The Man Who Knew Infinity
An account of a remarkable person should strive to be as equally remarkable as its subject, not the timid and tidy boilerplate special of a…
So, anyway, Adrienne Barbeau, what's John Carpenter like? You're married to him. You're the star of his new movie, "The Fog." How would you describe this 31-year-old Hollywood wunderkind whose terror movie "Halloween" scared so many people that it grossed $30 million?
"How can I describe John?" Adrienne Barbeau asked herself. "He's wonderful, gentle, sensitive...nothing like his films. Of course, there was the time in the middle of the night when I was staying up late watching TV and, he crept into the room on his hands and knees and jumped up with a towel over his bead."
Adrienne Barbeau met John Carpenter at a time when she'd just graduated from playing the abrasive daughter on the TV series "Maude." She'd never done a movie, and she was trying to change Hollywood's misconception that she (a) only did television, and (b) only did comedy. Carpenter had been hired by Warner Brothers to direct a screenplay called "Someone Is Watching Me," based on a Sun-Times story called "Terror in a High-Rise," by Paul Galloway and Basil Talbott Jr. The story was about a woman high-rise dweller threatened by an anonymous man and Barbeau was auditioning for the part of the woman's best friend.
"All I knew about John was that he made horror movies; I'd heard about his 'Assault on Precinct 13,' I think. I walked in expecting some kind of hard-boiled guy, and here was this sweet, salt-and-pepper, gentle man...I think I began to fall in love with him right then and there. But I heard that he was seeing somebody else, and so all during the filming of 'Someone Is Watching Me,' I kept my distance and I tried to discourage my emotional feelings.
"And then, on the last day of shooting, John said he wanted to have dinner with me and discuss something. I thought maybe it was his next screenplay. He sat down and said, 'I've fallen in love with you.' Well...we were married Jan. 1, 1979."
And that was to be a big year for the Carpenters in, more than one way. John's movie, "Halloween, was one of 1979's major hits, the most successful independent production in Hollywood history. When they fell in love, Adrienne was the more successful of the two, after her Broadway starring role as Rizzo in "Grease," after her long run on TV in "Maude." But now, suddenly the phone was ringing for John, too, and he got quick financial backing for "The Fog," which opened here Friday.
The movie's based on an idea of Carpenter's - nothing more than that a horror movie could be made with fog as a leading character - and it provides Barbeau with her first movie role. "You get typecast in Hollywood," she said. "I think 'Maude' got everyone thinking I could only play comic women's libbers. So in my TV work after 'Maude,' I did only drama. Now maybe 'The Fog' will help people think of me as slightly more versatile."
The movie takes place in a small California coastal town that is invaded by a deadly fog containing the ghosts of shipwrecked sailors who were murdered by the ancestors of the present townspeople exactly 100 years ago. Barbeau, playing the owner of the local radio station, finds herself relaying warnings to the ships at sea as a mysterious fog bank rolls in and begins, somewhat ominously, to glow in the dark.
"It wasn't pleasant to work with the fog," she said, "and that's an understatement. They made it out of kerosene and water. It was smelly and sticky and the entire production was permeated with it. And there was a basic problem: It was the easiest thing in the world to get the fog into a scene, but it was almost impossible to get it out. We had to act backwards in some scenes: They'd blow the fog in and have us move in reverse, and then reverse the film to create the illusion that the fog was retreating. I had one scene in which I had to move from terror to apprehension to interest to indifference, so they could then reverse it for the fog."
Barbeau said she and her husband have different approaches to movies. "I'm not especially a movie buff. When I left home, I went to New York to become a stage actress. I thought of Hollywood as a flesh market - and, for that matter, it is a flesh market. I like movies that explore the human condition, that deal with issues. John, on the other hand, is a total movie fanatic who loves to sit for hours in front of the TV, watching old black-and-white movies.
"He wants his movies to manipulate people, pure and simple. He talks about his first movie-going experience, which was when he was 4 or 5 years old. He was taken to a 3-D movie, and something exploded out of the screen, and he was so scared he ran down the aisle, and then he stopped short, turned around, came back and sat back down and said to himself, 'This is for me!' He isn't concerned with deep psychological dramas. He knows what he's doing. 'Halloween' was so frightening that I don't want to see it again. Once was enough."
She said she and her husband remain totally outside Hollywood's social circles, never go to parties, don't get their names in the columns and stay home most evenings: "We live up in the Hollywood hills, and our social life mostly consists of going out to dinner or having friends over. In the evening we'll sit around and John will play the guitar and I'll knit, or we'll play Parchesi...completely quiet and peaceful. The one big difference we have is that I'm really a very good cook, very interested in nutrition, and John has no idea what he eats. He could miss every meal and not even notice, and when he does eat, it's plain meat and potatoes and bacon grease. I've got him off of sugar and onto honey, and thats it.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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