All text and photos © Robert Barry Francos (except film poster)
Every once in a while, I get the opportunity to interview or hang out with some people who are relatively unknown, but turn out to be famous. This has been happening since I was Arts Editor of my college paper, The Scepter at Kingsborough Community College, in Brooklyn.
During the glory days of the mid-‘70s, I was going to film previews, plays, and seeing music. I jumped at almost any opportunity I could. One such occasion was the press preview screening for the film, I Wanna Hold Your Hand.
Okay, a brief rundown of the classic cult film, for those who don’t know (or too lazy to look it up on IMDB). The 1978 film directed by Robert Zemeckis, starts in suburban Maplewood, New Jersey, and follows a bunch of friends (and rivals) who are excited to hear that their favorite band, the Beatles, are going to be appearing for the first time on The Ed Sullivan Show, and they are determined to see the show despite not only not having tickets, but with practically no means to get them. This all takes place in the 24 hours before and during February 9, 1964.
The film opens with Sullivan impersonator Will Jordan talking to his ushers, warning them about the chaos that’s bound to occur in the theater around the appearance. When the title song started playing, I was truly impressed, because the song just boomed. I’d always remembered it as being kind of tinny (more because of the equipment I was hearing it on, I’m sure), but this (remixed?) one rocked.
The film was non-stop fun from beginning to end, and many Beatles scholars were impressed by how the Sullivan appearance was presented. The viewer never see the faces of the actors portraying the Beatles throughout the film (mostly their legs), so in an exact mock up of the Sullivan set, you see the performance from behind the camera where the camera blocks the top portion of the actors playing them, who at the exact time are mirroring the actual performance seen in the television camera’s eyepiece. It was done brilliantly.
The screening for college press I attended was followed by an interview session with some of the actors, most of who were pretty unknown at the time. Not many people showed up for the preview, so rather than standing in front of the room, the performers actually stood among us, and in my case, in the row directly in front of me. It was early in the day, and they all seemed quite exhausted, but were pretty much having fun being with us, though the distinct impression was that they also would be happy sleeping rather than talking to college press, and I didn’t blame them at all!
My camera had no flash in the dark theater, and they were THISCLOSE, so I was sure the pictures would not turn out. But surprisingly, what follows is the result. Unfortunately, the only scans I have are low rez, but you get the idea.
Nancy Allen was probably the best known of the actors that day. She had just come off as the main villain in Carrie (spilling the pig blood and dying in a car with John Travolta). She would also star in a number of A-list films, like Steven Spielberg’s 1941, the RoboCop series, and her then-husband Brian DePalma’s Dressed to Kill and Blow-Out (again with Travolta). Her career has sort of waned since the ‘90s, but she still works here and there. I was blown away by how beautiful she was in person, the film certainly not doing her justice. Her laugh was easy, and she was open to the number of questions about Carrie, though I get the feeling that many there asked her about it because they wanted to be talking to her.
This was Bobby DiCicco first film, but everyone there I talked to afterwards was sure he was going to be a star. He had the looks and the personality. He was the perfect for playing either the James Dean type of rebel, or the “Joey” sort of cliché of Friends. In the beginning his talent showed in major features like Ron Howard’s Night Shift and Splash, the gritty war drama The Big Red One, and he even costarred with Nancy Allen in 1941 and The Philadelphia Experiment. Though the ‘80s and into the early ‘90s, Bobby hit his peak, and then he slowly geared into grade B films, and eventually into straight-to-video hell like Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence and Ghoulies IV. He sort of disappeared off the scene in the mid ‘90s. He came across as serious and focused during the interview.
From my neighborhood in Brooklyn, this was also Theresa Saldana’s first film. Her career was strongly on the rise two years later after appearing in Raging Bull, but her trajectory was definitely sidetracked when she was knifed by a lunatic at her front door. After a lengthy recovery she still acted, but most of her devotion (and rightfully so) was to a charitable organization she famously formed called “Victims For Victims” (Theresa played herself in the 1984 television film Victims for Victims: The Theresa Saldana Story. Her career became more television oriented with strong guest star roles in shows like The Bernie Mac Show, All My Children, The Commish, and many during the ‘80s. Since the mid ‘00s, she has not appeared in much. She was on her own turf during the press conference, and seemed to be enjoying the moment and the chance to be “home.”
WENDIE JO SPERBER
Wendie Jo Sperber was the America Ferrera of the ‘80s. After this, her first film, she would gyrate more towards television, where she co-starred with Tom Hanks in Bosom Buddies, and was a regular in a number of other series, such as Private Benjamin, Babes, Hearts Afire, and Eight Simple Rules. Her early films in the ‘80s were sometimes lowest common denominator fare like Bachelor Party (again with Hanks), Moving Violations, and Stewardess School. She was very sweet and giggly when I met her, and I always felt Wendie should have been a much bigger star, but she slowed down a bit after she was diagnosed with cancer, and she passed away in 2005.
Another actor that should have been bigger than he was, since Eddie Deezen started out strong with appearances in 1941, Grease and Grease II, and the classic WarGames. His specialty was nerds, but because of his typecasting as a young Jerry Lewis, his career eventually stalled for a bit into goofy Grade Z films like Assault of the Killer Bimbos, Polish Vampire in Burbank, Beverley Hills Vamp, and as the lead in the scarily bad Mob Boss. His career in television as a semi-regular in a number of shows brought him back somewhat with Punky Brewster and The Weird Al Show, but his star has risen again as an animated voice in numerous animated vehicles, including regular stints on Darkwing Duck, Duckman, and even recently with Dexter’s Laboratory, What’s New Scooby-Doo, and Kim Possible. His distinctive voice makes him perfect for animation, and I am happy his career is solid. At the interview, he was sometimes goofy and over the top, but one could also see that he was taking his career seriously.
SUSAN KENDALL NEWMAN
Susan Newman was a bit of an enigma to me. At the press conference she was asked the most questions due to being Paul Newman’s daughter, and she gave off a feeling of superiority. I found her kind of obnoxious, actually. Yet, after only three film credits from the late ‘70s, she left acting to labor successfully with charitable organizations, including running the Newman food/non-profit empire. I totally admire the work she has done in this field, which so contradicts the impression she left with me at the screening. IMDB says she’s been making documentaries as writer and producer for the last 20 years or so, winning numerous awards, but oddly does not list any of them. Hmmm. After meeting her, I am glad that her direction turned out well.
[This blog is dedicated to Dennis Concepcion, who loves this film]