On Location

Posted on 29th October 2014 in "Times Square"
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A behind-the-scenes photo from "Times Square" showing the setup for a shot that does not appear in the film.

“The man with the walkie-talkie was the 1st assistant director, ‘Hoppy’ (that was his nick-name on the set).” — Robin

This is the only photo I’ve come across showing the production of Times Square. The assistant director’s full name is is Alan Hopkins. In the center are, of course, Robin and Trini Alvarado. All the way to the right, we can see half of director Allan Moyle.

This is the northwest corner of 42nd Street and 6th Avenue, looking east. The trees at the right are Bryant Park. The tracks in the street imply they were filming a traveling shot of the girls walking towards Times Square, but despite the fact that this shoot generated several publicity photographs, it doesn’t appear in the film.

I was going to spend the rest of this post speculating about where this shot would have gone in the movie, but I think I just figured it out, so you’ll just have to wait for the next post.

(Actually, come to think of it, there are at least two other pictures that show a little behind-the-scenes action… but neither of them scream “We’re making a movie!” like this one.)

 

 

 

Behind the scenes 68-24A
8 in (H) x 10 in (W) (work);
744 px (H) x 1080 px (W), 96 dpi, 537 kb (image)
1979/1980

[on back:] [handwritten:] 68-24A

Times Square ©1980 StudioCanal/Canal+

 

WJAD

Posted on 23rd October 2014 in "Times Square"
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The originals of these first two images weren’t collected by me. They’re located on an old, apparently long-abandoned Angelfire site on which Mr. Charles E. Rowe, Jr. documented some of his career in radio, part of which was spent at the Bainbridge, Georgia station WJAD (now WGEX). When these call letters were used for the fictional New York City station in Times Square, it was an important event, so of course he documented it. Unfortunately, two of Mr. Rowe’s four images have not survived, having vanished from the Web even before Archive.org’s first crawl of the site in 2001. (Or their links or filenames were mis-written — either way, they’re inaccessible.)"Stigwood's Flick Set For Summer" from Radio and Records 1980 So we don’t have the picture he captioned “Letter from Ron Stigwood requesting permission to use Station Call Lettters WJAD for ‘Times Square’ Movie” (Ron Stigwood was Times Square‘s Location Manager). I might have a copy of his “Promotional Flier Cover Page for the newly released movie,” but I may never know for sure what the image was he was describing.

We do have his “Radio and Records announcement of the production of the movie,” and it’s the earliest piece of advance promotion I know of. And the destiny of the film’s production is right there plain as day. As you might remember from a few episodes ago, Jacob Brackman’s screenplay from Allan Moyle’s story had a soundtrack of early 70’s FM soft rock and a little disco. This article makes it firmly “Stigwood’s flick,” and defines it as “A New Wave ‘Saturday Night Fever.'” Not one frame had yet been shot, and the focus had already shifted to the soundtrack, to be made up entirely of songs that had no place in the original concept.

(Yes, this publication was for radio professionals who of course would be more interested in the music than the film itself. And yes, the New Wave focus of the soundtrack is one of the best things about the finished movie. That’s not the point. The moment Robert Stigwood agreed to produce the film, it became a tool for him to sell records and its fate was set.)

"Picture of Station Call Letters WJAD sign of steel and neon construction on a downtown building, in the Big Apple"

 

 

Mr. Rowe described this photograph “Picture of Station Call Letters WJAD sign of steel and neon construction on a downtown building, in the Big Apple.” Actually, it’s not downtown at all; it’s the Candler Building, 220 West 42nd St., in the heart of Times Square right where Johnny LaGuardia says it is. Directly across the street from the Times Square Theater. The neon sign is facing east, as far as I can tell. The right side of the building in the picture is facing north and 42nd Street.

I don’t know where the interiors of WJAD were shot, but all the exteriors were shot there at the top of the Candler Building. The early shots in the film showing the Carter Hotel, the Times Square Building, and the Milford Plaza (which I think hadn’t yet been reopened under that name) were taken from there. That much was accurate; if the station was supposed to be located there, that’s exactly what Johnny was seeing when he went outside.

WJAD New York, in "the Heart of the Beast"

 

 

 

 

In this screencap from the film, you can just make out Johnny’s telescope.

 

Yeah, other than the mention in that Stigwood article, there’s no Robin in this post. Sorry about that. I’ll do better next time.

