Have I Ever Told Ya About The COOLEST Movie Project I Ever Got To Work On But Never Got Made?

When I’m not tilting at windmills here or on Twitter, I write movies and screenplays. And a book (which I’m now agent-shopping by the way…).

I’m going out as we speak with a huge TV series called City Of Angels — the story of how Los Angeles became “Los Angeles” starting in 1906 (and then going decade by decade telling the almost completely true, completely insane story of Los Angeles — a city like no other on the planet). There’s a reason noir was invented in LA.

The first season (running from 1906 – 1910) ends as the film business arrives on the scene. The rest of the first season tells the stories of William Mulholland, Edward Doheny, Griffith J. Griffith, Virginia Rappe, Roscoe Arbuckle, William Randolph Hearst and Ricardo Flores Magon — the intellectual architect of the Mexican Revolution (which was planned in large part in Los Angeles) among many, many others.

But I digress… A project I worked on eons ago — that I thought was dead — showed signs of life tonight — and I am thrilled. And I needed to shout about it a little — if only because it’s such a cool project and doesn’t deserve to die in total obscurity.

My wife and my therapist are asleep so — it’s gonna have to be “you”.

My friend Roger Harrison got the idea for “Cousins”. Roger’s an amazing producer with a great eye for material. For instance — Roger found, developed, backed and produced the musical “Louis & Keely Live AT The Sahara”. Roger wanted to put together a concert for charity. That concert would have reunited three great boogie-woogie piano players who also happen to be cousins.

These three men — their story is absolutely true — were all born in 1935 in Ferriday, Louisiana and all three cousins grew up in a swirling gumbo of music (blues coming up from the delta, hillbilly coming from the Ozarks, gospel coming from everywhere else), religion (hard core, fire-breathing Assemblies Of God fundamentalism that believes absolutely in heaven and especially hell) and family dynamics as only happens there in Louisiana.

They became three very successful men. One became country star Mickey Gilley (whose gigantic roadhouse bar Gilley’s was the setting for “Urban Cowboy“. The next became famed-but-twice-fallen-from-grace televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. And the last became rock n roll’s “killer” — Jerry Lee Lewis.

They’re all first cousins. Jerry Lee and Jimmy are first cousins on both their mothers’ AND their fathers’ sides — cos it’s Louisiana.

Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart are flip sides of a very twisted coin. Both men envy the hell out of each other. They love each other but cannot (as of the last time I was involved with the story) stand each other. There are “issues”, shall we say.

Standing between these two men is their other cousin Mickey. Mickey genuinely loves his two cousins and wants them to reconcile. That is what the movie’s about — Mickey’s failed attempt to reconcile his two famous but ornery cousins — told against the backdrop of their larger story (what formed them all and caused their estrangement).

Running through it all is a shitload of incredible roots music — everything the three cousins were listening to and inspired by.

I was lucky enough to spend time with Mickey who shared a lot of wonderful stories and insights about his two cousins and what made them all tick. It was a window (in addition to my own research) into an amazing world. I didn’t get to talk to Jerry Lee or Jimmy. I had always hoped that, had the project moved further along, I could soften up Jimmy; I was told to forget about talking to Jerry Lee. Just as well — it was Jimmy Swaggart who I most wanted to talk to. I still want to sit down with that guy if I can.

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to judge Jimmy in any way. I want to tell his story. I want the audience to understand what it was like to be him — to be groomed from the age of five to be a preacher — to be this “character” outside of who he really was. He had to start doing that before he even knew who the hell he was — and the character he had to play was a denial of half the things he felt. It was impossible not to be damaged by this.

Jimmy, Jerry Lee and Mickey were all excellent boogie-woogie piano players. But early on, something touched Jerry Lee. He was always the wild one, taking risks. He attributed his talent and success to a deal he said he’d made with the devil. He claimed that when he was 6 or 7, he was playing outside the sharecropper shack of a young black playmate when he heard Robert Johnson’s voice — singing “Terraplane Blues” — coming from the Victrola inside the shack. Jerry Lee asked his friend about the man on the record.

His young friend explained (his daddy had told him, he said) that the man playing the guitar and singing — Robert Johnson — made a deal with the devil just so he could sound like that. Jerry Lee, in his head, made the exact same deal. Jerry Lee got early fame and it was huge. Though his penchant for marrying young cousins brought him back to earth again, Jerry Lee remained one of the essential gods of early rock.

No one resented that fact more than Jimmy Swaggart. Jimmy wanted every last bit of Jerry Lee’s fame. But, on the flip side, Jerry Lee wanted something that Jimmy had. Jerry Lee envied Jimmy the relationship he had with their idea of god more than the relationship he had with their idea of god. That’s literally what Jerry Lee envied.

Jimmy pointedly judged Jerry Lee for every one of his failings. When Jimmy Swaggart fell from grace — he got caught with prostitutes not once but twice (never mind what he did or didn’t do with them) — Jerry Lee did not get his cousin’s back. He never called to lend any support whatsoever — and that failure was duly noted.

Like I said — flip sides of one very twisted coin. And in the middle of them — find Mickey — a very good man who just wants everyone to get along.

