspirations to be heard outside of Australia?
David: It was all via ads in the paper. We never knew each other before and I guess we we're more comrades than friends. But we did realize that this band was our big chance and, yes, we did aim to get out of Australia. There were only 15 million people here at the time and a gold record is only 30,000 sales. So economically, all bands have to crack overseas markets.
Q: How and why was the band name Real Life chosen?
David: We'd changed our name from The Wires to A Private Life. There was a band in Sydney called Private Life who threatened to sue us if we went up there as A Private Life. So we chose Real Life as it was close to the old one. We didn't want to confuse or lose our following.
Q: Real Life is probably best recognized for your debut single "Send Me an Angel." You are credited as the song's co-writer with Richard Zatorski. What is the back story about how that song was conceived and written? How long did it take to write? Any personal meaning behind the lyrics?
David: All of our songs were quirky little New Wave tunes, but we didn't think we had a single and there was pressure all around to get a record out. Richard came up with the classic keyboard riff and chords. As soon as I heard it, I knew he'd nailed his part and I really had to come up with the finest words and melody. I was listening to it on my walkman in the back of the band's car on the way to a gig and I came up with the title and left it at that until I could get home to my 4-track Teac tape machine. And then it's all a blur. Like many other song writers say, it just came from nowhere. I'd written it all down in a matter of minutes. And I have to say it wasn't something heartfelt by me as I know it is to many people who love the song. I was really just trying to craft a perfect pop song. Richard actually didn't like what I'd done at first, but anyone who heard the demo loved it. We re-demo'd it on 24-track a week after it was written and then went and made the record the week after.
Real Life originally released "Send Me an Angel" in July of 1983 and on their debut album Heartland. The song would enjoy international success including peaking on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 at #29 in early 1984. In an uncommon achievement, the song would make a return to the charts at the end of the decade. A remix version called "Send Me an Angel 89" would this time reach #26 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1989. The song is about a man questioning if he'll ever find true love and pleading that he will. Here is the video for "Send Me an Angel" by Real Life...
Q: When you first recorded "Send Me an Angel" did you have a feeling it was going to be something special? Could you have ever anticipated the incredible reaction this single would have? Not just in Australia, but even the U.S. (and New Zealand, Germany, Sweden, etc.)?
David: I loved it (I still do) but, because it was very new sounding with synths and electronic drums and radio here was still stuck on the Eagles, those in the know around us thought it might get into the Top 20. It got to number #2 on the sales charts before radio would play it. [Michael Jackson's] Thriller kept us from #1. Then it went to #1 in New Zealand (7000 sales gold record!). A great guy named Rick Carrol from KROQ in Los Angeles took it to the U.S. and it just took off. We had to sign a deal in a hurry and get over there to do some TV and press. Then in 1984, we toured with Eurythmics and Berlin and by the time the tour finished we'd gone to #1 in Germany and most of Europe. I'm still pinching myself to this day.
Q: How did things change for you personally and for Real Life after this song's incredible worldwide success? Were you prepared for all of the attention? Did you enjoy all of the attention?
David: We finally had a little money coming through which was nice as we did it real tough in the early days. We LOVED the girls and the travel, but personally I didn't like being treated as though I was a rock star. I have a very working class background and I'm proud that my friends are still the friends I had before Real Life. Being the singer, I was more in demand for interviews and attention. This upset the other guys, especially Richard. A magazine put me on the front cover without the other guys, I had nothing to do with it, but I was given the silent treatment for days. So this put a lot of stress on us. And I hated being on TV. I've got a head that's made for radio. I've always been shy and radio and television want you to be bright and bushy-tailed. For me it was traumatic.
Q: When you have a mega hit song like that, do you (or did you) ever get sick of playing it?
David: Nah... All you see from where I am is happy, smiling, singing people who are forgetting all their troubles for three and a half minutes. In Lima [Peru] a couple of years ago, the audience sang it so loud that they drowned out the band. None of them could speak English, but they sang the song. When stuff like that happens, I remember where I came from and I feel very humble.
Q: What are your feelings regarding "Send Me an Angel" today 28 years later?
David: I'm amazed at its longevity, that it's still paying my rent and it's regarded as pop classic of the era. That song gave me a life that I could only dream of.
