January 21, 2021

In 2018 a Croatian translation of Sam's final book, SPY OF THE FIRST PERSON, was published by Antipod with the translation done by Martina Klasić.  The book is called UHODA. In the last year of his life, as the degenerative disease ALS made his muscles progressively useless, Sam  finished this book about a man suffering from a similar but unnamed illness. An unidentified first-person narrator looks across the street at a strange man in a rocking chair on the porch. It soon becomes clear that they are the same person, a man observing himself from the outside, his failing body so alien that he doesn’t recognize it as his own.

Uhoda means "care" and I suppose that references all the loving care his family provided for him in his final weeks. According to his sisters, when Sam was unable to hold a pen, he spoke into a voice-activated recorder. When he could no longer hold the recorder, he dictated to his daughter Hannah or his sisters Roxanne and Sandy, who did the transcription and read the notes back to him. Roxanne indicated, "Sometimes he wanted to dictate things at night before going to sleep. I kept a notebook close so that he could just ask to write something down and it could be dictated on the spot." Sandy said, "He's a writer so he needed to write every day to be himself, and that was our mission, to help him be as close to normal as possible." And Hannah added, "The line between fact and fiction in his own work was always very ambiguous to Sam, I believe. Many things blended together for him."

Toward the end of the book Sam mentions his sons Jesse and Walker - "The thing I remember most is being more or less helpless and the strength of my sons. A man pushed by his sons in a wheelchair from a crowded restaurant to a street with nobody on it. A man sitting on shaggy wool with a Navajo blanket across his knees."

In this Croatian edition, the following two artistic illustrations represent the beginning and end of the story. The photo of Sam was taken from a January 2016 photo shoot for The New York Times.

 
January 19, 2021

Earlier this month Sam's daughter Hannah was caught by the paparazzi walking in Manhattan's West Village on a cold day.

Since her father's death, Hannah has worked as an archival producer on three documentaries that focus on racism and justice. The Women in Media web site gave the following biography:

Hannah Shepard studied writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received master’s degrees from the National University of Ireland and Fordham, where she was a teaching fellow and a Loomie Prize winner. Engaging with history, the arts, and social justice, Hannah is drawn to projects that cross boundaries. She has worked as a researcher, educator, and script reader with institutions including the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, the Museum of the City of New York, The Public Theater and the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History. As an archival researcher and producer, Hannah has worked with filmmakers including Rebecca Miller, Nancy Buirski, and Catherine Gund. In 2019 she was nominated for the FOCAL Jane Mercer Researcher of the Year Award. Her fiction has been published by W.W. Norton, Fiction Southeast, and Spout Press.

Fordham's Loomie Prize was awarded to Hannah for her paper, "Vanished in Plain Sight: Scots-Irish Presbyterians in Wisconsin, 1830-1890". Her paper argues that Ulster Presbyterians brought their unique brand of political and religious radicalism, with its roots in their Irish experience, with them to Wisconsin, influencing the early character of a state which has been known equally for its progressivism and its evangelicalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

It appears that those excellent writing skills are in the Shepard genes!

* * * * *

I came across this art board print of Sam by illustrator Paul Cemmick. I don't see much resemblance except for his hair. The shirt says "Days of Heaven" but the background shows him as Chuck Yeager coming out of the flames. Personally, I don't think it blends very well.

 
December 20, 2020

I recently came upon this excerpt from David Yaffe's 2017 book on Joni Mitchell titled "Reckless Daughter". As many of you know, Sam hooked up with Joni when they were both on Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975.

This is what Joni said about her relationship with Sam:

"Sam and I had a flirtation. He got scared of me. What panicked him was we were sitting in a bar and we were talking and all of a sudden he said, 'You’re really smart.' Often when people would say that, they would lean away from me like I had a disease… And then we talked a little bit more, and I was saying things and he’d go, ‘How do you know that?’ It was like we were twins. The stars were really funny. He was born November 5 and I was born November 7. I was born under a really powerful sky, and I think he was too. He’s multi-expressive. He’s a playwright and a singer and an actor and he’s good at all of them. What I think was happening was that I was forming sentences like he would’ve. Everything was creating an aversion. But for me, on coke, I found him very attractive. He reminded me of the people where I come from, from the region that I come from."  

* * * * *

Chuck Yeager, a WW II fighter ace who was the first to travel faster than sound, died earlier this month on December 7. His test pilot exploits were told in Tom Wolfe's book "The Right Stuff", which was made into the 1983 blockbuster film, directed by Philip Kaufman. Sam received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Yeager. The famous pilot advised Sam on his role and even had a cameo in the film. Yeager said with a deep-voiced West Virginia twang, "Sam Shepard was a neat guy. He hunts, fishes, drives a pickup truck and shacks up with Jessica Lange. What more could you want out of life?"

