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Hef goes West

Primary playboy mansion thumb 350x231 27167

This story, found at last, has been long lost in the remote recesses of the Sun-Times archives. I wrote it for Midwest magazine, the paper's old Sunday supplement. For easier reading, there is a plain text version just below.

By Roger Ebert Holmby Hills, California

I. THE ACTUAL WILD GAME

The grounds, I was assured by a Playboy public relations man, make up a 5.1-acre compound. The site is surrounded by a brick fence, penetrated at two points by winding roads which are each three-quarters of a mile in length, one having to wind a bit more than the other to achieve that distance.

Inside the brick wall, he said, "is an actual forest, an actual wooded forest composed of giant redwood trees, and actual wild game roams in the actual park."

Wild game? I said. What kind of wild game?

"We don't know," he said.

You never do, do you? Wasn't it H. P. Lovecraft who suggested that one never knows, really, what lurks in the woods, gathering strength there in the dampness and dark, preparing for the day when it will spring out and gobble up children and little bunny rabbits? Yes.

I imagine maybe one of the first things Hugh Hefner will want to do, after he gets really settled in the Playboy Mansion West, will be to gather about him a hardy band of cronies and stage a safari through that 5.1-acre actual wooded area, identifying, where possible, the wild game that roams there. It will have to be a camera safari, of course, since one is not allowed to discharge firearms within Los Angeles County itself.

II. THE GREENING OF THE RAIN DRAINS

The mansion, I was told, has been appraised at $2 million including the grounds, the two greenhouses and the gardener's cottage. The furnishings are worth another $500,000. The place was designed in 1927 by an architect named Arthur Kelly, who specialized in mansions for the very rich. The difference between the very rich and you and me is that their mansions don't look like other people's mansions.

The mansion was occupied first by a man named Arthur Letts Jr., heir of a department store owner. It belonged most recently to Louis Statham, of the Statham Instruments. For the last 4 1/2 years, it has served as the unofficial hospitality residence of the City of Los Angeles, and the king and queen of Thailand have stayed there.

The mansion has 30 rooms and has been described as sort of Tudor Gothic or, according to Joyce Haber, a cross between Forest Lawn and "The Phantom of the Opera." But to be more specific, the Playboy public relations man painted a word-picture for me:

"It is a handcrafted fortress, with walls 18 inches thick made from reinforced concrete and stone. It has a slate roof, it has turrets, all kinds of turrets in the house, and archways, there's archways all over the place. Doors of golden oak, band-hewn. The rain drains have a kind of a little greenish tint to them because of the age, looking very, very rustic.

You enter the mansion through giant golden oak doors that swing right into the mansion's Great Hall, which is a very great hall. A shimmering crystal chandelier hangs overhead, and when you open the front door and walk in, you step right on an Italian marble floor. Windows extend from the floor to the ceiling... oak paneling is all around you... a Grand Staircase, the focal point of the Great Hall, consists of two separate sets of stairs that are curved from the main level right up to the upper level, forming a sloping, graceful arch, and, hanging right in the middle, there is a very many-tiered chandelier..."

III. WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE CATERPILLARS?

On the evening after the Academy Awards ceremony, I stepped through the band-hewn golden oak doors and paused for a moment on the Italian marble floor. My eyes lifted briefly to the many-tiered chandelier, and then rested on the Grand Staircase, where an assortment of Hefner's guests reclined on the stairs and watched the new arrivals.

This was Hefner's official housewarming for Playboy Mansion West, and there were two bands, two tents (one indoors, one outdoors) and a fire in the fireplace in every room. I walked through the Great Hall and found myself outside the mansion again, in the outdoor tent, where a band was playing and people were lined up three deep at the bar. Over in the distance, beyond the tent, giant orange Caterpillar earthmoving equipment was outlined against the night sky, with floodlights on them. I wandered back inside, and found myself in the living room, or one of the living rooms, talking to Jon Anderson, the columnist.

"Are you writing about this?" he said.

I guess so, I said.

"On deadline, or..."

No, I said, I'll be doing it for Midwest. Probably won't appear for a month or so.

"Good," said Jon. "Then I can show you something."

He led me across the room to the giant fireplace and pointed above it. There was a large reproduction of the "Mona Lisa" on the wall, done in needlepoint with a gold plaque underneath that said, "Barbi Benton - 1970."

Isn't that something, I said.

"We're going to use it in our column," Jon said. "It adds a nice, homey touch to the place, don't you think?"

Sure does, I said. Wilt Chamberlain's belt buckle passed by at eye level.

"It looks like one of those paint-by-number things, only in needlepoint," Jon said.

Wilt Chamberlain certainly is tall, I said.

"Needle-by-number," Jon said. "Or... point-by-point."

I wonder how long it took her, I said.

"It looks pretty complicated," Jon said. "The smile alone..."

Yes, I said, just the smile alone...

"Have you seen her?" Jon said.

Who?

"Barbi."

Not yet, I said. Just then Hugh Hefner himself walked into the room and nodded at everybody.

"Wonderful party, Hef," Jon said.

"Glad you're enjoying yourself," Hefner said. "We were worried right up to the last minute that we'd invited too many people. Then somebody came up with the inspiration of the outside tent, to handle the overflow. Now things are going great."

We nodded, and the three of us looked round the living room. Guests and bunnies and girls you vaguely recognized as former Playmates were all sitting around and, apparently, having great times. Big piles of floor-pillows were stacked here and there, but most everybody was sticking to chairs.

