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2017-08-11 / Features

Celebrity friends are as down to earth as anyone

By Craig Muckler
HTF Contributor


Jessica Lange Jessica Lange As I’ve written before, there were challenges moving from the comforts of Minnesota, leaving all my friends to seek my career in Los Angeles after college, wondering how I’d fit in not knowing many people out there. Of all things, I’d be thrown immediately into meeting famous people, some whom lived in my own apartment building in Tarzana, CA.

Within short time I became close friends with many top name celebrities. I realized in short order that 90 percent of them are just like you and me—regular people who just happened to be famous. In the land of Hollywood, where so many young people came from all over the country to fulfill their dreams in music, screenwriting, acting and movie crew, it was refreshing to see stars giving freely advice to many on how to succeed.

Also, I found out that a number of people from my home state Minnesota moved to LA just like me, and made it! One was Jessica Lange who graduated from Cloquet, just 60 miles from of Virginia, my hometown growing up. In 1981 I had an extra part in the movie “Frances” for a couple days. It was being shot in Pasadena and starred Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard. The first morning on set I met Sam at the lunch wagon and we talked. He yelled to Jessica who came on over to us. He introduced me to her by saying, “Meet Craig, a movie producer and actor from Virginia, Minnesota.”

During the week of the shoot, Jessica, Sam and I hung out at lunch break. They were both very kind and not at all in the “big headed star crowd.” Jessica and I talked about growing up on the Iron Range and how we were glad to be out of that weather—we laughed together on that one. As just an extra without yet having my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) union card, I was happy just to be in the same scenes with Jessica Lange, whom I admired so much for making it big with “King Kong” after leaving Minnesota.

I felt we had a lot in common. During a scene at the Pasadena Playhouse, the extras were playing fellow students with Jessica’s character. Well heck, I lucked out. A quick script scene asked for one of the students to say one line to Jessica. Jessica Lange went up to the assistant director, I noticed. Five minutes later he came up to me with paperwork. I had to fill in the basics to become a new member of SAG. Jessica told him she wanted me to say that line! As luck would have it, I told everyone to go and see “Frances” in 1982 in which Jessica Lange would be nominated for Best Actress; my scene ended up on the cutting room floor. Oh well, I had my SAG card.

Another one of my favorite stars— whose flick “Psycho” influenced my horror writings and flicks—was Anthony Perkins. Just imagine myself at a bar with a friend who was about to leave, when Mr Perkins came into a lounge in Century City. My friend left and, almost reluctantly, I went up to Anthony Perkins. He immediately shook my hand as I said it was such a pleasure to meet one of my all-time favorite actors. Well, Anthony asked me to join him at the bar. We started talking about a number of things. I did mention “Psycho” was influential in writing my film “Microwave Massacre” (released a year earlier in theaters and out on VHS). He asked as many questions about me as I did of him.

That was pure amazing. I had already met and became friends with a number of famous people. A year later, after Anthony Perkins passed away, I saw a documentary about him. In it he stated that he gotten the chance of a lifetime—to act opposite his hero, Gary Cooper. During a lunch break off the set, Anthony went up to Mr. Cooper and said, “Mr. Cooper, it’s an honor to meet you and share scenes with you as you’ve always been my acting hero.” Gary Cooper looked up and said, “Kid, leave me alone and go learn your lines.”

My encounter with my acting hero was much different than that. I knew right then that Anthony Perkins was more than just a movie star; he was a very kind and gentle person. He was not going to do to me what Gary Cooper did to his fan many years before. Before I left Anthony that night he said, I’ll promise to rent “Microwave Massacre” if you promise to go opening night of “Psycho III,” which he directed and starred in. The opening day of “Psycho III,” I was there watching my new friend on the screen playing my favorite horror character, Norman Bates!

Another chance encounter with a famous celebrity happened at a distributor screening for “Microwave Massacre.” There were only a few people in the audience with me and Wayne Berwick, my director. Five minutes into the screening, the door opened and a gentleman sat right next to me. A few minutes later another person came up and said, “Tim, you’re in the wrong screening.”

