I had only acted on camera in a couple of TV shows and commercials, so all of this—the process of making movies—was totally new and absolutely fascinating.
JACK ANGEL, son of a Greek immigrant, reinvented himself many times—from a poor student to a college graduate; from enlisted man to officer in the army during the Korean War, attending Army Ranger School; and from an eighteen-year career in radio as one of the nation’s top disc jockeys to a career as a Hollywood actor concentrating on voice-overs.
Going to Hollywood allowed him to really hit his stride, and he found himself working on animation projects for the Walt Disney Co., Pixar Studios, Marvel, Hanna/Barbera, Fox, and several others. In this memoir, Angel recalls his adventures in this informative, funny, and insightful view of Hollywood and the entertainment business. A few highlights include his interactions with director Steven Spielberg and John Lasseter, the creative head of Pixar Studios. He also spent three years as a promo announcer with The Tonight Show, starring Johnny Carson.
He pays homage to his father, who came to America in the early twentieth century, became famous as the Bean King in Central California, and survived the Great Depression while raising three sons. Jack Angel’s life story is not only a tale of personal reinvention, but also an uplift ing American Dream story that spans a hundred years.
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The Book of Jack
By Jack Angel
Abbott PressCopyright © 2012 Jack Angel
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was the turn of the century. The year 2000! Y2K. The whole world was excited about the new century—a new beginning. Things were going to be different. Everyone seemed to be looking forward to the changes. I was as well, even when some would-be techno-wizards hypothesized that all the computers in the world would stop working precisely at the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1999. That would have been a change worth experiencing. The devilish little imp who resides in the dark behind my eyes was disappointed when it didn't happen.
I would turn seventy soon, and seventy is a multiple of seven. Ever since I read Passages by Gail Sheehy, I knew I was in for some major shifts in my life and career. Sheehy was dead-on about things happening in seven-year cycles. I went into the army at twenty-one; I was married at twenty-eight and broke into radio as a disc jockey that same year. Got divorced at forty-nine, and my radio career changed for the better in roughly seven-year increments. So I was ready for the next one. And sure enough, I was cast as the voice of Teddy in Steven Spielberg's movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
I had worked for Steven doing voice-overs on several previous occasions but had never met him. I performed a few incidental voices on An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, a full-length animated feature film. I did three voices on his animated TV show Family Dog, which was the first animated episode of his TV series Amazing Stories. When his British company produced Balto, I played the part of Nikki, an animated sled dog that was one of three dogs who provided comic relief. For that, he flew my wife, Arlene, and me, and a couple of actors named Danny Mann and Robbie Rist, to London—not once but twice. Somebody apparently didn't get it right the first time. And in the production of Hook, during the fight scenes between the pirates and the Lost Boys, it turned out there were no audible grunts, oofs, and ouches as one might expect—particularly if you had grown up watching American cartoons. So a group of British actors and I went onto a soundstage at Todd-AO Studios and did what can only be described as oof-overs.
I even did a job for Steven's DreamWorks partner Jeffrey Katzenberg when The Prince of Egypt was being animated. The animators generally take a few years to finish a feature-length film, and sometimes the investors putting up the money get a little antsy. The backers needed to see something of what the show was going to look like, so a few other voice actors and I went onto a big soundstage and voiced a short segment.
But Teddy was different. Teddy was to be a major character in a huge Spielberg-directed feature film that had been given to Steven by Stanley Kubrick's wife after Kubrick unexpectedly died. I felt this one could wind up being another monster hit like E.T.
Teddy was a robot toy—a two-foot-two-inch-tall teddy bear. Steven's wife, Kate Capshaw, told me they had listened to over one hundred audition tapes before they heard mine, and as soon as they heard my voice they knew I was the one.
I drove through the main gate at Warner Bros. Studio on Barham Boulevard in Burbank, and suddenly I developed a case of nerves. Butterflies! How ridiculous, I told myself. It was just another job, and I had done hundreds over the years since reinventing myself after eighteen years as a disc jockey. But it wasn't really just another job. In this one, I would actually meet Steven Spielberg face to face for the first time and work directly with him on the set—truly every actor's dream.
I had a drive-on. That is, I had a pass so I could drive onto the lot, and a parking spot next to my trailer. I had a trailer. Damn! I parked my Mercedes SL500 in the assigned spot and enjoyed the moment with a smile.
I walked onto a huge soundstage at Warner Bros. and was escorted into a room where sat Steven Spielberg; child actor Haley Joel Osment; Haley's father, Eugene; Jeffrey Katzenberg; and the two producers of A.I.: Kathleen Kennedy and Bonnie Curtis.
"Steven, this is Jack Angel," someone said.
Steven's face lit up as he extended his hand and said it was nice to meet me. It was as if he had clicked on the high beams, as his eyes sparkled with unusual intensity. That was just a precursor of coming events over the next three months.
I said, "Well, if that's you, and I'm standing here, this must all be real."
Everyone laughed. I suppose at some point in their own lives they had all had that same feeling when meeting show-business royalty.