"The one problem with the outside tent," Hefner said, "was what to do about the bulldozers."

I was wondering about them, I said.

"We're digging a swimming pool back there," Hefner said. "Somebody said we should put potted trees in front of them, camouflage them somehow, but we finally decided, the hell with it, why not light them up as modem art or something. So that's what we did."

Somebody grabbed Hefner by the arm to introduce him to fresh guests, and Jon and I wondered back out onto the patio.

"Five centuries of art," Jon said.

What?

"From the 'Mona Lisa' to the Caterpillar."

Which one, I said, do you think will turn into a butterfly first?

"Hard to say," said Jon.

IV. TWO MALE LIONS

I left the tent and strolled alone through a portion of the 5.l-acre grounds. Stone walks surrounded the house, and from the front you could hear the excitement of new arrivals, pouring out of their limousines and Yellow Cabs and hurrying through the giant golden oak doors.

My steps led me some distance from the house, and the sound of the rock band came drifting to me...

Rap... rap... rap... they call him the rapper...

Something caused me to think about a character I hadn't thought of in some time, the Great Gatsby. There's a scene in that novel by Fitzgerald telling of the almost nightly arrival of fresh carloads of guests, all eager to share Jay Gatsby's fabulous hospitality, and to glory in his famous home. Later on in the novel, Gatsby's hospitality comes to a sudden end, but not all the guests get the word, and for several weekends thereafter, cars continue to come out from the city and pull into the silent driveway, and then leave when they see there's no party.

At any given moment in history, I decided, there is a man whose job it is to give famous parties. Sometimes he is a fictional person, sometimes he is real. Sometimes he is the Great Gatsby, sometimes William Randolph Hearst, or Hugh Hefner...

Coming back toward the house, I found myself suddenly in the presence of two stone lions. They flanked a short flight of steps and gazed back toward Los Angeles. They both had manes, which meant they were both males. I decided their names were Bill and Hugh, Bill on the right looking over somewhat curiously at his neighbor.

V. TWO MORE MALE LIONS

Back inside the tent, Ryan O'Neal was leaning against the bar with a drink in his hand and looking out over the tables to the dance floor at the other end of the tent. There was something in his look that seemed peculiar until I got it figured out. Then it seemed understandable enough. Ryan O'Neal wasn't looking out over the crowd. He was in the act of being Ryan O'Neal looking out over the crowd. Does that make any sense? What I mean is, he wasn't really looking; he was aware of himself as Ryan O'Neal, being seen to be looking.

That doesn't say it either, but the hell with it. The fourth lion was Jim Brown, who moved through the crowd with a kind of dangerous grace, attracting a great deal of attention even though he was apparently doing nothing to inspire it. People, were wondering, I suppose, whether he had really thrown that girl off the balcony, etc.

Some people occupy space differently than others. Jim Brown encloses space while Ryan O'Neal merely fills it.

VI. TWICE AS BIG AS ILLINOIS

There were girls everywhere, but they seemed to be filling space like Ryan O'Neal and not like Jim Brown. It occurred to me that a lot of the girls you see at parties like this lack some dimension, the third or the fourth, maybe. They are pretty and they smile, but they're girls, not women.

Why? Because they lack the final measure of self-confidence to be women, I think. The Playboy girl is a commodity, to some degree; she is an image to be packaged and merchandised, as much of a symbol as a Chevrolet or a Baggie. Her success depends upon your acceptance of her. If you like her, if she "turns you on," then she has succeeded. But if she doesn't, then she's failed as everything: Girl, symbol, commodity.

A girl who is uncertain at her core can never be really interesting, no matter how beautiful she may appear to be on the surface. She isn't really there, and that fact frightens her. There were some real women there. Polly Bergen and Edy Williams (two names you might not have expected to come across on the same list) had that dimension. You felt they were people, and knew they were people. But a lot of the Bunnies seemed oddly transparent.

Some people have the notion that a Hefner party is sexy and sensuous and the next thing to a genteel sort of orgy. Hefner's parties are fun, but in an entirely different way than the image would suggest. The food is good, the booze is free and keeps coming, and there are sure to be interesting people there. It's just that, somehow, all these people who look like such good friends when Playboy runs a layout about a Hefner party aren't good friends - have probably just met tonight - and are having a conventionally good time. We've all read about that little room behind the waterfall in Hef's Chicago swimming pool, but what good is the little room when people inside it are clearly visible? A Hefner party is like that little room: You swim beneath the waterfall, but, inside, the lights stay on.

And so, finally, the conversation gets around to Hefner himself (the conversational obsession at most of his own parties), and you wonder whether this turns him on, and how much he enjoys it. My private notion is that he enjoys it a lot; who wouldn't? If I had his fortune, I'd throw parties all the time for my friends. Wouldn't you? I think throwing the parties would be more fun than attending them.

Perhaps that's at the core of Playboy Mansion West: Now there can be great parties in California, just as there have been for years in Chicago, and all of this year's Hollywood people can come and mingle and talk, be photographed by the omnipresent Playboy photographers, eat expensive beef, watch the shrimp cocktail bowl being constantly replenished, name their brand of Scotch, wonder who everybody else is (and who they are) and try not to think about the stone lions.

Wondering down the Grand Staircase, I passed two guests who were talking about the Mansion West.

"How does this place stack up with his other place?" the first guest said.

"This one is twice as big as Illinois" said the second.

"It must be great to have two places," said the first.

"Better than only having one," the second said.

