Friday, 29 March 2013

Sam Irvin Award Winning Film And Television Producer


I am hugely honoured and privileged to have Hollywood film director, televison producer , screen writer, author and lecturer, Sam Irvin as my guest today.
Thank you so much Sam for taking the time to answer my questions and for sharing a part of your self, not just with me but with all who read this post.

It is a my pleasure, Fiona. Thank you so much for your interest and support.

Movies & televison

After I read your biography on Wikipedia. I felt it was almost your destiny to become a director in Hollywood. You have certainly travelled an amazing journey.
Are you still living the dream? Is there more you feel you want to conquer?

I'm always dreaming up a thousand projects I want to conquer, so yes, absolutely, I am living the dream. Of course, the trick is to get at least a one of those dreams to become reality. My next project is directing the first season of six episodes of FROM HERE ON OUT, a sitcom for the premium gay cable network, here! TV. In the same way that 30 ROCK spoofed what goes on behind the scenes at NBC making a show like SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, our series FROM HERE ON OUT is a behind the scenes spoof about making a low-budget gay spy series at here! TV. The scripts are hilarious and we go into production this summer (of 2013).


I recently read your book Kay Thompson Funny Face To Eloise. I have to say it totally blew me away. I felt in some ways that unless you were in Hollywood/showbusiness most folk wouldn't really know who Kay Thompson was. I actually felt as a woman I had been denied what I perceived Kay Thompson to be, which is an icon for women almost to the point of feminism. She was so ahead of her time. Do you think that because of the era that she lived in that she was actually Hollywood's best kept secret?

Kay was the best kept secret in movies, TV, nightclubs, records, fashion, and children's books. Her influence had no boundaries -- yet very few people were aware of her astounding accomplishments. Part of the reason for that is because, as a women a man's world in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, she was rarely given the credit she deserved. But, she also frequently performed tasks that were deliberately kept quiet. Major stars like Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Noël Coward, Marlene Dietrich, Lucille Ball, Ethel Merman, Bette Davis, Lena Horne, Andy Williams, and Liza Minnelli don't like to advertise that they need a vocal coach or someone to guide their every move. Kay was very often on the sidelines, pulling the invisible strings.

I believe from what I read in your book, Kay Thompson was quite a hit here in the UK, which included a Royal fan base. Would you like to elaborate on that?

