Yo, Gargoyle

For three decades Bob Christiansen and Rick Rosenberg produced award-winning television. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Queen of the Stardust Ballroom, Red Earth White Earth and Gore Vidal’s Lincoln tip an iceberg of prestigious credits.

Not Brainy Gabriella
Then there was an early piece of flotsam called Gargoyles.

In ancient times gargoyles, sometime called chimera, served as drainage spouts for Egyptian and Greek temples built by pagans who apparently had never seen a rain gutter. After the rise of Christianity in Europe, gargoyles evolved from carved animal heads to more grotesque creatures.
Originating in idol worship was not good for their reputation, but the 7th Century Bishop of Rouen, later canonized as St. Romaine, reputedly believed that there is some good in every one of God’s creatures, including a forest dragon that terrorized folks who wandered too far beyond the city walls. Beguiled by the Bishop’s tenderness, the dragon turned to helping the citizens of Rouen, and in honor of him they carved the dragon’s likeness to adorn the cathedral and let water off the roof.

That’s the horse whisperer version.

The one I like has the Bishop hooking up with a condemned prisoner to subdue the monster. It was called Gargouille, a derivative of the French word for gullet and progenitor of our modern word gargoyle. Gargouille thrashed around in the Sien, was part human, part demon, and had a tendency to spew water all over the countryside, causing vast flooding.

That’s why the aforesaid mentioned Bishop and his faithful convicted companion went after him. The Bishop used the con as bait to lure Gargouille out of the river. That was not as cold blooded as you might think. It was like the Lone Ranger’s sending Tonto into town to scout out the situation. Tonto always come back to camp, sometimes blooded, once with rope burns around his neck, but with vital signs almost as good as Kimosabe’s and full useful intel.

So, as the felon showed himself to be as quick on the get away as Tonto would have to be, the Bishop formed his fingers in the sign of the Cross. Gargouille cowered like Christopher Lee in Dracula. Or like Christopher Lee in Dracula: Prince of Darkness and again in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave. Ditto for Scars Of Dracula, Taste The Blood of Dracula and Dracula A.D. 1972.

It’s clear that a crucifix couldn’t kill Dracula, but in the Bishop’s day there was no profit to be made from a sequel. Besides, no one knew what a sequel was. Thus Gargouille sheepishly followed the Bishop back to town where the monster was summarily burned to death. Gargouille then inspired likenesses that were sweat hog ugly, carved in stone and stuck on the roofs of medieval cathedrals to show evil spirits what fate would befall them if they wandered too close.

In modern times sleeker gargoyles in stainless steel were placed atop the Chrysler Building in New York City to ward off Ford motorcars.

Not Mitt Romney
Take the gargoyles of yesteryear, mix New Age thinking into their post-modern stories, and they become misunderstood, sort of like King Kong, or downright heroic, like Mighty Joe Young. Disney produced a kids’ animation series followed by a knock-off, direct-to-video movie in the mid-Nineties that made gargoyles superheroes lazing about an ancient Scottish castle. An American tycoon buys the castle and has it moved to New York City. Feeling needed again, the gargoyles ward of “modern threats to humanity”— judges who let murderers walk free, black pimps who beat up their ho’s, greasy white tweakers, a couple of U.S. Senators.

Don’t you wish? Don’t you wish Disney could imagine some real and present evil, like media companies that flirt with the occult and then sell it to the kiddies?

The gargoyles Bob and Rick introduced to television a quarter of century earlier just wanted to be left alone. But when they were disturbed, it was like stepping on green mambas. Makeup artists Del Armstrong, Ellis Burman Jr. and Stan Watson won the Emmy for making them look as gruesome as Gargouille. The monsters lived in the desert, so there wasn’t much water spewing; but they were bad ass when that used to mean something.

Not Vanessa Hudgens
I saw Gargoyles when it first aired in November 1972. It starred Cornell Wilde as a Dr. Somebody and his scientist daughter played by Jennifer Salt. They investigate a huge skeleton displayed at a curio shop. As they pack it up for further investigation, they unwittingly disturbed the gargoyle equivalent of an Indian burial ground, and if you ever saw Jeremiah Johnson, you know what that means. They are driving back to a university when monsters dive down off the hot rocks and give them a bad time, denting their car and such, and clearly wanting to tear the occupants limb from limb before they retrieve the ancestral bones.

I don’t remember what happens after that. A long day at Wolper, a couple of scotches, a pretty good warmed over dinner and I was ready for bed, or more correctly, the snoring nap you take before the wife yells, “Turn off the TV and come to bed!”