VII. INTRODUCTION IN THE FORM OF A SEQUEL

All these things and thoughts occurred the night after the Academy Awards. On the night before the Academy Awards, there was a big party at Le Bistro, the famous Beverly Hills club.

Hefner came with Barbi on his arm and seemed to be having a great time. Edward G. Robinson, who was also there, offered Hefner some pipe tobacco that, Robinson said, acted as an aphrodisiac. Hefner and Robinson shared a good laugh over that, and then Hefner moved easily through the room, talking to people. The party was crowded and noisy, and there was a band and lots of good things to eat and drink. But by 11 o'clock or so the people started to drift away (they don't stay up late in Hollywood; they're home by midnight, usually).

Hefner and Barbi left, and then there were maybe only 20 people remaining; the hard core who had negotiated special arrangements with the waiters to bring the booze to the table in bottles, not glasses, to save time. This group talked for 45 minutes or so while the waiters stood by and waited patiently for the party to finally be over. And then Hefner and Barbi came back into the room.

Didn't you already leave? somebody said.

"We took off, but then we thought we'd come back and see if there was still anything happening," Hefner said.

In reading "The Great Gatsby," I've sometimes had the notion that one of those great limousines that came out from the city, and paused in Gatsby's quiet driveway before driving away, was driven by Gatsby himself.

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My drinking days, recalled in a noirish oil

The artist Marie Haws in Vancouver was drawn into a blog I wrote about the legendary O'Rourke's Pub in Chicago, not so much by the prose as by the photograph I used, taken by my pal Jack Lane:

Marie returned to the photograph and again, finding depths in it, and was finally moved to paint this oil inspired by it:

The photo shows me at the front end of of the bar talking with the writer Tom Wolfe. Neither Jack nor I can identify the man on the left, or Mystery Woman on the right. I've been told that M.W. resembles my girlfriend in the 70s, but there are two problems with that: (1) Ingrid never smoked a day in her life, and (2) M.W. in the oil looks like her, but M.W. in the photo doesn't.

Of course, camera angle can be deceptive, so I will forward this to Ingrid and her four children and see what they think. Nothing would please me more than to find out who I have my arm around.

I am quite fond on this painting, the only one I have of myself. I do have a nearly life-size bronze bust, but lest you get the wrong impression, I didn't commission it or pay for it. I posed for the class project of an art student whose assignment was to make a recognizable sculpture of a recognizable person.

[ 4:14 p.m. Nov 21, e-mail from Jack Lane: Mystery man on left is Dick Flynn, a mate of mine from the ad days. He and I were having a quiet Sunday evening drink and discussing worldly matters when a stranger entered the nearly empty bar. Dick said, a bit excitedly, that it was Tom Wolfe. I glanced over and disagreed, pointing out that the stranger was not wearing a white suit. Dick, who had been Wolfe's neighbor in NYC, persisted and went over to verify his assessment. And indeed, he was right. The three of us had an hour or so of pleasant conversation until a horde of noisy re revelers descended upon us and the rest, as you know, is history. Jack ]

Marie has been a treasured regular on my blog almost from the beginning. She is known for (1) recklessly inserting so many URLs into her posts that they mostly end up trapped in the Spam filter, (2) inserting "*chuckle*" every once im a while, and (3) attempted assassination of her fellow blog posters with the astonishingchocolate cake recipe published below these three examples of her wonderful work:

Girl in the Coat - 24" x 36" oil on canvas

Tuscan hill-top vineyard, Italy - 24" x 108" oil on canvas

Chianti region, Italy - 20" x 26" oil on canvas

...and then, on Sunday morning, Marie Haws posted this comment:

I love that we've discovered the name of mystery guy; it's D*ck Flynn! For how perfect is that?! Was there ever a name more ironic and thus better suited to be in a painting showing Roger Ebert at O'Rourke's - than one shared in the blog the very same week he runs a "limerick contest"? Smile. I regard it as confirmation from the Gods that indeed, everything is connected.

And as noted, it all started with a journal entry and Roger's memories of a pub in the dodgy part of Chicago, a place no longer there but when it was, of questionable repute; an Irish pub called O'Rourke's. I just want to be comfortable, you know? I just want to sit down, enjoy a Kilkenny, chat with friends, maybe play a few rounds and pretend I don't suck at pool, while catching a nice buzz. I don't want to have to worry about how to pay a fancy coverage charge (insert really bad word!) or navigating past stupid yuppies to reach the bar - none of that crap.

And the very week Roger posted his journal entry about O'Rourke's, was the same week "I" discovered the fate of my favorite watering hole: the "Irish Heather". They'd moved across the street. Seems required upgrades to the building had forced the owner to choose the lesser of two evils: close his business for one year, or move. And this is partly what was lost because of it: the back room conservatory in a photo by Stephen Dyrgas.... Arguably THE most perfect spot to drink in Vancouver.

An alley runs behind the pub and covered in red bricks. They'd simply enclosed part of it to make an extra seating area. God, how I loved that place. So I was in full empathy mode, when Roger heaved a wistful sigh as he recollected the passing of one his favorite places, too! That's how I could relate even though I'd never been there. I knew O'Rourke's because I'd known the Heather. It too, was also in the dodgy part of town; smile.

For that reason, my emotional attachment to the place was immediate - and then I saw Jack Lane's photographs! And suddenly, my next painting! But I needed better reference, which is how I got a hold of Jack's B/W photos; I pestered Roger and he sent me some. And when I saw the alternate shot of him with Tom Wolfe... BINGO! Two guys in the middle of a conversation we can't hear, flanked either side by mysteries for being equally as ignorant of what they were thinking, too.

