Sunday, March 13, 2011

Linda Purl and A Last Cry For Help

A Last Cry For Help* was an unusual made for TV movie about teenage suicide. It was written, produced and directed by Hal Sitowitz, a veteran TV writer. To me, it's the most realistic and enjoyable film on this subject. It also reminded me of two of my favorite Young Adult novels that are similar in subject and written around the same time. They are Flames Going Out by Kin Platt (1980) and also Gimme an H.E.L.P by Frank Bonham (also 1980). Flames Going Out is similar because it also involves a tragic romance between two disturbed teens. Gimme an H.E.L.P is similar because it also deals with a cheerleader who attempts suicide.

Part of why I loved this film is because of the sensitive acting of Linda Purl. She is just dead on as a depressed tormented teenager and expresses a wide range of emotions. After seeing this movie, I made it a priority to seek out her other roles. Another amazing character that she played was in a TV movie that came out the same year (1979) in which she played a mentally handicapped girl alongside Sean Cassidy. That film, Like Normal People, is highly recommended as well. As of this writing, neither have been released on DVD and are hard to come by on VHS. Other cool appearances by Linda are a brief cameo in the TV Movie Bad Ronald with Scott Jacoby. She also played Ron Howard's girlfriend in a couple of episodes of Happy Days!

It's also interesting to note that Linda Purl previously starred in the role of a suicidal teen 3 years prior in 1976 in an episode of the tv drama Medical Center.

About ten years ago, I was excited to discover that Linda Purl was a professional singer as well as an actress. The first song I ever heard by her was "L.A. Is Only A Movie" (released as a 45 single) which was part of the soundtrack to Leo and Lorree, a movie she co-starred in with Donny Most (1980). I then purchased her two CDs. The latter is a live album recorded at a music space owned by Desi Arnaz, Jr., who co-starred with Linda in the 1977 TV movie Black Market Baby.

Linda is an incredible singer and I've wanted to see her perform live for quite some time. I finally had the opportunity and saw her at the Rrazz Room in San Francisco. She was terrific and once again I was blown away by her talents. A truly amazing performer and I would highly recommend her live shows. My only complaint was that the set was too short (about an hour) and I wanted to hear more.

At the end of the show, I saw Linda in the lobby. I brought a picture from A Last Cry For Help for her to sign, but was pretty nervous. It was kind of surreal to approach this woman whose work I have admired for about 13 years. Well, I ended up not saying much, but she was still very friendly and gladly signed the photo (seen above).

You can find out more about Linda Purl on her website here:

*I was so enamored with the movie A Last Cry For Help that I made a zine named after it and later a book published in 2006 by Bodega. The first story in my Last Cry For Help book is loosely adapted from a scene in the movie. Copies are still available on Amazon.

and while you're at it, get a VHS copy of the Hal Sitowitz film.

Friday, March 11, 2011

James B. Clark - Children's Book Director

James B. Clark was a film editor and director who had a special gift for specializing in nature and adventure films aimed at young audiences. He filmed some of my favorite children's books. The first was Island of the Blue Dolphins (novel by Scott O'Dell) and then a collaboration with Joseph Krumgold who wrote the book And Now Miguel. My personal favorite though is My Side of the Mountain based on the book by Jean Craighead George. The movie is quite different from the book, but still retains the same spirit. Really beautiful color photography throughout. The last film Clark directed was an ABC Afterschool Special based on the novel Summer of The Swans by Betsy Byars. He also was involved as an assistant director for many episodes of The Twilight Zone and the Adam West Batman series.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Is Kissing A Girl Who Smokes Like Licking An Ashtray?

This novel by Randy Powell is one of my favorites and probably a book that I have re-read more than any others. When I first picked up this book at age 17, I was instantly drawn in. I related so much to the characters and everything about it. I think it has been a big influence on the graphic novel I am currently working on.

Here is a brief summary of the book:

Biff is a pinball addict who has had an overwhelming crush on Tommie for 23 months. He is 18, but looks like he is 14, and his High School career is about to come to a close without ever having gone on a date. He seems to be making some progress with Tommie, but can't get up the nerve to actually ask her out. And he's still uncertain about what he is going to do after High School. Will it be working at his sister's gas station or attending the local community college? Either way, his enthusiasm is lacking…wouldn't life be so much better if only he was able to share it with a girl?

Over Spring break, Biff wants to get his head straight by taking a hike up into the mountains. In his search to find a book on secret hikes, he ends up meeting a rebellious chain-smoking 16 year old. Heidi is thinking about dropping out of school. Or maybe moving into her burnt-out father's trailer. At first, Biff and Heidi don't get along at all. She thinks he's weird and he thinks she is flakey. But while hanging out at a local diner after midnight and taking long drives together, the two begin to grow fond of each other. And suddenly, Biff begins to realize that his love for Tommie may not mean the end of the world.

Randy Powell writes realistic, somewhat low-key stories about teenagers living in Seattle. His novels often have athletics as a background element, but these aren't really sports novels at all. Instead, Powell writes honestly about relationships. His characters are often confused about what to do with their lives. But far from being the cliché YA novel, there are few major epiphanies. Instead, this writer wisely allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions and the result is always rewarding.

I'll read anything Randy Powell writes. Is Kissing A Girl Who Smokes Like Licking An's a classic YA novel. Thanks Randy!