Tag Archives: Mike Montego

Kona Gold — an interview with author Jess Waid

Kona-Gold-Cover-for e-books

By Randy Morse

I recently had an opportunity to quiz author Jess Waid on his latest work, Kona Gold, sixth volume in his Mike Montego series.

 

MORSE: Kona Gold marks the first time in a series that now spans six books that you’ve taken your main character, LAPD cop Mike Montego, out of California (and Vegas). Why Hawaii?

WAID: Mike has a lot of my characteristics, and likewise “relives” some of my past. I had occasion to be in Hawaii in the early Sixties and still have vivid memories of my time there. Several of my experiences on Oahu were fairly close to what Mike experiences in Kona Gold.  The one difference — I was between marriages. I’ve visited Hawaii several times since then, and it has changed greatly, as have Los Angeles and Vegas.

 

MORSE: How long had the plot for KG been percolating in your head before you began writing? Or are you an author who simply sits down at your computer and lets the creative juices flow?

WAID: There was very  little “percolating” for Kona Gold. But having written stories that took place in Las Vegas and also northern Idaho,  I saw another of my “past lives,” this time in Hawaii, fitting rather neatly into a new story. Also, recently divorced back then, I saw a parallel with Mike’s situation.

 

MORSE: What’s your writing routine? Are you disciplined, writing for a set period every day? Or do you write in feverish spurts? Is writing work or play?

WAID: When I’m into a story, I pound on the keys for hours regardless of the time of day, seven days a week. I find it to be enjoyable as I often am reliving past experiences, only modifying them to make for a more enjoyable read.

 

MORSE: Why is it that so many former cops end up writing books? Have you ever chatted with former colleagues about that?

WAID: I’ve been writing since ’92, ten years after having spent 22 years with the LAPD.  My writing started when I sought an outlet to express myself; sort of like needing to justify my life. I was living in northern Idaho, in an area enjoyed by a number of retired LAPD types. Several were employed, most not. I worked with the Bonner County Sheriff’s Department for one year, thanks to a federal grant written by my wife, Barbara. The subject matter was domestic violence. That experience, incidentally, partly triggered my later novel Circle of Yellow. That’s why part of that story originated in the Idaho/Montana area. Back to your question. I recognize that many retired law enforcement officers have experienced events that the “average Joe” has only dreamed about. Officers with a proclivity toward writing will put their experiences to print for personal reasons, as I’ve mentioned, often to relive their past. For me, it’s like getting a shot of adrenaline. I’ve often found my heart rate speeding during the course of writing a scene, usually a tense one, to the point I have to take a break after the scene is written to calm myself!

 

MORSE: Music often pops up in your books. Of course that was front and center in He Blew Blue Jazz. Hawaii has an amazingly rich musical tradition — any of that showing up in KG? And BTW, I understand you’re off for Vegas soon for some sort of reunion, and that your old pal, Art Imbach, will be there. Is Art still making the musical magic happen?

WAID: I was taken by the slack string guitar,  so that comes up in Kona Gold if only briefly, along with a scene involving the hula or hula-hula. And I’ve loved jazz since I can remember. My pal since I was six years old, Alan Imbach, is a brilliant writer of big band scores. As you know he resides in Vegas where I will be attending an LAPD class reunion soon. Al often conducts a large band of retired musicians who all played during the big band era. They perform every Tuesday at a private venue, but it’s also is accessible to the public as I understand it. Barbara and I will be attending along with several friends next Tuesday. By the way, Al hand-writes the charts for each instrument as fast as the new computer programs allow one to do so. He no longer plays the trombone, but he was an excellent player of the instrument. Al is giving me a new compact disc of the band playing his charts. I’m excited about the gift. I truly hope he can get the CD published. The public deserves to hear the great music played by the “old timers.”

 

MORSE: Finally, the inevitable question: what’s next? Another Montego? Or are you finally going to tackle that Mexican historical epic you’ve been scratching at the edges of for years now?

WAID: Ah yes. Barbara rides me about writing the “great epic” taking place south of the border, the land of my natural father. However, the germ of one more novel is gestating in my mind. It, too, will take place in Hawaii. Kona Gold left Mike sort of hanging, with some drug and human trafficking issues unanswered. Besides, there are still some “bad guys” running around the islands. I only have a working title so far: Kona Black.