Well, the best way to answer that question is to excerpt a passage from my book about the time that Kay Thompson and her nightclub act (featuring three male backup singer-dancers) first took the UK by storm in 1950...
After a gig in Paris was cut short by poor attendance, Thompson and her trio moved on to London to reopen the Café de Paris (off London’s Piccadilly Circus) on August 28, 1950.
“Besides being the first cabaret artiste at the Café de Paris after the war,” wrote historian Charles Graves, “Kay Thompson was the first to be labeled as receiving a salary of one thousand pounds a week [$2,800].”
The money was low, but so was the workload—just six midnight shows per week, Sundays off. In addition to the usual parade of stars, members of the royal family showed up, including Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret.
“The reception in London was very big,” recalled George Martin (one of Kay's backup singer-dancers). “Big, big, big! They loved Kay. And business was terrific. Complete opposite of Paris.”
The powerful American newspaper columnist Walter Winchell called her “The Toast of Piccadilly,” noting that “Kay Thompson’s London notices were practically love-letters.” The duration of the run expanded from three weeks to six.
Cecil Beaton, one of the world’s most celebrated designers and photographers, was assigned by British Vogue to capture Thompson’s elusive mystique for a spread in its November issue. “One of the misfortunes about being a card manipulator is that nobody can ever write about you,” Beaton recalled. “I feel much the same way about Kay Thompson, whose magic is similarly incommunicable . . . The facts about her are that she sings and prances in cabaret between Los Angeles and Istanbul; that she is skeletal, hatchet-faced, blonde and American; that she wears tight, tapering slacks, and moves like a mountain goat . . . The proper language in which to review her is not English at all but Esperanto. Or possibly Morse code.”
While in London, Kay rented a place near Noël Coward’s 17 Gerald Road apartment and took an immediate liking to his local entourage, led by his thirty-two-year-old lover, Graham Payn, and his confidant-biographer, Cole Lesley.
“She had a flat round the corner at Chesham Place,” noted Cole Lesley, “came at weekends to White Cliffs [Coward’s seaside home at the White Cliffs of Dover] and as good as lived with us at Gerald Road where she flew to the piano to improvise and compose and ate nothing except very thin slices of bread burnt black, piled thick with Tiptree jam.”
Kay fell in love with London and returned often to perform at the Cafe de Paris. She also wrote songs for two hit UK shows: The Lyric Revue (1951) and The Globe Revue (1952-1954), both featuring Graham Payn.
When Kay's Eloise books were published in England, she was brought over for a very nigh-profile publicity tour in 1958. Here is an excerpt about that...
Lagging one year behind their respective American release dates, Kay Thompson's Eloise books were being published in the United Kingdom by Max Reinhardt, Ltd. (no relation to the Austrian director). The first book had become a huge bestseller on British soil, and, according to historian Judith Adamson, it had gotten an “enthusiastic” endorsement from Queen Elizabeth, who “had read the book to her children”—nine-year-old Prince Charles and seven-year-old Princess Anne.
Anticipation was building to a fever pitch for Eloise in Paris, due to be launched in the UK on October 6, 1958. So, when Reinhardt invited Thompson to come to England for an all-expense-paid publicity tour, she readily accepted—especially since the trip would conveniently double as research for Eloise in London.
Media coverage of Kay’s advent rivaled a papal visitation. With the blessing of Buckingham Palace, the Foreign Secretary of Great Britain, Baron Selwyn-Lloyd, was dispatched to London Airport for a ceremonial greeting amid a phalanx of paparazzi and gawkers. One of Selwyn-Lloyd’s bodyguards was assigned to protect Thompson from the waiting mob.
Amid an explosion of flashbulbs, Kay joked, “I love this hick town!”
Then she was whisked via Rolls-Royce motorcade to the Savoy, where, dressed to kill in black Dior, she held court at a press conference in the illustrious Lancaster Ballroom—site of the 1953 Coronation Ball for Queen Elizabeth.
Tirelessly, Thompson toured stores in and around London for book signings and readings. Merchants created elaborate displays with Eloise dolls, bottles of French champagne, extra-long loaves of French bread, and live petting exhibits for Eloise's pet, Skipperdee the Turtle.
Kay also did a slew of radio and television shows. The most prestigious was on October 8, 1958, when she appeared on the live debut broadcast of Riverside One (BBC-TV), a top-drawer variety show produced by British showman Francis Essex and regularly hosted by actress Margaret Lockwood (star of Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes). Sharing the guest roster with actor Trevor Howard and several others, Kay performed her nightclub staple “I Love a Violin” and her Top 40 hit “Eloise.”
“Kay was the most expensive guest we had on the entire series, by a wide margin,” Francis Essex related in 2008. “I still have the cost reports right here, which show that I paid Trevor Howard £262 [U.S. $733] for his appearance; Margaret Lockwood, the regular host, was paid £210 [U.S. $588] per show; and all the other guests that first week were paid around £190 [U.S. $532]—except for one person: Kay Thompson. She cost me £750 [U.S. $2,100] off my budget! Kay was in a class by herself.”
Having succumbed to Thompson’s chicanery, Brits were simply head over heels for Eloise, with the venerable London Times jointly placing Eloise and Eloise in Paris among its “Top 10 Literary Pleasures of 1958.” The newspaper’s year-end round-up declared, “For sophisticated amusement they cannot be easily bettered.”
At the end of her British tour, Kay wrote in TV Times (the British equivalent of TV Guide), “I am going to swoosh back to America with strict instructions from my publishers to write Eloise in London, which will be great fun.” According to her preliminary notes, Eloise was destined to cross paths with Nanny’s brother, “a bobby in Piccadilly Circus.”
Unfortunately, her American publisher convinced her to postpone writing Eloise in London so she could do Eloise in Moscow instead. When the Moscow book didn't sell as well as the first three Eloise books, Kay got discouraged and put all Eloise projects on hold. But her love of London never subsided and she often returned there for visits.

