My nephew found himself with some free time during a business trip in London the other day, so he stopped in to Highgate Cemetery, snapped a photo of Douglas Adams’ snow-draped tombstone, and then fired it off to my email address. (Sometimes family and the Internet can be so cool!)
The photo came at a good time, because I’ve been missing Douglas Adams a lot lately. I usually do this time of year when I mentally “auld lang syne” the heroes from my youth who have moved on.
Adams, who died suddenly of a heart attack at a gym in Montecito in 2001, is most famous for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, a hilarious six-book science-fiction “trilogy.” The story is centered around the character Arthur Dent who escapes the planet Earth along with his alien friend Ford Prefect moments before the planet is demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass. My teenaged stepson now shares my Adams addiction, ever since we started listening to recordings of the Hitchhiker’s BBC radio shows on the way to his school every morning.
I usually read the entire Hitchhiker’s series every year of two to re-calcify my funnybone. This year I’ve added And Another Thing … to the list, which is the latest offering in the series, penned last year by Eoin Colfer, the creator of the fantastic Artemis Fowl books. Although critics have claimed that the Colfer book is “almost, but not quite, entirely unlike Douglas Adams,” I have thoroughly enjoyed it so far.
I was lucky to meet the great man once back in October 1992. It was at a book signing at Book Soup in West Hollywood on the Sunset Strip. I got to the store early and was able to secure a seat right next to the podium. Adams arrived late (he always had an aversion to deadlines) and read from one of the Hitchhiker’s Guide books, acting out all of the voices as he read along. We all ate it up. When he went to read from his book Last Chance To See – a rare bit of non-fiction he wrote about vanishing species – the store had none in stock. I gladly offered him my copy, which I had brought along for him to sign. I remember he flipped through it and said, “Wow, it’s marked up!” commenting on my habit of making notes in books. Afterwards, he pulled me to the front of the line where he shook my hand, signed my copy, and stamped a bright red “42” on the front (the answer to the question of “Life, the Universe, and Everything”).
A couple of months ago I got the chance to host my own signing at the same venue for my book Early Warner Bros. Studios, which I co-wrote with Hollywood historian Marc Wanamaker. It was weird standing at the same podium where Adams had once voiced the part of Marvin, the Paranoid Android to all of us nerdy fans all those years ago. The unworthiness I felt reminded me of Adams’ computer Deep Thought’s comments about a superior machine: “A computer whose operational parameters I am not worthy to calculate.”
I heard once that if you want to change your life, you must first change your heroes. A couple decades ago my life changed for the better, becoming a lot funnier in the process, when I first discovered Douglas Adams. The laughs ended far too soon.
I’m not bringing you down, am I?
3 Comments | tags: artemis fowl, arthur dent, douglas adams, e.j. stephens, early warner bros. studios, eoin colfer, ford prefect, grave, highgate cemetery, hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy, hollywood, last chance to see, marc wanamaker, zaphod beeblebrox | posted in Polaroids From the Old and New West
I’m sure we all carry around a collection of scenes from films in our heads where something wonderful takes place that we hope will happen to us some day in a similar fashion. Where we wish for our lives to imitate someone else’s art.
I had one of those moments come true for me a couple of days ago that I have been hoping for ever since I saw Back To The Future in 1985. Do you remember near the end of the film after the future has been altered when Marty McFly returns home to find that his family is now cool? There is a scene where his dad opens a box to find copies of his new book. I remember thinking that I would love to open a box to find the first copy of a book that I had written – someday. Well someday showed up on Thursday.
The book is called Early Warner Bros. Studios, which I co-wrote with Hollywood historian Marc Wanamaker. It’s a pictoral history of the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, which to me is holy soil as it is where I met my beloved wife Kimi.
The actual writing I did was not extensive, as the book consists of only a multi-page introduction which tells the studio’s history, followed by about 200 pictures and captions. But the labor it took to get the deal closed and to secure all of the sign-offs from the corporate entities involved is probably the closest I will ever get to childbirth.
As I wrote in the book, “It takes a lot of dedicated people to create a studio. The same can be said about creating a book about a studio.” Some of those dedicated people who pitched in and helped Marc and me were Chris Epting, Jerry Roberts, Leith Adams, Danny Kahn, and of course, my beautiful co-conspirator Kimi.
I had the surreal experience of reading my own book today. I kept constantly on the lookout for grammatical and factual errors. A few keystrokes can correct a blog mistake, but a book is a different beast all together, and it frustrated me that I just had to let go of any mistakes I found. I am reminded of a story I once heard about a man who was tackled by an art museum’s security force after he was discovered altering a painting. It turned out that the vandal was in fact the man who painted the picture in the first place, and never felt it was “quite right.”
I found a couple of typos, but overall, I am pleased.
These are all new experiences for me, and I hope one day they will be common ones after the publication of a few more books. I’ll keep you informed.
I thought a lot over the years about the moment I actually opened the package, but I must not have thought much about what to do afterwards, because the first thing I did after seeing my creation was to empty the cat litter box in the upstairs bathroom.
Here is a link to a picture of the cover (complete with bar code):
Early Warner Bros. Studios Cover
The book will be available from Arcadia Publishing on July 26. Here is a link to the site:
Early Warner Bros. Studios (Images of America) (Images of America Series)
6 Comments | tags: e.j. stephens, early warner bros. studios, marc wanamaker | posted in Polaroids From the Old and New West