Monday, December 13, 2010

TV Bites: Get Shorty

Jalapeño Jack Cheese Omelette w/"Slightly-Browned" Shallots

Well I made it through the upper respiratory infection and watched a really great documentary on Robert & Richard Sherman that's streamable on Netflix. It's making me think about wanting to do Mary Poppins here.

Meanwhile, since I figured I already referenced Get Shorty in the recent post on Rio Bravo (and to tie it all together, Elmore Leonard wrote the script for High Noon II!), why not just do it as the next TV Bites. So here we are.

I cannot believe this movie was made 15 years ago. It seems like only yesterday. It definitely doesn't seem dated to me and is definitely one I can watch again and again for sheer pleasure.

Get Shorty is available to be rented from Netflix and on Demand @ Amazon.


"What is the point of living in LA if you're not in the movie business?"

By the mid-80's, prolific and popular novelist Elmore Leonard had already seen nearly a dozen of his novels turned into mostly mediocre movies, but he continued to sell them to Hollywood. Why? "I aimed my stuff at the movies from the beginning," Leonard said, "because I didn't just want to write. I wanted to make money. I knew I'd have to sell to the movies to do it."

He was then working with producer Walter Mirisch and actor Dustin Hoffman on developing his book LaBrava into a motion picture. In the novel, the lead (Joe LaBrava) falls for an aging b-movie actress. Hoffman was being a "prima donna" in Leonard's eye and after almost a year, the project went nowhere.

Cut to almost a decade later and Hoffman is being considered for the part of Shorty (which eventually went to Danny DeVito), in the film Get Shorty. Leonard is in Australia when his cel phone rings. It's Hoffman, and according to Leonard, the conversation went like this:

Hoffman: “You’ve been saying terrible things about me for months and my people have been protecting me from reading your book because they say it’s all about me!
Leonard: “What? You think you’re the only short actor in Hollywood?

But according to Mirish, “Get Shorty came out of the experience Dutch [Leonard's nickname] and I had together while working on a potential film of LaBrava.” So, perhaps Hoffman was correct in his assessment.

How Get Shorty became a film almost seems like something from the novel. Director Barry Sonnenfeld was taking a cruise with his wife. He had never been on a cruise before and had only packed one book to read. So at the airport, he ran to the bookstore and bought Get Shorty as a back-up just in case. "I had never read an Elmore Leonard novel, but I’d heard about him," Sonnenfeld recalled.

But as soon as he started to read the book, Sonnenfeld said he "immediately saw DeVito in the role that Travolta eventually got because for me it’s a book about self-confidence. And Danny is the most self-confident person I’ve ever met.... So I got back from the cruise and I called up DeVito on his car phone and I said, ‘Danny, I just read this book you should buy.’ And he said, ‘Alright, I’ll buy it, you direct it, and I’ll star in it.’ And I said, ‘Great.’ And I get home on Monday and Tuesday he calls and says ‘There’s another actor that wants to buy it, but I’m a bigger star so we’ll get it. Don’t worry.’ And that’s what happened."

"The appealing thing about the story was that it was very real," DeVito said. "The central character, Chili Palmer, is a kind of low-level loan shark who wants out of that world. He comes to Hollywood on the trail of a guy who ‘skipped,’ but when he meets [movie producer] Harry Zimm, he sees an opportunity and seizes it. He gets involved with Hollywood and kind of teaches the ‘big boys’ how it’s done. He ends up changing his life just by being himself."

"Chili is just a guy who’s trying to change his life," DeVito believes. "There are people all over who are stuck in their worlds and wondering when are they going to find their catalyst—their Harry Zimm—and say, ‘Wow, I know how to do this.’ Maybe it’s right around the corner."

However, as Hollywood stories go, it took another three years to get a script written, the right stars attached, and finally get the green light to make the movie. But as the film became more and more a reality, the biggest obstacle was that it became apparent that DeVito would be unable to play Chili Palmer - because he was about to direct his own film, Mathilda.

So the studios and all the parties put together their A-list of whom they would allow to play Chili Palmer which included the usual suspects: Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Warren Beatty, and yes... Dustin Hoffman. But it was DeVito's people at Jersey Films who suggested John Travolta. But Travolta turned them down, twice. It took a phone call from Quentin Tarantino to convince him.

