I attended the San Diego stop of the Bruce Campbell signing tour for his latest book, Hail to the Chin, Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor (at the Mysterious Galaxy book store) on Thursday, October 26. It was probably the largest crowd I've seen at a book store signing, other than the Gene Wilder signing at Borders many, many moons ago. The last Neil Gaiman signing, also at Mysterious Galaxy (at the old store location on Clairemont Mesa Blvd), was also pretty well-attended...but my point is that there were a of of people at the Bruce Campbell signing. I heard that there were around 600, but that might have been books sold, not attendees. It's hard to know for sure (many people I saw there bought multiple books).
First, an observation about the Balboa Mysterious Galaxy location - this is only the second time I've been here. The first was when I purchased the book just after hearing about the signing in the Mysterious Galaxy newsletter email. It's possibly a little larger square footage-wise and the store seems to be better laid out, but it's also much further away from my house so unless there's a very special reason to drop in, I don't. That's not to say you shouldn't. If you like Sci-Fi/Fantasy or Mysteries (or apparently actor biographies related to those genres), this is probably your best bet for finding it. They have just about everything old and new. And a few related odds and ends that are fun (I also picked up a pair of HHGTTG socks when I bought the book in September). But enough about the store, on to the signing...
I arrived around 30 minutes before the signing was scheduled to begin and miraculously even found a good parking space right outside the store. But there were probably already at least 200 people crammed into the not-exactly-roomy confines of the store, waiting for Bruce to arrive. I didn't feel like elbowing my way to the front so I just stood near the store's entrance and waited as more and more people squeezed into the already-crowded store. At one point I heard one of the store employees saying that everyone would be jettisoned from the store and brought back in by ticket number (each book purchased came with a numbered ticket for the signing - no ticket, no signing). So I made my way even closer to the entrance and allowed later-arrivals to occupy my slightly closer-to-Bruce's-table spot. Then an announcement was made by the store , outlining the evening's events. I found, to my dismay, that we would only be removed from the store after Bruce read an excerpt from his book and then answered a few questions. While only around twenty or thirty feet away from Bruce, there were a lot of large, sweaty, hairy bodies between us.
The Bruce Campbell fan demographic is pretty well-varied, but seems to lean toward extreme-nerd or extreme-piercings - both were well-represented at the signing. Two fans stood out for their dedication - one was a small, attractive woman dressed as Ash (from >Army of Darkness for you infidels), complete with bleeding scratches. I only saw her once, so I didn't manage to take a photo. The other - complete opposite - fan was a large, very heavyset, young man (in his twenties, probably) wearing an Evil Dead t-shirt and a hat that had to have been made by him. The hat had a Lego Evil Dead diorama on the brim with a banner sign , also made from Legos, above the diorama that said "Evil Dead." He was near the back, so none of my photos capture more than a tiny glimpse of Bruce's #1 fan because once Bruce arrived, I stopped paying attention to the freaks and geeks in the crowd.
Bruce read an excerpt from the Bulgaria Vespa story in the book (I will share some of that in a second) and mentioned a couple of other events from his time shooting in Bulgaria (getting his friend arrested, was one). I had managed to read the book before the signing (an infrequent occurrence for most signings I go to - I'm usually already in the middle of other books so I never get around to the book being signed), so I was well-acquainted with the stories. He was conversational and very funny in front of the crowd throughout the reading and afterward.
And then the Q&A session began. One of the small and hairy super-nerds near me shouted out "How does it feel to know you're the standard by which all men shall be measured?!", but he was ignored by all and the session began. Only a few of the questions really stand out in my damaged memory. Several people didn't even ask questions, they just talked about things they appreciated about Bruce's movies/TV gigs (to which Bruce would reply "and the question is...")
The questions got off to a rough start for one of the audience members (but not for the rest of us). he asked Bruce if "they" gave Bruce the evil Ash mask from Army of Darkness? Bruce's reply was classic - "If by 'they,' you mean 'me' since it was my movie, then no. I don't collect that crap." The guy went on to comment about how he had created his own replica and Bruce responded with, Oh, so this was all just about self-promotion." Or something to that effect.
One really entertaining question was asked by a soldier in the crowd. he held up his phone and asked Bruce to say something to his brother back in Alabama. Bruce's response surprised everyone when he told the guy to dial his brother's number so he could just say it to him directly. Apparently the brother was unavailable so Bruce left him a voice mail. "Hello, this is Agent Smith with the Federal Government. You have been accused of malicious...ness. And lasciviousness..." I don't remember the rest of the message (even the part I quoted above isn't verbatim - but it was similar to what I quoted), but it was funny and right off the top of Bruce's head.
