February 22, 2015

I’ve got Oscar fever—because I saw Michael Keaton’s performance in the extraordinary “Birdman” and I want him to win, and sultry Jennifer Lawrence will be live on the TV tonight and I get another kind of fever when I see J-Law.

Alton and surrounding area is quite scenic and would make a great backdrop for a film. Elsah could be the set for “Tom Sawyer,” or Huckleberry Finn”—the houses are ready to go. Filmmaker Brian Jun already made his mark with “Steel City,” a gritty piece of art which starred my Clifton Country Inn AND America Ferrera (“Ugly Betty,” “Real Women have Curves”) and the wonderful John Heard (“The Sopranos”). And there were other Jun movies and a bowling movie.

In 1965, when director Norman Jewison went looking for a backwater Mississippi town in which to film “In the Heat of the Night,” a punch of a movie about a black Philadelphia police detective (Sidney Poitier) encountering racism in a small town, he chose Belleville, Illinois—of course!

This afternoon I stopped at the Melville Dairy for Oscar snacks and my friends Rachel and Greg (I was the poet at their wedding) and Rachel’s kid David came running into the store. Greg shouted, “Gene, you missed it!” Whereupon David dragged me outside to a huge snow drift which was drenched in blood—fake blood!

It seems that an Alton film maker is shooting a vampire movie and she chose the Melville Dairy to star as a convenience store, and she hired Rachel to keep the store open all night, and she hired Greg to play a bewildered, middle-aged man who looks like Buffalo Bill. By coincidence, Greg is a middle-aged man who looks like Buffalo Bill, white goatee, swept back long hair and all.

The scene: Some vampires come to the Melville Dairy and attack the owner! The owner flees outside to the snowdrift and there is blood! Chaos! Sax and violins! I mean sex and violence! Nobody seemed to know what the vampires were buying (Little Lotto? Indian Spirit cigarettes? Coors Beer?) and why they hit on the clerk. This movie sounds like it is right out of the William Faulkner handbook. Maybe it’s “As I Lay Dying Part 2: Addie Bundren’s Revenge.”

I have one question: Why wasn’t I enlisted to play the Old Vampire, or write the script? I’ll tell you why.

I’m blacklisted. My first play, “Going Steady,” opened in New York City in 1983. The setting is an Alton restaurant, Christmas Eve. A female character looks out the window and says, “I am growing old in Alton, Illinois, home town of James Earl Ray and the tallest man in history. The only difference between Alton and hell . . . is hell’s cooler in the summer.” (“Gene, Gene, Gene,” Cliff Davenport said to me, clucking his tongue. “You just had to write that.”)

That’s why.

Picture an updated version of “The Odd Couple.” I play Oscar Madison, an unkempt, messy fiction writer who loves country music, living with Felix Unger (played by my uncle Alec Baldwin), an anally retentive man who worships Bach and Brahms and whose wife threw him out of their Grafton condo. He moves in with Oscar in a run-down bluff house (oddly, called Genehouse) and they woo the country gals with hearts of gold, and Felix tries to tame the local raccoons, and hilarity ensues!

Brian Jun: are you reading this? Uncle Alec will finance!

Michael Keaton rocks!

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