You’re probably wondering why such a strange title? There’s a reason. Let’s take it one step at a time, starting with My Dick.
When I was twelve or thirteen years old, my family was living in Westchester County, a bedroom suburb north of New York City. My father, a musician who had morphed into the lucrative 1950s advertising business, was a producer of TV commercials at a boutique TV production company in New York’s west side. It mainly consisted of a director, producer, and a “best boy,” who oversaw a staff of drivers, lighting , sound and camera technicians.
That best boy was a canny young man dedicated to learning the craft of filmmaking. His name was Dick Scwartzberg, a twenty-something year old kid from the Bronx.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the 50s, it was a time of post war prosperity, materialism, parties and the legendary advertising world of “Madison Avenue” (the TV show Mad Men mirrored these times). As such, my parents were living this life-model and occasionally hosted dinner parties, often consisting of colleagues and some of the talent featured in TV commercials that my father had produced. The canny young Dick Schwartzberg would often be present at these gatherings. He was outgoing, affable, entertaining, good looking; quite the party animal. Of course, Dick saw these socials as a chance to network and further his career ambitions.
Dick would spend much time at our house as my brother, sister and I grew up. I thought Dick was very cool because he had a sports car, an MG-A, black with red bucket seats. Often he would take me for rides and we’d boot around our town. I always hoped some of my friends, especially girls, would see me in his really cool car. My little sister had a different take on Dick. She loved the attention he bestowed on her practically from birth. She loved (like adored) this charismatic young man. She’d go crazy when he came to visit.
At some of my parent’s parties I’d sit on the stairs, out of site, and listen to some of the uproarious laughing from the jokes by sometimes guest Monte Hall (later emcee of TV show Let’s Make A Deal). Schwartzberg, always the fun guest, would often chime in with several of his own funnies and crack up everybody. On these party nights my sister and brother would most always be sequestered to bed early, but one night, knowing that Dick was there, my mother brought the kids downstairs to be introduced to the guests. As a five or six year old, my little sister was shy, clinging to my mother’s skirt for those few moments of introduction…until she saw the love of her life, Dick Schwartzberg! She exploded with unbrideled joy, ran to him screaming at the top of her lungs, “My Dick, My Dick!” The room went crazy laughing…until Dick stepped in, quelled the laughter and saved my mother’s embarrassment.
In addition to being clever and cool, Dick had a bigger agenda than working in a TV production studio. He soon departed New York, headed for Hollywood and changed his name to Richard Donner.
The Hollywood Movie Director
While in California, Richard kept in touch with my parents. He told us he was sharing an apartment with Ronnie Burns, comedian George Burns’ son, who had a black Corvette! This really blew my mind (I was 15 at the time and drooling for my driver’s license – and a Corvette).
I can only guess, and it’s a long shot, that Richard made some effective connections in the TV business in California through my father’s company plus some of his clever networking , which really paid off. In time he’d get to direct many television shows, including episodes of Route 66, Have Gun Will Travel, The Rifleman, Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Streets of San Francisco plus many others.
In 1976 he landed the directorship of feature films, including The Omen, Superman and “Superman II, the “Lethal Weapon” series, “The Goonies” and many other Hollywood moneymakers. (There’s now a Richard Donner star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – my parents were exceedingly proud of the “Best Boy.”)
Throughout the years, Richard remained sporadically in contact with my family despite his hectic Hollywood life. He even visited us in Toronto when he was doing a shoot nearby.
Why all this this info? Well, sometime in the 90s, when my wife Margaret and I were staying with friends in the Hollywood Hills, I thought I’d give Donner a call to give him my family’s regards. He said, “Larry, come over tonight. Have dinner with us and then we’ll watch a film.” Wow, that sounded cool. Donner also lived in the Hills. Our hosts were thrilled at the invite and said that we could borrow their car, a silver Mercedes Benz, to travel in style.
The Silver Mercedes Benz
Donner’s house was at the very end of a very long and circuitous road which took us to the very highest point in the Hills. To my consternation there were a dozen or so cars parked at his cul-de-sac. Richard had said to ring the buzzer at the huge gate fronting his house and to pay careful attention to his instructions when the gate swung opened. The instructions were to walk slowly to a thick painted line just inside the gate, not to cross for any reason and wait for him to come out. That reason was that two ginormous Dobermans were standing behind that line looking very hungrily at us. Richard came out, blew a whistle, and the dogs vanished.
The (amazing) house was full of people (we thought it would just be a causal evening with Richard, his wife Lauren, Margaret and myself). There were a number of people drinking and chatting away. Richard was kind enough to introduce us to a few people. Margaret thought she saw a gentleman who looked vaguely familiar – she thought it must be some actor’s double or stunt man. Sometime thereafter this fellow sidled over to her, extended his hand and said, “hi, I’m Charlie (the Charles Bronson!), and what is your name?” He was most interested in our connection with Richard. We also got talking with Gary Busey (The Buddy Holly Story, Lethal Weapon) who told us that he often worked in and enjoyed Toronto. We chatted for a while until Donner announced over the house PA system that dinner was served. A wall electrically slid open to reveal a Japanese feast in a dining room overlooking the most breathtaking view of Hollywood below. A photo op for sure but I knew it would be really uncool to have packed a camera. After dinner we were shepherded into his home theatre to watch a Billy Wilder film that was recently completed and not yet released (I forgot the title).
After the movie, as people were about to leave, Richard announced over the PA, “who owns the silver Mercedes, it’s blocking a car?” Holy shit! I had the silver Mercedes. I stood up and said “I’ll move it right away…but 5 or so others also got up to move their silver Mercs, including Gary Busey, with whom we had been chatting. Boy, did I feel important, leaving to move MY Mercedes with the other Donner-important-Hollywood-silver-Merc-owners.
So, thank you Dick Schwartzberg for working for my father. Thank you for becoming Richard Donner. Thank you for inviting Margaret and I over to your hilltop mansion and thank you to our friends who loaned us their silver Mercedes.
Ya never know who you’ll meet up with and bump into, driving a silver Mercedes in Hollywood.
It’s all in this book; you’ll come to know the fascinating jet propelled life of a Hollywood movie director.