 

 

TimesSqPromo.jpg
315 px (W) x 377 px (H), 100 dpi, 42.9 KB (image)
ca. 1980
retrieved on 2014-03-23 from http://www.angelfire.com/ga2/charlierowejr/times.html
 
WJADintheBigApple.jpg
346 px (W) x 465 px (H), 100 dpi, 31.6 KB (image)
ca. 1980
retrieved on 2014-03-23 from http://www.angelfire.com/ga2/charlierowejr/times.html
 
vlcsnap-2014-10-16-21h04m08s42.png
853 px (W) x 480 px (H), 72 dpi, 404 KB (image)
screen capture from Times Square (1980)
captured 2014-10-18
 
Times Square ©1980 StudioCanal/Canal+

Nicky Marotta, 1980

Posted on 17th October 2014 in "Times Square"
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Robin Johnson is Nicky Marotta
And this, of course, is the look they settled on for Nicky, ultimately using this photo on nearly all the American publicity materials. As this is the outfit she wears when the girls escape from the hospital, it was likely taken near the end of production, so the shaggy hair cut of someone who hasn’t got time for finesse with scissors is the wig Robin wears during act one.

Someone noticed what was going on in New York City in 1979, dressing Nicky in a leather jacket festooned with pins a la the Ramones, but even here the film’s roots are showing. The Blondie pin is contemporary, but the “Rolling Stones In Concert” pin could date from any time in the previous ten years, the happy face button from the previous 15 years, and the “Stick It In Your Ear” and “I Am Anonymous – Help Me” pins date from the late ’60s-early ’70s. And here’s where we can start speculating about the costuming, and seeing how pieces that may be totally coincidental may actually fit together… The Blondie pin is by itself, separate from the others. Perhaps the jacket itself really belongs to Nicky’s dad, who (although excised from the film) in the script seems to be a burned-out product of the ’60s; all the pins were his, except the Blondie one, added by Nicky herself. On the other hand, leather doesn’t seem to be Roger’s style. He seems more the denim or military fatigue jacket type. Maybe the jacket belonged to Nicky’s mom. Chew on that one.

Yes, she’s wearing a button that says “HELP ME.” I have more to say about that, but not here.

The back of the jacket sports a large colorful butterfly applique. Nicky gives this jacket to Pammy. I have plenty to say about that too, but I’ll wait until I post a picture where the butterfly is visible.

Color photo of Robin Johnson as Nicky Marotta in "Times Square"
With only one or two exceptions, all the production photos, including the ones like these that were only meant for promotional purposes, show the actors costumed and in a location indicating what scene they were shooting when the photo was taken. These photos feature the outfit Nicky is wearing when the girls escape the hospital, except for the cap, which Trini Alvarado wears in her photos from this shoot. But, the location… trees? I don’t recall the girls making a stop in Central Park… I believe these shots were taken just as they were starting to film the “lost” scene by and in the Hudson River, on a piece of undeveloped shoreline in New Jersey. That’s the only non-urban location in the script.
 

In the screenplay, Nicky buys (or steals) hair dye from Woolworth’s while wearing the ambulance driver’s coat and hat, so perhaps she put her jacket back on after they crossed the bridge. But in the film, she makes a huge point of changing her clothes while still in the ambulance, handing her jacket to Pammy; a bit of business not in the script. I wonder if perhaps the ambulance ride was shot after the river scene had already been cut, and was itself hastily rewritten to try to minimize what they could see was going to be a huge continuity problem. I know it was rewritten to improve Nicky’s dialog (or perhaps they left in some improvisation by Robin).

 

If all goes well, this post will go up on October 17, 2014, the 34th anniversary of Times Square’s general release in North America. (And it did! But I edited it, adding a picture and doubling the amount of text on October 29. So, always keep your eyes peeled for updates.)

 

[Added 18 June 2017: I posted this particular black-and-white photo because it’s the most complete version of the image I’ve come across, but I’ve come to realize that the item itself is number 36 in the main series of publicity stills from the UK, which were produced in late 1980 or early 1981, to promote the 15 January 1981 UK premiere. The image belongs here, but strictly speaking the item itself should probably have been the post after this one.]

