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Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Knights At Table: Remembering Mazursky

Something seemingly ordinary changed my life in 1988. I was working at the Los Angeles Times and preparing to do an interview with Paul Mazursky. A couple of days prior to the meeting I was asked whether I could do it early in the morning at the Farmer’s Market on Fairfax. The Market was about five minutes from my house at the time.

On the appointed day I made my way toward Bob’s Donuts and could hear laughter and boisterous banter well before I reached my destination. When I finally spied Mazursky I could see him at the center (not literally) of a group of about eight people—the loud folk I’d heard from a distance. I approached cautiously and as I neared he waved me over.

I’ve long forgotten exactly how I was introduced but most certainly it was with humor. The group was rife with writers including Leon Capetanos, a frequent Mazursky collaborator, his then-girlfriend Kathy Cohen, Roger Simon and David Freeman; an agent, a production executive, a computer geek and sportswriter Allan Malamud.

This wasn’t the ideal setting for an interview (I did manage to fake a piece) and I don’t particular recall being a significant contributor to the conversation. But when people started to peel off Mazursky looked at me and announced, “You can come back anytime.” I’d passed the non-audition, audition.

I’m pretty certain that I didn’t come back the next day. It didn’t matter that I missed a day’s repartee for I would most certainly catch up with whatever was pertinent in the subsequent quarter-century-plus.

It was usually referred to as “the Mazursky table” and he was the headline act. Nonetheless the secondary and supporting players were integral to the drama. And with any good story the plot had lots of twists that ranged from the banal to the unexpected. The core group morphed as folk moved away, passed away or reached a satiation point. New people came aboard and the list of guest stars was a veritable who’s-who.

The daily drill was generally predictable for the regulars. We talked about whatever was in the news, the sports scoreboard, medical ailments and what we’d seen at screenings. There was considerable ogling and an unending stream of jokes, largely juvenile, unprintable and repeated again and again but almost never improved despite ongoing tinkering.

On his first or second visit veteran producer George Schlatter said he wasn’t going to leave until everyone else had not only departed but was at home or work. He knew that we were unsparing with our japes whenever a participant was out of earshot.

It was a very tough crowd.

But in a town without a hub we had found our meeting venue. It is and remains a place of comfort and pain. We’ve shared all the things that mark the passage of time—the highs and lows of life and career including the ultimate exit.

We shared in everyone’s accolades as boosters and agonized at the setbacks. And as time took its toll we soldiered on and held vigil when a member found himself on the brink of the precipice. There was a moment a few years back when Charlie (artist Bragg) took a turn for the worse and one has to credit his rebound in part on all the new stories he’d have in his quiver when he returned.

When Paul’s health began to falter, his dialysis treatments took precedence over daily visits. Nonetheless he remained a constant presence and the rest of the week he’d appear at the Market undiminished in his caustic observation, wit and humanity. The other day his daughter Jill was talking about his ferocity to continue his daily routine to the very end. The prior week nothing could dissuade him from going to lunch with a more glittery set of buddies that includes Mel Brooks, Dick Donner and Mike Gruskoff. He was also with our gang that week and talking about what he was reading and watching on TCM.

Over at Betsy’s yesterday David Freeman (now the table’s longest resident) wondered how Paul’s death would change our routine. I’m not sure it will; we need our community and as long as we’re still kicking we’ll have Mr. Mazursky. He got the party started and left a sufficient, nay abundant, legacy to cherish when the jokes inevitably descend to the lowly trough we so enjoyed drinking from.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon