Monday, July 20, 2009

When Charles Napier Taks, People Twitter

We don't want to oversell it or anything, but Nathan Rabin's interview with Charles Napier for The Onion's A.V. Club is the greatest thing ever and deserves to be republished in the slimmest-ever edition of the Library of America series. For the benefit of those so benighted they have a moment's difficulty placing a name to the face or vice versa, the 73-year-old Kentucky-born Napier broke into the business as a space hippie on a 1969 episode of Star Trek before becoming a part of Russ Meyer's stock company. He subsequently became part of Jonathan Demme's stock company, playing the bigamous trucker Chrome Angel in Citizens Band and sticking on a chef's hat for Something Wild and a judge's robe for Philadelphia. (It was his performance in Citizens Band that inspired Pauline Kael to describe him as looking like "a Brian Keith made of concrete." He's done the rounds of TV series guest spots and a lot of voice work, channeling Ted Turner for his regular stint on the Jon Lovitz cartoon The Critic, and he can now be seen in the straight-to-video One-Eyed Monster, in which he does battle with Ron Jeremy's killer penis. (No, for real.) So it's not as if he doesn't have a career to talk about. It must have seemed, going in, that the trick would be to get him to open up. Turns out he was wide open with the screen door banging.

On "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: "I was associate producer on that. They brought me, [Roger] Ebert, and Russ Meyer over to 20th Century Fox because Daryl Zanuck saw this movie we were making, and they wanted a part of it. So we did the movie, they released it. It made lots of money, and it kind of went away for 15 years, ’cause the country club where the producers all went didn’t want to be associated with an X-rated movie. Anyway, they finally re-released it again. It was a very successful hit. It was Russ’ big time at a major studio. He was very pleased with it. Of course, it was my fun too until the day they walked in and took our names off the door and said “Get off the lot.” Everything you did with Russ Meyer was a nightmare, everything was a total fucking catastrophe. It had to be done the Army way, it had to be done his way...This is how we made those first movies: we camped, we stayed outside, we cooked outside. No permits, nothing. We took two cameras, he handheld both of them, edited all of them, and I did all the stunts, I did all the car driving, I did all the makeup and that shit. It occurred to me later that we shot in the desert so the women couldn’t run away from the shoot."

On breaking into the Universal TV series factory: "So now I’m 40 years old and I’m back living on the streets of Hollywood in a parking lot under Russ Meyer, who owned the parking lot. And I said 'It’s over, man. I have no agent, I have no phone, I have no address, I have no nothing.' I had a little unemployment to go. And one day some guy came down the street with a megaphone asking my name, and I’m sitting there with the rest of the winos. I go 'Yeah, what’s up, that’s me.' I hadn’t had a haircut in two months, or a shave, or whatever. He says, 'They want to see you at Universal.' I go, 'What for?' He goes, 'You’ll find out when you get there, you want to go or not?' I go, 'I’m assuming if I don’t go, your ass is gonna be in a lot of trouble, is that correct?' He goes, 'That’s correct.' And we go straight to the lot in the back of the limo, straight to the office of Alfred Hitchcock. They said, 'Don’t say a damn word to him, don’t even look at him. He’s gonna be 10 feet away, and he’s gonna spin around a chair in a dramatic way. He’s gonna say "Go away," or he’s gonna say "Sign him."' So Hitchcock is looking at the guy standing beside him, and he says 'Tell him to turn around.' So I turned around, and Hitchcock said, 'Sign him.' And that was the end of it. I worked from then on, because I worked for Alfred Hitchcock. He owned a big percentage of Universal."

On working with Meyer: "I don’t really have a favorite of any of the pictures I did for him. There’s some stuff in there that scares the shit out of me, frankly, like the frontal nudity in Cherry, Harry & Raquel where I thought, 'Maybe I shouldn’t do this shit.' All it does is show me and whatever her name is galloping toward the camera, me in a cowboy hat and boots and nude. Years later he asked me—we were in a theater, actually, at the Paramount—and he said,'“Charlie, are you ever sorry you did that?' And I go, 'No, but my mother is.'"

On playing a space hippie: "... the writer was 65 years old. What did he know about hippies, right? And Shatner and all of them were upset about it, and of course I didn’t know any difference. I still get letters about that today. In fact, I just got one yesterday. Thirty years later, they wanted me to come back and do a Deep Space 9 and I just—not to be an a-hole about it—I just said, 'Look, I don’t want to wear that silly shirt again. If you can write a role where I’m a general of an army base…'”

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