* * * * *

Here are some new additions to the photo shoot that took place in NYC on September 29, 2011 when Sam was promoting his film "Blackthorn".  The last photo shows him with his friend, producer Heather Rae.

 

In journalist Marshall Fine's critique of "Blackthorn", he wrote that the film could serve as a terrific valedictory performance for Sam, and indeed it does. It was the last film in which he was cast in the lead role, which garnered rave reviews. If you haven't seen it yet, it's available to rent online. Sam is awesome! The second photo below shows Sam with director Mateo Gil and his two co-stars.

 
Eric Hynes of Time Out New York wrote, "Wrinkled, leathery and densely carpeted in a salt-and-pepper beard, the 67-year-old playwright and actor still exudes intellectual mischief and hard-stare sex appeal; his self-styled ruggedness is a perfect match for an infamous gringo living incognito. It’s his best screen work since 'The Right Stuff'."
 
October 31, 2020

The film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's bestselling Western novel, ALL THE PRETTY HORSES, premiered in 2000. Directed by Billy Bob Thornton, the film starred Matt Damon, Penelope Cruz, Henry Thomas, Lucas Black, Bruce Dern and Sam in a very small role. The book was published eight years earlier and won both the U.S. National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. The movie version did not fare so well only receiving a 32% rating on the Tomatometer. It was released on Christmas Day 2000 to mostly negative reviews and grossed $18 million worldwide against a $57 million budget.

Set in 1949, "Horses" is about two friends who take off from their Texas ranch and head for the vast spaces of Mexico. There, they find charms, dangers, romance, treachery, jail and their own rich rites of passage to maturity.

This is the only photo of Sam in the role of J.C. Franklin, the Grady family lawyer who gives John Grady Cole the bad news about his disinheritance. Thornton remarked, "Sam is such a big admirer of Cormac McCarthy that he told me he'd be willing to do any role at all in the film. He wasn't concerned about the size of the part. He only has one scene, but he was incredibly excited about playing it."

David Krakauer of the Santa Fe Institute wrote the following about this pair of prolific writers - "Sam’s office was in the Institute library where we could hear him typing out essays and plays on his Olympia SM9. When Cormac McCarthy and Sam worked in adjoining rooms of the library, the Institute resounded like a nineteenth-century steel mill — deafening hammering of dueling Olivettis and Olympias."

In the photo above, David sits between Sam and Cormac.

Sam often took on bit parts and hopefully he was paid well. Another film that flopped at the box office a year later was the techno-action thriller SWORDFISH, starring John Travolta, Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman, Don Cheadle and Vinnie Jones.

I especially liked this review by Paul Clinton of CNN:

Here are some things you probably know about "Swordfish": It features some wildly exciting action sequences. John Travolta is not wearing dreadlocks or platform boots. Yes, Halle Berry goes topless - and so does Hugh Jackman. There's a nice twist at the end of the film.

And here are some things that you probably should know: "Swordfish" is idiotic. Travolta is sporting the same haircut he wore in "Pulp Fiction" (1994). He's also playing the same standard-issue bad guy he played in two films directed by John Woo, "Face/Off" (1997) and "Broken Arrow" (1996). And by the time this train wreck of a film is over, you don't care about the twist at the end.

I never saw it because I refuse to see any film with John Travolta with the exception of "Saturday Night Fever". I never watch films starring Hugh Jackman either. And Halle Berry and Don Cheadle didn't add any excitement so I definitely skipped this film. And who wants to see Sam killed! The scene I'm referring to was shot near Bend, Oregon at the Ranch of the Canyons. It's an aerial sequence in which a jet-black helicopter flies over Sam as he is fishing in the river. Evidently, the scene took several days to complete with the crew spending most of their time wading back and forth across the swift-running river. Sam was an ardent fly-fisherman and it must have been a perk for him to get paid for fishing and also have the chance to catch several trout between takes.

 
October 28, 2020

It's been over three years since Sam left us and long-time partner actress Jessica Lange still has not shared any remembrances of their life together, but almost 30 years ago, she did share some intimate details about their relationship in a Vanity Fair interview. Here are some excerpts:

When we started, it was never with the intention that we were going to run off, live together, have a family, do all these…regular things. It was just this unbelievably passionate love affair. But then we just couldn’t give it up.