Why does anyone go to a pub? To drink? I suppose, but not me. I think it's where you go to drink a "conversation" too! And what's better than a conversation you can custom tailor - for never knowing what was actually being said? It's a blank page on which the viewer can write whatever they want! You can imagine all sorts of things! They could have been plotting a murder. What?! Don't look at me like that - it's Chicago. And two writers are in a bar. Enough said. :)

And so I loved that shot. It was sublime. Although... true; it does look like Roger's groping himself in the photo, but I took care of that and changed it for the painting. And I dropped Flynn's hand as well - as it kinda looks like he's trying to punch Tom Wolfe in the jaw. But all minor stuff and easily dealt with. It took longer to paint than I'd planned - chasing the rent can be distracting - but I eventually finished it.

Actually, Roger got to see it as a work in progress. I was sending him photos in cyber dispatches while bugging him about the spam filter and stuff. So he knew weeks in advance how things were coming along. And then the day finally arrived when it was dry and ready to go to Chicago. I couldn't afford the shipping and so he actually picked up the tab for his own present! How nice was that, eh? (As he didn't make me feel like a cheap basterd; chuckle!) What?! I have to pay the postage on my own GIFT?! Jeeesh, and that's so typically Canadian, I swear, you people..."

Smile; instead he just told me how much he loved it and Chaz too. And there you have it; that's the story of the painting and how it came to be. I love O'Rourke's vicariously so. I love how Roger's memories of the place, feel. I love the conversations I get to imagine and the ongoing mystery of smoking girl and that Flynn's name sounds the way it does. And that right now, my painting is inside Roger Ebert's house; the same critic who didn't like Harold and Maude. What's that got to do with anything..? Rubbing hands together with a glee. (Or maybe I'm just f-cking with ya; laugh!) One thing however is not in doubt; how sincerely flattered I was by this. It caught me totally by surprise when you suddenly asked for a few pictures and my death by chocolate recipe!

I thought you'd just show the painting to Chaz and the kids, maybe Tom Wolfe and there you go! Note: that's why it took me so long to write that post, the one I'd lost; I was actually at a loss for words! A rare moment that and I've moved past it now, as you can see. :)

@ Roger wrote: "I informed Marie that the ghosts of the O'Rourke's Crowd still haunt the Old Town Ale House to this day. The owner is Bruce Elliott, a regular in those days. Marie, who loves Venice, might agree that a master of the Italian Renaissance would have been drawn to the same subject, albeit expressed in a somewhat different style, in Bruce's own painting "The Strip-Searching of Rod Blagojevich."

Oh absolutely. Without a doubt. Those dudes totally loved a bit of unpleasant business. Caravaggio for example, would have done a lovely job of it. Or whoever painted the rape of the Sabines. A strip search would have been a walk in park, chuckle!

@ Marta Chiavacci wrote - "Marie is not only an amazingly talented artist, she's an even more amazing friend." Awww! What a nice thing to say, Marta! But I'm still gonna tease you about wearing FIVE inch heels. As that's insane and what real friends would do. Roger? Marta gave me my very first Bialetti! Her parents moved to Canada in the 50's from Lucca, near Florence. And several years ago, Marta ironically moved to Lucca to live there! She fell in love with her second cousin, whose got a house near the medieval city.

She kept her place in Vancouver though and routinely travels back and forth; currently, she's in town. And get this - Marta Chiavacci, a female born in Canada, moves to Italy, studies wine and ends up beating all the guys and becoming FISAR's sommelier of the year in 2007. That's right - I know an award-winning Sommelier. The girl I met in grade 7. Naturally, Marta gets to pick the wine whenever we go out to dinner, as otherwise, I buy wine based on how well designed the labels are. At the moment, she's in the process of setting up her own wine business; guided tours of vineyards with a sommelier.

Marta's interesting to know in her own right, but as a relocated Canadian, I get a close-up view of another country now too, through her dispatches about daily life in Italy. The truth of things. It's like having my very own reporter on the ground! And the story of how she got a driver's license in Italy, is a thing to behold. It takes days to tell, as it's that serpentine a journey through their bureaucracy. Chuckle! And now you've got one of my paintings too, joining the club with Marta. Awesome.

P.S. now watch, I'll die and suddenly those paintings will be worth a fortune!

Marie Haws' online gallery. .

The blog entry that started all this, "A bar on North Avenue." .

I informed Marie that the ghosts of the O'Rourke's Crowd still haunt the Old Town Ale House to this day. The owner is Bruce Elliott, a regular in those days. Marie, who loves Venice, might agree that a master of the Italian Renaissance would have been drawn to the same subject, albeit expressed in a somewhat different style, in Bruce's own painting "The Strip-Searching of Rod Blagojevich."

The "DEATH BY CHOCOLATE" Recipe

8 oz high-quality bitter sweet chocolate (Valhrona is best!)

2/3 cup of butter

1/2 cup of white sugar

1/2 cup of brown sugar

4 eggs

1/3 cup of sour cream

1 teaspoon of vanilla

1/4 cup dark rich Dutch cocoa

1/2 cup of flour

1 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

1/4 teaspoon of salt

Ganache glaze:

8 oz of bitter sweet chocolate (again, BEST you can find.)

1/2 cup of heavy cream (in Canada, in the dairy section next to the milk, you can find a pint of whipping cream. Americans call THAT heavy cream.)