Q: "Send Me an Angel" had a relatively unique accomplishment of enjoying Billboard Hot 100 chart success twice when "Send Me an Angel 89" reached #26 in the summer of 1989 (3 spots even higher than the original). What made you release a new remix version in 1989? Did you expect (or hope) that the song would experience the incredible and uncommon resurgence it did?
David: It was a time when lots of stuff was being remixed (eg: Quincy Jones doing "Blue Monday"). And we had no idea our record company was going to push it up the charts again. In some ways it was a bit embarrassing as we'd just written a song called "God Tonight" which should have been a bigger hit than it was. But it was a unique situation at the time.
Q: How was the experience the second time around? What was different during the 1989 success from your original 1983 success? Did you have a different perspective this time?
David: We had a new keyboard player in the band, the wonderful Mr. Steve Williams, so it was fun to see it all fresh again through his eyes. The rest of us were seasoned veterans by then and we knew what to expect.
Q: Your "Send Me an Angel" video received lots of exposure on MTV back then. Do you feel that had a major impact on the song's success in the U.S.? What are your thoughts on the impact that MTV had on music in the 80s, especially in America?
David: Yeah, we were lucky that MTV loved us. I remember trying to chat up the host in New York once. MTV certainly was a catalyst for music in the U.S. at the time and the rest of the world as well. In fact, in the American Year book of 1984 there are three stills from videos in the report about MTV's impact. One is from Michael Jackson, one is Billy Idol and the other is my boof head from the "Catch Me I'm Falling" video. I think they totally lost direction by the end of the 80s. I never hear of it now.
Q: You had moderate success with "Catch Me I'm Falling" in the U.S., but Real Life was not able to repeat the big success of "Send Me an Angel" other than the 1989 version. Were you surprised or frustrated that Real Life did not go on to have any other major pop hits in the U.S.?
David: "Catch Me" was #1 here [in Australia] and it was in the top 10 in Germany with "Send Me an Angel" at the same time. But you're right and we were frustrated although we had some KROQ and 91X hits with "Kiss the Ground", "God Tonight" and "Babies" as well as some dance chart stuff, but no big hits. We also had loads of record company and management trouble that I'm not going into, but I do think we could have done better. Such is life.
Q: After that success, what caused Richard Zatorski to leave the band? What caused the later falling out between you and the other two original members, Danny Simcic and Alan Johnson?
David: Richard wanted to be the center of attention. I don't think he realized how much I hated it. I think he also wanted to become more commercial whereas I wanted to get a bit darker. He's never had any success since. I wish him well, but don't care to see him. He left me with crippling band debt and downplayed my contribution to our songwriting in order to get himself a large publishing advance. There was never a fallout with Danny and Allan. They just drifted off into the sunset. Dan has become a hot producer and Al is a one man band. We seem to be catching up at friends' funerals a bit too often these days, but I gave both of them a big hug just last week. George, our most recent keyboard player, has very bad Krohn's disease but we catch up a couple of times a year to drink beer and look at pretty girls.
Q: You have continued to carry the Real Life band name on your own. Do you ever expect a reunion of the original members to perform together and/or release new music?
David: I guess it's become my brand now and I can have anyone I like play. Lately in the U.S., my friends When In Rome become my backing band. As for a reunion, I don't think so. Danny, Allan and I all have the same recurring nightmare that we're about to go on stage but we haven't rehearsed and we can't remember our songs.
Q: I know you still do some touring, but the last Real Life album release of new material appears to be 2004's Imperfection. Do you have plans to continue to release new material in the coming years?
David: I have so many unfinished songs and that's my current task. It's most likely the final Real Life album and then I'll have an argument with myself and break up! (citing musical differences). Gemini's can do that. I'm too lazy. That's the real problem and the world isn't crying out for new music from me. There's no money in making records anymore.
Q: After over three decades in the business, from your perspective, how has the music industry changed over that time? And how do you see the future?
David: The record companies shot themselves in the foot when they ignored the arrival of MP3s. Now Steve Jobs controls the biz. There will always be a music business as the world needs new music for every generation. But I'm so glad I'm not starting out now. I don't think I'd have a chance. I do love the new technology having spent $3000 per day in a studio in the old days. I'm much happier with my Mac, Logic and my cat in my sunny office studio.
