Hollywood veteran Michael B. Druxman winds up adjusting to South Austin
Michael B. Druxman spent more than four decades in Hollywood, working as a publicist, screenwriter and director. But he's quick to tell you that he's not a household name. He even doubts that you've ever seen any of his work.
"I wrote and directed B movies, or the kind that go direct to video, many for legendary producer-director Roger Corman," Druxman writes in his memoir that came out last year, "My Forty-Five Years in Hollywood ... and How I Escaped Alive" ($19.95, BearManor Media).
His screenplays include "Dillinger and Capone," which was made into a 1995 movie starring F. Murray Abraham and Martin Sheen, as well as "Cheyenne Warrior," a 1994 feature starring Kelly Preston and Bo Hopkins.
Druxman still works on occasional screenplays and fiction, but he's semi-retired these days — and living in South Austin with his wife, Sandy.
"We were able to sell our duplex in Los Angeles before the market crashed, and we came to Austin in early 2009," he says. "We were able to pay for the Austin house upfront, so we don't have a mortgage, and we were able to get five times the house that we'd have been able to get in California."
Druxman's Hollywood odyssey — and eventual arrival in Austin — began in 1963, when he graduated from the University of Washington and left his hometown of Seattle to make his name in the movies.
His first Hollywood project was a self-financed short called "Genesis," and he paid John Carradine $300 to narrate it.
Druxman figured the short film would be his calling card — that the studios would take notice and give him a job. "In fact, I couldn't even give the film away," he says.
So Druxman took another route to survive. He decided to become a publicist. He took out an ad in Daily Variety, headlined "A Press Agent for $25," with a phone number underneath. At the time, the monthly fee was a relative bargain for young actors looking for an agent, who typically charged between $500 and $1,000 for their services monthly. Druxman says the ad paid off, and his first client was Charles Wagenheim, the town drunk on television's "Gunsmoke."
The relationship didn't last. But others did, and through the years, Druxman represented such people as Pat Harrington (Schneider on TV's "One Day at a Time)," Edd "Kookie" Byrnes ("77 Sunset Strip"), producer Stanley Rubin ("River of No Return" and "The President's Analyst"), director Edward Dmytryk ("The Caine Mutiny" and "Raintree County") and Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs on "Dallas").
He also handled publicity for film and Broadway composers, including Ernest Gold ("Exodus"), Maurice Jarre ("Lawrence of Arabia") and John Williams ("Jaws").
But Druxman says he felt that something was missing. "The truth was that I wanted to be the creative one. I wanted to be 'the talent,'" he says.
So in the early 1970s, he approached A.S. Barnes & Co., a publisher of Hollywood biographies.
His first pitch was a biography of Paul Muni, who appeared in such classics as the original "Scarface" as well as "The Story of Louis Pasteur," the 1936 movie that earned Muni a best actor Oscar.
The publisher agreed to sign a contract with Druxman, making the advance "payable upon delivery and acceptance of the manuscript." Druxman fulfilled the contract.
The result was "Paul Muni: His Life and His Films" (1974), and it included interviews with Anne Baxter, Glenn Ford, Karl Malden, Cornel Wilde and Arthur Miller.
That was followed by "Basil Rathbone: His Life and Films," "Make It Again, Sam: A Survey of Movie Remakes" and "The Musical: From Broadway to Hollywood."
But Druxman says he still wasn't satisfied, that he wanted to tell his own stories. So he went back to his first love — writing for film.
Writers in Hollywood often face big disappointments, and some are lucky if they don't end up face down in a pool, a la William Holden's Joe Gillis in "Sunset Boulevard."
Among Druxman's disappointments were "Keaton's Cop" (1988) and "Dillinger and Capone." But Druxman says the best movie, "without question," that resulted from one of his screenplays was "Cheyenne Warrior," and "I still get messages from fans."
"Warrior" was one of Druxman's early collaborations with Corman, the legendary B-movie king.
Corman has a profitable formula for success, Druxman says. He shoots movies in three to four weeks and uses a cast of mostly unknowns, with perhaps one or two well-known actors whose roles can be shot in two to five days. Most of the movies go direct to video.
Druxman is well aware that some people look down their noses at Corman. But he says he has "nothing but respect" for him, mainly because he gives people an opportunity.
Still, with 45 years of Hollywood experience, Druxman says he sometimes thinks he didn't achieve enough. He didn't write "The Godfather" or win an Oscar. "But when I get depressed about what I didn't achieve, my wife always reminds me that I accomplished much more than 95 percent of the people who come to Hollywood.
"And I guess that's my main message to aspiring screenplay writers or readers of my memoir: that you don't have to be Steven Spielberg to make a good living in Hollywood."
He says he has adapted to his new environs in Austin, even though he does miss his favorite delicatessens in Southern California. "Here I am in Texas, and I don't like chili, and I don't like barbecue," he says.
He knows that's heresy in these parts. "But at least I like the brunches at Green Pastures."
Druxman's script résumé
Michael Druxman's screenplay credits include:
‘Hollywood Couples' (a television series documentary, with segments on Clark Gable and Carole Lombard; Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh; Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles) (2006)
‘Demon Slayer' (2003)
‘Battle Queen 2020' (2001)
‘Dillinger and Capone' (1995)
‘Cheyenne Warrior' (1994)
‘Okavango: The Wild Frontier' (1993)
‘Keaton's Cop' (1988)