 

Jess Waid
For more on Jess Waid and his books, visit his website, at www.jesswaid.com

The Mike Montego Series Grows!

Kona Gold Front Cover

I’m pleased to announced the Mike Montego series is about to expand to a half dozen titles.

Book Six, KONA GOLD, is nearly ready to go. If you have a soft spot for the Sixties, island culture, and fast-paced detective fiction, then I suspect you’re going to like KONA GOLD.

(Click here for more info).

Let me know if you’d like to know more about this new title, or any of the other Montego novels.

Days of Wine and Roses

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This is the second in a series of articles featuring movies from the 1950s and 1960s — films fictional LAPD cop Mike Montego might have watched.

 

Days of Wine and Roses is a 1962 film directed by Blake Edwards with a screenplay by JP Miller adapted from his own 1958 Playhouse 90 teleplay of the same name.

The movie was produced by Martin Manulis, with music by Henry Mancini, and features Jack Lemmon, Lee Remick, Charles Bickford and Jack Klugman. The film depicts the downward spiral of two average Americans who succumb to alcoholism and attempt to deal with their problems.

An Academy Award went to the film’s theme music, composed by Mancini with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. The film received four other Oscar nominations, including Best Actor and Best Actress.

 

Plot

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San Francisco public relations man Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon) meets and falls in love with Kirsten Arnesen (Lee Remick), a secretary. Kirsten is a teetotaler until Joe introduces her to social drinking. Reluctant at first, after her first few Brandy Alexanders, she admits that having a drink “made me feel good.” (She had previously disdained alcohol but admitted that she loved chocolate.) Despite the misgivings of Kirsten’s father (Charles Bickford), who runs a San Mateo landscaping business, they marry and have a daughter named Debbie.

Joe slowly goes from the “two-martini lunch” to full-blown alcoholism. It affects his work and, in due time, he and Kirsten both succumb to the pleasures and pain of addiction. Joe is demoted due to poor performance brought on by too much booze. He is sent out of town on business. Kirsten finds the best way to pass the time is to drink, and she drinks a lot. While drunk one afternoon, she causes a fire in their apartment and almost kills herself and their child. Joe eventually gets fired from the public relations firm and goes from job to job over the next several years.

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One day, Joe walks by a bar and looks at his reflection in the window. He goes home and says to his wife: “I walked by Union Square Bar. I was going to go in. Then I saw myself, my reflection in the window, and I thought, ‘I wonder who that bum is.’ And then I saw it was me. Now look at me. I’m a bum. Look at me! Look at you. You’re a bum. Look at you. And look at us. Look at us. C’mon, look at us! See? A couple of bums.”

Seeking escape from their addiction, Joe and Kirsten work together in Mr. Arnesen’s business and succeed in staying sober for two months. However, the urges are too strong, and after a late-night drinking binge, Joe destroys his father-in-law’s greenhouse and plants while looking for a stashed bottle of liquor.

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After commitment to a sanitarium wearing a straitjacket, Joe finally gets sober for a while, with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, a dedicated sponsor named Jim Hungerford (Jack Klugman) and regular AA meetings. When Joe tries to help Kirsten, he instead ends up drinking again, and goes to a liquor store that’s closed for the night. Joe breaks into the store and steals a bottle, resulting in another trip to the sanitarium stripped down and tied to a treatment table.

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Hungerford warns him that he must keep sober no matter what, even if that means staying away from Kirsten. He explains to Joe how alcoholics often demonstrate obsessive behavior, pointing out that Kirsten’s previous love of chocolate may have been the first sign of an addictive personality, and counsels him that most drinkers hate to drink alone in the company of sober people.

Joe eventually becomes sober for close to a year and a responsible father to his child while holding down a steady job. He tries to make amends with his father-in-law by offering him a payment for past debts and wrongs, but Mr. Arnesen lashes out at him for indirectly getting Kirsten involved in the alcoholic lifestyle. After calming down, Arnesen says that Kirsten has been disappearing for long stretches of time and picking up strangers in bars.

One night, after Debbie is asleep, Kirsten, shakily sober for two days, comes to Joe’s apartment to attempt a reconciliation. Joe sees that if he were to return to her, it could lead to more of his previous self-destructive behavior.