Q: Some 80s pop superstars "run away" from the 80s and some embrace the success and fans from that decade. (If at all) How do you personally deal with and keep the 80s alive and in perspective? What do you remember best about the decade of 80s music? What lasting impact do you feel music from the 80s has made?
David: I guess I've tried to get away from it sometimes as I've continued to make records, but I'm happy to go out on 80s showcases with other bands of the era. The audiences are just so happy to hear our songs. The 80s was an incredibly creative era with the new exciting electronic sounds and guys like me getting to wear crazy clothes and make-up. Ah the girls, the girls..... So much of the music made today sounds 80s with Synths, Vocoders, Blips and stuff. House music is around 128-130 beats per minute. "Send Me an Angel" is at 128bpm so it's still a house track to this day. But in the end, it's all the great, great classic songs of such great artists. They'll never be forgotten.
Q: Australia made quite the musical impact in the U.S. during the 80s with Men at Work, Icehouse, INXS, The Church and others in addition to Real Life. Do you or did you have any relationships with these other bands? How do you explain the success each would have in the American market?
David: Yeah, they all started before us, so we got to open for all of them. We're not best buddies with any of them, but they're all good guys and all very supportive of each other in our campaign to stick it up the rest of the world. We often partied in Europe with INXS, great guys, RIP Michael. I think with America it was that they don't sound American and they weren't trying to sound American (as some artists do). They all have a unique sound and sound nothing alike. And I think that America was having a bit of a love affair with all things Australian at the time like Crocodile Dundee, Mad Max and we even won the America's Cup in sailing.
Q: What else is David Sterry up to nowadays? Musically and otherwise? Any remaining ambitions or regrets?
David: Real Life is my job, performing or licensing our songs. For example, "Send Me an Angel" is being used to promote the new Charlie's Angels series. Playing Cream songs in my friend's bar in Melbourne. I have a great life. Everything has worked out fine for me. I'm growing old disgracefully and music is all I do. My only ambition is to see more of the world hopefully from a stage. And no real regrets just funny stories to tell.
I am delighted that David took some time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. You can keep up with Real Life at the official website www.reallifemusic.netI want to take this opportunity to again thank David Sterry for his contributions to 80s pop culture especially through "Send Me an Angel" and, even more, for going back to the 80s for a little while with us here as well.
That's all for another special issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading and hope you are enjoying the interviews as much as I am. If you want a summary of all of my Back to the 80s Interviews posted thus far, please click on that link. Be sure you haven't missed any of them. If you are interested in reading any of my other 80s related issues, please click there for a summary of those. You can also always click on the Archives in the upper left hand column or use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. Even if you are not a Facebook member yet, please consider joining and registering as a fan at that page. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. Let other 80s fans know about it as well! Peace and much love.
Check this out: I found this little video titled "8-Bit Invader" to be very cool. It features simulated projection mapping on the side of a building using classic video games. Some of those that you will see include Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros., Tetris, Space Invaders, Duck Hunt among others. Enjoy...
Top 10 lists used to be a regular feature here on Kickin' it Old School. Interviews have dominated my content lately and hopefully you have been enjoying those as much as I have. I still have many Top 10 lists just waiting to be published and my recent interview with Scott Schwartz reminded me of one of them in particular, so I thought I would share that one with you.
Whether you have realized it or not, throughout the history of cinema, there are many scenes that take place with a shower and/or bathtub as an essential part. Probably the most unforgettable and the first one that comes to mind would be the shower scene with Janet Leigh from the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho. Now that certainly was not an 80s film (though its first two sequels were in 1983 and 1986), but the 80s did have its share of memorable movie scenes in the tub or shower. Here is OLD SCHOOL'S TOP 10 SCENES FROM 80s MOVIES FEATURING THE BATHTUB and/or SHOWER (+ Bonus 10):
Honorable Mention. Pretty Woman just missed being an 80s movie since it was released in March of 1990. It does have one of the best bathtub movie scenes and I am not talking about the one when Richard Gere joins her in the tub. I am talking about the one when Julia Roberts is wearing headphones and singing along to Prince's "Kiss" (an 80s song!) while relaxing in a bubblebath. Since she is singing a great 80s song while listening to a Walkman and the film just missed the 80s by 86 days, I wanted to at least give Pretty Woman an honorable mention.
