Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Where is Beyond Brookledge?

It would be easier to give Dorothy directions to "somewhere over the Rainbow" than to tell someone how to find Beyond Brookledge.  And WHERE is a much easier question to answer than WHAT is Beyond Brookledge?  Those of us, who have been Beyond and come back to tell about it, find the event and/or experience extremely difficult to describe. The task is impossible if explaining to anyone who has not been as far as Brookledge before.
There are no adjectives to describe uniqueness.  To call something unique means there's nothing similar to it. Unique is without comparison or likeness so how do you explain it in words.
Perhaps there is a way to convey the concept of Beyond Brookledge in a more tactical way.  Instead of depicting a  unique moment in time and space let's describe it as a thing.
BB is a living breathing organism of immersive theatrics and a variety of artists entertaining selected guests and themselves with their talents.  Once a year this creature materializes at an old historic Mission in California. For two thousand eight hundred, eighty minutes the beast appears and disappears all over the rambling mission grounds. Each manifestation is a different mystery and emotion portrayed once only for those who know where to be and where to look in that moment.
You meet a lot of people who are with you on the journey. Sometimes you meet the same people more than once.  Performers morph into other characters and assume other roles.  It makes you wonder if anyone is really who they say they are the first time you see them.

Beyond Brookledge is the love and art child  of  BabyTattoo and Magic Castle, and has the characteristics of each its parents. There is magic of course and art of course, but they exist as a seamless package in this monster Beyond. The magician, singer, juggler, comic, clown, sword swallower, ventriloquist, game creator, illustrator, astrologer, sculptor, and comedy dare devil display their skills separately but in concert with each other to create an art project bigger than the sum of its pieces. Think of the blend as colors on a canvas, the notes of a symphony or the dancers in a ballet. 
For the 2800 plus minutes of Beyond Brookledge existence, everything you can imagine is happening and nothing is completely real.

For example, take the Beyond tour of the old Spanish Mission Hotel conducted by two docent guides. Claims that the clock tower is made of Styrofoam, the waiters - Disney animatronics, the Spanish tile floor -  overstocked Costco goods and information that the Mission was actually built in the late 1970's, does not seem to jibe with historic fact about the structure. 
Bob and Erika -
Beyond Brookledge Beast Wranglers
An 11 foot sculpture seems possessed with life as it appears anywhere there is to be a gathering in the Historic Mission Inn.  Considering the old Hotel is a maze of rooms that have no access but steep spiral stair cases, how the huge gothically inspired Monolith gets from place to place is only speculation. Although you occasionally see other performers in costume or with props walking the halls, the Monolith was never seen out and about but always in the next spot where there is to be a performance.
There are planned events, for those in the know, springing up in various areas of the old Mission at almost any time during the 2880 hours. There was a 9:30 AM illusion show performed "flawlessly hung over"  by performers in their pajamas using toasters, bagels, coffee and orange juice as their magic props. If you know the off beat act of Amazing Johnathan or have ever been to a Puddles Pity Party you understand what some of the scheduled shows are like.  But, after hours, in suites surrounding a moonlit roof top courtyard and sometimes in the courtyard itself, impromptu performances continue well into the night.  The Beyond Brookledge Beast never really sleeps.
Singing while escaping the rotunda and

As I left on Sunday after the Beast disappeared into hibernation for another 365 days, I questioned my own reality for a moment.  Having never before been to the the Old Mission Inn and Spa in Riverside, I drove only blocks away when I began to wonder if the place actually existed.  Maybe it was made of styrofoam like the guides said. Perhaps the Beast takes this lair with him when he goes. I was afraid to look back thinking I would surely be turned into a pillar of salt.
Preview of Pity Party. 