"When Quentin gets serious, his voice gets very soft," Travolta recalled, "and he said ‘John, I understand you’re offered Get Shorty. You know, that’s one of my favorite books and also that script I felt was the best adaptation yet of an Elmore Leonard book. I really love it and I think you'd be brilliant in the part of Chili Palmer. Why did you say no?’ And I said, ‘Well, I read it and, you know, I hadn’t read the book, and....’ And he said ‘Well, this is not the one you say no to. This is the one you say yes to. Okay? This is not the one you say no to.’ And I chuckled because... it’s the story of my life, you know.” And so, DeVito took the smaller role of Shorty, aka Martin Weir, which he seemed also born to play.

I like the following commentary on the story which rings true to me and reflects on what DeVito noted above. “My thesis was that [Leonard's] Western heroes were very much like his later heroes," said Philip Marchand, former critic for the Toronto Star. "That if you take Chili Palmer, put him on a horse and gave him a Stetson and a Winchester rifle, he is essentially the same guy - the same type of character. The gangster is a very different breed of cat than the Western hero. The gangster is after something very specific - he’s after the women, the money, the power. But Chili Palmer, like a Western character, acts in the world to preserve his image of himself.... [I]n fact, they are not so much impelled by trying to gain power or gain money, or even gain love, but are trying to just be who they are. They are trying to do their job or do their work in a fashion that’s honorable - in other words, they don’t betray people, they don’t act dishonorably."

The movie was a huge success and begat a poorly made sequel, Be Cool. Leonard explained his theory for the sequel's failure: "When somebody delivers a funny line, don’t cut to someone else laughing or nudging or grinning, because they’re all serious. And [Barry Sonnenfeld] knew that. But then when they shot the sequel, they forgot all about that, and everybody’s laughing all the way through."

Sonnenfeld echoed Leonard's sentiment describing his film: "I wanted to make a smart intelligent movie and what was so great about Elmore’s words is that I found them incredibly amusing as long as you’re not trying to say them in an amusing way."

Get Shorty was nominated for Golden Globes in both Best Picture/Comedy and Best Screenplay categories, and Travolta took the award for Best Actor/Comedy. John Lurie's original soundtrack was nominated for both an ASCAP and Grammy Award.


While, as we've noted above, the character of Shorty/Martin Weir was inspired by Dustin Hoffman, another character in the book was also fashioned after a real life person. That real person's name? Ernesto “Chili” Palmer.

"About six weeks into shooting," recalled Sonnenfeld, "Elmore Leonard called me and said, `Hey, do you think you could invite Chili Palmer out to the set?' And I said, `What? There's really a Chili Palmer? Of course!'"

Leonard had first hired the real Chili Palmer to help him scout locations in Puerto Rico for his book, Glitz. "[Chili] was mob-connected in Brooklyn, and he and a buddy of his were given money to take down to Florida and put on the street as loan-shark money," said Leonard. "He did that, and then the guy he was working for was killed, and so he was out of business.... He’s a tough guy." Part of that story is in the first part of Get Shorty. He also once had to chase a guy out to Las Vegas who tried to skip on payments.

"One day [Dutch] called me up," recalled Palmer, "and [he] said, `I really want to use your real name for the character in one of my books.' And when I told him to go ahead, he wrote Get Shorty."

Leonard "borrowed" more than Palmer's name and some history - the real Chili Palmer is also partial to leather jackets and owns the patent on "the look" which Travolta masters so well in the film.

"During my shylock days," Palmer explained, "I learned that when you have a hard time getting your money, your best asset is fear. Fear does wonderful things. Me, I really didn't want to hurt anybody. I found that if I could give 'em that look, and make 'em think that I'm really serious... it worked. And that's the way 'the look' came about."

"He never said 'look at me,'" added Leonard. "I made that up. But he would give the guy this 'look.'"

Palmer was born in Coney Island, New York, one of six children of a Spanish father and Italian mother and moved to Miami in 1960. In the late 60's, he managed nightclubs for an "unknown investor, [an] Italian from Brooklyn," (GQ magazine suggested it was the Columbos) who also launched him, as Leonard noted above, into the loanshark business. "You gotta remember," Palmer said, "every major hotel had a resident bookie, with a cabana by the pool. That was standard back then."

After Palmer got married and had kids, he switched from loansharking to private investigating and working as a bodyguard. And that's when Leonard and Palmer crossed paths.

When the real Chili Palmer arrived in LA to meet the cast & crew during filming, he was swiftly drafted into playing the part of one of Dennis Farina's henchmen in the opening Miami restaurant scene. (Not Palmer's first movie appearance - he was an extra in Frank Sinatra's film Tony Rome, he says.) Apparently, Farina and Palmer hit it off as Farina, an ex-Chicago cop turned actor, knew some of Palmer's old "associates."