The Kay Thompson biography and the Eloise children's books, which Kay Thompson wrote and Hilary Knight illustrated, I think, are the most marketable products I have seen in the book world for a long time. This is purely from the point of view of an avid reader and a mother to a little girl who is an Eloise in the making herself. I could see these books being very popular here in the UK. Have you ever been to the UK and promoted the whole Kay Thompson /Eloise package? Would that be something you would consider in the future?

I adore London but I haven't been there is many years. If I could get someone to foot the bill for the expenses, I would love to promote my Kay Thompson book there. Any ideas? For a UK label called Sepia Records (owned and operated by the wonderful Richard Tay), I produced and annotated a 3-CD set called THINK PINK! A KAY THOMPSON PARTY featuring 75 tracks of Kay Thompson's music and comedy recordings. So, between the book and the CD set, there would be plenty to promote!

I feel you caught a remarkable piece of history and many women reading the book, would become fascinated by Kay Thompson's remarkable life. From a writer's point of view, your passion in writing the book along with the extraordinary story, captivates the reader. What made you write Kay Thompson's biography? And did you expect to uncover some of the amazing information about this women's life that you did?

My mother and my two older sisters introduced the Eloise books to me when I was very young, so Kay Thompson had a seminal influence over my childhood. Just like Eloise, I wanted to live in The Plaza in New York, have the run of the hotel, and order room service. When I got older, I saw the movie FUNNY FACE and was blown away by this cyclone of a woman who was the fashion magazine editor and opened the movie with her anthem "Think Pink!" When I discovered that this was Kay Thompson, the very same lady who had written the Eloise books, I was hooked. I had to know more about her -- but there wasn't much out there. No books had been written about her. But, every time I found out something new about this remarkable woman, it was always some jaw-dropping accomplishment that, incredibly, was not common knowledge. After she died in 1998, I decided it was high time somebody wrote a book about this unsung heroine -- and I was the one with the passion to do it. So I started the project as a hobby. Had I known then that it would take 10 years of research and over 200 interviews with her friends and colleagues, I would have been too intimidated to get started. My naivete served me well. The project just grew and grew from there until it took on a life of its own, like a runaway train that I couldn't stop until it was done. Obsession is another word for it -- and I am guilty as charged.

The Eloise books are just simply divine and totally enchanting. Is there any chance in the near future that Kay Thompson Funny Face To Eloise alongside the Eloise books which are currently all available on Amazon, will ever be available in paperback here in the UK? Say in department stores around about Christmas? I'm living in hope!

From your lips to Godzilla. That would be very nice. Contact your local bookstores in the UK and urge them to do just that!

After reading the book I actually felt I wanted more and the first thing I looked for was a movie about this woman's life. Unfortunately I wasn't able to find anything. Will there ever be one?

A movie about Kay Thompson is one of my dreams that I hope will someday come true. Conventional wisdom among the powers-that-be in Hollywood is that Kay Thompson is not well-known enough, but I think if a bankable movie star decided she was born to play Kay Thompson, they'd listen.

Which actress would you choose to play the role of Kay Thompson?
After just seeing actress Helen Mirren's performance in Hitchcock, don't you think she would make a fantastic Kay Thompson? I know she's British but she's very versatile!

Helen Mirren would be exquisite! She's brilliant in everything she does. So, next time you see her, slip a copy of the book under her arm.

A favourite paragraph of mine in the book is your quote from celebrated Science Fiction author Ray Bradbury whom Kay helped launch his career.
"I was in love with the suspense program" Bradbury recalled. "I was publishing stories in Weird Tales and various other pulp magazines, which gave me the courage to make up a package of short stories and mail them to Bill Spier." In April 1946, Bradbury got a call to come for a meeting at the Spiers home in Bel Air. "When I rang the doorbell," Bradbury explained, "the person who answered the door was an explosion named Kay Thompson. She welcomed me like an old friend because she had read my short stories, too, and she thought they were terrific. I was in love instantly. She dragged me in to the living room, sat me down, and brought me a glass of wine, so we were off to a great start".
Before Bill arrived, Kay and Ray had time for a little chitchat. "I knew that she was occasionally doing choreography for Judy Garland (in Ziegfeld Follies, which had just opened that month). We discussed that just a little bit but she mainly wanted to know about me, which was very nice. She made me feel like I'd been established for a lifetime. That was part of her character. She was always outsized-the grand gesture, the overstatement-but sincere. It was not fake. Her enthusiasm was so wonderful and it certainly didn't hurt because when Bill finally joined us, he ended up buying one story at that first meeting." The acquisition was Kay's favourite, "And so Died Riabouchinska," a chilling murder mystery about a vaudeville ventriloquist and his dummy, and it proved to be the lucky break that launched Bradbury's prolific career in movies, television, and books.

