Sunday, October 31, 2010

BALLS...a life's secret scenarios #2


y age 40, baby boy “Froimaleh” had fulfilled some of that 1933 earthquake’s survival prophesy.  Perhaps you could say he had gotten lucky along the way.  But, that would depend for the most part on your prospective of what a life and a career really means to someone.  AII I can say as his best pal, knowing him so well, career was a tremendous deal in Da Bake's life!  It was his energy, a kind of cunning charm and intensity, shaping his persona making him an interesting actor. 

He had appeared in more than fifteen Broadway shows and National tours, mostly straight plays, some musicals.  He studied the production side of the business and produced and directed many national tours and summer stock productions with major stars.  Babs and he were raising their three fantastic kids.  But he always personally struggled with it--couldn’t really support them all that well on what low-paid now and then theater gigs amounted to, especially with the long lay-offs.  He augmented his income to support the family by driving a NYC taxicab.  On and off for close to thirty years.

And what about filmmaking?  Didn’t winning kudos and international awards for his first jazz-dance short film “On The Sound” enable him the power to make it as a filmmaker? No!  Not really! Would he ever get another shot like the one just stolen away from him. 

This time around 1973, Fritz came back from LA to NYC totally depressed, victim of what  truly was a devastating event for him.  In the blink of an eye, he lost his first big breakthrough, a well financed feature, "The Taximan", a 3.5 million dollar major Motion Picture production, green-lit ready to go on the lot at Warner Brothers--and, then,  just like that, suddenly, it was canceled by the powers that be--and he felt tossed out of Hollywood on his ear with this"Taximan-Taxi Driver” event.  

The Scorcese thing he went through in Hollywood in the summer of 73 really took its toll on Fritz.  The shock was how it came about---so out of the blue!  Euphemistically termed a "turnaround", basically a sudden cancellation of a scheduled work in pre-production, in this case Dubake's production of his own script “The Taximan”,  starring John Voight in the title role, also featuring Maximilian Schell, and Seasons Hubley, a hot 19 year old actress discovery in the female lead.  This was essentially Fritz's first real break to make it big in movies, but it all  got tossed in a back-alley dumpster for another film on the lot called “Taxi Driver.” Plain and simple, Scorcese’s film "Taxi Driver"—perhaps even Marty himself who Fritz thought a good friend--essentially, a 'person of clout', someone, like over-night, had the "Taximan" production dropped and kicked off the Warner Bros lot, no further discussion, based solely on similarity and potential competition; but for Fritz, the biggest  bring down, a disastrous chapter in his early career and life. 

And how would he bring himself back up?  How would he manage to remain the good father to his three kids and loving husband to his beautiful wife Babs and still continue to forge the treacherous waters of "making it"?

He absolutely did not want to make another hand-held 16mm two-dollar-and-fifty-cent NYC underground movie—not his next time around.  He desperately wanted to make “The Taximan” on his own terms, on a well-budgeted mainstream basis, so that he could discover the qualitative reach he believed he possessed in his work as a use a really good top-flight DP-camera-person, his desire to finally have a full professional crew at his disposal and the kind of experienced professional actors he was used to working with in the Broadway Theater.  

He stopped off to rest at my place in Brooklyn one night.  The 12-hour cab shift was breaking his back and he cried bitter tears to me about never going to ‘make it’ as a filmmaker.  For the first time in our thirty-five year friendship, he popped the big money question--asked me to be his angel and back him in a low-budget indie  production of ‘The Taximan’

“I would need, at best, five hundred thousand dollars to do it, Dutch!  I can’t keep this shit up and stay sane—driving around looking for my next three-dollar fare?”  It was beginning to drive him fucking bananas!…this utter frustration filmmakers go through begging for the money to fund their projects…their dreams.  All I could think of was that in the entire breath of our friendship we had never, ever, borrowed money from each other—and here he was asking me to possibly lose a half a million dollars on his fahkockteh movie-making schemes.  And, I could ill-afford that kind of a risk and kicked myself for telling him about my recent nearly million dollar inheritance.

