T’Marii emailed me several days ago to let me know that a tribute to director Jack Broder was scheduled for March 9 at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. They were screening two of Broder’s films - “Kid Monk Baroni” (Leonard Nimoy’s first major role) and “Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla”. (Jack Broder was not exactly producing A-list material…). There was a Q&A between both movies
T’Marii bought tickets for both of us (thank you!) We met up for dinner at the Hamburger Hamlet, just three blocks from the Egyptian, caught up with fannish and personal stuff, then headed to the theatre.
They screened “Kid Monk Baroni” first, and it sure was fun watching an extremely young (20 year old) Leonard Nimoy play a prizefighter, particularly because this involved him wearing only boxing shorts for a number of scenes. Leonard and his wife were seated several rows in front of where T’Marii and I were sitting.
They had a Q&A between the two movies. Nimoy, Jack Larsen, Mona Knox and Judd Bernard were in attendance and answered questions from the audience about the production.
Here’s an URL to the American Cinematheque special events page. Just search for Nimoy; it’ll take you write to the listing:
Leonard explained that this was his first role, outside of small bit parts. His agent, who was also just starting off, called him up one day and told him he’d arranged for him to audition for the lead role in a motion picture. Leonard showed up for the audition. There was the usual room full of actors, and one by one they were auditioned and left, until finally only Nimoy was left in the room. Turns out his agent hadn’t actually had any contact with the movie producers; he just decided to send Nimoy there on the off chance he could get away with it.
They went ahead and auditioned Nimoy and gave him the role - though for a few minutes it looked like the makeup man might veto it, as apparently he felt another of the prospects had a better face to be ‘uglied up’.
The production was originally scheduled to take 10 days, but was actually filmed in 9. That’s because, late on the 9th day, the producer showed up and began cutting several scenes from the script as ‘unnecessary’ in order to save the expense of another day’s shooting. Must be why the ending was so hurried and tacked on…!
Leonard said he made $350, and since his rent was $6.00 a week this money lasted quite some time. He also got to keep all the suits he wore in the movie. Because Leonard wasn’t a legal adult at the time (legal age back then was 21), his co-star had to accompany him when he signed the contract to do the film. Leonard didn’t work again for several years, partly because of his military service in the mid-50s.
Leonard explained he’d never seen a prizefight, so he based his performance on what he’d seen of other actors in prizefighting roles. The movie producer did arrange for him to spend an afternoon with a boxing instructor; that was all the prep he had for the role.
Jack Larsen, most famous for playing Jimmy Olson in the old Superman series, is gay and had a relationship for many years with James Briggs, director of “The China Syndrome” “Urban Cowboy” and several other well-known films. Jack clearly enjoyed filming “Kid Monk Baroni” and working with Leonard. There’s a never-explained plot point about Baroni and Jack’s character of Angelo: since they’re so poor, they have to spend their nights sleeping together on a pool table. Jack commented that “all sidekicks are in love with the hero”, and said that he played the part of Angelo as being “Brokeback Mountain” to Nimoy’s Baroni. (Nimoy was surprised to hear about this.)
There was an interesting, if brief, discussion on typecasting and being associated with roles that are culturally recognizable all around the world. Jack Larsen was so associated with Jimmy Olson that he never again got a good role, and gave up acting completely several years later.
An audience member asked if Leonard was being considered for a guest role on “Boston Legal”. He said he had been offered a guest shot but he had declined. He had a long talk with “Bill” and explained that he just didn’t want to do anything “gimmicky”. He said Bill understood his reasons.
Leonard and Jack also talked about acting in small theatres during that era; Jack mentioned going to see Leonard perform in “Deathwatch” at a local theatre.
If I remember anything else about the Q&A I’ll add it to my LJ in coming days. I didn’t have any opportunity to take photos, as we were seated some distance away from the stage.
“Kid Monk Baroni” was an obvious ripoff of what was apparently a classic movie theme: kindly Irish Catholic priest mentors a gang boy, teaches him how to box, and thus brings him self-confidence and a new maturity and shows him the truth and the light.
What a difference a few decades make! The scenes between the priest and Baroni doubtless played as entirely innocent in the 1950s, but now, instead of coming across as altruistic and avuncular, the priest reads as a smarmy sexual predator. Every single line of the priest’s dialogue - particularly the one about wanting to get to know Baroni “inside, deep inside” – came across as a double-entendre. I was waiting for him to invite Baroni upstairs to see his etchings...!
A different era, indeed! But innocent? They had to know exactly what they meant with the following bit of dialogue.
A note about the plot. Baroni suffers from some kind of facial deformity. He’s very selfconscious about it and is always getting into fights because of it. He has never had a girlfriend - hence the ‘monk’ part of his nom-de-prizefighting. The priest introduces him to a Sweet Young Virgin who “sees past the surface to the good man beneath”. The Virgin suggests a solution: plastic surgery. And so Baroni gets the operation, emerges as a handsome young man, dumps the Virgin and starts hanging out with a Great Big Ho. The ho takes him for every penny he’s got, and when he’s completely broke gives him the brushoff with the line that he should be grateful to her because “I let you break in your new face on me.” (The audience *roared* at that line!)
Of course by the end of the movie Baroni learns his lesson and winds up married to the Sweet Young Thing.
We visited with butlerdidit and her husband after the movie. We were all very grateful that the Brooklyn Gorilla was the *second* feature! I suspect most of the audience skipped out on that movie.
The Egyptian Theatre is a classic old movie palace. I remember seeing Star Wars in the 1970s there. The exterior is decorated with paintings of Egyptian gods, and the ceiling in the auditorium is a fabulously detailed multi-dimensional scarab with all kinds of other Egyptian motifs. Very deco, very beautiful.
The Egyptian stopped screening first run films some time ago, and now the venue showcases presentations by the American Cinematheque.
The American Cinematheque specializes in these sorts of evenings. I’ve been there once before, for a screening of the erotic vampire film “Daughters of Darkness” and a Q&A after with the director, the leading man, and others involved in this film. I’ve very much enjoyed both experiences.
Here’s an URL for the American Cinematheque with photos of the Egyptian Theatre: