Stories and insight in the world of showbiz and beyond.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


It’s obvious that I got out of showbiz in the nick of time. If I had continued, I might have overdosed on drugs and alcohol, or been mobbed and beaten by fans, or even put in some Russian gulag and shot to death.

Overdosed on drugs?

NEWS RELEASE; Rob Pilatus, a former model whose career as half the pop music duo Milli Vanilli crashed in disgrace after it was revealed that the group lip-synced its songs, died at 32. Mr. Pilatus was alone when he died in a Frankfurt hotel room after consuming alcohol and pills.

Mobbed by irate fans?

NEWS RELEASE: When the audience discovered that Pop singer Ashlee Simpson was lip-synching her song on "Saturday Night Live," she rushed off the stage in total embarrassment. Her fans were outraged.

Arrested and shot?

NEWS RELEASE: The president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, ordered a ban on lip-synching in his country, citing its “negative effect on the development of singing and musical art.” Under the order, lip-synching is to be banned on television, at all cultural events and even at private parties.

In 1959, I was host of a daily television show called, “The Lloyd Thaxton Record Shop.” It was on KCOP in Los Angeles for one hour a day at 11:00 AM. I sat behind a cardboard counter in front of a little cheesy set made to look like a shelf for record albums. I talked, played records and interviewed a music guest each day while plugging their latest records or albums. The guests did not perform. So what did I do while the record played?

Before I answer that, let me tell you tell you the whole story and why I am still shaking.

One day my guest was the great songwriter Jimmy McHugh (I'm in The Mood For Love, Couldn't Sleep A Wink Last Night, etc). He was there to plug a new album of Frank Sinatra songs, all of which he had written. With him in the studio was his good friend and constant companion, the famous Hollywood columnist Louella Parsons. Get just one mention in Louella's column and you had it made in Hollywood.

In the interview Jimmy McHugh and I talked about a special Sinatra number. Then I got up and went to another little cheesy set off to the side and lip-synced the record (Oh that’s what you did when the record was playing). There was no regular studio audience and Louella Parsons was the only person sitting in the studio watching the show. I finished the number, went back to the counter to thank and say good-bye to McHugh. It was just another day at the Lloyd Thaxton Record Shop.

You can imagine my surprise (and horror) when I read the next morning’s newspaper. There it was, right at the top of Louella Parson’s column: “Yesterday I had the pleasure to see and hear a brand new singer in town. Remember his name: Lloyd Thaxton. I guarantee that this young man is going to be a big star. He sounds just like Frank Sinatra.”

When you also take into consideration The Lloyd Thaxton Show, I repeated that act everyday for over nine years (although I sometimes sounded more like Johnny Rivers or James Brown). If anyone had ever found out the truth, I can’t imagine what might have happened to me.

Friday, December 23, 2005


Over the years I’ve told my “Marlon Brando” story numerous times to friends, but have never written it down. Marlon’s death in July (2004) at 80 reminded me of that story. It took place when Marlon had just turned 40.

How did I meet Marlon Brando? One of the many perks that come with having your own TV show is that you get to meet a lot of (1) delightful, (2) interesting and (3) famous people. And Marlon Brando fit very nicely into all three of those categories.

In 1954, before I came to Hollywood, I saw the movie “On The Waterfront.” I’ll never forget the scene when Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger are sitting in the back of Steiger’s car. Marlon was berating Rod for not being the brother he should have been by not helping in his boxing career. Instead he was asking him to take falls for the mob. When Marlon said, “Charley, I could have been a contender, I could have been somebody,” I became a fan for life. All the way home from the movie I couldn’t get that line or the picture out of my mind. What a great actor. What a great film. I wanted everybody to see it. Brando won a deserved Oscar. And in a dream come true, eleven years later I was able to congratulate him to his face.

In the late 60s, I took time off for a vacation and to shoot background footage in London for my show. On the plane I met Brando’s attorney Allen Sussman. Brando was in London shooting the film “The Countess From Hong Kong,” directed by Charley Chaplin and co-starring Sophia Loren. Allen was meeting with Brando to negotiate the purchase of a South Seas Island.

When we landed, Marlon Brando met the plane. Can you believe that? MARLON BRANDO? Now here comes the unbelievable part. Marlon Brando was excited to see ME.

It turned out that he was a big fan of my show. WOW! Here was one of the greatest actors of all time making me, a TV dance-show host, an actual celebrity.

In the two weeks I was in London, he invited me to the movie set almost every day. I met his co-star Sophia Loran and director Sir Charlie Chaplin (That’s right: The Charlie Chaplin!). At night we toured the hot London discos and had sit-down dinners, complete with white-gloved butlers, at Brando’s lavish townhouse. Brando was a charming host and the best London ambassador a person could ever have.

During a break in the filming Brando and I were sitting off-stage, side by side in tall director’s chairs, and I told a joke. Unfortunately I can’t write out the joke on this page. It’s just too visual, with lots of facial expressions and hand gestures. So, you’ll just have to take my word for it that it’s funny.

When I gave the punch line, Marlon couldn’t stop laughing (I told you it was funny). Then, as if on some kind of off-stage cue, he suddenly stopped laughing and turned very serious. “I’ve got to tell that joke to somebody and I’ve got to do it right now,” he said as he jumped down from his chair and rushed over to the other side of the set to interrupt a lone gaffer busy adjusting a light. He was too far away for me to make out exactly what he was saying, but I could see his lips moving and his hands making all the right gestures.

Then I saw him deliver the punch line. He smiled and and waited for the laugh. Total silence. The gaffer just stared, turned and continued his work. Brando looked stunned, but not undaunted by this obvious setback.

He rushed over to Chaplin’s son Sidney, who was also in the film. He was studying his lines (I’m not making any of this stuff up). Marlon proceeded to get even more animated this time, accentuating all the hand gestures, ending with a flourish and another big expectant smile (What was he expectding? Laughter!). What did he get? Nothing! Silence! To make it worse, Sidney actually looked bored and went back to his script. How could they do this to BRANDO?

Like a scene from a movie within a movie, Marlon silently returned to his seat next to me. I was also silent as he climbed back on to his chair. I waited perhaps a full minute for some kind of explanation. After obviously studying his next line, Brando slowly turned and looked off to one side. The gaffer’s light gave me the dramatic effect of the famous Brando profile. He then slowly turned to me and said these immortal lines, “Lloyd. I guess it’s just you and me.”

It was pretty obvious that he blew the joke. But, I didn’t care. It was pure Brando and I will always cherish that moment. Here we were, sitting close together, just like the backseat scene in “Waterfront.” Not Brando and Steiger, but Brando and Thaxton. He may have turned to me and said, “Lloyd, I guess it’s just you and me.” But I’ll swear to my dying day that what I heard was:

“Lloyd, I could have been a contender. I could have been somebody.”

Sunday, December 18, 2005


I don’t like George W Bush as my President. If I got to know him better, I might like him as a “guy;” but that’s not going to happen. Not only did I not vote for him in the last two elections, I am filled with joy that the second time was really the last.

I felt he led us into Iraq too soon and was not ready or knowledgeable enough to deal with the problems his decisions created.

Some people hope George W. Bush fails. They want him to be wrong, so they can gloat. Not me. I hope I’m the one who is wrong.

I hope George W. Bush is right and turns out to be our best President ever.
I hope that the Iraqi people get their freedom.
I hope that this freedom grows throughout the entire region.
I hope that the word “Terrorist” becomes obsolete along with “Crusader.”
I hope that the Israelis and Palestinians will kiss and make up.
I hope that our troops come home feeling they have accomplished something good.
I hope it never happens again.

Hope springs eternal

Monday, December 05, 2005

THE BLOG - Starring Steve McQueen

Have you notice lately the outrageous things people will do just to be seen on TV?--- They line up by the thousands for a chance at shows like Fear Factor, The Contender, Amazing Race, Apprentice, and Survivor. Even though they will be insulted, humiliated, raced through fire and mud and made to eat ugly little wormy crawly things, this is all OK. All they want is to be somebody—a contender. Fame and celebrity and all that goes with it.

Compare these neo-celebrities to all the Paris Hilton look-a-likes, and it would appear that fame has never been easier to achieve. It proves that Andy Worhol was right. Everyone does want their 15-minutes of fame after all. However, there is a downside. Put most of these neo-celebs in a police line-up tomorrow and you most likely wouldn’t be able to tell one from the other. Fame doesn’t always last the whole 15-minutes.

Then there’s Steve McQueen … a reel celebrity!

How did Steve McQueen get in this story? When I was trying to come up with a celebrity piece for my Blog page, I had an epiphany. I was trying out Kevin Bacon’s degrees of separation and it only took one move to get from “Blog” –to-- “The Blob” (Steve McQueen’s very first starring role). The title for my blog jumped in front of me like the Hollywood Sign on a smog-free night:

“THE BLOG” starring Steve McQueen.”

One way to pick up a few minutes of fame in Hollywood back in the 60s, was to get yourself a big motorcycle with lots of shiny chrome. Then, park it out in front of the famous Whiskey A-Go-Go and just sit on it. It was even better if you could get one of the Whiskey Go Go girls to sit behind you, high up on the back. This was the personification of “hip” and the big kick-start for the popularity of ordinary (instead of ornery) folks riding “bikes.” Back in the 50s, the perception of the people who rode motorcycles was created right out of Marlon Brando’s “The Wild One.” Scruffy, mostly imbecilic gangs, that rode into town on their “hogs” to rape all the women and destroy the town square (no pun intended); a seedy bunch that no self-respecting citizen would ever want to emulate.

