UNITED STATES—Hollywood is a story, it’s who you were, where you are, and what happened in between and who you met. Each journey is individual as thumbprints and DNA. I worked at Laemmle’s Sunset 5 Theater on Sunset Boulevard.
Here I met one of my all-time Hollywood mentors. I shall always recall being in the ticket booth one Friday morning taking care of pesky details before opening, a customer had already got into the lobby before we opened and had a question. My reaction, as I went out and the day’s first popcorn filled the air, was one of annoyance. A man stood nattily dressed with a tie and beige jacket. He requested the phone number of the director of the Polish Film Festival, launched the night before. I just happened to have the man’s number in my notebook.
As I was digging into my pocket the man glanced at some brochures for Turner Classic Movies with Errol Flynn.
“I knew him when I worked at Warner Bros.”
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Richard L. Bare,” he replied.
It was so familiar and then recognition seized me, “You directed ‘Green Acres!’”
I hugged him. “Green Acres” is my all-time favorite, surreal, cross-cultural sitcom; Oliver Wendell Douglas is an American Quijote: a sane man in an insane world. “Green Acres” even served to nurse me back to health after a bicycle accident left me hospitalized when I was in the seventh grade.
Bare holds the record for most episodes of a series directed by a single director, 168. Pretty good for a guy who grew up in rural California, had his first brush with film as projectionist for the Presbyterian church and later managed an art house in Carmel, before heading to Los Angeles.
That meeting in the Sunset 5 was the start of a friendship and Bare taught me many things to emulate in Hollywood and elsewhere, prime among them is speed of response. If somebody gives you their email or a book to read, get right to it.
The day we met I handed Mr. Bare my own screenplay, “Culture Shock,” and he read it while waiting to meet the director of the Polish Film Festival to discuss his own screenplay about the Polish actress, Helena Modjeska. In what seemed like hours, he’d left a message on my answering machine. “You’re a hell of a writer,” he said. It’s the kind of things a writer remembers forever. After we spoke on the phone about the Helena Modjeska biopic I was looking at a screenplay that arrived by “snail” mail in what seemed the next day.
The next lesson was condensation, a lesson that will serve for screenwriting or just leaving a phone message. I hadn’t critiqued a screenplay before and made notes about the meat and minutiae. When we spoke about ‘Modjeska’ I sounded him out about formatting issues. His gruff tone indicated that was the least of his concerns. I immediately pulled out the heavy artillery and avoided being hung up on.
I felt the story was lacking a scene showing why Helena abandons her lover. We need to see what’s so bad about him.
Mr. Bare asked me to write a scene: three long pages of dialog-laden breakup in a horse-drawn carriage. That’s what I came up with. In a couple days I got Bare’s half page scene in which the lover whips and rapes Helena. What a lesson in concision! And I was at the naïve state where a short scene was a revelation.
Memorably I was Richard Bare’s agent at a meeting between him and Brad Wyman in 2008. Bare was interested in making a deal to produce a movie version of “Green Acres.” Names were bandied about, who would be the Eva Gabor wife? Eva Longoria or how about Sofia Vergara—giving the premise a Latin twist.
Male leads for the Eddie Albert role—Will Farrell, Ben Stiller, or Sandler?
Before Mr. Bare left the office on Brighton Way, he turned to Brad Wyman and his assistant Matthew and said, “How old do you think I am?”
“Seventy-three, seventy-four,” Brad offered.
It was impressive. Still with some color in his hair and Prada glasses, Bare looked to be in his mid-seventies at most, dapper and fit. What was his secret? Maybe it was creativity; always having a new project in the works. And sense of humor. I walked him out to his car after the meeting on the summer day and made a comment about his seersucker jacket. His retort is not printable. Last time we spoke by phone, he was overseeing the libretto for a “Green Acres” musical and asking me about digital publishing. And if you hemmed and hawed on the phone like I do, nobody was quicker to say, “I gotta go.” That’s a final great lesson: not to waste somebody’s time in Hollywood.
Richard finally fessed up to his age a couple years ago. The day of his 100th was celebrated as Richard Bare Day in Newport. They screened “Wicked, Wicked,” his dual vision thriller: shot from POV of both the killer and victim. “We had 30 people in the living room that day,” he marveled. Like Will Rogers said, “There comes a time to stop lying about our age and start bragging.” Richard L. Bare died on March 28 at the age of 101. Or was it 105 if you believed the 1909 birthdate once listed on IMDB?
Humorist Graydon Miller is the author of “Lighten Up Now.” He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.