20. Young Guns (1988) - "Billy the Kid" (played by Emilio Estevez) takes an old-fashioned bath in this western which takes place in the 1870s. There is no doubt his six-shooter is not far from reach.
19. Scarface (1983) - In one example of over-indulgence, "Tony Montana" (played by Al Pacino) sits in his gold-plated extravagant tub.
18. Wildcats (1986) - "Molly McGrath" (played by Goldie Hawn) is unexpectedly interrupted while trying to take a relaxing bath.
17. Ghostbusters II (1989) - In the sequel, "Dana Barrett" (played by Sigourney Weaver) has a scary moment when supernatural slime tries to invade her apartment via her bathtub.
16. Say Anything... (1989) - In an emotional display, "Jim Court" (played by John Mahoney) seeks refuge in his bathtub as he tries to deal with his impending IRS investigation and possibly losing his beloved daughter in the process.
15. Tootsie (1982) - As Dustin Hoffman is making his transformation from "Michael Dorsey" to "Dorothy Michaels", he shaves his legs while in the tub.
14. Rain Man (1988) - Tom Cruise's "Charlie Babbitt" discovers why he called his autistic brother "Raymond" (played by Dustin Hoffman) "Rain Man" as well as why they had to move him to live in a mental institution. "Hot water burn baby!"
13. National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) & European Vacation (1985) - The original film has a simply gratuitous shower scene with "Ellen Griswold" (played by Beverly D'Angelo). Then the sequel finds "Ellen" innocently videotaped in the shower by her husband "Clark", but after the camera is later stolen her image ends up on a billboard to her embarrassment.
12. Splash (1984) - We get to see "Madison" (played by Daryl Hannah) turn into a mermaid including her full tail fin on display in the bathtub of Tom Hanks' apartment.
11. Money Pit (1986) - "Walter" and "Anna" (played by Tom Hanks and Shelley Long) buy a distressed mansion and it begins to fall apart from the moment they walk in. After they have experienced constant catastrophes, "Walter" can't help but laugh after the bathtub falls through the floor and crashes to the level below.
10. The Toy (1982) - This is the scene that reminded me about this list after my interview with Scott Schwartz who plays spoiled rich kid "Master Eric Bates". In a bonding moment, at one point both he and his hired friend "Jack Brown" (played by Richard Pryor) end up in a bubble bath together with their clothes on.
9. Short Circuit (1986) - While taking a bath, "Stephanie" (played by Ally Sheedy) hears an intruder which turns out to be Number 5. "Nice software!"
8. Arthur (1981) - As one of his many symbols of wealth, "Arthur" (played by Dudley Moore) sits in his gigantic bathtub usually accompanied by a drink. Even the movie's poster shows this image with the question, "Don't you wish you were Arthur?"
7. Fatal Attraction (1987) - Anne Archer's character "Beth" is attacked by "Alex Forrest" (played by Glenn Close) as she is about to take a bath. Her husband "Dan" (played by Michael Douglas) comes to her rescue wrestling "Alex" into the tub and seemingly drowning her. She then suddenly emerges from the water swinging her knife wildly when she is shot in the chest by "Beth" and finally killed.
6. Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - After Pee-wee's bike goes missing, he goes to confront the prime suspect "Francis" (played by Mark Holton) while he happens to be taking a bath. The bathtub is more of a swimming pool and a battle ensues as Pee-wee attempts to find out the location of his precious bicycle.
4. Coming to America (1988) - Wealthy African "Prince Akeem" (played by Eddie Murphy) is enjoying his royal bath when a Nubian bathing attendant (played by Victoria Dillard) declares after emerging from under the water, "The royal penis is clean, your Highness."
3. Weird Science (1985) - "Gary" and "Wyatt" (played by Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith) always dreamed of showering with girls. Then they had "Lisa" (played by Kelly LeBrock) a beautiful woman all to themselves, but they are too intimidated and uptight to take advantage of the situation. This is best demonstrated by the fact they kept their pants on while in the shower.
2. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) - As he is getting ready for his day off, "Ferris" (played by Matthew Broderick) is taking a shower. He has his hair standing straight up molded into a fin with shampoo and he's carrying on dialogue with the audience. He says, "I do have a test today, that wasn't bulls**t. It's on European socialism. I mean, really, what's the point? I'm not European. I don't plan on being European. So who gives a crap if they're socialists? They could be fascist anarchists, it still doesn't change the fact that I don't own a car." Then he sings a couple bars of Wayne Newton's "Danke Schoen" into the shower head. "I recall Central Park in Fall, how you tore your dress, what a mess, I confess..."
1. A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) - This is a freaky scene! "Nancy" (played by Heather Langenkamp) is taking a bath and seems to be sleepy. Freddy's glove pops out of the water between her legs almost like a shark's fin, but disappears quickly when her Mom calls in to remind her not to fall asleep in the tub. "Nancy" dozes off anyways and her bath takes a scary turn for the worse.
There's my list. Are there any bathtub or shower scenes from the 80s that you feel I have overlooked? If so or if you'd rank any differently, please leave them in the comments section below. I left off the many spying on the girls locker room shower scenes that were prevalent and tried to keep it to traditional bathroom shower or bathtub scenes. It is interesting to think of how many movie scenes take place in a bathroom. As they say, cleanliness is next to godliness. But I like another quote I have heard even better: "Cleanliness becomes more important when godliness is unlikely."
That will do it for this issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks so much for reading. If you are interested in reading more of my Top 10 lists, please click there for a summary. If you are interested in reading any of my other 80s related issues, please click there for a summary of those. You can also always click on the Archives in the upper left hand column or use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. Even if you are not a Facebook member yet, please consider joining and registering as a fan at that page. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. Let other 80s fans know about it as well! Peace and much love.
Check this out: Cereal commercials are a fond memory from the 80s for me, especially during Saturday morning cartoons. Check out my special issue on 80s Cereal Commercials. Many had fun cartoon characters or mascots to help sell the cereal. Here were a couple amusing hypothetical candidates if boring cereals had mascots (courtesy of Caldwell Tanner on CollegeHumor.com). Certainly no Trix Rabbit, Lucky Charms Leprechaun or anything of the sort...
Quote of the day: "You cannot believe in honor until you have achieved it, better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world" -George Bernard Shaw
As I say each time, I am so pleased that interviews are now a legitimate part of this little blog of mine! When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the 80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is Scott Schwartz. He is best remembered as the child actor having roles in both The Toy (1982) and A Christmas Story (1983). In the first film, he starred next to the legendary Richard Pryor (who I consider to be one of the funniest people of my lifetime) and Jackie Gleason. In the other, he steals a very memorable scene where a part of his body gets stuck to a flag pole and the film has gone on to become a holiday classic. Both are very impressive accomplishments for such a young actor. You will find out much more about his memories/experiences making those classic 80s films and much more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Scott Schwartz...
Q: When and how did you get your start in acting?
Scott: I started in 1977. I was going to an "old movie" club in New York City with my dad. A guy there produced some commercials and asked if I wanted to do one. After talking to my dad, we said SURE. From commercials to Off-Broadway to Broadway, 150+ commercials later... the movie roles came.
Q: How did the role of "Master Eric Bates" in 1982's The Toy come your way?
Scott: I auditioned for it, like everyone else, over 5,000 real actors tried out and another 5,000+ went to their local Toys-R-Us store where they had a contest for a "Jackie Gleason" look-a-like. It took 8 auditions, several screen-tests. I got the role.
The Toy is a 1982 comedy directed by Richard Donner and starring the legendary Richard Pryor and Jackie Gleason alongside Scott Schwartz. It was the 14th highest grossing film of that year. I loved this film when I saw it as a kid, but looking at it now there are some racist undertones that can be interpreted many of which are due to the storyline. It is about a spoiled boy (Schwartz) who does not get the love and attention he desires from his wealthy father (Gleason). The boy, who can pick out anything he wants at the toy store, is really desperate for somebody to play with and demands that he wants the actual cleaning guy (Pryor) instead of a toy (cue the slavery comparisons). At the core, though, are lessons for the characters in friendship, love and respect. Here is a trailer for The Toy...