I'd seen Sam in Resurrection and there was something about him that struck such a familiar chord, probably because I'd spent the last fifteen years with foreigners. I'd lived with a Spaniard, then this Russian, and there was something about Sam…his long legs…I immediately felt I knew something about him, that wildness, that typically American wildness, a no-restraints outlaw quality.

Sam and I were so much in love, so wild about each other and being together. We were absolutely inseparable. We couldn’t even go to the grocery store without each other.

I've been with a lot of men and I've known a lot of men. And you know I’ve had romances with what you’d call famous men, and none compare to Sam in terms of maleness.

The worst part about life with Sam is the separations. He's not the kind of man who’s going to follow a woman around. He’ll come see us [she always takes the children], but he's not going to pack his bags, sit on my locations for three months, and twiddle with the kids….Sam would've been happy if I never made another movie, if we could've lived together in the wild, idyllic manner we had in the beginning. But I kept wanting to act. Those separations became sources of real, um, difficulty for us.

I was pregnant for three years. Sam's one of those men who loves you when you’re pregnant–just thinks you look more beautiful than ever before, loves the big belly. It was great, except I get real dark sometimes when I'm pregnant. My mood swings are extreme anyhow, but when I'm pregnant, I could be like Medea any moment, I’m so hard to live with. Sam says he went through it twice, he doesn't want to live through it again.

It's obvious that the pair each harbored their own demons. Jessica often spoke about her mood swings so perhaps she suffered from a bi-polar disorder and, of course, Sam continually battled alcoholism.

These were the last photos of the pair caught by a bystander near Duluth, Minnesota, on July 27, 2015, exactly two years before his death on July 27, 2017. You can see how frail Sam looks.

 
October 18, 2020

In 1976 director Robert Woodruff asked Sam if he had any unproduced plays that could be premiered as part of the inaugural Bay Area Playwrights Festival. Sam gave him THE SAD LAMENT OF PECOS BILL ON THE EVE OF KILLING HIS WIFE, an operetta, which he created with composer Katherine Stone. [Yeah, that's quite a title!] The play premiered on October 22, 1976, but Sam never saw that production because at the time he was up in Canada shooting "Days of Heaven".

The second production was presented in NYC by La Mama in a double bill with SUPERSTITIONS in September 1983. And in April 1984 the double bill premiered at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco.

Another 'Pecos Bill' production was presented by New York's Signature Theater Company at the Joseph Papp Public Theater in the winter of 1997.

"Superstitions" originally premiered on July 1, 1981 at the Intersection Theatre in San Francisco. The advertisement below comes from the Berkeley Archives. Note that it reads, "Improvisational jazz theater piece based on the poetic vignettes of Texas-grown writer Walker Hayes."

In this instance, Sam used the pseudonym "Walker Hayes" though I don't understand why he's referred to as a "Texas-grown writer".

Sam's wife O-lan appeared in the 1983 La Mama double-bill production as well as in the 1981 Intersection Theatre production of "Superstitions". Here she is in 'Pecos Bill' with actor Mark Petrakis.

 
October 16, 2020

Published in 1973 by Black Sparrow Press, HAWK MOON was Sam's first book, which contained short stories, poems and monologues. The book runs just under 100 pages, and includes around 50 individual pieces and are a much darker collection of writings than  "Motel Chronicles". I especially was attracted to this photo of Sam with his youthful smirky grin, so different from his future intellectual portraits.
 

Cultural critic and essayist Mark Dery writes, "No doubt, 'Hawk Moon' is early, immature Shepard, half-baked in spots, overegged in others. The London Review dismissed the book as 'scrappy and inconsequential,' rolling a derisory eye at its 'breathless, unpunctuated prose-poems and cute little seven or eight-liners in free verse in the style of Richard Brautigan.' Yet the reviewer conceded that the best of the fleetingly brief stories—flash fiction decades before the term was coined—'are sharp, macabre histories of urban fear and violence' that are very much of their moment - the mechanized world of motor-car, radio culture, rootlessness and nuclear threat. Yet, you can still see the mythical world of the Frontier, the Wild West, the prairies receding in the rear-view mirror."

 
October 10, 2020

Back in August Ada Pirvu wrote a unique article called "The Armani Aesthetic and Film Costume Appropriation: Sam Shepard in 'Voyager'. Ada is the author of Classiq, an online journal that celebrates cinema, style, culture and storytelling. She also contributes to the film magazine, The Big Picture.

