CraigCalman.com - An actor for writers, a writer for actors, and a director for both
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A peripatetic wonderer, child of nature, connoisseur of the exotic; former denizen of the nefarious Lower East Side, New York City AND funky Venice, California, climber of piney peaks, purveyor of art and culture; actor, lover, tyrant, euphemizer, macaroni and cheese afficionado -- I am all of these, and more. I am also chronologically and geographically constituted for eligibility as President of the United States: if nominated, I will not run; if elected, however, I may serve, depending upon who might be Vice President, etc.

The baby is the grandfather of the man.

Imagine this little tyke growing up to become

The Dictator of Happiness.

 

 

 

Born in Occupied Mexico as my radical friends like to call the region West of the Pecos yours truly has always been an artistically-inclined creature given to flights of fantasy and to filling notebooks with cartoon-character stories which led to an invitation to tour The Walt Disney Studios at the age of 9 and a greeting and a handshake by the great Walt Disney himself.

 

From the age of 12 and into college I was an art student of Loretta Metzger McLeod at the Spanish Village in Balboa Park, San Diego where I explored charcoal drawing but focused virtually all of my attention to oil painting.

 

 

 

In high school I wrote and directed 8mm and Super 8 films, one of which won an award in the international Kodak Teenage Movie Awards. I excelled in English and (yes -- I have a "scientific" streak) Biology. But the laboratory lost me, for I loved performing in school plays and developed a passion for classical movies. In the mid '70s after having lived in Oregon and Mexico I attended UCLA's Motion Picture/Television Department where I specialized in script writing and acting for film and television. I received a Bachelor of Arts degree on the very centenary of the birth of D.W. Griffith. I took that as a good omen.

 

Passport photo, 1975

 

Are these Hollywood stars of the early talkie era? Not exatly. This is a portrait of my maternal grandparents Frank and Goldie at the time of their marriage in 1931. They both had come from Poland and met in Mexico where their families had emigrated during the 1920s. On September 1, 1939 they moved to San Diego, California and began their lives as American citizens. Ironically, that was the very day Hitler's army marched into their former homeland. Alas, they both died young, still in their 50s, Frank in 1963 and Goldie six years later.

 

Paternal grandmother BETTY LANSKY GENDELMAN (1909-1991) was a child actress in Russia and kept the theatrical spirit all her life. Unfortuately, I did not get to know her until I was 26. But I soon learned where I got my acting genes from.

 

Immediately upon graduation from UCLA, I embarked on a professional career as a theater actor, eventually working (and triumphing) in my home town at the Old Globe Theatre, San Diego where I won a Best Actor in a Comedy Role award. Prior to that I was a member of Ralph Waite's Los Angeles Actors Theater Playwrights Workshop headed by the notorious Miguel Pinero. Eventually I moved to New York City (the duty of all serious actors) and immersed myself in the superstructure, the counterculture, the infrastructure and the inner universe and made numerous forays into regional theater, summer stock and even The Boston Shakespeare Company.

After seven or eight years as a theater actor I hunkered down in NYC and focused all my attention to writing, literature, art and reality. To support myself I worked as a "temp" for some of the major corporations of the world, having mastered the brave new world of computer word processing. (My life at that time, 1980s NYC was a cross between "After Hours," "Desperately Seeking Susan," "Repo Man" and the movie John Waters would love to make but doesn't have the balls to.)

 

With my faithful companion Woodrow Woodstock Wilson on a cold winter night in our "backyard" on Ludlow Street, The Lower East Side, NYC early in 1983. A charming neighborhood, childhood home to The Marx Brothers, Lee Strasberg, etc.; by the '70s and '80s it had become a haven for punks, drug addicts, lost poets, misplaced persons, burnt out hippies, beatniks and other artists.