Tim said, “Hell no, I’m watching this one.”

At the end of the film, lights go up and he asked who made this film. I said Tom Singer, Wayne (sitting next to me) and I made the film.

Well, Timothy Leary, the guru of the drug culture and, in a way, hero to the counter culture said, “This is the most freaky, out-there comedy I’ve seen.” Brilliant, he said and avant-garde.

It was amazing, as he had just been written up in a major publication and was raving to us about our film. He said he’d recommend it to his friends.

In 1978 when I first moved to LA I became friends with a fellow filmmaker who got his start as an actor and film broker in Italy (working for Sergio Leone, director of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” one of my all time favorite westerns with Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef). Through the years Bob Hevelone would help put me in touch with certain movie investment people. Bob always mentioned his brother-in-law was an actor and never mentioned who he was.

In 1983, Bob called me to go to his brother-in-law’s to help set up for a wake for a mutual friend. When I showed up at the door of a beautiful Tarzana Hills home, I was greeted at the door by, Lee Van Cleef himself. Wow, I was standing in one of my all-time western heroes. Lee and I were there at first. Next thing I know I was playing pool with him as he showed me personal photos of him and Clint Eastwood on various sets.

I would become very close friends after that day with Mr. Van Cleef. Sometimes on Christmas Eve he’d invite me to spend the night with him, his wife and Bob (having had some great little parties with the likes of Rory Calhoun, Richard Egan and John Marley). What impressed me one Christmas Eve was when I got to Lee’s house early and he asked me to go along with him to pick up a homeless man who was a fan of his so that man could have dinner with us all. You see, Lee Van Cleef—who at one time was one of the top five stars in Europe—was one of the most kind, generous friends I ever knew. His wife Barbara would say, “Lee thinks of you as his California son.” Wow, that was some statement.

In 1989, Lee Van Cleef was working non-stop. He died suddenly of a blood clot in his leg. It was devastating for me and all his family and friends. Bob Hevelone called me and said Lee would be proud to have me as a pallbearer at his funeral. At his funeral I told Clint Eastwood it must have been great working with Lee. He said he was a true professional and that he couldn’t have had a better friend working in Europe in those films together. After the ceremony Clint Eastwood and I talked some, and he wished me well as we shook hands. He was just another person, nice, down-to-earth, like Jessica Lange, Anthony Perkins and Lee Van Cleef.

In the 1980s I had the great luck of having my own TV show in Santa Monica for Group W Access: Craig Muckler’s Hollywood Showcase. It had its own pilot for FOX Network in 1990. My talk show had many named celebrities like Aldo Ray, members of Rufus, Misty Rowe, Tracy Walters, the “Newhart” brothers (Larry, Darryl and Darryl), Charles Napier, Harve Presnell and Jill Schoelen who, at the time, hit it huge in classics like “Babes In Toyland,” “The Stepfather” and “The Phantom of the Opera.”

I have kept in contact with the celebrities on my show and we have been friends ever since. They are all down-to-earth and as close friends as I’ve ever had. A number have become involved with me in some of my film business endeavors though the years. In fact, John Voldstad, Darryl #2 in “Newhart” who had roles in “Leprechaun” and “Forrest Gump,” is set for a part in my upcoming werewolf film to be shot in Virginia, MN. Jill Schoelen is my star interviewer in my feature documentary, “A Taboo Identity, The Evolution of Kay Parker” and will work on some future projects.

Now that I’m back in the saddle producing films again it sure has paid off keeping in touch through the years with my celebrity friends, who I can rely on to get involved if possible in my professional film projects.

My years living in LA was a wonderful experience to be sure, but also very humbling to realize that Hollywood celebrities are just like any of us and like my lifelong friends I’ve known for years right in my home state of Minnesota. Even better yet is having some of them working with me on movie projects right here at home.

Craig Muckler is a native of Virginia, MN, and a partner in Wide Range Films, a media production company in Virginia.

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