I plan to attend next year. (May 19 - 21, 2017)  It will be the fifth anniversary of the Beast's return to the Mission Inn.  I am already planning what I can feed the Beast for its birthday.  I'm not sure if I will be audience or performer next time but it doesn't really matter. I plan to become whatever the Beast needs me to be. At Beyond Brookledge fourth walls do not exist.   If you are lucky enough to attend,  you might or might not see me.  If you do you might or might not know me.
To answer the question "Where is Beyond Brookledge?"  with an enigma , you don't find Beyond Brookledge, it must find you.
As you were,

Sunday, May 15, 2016

High in Hawaii

It was many sunsets before this one but it happened on Maui nonetheless. As I look out on the ocean this time, I remember another Maui day a decade or so ago, a day we decided to go Parasailing.
By "we" I mean me and Sandi, my personal manager Gregg, his wife and brother.  I can't say Parasailing was a bucket list event but it was certainly something to do on a day off.  
Now, I'm not good with heights, in fact walking the rim of the Grand Canyon caused me major psychological issues. The beauty of the landscape could not over come a dizzy feeling in my stomach at the site of the sheer cliffs. It felt like I was falling and just waiting to hit the ground. So I wouldn't normally choose to put myself in that position but peer pressure can sometimes cause you to "do things", and that was certainly the case when I decided to join the group in a Parasailing excursion.   I was also younger then and more highly insured. 
Now before anyone gets all judgmental and reminds me that parasailing is not the same as walking a tight wire across the Grand Canyon, I knew this excursion wouldn't be much more dangerous than a Ferris Wheel ride. Still being a hundred feet up in the air above the shark infested waters of the Maui coast line supported by nothing more than a sling under my butt and a bed sheet over my head was not "nothing" to me. Besides, I don't like Ferris Wheel rides either. 
Now here is the thing about Hawaiian history. When Captain Cook looked like he was going to stay in Hawaii longer than the locals wanted, they killed him and ate him.  Since then the locals have learned that they can make more money out of "Aloha-ing the shit" out of tourist instead of just eating them.  So everything costs tourist dollars and going out on a boat towing a parachute is just one way of commercializing Aloha. 
The parasailing deal was this: the boat ride alone was $25. (That was 1990's dollars I have no idea what it is today).  If you wanted to go up on the parachute, attached to a 100 feet of rope to have a look around for 15 minutes, it cost an additional $25.  Once you got up there and found that you really did enjoy this gull's eye view, the captain of the boat would reel out another 50 feet of rope to take you higher for another 10 minutes... For another $25.  All the captain needed was a signal to know if you wanted to extend your ride and height. Because you would be too high up in the air and too far from the boat to communicate verbally hand signals were established for communication.   
It was a beautifully calm day at sea and it was great to be on the water instead of working in a hotel Ballroom.  The captain sailed fairly far from the coastline, turned off the engine and gave us instructions on how to prepare for becoming a human kite. For those going up on the chute there was a signal for "go higher" (I'll spend another $25) and a signal for "high enough" (I will live to spend the extra $25 another day).  
I was fairly certain that I would choose to go up but being a gentleman (and just a little bit pussy) I said I would go last. Gregg was first and said told the captain no signal would be necessary for him, send him to the 150 feet level for the full time.  This pattern was repeated by his wife and brother, no signals needed.  
Sandi (my darling Bride) is more practical and thrifty. She said she would give the signal to go higher after she evaluated from the 100 foot level if the extra expense was worth the thrill of another 50 feet. It was not long after she got to the first level that she extended both her arms above her head and pointed her fingers to the heavens.  This was the signal that she wanted to go the 150 feet as well. 
After what seemed to a great experience for her, the captain reeled her in and she floated to the deck like the last leaf of fall. 
It is now my turn.  There was a moment when I thought, WHY?  They had their turn, they had fun, they liked it, surely my involvement in the activity would not impact their enjoyment one way or another. That was not the case. They liked it so much, they all wanted me to have the great experience as well.  How could we have a conversation about the trip over cocktails later, if I had no frame of reference? Besides, they said, you only live once, capré diem, excite yourself... Bla Bla Bla... This is the peer pressure part I was referring to earlier. 
I said "why not," and strapped on the nylon contraption that was to be my only connection to the real world.  But using the logic that my wife had come up with, I said I would evaluate the experience once I was there. I would let the captain know if I wanted to extend my height.
At first the sensation is not like you are being lifted very high. It seems more like you are being abandoned at sea. You seem to be standing still as you watch the boat get smaller moving away from you reeling out the 100 foot rope.  This lack of excessive altitude gives me time to carefully consider my decision, so far this is not the terror I thought it might be. From where I sit the rope looks more like a string than a safe tow. I loose site of it before it connects to the boat below and start to rise at the end of this 100 foot thread. I can't recall in this moment who it was that compared this experience to flying a kite, but that is not a good image for me.  As a kid I remember perfectly how my kite would soar up into the air just like I was doing now and suddenly reverse directions and crash head first into the ground.  I held onto the lines that connected the canopy in the hopes they would stay aloft if I suddenly "kited" head first to the ground.  