Inside of the cake:

Raspberry liquor (or use a brandy)

1/4 cup of Raspberry Jam (or buy some fresh Raspberries and mash them up in a bowl and add 2 tbs of sugar (in case they're a bit tart) and use that - I do, tastes fresher!

Instructions:

In a heavy bottom pan or double-boiler, melt the chocolate and butter on low heat. While that's melting, combine the eggs and the white & brown sugars together, on medium speed in a mixer until somewhat light; you want the sugar to dissolve and not be sandy.

Check the chocolate. Melted? Remove from heat and stir. Set aside to cool a bit (you can use the fridge.) Once cool to the touch, pour melted chocolate in with the eggs and sugar and turn on the mixer for a few minutes to incorporate everything before you add the next ingredients...

To that, now add the flour, dark Dutch coco, salt, baking powder, sour cream, vanilla. Start on low speed then you can go a bit faster, and mix everything up, etc.

Preheat oven to 350F. Get a 9" wide, by 3 inches deep springform pan. Remove bottom from pan, wrap it with tinfoil, put it back in the springform. Lightly spray the bottom and insides with a cooking oil spray - or use some melted margarine and a brush etc.

Note: I always set a springform pan on a cookie tray in case there's any leakage, but you can also wrap the outside with more foil. Pour batter into Springform pan. Bake for 40 - 50 min. Test it with a toothpick at the 40 min mark etc. Done? Take it out, let it cool a bit before removing the top of the springform from the bottom.

Get your Raspberry jam ready. NOTE: if you don't want raspberry seeds, pass the berries through a strainer over a small bowl (mash them through it etc.) Add the liquor etc.

Once the cake is completely cool, trim the top. Use a thin, serrated knife. You don't need to remove the center bit. The top edge tend to be hardest and higher than the middle - so getting rid of that helps level things off. *DO NOT throw away what you cut off it case you need it, later.

Make the ganache: and make your life easier too, use a double-boiler. Most people don't own professional grade pots ($150 each!) Put chocolate and cream in a doubler-boiler and stir on low heat. Once melted, turn off heat.

You need to cut the cake in half now. I have a better way to do it than is shown in the video below.

Get some toothpicks (4 will do it) and stick them around the sides of the cake, half-way up. Get a LONG sewing thread - a light color so you can see it. Wrap it around the cake and "above" each of toothpicks (they help keep the thread from slipping down as you make sure it's positioned correctly. Tie your thread and slowly but steadily pull the ends. The thread will slice perfectly through the middle of the cake as you go etc. A trick I learned from a dessert chef. :)

Pull out the toothpicks, but stick 2 back in, on the sides: one in the top layer, another further down but right below it. This will help you when assembling the layers; a point of reference.

Get a serving plate for the cake. You're going to transfer the TOP layer onto that.

Note: I took the lid from an ice cream bucket last year, and with an exacto knife, cut the rim off. It made a plastic circle. You can also use the glass from an 8x10 picture frame, if you like. Point is, this method tends to NOT break the cake for better supporting the entire weight of it as you move it over.

The Top layer is now the bottom layer - and if the center looks too low, build it up with some of the stuff you'd previously cut off. Pour Raspberry Jam onto the cake; spread it around. Get the ganache. Pour less than 1/2 onto the cake, spread that around too.

Get the bottom layer of the cake now. Flip it over, and place it on top of the layer with the jam and ganache. Match the toothpicks up; then pull them out. Remove the metal bottom and the tinfoil. You have a cake with a perfectly, flawless top!

Heat the ganache back up, you're going to POUR the remaining glaze over the entire assembled cake. Use a long, wide spatula to help guide the chocolate ganache along and around the sides etc. Don't have one? Use the longest, widest knife you own. Use a less pointy knife for the sides.

Clean any mess around the cake, and et voila; you're done. Unless you want to decorate it too, based on what you see in the video.

Attention Helpless Males: step-by-step video instructions -

http://www.ehow.com/videos-on_687_make-death-chocolate-cake.html

And last but not least -

How to make a chocolate cake in a crock-pot:

http://www.ehow.com/how_2173304_chocolate-cake-crock-pot.html

GRIN.

Visit my website, rogerebert.com.

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Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee

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Buddy Hackett: Up at drama, down at comedy.

Movies / Roger Ebert

"There was a Vegas casino that offered me twice what I was making," Buddy Hackett was explaining to me one day. "I went to look at their show room, and I said I could never work there. The money didn't matter, because in that room I would never get a laugh."

Why was that? I asked.

"Because the stage was above the eyeline of the audience. You had to look up to see the act. It was great for sight-lines but lousy for comedy, because you can never laugh at anybody you're looking up at. A comic, you have to be looking down at him. My favorite rooms, the audience is above the stage, stadium-style."

What's the logic behind that?

"You look up at drama, down at comedy. A singer, looking up is okay. A comic, it's death."

So when you go to the movies, I said, should you sit in the balcony for a comedy and on the main floor for a drama?

"Seems to me," he said.

This was one of many conversations we had in the mid-1990s, when we both found ourselves installed simultaneously at the Pritikin Longevity Center, which at that time was on the beach at Santa Monica. Hackett, a great comedian who died this week at 78, was engaged in a lifelong struggle with weight and cholesterol, although once he had me feel his calf muscles: "Hard as steel! I'm a great skier."

