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Winner!

I think it was Joe Calamari who introduced me to Michael Winner. Winner had just acquired the rights to produce a Captain America movie.

This would have been late 1984.

Joe was Executive V.P. of Business Affairs and, among other things, oversaw Marvel’s efforts to get movies on the screen. He brought Winner to my office to meet me, since Joe had volunteered me to be Winner’s Marvel contact and creative consultant for the film. Okay.

For those of you unfamiliar with Michael Winner’s work, he produced and directed many films including I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname, The Mechanic, the Death Wish series and The Wicked Lady.

Here’s his Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Winner

Winner and I met and talked a number of times about the Captain America project. He lived and worked in London, but came across the pond regularly. I went to London occasionally, too. Marvel had an office there, run by Managing Director Robert Sutherland, and once in a while, I’d go there at Robert’s behest, or at Marvel President Jim Galton’s behest to work with or coach the Marvel U.K. editorial staff or confer with Robert regarding some business matter. Generally, if I went anywhere in Europe, say the Bologna Book Fair or to visit our French licensees, I’d make it a point to stop at the London office along the way, just to maintain connections. Whenever I was in London or Winner was in New York, generally we’d get together.

The main thing I tried to impress upon Winner were the things I thought were of paramount importance—making it credible that a guy would dress up in a red, white and blue suit and do what Cap did. Getting the audience to accept that as a reasonable reality. Avoiding campy-ness.

In Death Wish, Winner painstakingly made it credible that a non-violent architect became a cold-blooded vigilante. In The Wicked Lady, he made it credible that a Lady disguised herself and became a highwayman. I figured he was the right man for the job.

Winner was, and probably still is quite a character. He is very smart, very sharp and very quick. He knows his craft. He’s pretty sure he’s da bomb. He’s clever and funny. He can be outrageous. In conversation, he often drifts into risqué territory and laces his remarks with lascivious comments. He’s a leading proponent of sex and a major fan of beautiful, sexy women. He’s rather foul-mouthed. That didn’t bother me. Do I swear? Hell, yeah.

I think Winner’s favorite word is “wanker.” That was how he referred to Bob Layton. Wanker. But there’s no special honor in that. To Winner, almost everyone was a wanker.

There is much to tell about my various encounters with Winner, including Layton’s uninvited presences. But that will have to wait till Thursday. Tomorrow is a special day.

So let me skip ahead to an event near the end of my involvement with Winner.

At the same time Winner was developing Captain America, he was working on Death Wish 3.

Sometime in October, 1985, Michael Winner breezed into my office at 387 Park Avenue South absolutely beaming. Seems he had just come from a Motion Picture Association of America Appeals Board meeting, where he’d been appealing the “X” rating for violence given to Death Wish 3.

Winner said it seemed to be a hopeless quest. Only once in its history had the Appeals Board overturned an “X” rating.

Winner had argued that Rambo: First Blood Part II, which got an “R,” had many more grisly deaths than Death Wish 3. I don’t remember the exact death tolls, but it seems to me that in one of the movies, 55 people died. That was either the Death Wish 3 total and the Rambo total was higher, or it was the Rambo total and Death wish 3 was lower. Whatever.

Per Winner, the Board Chairman said of the Rambo deaths, “Yes, but they were Vietnamese….” Caught himself. Stopped. Realized what he’d just said—more or less that lowly Asians don’t count. He didn’t use the word “gooks” but he might as well have. Racist idiot.

Suddenly understanding that his career was in jeopardy, the chairman saw to it that the rating for Death Wish 3 was lowered to an “R.” Winner, a winner indeed, was ecstatic.

 

TOMORROW: The Man Who Flew 35 Kamikaze Missions

THURSDAY:  Winner! – Part 2: The House of Harryhausen, or a Day with Ray

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31 Comments

  1. What you say about Sartain reminded me of the antics of a local Bill Tush who had his own show for awhile. I looked it up and noticed that Jan Hooks got her start on TV opposite Bill Tush. If I read correctly, Jan Hooks is from the area where I grew up. Small world. Sartain was hilarious in Hollywood Knights.