Yes, leave it to a brilliant writer like Ray Bradbury to come up with the perfect word to describe Kay Thompson: an explosion!


After achieving for yourself such a wonderful career, what advice would you give to any aspiring writers, artists?
The advice I always give is to never give up. If you are truly passionate about your art, nothing can stand in your way. A young aspiring actor once said to me, "I want to come to Hollywood and try my luck at being an actor. I'll give it two years and if it doesn't work out, then I'll go back home and get a regular job." My advice to him was, "Don't bother. If you are not passionate enough to commit to a lifetime, then you're in the wrong business. Save yourself the trouble and get that regular job now." Tough love, but it's the truth.

Thank you so much for your time Sam.
Thank you very much, Fiona! Please invite your readers to explore my Kay Thompson Website featuring hundreds of pages of exclusive, free material that I couldn't fit into the book!
Cheers! Sam
Sam Irvin, through his tireless devotion, was able to document an incredible piece of history, the life of iconic Kay Thompson.
I came to the conclusion after reading the book that Kay Thompson played a key role in making film and the arts an integral part of our lives in todays society. She mentored and coached the biggest names in show business, Garland, Monroe, Sinatra and many, many more and in return those stars paved the way to make Hollywood what it is today.
It is to writers like Sam Irvin that we owe a debt of gratitude, we need to say thanks. Without  his years of research and his meticulous documentation we would have otherwise never have known just what an incredible influence Kay Thompson was in an industry that many of us take for granted. Sam Irvin is an inspiration to all writers. and I believe he deserves the highest accolade. We must never forget the wonderful people who were here before us because without their contributions we would never have evolved into what we have acheived in the Arts here in the twenty first century and long may it continue.

Thank you so much for dropping by. I hope you have enjoyed this post it is definitely one I will truly always treasure. 