It seems an eternity up there but it's still not enough time for me to relax and enjoy the view. The one thing I will not do is look down. Suddenly the boat slows and speeds again causing me to change altitude quickly.  It is the captain's way of getting my attention.  It works, I look at the boat hoping to catch one last glimpse of my beautiful wife down below.  It is time... Time for me to declare my intention. Do I stay at that altitude for the rest of the ride or go higher? It wasn't about the money, it wasn't about the peer pressure, it just wasn't going to happen.  I placed my right thumb under my right arm pit, and my left thumb under my left arm pit and flap my elbows, the sign of the chicken.  It was the signal that I did not want to go higher.  
Now I was told that hand signals were needed because verbal communication was not possible at this distance.  However, I distinctly remember hearing, quite clearly, four people, not including my wife, on the deck of a little motor boat making clucking chicken sounds like a barnyard coop.  
I'm no longer with that personal manager.  He and his wife divorced soon after and his brother is now a corporate producer in San Diego who has rarely hired me for work. 
I am, however, still married to Sandi and we just celebrated our 44th anniversary here in Maui last Saturday.  At no time did she even suggest that we go Parasailing this time.
As you were, 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon is the stuff that dreams (and movies) are made of.  According to the Dashiell Hammett story, in 1539 the Knights Templar of Malta paid tribute to Charles V of Spain, by sending him a solid gold Falcon statue encrusted with priceless jewels.  The statue was stolen in route to the King by pirates then painted with black paint to conceal its incredible value.  Since that time the path to gain possession of the treasure has been marked by murder and double cross.
Evolution of the Maltese Falcon..
The 1941 Warner Brothers movie "The Maltese Falcon" is a classic example of Film Noir and part of the equally iconic body of Humphrey Bogart's  work. Bogart holding the "bird" is a familiar image for film buffs.  
In the film the  Falcon statue ends up in the office of Sam Spade, of Spade and Archer private investigators, where it is discovered to be a fake.  At the end of the movie the thieves are off on another trail to find the real Falcon.  Although this is where the movie ends, this is where my Falcon story begins.
Harry Anderson is a major Dashiell Hammett fan.  He named his company Spade and Archer, Limited, and his son Dashiell.  The first time I was invited to Harry's Hollywood apartment decades ago, on his shelf was a replica of the "Maltese Falcon". Like all of the treasured collections of Harry Anderson it had a great story. He told me it was a replica cast from the original Warner Brothers movie prop and sold only at the Mystery Book Store of the Valley, now long gone. Over the years Harry and I have shared various office space together and the Falcon has always been displayed prominently. It is, and always will be integral to the con man image of his Harry the Hat character. 
Then came a television show called "Night Court" where Harry played an eccentric Judge named Harry Stone. The character in "Night Court" was drawn very closely from Harry's stage magician character.  To that degree the set designer wanted to make the Harry Stone office on stage look as close to the real Harry Anderson office as possible. 
I remember when the set designer came over to take pictures of the real Anderson office. There was no way to miss the Maltese Falcon on display. The designer asked if he could use some of Harry's memorabilia as eye wash for the set, the Falcon statue being one item of several requested. Of course Harry said yes.  Although the real office became a little more drab the set was very familiar.  
"Night Court" was a huge hit for NBC and stayed on for 11 years. The size and location of the Anderson office got bigger and better. The Falcon would be in the Anderson office for the summer hiatus and then it would go back to the set of Night Court for the season.  One year Harry decided that he missed having an "office Falcon" during the season so he told props to buy their own Falcon at the Mystery Book store.  That could have been the end of the story but like I said, most everything Harry owns has a great story attached to it.  
When Harry arrived for the beginning of the season that particular year, there was another Falcon statue where it had always been on the set.  But this Falcon was different. Not so much that you could notice on television but it was thinner, much more detailed and beautiful than the replica at the Anderson office. It became obvious to Harry that the one he owned was a casting of a casting of a casting of the original.  With each new casting the sculpting became less detailed and thicker in size.  It was similar but side by side the differences were startling.  
Harry asked if the prop man bought the new Falcon from the book store. The prop guy said, "No I got it from the Prop department here at Warner Brothers." It was a nexus that might have gotten lost.  Night Court was an NBC show shot at, and associated with Warner Brothers Studio, Burbank, CA. The 1941 Film Noir of "The Maltese Falcon" was a Warner Brothers production. You are probably way ahead of me but play along like you don't know what comes next.  
The story goes that Bogart dropped the Falcon statue and broke it in the early days of shooting so they made several back-up Falcons just in case.  Nobody knows how many Falcon statues they used or needed for the film, nor how many the studio kept, but it became obvious to Harry that Warner Brothers still had at least one. The Falcon sitting on the set of the "Night Court" offices was THE prop of the real Maltese Falcon. 
In less than a few days Harry switched the bird on the set with the one at the office to see if anyone would notice.  They didn't. The one currently on the set was the same one that had been there since the start so only the prop man knew for sure. Harry admitted the switch and the prop man who said it would be their secret.  Harry was now in possession of the Real Maltese Falcon.  
It was really beautiful sitting on a shelf of prominence in the Spade and Archer, Limited offices. I used to marvel at it like I was Golum with the ring. I remember the day that Harry returned from the studio to find that I had wiped the dust and smudges off the Falcon to make it shine. Instead of seeing the beauty of my actions, he reminded me that the smudges might have been the finger prints of Bogart and the dust was from Warner Brothers prop storage.  Indeed in my attempt to make it shine I had wiped it clean of any forensic trace evidence of legendary actors. Although my friendship with Harry survived that event, I agreed never to straighten up the office again. However, soon after that the Maltese Falcon got its own pedestal stand with a glass dome keeping the likes of me at a distance.