 

Robin Johnson, “Times Square”
8 in (H) x 10 in (W) (work);
865 px (W) x 1080 px (H), 96 dpi, 557 KB (image)

1980
Photographer: Yoram Kahana
inscription: 36
[on back:] [handwritten:] D&P East
Robin Johnson
“Times Square”
30
[stamped:] DEREK AND PAT EAST COLLECTION”

 

robyn.jpg
600 px (W) x 975 px (H), 72 dpi, 187 KB (image)
1980
Photographer: Yoram Kahana
retrieved on 2010-11-16 from “Robin Johnson 1980, Photographed by Yoram Kahana.” Love is a Prelude to Sorrow. N.p., 7 Mar. 2010. Web.
Times Square ©1980 StudioCanal/Canal+

Nicky Marotta Hair/Make-up Test, 1979

Posted on 12th October 2014 in "Times Square"
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Nicky Marotta hair/make-up test, 1979And the story continues… Allan Moyle wanted “real” girls, not professional actresses, to portray Nicky and Pammy, and searched high and low, even holding nation-wide open auditions, with no luck. Trini Alvarado was hired for Pammy on the strength of her performance in Rich Kids (1979), but Nicky eluded them.

Until, one day, an unidentified casting scout happened to spot Robin as she was cutting class and having a smoke on the steps of Brooklyn Tech. He gave her a card with the audition information and encouraged her to go as she would be perfect for the role. She put the card in her pocket and promptly forgot about it. Several days later, she found the card again, and thinking it might at least be a laugh, went to an audition. She didn’t get cast there on the spot, but she might as well have been; despite having no previous acting experience, she was perfect for the role, exactly what Moyle was looking for.

This picture, though… I’m not sure what look they thought they were going for, but thank god they didn’t stick with this. I think it’s a runaway-hippie-girl look that’s more evidence that the film originally had a late ’60s-early ’70s aesthetic. Although there’s a trace of this look remaining in Nicky’s tiny braids during the dancing-down-42nd-Street sequence, someone finally realized that Nicky would never spend that much time fussing with her hair.

Even Robin doesn’t look too happy about this look.

8 in (H) x 10 in (W) (work);
746 px (H) x 1080 px (W), 96 dpi, 461 kb (image)

1979
[handwritten on reverse:] 3-4

TIMES SQUARE Screenplay, 1979

Posted on 6th October 2014 in "Times Square"
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"Times Square" screenplay cover sheetSo the story goes, Allan Moyle and Leanne Ungar rented an apartment on 42nd Street, having come to New York from a vibrant filmmaking scene in Montreal. They bought a used couch and found in the cushions a handwritten journal that appeared to be the work of an obsessive, possibly mentally ill young woman. This inspired a film treatment entitled “She’s Got the Shakes,” which got the attention of Robert Stigwood and Tim Curry, and with financial backing and a star, Times Square was off and running. Journalist and lyricist Jacob Brackman was hired to write the screenplay.

The screenplay I have is commonly considered to be the shooting script, although it differs greatly in places from what ended up on screen. This isn’t surprising since it’s also common knowledge that Moyle, the director, left the film towards the end of production to protest Stigwood’s insistence on changes to insert more music and lower the sexual overtones. I, however, don’t know for a fact how early or late a draft this copy is; it may or may not be what they had in hand when shooting started. Since it’s dated 1979, and the film was shot in 1979, for the sake of discussion I’m assuming it is the shooting script.

Overall, the biggest difference between the screenplay and the film is Nicky’s dialog: near the end of the film it’s nearly word-for-word as it appears in the script, but becomes more and more different the earlier in the film you go. The film was shot mostly in reverse: the concert in Times Square was one of the first things shot, and the scenes in the hospital the last, so my guess is that as production went on, Nicky’s dialog was tailored to better suit Robin’s performance. This is one of the few things I’ve asked Robin about: “Memory is kind of fuzzy – but changing daily ‘sides’ happens a lot on some films for various reasons… They probably did rewrite stuff specifically for me, or Allan sometimes went with my ‘improv’-ing intuitively.”

It’s not my intention here to thoroughly compare and contrast the screenplay with the finished film (and I could, believe me, I could go on for hours), but I would like to point out one thing. I’ve had over thirty years to think about this, and I’ve come to the probably unpopular opinion that the film we got is pretty damn close to the best possible version, plot holes, continuity problems, logical inconsistencies and all. Moyle’s original vision might have been a “better” film, but it wouldn’t have been one we’d all still be obsessing over and talking about today.