"They both knew some of the same criminals. Farina... would say, 'Whatever happened to so-and-so?' And Palmer would say, 'Oh, I ran into him a few years ago,'" recalled Sonnenfeld.

As for Travolta, he told Sonnenfeld he was glad he didn't know there was a real Chili Palmer before shooting. "'I would have insisted on flying to Florida, spending a week with him, seeing all of his mannerisms, the way he talks. It would have totally ruined my performance.'"


Nora Ephron, screenwriter of many films I'm not a fan of - but that doesn't mean she's unintelligent - and has probably had her share of meals at LA's famed restaurant The Ivy where Martin Weir orders his egg-white omelette, went on a rant some years ago on The Huffington Post on egg-white omelettes:

"I have friends who eat egg-white omelettes. Every time I'm forced to watch them eat egg-white omelettes, I feel bad for them. In the first place, egg-white omelettes are tasteless. In the second place, the people who eat them think they are doing something virtuous when they are instead merely misinformed. Sometimes I try to explain that what they're doing makes no sense, but they pay no attention to me because they have all been told to avoid dietary cholesterol by their doctors."

She continues: "[W]ay too many people I know have been brainwashed into thinking that whole-egg omelettes are bad for you.... So this is my moment to say what's been in my heart for years: it's time to put a halt to the egg-white omelette.... You don't make an omelette by taking out the yolks. You make one by putting in additional yolks. A really great omelette has two whole eggs and and one extra yolk, and by the way, the same thing goes for scrambled eggs."

So here I agree with Ms. Ephron and we're not going to make an egg-white omelette. If you want to be "true" to the movie, of course... get rid of the yolks. I think eggs without yolks are pretty bland and uninteresting, sort of like Ms. Ephron's movies (ouch!).

Now my other twist to this is to make it a bit more about the movie by adding jalapeño jack cheese (if you can't find it, just add a few thin slices of fresh jalapeños - seeded or not, depending on your palate - and jack cheese). Why? Do I need to spell it out? Okay... Jalapeños are a type of chile (as in Chili Palmer) and Jack is short for John (as in John Travolta). This is why I love doing this.

If you really want to go all out, make a strawberry frappé to go with it, like Martin Weir likes... and extra straws for Harry Zimm.

Now apparently everyone who knows how to crack an egg and envisions themselves to be the next Food Network star has a video on YouTube on how to make an omelette (or omelet, both seem to be correct). Julia Child was very outspoken about how to make one.

In 1774, Menon in his La Cuisiniere Bourgeoise wrote (as quoted in A History of Food): "[The egg] is an excellent and nourishing food enjoyed by the sick and the healthy, the rich and the poor alike." That should cover you and everyone you know.

So in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer - here is our snack. Make it according to a technique of your own or watch any of those videos above. Just don't burn it, don't let it get to hard, nor sit on your plate so long it gets rubbery... and with or without the yolks. Go for it. Whatever you do, don't forget to cook, watch, eat, and enjoy!

Jalapeño Jack Cheese Omelette w/"Slightly-Browned" Shallots
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serves 1

3 large eggs, let sit to room temperature
1 teaspoon water
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon of canola oil
1 teaspoon butter
2 ounces jalapeño jack cheese, sliced, crumbled or shredded
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat a nonstick 8 to 12-inch pan over medium/low heat. Add both butter and oil. When butter just melts, add shallots. Let shallots cook, occasionally shaking them around the pan. Don't let them get too browned, just lightly browned.

Meanwhile, crack open the eggs, add water, salt & pepper, and whisk with either whip or fork until just showing some foam.

Pour egg into pan and swirl to cover pan, then let rest for a moment until egg starts to cook. Move cooked part to center and swirl to spread uncooked egg to recover pan. While the egg is still cooking, add the cheese. Let cheese cook for a bit, then loosen edges of the egg, fold in half. Flip after 30 seconds, after the next 30 seconds put on platter and eat.

Video from The Charlie Rose Show, Interview with Elmore Leonard & Barry Sonnenfeld
Official MGM Get Shorty Page
Official Elmore Leonard Site

Get Shorty DVD
Get Shorty, by Elmore Leonard
Get Shorty: Original MGM Motion Picture Soundtrack
Get Dutch!: Biography of Elmore Leonard, by Paul Challen
The Good Egg: More than 200 Fresh Approaches from Breakfast to Dessert, by Marie Simmons

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