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Posts Tagged ‘David Thiel Superstar’

Shocking Exposé: Liberace’s Lover’s Tax Preparer Comes Forward

July 31st, 2012 No comments

I have lived a strange life, but there was no time stranger than the year-and-change that I spent in West Hollywood. It was my first time truly separated from my parents, living on my own (with one or more roommates) and seeking gainful employment. All the while, I was making fitful attempts to break into the business of show, and generally trying to figure out what in the hell I was going to do with my life.

West Hollywood was, for me, an exotic place, strange and wonderful. Its population included a significant percentage of homosexual males, which took a bit of acclimation on my part. (I think that was the start of my reevaluation of my ingrained “family values.”) More to the point, it was a place full of people who were working in the entertainment industry, or were working somewhere else until they could start working in the entertainment industry. I was constantly encountering minor-league celebrities, and even a few major ones. (I can tell you that all heads turn when Danny DeVito walks into a record store.)

For the last eight months of my stay, I worked at a “postal center,” a mail-drop that rented boxes to people who wanted to have a physical address that wasn’t their own. For an additional charge, we also provided an answering service. The upshot was that you could give the appearance of having a real office. This was especially popular with some of our skeevier clientele. (Oh, and weren’t some of our clients’ customers surprised when they walked in expecting to confront the person who had failed to deliver as promised, only to find some dope in a red t-shirt shipping packages.) We also did custom wrapping.

Linda Blair (of Exorcist fame) ran her fan club out of our place. The actress who played “Nancy’s” mom in the first Nightmare on Elm Street had a box too. I shipped stuff for Jay Ward (the creator of Bullwinkle) several times, and once for Rick Moranis.

But that was nothing, because behind the counter was our very own “celebrity,” a young man named Scott Thorson. Thorson had gained notoriety as the lover of flamboyant pianist Liberace. He subsequently sued the entertainer for palimony and received a small settlement for his trouble.

Scott started working shortly after I did. My chronology may be a bit faulty, but I’m fairly certain it was just after Liberace’s death from AIDS in February, 1987.

I really didn’t care for him. I believed that he was smarmy and full of himself. At our workplace, there was a long, wooden stairway leading to the basement, and more than once I fantasized about booting his ass down the hole.

Yet–and here is the extremely odd part–I wound up doing his taxes.

I don’t know if it was because he thought that I was smart, or cheap, or wouldn’t ask too many questions, but to my surprise he offered to pay me to fill out his 1040. Despite my dislike, I agreed. Money was money.

There was very little to it. The materials he provided showed no unusual financial activity. If there was more to the story–and given Thorson’s seedier associations, it wouldn’t have surprised me–I never knew it. I signed my name, collected my cash, and for a moment became David Thiel, Hollywood Tax Preparer. I left California a few months later. These events are unrelated.

Thorson subsequenly wrote a book, became a federal witness, got shot, and went to prison. He’s out now, and good for him. The book is being made into an HBO movie. Steven Soderbergh is directing, and Matt Damon is playing Scott.

I do not believe that Matt Damon will ask me to do his taxes. But in case he’s reading, know that I work cheap and don’t ask questions.

 

Allow Me To Introduce Myself

April 18th, 2012 No comments

So, a funny thing happened a couple of days ago. A major sci-fi website linked to my blog, and suddenly my hits jumped 400%. I had 3,417 hits on Monday. Tuesday it dropped to 1,804, which was still about 200% more than I typically get in a day. Today it’s at 919 as of 9:00 pm. I expect that by tomorrow it’ll be back to a normal level.

Now, I know perfectly well that the increased traffic was from people who wanted that screencap of the infamous whiteboard from The Cabin in the Woods. Even on a normal day, all but a handful of hits on my blog come from people doing Google image searches.

But, just in case any of you lot also read a post or two and decided to come back, I want to say “welcome.”

My name is David Thiel, and I’m a 47-year-old geek living in Champaign, Illinois. In my day job I’m the program director for WILL-TV, the local PBS station. However, this blog isn’t about that. As much as possible, I try to keep separate my work life and my life life.

I’ve been writing this particular blog for more than seven years. It started as a typically navel-gazing public diary, but in recent times has become a bit more focused on geek pop culture.

I’ve disabled comments because I don’t want the hassle of dealing with spam and trolls, but there’s a guestbook link at the top of the page, and you can always drop me a note at the address in the right menu bar.

