© 2017, Shaun Kelley
11 Nov 2014
How did you and Bill first meet and become friends?
“Bill and I are both from the North Shore suburbs of Chicago. Grew up just a few miles apart, but I never heard of him until one night in LA, Jessica Harper and I were watching the then fabled TV show Saturday Night Live and he was making his very first appearance as Chevy Chase’s replacement in the cast. He introduced himself to America in the most unique Lenny Bruce/Hunter Thompson stream of consciousness way we’d ever seen.
A couple of nights later we were having dinner down at the Original Pantry, a unique restaurant down in the skid row of Los Angeles that’s open 24 hours a day and is staffed only by ex-convicts. In walks Bill and a couple fellow cast mates. What they were doing on the West Coast, I don’t remember, they all had to do another SNL in New York a few days later. Bill came over to our table and introduced himself — in hindsight just probably hitting on movie star Jessica — but that’s how we met and became bi-coastal friends.
He was one of the most unique people I’d ever met. In the next few years I’d send him scripts and asked if wanted to do them, it was always “nope”. A couple years later I was writing “Razor’s Edge”, the phone rings at 4:am, wakes me up and it’s Bill, says that’s the movie he wants to do! By then he’d become a big star, it was a kind of problem for Columbia — a huge comedian in a Somerset Maugham drama?
They did a budget, it was more than 25 million bucks, said they couldn’t gamble that much on a comedian in a story like that. I flew to London, asked the great producer Harry Benn, who’d done a lot of Ken Russell’s movies, to do an English budget (i.e. a real one), he came back with half as much. Columbia couldn’t deny investing that, they wanted Bill to do “Ghostbusters” too badly, and that’s how it all came together. If you look at what he’s done with his career over the last 30 years, it as where he was headed all along.
Since you started this amazing old corner email about the movie, you can see the people who write to you are fewer but infinitely more fascinating than the larger audience that prefer “Caddy Shack” or “Meatballs” sketch comedy movies where Bill started. Maugham created this, but Bill had to sell it, and I think they both did a job that just confuses the “popcorn crowd”, but the ones with a little more complexity see a whole different movie”