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Kirsten longs for going back to “the way it was,” but as Joe explains to her, “You remember how it really was? You and me and booze — a threesome. You and I were a couple of drunks on the sea of booze, and the boat sank. I got hold of something that kept me from going under, and I’m not going to let go of it. Not for you. Not for anyone. If you want to grab on, grab on. But there’s just room for you and me — no threesome.”

Kirsten refuses to admit she’s an alcoholic, but does acknowledge that without alcohol, she “can’t get over how dirty everything looks.” “You better give up on me,” she says. When Kirsten leaves, Joe fights the urge to go after her. He looks down the street as Kirsten walks away. (She walks past a bar without entering, perhaps offering a faint note of hope). When Debbie asks, “Daddy, will Mommy ever get well?” he replies gently, “I did, didn’t I?” Again Joe looks down the street, the bar’s flashing sign reflecting in his window.

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Cast

Jack Lemmon as Joe Clay

Lee Remick as Kirsten Arnesen/Clay

Charles Bickford as Ellis Arnesen

Jack Klugman as Jim Hungerford

Jack Albertson as Trayner

Alan Hewitt as Rad Leland

Tom Palmer as Ballefoy

Debbie Megowan as Debbie Clay

Maxine Stuart as Dottie

Ken Lynch as Liquor Store Proprietor

Gail Bonney as Gladys the Cleaning Lady

Mel Blanc as TV Cartoon Characters (voice)

Jack Riley as Waiter

Katherine Squire as Mrs. Nolan

Lisa Guiraut as Belly Dancer

Jennifer Edwards as Debbie Clay at age 5

Lynn Borden uncredited as a party guest

 

Production

Background

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JP Miller found his title in the 1896 poem, “Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos.” Some critics observed that the movie lacked the impact of the original television production, which starred Cliff Robertson as Joe and Piper Laurie as Kirsten. In an article written for DVD Journal, critic D.K. Holm noted numerous changes that altered the original considerably when the material was filmed. He cites as an example the hiring of Jack Lemmon. With his participation, “little remained of the Vetat Incohare Longam” by the English writer Ernest Dowson (1867–1900). It also inspired the title song devised by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer:

 

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,

Love and desire and hate;

I think they have no portion in us after

We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:

Out of a misty dream

Our path emerges for a while, then closes

Within a dream.

 

(Coincidentally, Johnny Mercer, who wrote the lyrics for the title tune, had also written the lyrics for the theme from “Laura”, a 1944 classic film in which Dowson’s poem was quoted in its entirety. Dowson also wrote the poem Cynara which gave Margaret Mitchell the title for her novel Gone With the Wind).

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Miller’s teleplay for Playhouse 90, also titled Days of Wine and Roses, had received favorable critical attention and was nominated for an Emmy in the category “Best Writing of a Single Dramatic Program – One Hour or Longer.” Manulis, a Playhouse 90 producer, decided the material was ideal founding teleplay, except for actor Charles Bickford reprising his role.”

 

Filming

 The film’s Northern California locations included San Francisco, Albany and the Golden Gate Fields racetrack. The Oscar-winning title song had music by Henry Mancini and lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Single records by Andy Williams and the Henry Mancini chorus made the Billboard Top 40.

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Director Blake Edwards became a non-drinker a year after completing the film and went into substance recovery. He said that he and Jack Lemmon were heavy drinkers while making the film. Edwards used the theme of alcohol abuse often in his films, including: 10 (1979), Blind Date (1987) and Skin Deep (1989). Both Lemmon and Remick sought help from Alcoholics Anonymous long after they had completed the film. Lemmon revealed to James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio his past drinking problems and his recovery. The film had a lasting effect in helping alcoholics deal with their problem. Today, Days of Wine and Roses is required viewing in many alcoholic and drug rehabilitation clinics across America.

 In the same Inside the Actors Studio interview, Lemmon stated that there was pressure by the studio to change the ending. To preserve the integrity of the movie, scenes were filmed in the same order as they appeared in the script, with the last scene filmed last. This is in contrast with the standard practice of filming different scenes together that take place in the same location, which reduces expenses, shortens the schedule and aids with scheduling the actors’ time on set. Immediately following the completion of filming, Lemmon left for Europe and remained out of communication so that the studio would be forced to release the movie without changing the storyline.

