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May 2, 2017

Interview with Rick Marx

As part of our coverage of Wanda Whips Wall Street (1981), Mike corresponded with the film's screenwriter, .

The Projection Booth: Had you always wanted to be a writer when you were growing up?
Rick Marx: Yes. I started a school newspaper when I was 9. When I was 10, I wrote a story about Jonta, a man who lived alone on his own planet with some hot chick. My friends loved it. I was a celeb. Once you get the taste you can't stop.

TPB: What lead you into becoming a screenwriter in the 1980s?
RM: I was living in Hell's Kitchen on West 46th St. (across from Cape Man Park) and hanging out on Restaurant Row. Chuck Vincent was a regular at Variety Garden, one of the local restaurants and bars for film industry people. I was sitting there having a drink and Chuck asked me what I did. I said I was a writer. He said do you write screenplays? I said no. He said, if you can write, you can write screenplays. He asked if I wanted to write a script for Wolfgang Von Schiber called Snap! (later re-titled C.O.D.. I think it might have even been released under another name.). I said sure.

TPB: Before becoming a screenwriter, what was your relationship with movies?
RM: When I was a teen in NYC I spent the entire summer going to the Thalia, St. Mark's Cinema, the Regency, all those great theaters that played double bills of the best art films. I remember a triple-feature at the St. Mark's with 200 Motels, Yellow Submarine and Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff. I saw everything. I saw The Godfather on its first day. Clockwork Orange, first day. I liked film's like the Belgian director Andre Delvaux's One Night... A Train, and Jodorowsky's El Topo. I wrote criticism for Film Journal and Box Office magazines.

TPB: Can you tell me about some of those early screenplays?
RM: My screenplays were generally written to order. For example, one producer wanted a film that took place in the Philippines where women wrestled animals. The producer Harry Towers always had projects that needed to be shot in Namibia because of some tax deal he made. He would give me a list of actors - Robert Vaughn, Oliver Reed, Sybil Danning - and ask me to write the script to fit them. In the X-rated realm it was fairly similar. You had talent, locations and a general idea then you could run with it. Viva Vanessa. Luscious. Piggy's. Those were in the early days.

TPB: What was your relationship with him like over the years?
RM: Chuck was actually the best man at my wedding (to my first wife). I loved Chuck. He was a great-hearted guy with an amazing personal story. We spent a lot of quality time together. I liked his sense of humor and love of life. He had a great array of friends from all walks of life. He had the hot hand for several years and he introduced me to the scene. He was impossible not to enjoy being around. He lived the good life. It changed over the years but we always had a deep bond.

TPB: How did Wanda Whips Wall Street come about?
RM: Three guys from Wall Street came up with this “brilliant can't miss idea.” They had Wall Street backing. Larry Revene and I who were as thick as thieves got together and worked on the script and casting. Larry had a fantastic studio on West 45th between Fifth and Sixth. The Wall Street guys shepherded it through and Jane Hamilton came on board. What a talent she is. The film is a lot of fun.

TPB: What kind of research did you do when it came to the actual ins and outs of commerce at the time?
RM: Actually, pretty much. I talked to one of the investors at length about some of the gimmicks used in the film. There's one scene where Wanda and Janie break into the house of a stockbroker (Jack?) and take his “bearer bonds” while he and his wife are watching TV. I didn't know about the concept of transferable bonds.

TPB: How was it working with Larry Revene?
RM: The best. We always clicked. We're still in touch. He has a great eye and a great soul. A helluva drummer too! And stories to make you howl. One of the best joke tellers I've ever heard.

TPB: Was it always the plan to have the Lou Perrini character win out at the end of the film?
RM: Well you know it was Jamie Gillis . When you had Jamie Gillis in the film you knew he had to win out in the end. By the way, Ron Jeremy is boffo in the pic! They could have been Martin and Lewis.

TPB: When writing adult films, how detailed are the sex scenes in the script?
RM: I did some time writing stroke fiction for Midwood Books! So I was well-versed in wordsmithing and especially sex-smithing. I could write a 1,000 words of schmutz in my sleep. (That was a good thing because you'd have to write another 9,000 while awake.)

Of course it was pretty ridiculous to write a lot of detail in a porn film when you're lucky if the guy can choke out two words and still keep a hard-on. I was probably one of the more verbose writers. It was always amazing to me when I would write: "She gives him a blow-job," and then you watch the film, and that's what's happening. Such a sense of power.