Hackett lived nearby, but checked into Pritikin to isolate himself from life's temptations. Other regulars were Rodney Dangerfield and Mel Brooks, who ate at Pritikin twice a week with his wife, Anna Bancroft. At lunch, Hackett would preside over a table of his guests, other comics, including George Gobel, Jan Murray and Soupy Sales.

Once a woman approached the table and said she had a joke she wanted to tell.

"Lady," said Hackett, "go tell your joke at a table where amateurs are sitting. We're professionals here. We got all the jokes we can handle."

One night Buddy brought over a tape of "Bud and Lou" (1978), a movie where he played comedian Lou Costello. He felt he'd done good work in a less than great film, and wanted his Pritikin friends to see it. Hackett's Costello comes across, as many comics do in private life, as a lonely and sad man, and I felt Hackett did a good job of portraying that--even though I never sensed gloom in his own makeup.

Hackett said he once thought he was on the edge of a great movie role. Martin Scorsese called him up and said he wanted to come over and talk to him about working in "GoodFellas."

"He comes over to the house," Buddy says, "and he tells me the scene. Ray Liotta is walking into the nightclub and the waiters seat him, and I'm on stage doing my act. So I ask, what do you want me to say? Where's the script? And Scorsese says there isn't any script. I'll just be in the background telling part of a joke. PART of a joke? "

Hackett's face grew dark.

"I stood up and walked over to the window. I invited Scorsese to stand next to me. 'Isn't that a beautiful lawn?' I said. He agreed that it was one of the most beautiful lawns he had ever seen.

"Take a real good look," I told him, "because you will never be back in this house again. Part of a joke! Get the fuck outta here!"

One day I told Buddy a true story. It took place in 1979, I said. Jack Lemmon came to Chicago to promote "The China Syndrome." He told Gene Siskel and myself he wanted to relax, and suggested we go to the Gaslight Club, where he heard there was good jazz.

Four women at another table were celebrating a birthday. They looked at our table and giggled, and finally one of them approached our table with a menu. "Here comes the autograph request," Lennon said.

"Mr. Siskel," the woman said, "I enjoy your reviews so much! Would you autograph my menu?"

Gene agreed with a smile.

"You've made my day," the woman said.

"In that case," Gene said, "your day isn't over. Did you notice who I am sitting with?"

The woman looked over.

"Ohmigod! Jack Lemmon! Oh, Mr. Lemmon, you are my favorite actor. I didn't expect to see you here! Would you sign my menu?"

Lemmon agreed. Then Gene said, "And your day still isn't over. Look who's sitting right here!" The woman looked at me, and her face broke into a delighted smile.

"Buddy Hackett!!!" she said.

After I told this story to Buddy, he nodded thoughtfully.

"The question is," he said, "didn't she know how I look, or didn't she know how you look?"

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Studs and Algren and Patterson, N.J.

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In 1975, Nelson Algren left Chicago, where he wrote "The Man with a Golden Arm" and "Chicago City on the Make," and to general astonishment moved to Paterson, N.J.

In this rare film from a Chicago house party in 1975, Studs grills him, "Why Paterson?"

The two old masters work together like a comedy team. This was an actual conversation, not any kind of appearance, although they're keenly aware of their audience. Algren takes wing when he describes the ideal route from Patterson to San Francisco.

I don't know who made this film. Such a record was rare in the age before video cameras. The conversation doesn't feel staged, but simply happening in somebody's living room. The two men logged countless hours together, Studs the eternal optimist, Nelson the congenital curmudgeon. The YouTube discovery came to me from Zac Thompson, by way of Studs' longtime WFMT pal Andrew Patner. When I viewed it, it had logged only 108 visits.

Studs was 63, and died in 2008. Nelson was 66, and died in 1981.'

[ 11:03p.m. 11/13: fyi, it's actually shot on video not film. if you want to see some similar quality video, a new technology at the time, check out william eggleston's black and white party films from the south called "stranded in canton". his color photography is a big influence on filmmakers like harry savides and sofia coppola.

http://www.egglestontrust.com

peter ]

Use my website, rogerebert.com.

Visit my blog, Roger Ebert's Journal.

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Street scene: Movie theater, snow, rain, promise

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This photo was sent to me by a reader, Chris Aiello. At first I processed it as an atmospheric street scene with a movie theater. Then I read the marquee. That placed it in the early 1960s, and I remembered that Jonas Mekas' "Guns of the Trees" (1961) was a film I reviewed in the early days of the ill-fated Town Underground theater in Chicago (now the Park West).

Aiello told me, "That was the St. Charles movie theater NYC. Circa 1962." And reader Irving Benig added, "East 12th in the Village ."

The "Ginsberg Hoover and Nixon" refers to Allen Ginsberg, who read his poetry on the sound track.

My first thought was that the scene in the photograph looked cold and lonely. Then I read the marquee and thought, no, that's simply how it would have looked on a winter's day. Inside it would have been warm, and the beam from the projector would have made a cone in the cigarette smoke.

When I left the theater it would have been dark and I would have looked around for a place to get a bowl of chili. I could read while eating it. I had the paperback of Norman Mailer's Advertisements for Myself in the pocket of my corduroy sports coat, under my thin khaki raincoat.

The Internet Movie Database lists only one review of the film, this one.

I went looking for a clip or a trailer of "Guns of the Trees," and there wasn't one. Adding the search term "Jonas Mekas," I found the short film below. You never know what you might find.