 

Reception

Box office and release

The producers used the following ironic tagline to market the film:

This, in its own terrifying way, is a love story.

The picture opened in wide release in the United States on December 26, 1962. The box office receipts for the film were good given the numbers reported are in 1962 dollars. It earned $4 million in US theatrical rentals, making it the 15th highest grossing film of the year. Total domestic sales were $8,123,077.

 

Critical response

The film became one of Blake Edwards’ best-regarded films, opening to praise from the critics and audiences alike. New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote, “[It] is a commanding picture, and it is extremely well played by Mr. Lemmon and Miss Remick, who spare themselves none of the shameful, painful scenes. But for all their brilliant performing and the taut direction of Blake Edwards, they do not bring two pitiful characters to complete and overpowering life.”

The staff at Variety magazine liked the film, especially the acting, writing, “Miller’s gruelling drama illustrates how the unquenchable lure of alcohol can supersede even love, and how marital communication cannot exist in a house divided by one-sided boozing… Lemmon gives a dynamic and chilling performance. Scenes of his collapse, particularly in the violent ward, are brutally realistic and terrifying. Remick, too, is effective, and there is solid featured work from Charles Bickford and Jack Klugman in fine supporting performances.”

In a review of the DVD, critic Gary W. Tooze lauded Edwards’ direction and the acting, writing, “Blake Edwards’s powerful adaptation of J.P. Miller’s Playhouse 90 story, starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick in career performances, remains a variation in his body of work largely devoted to comedy… Lemmon is at his best and ditto for Remick in this harrowing tale of people consumed by their mutual addiction. This turns to an honest and heartbreaking portrayal of alcoholism as deftly done as any film I can remember.”

Margaret Parsons, film curator at the National Gallery of Art, said, “[The film] remains one of the most gut-wrenching dramas of alcohol-related ruin and recovery ever captured on film…and it’s also one of the pioneering films of the genre.”

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 100% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on seven reviews.

 

Awards

 

Academy Awards Wins (1963)

 

Academy Awards Nominations (1963)

 

Other wins

  • San Sebastián International Film Festival: OCIC Award Blake Edwards; Prize San Sebastián, Best Actor, Jack Lemmon; Best Actress, Lee Remick; 1963.
  • Fotogramas de Plata, Spain: Fotogramas de Plata; Best Foreign Performer, Jack Lemmon; 1964.

 

Other Nominations

  • Golden Globes: Golden Globe; Best Motion Drama Picture; Best Motion Drama Picture Actor, Jack Lemmon; Best Motion Drama Picture Actress, Lee Remick; Best Motion Picture Director, Blake Edwards; 1963.
  • British Academy of Film and Television Arts: BAFTA Film Award; Best Film from any Source, USA; Best Foreign Actor, Jack Lemmon; Best Foreign Actress, Lee Remick; 1964.

 

Other honors

 

Notable Quotes from the Film

  • Joe: My name is Joe Clay. I’m an alcoholic.

  • Kirsten: Thanks for the compliment, but I know how I look. This is the way I look when I’m sober. It’s enough to make a person drink, wouldn’t you say? You see, the world looks so dirty to me when I’m not drinking. Joe, remember Fisherman’s Wharf? The water when you looked too close? That’s the way the world looks to me when I’m not drinking.

     

 

 

 

Mike Montego’s sweet ride

A 1955 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier
A 1955 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier

 

The main character in three of my novels, all of them about to be released —  Shades of Blue, 459-Framed in Red, The Purple Hand — and the forthcoming He Blew Blue Jazz, LAPD cop Mike Montego, drives a sweet Chevy Cameo Carrier. Here’s some background on one of the blue bow-tie’s most interesting vehicles.

 

Boasting V-8 power, automatic transmission, two-tone paint, and deluxe interior, the 1955 Chevrolet Cameo shortened the distance between car and truck. Although not a big seller, it set the stage for other stylish trucks – Ford’s Styleside, Dodge’s Sweptside, and Chevy’s own Fleetside quickly followed suit.

 

Stylist Chuck Jordan, later to become GM Vice-President of Design, had originally envisioned a one-piece cab-bed bodied pickup, but engineers were concerned over the sheet metal distorting due to torsion-stress on the frame. It was decided that the clean look could still be achieved with a conventional cab/bed combination. Fiberglass panels were added to Chevy’s existing steel cargo-box, saving the expense of the tooling process required for steel panels. This also allowed the truck to be brought into production quicker. Besides, fiberglass was convenient; Chevrolet had recently given Molded Fiberglass Products Company a $4 million contract to manufacture Corvette bodies.