  2. Anonymous

    The cop is Gailard Sartain, he and Gary Busey started off hosting a "Creature Feature" type show on KOTV in Tulsa, OK. Sartain played a character named "Mazzeppa Pompazoidi", Busey played "Teddy Jack Eddy". Sartain was actually the star. It's an interesting story. Sartain was a camera man that would pull crazy antics and became so popular he got his own local show. I live in Tulsa and it's still legendary here. They still sell DVDs of the shows that survived. It was originally on in the early 70's. They were quite creative givin what they had to work with. It's one of those situations that couldn't happen today.

    Neil

  3. I learned that Robert Wuhl who starred in "Hollywood Knights" was a comedy writer for Rodney Dangerfield. The policeman had been on Hee Haw. Yeah… I'm off topic, but the blog is slow today.

  4. Anonymous

    "He's looking for a man named dick!"

    Neil

  5. Sadly, an internet search confirms what you say. It reminds me of the "peeing in the punch" scene in the movie "Hollywood Knights".

    Teacher: "I've had this taste in my mouth before."
    Policeman: "It does have a little wang to it."

  6. Anonymous

    I read somewhere that some of the staff at a restaurant in London that Winner frequented used to masturbate into his soup. One night they didn't have time to, and Winner sent it back saying that it didn't taste right.

  7. Anonymous

    So who did produce the first craptacular Captain America movie?

  8. Dear Jim,

    Winner's MPAA anecdote makes me wonder how much talk like that is still around in Hollywood these days. If the board chairman's "career was in jeopardy" in 1985, he might have lost his position on the spot in 2011.

    I slept through Rambo: First Blood Part II at the drive-in, so I had no idea how much death was in it. I liked the original more.

    I haven't seen Death Wish in a very long time. Could such a movie be produced today?

    Dear JayJay,

    Thanks for linking to the article about Winner. The dichotomy between Winner's two selves reminds me of the difference between Peter Parker and Spider-Man.

  9. I haven't seen Captain America: the First Avenger yet. It's one more thing on the to-do list.

  10. Seems as good a place to ask as any: have you seen Captain America: The First Avenger, Jim? What'd you think?

  11. Dear j c,

    Sorry to say I never got to meet Charles Bronson.

  12. And Death Wish 3 is an awesome action film 😀

  13. Nick Yankovec

    Wait, I forgot the director they eventually found, Albert Pyun, was pretty much a spiritual successor to Winner (Cyborg, The Sword and the Sorceror) and look how that turned out 🙂

  14. Winners' article reminds me of me.

    Growing I was the shy, timid guy. Then at 18 years old I started working with a bunch of guys in their 50s who loved sports, were very frisky all their lives and were very confident and I learned from them.

    So in the space of 3 months I went from shy reserved guy to loud,confident party-goer with the microphone in hand (my sister nearly passed out when she saw that)

  15. Nick Yankovec

    I may have been a bit harsh, he has made some good films; however, he does have a tendency to use sexual abuse and rape as a plot device towards retributional violence, something that started occuring in comics not long after Death Wish III premiered (although I'm not suggesting a direct link)

    Still, with his previous film output, some of which was good but pretty much all exploitation to some extent, I'd have a hard time of imagining a director less suited to Captain America than Winner!

  16. Anonymous

    … Not to mention he directed The Mechanic – which was a f***ing great film

  17. Anonymous

    Steve and others – you guys are using 20/20 hindsight. Death Wish 3 had not even been made yet. Jim was basing his opinion on Death Wish 1, which was a very good film

    Stop using 20/20 hindsight and get some perspective

  18. Thank heavens that Winner didn't get anywhere need Captain America. The man is a buffoon! It makes me question Jim's judgement.