1963’s “The Great Escape,” starring Steve McQueen, was a turning point. One mighty leap over that prison wall and the Hollywood crowd jumped right along. Everyone wanted to be Steve McQueen.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I was a member of the “Hollywood Angels.” We were a rather close-knit group. I bought my beautiful blue-tanked chrome-trimmed 1965 Triumph Bonneville from celebrity bike dealer and movie stunt coordinator Bud Ekins. Bud was the stunt person who actually made the “The Great Escape” jump and was
a close friend of McQueen. Not too many people were aware of this, but Steve was actually a championship motorcycle off-road racer himself. Because of studio insurance concerns, he raced with Bud Ekins’s 6-man All-American team and competed in the International Six Days Trial in Germany under the pseudonym of Harvey Mushman.

A good friend and neighbor, actor Don Gordon, introduced me to Steve. Don played Steve’s cop partner in the film Bullitt and also had a starring role next to Steve in Papillon. Don invited me to visit the Bullitt set in San Francisco and that’s where I met Steve McQueen.

At the time, I was living on Mulholland drive, high up in the Hollywood Hills. Mulholland’s sweeping deadman curves went for miles above Los Angeles and presented a great challenge for a motorcyclist like Steve.

One Evening, Steve and Don Gordon showed up at my door. They wanted to know if I could come out and play. It was as if I was 10 years old again and my pals were asking me to come out and play ball or catch lightning bugs or something. There would be no ball game tonight though. They had their bikes parked at my front curb and I was out the door in a shot.

What a night to remember. We rode high above the sparkling lights of Hollywood all the way to Latigo Canyon, which led us down to the Pacific Coast highway and soon we were cruising along accompanied by the beautiful sound of muted mufflers and pounding surf bouncing off the sandy Santa Monica beaches. No one said a word. It was a warm breezy moon-bright night; filled with the wind-in-your-face joy only a lover of motorcycles could possibly understand.

In Malibu, hunger started to kick in, and we turned in to the first restaurant we saw.
The tantalizing aroma of burgers cooking and onions frying filled the air; a scene typical of any hamburger joint you might encounter anywhere in the USA. Packed tightly with young people having a good time, no one bothered to look up as we chose a booth in the back of the room. However, after we sat down and ordered, I could faintly recognize what sounded like my name coming through the drone of the many conversations in the room. You know how you can make out certain words in other people’s conversations? Kind of like, “YadayadaLloydyadayadaThaxtonyada?” I followed the sound to a group of five teen-age boys sitting in a booth across the room.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, one of the boys got up and shyly approached our table. He carefully put down five torn-off pieces of paper on the table and asked, “Lloyd, could you sign these for me and my buddies?”

He never once looked over or acknowledged that Steve McQueen was sitting directly across from me. I signed my name to each paper. He thanked me and went back to his friends.

A few minutes later, I once again started to recognize familiar words. And, again I traced them coming from the same teen-ager’s booth. This time it was, “YadayadayadaSteve yadaMcQueenyada.” It wasn’t long until the same volunteer came back to our table and stood facing me while he laid down four new pieces of paper. He then politely asked, “Lloyd, could you please ask Mr. McQueen if he would give us his autograph?”

Why didn’t the teen-ager just ask Steve for his autograph like he had asked me? And, why did he call me “Lloyd,” while referring to Steve as, “Mr. McQueen?”

What we had here was one layer of celebrity being peeled off to expose the bigger layer. Steve McQueen, you see, was bigger than life. The Teen-ager saw Steve up there, 20 feet tall, on that huge movie screen. I, on the other hand, came right into his living room each day on his family’s small, more intimate, television screen. I was more like a good friend. I was his good buddy “Lloyd.” Steve was, well, “Mister McQueen.”

When the young man left and went back to his excited friends, neither Steve nor myself ever discussed what just took place. It was as if it was a most natural occurrence; something that might happen to anybody just sitting around having a burger and fries. Our previously interrupted conversation just picked up without missing a beat. We finished our burgers, got back on our bikes and rode off into the sunset. Sunset Boulevard.

Steve McQueen was one of the nicest guys I had ever met in Hollywood. He treated everyone with great respect. However, he always knew who and what he was. A few years after this ride-for-burgers outing, I was invited to an afternoon pool party at Steve’s beautiful home nestled in a rustic canyon off Sunset Blvd. His co-star in the film “The Sand Pebbles,” Sir Richard Attenborough, was in town and Steve was hosting a party to introduce him to his friends. At one point in the afternoon Steve asked if I would like to see a new bike he had just purchased (by this time his collection included over a hundred and fifty new and antique motorcycles).

As we were looking at his fantastic new toy, I asked, “Are you still a member of the International off-road racing team?” He answered, with genuine sincerity, “No, that’s all behind me. From now on I’m going to concentrate on being a movie star.” Notice he didn’t say, movie “actor.” Though he was a remarkable actor, he knew he was more than that. He knew he was a star. He knew he was … Mr. McQueen.