My initial shock about director/producer Arnold Laven’s death last month has morphed into regret and appreciation. Regret for only knowing him for slightly under a year and appreciation for the brief time we spent together talking about his career and the movies.
After attending a celebration of his life at Arnold’s residence today, I was awed with the outpouring of genuine love for a man who literally spent his life giving of himself to his friends and family. Yes, there were some of his old television and movie friends present; Dick Van Patten, Dennis Dugan and Johnny Crawford who spoke movingly of his close relationship with Arnold that began with multiple auditions for The Rifleman. However, many of Arnold’s friends have nothing to do with show biz. There were his old tennis buddies (for many years, Arnold ran the Arnold Laven Memorial Tennis Tournament at his place every Memorial Day Weekend), there was the guy who had the locker next to him at the health club, his CPA, old friends from his days in the 1st Moton Picture Unit, neighbors in Encino along with the sons and daughters of old friends who had passed on and looked upon Arnold as a surrogate Uncle or Father.
Everyone spoke of Arnold’s humility, his righteous love for his wife and family, an unabashed zeal for all things living (he would stop a tennis game to have everyone observe a squirrel) and generosity of spirit about everything. Although I only knew Arnold more than slightly, every moment rang true. Arnold was one of those rare people who could converse about any subject and was interested in everyone else. A microphone was passed around and everybody had an opportunity to remember what Arnold Laven meant to them. It was joyfully moving. We sat next to a young man that Arnold and his wife virtually adopted and raised as a grandson. In addition to Arnold’s sister and his daughter and son, I chatted with an old Army buddy of Arnold’s who grew up on the Universal backlot and was an extra in The Bride of Frankenstein. There were so many other nice people and they were all there for Arnold.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the presence of 99 year old Arthur Gardner, now the last surviving member of Hollywood’s most enduring production partnership of Levy-Gardner-Laven. The three of them had a handshake agreement for over a half a century and that was all that was necessary. Arthur remains in amazing shape for his age – walking around kibitzing with a glass in his hand – with his son confiding to me that he finally took his car keys away only last year.
Arthur was much grieved for his friend and said that “Arnold was the artistic one, Jules was the business end and I was the in-between.” They just don’t make them like Arnold anymore. R.I.P Arnold Laven, a very good man.
Here’s a link to my interview with Arnold that dates back to 2008 and was published this year. I have more of Arnold Laven on tape talking about workingwith William Wyler on The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), the Rifleman etc. Will have to get all that great stuff out into some sort of piece soon.
On another note, I recently read Gregory Mank’s new tome, Karloff and Lugosi: The Expanded Story of A Haunting Collaboration that is coming out next month from McFarland. The word, “tome” is appropriate. You can put the dumbbells in storage and do arm-curls with this book! It is a massive, lavishly illustrated volume that, once dipped into, provides immediate CPR from the hefty $75 cover price. Mank, a renowned film historian and accomplished author, made this particular volume an obsessive crusade over several decades. The sheer number of interviews encompassed from the original 1990 book along with this major revision is simply amazing. I stopped counting at 63 distinct personages many who appeared in the original Universal Horrors films with the legendary stars. To do this book justice, the “expanded story” equates to an entirely new book. Mank’s book is about much more than a collaboration; it is a wonderfully synthesized biography of both men and the final word about many of their famous films along with details about their complex personal lives.
If you are a horror film buff or simply love the minutiae of vintage Hollywood, Karloff and Lugosi is a must.