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The Crack of Dawn
The Crack of Dawn
Most of my life I’ve struggled and worried myself sick trying to dream up new story ideas. After I finished damn near all of my scripts (and books), I then became morose and depressed. First of all, I no longer had this specific project in which to immerse myself; second, I was always certain that I would never come up with another story idea. However, the mysterious process of getting another story idea worked, it had stopped working. I’m pleased to announce that it never did stop working, and in every instance, I got another idea. It usually didn’t take all that long, either. At the sprightly age of 65, I think I may actually be over that particular panic.
Here's my theory: if you just keep adding information into your brain, and you’ve constantly got your antennae up searching for a good idea, you’ll get one. I’ve written about 40 screenplays, I’m just publishing my fourth book, with yet another book already written and ready to go into the editorial process, as well as all of these silly newsletters, I no longer need to panic that my creative well has dried up. Even if my imagination completely evaporated tomorrow, it’s worked sufficiently well up until now so that I have no complaints. I don’t regret it, but all of the fretting and worrying I put myself through was for naught. Except that it was part of the process, or at least my process, so it ultimately had value.
However the mysterious process of getting another story idea worked, it had stopped working.
Ideas seem to arrive by way of their own meandering, tortuous, circuitous path. Searching for them, or worrying about them, won’t expedite their arrival. For instance, let’s take this book that I’m now self-publishing called, Hitler in the Madhouse. The initial germ of the idea came to me while I was writing my World War I script, Devil Dogs: The Battle of Belleau Wood, back in the late-1990s. Within the research I was doing for that story, I noticed that at the Battle of the Somme – the biggest battle in human history, with a thousand mile battlefront – three of the participants were Corporal Adolf Hitler, Lieutenant George S. Patton, and Captain Harry Truman. My immediate thought was, could they have all met? I didn’t get right on it, but over the course of time I came to understand that no, they couldn’t have met, they were in distinctly different parts of this thousand mile line. But I still kind of enjoy the vague first version, that only exists in my head, and looks like a kinescope of ‘50s TV play, in black & white with a cheap farmhouse set.
Harry Truman was an artillery captain, always stationed in specific places where artillery happened to be located (think of it). Therefore, there is really no good reason that he would come wandering into an abandoned French farmhouse, but in the Playhouse 90 version in my skull, that’s where it begins. Then one of those ridiculous WWI tanks putters up in front of the farmhouse and stalls. Lt. George Patton gets out of the tank, looking pissed off. He pulls his pistol, growls, “Goddam French piece of shit!” and shoots the tank, the bullets going right through the armor. Capt. Truman watches from the front door of the farmhouse. Truman and Patton meet, then who should come crawling up, freshly gassed, but Cpl. Adolf Hitler, gasping for air. As human beings they’ve got to help this poor guy and nurse him back to life. As I said, over the course of time and more reading, that meeting could never have happened. The coincidence of those three guys being in a battle that included millions of participants wasn’t that unusual.
Anyway, Chris also loves dogs.
More than ten years later, I became friends with Chris, who is a big, black bearded guy – a former MMA fighter – and a devout movie person. He’s one of those horrible people I’ve spent my whole life with who loves to talk about cameras. I too like cameras, but I like what you do with them more than the actual item. Anyway, Chris also loves dogs. He specifically loves Bulldogs: Pitbulls, Bull Terriers, American Bully Bull dogs. Chris knows everything about Bulldogs, except how to train them. They are not an easily trained breed. Chris had made a full-length feature film called Zeitgeist (pronounced, zeet-gyst, to no one’s amusement but his own), well-shot in 16mm that for cheap, independent movies, I rather like. It’s way too much like Clerks to be taken seriously – most of it is in a comic book store, of all places – but it’s a far better movie. My favorite scene is with Chris’s dog, Happy, that I never met in person. It was his one and only Bull Terrier – like Spuds McKenzie – because all of his other Bulldogs were Pitbulls. Pitbulls are fine, if they’re not scary, but Bull Terriers are the dopiest breed of dog there is. Chris had wisely cast Happy as his dog in the movie. Happy completely stole his scenes, including my favorite scene. Picture this: Day, the front steps of a house, a smiling 4-year-old Asian girl with a 2-year-old Asian boy, contentedly eating a sandwich that’s half his size and takes both hands. Chris, knowing exactly what he was doing, introduced Happy into the scene – a 65 pound Target dog. Bull Terriers’ heads are misshapen. Not all of them, but most of them. Their heads were bred to be hard, and they’re really hard.
The Bull Terrier is a fascinating breed of dog. They were bred in Manchester, England in the 1850s, ostensibly for fighting, which they did well, not as well as their cousins, the Pitbulls, but ultimately they’re too dopey. If you really teach them to fight, they’ll fight. But what Bull Terriers are the best at is catching rats. British soldiers almost exclusively took Bull Terriers with them to India in the 1800s, where Ratting, dogs catching rats, was a sport.
Anyway, of all the people to have Bull Terriers over the years, which is very few, guess who had one? Cpl. Adolf Hitler during WWI. The photo is during WWI. Hitler is the guy with the mustache. Parked dutifully at his feet, his is named Fuchsl.
It’s already 6:46, and I didn’t finish explaining how I got the idea for my book, Hitler in the Madhouse. As Scarlett O’Hara says at the end of Gone with the Wind, “There’s always tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day.”
At the end of one of the Three Stooges’ shorts, Shemp throws a brick in the air, waits for it to come down, and it doesn’t. He looks up and says, “Boy, am I lucky. Or am I?”