Listed below is Sam Irvin's biography from wikapedia


Sam Irvin was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina. In 1964, when he was eight years old, Irvin went on a family trip to California where he was able to tour various movie studios. At Warner Brothers, he watched an elaborate sequence being filmed for Blake Edwards's The Great Race starringTony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Natalie Wood. In a giant water tank on a sound stage, Irvin watched with wide eyes as a nighttime storm scene unfolded, featuring antique cars floating across the Bering Strait on icebergs.[citation needed] From that moment on, he decided he wanted to direct movies.[citation needed] Commandeering his father's Super 8mm home movie camera, Irvin directed numerous horror movie shorts, including one starring his younger brother, Tim, as Dracula wearing a black beach towel for a cape, plastic fangs, and lots of ketchup.[citation needed]
Like the young boy in Cinema Paradiso, Irvin spent much of his youth in movie theaters. His grandfather, Warren Irvin, was the district manager for Wilby-Kincey Theaters, a chain of cinemas throughout the Southeast. And his father, Sam Irvin Sr., co-owned Irvin-Fuller Theaters, a competing chain with cinemas in North and South Carolina. During his youth, Irvin worked in these theaters in every capacity, from popping popcorn to tearing tickets to organizing horror movie kiddie matinees (with an emphasis on Vincent Price, Roger Corman, and Hammer Films). Later, during his college years, he worked for Irvin-Fuller Theaters as its Advertising and Publicity Manager, spearheading a record-breaking year-long run of Silver Streak starringGene Wilder and Richard Pryor at the Gamecock Cinema in Columbia, South Carolina.
As a teenager, he edited and published four annual issues of Bizarre (1972–75), a fanzine on fantasy, horror and science fiction films, for which he twice traveled to England to conduct in-person interviews with the likes of Vincent Price, Christopher Lee (on the set of the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun), Peter Cushing, Diana Rigg, Ingrid Pitt, Jane Seymour, Joan Collins, Terence Fisher, Freddie Francis, and Sir James Carreras and his son, Michael Carreras (of Hammer Film Productions), among many others. (See retrospective 13-page spread on the history of Bizarre in Richard Klemensen's Little Shoppe of Horrors, issue number 27, October 2011.)
In 1978, Irvin graduated from the University of South Carolina with a Bachelor of Arts in Media Arts. While attending the university, he was the film critic for The Gamecock, the campus newspaper, and won a student film award for his thesis short film. He was also chairman of the University of South Carolina Film Committee that ran a year-round cinema program at the campus theater.
During his summer break in 1977, Irvin interned on the Chicago location shooting for Brian De Palma’s The Fury starring Kirk Douglas, John Cassavetes, Amy Irving and Charles Durning. He worked on the feature as a production assistant and extra, and also wrote a journal on the making of the movie that was published in Cinefantastique magazine, Vol. 7, No. 2, 1978. Irvin also conducted an exclusive interview with Amy Irving in which, for the first time anywhere, she discussed her relationship with Steven Spielberg; it was published in Cinefantastique, Vol 6, No. 4 / Vol. 7, No. 1, a special double Star Wars issue, 1978.
After graduating from the University of South Carolina in May 1978, Irvin worked as the Associate Producer and Production Manager on Brian De Palma's Home Movies starring Kirk Douglas,Nancy Allen, and Keith Gordon. Then, Irvin worked as De Palma's assistant on Dressed to Kill starring Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen and Keith Gordon.
He also worked closely with De Palma on several projects in development, including Blow Out (which eventually De Palma directed, starring John Travolta and Nancy Allen), and Prince of the City(which was originally going to star Robert De Niro from a script by David Rabe, but was ultimately directed by Sidney Lumet starring Treat Williams).
Irvin gave up his position as De Palma's assistant to produce The First Time, a coming-of-age comedy for which De Palma served as a credited Creative Consultant. Released by New Line Cinema, the film starred Tim Choate, Wendie Jo Sperber, Wallace Shawn, Cathryn Damon and Jane Badler.
During the 1980s, Irvin served as Vice President of Marketing for three film distributors: United Artists Classics, Spectrafilm, and Vestron. During this period, Irvin won Hollywood Reporter Key Art Awards for designing the movie posters for Francois Truffaut’s Confidentially Yours and Paul Verhoeven’s The Fourth Man. He also helped spearhead the record-breaking year-long run of Jean-Jacques Beineix's Diva in New York City.
Irvin's first directorial effort, which he also wrote and produced, was the 1985 dark comedy short Double Negative, which starred Bill Randolph, Justin Henry, Wayne Knight, and William Finley.[2]It premiered as an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival and subsequently played theatrically in New York and Los Angeles. Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote that it was "an exceptionally promising first effort."[3]
Irvin went on to direct more than a dozen feature films, including:
Guilty as Charged starring Rod Steiger, Lauren Hutton, Heather Graham, and Isaac Hayes. (The film won the Gold Special Jury Award for Best Independent Feature at Houston Worldfest.)
