The Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards held its eighth annual ceremonies this past Friday at the Austin Studios facilities near the old Robert Mueller airport. I drove myself being that I posses neither the fame nor the monetary means to be chauffeured up to the red carpet. I couldn’t find the real entrance so I drove in the valet lane and then asked to park it myself for fear of exposing the unkempt nature of the inside to a stranger. Mostly, I didn’t want anyone stealing my cigarettes.
Upon reaching the red carpet I happen to pause for a moment and then for no reason that I can describe I turn around and there is my Dad giving his key to the valet. I waited like any good son would so we could walk the red carpet together. There were cameras and paparazzi all over the place and not one of them taking any pictures of us. Instead they were all aimed at a single person whose presence commanded the attention of the entire room or at least anyone looking in that direction. We continued on and it was only just as we passed him that his face became clear enough to see. A young Luke Wilson stood calm and collected letting the local media snap his picture and ask questions. He was casual in slacks, collared shirt and leather jacket. The ladies scanned him with wonder and lust in their eyes while the husbands and boyfriends stood enviously watching. There was a real star in the building.
I couldn’t help but wonder who else of stature had walked this carpet but now was not the time. We had seats at the Austin Film Society table and a voice over a loud speaker had already requested that our seats be taken. An usher showed us to our table which was adorned in a white table cloth, elegant bouquets and place settings worthy of the occasion. But perhaps the most famous of the table props for the evening were the Lone Star beer can vases each with a single yellow rose.
The evening started with a very public auction of various items including a private shopping spree at Ralph Lauren, Tiffany & CO jewelry and a private tour of the Playboy Mansion that went to for more than thirty thousand dollars. Legendary hair stylist Paul Mitchell took the stage at the end of the auction and offered one more item to the list, “nothing”. Mr. Mitchell reminded us that all of proceeds from the auction will be deposited directly back into the film community. He put forth the notion that this item is not one that a person can display or hold in the palm of a hand but is the feeling of fulfillment that only giving while receiving nothing can provide. The item was purchased by Tom Meredith for fourteen thousand dollars.
Evan Smith, Editor of Texas Monthly and Co-Founder of Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards, Made his way to the podium for the beginning of the awards ceremony. He listed sponsors and gave thanks where it was due and then it was time, “Let me introduce you to your emcee for the evening, Dan Rather”. I was told by a source that will remain nameless that Mr. Rather had been seen practicing his opening and speeches at the podium a few hours earlier very meticulously going through the motions of giving an award away to a ghost. Mr. Rather took the stage like a firecracker and immediately dissolved any notion in my head that he would be a dry old news man. Quite the contrary, he was all smiles while reminding us that he too was Texan and was proud of it. His career spans a massive sixty years in the business and has covered everything from hurricanes, wars, presidential elections and the Kennedy Assassination.
When confronted with the question, what qualifies a person or a film to be inducted into the hall fame Mr. Rather gave the rules as he understood them; the film must have been made in Texas, be about Texas or about a Texan. Dan finished by adding, “or If you take a ride on Willies bus and survive that pretty much qualifies you too”.
The first to be inducted into our Hall of Fame was none other than Morgan Fairchild by the marvelous Tess Harper. Morgan is the quintessential Dallas Blonde. You can’t ask her to be ready in forty minutes and you certainly can’t ask her to curb her opinions. She started at sixteen on the set of Bonnie and Clyde as a stand in for Faye Dunaway and then honed her abilities on the popular soaps of the era. She has been in everything and knows just about everyone and on the off chance she doesn’t know you mentioning Texas will put you on her friend list right away. She spends her professional time these days on the Board of Directors for the Screen Actors Guild and also serves on the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee. For a list of her credits one would have to check IMDB, the list is far t long to mention here and now.
The next inductee would be Jane Mansfield and accepted by her daughter Mariska Hargity who is best known for her Emmy Award winning persona one Law and Order SVU. Jane garnered her first break in the Jack Webb drama Pete Kelly’s Blues where the world took note of the young blonde bombshell. She was not all pretty looks and platinum hair. Most people aren’t aware that Jane spoke five languages and desperately wanted to shed her sex-kitten persona for deeper roles. Unfortunately the opportunities came too late for Jane. In 1968 she appeared in the drama Single Room Furnished which was a departure from her blonde rolls of the past but she tragically died in a car accident in 1967 at the age of 34. Mariska gave a tearful acceptance as she explained a visit to her childhood home in Dallas where the current resident welcomed her and showed her the marks her father had made on a wall as she grew. She continued in tears thanking the Austin Community for honoring her mother and at the same time for allowing her to feel the compassion and respect that so many people felt and still feel for her departed mother. In a way she gained a piece of her mother that night in the lasting impression her career and life left upon the Texas and the world.
Following the tearful induction of Jane Mansfield there was the induction of a band whose early nickname of “the little ol’ band from Texas” would hardly suite their iconic persona of the present. The band ZZ Top had once been offered one million dollars each by the Gillette razor company if they would shave their beards on national television. They refused. Dan Rather followed by mentioning that he could sight many people who would shave a whole lot more than that for a million dollars and that more importantly he was one of them. I never thought that I would hear such ideas from the consummate gentleman who also saw fit to remind us that fighting in the parking lot was just the way it was down here. The sort of venue that ZZ Top frequented was the kind that made you check your gun at the door and if you didn’t have one, they gave you one. The Houston based trio of ragged outsiders was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. Self proclaimed super fan Luke Wilson had the honor of inducting the rockers to our lofty ranks.
Dana Wheeler of Friday Night Lights made a surprise appearance and plea for everyone in attendance to voice their opinions concerning our lack incentives. She praises Austin from an outsider’s perspective as being a Mecca for young filmmakers and how we are tragically losing our talent to our neighbors Louisiana and New Mexico. An increase to fifteen percent would be more than enough to allow us to compete in the new market. Movies about Texas are not being shot here because we cannot offer enough of a rebate to attract the market. More importantly we are losing the young filmmakers which are the people who benefit the most from the incentives being that their total capital was probably harder to come by and is also shrouded in more risk. She proclaimed that if we as a community could unanimously show our support, such an incentive program would surely be possible.
The final accolade of the evening went to Mike Judge who is most famous for creating Bevis and Butthead. Mike animated as a hobby while working as engineer and playing base for Doyle Bramhall before hitting it big with his first success “Frog Baseball”. Bevis and Butthead soon followed but tonight he is being honored with the Ann Richards Award and inducted by his own creation Hank Hill. Mike thanked his neighbors who stood in the alley drinking beer while discussing all manner of lawn care and home improvement for the inspiration that garnered the second longest running show in history. Mike was calm and less crazy than I think we all expected. He spoke in soft country tones and was well dressed. He thanked both Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriquez for convincing him to move into live with Office Space and then with Idiocracy. Then he simply said “thank you” and walked off stage. He has given us an incredibly warped view of the world while still being able to maintain and contemplative trek through the always wavering moral fiber of the American way.
By the time the show was over I was full from a marvelous meal, tons of eye candy and more notes than I would care to read. I had no idea that the woman on Law & Order was Jane Mansfield’s daughter or that she spoke five languages. I really think the ZZ Top guys were fantastic and probably a bit tipsy but who wasn’t? They never took their sunglasses off either. Paul Mitchell “shhhed” the crowd. A waiter dropped 15 beers at one time, it was loud. People were dressed in anything from gowns to jeans and T-shirts, it was wild. After a brisk walk to my car with bag full of swag I was off to my house and the next great adventure. SXSW opening weekend.
“Texas really is a state of mind” –Dan Rather