Thursday, May 2, 2013

Quasimodo, The Riddler, and Me on a Fire Escape

One thing I love about our business is getting to work with stars of my childhood.  In 1998, it was Frank Gorshin, one of the greatest impressionists of an era chock-a-block with them.  His three impressions of Kirk Douglas - young, middle aged, and old - in The Big Story are sublime.  And of course, he is the only Riddler that counts.

I was coming off Redux Riding Hood and looking for a project.  Sharon Morrill, my boss at Disney TVA, was having trouble with the reels of Hunchback 2one of those wretched cash cow direct-to-video sequels.  The script was a paint by numbers dog, the songs Irving Cohen rejects.  But Sharon let me do Redux, she was in a jam, and I'm a loyal sap.  I dove into the Seine after Quasimodo, or in this case, the not quite Seine.

They wanted to recast the villain with a comic actor, someone who could inject some humor into the role.  I suggested Frank Gorshin, and was soon on a jet to New York to record him.  How many times did I see Frank Gorshin on Batman, or The Mike Douglas Show?  And now here he was, waiting for me in an old Manhattan office building.  He shook my hand, and started a conversation, but interrupted himself  "Can I smoke in here?" he asked.

"Balcony." someone said.

Frank invited me to join him, and we walked down a short hallway.  He opened a metal fire door to the 'balcony' - a wrought iron fire escape fifty two stories up. We stepped out, just enough room for two people once you shut the door.   Frank lit up, and there I was, that little kid watching Batman on the floor of the TV room, standing toe to toe, literally, with The Riddler on a rusty fire escape 520 feet above Manhattan. 

Making small talk under these circumstances was a bit challenging.  I remember thinking, "What if he pushed me off this fire escape?"  I knew he wouldn't do it.  Probably not anyway.  But what if he did?  Or what if the wrought iron gave way?  I wonder where we'd land? If someone throws this door open, it could knock me right off.  Oh shit, I'm not saying anything.  Say something.  Don't talk about the Riddler, he might hate that, then you'll have a pissed off Riddler standing close enough to bite your nose off.  He probably wouldn't do that, but just don't mention The Riddler.    

"I used to watch you in The Kopycats." I said, pulling one out of me arse.  His face lit up.  He loved doing that show, though it was only on for one season.  He seemed happy that someone remembered.  Just as we were bonding the door opened, whacking me square in the back.  If not for the monkey grip I had on the rail, this story would have a different ending.  And a different author.  A woman behind the door apologized for nearly killing me and told us they were ready to start the session.

Frank delivered, but Sharon and her toadies were less thrilled.  They somehow thought  he could take their straight, dull, stock villain dialog and create a character as memorable as The Riddler.  When I reminded them that there was: A) No humor in the character as written, and B) Only one four hour recording session to do all his dialog,  I only succeeded in antagonizing them.

Ultimately, Uberboss Eisner's beef was not with Gorshin's performance.  He didn't like the story and didn't like the songs.  Who was to blame?  The guy not invited to the meeting: me.  It wasn't The Riddler who shoved me off the fire escape, it was Quasimodo.


Gorshin voices three Kirk Douglas-es in David Toten and Tim Watts' BAFTA winning The Big Story.
A pencil test of the short is below....

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