I’m very fond of pre-’70s sci-fi, Japanese monsters and cult films. I’ve been a fan of Doctor Who since the early ’70s. (It’s no coincidence that WILL was one of the first US stations to air the Christopher Eccleston episodes.) I was twelve years old when the original Star Wars hit theaters; I saw it twelve times that year. I had a birthday cake depicting the “space slug” from The Empire Strikes Back. I love Bruce Campbell, H.P. Lovecraft and Superman. The highlight of my year in Los Angeles was the time I played a man-sized mutant insect. I’ve championed Starship Troopers, Speed Racer and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I once completely embarrassed myself while sharing an elevator with LeVar Burton. All in all, it’s been a strange life.

So, that’s me. Again, thanks for stopping by. Perhaps I’ll see you again around here sometime.

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Sing A Song Of Solstice

November 16th, 2010 No comments

Here’s the reason I’ve done very little blogging since the beginning of November: my upcoming WILL-TV production Winter Voices: An A Cappella Holiday.

Enjoy this preview clip, featuring the Tone Rangers (aka the Millikin Men’s Ensemble) singing “This Year.” I hadn’t heard this tune before our studio recording session, but I liked it so much that I’m using it as the finale.

WILL-TV’s “Winter Voices” Preview from Illinois Public Media on Vimeo.

If you’re in WILL-TV’s Central Illinois coverage area, tune in Wednesday, December 1 at 7:00 pm CST for the premiere of Winter Voices. It will also air Monday, December 6 at 7:00 pm; Christmas Eve at 9:30 pm and Christmas Day at 3:00 pm. (If you’re out of the area, I expect that we’ll put the entire program online once our December pledge drive is over.)

The Best Of Scores, The Worst Of Scores

May 5th, 2010 No comments

When it comes to bowling, I’ve found that practice not only doesn’t make perfect, it actually makes my game worse. During my first year of league play, I bowled a lifetime high 206 game. Four years later, I finished the season with a 120 average and a half dozen games in which I failed to break 100. Clearly, bowling prowess is not hereditary.

Ironically, this is the year that the WILL team finally took home trophies! Okay, they were for fourth place. And I don’t really feel that I contributed all that much to the team outside of being spectacularly average.

But still…

I’m gonna pretend that it’s for the season I bowled that 206.

Beatdown

March 12th, 2010 No comments

Last Monday night saw the premiere of A Cappella BEATdown — LIVE!* It was by far the biggest thing I’ve produced for WILL since my late and unlamented weekly movie review series Critics’ Choice went off the air in 2002. And a typical Critics’ episode had nothing on a live, three-hour music competition and pledge-o-tainment show featuring nearly 100 young singers!

On the whole, it went very well. There were no major technical kerfuffles**, all of the groups wound up where they needed to be when they needed to be there, and the music sounded great. Really, we have a lot for which to be proud.

However, me being me, it’s hard not to overemphasize the things that went wrong. We had the wrong phone number up for the first couple of songs. The ringing phones proved to be too loud to peaceably coexist with the music. Midway through the production, we mysteriously went from being three minutes ahead to ten minutes behind my carefully-planned timetable. And, as we had set our online poll to automatically shut off a few minutes after the final group originally had been scheduled to perform, I frantically tried to reach our IT staff to extend the deadline.

None of that compared, however, to my sudden realization that the online poll had been utterly compromised. I’d been refreshing the results on my laptop, and with about a half hour to go, I found that one of the groups suddenly shot from fifty or so votes to more than a thousand! The website began to bog down as the total kept climbing: 1,500…1,800…2,100! It was clear that the we were being spammed.

Now, we had set up the poll to discourage multiple votes, but had been advised not to limit it to one per IP address as doing so could disallow some legitimate participation. Instead, we had a cookie-based restriction. I knew that there’d be ways around it–for example, one could cast a vote in each different browser–but I thought that the relatively short time window and low stakes of the competition might be enough to keep someone from trying to be tricky.

Ding dong, I was wrong.

With only minutes left until the announcement of the winner, that left me with a dilemma. Should I honor the obvious fraud? There was no time to sift through the votes and remove the duplicates. And as the online poll displayed the current results after a ballot was registered, the group in question could see that they had “won” that vote.

We did have one out, which was that we had deliberately kept the online poll separate from the phone-in poll. We knew that it would be faster to make a web vote than to call the pledge line. (Indeed, while we logged 766 phone calls that night, we had 5,003 online ballots.) And in the case that the “winners” of the two polls disagreed, our judges would break the tie.

Unfortunately, my wife Vicky–whom I’d drafted as the queen of the phone poll–was having a hell of a time tabulating the results. Meanwhile, our host began to vamp as everyone waited for the verdict.