Hope in the film-TV business is a dubious thing. It’s like setting yourself up for failure — hoping about a project. In my mind, “Cousins” was never going to happen. That it most likely still won’t is the status quo.

That it might could find a home (the money) at, say, a Netflix (not a possibility because it didn’t exist when we first started working on the project eons ago) or other streaming service — well, that’s reason for genuine hope. In this town, “No” means “not this second but, if circumstances change, ask again”. And “No” doesn’t mean what you have isn’t worth a fortune.

William Goldman’s maxim — “Nobody Knows Anything” — is eternal. Don’t forget: every single studio in Hollywood said “No” to George Lucas when he pitched “Star Wars”. When Fox finally gave in and ponied up the dough for production, they thought so little of their investment that they gave Lucas 100% of the film’s merchandising.

That chunk of change is now called LucasFilm, LucasArts and Industrial Light & Magic.

Anything can happen. The trick is getting the words under the right noses. And therein lies another Hollywood tale — I sincerely hope.

An Atheists Terrible Confession: I LOVE Televangelists…

As anyone who’s read me (or read my bio) knows — I’m not just an atheist, I’m a devout atheist.  I’m not hostile toward religion — because that seems pointless to me — in part because it’s not religion that’s the problem, it’s the silly people who take it unquestioningly to their breasts.  The moment you hang up your ability (or willingness or determination) to critically analyze everything before ‘consuming it’, they’ve got you.

‘Eat this because I say so and because I say it’s good for you,’ is a death sentence.

Among the things America has always been great for, it seems, is religious hucksterism.  I guess that along with all the other people coming here to reinvent themselves there are and were the Religious Con Men.  Not all of them know they’re con men but they are.  They’re all pitching the same nonsensical con that has NOTHING whatsoever to do with Jesus or anything Jesus might have said (as opposed to all those AROUND Jesus — like Paul — who had their own motives and — boring in on  Paul now — a towering ego).

Look at how many ‘Newfangled Religions’ have sprung from American minds:  “Mormonism” & “Scientology” leap immediately to mind.  Wonderful but fraudulent creations (hey — a ‘good story’s’ a good story — I may not like either story but other people have loved them so what the hell do I know?)

And even the way Americans ’embraced’ their Protestant Christianity was distinctly ‘Newfangled’.  From Southern Baptists to Prosperity Gospel-ites — American Christians have taken Christianity to places Jesus never imagined.  Cos Jesus wasn’t out to make a buck and rule the world.

And even among THAT group of phonies, liars, cheats and hypocrites, only a select few have risen to Bullshit’s Truest Heights.  Guys (mostly but not exclusively) who pitch Bullshit with True Artistry.  They are Grand Masters of Fraud.  To this humble atheist’s mind — they are, in fact, ‘SuperSalesmen For Christ’.

Too bad the Christ they’re selling has ZERO to do with Jesus or anything Actual Jesus said.  What they’re selling — and this is WHY I love them so — is their own ‘GODHEAD’.  Each and every one of em, down deep, believes THEY are GOD and should be ‘WORSHIPED’ accordingly.  Don’t believe me?  Look at their houses and jets and offices and, worst of all, THEIR CHURCHES.

Those aren’t ‘Temples to Do Unto Others’, they’re Self-Perpetuating TITHING FACTORIES.

Hope you brought cash, Pilgrims — your check simply will not do.  And we already know how your ‘credit’ is…

Ken Copeland
Kenneth Copland – Over-emoting Again – Like The Pro He Is…

Joel Osteen
Joel Osteen – ‘A God’ in the Pantheon of Religious Frauds

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Reverend Jerry Falwell – Taking Hypocrisy Places It Never DREAMED It Could Go…

But, among Televangelists, several sit closest to the Fire inside my head.  First — the Televangelist who ‘took my televangelist cherry’:  The Long Gone but nowhere near forgotten (by me):  KATHERYN KUHLMAN (1907 – 1976)…

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Kathryn Kuhlman:  I dare you NOT to get swayed by a Master of The Art of Selling Jesus

Just watch the first 90 seconds.  You’ll get it.  You’ll get ‘her’.

 

Another Master — Of The ‘Healing’ Con.  PT Barnumm-class Showmanship all mashed up with Bernie Madoff-class Corruption — BENNY HINN!

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 ‘BAM! You’re HEALED’!  BAM! You’re Full Of Shit!

And then there’s THIS GUY — My Ultimate Favorite — Cos I actually empathize with the poor guy.  In spite of EVERYTHING.  I won’t go into it here but — I’ve been working on a Feature Script about this guy forever.

Yes, Jimmy Swaggart has been a hypocrite.  Been caught at it spectacularly not once but TWICE.  And yet risen, like a Phoenix, anew both times.  It’s either the Power of Jesus (not buying it) or the Power of Ego.  Yeah — I’m buying.  Want my credit card # now?

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Judge Not Jimmy Swaggart Unless Ye Really KNOW Jimmy Swaggart… You’ll still want to judge him but maybe a little less harshly…

Uh oh — seeing all those faces just gave me a flash of Divine Inspiration.  I’m thinking TRADING CARDS!  T-Shirts n Coffee Mugs!

How about that — I’m saved!  Thank you, Jesus!  Where did you say to send the check?