Steven then introduced me to Haley and Eugene.
When Haley's movie The Sixth Sense was in theaters, my neighbors, along with several other people, insisted that I see the movie. They said, "The kid looks just like you!"
So now I said, "Haley, everyone says we look alike. Now personally, I think you're a gorgeous kid, but if what they say is true, you're gonna wind up looking like this," I said as I pointed to my face. Everyone laughed.
Steven jumped in quickly and said, "Well, let's see. Jack, say, 'I see dead people.'"
Again, everyone laughed.
After a bit more small talk, I was escorted to the Warner Bros. postproduction soundstage to record my lines. Since Teddy was a talking computer toy, all his lines would be fed into him through a computer, and I had to record all of his lines wild—out of context. Steven said, "Just do what you did in your audition. That was great." The specs given on the audition copy were for a deep voice, much like the voice of Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh, but Teddy was not to sound dumb.
There were about two pages of Teddy dialogue, and we added grunts, yawns, snores, and other assorted noises that we thought the bear might make in the course of the movie. The whole session lasted no more than an hour.
In the script, if anyone referred to him as a "super toy," Teddy insisted rather emphatically, "I am not a toy." So when I snored, and then as Teddy awoke, I made him say, as if he were waking up from a bad dream, "I am not a toy."
Everyone seemed delighted with the ad-lib. When Steven heard it, he thought it was so funny that he actually made a scene of Teddy waking up and saying the line. Unfortunately, as happened to so many scenes that were shot, it only made it as far as the cutting-room floor.
Since all the lines were recorded without direction, I was really just flying blind as to how to deliver them. Steven said he wanted me on the set every day so that when any particular scene was scheduled to be shot, I'd be there in case a line had to be rerecorded in the proper context. And I was happy to be there. Did I say happy? Let's face it: I was thrilled. I ended up being on the set every day for three months, whether on the Warner Bros. lot or on location. I had my own trailer and pretty much nothing to do except watch the show. That is, watch the master moviemaker at work.
Chapter TwoThere is much more to the story of Steven and me, but I'm getting ahead of myself. The Book of Jack actually has its genesis about a hundred years earlier. Steven Spielberg in some ways reminded me of my father. Steven was younger than I, of course, but grayer and wiser, as if he had lived much longer. (The director on a movie set is the father figure, and many of them regard themselves as gods.)
During that great mass exodus of Europeans from their various homelands to America in the early twentieth century, it would not be a stretch of the imagination to find the young man who would become my father standing on the deck of the ship with a massive case of those same earlier-mentioned butterflies in the pit of his stomach.
Joannis Angelakis, aka Yonni, came from the island of Crete, the largest of the Greek islands. His parents had seven boys and four girls. Brothers Mike and Tony had preceded George and Yonni to the United States by a few months. Tony had sent money for his wife to join him in America, but she was too afraid to make the trip without her husband by her side. At the eleventh hour, she refused to go, so on June 14, 1909, nineteen-year- old Yonni boarded the SS Martha Washington in Peloponnesus, Greece, and came in her place. One can only imagine the surprise and anguish on Tony's face when it was his little brother, not his wife, who stepped onto Ellis Island.
Yonni was eager to go to America. It was said that the streets of America were paved with gold, and Yonni was eager to go mine a little of it. He said more than once that he was shocked when he arrived in New York and found that the streets were much the same as in any other big city. No gold.
Yonni was the youngest of seven brothers and four sisters. The custom was to respect one's elders, so he acquiesced to his brothers' suggestions and wound up in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. Not quite gold, but he worked hard and made enough money in a few years to buy a piece of land in the town of Livingston in the San Joaquin Valley of central California. He built a house "with my bare hands," he often bragged, and he planted beans. More beans than anybody else. And before long, he became known as the Bean King. At least, that's the story he told. "I vas the Bean King!" he'd say.
He became a proud US citizen in Merced, California, and Americanized his name to go with it. Brother Mike had changed his last name too, but to Angelo. Yonni, now John, thought Angelo had a nice ring to it.
"Okay, I'll be John Angelo," he said.
But George was quick to point out that Angelo was an Italian name, and John should keep the Greek ending and remain Angelakis. Good old cigar-chomping Tony was the one who saved the day by telling John that since he was to become an American, he should drop the Greek ending and become John Angel. John, deferring to his older brother, agreed, and that was the end of it. I say "saved the day" because had it not been for Tony, I would have been stuck with an additional four letters on the end of my name, and later in the story I'll point out what a pain in the ass just three extra letters can be. It was a little odd during family gatherings, though, when the Angelos, the Angelakises, and the Angels all got together to roast a goat at Greek Easter and everyone had a different last name.
