Over the past 350 columns, I’ve often written about colorful and eccentric local characters. Veteran film director Henry Jaglom, a Santa Monican for 20 years, certainly fits that description. A mix of bourgeois and bohemian, Jaglom’s no stranger to controversy. Some critics call him a cinematic genius, others a charlatan with a camera. (Ouch.)
Criticism doesn’t seem to faze Jaglom, however. Wearing his trademark hat, he has an eccentric air as he strolls down Montana Avenue toward his nearby office.
At 72, Jaglom’s never been busier. He’s editing his latest film, “The M Word,” starring Tanna Frederick and Michael Imperioli; he has a book due out in July, “My Lunches with Orson,” about his 15-year friendship with the legendary Orson Welles; and Wednesday Jaglom’s DVD box set “Three Comedies” featuring “Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?,” “Sitting Ducks,” and “New Year’s Day,” went on sale. Other than all that, Henry’s not too busy.
As it happens I met Jaglom over 20 years ago, but it was a tad awkward to say the least. It involved a case of foot-in-mouth disease. Mine.
In 1991, I worked at the Ocean View Tennis Courts by the beach. Occasionally, if someone needed a fourth for doubles, I’d fill in. OK, maybe more than occasionally. It was in this fashion that I met Gwen Welles, a beautiful and talented actress who had just finished “Eating,” Jaglom’s latest movie.
One day Gwen told me Jaglom was to be interviewed by Bob Costas on his late-night show “Later,” promoting “Eating,” but she didn’t know how to work the timer on her VCR. (Does anyone remember VCRs?) Taping the show, I watched intently as I am a huge Costas fan.
Henry and I have different recollections of his appearance on “Later.” Unless we call Costas we’re going to have to agree to disagree. I clearly remember Jaglom being a bit, and here I’m using the politically incorrect “N” word, as in narcissistic. OK, maybe more than a bit. A lot more.
The next day when I gave Gwen the tape, she was eager for my opinion. When I described Henry with the dreaded “N” word I wasn’t surprised by the outspoken Gwen’s reaction. “Oh, you are so right,” she exclaimed excitedly as apparently she and Jaglom frequently battled over creative issues and maybe this was one point on her side. Frankly, I forgot about the whole thing until a month later at a screening of “Eating.” At the prestigious Director’s Guild I had to confirm my name on the guest list. I was puzzled to see the one doing the checking was Jaglom himself! I also remember there was a hot ingénue-type on each arm, either or both of whom I assumed might be starring in his next movie.
When Jaglom finally found my name on the list he looked up at me sternly. “So, I’m the most narcissistic person you’ve ever seen?” I gulped. The sound I heard was Gwen having thrown me under the bus. Instantly, I began to experience major flop sweat. I could swear even the two babes noticed.
Stammering, I replied sheepishly, “I didn’t say the ‘most’ narcissistic.” (In fact I had.) Having seen me squirm, Henry smiled as he motioned me to enter the screening room. I was sweating so bad I considered asking one of the ingénues if she had a hand towel I could borrow.
The next day at the courts I confronted Gwen. “Why in the world did you tell Jaglom what I said?” Smiling she replied, “Well somebody had to,” and then joined her friends on the court.
A lot has happened in the past 22 years. Very sadly and way too soon, Gwen passed away. In communicating with Henry about this column he and I have shared missing her.
Henry’s certainly come a long way from his first directorial effort in 1971, “A Safe Place,” starring Tuesday Weld, Jack Nicholson and Orson Welles. In his development as a director, Jaglom’s movie inspirations have been an eclectic group: Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini and Bob Hope. (Interestingly, Woody Allen also gives props to Bob Hope though I doubt he calls them props.)
Over the years and 19 feature films, Jaglom has employed a cinéma vérité style in making intimate movies about intimate relationships. Often they’re from the woman’s point of view, which is very appealing to daring actresses who like the challenge of improvisation.
Henry’s also written four plays performed on Los Angeles stages: “The Waiting Room,” (1974), “A Safe Place” (2003), “Always, But Not Forever” (2007) and “Just 45 Minutes From Broadway” (2009). In addition, he’s the subject of the 1997 documentary, “Who is Henry Jaglom?” Not bad for a narcissist. Whoops, I said it again.
Henry Jaglom’s “Three Comedies” is available wherever new DVD releases are sold. If he isn’t too busy putting his foot in his mouth, Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.