When I refused to lend him five hundred grand—something I sensed he knew  from git-go I wouldn’t possibly have a second thought about—he changed the subject on a dime, did a 180, a fast Slink U-turn, pure cab-driver style—and began to tell me about some promising lucrative hustles he was into nightly in the taxicab.

This one’s wild. . .he had me really compelled to hear all about it.

“You know the jazz-musician hangout, The Silver Dollar on Seventh Avenue Dutch?  The joint across the street from The Metropole—48th, 49th?  I’ve been going there lately for my supper break.  They got a nightly soul food special, $4.50 for fried chicken, ribs, collard greens, black-eyed peas and rice—for another half a buck, for the full nickel, you gets you a minty iced tea—phenomenal deal!"

“So, one night, I’m enjoying my break at ‘The Dollar’, this very sharp-looking black kid, very well-dressed, no more than 24, 25, introduces himself to me, tells me how he’s been checking me out last couple of nights. I say oh why? And he slips and slides not coming anywhere near the point." 

"When I’m finished my meal he follows me out onto Seventh Avenue and as I’m unlocking my cab out front of the club, he walks over, asks me, “is your taxi available Fritz?” .....I check him out again and tell him to jump in and ask him where to and from the back seat, he puts a ten dollar bill on the front seat next to me, tells me to drive up to Central Park, then directs me to go into the Park Drive and go around the park once.  I asked him what’s up, and he says not to freak—he just wants to feel me out about something important.  I said I can dig that man but like what, whats on yer mind?"

"We’re slowly winding round the northern tip of the park drive at 110th Street  and beginning around back downtown, he throws another ten bucks on my seat and drapes himself almost over into the front seat."

"By now he's informed me that he’s an ex-college basketball player, a first choice pick to play for the NY 'Knicks' but had some real bad luck in practice, sustaining a major knee injury whatever and his now present total hustle and raison-d’etre in life was to make his first million dollars pimping—wholesale pimping--for no less, he tells me, than two floors of gorgeous knockedout hardly past eighteen year-old hookers he keeps in an apartment house very near-by, midtown."

“All my ladies are clean beautiful far-out young foxes!,” he claims, "cumulatively capably able to screw their way through half the motherfuckin' tourists visiting New York City on any given day."  He throws me another ten bucks, since he likes how attentively I was listening to his very smooth verbal jive.  I now had fifty bucks mesmerizing me on the front seat and my taxi at this point was approaching the 59th Street Seventh Avenue Park Drive exit.  I asked him, "Do you want I should take you back to the "Silver Dollar'?"

“No man, drive around the park again, please Fritz, come on let me finish?” he implores.  I again drive the full curve around going uptown again, long silence, then finally, finally, he pops the 64 Thousand Dollar Question!   “What do you tell the out of town ‘rubes’ who ask... like.. you know..."Where can we get laid, get some pussy Mr. Taximan?"  How often does that come up in your cab, man?  I bet that comes up pretty often..Wouldn’t you say?” 

 “Every night!” I said.

“Well then, if you don’t have some place or some girls to deliver these Johns to, I would submit that you and I were losing a lot a lot of money each and every night you drive this motherfuckin’ taxi!…ehh baby? Don’t you think so--am I right or wrong Mr. Fritz?”

“By the time we drove around the park the third time, he had thrown me eight tens ($80 to cover my meter which at that point and time only read $9.45.)" 

"After I dropped him back off at the Silver Dollar,  I never saw this young cat Jimmy again...but he had written down a West side theater district address and phone number on a slip of paper, dropped it together with another twenty on the seat next to me. . The last words he said to me, "Ring that bell when you get a chance.  Ask to speak to Michelle—she’s my head momma at my apartments on West 45th Street--she takes care of all my business there.  She’ll be waiting for you Mr. Taximan Fritz.”