Somebody asked Bruce what his favorite movie was - anser: "The Bridge on the River Kwai" one comment he made about the movie that I rememerb is that is didn't have a soundtrack - it has a score.
Another perosn asked if he would want to take a part on "The Walking Dead." Answer: "No, watch Ash vs the Army of Darkness, season 3 start on Starz February 25"
A girl in the crowd made some random statements about Michigan (she was apparently from Michigan, so she and Bruce talked about Michigan stuff for a few minutes - including Bruce asking the crowd how to remember the names of the Great lakes - and then telling us "HOMES".
Another classic Bruce rip was when an audience member asked if Bruce played the same character in all three of the Toby Maguire Spider-Man movies. Bruce's response: "Well, let's see. I was the ring announcer in the first film. And changed Toby's 'The Human Spider' name to 'The Amazing Spider-man'. So I pretty much named the character. And I was an usher at the theater Mary Jane was performing within in the second Film. And stopped Toby from getting into the theater. So you could say that I am the only person to ever defeat Spider-man. And I was a snooty Maitre D' in the third film who screwed up Toby's proposal to Mary Jane. Again thwarting Spider-man's plans. So I was the unconquerable super-villain of the films."
The dumber questions received very sarcastically funny responses. Small & Hairy's question above was asked again later and this time answered by Bruce. Though not in the way S&H may have expected. Instead, Bruce told him it was sad if anybody looked up to him, a B-movie actor with no real admirable traits. So nobody should put him on a pedestal. So get a life (he didn't say that last part - that's me reading between the lines).
After the Q&A ended, we were all ushered out of the store and told to line up in order of out ticket numbers. Mine was 33, so I was in the second group of people brought into the store. The rules for the signing, made clear when I bought the book, were that either two items could be signed by Bruce per book purchase, or the book could be signed and personalized. I chose two items and brought my Dark Horse Army of Darkness issue #1 to be signed, along with my book.
When it was my turn to come into the store, I snapped a few photos of Bruce (one of the other rules of the signing - no posed photos, no photos with Bruce). The line moved like a well-oiled machine. When it was my turn, Bruce's assistant (not sure who he was, but he appeared to be with Bruce) brought my stuff to Bruce to be signed and I approached the table. Bruce approved of my choice of comics, signed the book, and I asked what his next writing project would be - autobiography #3 or Make Love TBCW #2. He responded that autobiography #3 was till 15 years away and didn't respond directly to my query about Make Love TBCW #2 - so my money's on Make Love TBCW #2 coming out in a couple of years.
Here are a few really poorly focused/framed photos I took...
And then I went home. So without further ado, the book for which I left the house in the evening - something I am loath to do - and mingled with the corpulent, sweaty masses...
Hail to the Chin, Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor
I read Bruce Campbell's first autobiography of a B-movie shemp If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor just a few months ago. If not for the comedic actor biographies of Adam Carolla, Joel McHale, and others I've been reading lately, I don't know that I would have bothered with If Chins Could Kill. But I'm glad I did. It was very well-written and entertaining (if not as laugh-out-loud funny as the over-the-top nonsense in Carolla's and McHale's books). And then I likely would not have read Hail to the Chin, which would have been a real shame, because it's another well-written and interesting - totally true - story. And it's filled with all kinds of amusing, yet informative, stories from the acting adventures of Bruce Campbell. If acting is a career you really want to pursue, reading Bruce Campbell's book is highly advised.
Hail to the Chin picks up where If Chins Could Kill ended - right around the end of the Xena acting days. The book starts out with a walk down memory lane (there are a bunch of those throughout the narrative) that helps explain why Bruce grew up to be...well, Bruce.
Bruce shares the details of he and Ida (wife #2) escaping California to very-rural Oregon (where he buys a huge lot with a tiny little Hobbit house) and all the fun that goes along with living there - including using neighbor Steven Seagal's essential oil extraction equipment to process the lavender crop they didn't realize they were buying. Bruce talks about the movie he financed and shot in his back yard, My Name is Bruce, and all the unexpected difficulties that went along with being the boss.
Bruce talks about his adventures in New Mexico, where he filmed another movie that has yet to be released, but hopefully will be some day, Highly Functional. We hear about the unpleasantness of shooting a TV show, Burn Notice in the summer in Miami. And get a little glimpse into his co-stars lives (not much of a glimpse, but they get a brief mention). And we get to hear about Bruce, brother Don, and , Burn Notice co-star, Jeff Donovan's trip through the middle east to visit the troops.
