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The Crack of Dawn
The Crack of Dawn
I was 18 years old, living in a $65-a-month efficiency apartment across the street from Paramount Pictures, and didn’t know anyone in L.A. I was working my way through a series of crummy jobs – selling office supplies over the telephone from a boiler room of twelve people, hustling sandwiches from a wicker basket in Brentwood, working in a soon-to-be-defunct bookstore near the airport, with jets going ten feet over the roof – and trying to figure out how to write a screenplay. I was one more lost soul in Hollywood, dreaming dreams of fame and glory while bamboozling unsuspecting souls into buying Bic pens they didn’t need, then sending them generic pens (I only lasted for two weeks in that job).
I was in the McDonald’s in Hollywood on La Brea (maybe Highland). I got my tray of food, went to sit down and saw an older Jewish man in his mid-70s sitting by himself. Feeling sufficiently lonely, I asked the man if I could sit with him. He was more than obliging, clearly pleased to have company. We introduced ourselves and his name was Jack Lubetkin. After I told him my extremely short story, he excitedly told me about his son, Steve. Steve was a comedian who was working at all of the L.A. comedy clubs and was a rising star. He was a favorite at the Comedy Store on the Sunset Strip and he often hosted, which was a big deal. He had just starred in and written a low-budget feature film. His father declared, “You have to meet him. He’s going to be a star.” I said that I’d love to, and Jack gave me his son’s phone number.
Soon thereafter, feeling particularly forlorn, I called the number. Steve Lubetkin answered. I explained how I’d gotten his number, and he immediately invited me over. He lived in a low-budget apartment in W. Hollywood near Sunset Blvd. Steve was an extremely nice, crazily voluble, florid, Jewish comedian, constantly going in and out of his routines and impersonations. He was funny, although he worked really hard at it. Anyway, he kept giving me things, like a big chocolate lollipop, and a bag of candy, and comic books, and a bottle of wine – I was waiting for my paper hat and a sparkler. So, Steve invited me to see his act, then gave me tickets for the world premiere of his debut feature film, Dante Shocko, which he assured me was spectacularly funny and would certainly launch him to stardom. I was kind of overcome. I remember walking back to my car holding all this crap thinking, “He could be a star. He’s certainly a character.”
Meanwhile, I went to the Comedy Store for the first time and saw him perform. His stand-up routine was legitimately funny. Not really funny, but still funny.
The premiere of Dante Shocko was in a place on Sunset Blvd, somewhere east of the Strip, in a storefront, not a theater, which I immediately found odd, and disconcerting, and an alarm went off in my head – is this some kind of a scam? It was a reasonably large space with about 100 folding chairs set up in front of a none-too-big, folding screen, with the one speaker that’s actually the cover of the projector. And there was a blue 16mm projector, just like the ones we had at school, set up in the middle of the room. Dante Shocko was shot on 16mm and was now going to be shown in 16mm. Another alarm in my head went off.
A quick, filmmaker aside: There never was a 16mm screening of Evil Dead or Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except, both films shot in 16mm. Since we knew without a doubt that we were blowing our films up to 35mm, we never finished them in 16mm to the point where you could show them. Our films weren’t viewable until the 35mm prints were made. Making 16mm prints is an unnecessary expense.
Therefore, I thought, if I’m watching this movie in a storefront, on a folding chair, on 16mm, you guys aren’t completely committed. You’re not serious. If you view your own future this dimly — you couldn’t even rent a small theater? — you’re probably right. And Dante Shocko had some laughs. But it didn’t have a plot to keep it going for feature length, and it was as low-budget and ugly as sin, but it was a movie. Steve Lubetkin seemed extremely pleased. I shook his hand and wished him all the best. I walked up Sunset thinking, “He’s not there yet, but he’s a lot closer than me.”
I never saw Steve Lubetkin again.
That was in 1977. The second time I lived in L.A. was in 1979. I was at my buddy Marvis’s cool old house on Lanewood Ave., right near Hollywood High. I sat down on the couch, directly on top of the new Sunday LA Times. On the cover of the Calendar Section, the weekend entertainment section, was a photo of Steve Lubetkin with a headline like, “Young Comic Jumps to Death on Sunset Blvd.” Even though Dante Shocko hadn’t launched his career like he hoped, Steve kept working around L.A. as a stand-up comic. Apparently, he actually appeared on The Johnny Carson Show, but got preempted due to something. Then he got into some big fights with Mitzi Shore, the owner of the Comedy Store, and got banned.
At that time, right next to the Comedy Store on Sunset Blvd. was a Holiday Inn. Steve jumped off a 6th floor balcony and landed in Sunset Blvd. almost directly in front of the Comedy Store. I read the article in horror. He was a genuinely nice guy. He gave me a big chocolate lollipop.
I have included the link (I think).
The Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles, California
Sun, Jul 15, 1979
Another day will soon be upon us.