In the Village, 1982

Ludlow Street, around the corner from Katz's Deli ("Buy a salami for your boy in the army!" said the sign in the window). First a neighborhood of pushcarts and Dead End kids, then a no man's land of pushers and dead kids. Leave it to the pioneering spirit of artists like me to stake a claim there and strive to bring life to such a miserable world. Well, we did it.

 

The May 28, 1984 issue of "New York" magazine was devoted to The Lower East Side and the first hints of that area's future gentrification.

The following description gives a very good idea of what this place was like when I lived there:

"In the seventies hundreds of buildings were abandoned, buildings with no heat, no hot water, no locks. The landlords had wrung all the money they could get out of them....Today [1984] whole blocks between Avenues A and D are lined with the carcasses of buildings. Vast stretches of land are covered with crumbled bricks and cement. Until recently, lines of drug buyers snaked around the blocks....When Father Moloney found a dead body near the Christadora Building last year, the police acted almost unconcerned. 'We are in a no man's land,' he was told. 'They can dump anything they want here.'"

That "dump" was my home for five years. What an education -- what an experience!

Now I hear the former Jewish ghetto is getting gentrified and is full of "yuppies." When I returned for a visit in 1993 I was amazed to discover "The Hamlet Cafe" located in my building!

There were no pastel colors or painted flowers on the Lower East Side back in the '70s and '80s. An aura of gloom, neglect, decay and ghosts prevailed, but there was utter freedom as well.

 

KATZ'S DELI

Dear Mabel Jean,

I'm envious of you goin' to New York City. I wisht I could go agin myself. Now you ast me about good eateries and cheap.

Well, one place I heartily recommend is this here Katz's Deli, what you call the oldest delicatessen in New York City. Says so right there on the sign out front, next to the date "1888." (The cashier inside looks like she's that vintage too, but don't let her scare ya.)

Now Mabel Jean, I wanna warn ya -- it's in a raunchy part o' town, so if I was you I'd go there in the daylight and I'd bring with me a couple a hefty-type bodyguards which I'm sure you won't have no trouble findin' your first night in town.

Tell the cabbie you wanna go to How-ston Street. No use sayin' Hue-ston or he won't take you there even though that's what it is. Most cabbies get jittery when you drive east of First Avenue in that part of town, something about No-Man's Land and Alphabet City, but just tell him it ain't much further -- to drop you off at Ludlow Street.

Now when you gets there, the first thing you gotta do is step aroun' the derelick that stands in the doorway droolin' with one shoe off ever day of the week 'cept the weekends, and if you happens to gets there on the weekends you jes' wend yer way through all them chatty visitors from Queens.

Once you step inside you'll see a big ole colored man sittin' by the door. That's the ticket man. There's always a New York City cop standin' wid him to keep him company. But the ticket man is always sittin'. He's the one with the big bulgy bullfrog eyes that look like they might fall out onto the floor and him not care about it ner nobody else. He'll hand you a ticket.

This here ticket is for you to go to the counter to order your hot corn beef sandwich. That's the only thing I'd recommend, Mabel Jean, as it's the only thing I've ever eaten there, aside from the pickles and that's cuz they come with the sandwich.

Now Mabel Jean. Pay close attention. There's a big sign in big letters behind the counter that says "NO TIPPING." But I want you to know it's just there as a gimmick. It's whattcha call a ruse. Because if you want a sandwich, Mabel Jean, YA GOTTA TIP the counterman. It's as simple as that. But ya can't let the cashier nor the cop see ya do it, that's what. Under NO circumstances. (I don't think the ticket man cares one way or 'tother. His job seems to stop right after he hands out them tickets.)

I don't know it for a fact, but I have a feelin' that if you get CAUGHT tippin' a counterman, an alarm goes off, thirty cops rush in and next thing ya know you're on the inside of the New York City Hoosegow which is the last place on earth you wanna be outside o' the City Morgue. So think about it.

