Burger ’s LA confidential and a shout out to ‘shots’

by Mark Burger

Although I’ve loved movies since I was but a wee lad, I had never visited Los Angeles until I was 30. Did it seem like some far-off, exotic land — a mystical, magical realm where dreams come true? Nah, I just couldn’t afford it. Besides, I knew what to expect.

The movies had given me a clear picture of what LA had in store for me. Thanks to the ABC 4:30 Movie (a tri-state television staple in the ’70s and early ’80s, for those keeping score at home), I’d seen The Omega Man (1971) and Earthquake (1974) so many times that I had absolutely no doubt what to do if Armageddon struck the city of Angels: Just be like Charlton Heston and act like you know what you’re doing. If it’s good enough for Chuck Heston, it’s good enough for me. No, this column is not being written by a drunkard, but by someone whose jetlag has kicked in. Suffice it to say that my head’s still in La-La Land. And that’s not such a bad thing. Much was accomplished during my stint in Tinseltown. I saw a movie in a graveyard (more about that in an upcoming issue). I “did lunch” with some people “in the biz.” I risked life, limb and liver to see my beloved Philadelphia Phillies play the Los Angeles Dodgers. Not only did the Phillies lose (3-1, for those keeping score — and I was), but they dropped all four games in the series to the Dodgers. I fared a bit better, I’m happy to say. For one thing, all flights I took (to and from LA) were pretty good. Once I’d arrived at LAX, I was reminded just how small the baggage areas were… particularly with dozens of people milling about, waiting for their luggage. Naturally, it seemed as long to retrieve my bags as the two flights to LA had been. I had an enjoyable stay at the Beverly Laurel Motor Hotel, which is nicely centralized and adjoins Swinger’s Café, where the hours are long and the food is good. For a good, long look at the Beverly Laurel Motor Hotel, just check out the opening of Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey (1999); it’s where Terence Stamp stays when he gets into town. LA seemed less smoggy than I’d experienced it before, and according to everyone I talked to, there’s a genuine effort underway to keep it that way. Politicians may dither regarding global warming, but the citizenry of southern California appear more certain about the situation. The flight back, which took me through Houston, was delayed because of bad weather. Nevertheless, the good pilots at Continental got us there with minutes to spare for those of us with connecting flights. Unless, of course, your connecting flight was departing from the next concourse, and the monorail to that concourse is all the way at the other end of the concourse you’re presently on. So, my first visit to the great state of Texas — and Houston is where the immortal sequel The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (1977) is set — was a fairly rigorous one. I’d just seen a family of four miss its flight to Honolulu from Los Angeles, and my sympathy knew no bounds… until the kid in the stroller started wailing and I went for some peanut-butter crackers and Vitamin Water (which sucked, by the way — I’d have been better off with milk). With carry-on bag and book in hand — I was re-reading The Omen, just for the hell of it — I made the Robert Shaw Black Sunday dash to the monorail and then to the appropriate gate where I got my seat assignment, waited to board and then boarded. Just like that. During my brief stay in the great state of Texas, I didn’t bring up the whole JFK thing, I made no jokes about the Alamo and I said nothing about our current president. There simply was no time. Besides, how can one blame an entire state for something like that? Also, before the haze of jetlag makes me forget, a word of congratulations to good friend Louis Farber, he of Pennsylvania roots and considerable acting chops, who participated in the recent 12 th annual New York International Fringe Festival, in which a selection of one-act short plays from around the world is given a crack at Broadway… well, off-Broadway. Hey, it’s the New York stage, and there’s something to be said for that. Quite a bit, I’d say. Along with fellow thespians and crew from the Progressive Theatre Workshop, Shots: A Love Story made its mark. This is a brooding and sometimes surreal portrait of alcoholism and domestic violence, and the bizarre circle of love that somehow is tangled up in those. “No comedy is this, sir,” Mr. Farber told me, although he told me it does have is darkly humorous and ironic moments. I often refer to Farber as “Captain Lou,” not because of any similarity in temperament or acting ability to former wrestler Captain Lou Albano (who is a major talent in his own right), but because, as an observer and critic of the arts, I firmly believe that his hard work and determination deserves the salute that befits an officer. The cat’s been in the trenches, believe me. I’ve also meet some of the lovely female co-stars he shared those trenches with from time to time, and there’s no question Mr. Farber is an impeccable judge of taste. And, if there’s a Phillies game at the end of the rainbow, Mr. Farber is there at the wheel, steering us toward our destination. Besides, he’s bought me plenty of shots in my time (“Legends!”). As a fellow fan of Philadelphia’s sports teams, Mr. Farber undoubtedly has a unique insight into the darkest, most cynical corners of the human soul — and it’s all up there on stage, for the world to see. Cheers, brother!

To comment on this story, e-mail Mark Burger at