Chapter ThreeSam Robards, the son of Jason Robards and Lauren Bacall, was cast as one of the male leads in A.I. opposite Frances O'Connor, a beautiful and talented Australian import. Sam is one of the most naturally funny men I have ever met. It seems as though he sees the humor in just about everything and isn't afraid to jump right in and say it, off the top of his head. Sam regaled us with stories and impressions of his mother—always talking about her first husband, Humphrey Bogart. "This is where Bogey sat in the commissary when he had breakfast. This is where Bogey and I first met ..." and so on. Apparently she drove poor Jason Robards a little over the edge with that—to the extent that at one point in their lives, Robards arrived late (and already with a snootful) to a very posh gala at which all the A-list stars were in attendance, and when he finally saw Lauren Bacall, his greeting was, "Ah! The widow Bogart!" They probably weren't getting along too well at that point in what was said to be a turbulent marriage.
I hadn't realized that Frances O'Connor was an Aussie until one day on a break she was kidding around with Sam and there it was–—that familiar Australian accent. I have a pretty good ear for accents, and up until that moment I had never heard one syllable of Aussie in her speech.
Since this was really my first time on a major movie set while filming was in progress, I learned a great deal about that "crew" the actors always acknowledge when they pick up an award at the Oscar or Emmy ceremonies. To say they are amazing doesn't do them justice. And a Steven Spielberg crew is made up of the best of the best.
I never really knew what a "grip" or a "gaffer" was—two jobs you see listed in the credits if you stay after the movie is over. A grip is basically the guy who carries stuff (mostly heavy stuff) from one area of the soundstage to the other and then helps set it up properly. A gaffer is the guy in charge of the lighting crew. All the crew members wear headsets and lapel microphones so they can communicate with the key grip, who is the one in charge of all of them. On most Spielberg sets there's also a smoke-pot guy. I asked Steven why there was always a thin layer of smoke in the air during filming, and he said it gives everything a softer look.
There were lots of other very talented people working on making the picture look great—carpenters and designers, wardrobe people, hair and makeup of course. And this picture had some wonderfully talented people from the Stan Winston Company. They had worked for Steven before on Jurassic Park, and it was the Winston Company that created the dinosaurs for that film. Now they were designing, making, and manipulating Teddy. They gave new meaning to the term puppeteer.
Chapter FourThe Bean King had a contract with the US Army to supply beans for the troops after World War I. Brother George, older and supposedly wiser in the ways of business, convinced John to hold out for a higher price.
The beans were ripe and ready for market.
"Hold out," George insisted. "Hold out!"
The beans rotted. Not only had he lost the entire crop, John was faced with a worse dilemma. George was his older brother. John had always been taught to respect the years of a brother just as he would respect the years of a father and bow to his demands. But deep down, he knew George was stupid. And George would make other bad decisions, again and again, if not with beans, then with something else. It was, after all, George who dragged him into the black horror of the coal mines. The answer was clear: John gave the ranch to George. He simply said, "You take it!" John would start again with no brotherly encumbrances. He simply walked away. Had he stayed, he might never have met his dream girl, Lucille.
Chapter FiveLucille Parsons was born in 1913 in Nampa, Idaho, and grew up mostly in Auberry, California, on a ranch operated by her father and mother, until her dad died of lead poisoning. Not the old-fashioned Western kind of lead poisoning—it was paint that killed him, not a bullet.
George Parsons was an artist. He would take a piece of cheap pine wood and paint exotic wood grains on it. A person would have to look very closely to tell the difference. His art made him wealthy, and he bought a ranch with his money.
He reportedly did a lot of work for the landmark San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts, which was part of the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915—an event dedicated to progress, the celebration of the completion of the Panama Canal, and the rebirth of San Francisco following the disastrous 1906 earthquake. But for George Parsons, there would be no long-lasting celebration. Years of mixing and coming in contact with the lead in the paint took its toll on him early in his life.
His wife, Nora, was a true Western mustang. Although she was quite diminutive at five feet one inch tall, she was as tough as a rodeo bull. She would stand on the porch of the ranch house wearing a six-gun strapped to her side and take potshots at any rattlesnake that had unwisely ventured into her domain. The ranch was a great place for her daughter, Lucille, and son, Jack, to grow and prosper as children.
When Lucille was a young teenager, she learned to drive their Essex, one of the more fashionable automobiles of the 1920s—and she drove like a madwoman. The locals dubbed her the "speed queen," and living up to her billing, she drove faster than good sense would dictate all the rest of her life. She also would tell of the friend she had in Auberry, who had only one hand. There was a hook connected to his other wrist, and with hand and hook he rode a motorcycle. She would hop on the back and away they'd go, careening around mountain curves as if to spit in the face of destiny. I guess my mom was a biker chick.
There was, what everyone called in those days, an insane asylum in Napa, California, and when Lucille told her classmates she was from Nampa, which was in Idaho, they teased her about being born in a nuthouse. She was shy and sensitive to anything that even remotely seemed critical of her. She began to tell people she was born in Boise. It was simpler.
Her brother, Jack, was inquisitive and had a slight cruel streak. Not only did he poke sticks into the trap doors of trap-door spiders, he also had been known to break the legs of young chickens and watch them hobble around on broken legs.
Excerpted from The Book of Jack by Jack Angel Copyright © 2012 by Jack Angel. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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