There came a time when Harry's friend Mel Tormé invited the two of us to Movie night at the Playboy Mansion. Mel wanted Harry to bring the Falcon to show Heff.  During dinner, Mel took the lead on telling Hugh the story of how Harry got the Falcon which was dramatically placed on the table in front of Heffner. He listened intently, dismissed himself from the table and left without a word.  In a few minutes he returned with a Maltese Falcon of his own. He set his on the table next to Harry's and the group of 10 dinner guests carefully examined the two black birds.  There were differences, not many but enough to see they were not exact duplicates. Without the DNA evidence that I had wiped clean the actual authenticity of neither bird could be satisfied that night. 

Cut to the present day...
For Christmas Harry got a 3-D printer.  He has become obsessed with it as much as any toy he has ever owned.  It was only a matter of time before he would scan the original Falcon and print a scale model of it.  There is a picture of one here on the left.  Better than a casting, it is an exact digital copy of the original. But isn't the Falcon all about fraudulent copies.  How would some one really know?

Pedigree and provenance is always difficult to prove with an object of art, especially one originally created as a prop for a movie. What it needs is independent verification from a person whom themselves can be verified as knowledgable and truthful.  In this case the Anderson Falcon tops all others.  During an appearance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Harry told the story of how he was in possession of the real Maltese Falcon.  It was a great story to tell at the Carson couch.  However, Johnny was not persuaded since he had seen the Hugh Heffner statue as well.  It was far from an endorsement of Harry's statue as the actual Falcon.  But it does not end there.
The next night on the Tonight Show as Johnny is signing off for the evening he says, "We have a correction to make. Last night I doubted that Harry Anderson had in his possession the real Maltese Falcon.  Today we got a phone call from the prop man at Warner Brothers Studio who said he had indeed given Harry the original Maltese Falcon. So there you have it. Harry we stand corrected."  
Johnny Carson becomes part of the mystery and the best independent source that Harry has the original Maltese Falcon. These 3-D prints are as close to the original as one can get. 
I have in my possession what we call the "fat Falcon" that was the actual Falcon on the Night Court set. It became famous with its own television history.
As you were,