  19. Anonymous

    Death Wish 1 was great – but Death Wish 3 was awesome. It had over-the-top deaths – like (spoiler alert) death by bazooka at close range

    The movie is epic

  20. Nick Yankovec

    Michael Winner making a Captain America film? And Jim, you thought this was a good idea?!? As Paul said above, he doesn't have much respect over here in the UK for good reason!!

    I'm just pleased it never happened…

    I have seen Winner about a couple of times, seems like a friendly enough chap. It's just his film making talent I dislike!!

  21. Anonymous

    Rambo body Count by movie-

    First Blood

    1 death (Rambo somewhat accidentally kills a cop who is shooting at him and mistreated him before)

    Rambo: First blood Part II

    69 deaths- 1 good guy, 58 bad guys killed by Rambo, 10 bad guys killed by supporting characters

    Rambo III

    132 killed, Good Guys Killed: 37 Bad Guys Killed By Rambo: 78 Bad Guys Killed By Supporting Characters: 17

    Rambo (4)

    236 killed,
    Good Guys Killed: 113 Bad Guys Killed By Rambo: 83 Bad Guys Killed By Supporting Characters: 40

    so certainly the audience and the ratings board have changed over the years
    Rob

  22. Anonymous

    Of course, part of what I am getting at it is is usually considered less upsetting for the bad guys to get theres then for the good guys to get killed.

    So, bad guys killed in a far off jungle by the good guy, and only one good guy death (in Rambo) could be considered less upsetting

    Than scenes in death wish, in a familiar city setting, of many regular people being killed (good guys by the criminals) as well as bad guys (by Charles Bronson in revenge).

    It’s like the old movie rule in the 30s that the gangster had to get his in the end.

    Rob

  23. Anonymous

    The MPAA is supposed to determine how families in America would consider the movies.

    My guess is that American parents in 1985, ten yrs removed from the Vietnam war in which nearly 60,000 americans were killed, would not have cared too much about Vietnamese military deaths at the hand of Rambo.

    The whole point of the movie was like a cartharis "Do we get to win this time?".

    I saw the movie in a theater packed with Vietnam vets and vietnam era adults ( i was a kid) and they cheered loudly and clapped at every single death of a Vietnamese military figure (but mourned the death of the 'good' Vietnamese girlfriend of Rambo).

    So, it may not have been racism as much as it was the enemy. and a recent enemy.

    Im sure 40s and 50s audiences and Codes accepted the deaths of Japanese and germans much more than say Americans in movies. That's the way it works.

    Rob

  24. That kind of behaviour by the MPAA doesn't surprise me at all. They've been famous for double standards and bizarre practices since their inception. Check out the documentary "this film has not yet been Rated" for just a small overview.

  25. Love the post as well as the article JayJay posted.

    Paul, you didn't HAVE to give him those film books for free. You could have said no or at least made him clean the loos at the office to pay for 'em. 🙂

  26. Ask any English cook about the Winner Sauce.

  27. Kid

    Maybe the Board Chairman only meant that, from a Western perspective, audiences wouldn't mind so much seeing Vietnamese people getting killed, as opposed to Western people. If so, it may have been that he realized he was implying that Western audiences were racist which made him clam up.

  28. Anonymous

    The general consensus on Winner here in the UK is that he's a talentless, pompous, repulsive, obnoxious little turd. and that's just from the people who don't mind him too much.

    Paul

  29. I ran across this article earlier. Interesting, and possibly good advice. lol.

    I was born a wimp, I just pretend to be a Winner!

  30. j c

    Jim, did you ever meet Chuck Bronson?

  31. It's not good to discriminate. If you are going to offend people, you have to do it equally in the style of Don Rickles. I work with people all over the world which I think is remarkably cool. It's really fun encountering a very serious person from India, China, Russia, Chile or wherever and saying something completely off-the-wall. They are already a little insecure about the language and culture differences. When they realize I'm saying something completely absurd, it really breaks the ice.

    How does someone seriously even justify that it was okay because they were Vietnamese? A Vietnamese girl cuts my hair. I'd look much worse if not for her!
    I can point to areas in Georgia that might need thinning out more than Vietnam.

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