But I was impressed by what I saw. I just never associated it with the Bob and Rick I met two years later and worked with off and on for the next fifteen.

Hillary Clinton has to pick a winnable VP
The reason is threefold. Al Gore hadn’t invented the internet yet, which meant no International Movie Data Base. Further, although entertainment professionals incorporate socialization in their dealings, and that may include chitchat about past projects or past lives, the work at hand always hangs over them like a Sword of Damocles. Whether there is a lull, a meal or a party, the talk always comes back to the present work. Or to gossip. When I am socializing, I’d rather fill my mouth with food and drink than my head with the details of other people’s lives. Unless of course the info is really juicy and destroys a reputation.

The problem is you just never know what you’re going to get. When I’m in a Greyhound Bus Depot and people find out I’m a famous Hollywood writer, I’m swamped with stories of murder, extramarital affairs, Jesus saved me from drugs, let me show you something in the alley, and you should write the screenplay

No thanks.

OK, let me spend the next hundred miles explaining how I live off coupons from the newspaper.

Neither Bob nor Rick struck me as the kind who cared whether you could get half off on a can of Spaghetti-Os, but you never know when eccentricity will come screaming forth, so its best to keep one’s guard up.

Superficially, I knew Bob and Rick as well-spoken men and well read, both with senses of humor. Bob’s wit was more in your face; Rick’s, more droll. Bob came out of the Marine Corps, and then, I don’t know, he sold space ads for The Hollywood Reporter or Variety. He did something afterwards, that I’m sure.

Meanwhile Rick was the assistant to Jerry Bresler, producer of Major Dundee, a 1965 film starring Charlton Heston and directed by Sam Peckenpa. By 1969 Rick was an associate producer on The Reivers, a film that put Steve McQueen in an adaptation of a William Faulkner novel. McQueen introduced Rick to Bob, or it could have been the other way around. Regardless, secretaries and development assistants over the years led me to believe that Chris-Rose Productions was the result of Steve McQueen suggesting the two should get together and put on their own shows.

Whether that’s true or not, it brings us back to the early piece called Gargoyles. I was at a party at Bob’s house a dozen years after its making. There was either another writer or a director present who knew one of the best inside stories I have ever heard.

First some background.

Forerunners of Osama Bin Laden
At the time of Gargoyles making in 1972 the slogan “Black Is Beautiful” had become “Black Power” with a clenched fist. California appellate courts overturned murder and assault convictions against the Maoist leadership of the Black Panther Party, freeing the leaders to fight off kidnapping, embezzlement and more murder charges. For reasons that are an enigma to me, intellectual and media elites began to accept the Panthers in the romantic revolutionary light in which radical leftists bathed them. Co-founder of the Party Huey Newton was in prison for killing a prostitute and addicted to drugs when the University of California, Santa Cruz, awarded him a doctorate. Eldridge Cleaver, the self-confessed rapist of white women who said he practiced on ghetto girls, was lionized for jumping bail and fleeing to Algeria. Angela Davis, a middle class woman turned Communist, feminist, university darling, Panther and owner of the shotgun used to blow off the face of a judge, inspired a worshipful song by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

In this climate the assassinated hero of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., was considered passe because of his non-violent policies. Some called him an Uncle Tom for trying to work within the system. Few challenged Islamic fascism’s inroads into America in the form of the Black Muslims. Maluena Karenga’s whole cloth invention of Kwanza as a uniquely black holiday, with pseudo roots in African animism, gained wider, unquestioning acceptance.

This was not a time for reason, the one thing that has remained constant since. The term "political correctness" wasn’t in usage but "consciousness raising" was. A person who needed his consciousness raised was a racist, patriarchal, probably a Republican or a Christian fundamentalist, a person in some way spiritually and mentally deformed. Generally speaking, he was white. Blacks on the other hand had "soul" because of centuries of oppresion. Therefore they already knew that The Man was the problem and did not need their consciousnesses raised. Except when they held a traditional value or two, went to church or were simply old fashioned Democrats. Hence when faced with a radical spewing hate or just a misguided fool spouting nonsense, most blacks and whites kept their opinions to themselves.

Bob wasn’t most people. He and Rick had a movie to get and only twenty-one days to do it. On the second or third day of shooting the lead gargoyle stepped out of a scene and took Bob aside.

“Some of the bros are saying that my dialogue makes me sound like an Uncle Tom.”

“Some of the bros?”

The man nodded solemnly.

“But, Bernie, you are supposed to be a great big green fucking gargoyle.”