Now the counterman I'd always goed to is a big white lumox with big bulgy eyes jes' like the ole black ticket man, 'ceptin' this one wears glasses, so you can be sure HIS eyes ain't gonna drop off into the corn beef he's choppin' -- that is, unless his glasses drops off too, you see what I mean?

Anyways, you hands that counterman your ticket and he'll hand you a big greasy slab of steamin' hot corn beef. It's for you to nibble on right there and then. And THAT'S when you hand him the TIP. Now Mabel Jean, you gotta do it jes' right an' act like yer mindin' yer own bidnis and pertend like nothin's goin' on. And whatever you do, DON'T LOOK AT THE CASHIER AND DON'T LOOK AT THE COP.

If all goes well and it's a nice big tip, you gets extra corn beef on yer sandwich and extra pickles on the side. Which is what I like. But if you DON'T give him a good tip, he gets skimpy on both the corn beef AND the mustard, NOT to mention the pickles, with absolutely NO regard to the very real possibility that you might have ended up in the New York City Hoosegow with a guilt trip on top of it and somethin' that would have given you a bummer for the rest of the day. Katz's Deli -- remember it.

Enjoy yer trip, Mabel Jean, and drop me a card.

 

 

UPDATE AND HISTORICAL REVISION: I have just discovered an essay written by Tom Wolfe in 1964 called "Putting Daddy On." He describes the Lower East Side 20 years before the "New York" magazine article. So that place had been in a state of decay for a LONG LONG TIME:

"There are whole streets on the Lower East Side where it looks as if the place had been under intense heat and started melting and then was suddenly frozen in amber. Half the storefronts are empty and there is a gray film inside the windows. Pipes, bins, shafts of wood and paper are all sort of sliding down the walls. The ceilings are always covered with squares of sheet metal with quaint moldings on them to make an all-over design, and they are all buckling. The signs have all flaked down to metal the color of weathered creosote, even the ones that say Bodega y Carneceria. Everything is collapsing under New York moss, which is a combination of lint and soot....Slum tenaments are worse than they sound. The hallway is painted with a paint that looks exactly the color, thickness and lumpiness of real mud. At some point they painted the mud color over everything, even over the doorbell-buzzer box. They didn't bother to pull the wiring out. They just cut the wires and painted over the stubs. And there they have it, the color called Landlord's Brown, immune to time, flood, tropic heat, arctic chill, punk rumbles, slops, blood, leprotic bugs, cockroaches the size of mice, mice the size of rats, rats the size of Airedales, and lumpenprole tenants."

View from my Ludlow Street fire escape looking north toward The Empire State Building, 1980.

 

"I look out my barred window onto dreary tenements.

The sky is grey. It drizzles.

The bars impede the view, but I need them.

They keep out the burglars.

 

A sorry-looking house plant left on the fire escape sways in the rain.

Puddles on the blacktop roof across the way reflect nothing

not even sorrow.

 

I am not sorrowful -- don't get me wrong!

But Manhattan's siren song has dashed so many a young follower onto its rocky shores that even I cannot remain blind to the resultant carnage.

There are those who survive -- they rock-scramble up to safety only to be met by further perils.

Some find secluded nooks and venture out solely for sustenance.

Some, heedless of morals and other man-made concoctions, find nourishment, flattery, encouragement in the least likely situations.

I have scrambled to safety, for I am an expert rock climber.

I have found a safe nook. I venture out. I witness the casualties, the successes. All are huddled together, feigning independence.

The endless fates, the ever-changing combinations -- all are visible here.

I look on in wonder. For two years and more I have pretended that I was not a part of this drama. At last I realize the fact I cannot escape:

I am that drama. That drama is me."

-Craig Calman

September 1982

 

"New York is a wonderful city. I'm glad to be putting down some kind of roots here. It is going to be the capital of the world. It isn't like the rest of the country -- it's like a nation itself -- more tolerant than the rest in a curious way. Littleness gets swallowed up here. All the viciousness that makes other cities vicious is sucked up and absorbed in New York. It is truly the great city of the world -- an organism in itself -- neither good nor bad but unique."