Fat Rose and Squeaky a Showtime Original Movie starring Louise Fletcher, Cicely Tyson and Julie Brown.
Elvira's Haunted Hills starring Cassandra Peterson as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, and Richard O'Brien. (The film won the Audience Award at the 2002 Provincetown International Film Festival.)
From his own original screenplay, Irvin directed the Showtime Original Movie Kiss of a Stranger starring Mariel Hemingway, Dyan Cannon, Corbin Bernsen and David Carradine.
Irvin directed the cult sci-fi westerns Oblivion and its sequel Oblivion 2: Backlash, starring Julie Newmar, George Takei, Isaac Hayes, Meg Foster and Maxwell Caulfield. (Oblivion won the Gold Award for Best Fantasy / Science Fiction Feature at Houston Worldfest.)
He also directed the Disney Channel time-travel pirate fantasy Magic Island starring Zachery Ty Bryan and French Stewart.
For television, Irvin directed several episodes of Comedy Central's Strip Mall starring Julie Brown, Cindy Williams and Stella Stevens.
Irvin directed three full seasons of Dante's Cove starring Tracy Scoggins, Charlie David, Jenny Shimizu, Thea Gill, Stephen Amell, Booboo Stewart, and Reichen Lehmkuhl. (Irvin also co-wrote the series' international hit theme song, "Dying to Be with You").
Also for television, Irvin directed the opening of The 100th Anniversary of the World Series (October 18, 2003), for the Fox Network (a "through the ages" montage featuring the music of and starring Sheila E).
Irvin directed several segments for the Fox Network's 2004 Super Bowl XXXVIII including several comedy sketches starring Eugene Levy as a nutty gadget inventor trying to improve the entertainment value of football. Other vignettes included Will Smith, Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon. Irvin also directed the surrealistic opening battle between ninja warriors and football players.
And, for the Fox Network opening of the 2007 Allstate Sugar Bowl, Irvin directed "Dueling Musicians," shot on the streets of New Orleans (broadcast January 3, 2007).
After directing several American-financed films in Romania, Irvin was invited by Romanian-based Mediapro Studios to direct Garcea si oltenii, a spin-off of Romania's most popular television show, starring a Monty Python-like sketch comedy group known as Vacante Mare. It became the highest grossing motion picture in Romanian history up to that time, beating the previous record-holder, James Cameron's Titanic.
Also in Romania, Irvin directed I Will Return A Man, a rock opera performed by the Romanian rock group Vama Veche, broadcast live on television from the National Theater in Bucharest. It was an anti-war musical in the same genre as Pink Floyd's The Wall.
His credits as a producer include:
Associate producing Brian De Palma's Home Movies starring Kirk Douglas, Nancy Allen and Keith Gordon. (Irvin also served as Production Manager.)
Co-executive producing Bill Condon's Academy Award-winning film Gods and Monsters starring Sir Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser and Lynn Redgrave. (Irvin also co-directed the "Making of" documentary for the DVD, entitled The World of Gods and Monsters: A Journey with James Whale.)
Co-executive producing Bob Clark's I'll Remember April starring Haley Joel Osment, Pat Morita, Mark Harmon, Pam Dawber and Paul Dooley. (Irvin also was the second-unit director.)
Irvin's first book, Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise, was published by Simon & Schuster (November 2010) and was honored by Kirkus Reviews and The Theatre Library Association Awards as one of the "Best Biographies of 2010." Acclaimed by columnist Liz Smith as "a smashing work" and by entertainer Michael Feinstein as "one of the best showbiz bios I've ever read," this comprehensive biography covers the life and career of the legendary singer-actress-composer-arranger-author-fashionista Kay Thompson. She was the mentor/best friend of Judy Garland, the vocal guru to Frank Sinatra and Lena Horne, the mentor and longtime lover of Andy Williams, and the godmother/Svengali to Liza Minnelli (who recreated Thompson's nightclub act in the 2009 Tony Award-winning event Liza's at the Palace).
In connection with his research on the life of Thompson, Irvin served as a historical consultant on the Tony Award-winning Broadway event Liza's at the Palace; he produced and annotated the 2009 3-CD box set compilation Think Pink! A Kay Thompson Party (Sepia Records); and he appeared in and consulted on Paramount Home Entertainment's documentary Kay Thompson: Think Pink! (an extra included in Paramount's Centennial Collection DVD edition of Stanley Donen's Funny Face starring Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, and Kay Thompson).
As a journalist, Irvin has recently written articles for Little Shoppe of Horrors magazine, including an interview he conducted with Richard O'Brien of Rocky Horror Show fame.
Movie project in development: Irvin has recently collaborated with Cassandra Peterson on the original screenplay Elvira Vs. the Vampire Vixens, a horror spoof for which he is attached as director and co-producer (with Peterson, who will also star once again as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark).
Between projects, Irvin is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts where he teaches graduate courses on directing.
He resides in Los Angeles with Gary Bowers, his partner since 1982.


As director
As producer
As actor
As writer
As author