I conferred with the judges, who agreed that the leader of the phone vote (a very talented Hindi group named Chai-Town) should be the overall champion. I scurried off to tell the production staff to bring the singers into the studio…but neglected to give the nod to our host, who kept tap-dancing away.

The eventual announcement of the winner was awkward and quite possibly a bit confusing for our audience as Chai-Town seemingly came out of nowhere.

In the days that followed, we were able to extract the online poll log and pull out the duplicate votes. We found that while the more than 2,100 bogus ballots for one group was the most egregious example, most of the teams benefited from the spamming of the server. Two other groups received in excess of 500 duplicate votes.***

Once the duplicates were deleted, we were down to 983 ballots. Happily, we discovered that Chai-Town won the web poll as well as the phone poll and the judges’ vote! Potential crisis averted!

The muddled conclusion of the show and the middling results–only $3,395 raised during three hours of airtime–left me unable for a time to consider what I and my coworkers had managed to pull off. Yet, I have to admit to myself that it was one of our more ambitious productions. We had our first online poll, a live web stream with somewhere between 300-500 distinct viewers, plus Facebook updates leading up to (and even during) the program. Everyone seemed to have a good time, and most of the folks I talked to said that they really enjoyed the show. Most important to me, we got nearly 100 young people into our studio. Presumably even more watched and participated. I’d wager that for many of them, it was their first exposure to WILL-TV in a long time.

It may be some time before I can bring myself to watch my DVD copy–especially those last few minutes of tap-dancing–but in the end I expect that I’ll feel pretty good about the experience and even ready to try it again, WILL willing.

*The exclamation point was part of the title so that you knew how excited to be about it.

**An actual industry term. Look it up.

***Just to be clear, we’re not suggesting that the contestants themselves were cheating. Several someones appeared to be doing so on their behalf, and quite likely without their knowledge.

Beam Me The Hell Out Of Here

December 9th, 2009 No comments

Here are a couple of brief clips from last night’s pledge breaks for the documentary Science Trek. I had a bad feeling that the show–about how science has been influenced by Star Trek–wouldn’t do very well.* Therefore, I convinced the crew to have a bit of fun.

I don’t think it comes through on these clips, but we also had the classic Enterprise bridge sound effects running under the breaks.

Here’s my beam out at the end of the show.

Okay, it’s a bit lame, but it helped keep our minds off the silent pledge phones.

*It did not.

31 Monsters #6: The Evil Spawn (aka Me!)

October 6th, 2009 No comments

During my year in Hollywood, I briefly fell in with filmmaker Fred Olen Ray. Still active today, he made a lengthy career out of made-for-home-video exploitation flicks. Thanks to Ray I spent a week in legendary Bronson Canyon alongside Robert Quarry, Robby the Robot and the “Re-Animator” himself, Jeffrey Combs, making the subterranean epic The Phantom Empire. And, in one of the greatest moments of my life, I was kissed on the cheek by Sybil Danning after I drove her home from the set in my clunker. (That’s right, Saint Exmin was in my car. Suck it, beyotches.)

All of which is beside the point, except that I like talking about it. (Especially the kiss.) Plus, it helps to explain how it was I found myself wearing the top only half of a giant insect suit.

Evil Spawn (aka Alien Within, Alive by Night and Deadly Sting) was a rip-off loving tribute to The Wasp Woman. Both were about aging beauties who used experimental formulas to regain their looks, only to turn into ravenous insects by night. (In other words, they were biopics of Megan Fox in the year 2029.)

The uncredited remake was headlined by Bobbie Bresee, who was for a few short years a horror movie “scream queen.” She was also the Playboy Bunny/trophy wife of radio historian Frank Bresee, whose primary contribution to our culture was the drinking board game Pass Out. I saw Bobbie’s big screen debut in Mausoleum while on a drive-in movie date, and first met her at a sci-fi convention in Los Angeles. She personalized her photo “Maybe some day we’ll work together! If you stay in film production.” Little did she know that about six months later I’d be in her bedroom holding a film clapboard in front of her face.

Fortunately, I didn't wind up in Forry Ackerman's bedroom.

After my stellar work on The Phantom Empire–which involved driving a motor home full of feces*–I was invited back to help out for a couple of days on Evil Spawn. Filming took place at Frank and Bobbie’s own house. And so it was that I found myself hovering over Bobbie’s bed, slating the film like no film had ever been slated before.

I found it tremendously off-putting. I was alongside an entire film crew, plus husband Frank. And we were in her actual bedroom, watching her perform actual simulated sex with some other dude. For modesty’s sake, Bobbie undressed under the bedclothes, except for that time when the sheets flipped up and Clapper Boy got a full view. Did I mention that Frank was there?