-John Steinbeck, 1945

 

By 1986 somehow having survived all my misadventures, it was time to round out my American Cultural Experience. So I moved to Hollywood, California where I was soon rubbing elbows with some of the great luminaries. Bette Davis, residing just below Sunset Strip in her old age declared me "a very talented writer" and wanted to play my 100-year-old Shakespearean star in "THE TURN OF THE CENTURY." Alas, the great diva passed away the very month I completed the feature length screenplay, which benefits from her sage advice.

 

Academy Award-winning director Robert Wise found the script "very interesting and very well written." Actress/producer Martha Scott, who produced Henry Fonda's one man shows and was Humphrey Bogart's co-star in "The Desperate Hours" predicted I "will be recognized by the industry as an exciting and enduring talent." And the legendary Hal Roach, producer of the Our Gang and Laurel & Hardy comedies of the '20s and '30s took me under his wing and at the age of 96 asked me to help him write the script for his "come back comedy." The photo below shows us in 1982 at his home in Bel Air when Mr. Roach was a youthful 90.

 

NOTE: The two paragraphs below were typed nearly ten years ago and may not necessarily hold true today. I reserve the right to modify my attitudes, thoughts, beliefs and conclusions at any time and to hold harmless any attempts at sabotage.

I have worked in the offices of virtually all of the major motion picture studios in Hollywood and yet I have remained "fiercely" independent. To date I have completed five full length stage plays as well as feature length screenplays, one-acts, magazine articles and a collection of rhymes, ditties and musings. I have "novelized" "THE TURN OF THE CENTURY" but as yet my works have been blessed by no major productions. Perhaps this shall all change once my newly-created website makes its world-wide debut.

More than one person this past year [2004] has stated to me point blank that my fate may be that akin to Van Gogh's -- an artist unrecognized during his own lifetime. I've considered the possibility, considering how none of my plays have ever been produced nor any of the movies I see so clearly in my mind's eye have yet to be created. But I could just as easily yet have a career like Edna May Oliver, couldn't I? and bring a faint smile to those quaint enough to remember. Or shall I fade away in a mysterious mist like B. Traven? Perhaps the jerks who made that comment just have a desire to cut my ear off. Perhaps we are all doomed, dear reader. Well, if so, then better to be doomed as a dreamer than as a purveyor of nightmares, cruelty, indifference, mediocrity, banality or wanton abandon, says I. Come what may, I can honestly state that I have done my best and have tried to meet every challenge courageously, honestly and truthfully.

Come what may, let us pray that great days await us all -- that a better world can be achieved by way of continual personal and collective efforts, with the best of intentions, with the highest good will. Who wants to join me to strive for that?

"O for a Muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention; A kingdom for a stage, princes to act and monarchs to behold the swelling scene!"

[DIRECTOR'S NOTE: Above speech should have the earnest and simple passion for Truth and Goodness as the sincere and rousing speech given by Charlie Chaplin in "The Great Dictator" (1940).]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcvjoWOwnn4

 

Here is a link to my April 2001 TV interview:

https://vimeo.com/29298551

 

Daddy-O faces the second half of the first decade of The New Millennium. What sort of world is in the making in this post 9/11 epoch, kids?

 

Mummy and me.

 

"Atheism In The Name Of God is an abandonment of all religious beliefs, including atheism, which in practice is the stubbornly held idea that the world is a mindless mechanism. Atheism In The Name Of God is giving up the attempt to make sense of the world in terms of any fixed idea or intellectual system. It is becoming again as a child and laying oneself open to Reality as it is actually and directly felt, experiencing it without trying to categorize, identify or name it." - Alan Watts

 

 

Yours truly just playing myself, finally, June 11, 2012.

 

 

Yours Truly and friends welcome in the New Year 2014