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The Bechtel Test

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100 Great Moments in the Movies

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Roger Ebert / April 23, 1995

For the centennial of cinema, 100 great moments from the movies:

Clark Gable in "Gone With the Wind":

"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Buster Keaton standing perfectly still while the wall of a house falls over upon him; he is saved by being exactly placed for an open window.

Charlie Chaplin being recognized by the little blind girl in "City Lights."

The computer Hal 9000 reading lips, in "2001: a Space Odyssey."

The singing of "La Marseillaise" in "Casablanca."

Snow White kissing Dopey Bashful on the head.

John Wayne putting the reins in his mouth in "True Grit" and galloping across the mountain meadow, weapons in both hands.

Jimmy Stewart in "Vertigo," approaching Kim Novak across the room, realizing she embodies all of his obsessions - better than he knows.

The early film experiment proving that horses do sometimes have all four hoofs off the ground.

Gene Kelly singin' in the rain.

Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta discuss what they call Quarter Pounders in France, in "Pulp Fiction."

The Man in the Moon getting a cannon shell in his eye, in the Melies film "A Voyage to the Moon."

Pauline in peril, tied to the railroad tracks.

A boy running joyously to greet his returning father, in "Sounder."

Harold Lloyd hanging from a clock face in "Safety Last."

Orson Welles smiling enigmatically in the doorway in "The Third Man."

An angel looking down sadly over Berlin, in Wim Wenders' "Wings of Desire."

The Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination: Over and over again, a moment frozen in time.

A homesick North African, sadly telling a hooker that what he really wants is not sex but couscous, in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "Fear Eats the Soul: Ali."

Wile E. Coyote, suspended in air.

Zero Mostel throwing a cup of cold coffee at the hysterical Gene Wilder in Mel Brooks' "The Producers," and Wilder screaming: "I'm still hysterical! Plus, now I'm wet!"

An old man all alone in his home, faced with the death of his wife and the indifference of his children, in Yasujiro Ozu's "Tokyo Story."

"Smoking." Robert Mitchum's response, holding up his cigarette, when Kirk Douglas offers him a smoke in "Out of the Past."

Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg wading in the fountain in "La Dolce Vita."

The moment in Akira Kurosawa's "High and Low" when a millionaire discovers that it was not his son who was kidnapped, but his chauffeur's son - and then the eyes of the two fathers meet.

The distant sight of people appearing over the horizon at the end of "Schindler's List."

R2D2 and C3PO in "Star Wars."

E.T. and friend riding their bicycle across the face of the moon.

Marlon Brando's screaming "Stella!" in "A Streetcar Named Desire."

Hannibal Lecter smiling at Clarise in "The Silence of the Lambs."

"Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You ain't heard nothin' yet!" The first words heard in the first talkie, "The Jazz Singer," said by Al Jolson.

Jack Nicholson trying to order a chicken salad sandwich in "Five Easy Pieces."

"Nobody's perfect": Joe E. Brown's last line in "Some Like It Hot," explaining to Tony Curtis why he plans to marry Jack Lemmon even though he is a man.

"Rosebud."

The shooting party in Renoir's "Rules of the Game."

The haunted eyes of Antoine Doinel, Truffaut's autobiographical hero, in the freeze frame that ends "The 400 Blows."

Jean-Paul Belmondo flipping a cigarette into his mouth in Godard's "Breathless."

The casting of the great iron bell in Andrei Tarkovsky's "Andrei Rublev."

"What have you done to its eyes?" Dialogue by Mia Farrow in "Rosemary's Baby."

Moses parting the Red Sea in "The Ten Commandments."

An old man found dead in a child's swing, his mission completed, at the end of Kurosawa's "Ikiru."

The haunted eyes of the actress Maria Falconetti in Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc."

The children watching the train pass by in Ray's "Pather Panchali."

The baby carriage bouncing down the steps in Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin."

"Are you lookin' at me?" Robert De Niro in "Taxi Driver."

"My father made them an offer they couldn't refuse:" Al Pacino in "The Godfather."

The mysterious body in the photographs in Antonioni's "Blow-Up."

"One word, Benjamin: plastics." From "The Graduate."

A man dying in the desert in von Stroheim's "Greed."

Eva Marie Saint clinging to Cary Grant's hand on Mt. Rushmore in "North by Northwest."

Astaire and Rogers dancing.

"There ain't no sanity clause!" Chico to Groucho in "A Night at the Opera."

"They call me Mr. Tibbs." Sidney Poitier in Norman Jewison's "In the Heat of the Night."

The sadness of the separated lovers in Jean Vigo's "L'Atalante."

The vast expanse of desert, and then tiny figures appearing, in "Lawrence of Arabia."

Jack Nicholson on the back of the motorcycle, wearing a football helmet, in "Easy Rider."

The geometrical choreography of the Busby Berkeley girls.

The peacock spreading its tail feathers in the snow, in Fellini's "Amarcord."

Robert Mitchum in "Night of the Hunter," with "LOVE" tattooed on the knuckles of one hand, and "HATE" on the other.

Joan Baez singing "Joe Hill" in "Woodstock."

Robert De Niro's transformation from sleek boxer to paunchy nightclub owner in "Raging Bull."

Bette Davis: "Fasten your seat belts; it's gonna be a bumpy night!" in "All About Eve."

"That spider is as big as a Buick!" Woody Allen in "Annie Hall."

The chariot race in "Ben-Hur."

Barbara Harris singing "It Don't Worry Me" to calm a panicked crowd in Robert Altman's "Nashville."

The game of Russian roulette in "The Deer Hunter."