Later on, I learned that they needed to film a couple of pick-up shots of the titular fiend, and the guy who was normally in the suit wasn’t available. They said, “Hey, you’re the right size!” And so came my first and final appearance as a movie monster.

First we shot a scene in which Bobbie’s screen lover, standing near a sliding glass door, was speared through the chest with an insect claw. My friends, I was that claw. I crouched below the phony chest wearing the hand of the rubber suit and gesticulating madly as the fake blood rained down.

Then it was time for me to enter the belly of the beast. Since the Evil Spawn would never be seen from the waist down–this was the sort of film in which plenty of expenses were spared–there was only an upper half. It did at least have articulated antennae, and Bobbie herself ran the controls for those.

evilspawn02

According to the script, I was supposed to smash through the glass door, but in fact they simply slid it open and let me stumble through the drape. Internally, I thought of every monster I’d ever seen and tried to be my most menacing and horrific. We did several takes. Those drapes were thoroughly menaced, let me tell you.

It was the middle of the night by the time we wrapped, and even Southern California could get pretty chilly around New Year’s. A couple of days later, I caught a horrible cold.

It was at least another half year–after I’d moved back to the Midwest–that I finally got a chance to see my movie debut. It was then that I learned I’d been so good that they’d cut my breakthrough, drapery-shredding role down to about six frames of video. As Evil Spawn taught me, Hollywood fame can be a fickle mistress.

Here’s the entire sequence. Keep in mind that I’m not only the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it monster, I’m also the claw. I’m even the guy holding the “bug vision” lens in front of the camera!

*That’s a story for another day.

Looky Who Made The Morning News!

September 4th, 2009 No comments

From last night’s live Are You Being Served? marathon on WILL-TV, featuring Nicholas (“Mr. Rumbold”) Smith.

Vintner of the Summer Wine

March 9th, 2009 No comments

Tuesday I play host to a special guest: Alan J.W. Bell, a 51-year veteran of the BBC and producer/director of the British comedy Last of the Summer Wine for most of its 30-plus-year run. He’s on a personal visit to the U.S., the result of a friendship one of WILL’s viewers struck up with him during a trip to Holmfirth, the English village in which the series is filmed.

I’ll not only be shuttling him around town, but hosting an “afternoon tea” with some of our Britcom fans. That evening, I’ll be interviewing him live on TV during our March pledge drive. And to be honest, I’m a bit freaked about it. Not that I have any reason to believe he’ll be anything but a great guest. I met him briefly today, and he was very friendly. I’m just feeling insecure about coming off as the rube from the sticks. (Did I mention that he also the produced the TV version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?)

Anyhow, as long as I avoid having a televised meltdown (and avoid asking “So, what was it like working with Marvin the Paranoid Android?”), it should be fun!

Prelude To A Prelude

January 31st, 2009 No comments

Lincoln: Prelude to the Presidency, the WILL-TV documentary in which I appear (frequently) as one of Lincoln’s fellow lawyers on the Illinois 8th Circuit, will be airing on numerous PBS stations over the following month. Here’s a list of known airdates, based on what I found via Google.

Champaign (WILL) – Feb. 9 at 8:00 pm, repeated Feb. 12 at 7:30 pm (call in and PLEDGE!)
Chicago (WTTW) – Feb. 9 at 10:30 pm
Chicago (WYCC) – Feb. 15 at 8:00 pm
Boston (WGBH) – Feb. 12 at 10:00 pm, repeated 3:00 am
Kentucky Educational Television – Feb. 5 at 9:00 pm, repeated Saturday at 2:00 am
Rocky Mountain PBS – Feb. 11 at 7:00 pm
Oregon Public Broadcasting – Feb. 8 at 1:00 pm
Orlando (WMFE) – Feb. 9 at 10:30 pm
Columbus (WOSU) – Feb. 15 at 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh (WQED) – Feb. 11 at 8:00 pm
Milwaukee (MPTV, Channel 10) – Mar. 10 at 7:00 pm
Detroit PTV – Feb. 9 at 10:30 pm
Fresno (KVPT) – Feb. 9 at 10:30 pm
Philadelphia (WHYY) – Feb. 3 at 10:00 pm
New Hampshire PTV – Feb. 12 at 11:30 pm
San Bernardino (KVCR) – Feb. 17 at 9:00 pm
Arizona (KUAT) – Feb. 9 at 10:30 pm
Utah Educational Network – Feb. 11 at 9:00 pm, repeated Sunday at 2:00 am

Also, any public TV station that carries the PBS World channel on its digital tier will be airing the program multiple times. Check your local station’s website.