Bruce talks a lot about the gray Soviet-inspired despair and culture shock Bruce experienced when he shot two movies for the Sci-Fi channel (neither of which have I seen) in Sofia, Bulgaria. And more importantly, we hear about the trademark Bruce Campbell shenanigans in Bulgaria. Here's the story he read to the crowd at the book signing.
RUST IN PIECES
What comes with shooting in countries with far greater needs than those of an American exploitation film is what I call the Bulgarian Box of Chocolates, whereby you never really know, day to day, what you are going to get.
A key scene in the film involved a Vespa. I'll spare you the narrative details of why it was critical, but the Vespa had to be pink, with streamers from the handlebars, and it had to be completely destroyed on film. At the time, I felt that my first meeting with the transportation department had gone well. Since only a small handful of crew members spoke English, my translator, Assia, was there as well. We discussed the alleged Vespa with Uri, the head of the transportation department.
"Now, look, Uri," I remember saying. "I'm assuming that when I say 'a Vespa' we're all talking about the same type of machine."
I brought this up because of the array of odd vehicles I had seen on the Bulgarian roads, and I drew a crude picture on my dry-erase board.
"Of course," Uri nodded in recognition. "No problem."
"And I can paint it pink, right?"
"Of course," Uri said, rolling his head from side to side in the Bulgarian way of expressing "understood."
About a week later, I passed Uri in the hallway of the production office and I couldn't help but follow up on the Vespa. Through Assia, who was continually at my side, I asked, "Hey, Uri, are we good on the Vespa?"
Uri thrust a thumb in the air and smiled confidently. "Of course."
"And we can paint it pink and wreck it, right?"
Uri responded simply by rolling his head in that "way."
A week after that, with no Vespa news, I began to get nervous - we were only a few days away from needing it. I insisted that Uri bring me an actual picture of the Vespa he intended to use. He did, in fact, produce a picture - of a blue Vespa.
"This is fine, Uri, but it's blue. You can paint it pink, right?"
Through translation, Uri assured me again that it was not a problem.
"Okay," I said, chewing on my lower lip. "We shoot with that in two days. Good luck."
Forty-eight hours later, the second unit was preparing for the shot of the Vespa careening out of control, sans rider, and smashing into the side of a parked car. I was filming in a laboratory set across the street but peeked out when I had a chance. I was relieved to see the crew prepping a perfectly pink Vespa with cute girlie tassels fluttering from the handlebars.
A few minutes later, the ill-fated machine was rolled to its doom. Bouncing off the parked car, it smashed to the ground and let out a final gasp. courtesy of a cheesy spark effect. The crew applauded politely, as is usually the case after a "stunt" is performed, but as I glanced at Assia I was shocked to see tears streaming down her face. This was very unusual, because Assia had always been calm and professional. I looked to Ioel, the first assistant director.
"Joel, why is Assia crying?"
"Oh, that's because it's her Vespa," he said, glancing at the smoldering wreck. "It was a gift from her father on her birthday.
I guess they never told her they were going to wreck it."
"But she is the fucking translator," I fumed. "She was there. How could she not know?"
Joel shrugged. "Welcome to Bulgaria." After an almost physical altercation with Uri, the sorry-ass "transportation" captain, I stepped away to cool down. The area I called Bruce's Backlot had plenty of room to ruminate about my lot in life.
For Chrissakes, I'm a middle-aged man. I shouldn't be dicking around Eastern Europe, wrecking the personal property of poor people just to make a movie about a jerk with a brain transplant! Grown men don't glue prosthetic appliance just to make a movie about a jerk with a brain transplant.' Grown men don't glue prosthetic appliances to their faces and run around in silly costumes, fighting digital creatures that aren't even there. Actors my age should be doing Shakespeare in the Park or at the very least headlining some innocuous Neil Simon comedy in Branson, Missouri.
Bruce also talks about the many failed projects he's been a part of (I was surprised to hear about a pilot with Psych star James Roday that didn't get picked up). And he talks about his adventures on the convention circuit with stars from Star Trek, Batman, Stan Lee, etc. as well as the current TV stars from The Walking Dead. And his current project, Ash vs The Walking Dead, is mentioned a lot. I was shocked that one of the shemps from Michigan, Rob, that he's known forever is actually married to Lucy Lawless. And Rob is no Brad Pitt. I can't help but wonder how he pulled that off.
The photos spread all throughout the book are plentiful and mostly authentic (there are a few photo-shopped photos here and there).
There's so much in this book that I can't possibly tell you everything that was hilarious or amazing. So just buy it and read it.
I also went to Disneyland last week, so there's plenty to complain about there, too. But I'm exhausted. Maybe later.