 

The tailgate of the Cameo also used a fiberglass outer panel, with latches mounted inside and supported by retractable cables. The middle of the rear bumper hinged downward, accessing the hidden spare tire compartment. Unique chrome-plated taillights capped off the clean, uncluttered bed.

 

1955 Chevy Cameo

 

The smooth-sided bed of the 3124 series Cameo seemed to perfectly complement Chevy’s new Task Force Series line of trucks. Its 114-inch wheelbase carried a 6.5-foot-long cargo bed, which shared the same 5,000 pound G.V.W. as the 3100 and 3200 series half-ton trucks. Base motor was the durable 235-cid six-cylinder, with Chevy’s new 265-cid V-8 optional. Five transmissions, including an automatic, were available. Chrome bumpers, chrome grille, and full wheel covers, optional on other models, were standard on the Cameo.

 

All first-year Cameos were painted two-tone white and red. Inside, the upholstery was also two-tone, and came with arm rests, dual sun-visors, a cigarette lighter, chrome interior door knobs, and a large wrap-around rear window. Priced 30% higher than their standard half-ton truck, Chevrolet sold 5,220 Cameos in 1955.

 

1956 Chevy Cameo

 

With the exception of a few minor trim items, 1956 Chevrolet trucks remained the same as 1955 models. Despite low production numbers, the Cameo was carried over, now offered in several two-tone paint schemes. Base price was $2,150, while a standard half-ton pickup listed at $1,670. Cameo truck production for 1956 was 1,452.

 

1957 Chevy Cameo

 

Along with Chevy’s other pickup models, the Cameo received a new grille in 1957. V-8 engine displacement increased to 283 cubic-inches, with power output at 185-bhp. Cameo production rose to 2,244 units.

 

1958 Cameo Carrier

 

Industry-wide adoption of quad headlights, along with a larger front grille, were highlights of the 1958 re-design for all Chevrolet trucks. Ford’s Styleside pickup, introduced in 1957, had smooth outer bed-walls and sold for much less than the Cameo. Chevrolet countered with their new Fleetside, with an all-steel cargo-box larger than the Cameo’s. With just 1,405 produced for the year, Cameo production stopped in early 1958.

 

NOTE: Mike Montego’s pickup truck is white with red trim. The interior is red-and-white, tuck-and-rolled Naugahyde, a customized look.

Thinking back…

I’ve drawn on personal experiences as a child in the course of crafting the Mike Montego series. I’ve done so to give the books’ main character a realistic past. But what Mike experienced is not exactly the same as what I experienced. I’ve judiciously added to his background, and given him martial arts abilities that I could only dream of as a kid—not that I haven’t practiced some of it in my later years.

When I began writing off-and-on some twenty years ago, it was a hobby. I like to think it still is, although I spend many more hours at my desk today than I did back then. Writing has kept me young in some ways, at least mentally, as I relive memories of my law enforcement days on the streets of Los Angeles.

Plotting my stories takes me back, so far back that I have to pause and ask myself, was that really the way it happened?! Today’s law enforcement officer has so much more at his/her fingertips than we did back in the ‘60s — things  my partners and I could scarcely have fantasized about. I’m not sure we ever considered Dick Tracy’s 2-way wristwatch would ever become reality, and now, technology has blown by it!

On patrol when making a stop back in the day, we seldom knew what we would be facing. I’m sure that’s still true, but today’s patrol officers have more information at their disposal, and get it quicker, much of it in real time, thanks to on-board computers.

I also know patrol officers don’t wait as long these days for returns on their wants and warrants checks. Boy, do I remember those too-long minutes ticking by as I hovered by the radio receiver, wanting to be within earshot of the radio when the response to my request finally came in.

When a Code Six Charles came over the air, meaning I had stopped a wanted felon, I instantly wondered: am I vulnerable? After cuffing the suspect and breathing more easily, I would run through every step I’d taken from the vehicle stop to the moment of receiving the information.
Too often I second-guessed myself . . . but I obviously survived.

And now I write about it. What a wonderful world.