Q: What a film to make your debut in! Getting to work with both Richard Pryor and Jackie Gleason! First, what can you tell us about Richard Pryor and your memories of working with him?
Scott: Richard Pryor was probably the nicest, kindest, most wonderful person I have ever met or worked with. His wanting to help me, educate me, give me massive amounts of knowledge about not only being an actor and comedy timing but life in general. There wasn't a question about anything he wouldn't answer. He truly has impacted my life more than anyone except my own father. He was a second dad.
Here is the scene when Schwartz's character first sees Pryor's character at the store playing with a "Wonder Wheel"...
Q: What can you tell us about Jackie Gleason and your memories of working with the legend? How was he off screen as well as onscreen?
Scott: Mr. Gleason was a professional. He and I got along really better than most people expected as I showed him very early on I wasn't out to steal scenes, I knew WHO he was and appreciated his work. Mr. Gleason taught me how to shoot pool, told me all kinds of stories about his life. Off screen he was pretty quiet, basically saving the energy he had for his onscreen time, but we had a LOT of conversations during down-time.
Q: The film was directed by the great Richard Donner. What do you remember about your experience working with him? What did you learn from that experience?
Scott: Richard Donner was wonderful. His charm and sense of humor was really unexpected as normally a director is very serious during filming and he wasn't that way at all. He'd be laughing and joking quite a bit during filming. I tried to watch him as much as I could to see how a director works, but I ended up laughing as much as I did learning things. His "eye" for scenes and set-ups was amazing; he could just see things before they happened.
Q: How do you recall your overall experience making The Toy back then? Any other interesting stories or memories about making The Toy that you can share with us?
Scott: The Toy was four months of shooting that, of course, I'll never forget. The cast, the crew, everyone really treated me well and most of the time went above and beyond to show they cared. To this day that still applies as I have run into people from the film, cast and crew and we still have good words and share time talking about the filming. Too many stories really: going to see Poltergiest at the movies with Richard Pryor, sharing laughs with Mr. Gleason about episodes of The Honeymooners, singing the Superman theme with Richard Donner (he begged me not to jump off the roof of the house into the pool and told me, "You may sound good, but you can't fly") ... SO many good times.
Q: What were your feelings about it when the film was released in 1982? You were only 14 years old at that time. What changed for you personally after the success of the film?
Scott: It was amazing when the film came out. I was on location in Tucson, Arizona at the time shooting a film I did called Kidco. The producers bought three rows of seats so all the cast/crew could go see the movie opening night. How did my life change? All of a sudden I was a "movie star" as people call it, BUT people said "Hey, you did a movie with the godfather Richard Pryor" ... that to me will always be in my heart. Every celebrity or athlete I've ever met wants to talk about Richard Pryor. Truly I was blessed to share time and work with him. Now that he's gone, I still miss him.
Here is a video montage of scenes from The Toy set to the song "I Just Want to Be Your Friend" by Jeffrey Osborne from the film...
Q: What are your feelings about The Toy now nearly 30 years later?
Scott: I'm thankful, can't say it better than that. I got the chance to work with three of the biggest stars/director of that generation and beyond. Pryor was beyond words, Amazing. Mr. Gleason REALLY gave of himself to me with his time and stories and Richard Donner taught me how to make a motion picture. I wouldn't give up that experience for all the tea in china.
Q: Then in 1983, you had the role of "Flick" in the holiday classic A Christmas Story. How did that opportunity come your way?
Scott: I had finished shooting the film Kidco and got back to the east coast. Bob Clark [the director] called me in for the last round of auditions as he'd seen The Toy and wanted me for the film. I basically showed up, had a one hour chat and lunch with Bob and the film was mine. He just wanted to meet me and see if I was a good kid to shoot with. Before I left Bob said to me, "OK, you got the film. I'll send over details to your agent." Really that was it.
I did an entire special issue on A Christmas Story which I highly recommend you check out to find out more about this holiday classic. Peter Billingsley stars as "Ralphie" and Scott Schwartz plays one of his friends, "Flick". The film is certainly a cherished bit of Americana which I watch at least once (if not more) every holiday season. Here is the trailer for A Christmas Story...