Giorgio Armani has had a long relationship with the movie world and has worked on many films. He knows that clothes enhance the cinematic experience so he was hired to be the costumer designer for Sam's character - the engineer Walter Faber in "Voyager". Ada writes that when she first saw Sam in his tank top, vest, suspenders and Trilby hat, the image instantly reminded her of Armani's 1980s and 1990s campaigns. Ada goes on to say, "It was not just the clothes that brought Armani’s campaign imagery to mind, but the feel of the shot, and Sam Shepard’s body language, and the gaze on his face. It is a detached look."

“I enjoyed being out of reach.”
-Walter Faber

Do you remember that hat? He even wore it in bed and it became a distinctive trait of this transient traveler. The story was based on Swiss author Max Frisch's 1957 novel, "Homo Faber", and was adapted for the screen  in 1991. Directed by Volker Schlöndorff, it starred Sam, French actress Julie Delpy and German actress Barbara Sukowa. It's a must-see for all Shepard fans!

 
October 5, 2020

New material has been added today on the documentary THIS SO-CALLED DISASTER by director Michael Almereyda. It was filmed in the fall of 2000 during the last three weeks of rehearsal for the Shepard-directed play, "The Late Henry Moss", a somewhat autobiographical drama about the playwright’s volatile relationship with his father. It premiered at the Magic Theatre on November 14, 2000. Though Sam appears uncomfortable at times in front of the camera, it was actually his idea to document the staging of his play. That came as a surprise to me. At one point, Sam answers an AP reporter's shallow questions and wearily asks her photographer to please get out of his face. Oh, that man makes me laugh. Well, we all know he wasn't regarded as Mr. Congeniality!

After Sam had played the role of the ghost in Almereyda's "Hamlet", he contacted the filmmaker. Almereyda recalled, "Sam called me up and said he was directing a new play and that he had a great cast and he wondered if I was interested in making a record of it. He instigated the process. It was pretty impossible to say no. And he hadn't even seen 'Hamlet' yet."

That great cast included a trio of notorious hellions - Nick Nolte, Sean Penn and Woody Harrelson. Sam explained his actions in an interview in the April 2004 American Theatre magazine: "I knew this was sort of a chance of a lifetime with this many great actors. The thing is that, as is true of any production, you don't see the work the actor does. You don't see the sweat, the real grit, the energy that goes into making the character. These guys were absolutely dedicated. For movie stars, this was something that a lot of them hadn't really encountered."

And the film's director explained, "I don't really know any documentaries like it. Most movies like this tend to be pretty self-congratulatory, and I cut everything like that out. It wasn't an ad for their nobility, it was more an attempt to show what happens on an intimate level when people of this stature get together... The editing was a big challenge, and in many ways the editing shaped the movie more than might be apparent because I wanted a kind of artless or casual style. But really it's a very crafted movie."

Freelance movie writer Ruthe Stein wrote, "I went into the screening thinking the title referred to the San Francisco production of 'The Late Henry Moss,' although the play hardly qualified as a disaster, so-called or otherwise. It sold out a four-week run and was the talk of the town. The meaning of the title isn't explained until late in the film, when Shepard brings up a letter from his father, their last communication before the man was run over by a car while in a drunken stupor. In the note, the elder Shepard absolves his son of any responsibility for this 'so-called disaster between me and your mother.'''

The film premiered on May 7, 2003 at the Tribeca Film Festival and is available on DVD. It can also be viewed at this youtube link if you don't mind the Spanish subtitles. The 89-minute documentary explores Sam's working relationships with the play's cast but also cuts away at times to some personal insights from Sam regarding his father. It's a must-see for Shepard devotees as one watches Sam in a rocking chair on the porch of his writing refuge, a cabin in the Minnesota woods, while describing at length the miserable relationship he had with his alcoholic father.

One reviewer wrote, "As a character study alone 'This So-Called Disaster' does some fine work examining the background of a playwright. It is interesting to listen to the story of Shepard’s father, who led a very troubled life, culminating with his untimely death. He even shares his last encounter with his father, one that is touching in the way that it’s told so humbly."

Sam recalls, "It's one of those meetings you never forget, you know, but it was horrible because he was absolutely smashed. And I should've known better, over the years, to try to sit down with him when he was in that state, because he was a mad man, he was crazy - he was totally crazy. And, uh, you know this Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality thing that happens with true alcoholics."

The film ends on a sad note showing a home movie of Sam with his dad and the following photos were also shown in the film. The first one shows Sam's parents, Jane Elaine (Schook) Rogers (1917-1994) and Samuel Shepard Rogers (1917–1984). The second one shows his dad as a bomber pilot during WW II.

You can see that Sam resembles his father, but I think Sam and Jessica's son Walker has a closer resemblance.

 
 

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