Dubake and I now pretty whacked on some of my best hashish…I told him to go on….then what happened?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

BALLS...a life's secret scenarios #1


My dad, Harry Dubake, was an adventurous dude, especially for an immigrant Jew from Romania.  Very little frightened him. In 1927, after he married my mom, Freida, also a immigrant Jewess from Poland, he bought a Model A Ford and with their two year old baby girl Eshy, they drove cross-country to Hollywood.  

His Uncle Louis was writing them these warm optimistic letters in Yiddish telling them of the ‘goldeneh Medina’, a veritable gold strewn heaven on earth for good Russian and Romanian furriers in Los Angeles.  Uncle Louie had started up a small business in Los Angeles after leaving New York with the idea to make fur coats for all the hot Hollywood big shot stars of the late 1920s.  He wrote my father if he could find his way out west from Brooklyn to Hollywood, he could be a partner in his fur coat business.  

So that’s what Harry Dubake did. . .bought his first car from Henry Ford, took my mom and my oldest sister, Eshy, and headed out to the West Coast—must have been a scream these Romanian and Polish Jewish immigrants driving cross-country in 1927. . .balls, ‘chutspah’, far as I can tell, it probably runs in the genes. 

Stories they told us was that they were really doing well in California in partners with Uncle Louis, making money making mink, otter and Alaskan Seal coats.  The two families—Mine and Uncle Louis Becker's family of four he brought out from The Bronx—bought this four-bedroom two-story house both families lived in.  My middle sister Rosie was born there in LA in 1930 and then I was born in the same Los Angeles bungalow, July 1932.  

Everything was going A-OK, swimmingly, for these immigrant Jews in LA.  They had all their fur equipment and sewing machines set up in the basement of the house. . .when in 1933—I wasn’t even a year old—a major earthquake hits them, totally unannounced, right where the house was situated on Ghenady Street, in downtown LA.  It was called ‘The Long Beach Earthquake’, no less than a six point six on the scale!  The epicenter was in Long Beach but the fault line ran through the old Jewish neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles and really did up a mess of houses, bungalows . . .major cave-ins up and down the block. 

Our house just completely collapsed while they were all eating dinner, can you imagine!  Every one did the duck & cover or hauled ass, dishes crashing all around them, screaming gevalt!. . .’gevalt!”!  Harry and Freida grabbed up my two older sisters and Uncle Louis’, marshaling his family out from under the dinner table, they all ran out of the house whilst the walls literally were crashing down around them. 

Harry, Freida, my sisters Eshy, almost seven, and little three year old Rosie, my Uncle Louie, and his wife with their two kids in tow, all miraculously got out of the collapsing house as best they could,  and out onto the street. 

In total bewilderment, they all looked around—the earthquake's loud, horrendous, cracking sounds and tremors having abated for a moment—just as my mother Freida started screaming at all of them, at the top of her lungs, wildly!   

Vee is der kind?  Oooy Oooooy, gevalt, a got is mir!!. . .vee is Efroim?. . .vee ist de baby de baby?”  

Freida was yelling bloody murder at my Uncle Louie and husband Harry, hitting  at both about the head and shoulders, their eyes glazed, finally popped in realization—“de baby!, ve got to get da baby!” the two men screamed, and they ran headlong into the crumbling ruins of the collapsed two-story house. 

I the baby was supposed to be in my crib on the upper floor. . .but there was no second floor left!  My dad and Uncle Louie began moving fallen beams and rubble as some other men came over to help, until they finally spotted my overturned crib in what was, in fact, their illegal fur workshop in the basement.  They managed to free the crib from the piled on rubble and lifting it up, turned the crib over.   

There was I, ‘Buster-boychikle Froimaleh’, a sturdy seven-month-old, sitting up, playing ‘potch potch henty’ (patty-cake) complete with a bright, happy two-front-tooth’d smile plastered on my gorgeous little face! 

Like always, efsher, maybe, I thought,  I could get lucky again!!…….