TPB: You were the screenwriter for Roommates. What were your memories of writing this film?
RM: That was Chuck Vincent's dream project. He had been developing it for a long time. It was meaningful to him because until then he had been known for his goofy comedies. The movie was really heavy. We wrote it at his place in East Hampton in three or four straight days. That's how we always worked. Marathon sessions, mapping out the scenes with index cards, then going to the beach or out to East Hampton restaurants like the Palm and The Laundry. It was fun.

TPB: You wrote the screenplay for GOR. Had you been a fan of the John Norman books?
RM: Not at all. That was a work for hire. I bought all the books and scrambled through them. Not really my cup of tea. They were too mean-spirited for me. I thought the characters were clumsy and the scenes cliche.

TPB: How did the GOR film come about -- at least for you?
RM: Producer Harry Alan Towers approached me. He had this Italian stallion named Urbano Barberini locked in a deal and Sybil Danning signed on. Harry asked me if I could write a script in three weeks and I said sure. I was used to writing scripts in three days.

TPB: Were the GOR films shot back to back?
RM: I believe they were shot simultaneously. I didn't have anything to do with the shooting. I think they were part of that Namibia deal I mentioned. Harry Towers was an amazing creative dealmaker. Somebody should write a book about him. Lawrence Cohn of Variety called him "the most interesting man in film." I agree.

TPB: Can you tell me about your occasional acting roles?
RM: Usually though the theory among the producers is to keep the screenwriter as far away from the set as possible.
But I'm a ham. I enjoyed being around the set (when they let me). In a lot of those films there were crowd scenes or fun cameos. I play a con man on a talk show in Wanda. I played a bartender in Luscious.

TPB: The mid-90s seemed like a time of big change for you. How did you get involved in writing the Joe Franklin biography (Up Late with Joe Franklin) and the Oklahoma City Bombing book?
RM: I've always pursued many different forms of writing. As mentioned, I wrote film criticism in the 80s. I wrote for Movie Maker. I write about jazz. For a while I reviewed electronic devices for a publication called "Gadget." I worked for a public relations firm doing speeches for corporate execs. I had a number of jobs working with authors as a ghost writer or collaborator. A friend of mine at Scribner put me in touch with Joe. He was a great character and I was lucky to be able to work with him.

America Under Attack was a project put together by Pat Reshen, a book packager. Her vision was a "quick book" about the OKC bombing. She knew I could write quick. So they sent me out there. That was an incredible experience for me. I also appreciated the opportunity to write some heavy nonfiction. The book came out about a month after the bombing.

TPB: What was Joe Franklin like to work with on that project?
RM: He rarely left the famous West 43rd Street office, piled high with memorabilia. He held court there. He was truly revered. People came to him to pay homage. A lot of people never gave him his due, but to know him was to respect him. He was one of the icons of collectors, he likes to say that he "invented nostalgia before it was nostalgia." He had a wicked sense of humor.

As far as our working relationship, I showed up with a tape recorder at the office once or twice a week and recorded him. That led me to fill in some of the blanks with trips to the Lincoln Center library to look up the people he would recall: Eddie Cantor, Fred Allen, Milton Berle, those were his idols.

TPB: How do you see the roots of what led to the Oklahoma City Bombing?
RM: It comes from a collision of cultures, a history that has never been resolved. In "America Under Attack", The Ku Klux Klan was a terror group. So was the Weather Underground. These kind of sharp juxtapositions in the methodologies of violent American extremists mark the origins of terrorism on our shores.

The first WTC bombing was a complete game-changer. But it was still "foreign" in origin -- the Santa Claus sheik in pajamas.

Then there was Waco a year later. That really resonated with a segment of the population. They rallied behind David Koresh. A lot of people thought Randy Weaver was a hero when he holed up and fought off the FBI at Ruby Ridge.

OKC was its own thing. The number of people killed was enormous. The ability of two people to engineer an act of this magnitude against a government agency - a law enforcement agency headquartered at the Murrah building - was mind-boggling. The fact that there was a day care center in the building and babies killed added so much more sadness.

These are important topics. Nationalism, personality, violence, race, religion, profit, politics. Chomsky writes well on these subjects.

Hear more about Rick Marx on our Wanda Whips Wall Street episode.

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