Q: For the scene when Flick's tongue sticks to the flagpole, I read that a hidden suction tube was used to safely create the illusion that your tongue had frozen to the metal. What can you tell us about your memories of filming that iconic scene?
Scott: Memories? It was COLD! It was 25 degrees below zero in St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada. The scene was done twice as the first go around the film was "under-developed" and was too dark. The second time we did it in 11 1/2 hours. Yes, there was a plastic pole and a vacuum type suction tube with a motor buried in the snow. No plastic tongue, that was mine, but the pole didn't taste very well as it was plastic and painted to look real.
Here is that popular scene from A Christmas Story when "Flick" accepts a triple-dog-dare and ends up getting his tongue stuck to the flagpole...
Q: How often does someone say "I triple-dog dare you" to you? And (you can tell us the truth) how old has that gotten? Do you pretend like it is original each time?
Scott: I hear that "triple-dog-dare you" about once or more a day. Almost every person I meet says it. It was old 15 years ago, but at the same time, it's nice that something I was a part of is so memorable. I just tell people "thank you" as I do appreciate it. There are thousands of films made each year and only a few are remembered. So I'm one of the lucky people to have been a part of an amazing film that people love.
Q: When you think back, what other memories do you have from filming A Christmas Story?
Scott: The relationships really. Being friends with Peter Billingsley, Zack Ward and the other guys. Talking to Bob Clark over the years. I have lots of other memories, just too many to write. It was a fun film to make, just too cold.
Q: Any other interesting stories about making A Christmas Story (either onscreen or offscreen) that you can share with us and let us in on?
Scott: Ordering room service for Bob Clark when he didn't order it. It was a GREAT joke to play on him. Peter and I would send a steak and shrimp to his room and he'd open the door and say, "I didn't order this, BUT hey, is that steak?" He'd never turn away a good steak.
Q: What were your feelings about the final version of A Christmas Story when it was released in 1983? I seem to recall that it took a little while before it became the cult classic we know it as today. Could you have ever expected the film to have the popularity it has gained over the years?
Scott: The film is perfect. NO way, NO how could Bob have done it better. No one expected it to be the iconic film it became, but that really has a lot to do with Ted Turner buying it for Turner Entertainment (as part of the MGM film package he bought) and creating the "24 hours of A Christmas Story" back in 1996. When he (or his advisors) did that, the film took off like a rocket.
Q: What are your feelings about it now nearly 28 years later? How does it feel to be a part of such a beloved cult classic now?
Scott: Being a part of A Christmas Story will always be one of those amazing things in my life. Never gets old, always cherished and always appreciated. I was a small part of a big puzzle and it all worked. Darrin McGavin was fantastic, Melinda Dillon was adorable, all of us kids were perfect, it all worked.
Q: I know some of the cast does reunion appearances together. Have you kept in close touch with Peter Billingsley or any of the others cast members over the years? Do you enjoy making the appearances and seeing all of the fans who cherish the film?
Scott: I have kept in close contact with all the guys. We email, talk, get together when we can. We all have our own lives and we're all busy. Peter is ultra busy co-owning a production company with Vince Vaughn now, so he's mega busy. I couldn't be prouder of a nice guy like Peter to have achieved the success he has. When we go places together it's always fun, it's a reunion each and every time. Peter doesn't go with us as he's just too busy but he's certainly not forgotten in our travels.
Q: After working with Corey Haim in the 1985 television movie A Time to Live, I read that you remained friends. What can you tell us about your friend Corey Haim? Would you comment at all on how his death impacted you?
Scott: Corey was a good guy. I never in 25 years ever had an argument with him. He was like my little bro, we'd talk and chat. I wish what happened didn't of course. I miss the guy. Since his passing March 10, 2010, I haven't been able to watch one thing he was in, it just hurts too much. He was a special guy and people who adored him from his films would have loved him more if they knew him. Really, that's all I want to share, the rest is for me to know and remember, but like I said, he was my little brother and I miss him.
Q: Are there any 80s roles (TV or movies) that you auditioned for and did not get that would be surprising or particularly interesting especially looking back now?
