The Hollywood Film Director and The Silver Mercedes

Some background: In the 50s, my father was in the film production business. A young and ambitious Richard Donner was hired as a “gofer.” Donner eventually learned the trade and up and moved to Hollywood to seek fortune and fame as a film director.

While he was working for my father, Richard would spend much time at our house in Larchmont. I thought Richard 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 Larchmont. I always hoped some of my friends, especially girls, would see me in his really cool car.

In Hollywood, Richard got 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 the late 70s onward he landed the directorship of several feature films, including Lost Boys, The Omen, Superman and “Superman II, the “Lethal Weapon” series, “The Goonies” and many other Hollywood money-makers. (There’s now a Richard Donner star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – my parents were exceedingly proud of the “Gofer.”)

Flash forward: 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, the kid from Larchmont, 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 to the “Hollywood director’s” in style.

Donner’s house was at the very end of a very long and circuitous road which took us to the very highest and exclusive point in the Hollywood Hills. To my consternation there were a dozen or so cars parked at his private 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.

His 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 me, “the kid from Larchmont” and my wife to a few people. Among the Hollywood elite, actors, producers, etc (some well known but not cool to approach unless introduced by Richard), Margaret thought she saw a gentleman who looked vaguely familiar looking at her – 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 (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, etc.) who told us that he often worked in and enjoyed Toronto (our current hometown). 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 huge patio 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.

After moving my silver Mercedes out of the way so Gary Busey could depart, we got to chatting about films and music and realized that he and my wife knew several people in common. A great unpretentious man and a great conversation.

So, thank you Richard Donner for working for my father. Thank you for becoming a successful Hollywood director. 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 or bump into, driving a silver Mercedes in Hollywood.

Richard’s bio pictured above, “You’re the Director, You figure It Out, The Life and Films of Richard Donner.” You’ll come to know the fascinating jet propelled life of a Hollywood movie director.

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