Chase scenes: "The French Connection," "Bullitt," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Diva."

The shadow of the bottle hidden in the light fixture, in "The Lost Weekend."

"I coulda been a contender." Brando in "On the Waterfront."

George C. Scott's speech about the enemy in "Patton:" "We're going to go through him like crap through a goose."

Rocky Balboa running up the steps and pumping his hand into the air, with all of Philadelphia at his feet.

Debra Winger saying goodbye to her children in "Terms of Endearment."

The montage of the kissing scenes in "Cinema Paradiso."

The dinner guests who find they somehow cannot leave, in Bunuel's "The Exterminating Angel."

A knight plays chess with Death, in Bergman's "The Seventh Seal."

The savage zeal of the Klansmen in Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation."

The problem of the door that won't stay closed, in Jacques Tati's "Mr. Hulot's Holiday."

"I'm still big! It's the pictures that got small!" Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard."

"We're a long way from Kansas!" Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz."

An overhead shot beginning with an entrance hall, and ending with a closeup of a key in Ingrid Bergman's hand, in Hitchcock's "Notorious."

"There ain't much meat on her, but what's there is choice." Spencer Tracy about Katharine Hepburn in "Pat and Mike."

The day's outing of the mental patients in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

"I always look well when I'm near death." Greta Garbo to Robert Taylor in "Camille."

"It took more than one night to change my name to Shanghai Lily." Marlene Dietrich in "Shanghai Express."

"I'm walkin' here!" Dustin Hoffman in "Midnight Cowboy."

W.C. Fields flinching as a prop man hurls handfuls of fake snow into his face in "The Fatal Glass of Beer."

"The next time you got nothin' to do, and lots of time to do it, come up and see me." Mae West in "My Little Chickadee."

"Top o' the world, Ma!" James Cagney in "White Heat."

Richard Burton exploding when Elizabeth Taylor reveals their "secret" in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

Henry Fonda getting his hair cut in "My Darling Clementine."

"Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!" Alfonso Bedoya to Humphrey Bogart in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre."

"There's your dog. Your dog's dead. But there had to be something that made it move. Doesn't there?" Line from Errol Morris' "Gates of Heaven."

"Don't touch the suit!" Burt Lancaster in "Atlantic City."

Gena Rowlands arrives at John Cassavetes' house with a taxicab full of adopted animals, in "Love Streams."

"I want to live again. I want to live again. I want to live again. Please God, let me live again." Jimmy Stewart to the angel in "It's a Wonderful Life."

Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr embrace on the beach in "From Here to Eternity."

Mookie throws the trash can through the window of Sal's Pizzeria, in "Do the Right Thing."

"I love the smell of napalm in the morning," dialogue by Robert Duvall, in "Apocalypse Now."

"Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above." Katharine Hepburn to Humphrey Bogart in "The African Queen."

"Mother of mercy. Is this the end of Rico?" Edward G. Robinson in "Little Caesar."

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My other neighborhood on Red Arrow Highway

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On Red Arrow Highway, the old road along the Eastern shore of Lake Michigan from Chicago to Detroit, the past coexists with the present. There are old-fashioned pleasures, and not everything is in a strip mall and belongs to a chain. Actual human beings own places and sell you stuff it's fun to buy. This area is known as Harbor Country.

Top to bottom: Oink's Ice Cream Parlor and Fudge Shop in New Buffalo; chef and owner Ibrahim Parlak chatting with customers at his Cafe Gulistan in Harbert; the veggie stand on Red Arrow in Sawyer; Schlipp's soda fountain in Sawyer; a car hop at Mikey's Drive In on the highway in Bridgman; Ben Franklin's Five and Ten Cent Store in Bridgman.

About five miles further away from Lake Michigan is the town of New Troy, which calls itself the Center of the World. The name comes from a general store that operated there from circa 1860 until 1976. When woodworker Terry Hanover and his wife settled there, they took over the name in 1976 for their wood shop, which is still there. Their showroom is on Red Arrow as it passes through Harbert.

Red Arrow even preserves a Shell station. Gas stations mostly all used to look like this. In the mirror is the road behind. Ahead are St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, and houses by Frank Lloyd Wright.

☑ Photos and video by Roger Ebert. You can use them but say where these good places are. All of my TwitterPages are linked under the category Pages in the right margin of this page.

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Best films 1967-2009: Siskel & Ebert & Scorsese

• • •I had no idea these were online until a reader told me. The YouTube users gradepoint and DistinguishedFlyer have uploaded these, for which I am most grateful. I've looked at my lists many times, but seeing the posters is a different experience.

Gene was in top form when we taped that 1997 show. He died February 20, 1999. There is no program online for 1998, and we may not have taped one, but I found our lists of the Best and Worsts of 1998, thanks to Richard Kiss. • • •These are my choices in 1982, 1992 and 2002 in the poll taken every ten years by Sight & Sound, the British Film Institute magazine, of hundreds of directors, writers, producers, critics, archivists and festival programmers. This is generally considered the most authoritative of the "best lists." • •

• • •The Best Films of the Year, 1967-2007. I didn't pick a "best film" on my alphabetical lists in 2008 and 2009, but because I choose "Synecdoche, New York" as the best film of the decade, that would also qualify it for 2008. • •

• • •Martin Scorsese and I choose the Best Films of the 1990s • •

• • •Siskel & Ebert choose the Best Films of 1997, Part 1 • •

• • •Part 2, Siskel & Ebert choose the Best Films of 1997 • •

• • • Amazon.com Widgets

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