Scott: Two projects for different reasons. One was The Goonies . The film was made by Richard Donner and Steven Spielberg. That would have been great to work with Richard again and of course Mr. Spielberg would have been amazing. The other was Twilight Zone: The Movie . I was supposed to play the psycho kid who controlled people (that Jeremy Licht ended up doing). I was booked to do the film and with the accident that killed Vic Morrow, they shut down production for six months. Upon starting up again, they just grabbed Jeremy from L.A. as I was in New Jersey and they shot as fast as possible to get it done. Both of those would have been terrific experiences, but weren't meant to be.
Q: I asked this same question to fellow child actors Keith Coogan and Gabe Jarret in my interviews with them. With your incredible first hand experience (or the experience of those you've known/observed), what are the positives and negatives of being a child actor? How does being a successful child actor affect your ability to be a successful adult actor?
Scott: TOO long of an answer on this one. Positives: you learn to be a "man" WAY earlier than a normal kid, you learn what it's like to get up and go to work at 7-8-9 years old. Fame and money are great, BUT when you are so young IF you don't have the right kind of parents it can get out of hand quickly. Negatives: learning to hear the word "NO" so many times and being rejected. It takes a very thick skin to deal with it all. My folks really educated me on as much as they could and it truly formed my personality and understanding of the world at a very early age. Being a child actor to adult actor isn't up to you as the actor, it's up to the powers that be to want to continue to hire you. You can be the best actor in the world, but if someone doesn't give you the opportunity to show what you can do, it's all for not.
Q: Do you still get recognized in public a lot? Is "Flick" the role you get recognized as most often?
Scott: I do get recognized more from A Christmas Story than The Toy and sometimes Kidco. Not all the time, but I do get recognized.
Q: After the 80s, it seems your acting roles surprisingly declined despite some impressive success at a young age. Was this a situation where you decided to move in a different direction or were the roles just not being offered to you anymore? Is acting something that you still consider pursuing at any level?
Scott: Puberty had a lot to do with my not getting work. My face changed and I didn't grow very much, still being 5'2" at age 15-19 isn't a good thing for actors. I never decided not to act anymore. Again, the powers that be just didn't hire me. I still act or work when people call and ask me, always a pleasure to do work. Always loved acting and performing and I'm sure I always will.
Q: What has Scott Schwartz been up to more recently? Any remaining ambitions or regrets?
Scott: I work mainly for trading card companies providing Celebrity Autographs for their products. I came up with an idea for a line of cards with Donruss card company (now Panini card company) called "Donruss Americana". They came up with the designs and I got them the celebrity autographs for the cards. I now work for four companies and I love what I do. Also, I have a collectibles store in Southern California with my dad called "Baseball Cards - Movie Collectibles". We've been in business for the past 24+ years. Always working, always busy and just enjoying life with my four doggies. I smile each and everyday. No real regrets to speak of other than that I haven't been able to help a few of my child star friends with their issues that have led to their leaving us early. I truly believe in helping those you care for and love. Life is too short, enjoy each and every day.
I am thrilled that Scott took some time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. If you are ever in the Westlake Village area in California, be sure to stop in his memorabilia shop. And when you watch the 24 hour marathon this Christmas and it comes to the triple-dog-dare scene, just remember how bad that pole tasted and how cold it was when they filmed it. I want to take this opportunity to again thank Scott Schwartz for his contributions to 80s pop culture especially through The Toy and A Christmas Story and, even more, for taking a walk down memory lane with us here as well.
That will do it for another special issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading and hope you are enjoying the interviews as much as I am. If you want a summary of all of my Back to the 80s Interviews posted thus far, please click on that link. If you are interested in reading any of my other 80s related issues, please click there for a summary of those. You can also always click on the Archives in the upper left hand column or use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. Even if you are not a Facebook member yet, please consider joining and registering as a fan at that page. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. Let other 80s fans know about it as well! Peace and much love.
Check this out: Have you seen the video for Katy Perry's new single, "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)"? It is courtesy of Funny of Die and has strong 80s themes and fashion running throughout. Perry plays her alter-ego, Kathy Beth Terry, who is in need of a makeover. It includes appearances by several stars, but my favorites include Corey Feldman and Debbie Gibson as her parents and none other than Kenny G as her "Uncle Kenny". The 80s angle made me feel it was worth sharing here. So here is Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night"...
Quote of the day: "Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very'; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite." -C. S. Lewis
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