The screenplay, and I assume Moyle’s conception of the movie, is rooted firmly in the late 1960s-early 1970s. This is clear from the music selections mentioned in the screenplay, which (much like the finished film) is oblivious to the punk and New Wave revolution well underway several blocks south. The only contemporary music in the screenplay is disco. It was Robert Stigwood and Jimmy Iovine, in putting together the soundtrack, who gave the movie its New Wave gloss. Perhaps Moyle was already in the process of updating the music, and Stigwood just took things too far in his determination to use the film as promotion to sell records, but, judging from the screenplay…

Well, judge for yourself. Here are the songs in the screenplay, and what replaced them in the film. Note that there are a couple of songs that didn’t get replaced; there’s no music in the movie where they appear in the screenplay.

"Times Square" screenplay p 3
The Beatles, “All You Need Is Love”
[Roxy Music, “Same Old Scene”]

Linda Ronstadt, “Love Has No Pride”
[The Cure, “Grinding Halt”]

(“Nicky’s Song:” a record, made up for the film, that Nicky has adopted as her anthem; sung, chanted, played, and otherwise referred to many times during the story.)
[XTC, “Take This Town”]
[Ramones, “I Wanna Be Sedated”]
[Suzi Quatro, “Rock Hard”]

unnamed Stevie Wonder song
[Pretenders, “Talk of the Town]

Eddie Cochran, “Nervous Breakdown”
[D.L. Byron, “You Can’t Hurry Love”]

"Times Square" screenplay p 51
“The Times They Are A-Changin'” (The Bob Dylan song, performed by Nicky’s dad as he busks along the line at the TKTS kiosk.)

Lou Reed, “Sweet Jane” (They probably meant The Velvet Underground, but
the script says Lou Reed.)

Chic, “Freakout” (“Or some other rock-disco hit”)
[Desmond Child and Rouge, “The Night Was Not”]

Nicky & the Blondells, “Damn Dog Died”
[“Damn Dog” with slightly different lyrics; essentially the same]

Donna Summer, “Hot Stuff”
[Talking Heads, “Life During Wartime”]

“An original song, a tear jerker in the mood of “WHO’S SORRY NOW?””
[Patti Smith, “Pissing in a River”]

Del Shannon and the Vikings, “Runaway”

Orchestrated studio production of “Damn Dog Died”
[Marcy Levy and Robin Gibb, “Help Me!”]
[Roxy Music, “Same Old Scene”]

 

The film as originally conceived was totally unaware of the music that now seems to define it.  It certainly would have been a different movie had its opening titles been accompanied by “All You Need Is Love,” or had Nicky and Pammy danced down 42nd Street to the tune of “Hot Stuff.”

 

TIMES SQUARE, Screenplay by Jacob Brackman, Story by Allan Moyle and Leanne Ungar
1979
129 pp; cover sheet; end sheet

 

Where is She Now?

Posted on 4th October 2014 in Personal photos
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Robin Relaxing

Well, in November 2011, she was relaxing at home.

 

And where’s that? And what is she doing when she’s not relaxing?

Welllll… unfortunately, now that I’m “official,” and not trying to uncover a mystery, I’m no longer at liberty to disclose everything I know. And a lot of what I don’t know, I’m no longer entirely comfortable inquiring about. But, rest assured, she’s happy and healthy, overjoyed to be out of the spotlight, and touched and a little mystified that anyone remembers her.

And now that I hope I’ve established that yes, this site exists with her blessing, I’ll move on to the fun stuff.

 

 

716 px (W) x 480 px (H), 96 dpi, 234 kb
shot 13-13-2011; edited 15-11-2011
Photo by Justina Johnson
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8th Grade Graduation

Posted on 2nd October 2014 in Personal photos
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Robin Johnson 8th Grade Graduation Photo

In 1977, Robin graduated from St. Saviour elementary, and went on to Brooklyn Technical High School.

I know what you’re thinking… you’re thinking, “Wait a minute! There’s something wrong with your math. If she was born in May 1964, shouldn’t she have left 8th grade in 1978?” Yes, except for one thing: when Robin was 7 years old, she was smarter than you, and she skipped the 3rd grade.

So, she went on to Brooklyn Technical High School for a couple years… and then things got interesting.

The original photo was owned by Robin’s paternal grandmother, and is now owned by Robin’s Aunt Justina.

10.73 in (height) x 7.28 in (width) (work); 800 px (H) x 562 px (W), 96 dpi, 222 KB (image)
scanned 19-10-2009; edited 06-05-2011
Inscription on border:
Natoli Art Photo Studio
7524-13th AVENUE
BROOKLYN, N.Y.
(work);
Watermarked along bottom edge, © J. Johnson www.robinjohnson.net (image)

 

Post edited on 11 March 2015 to correct the date from 1978 to 1977 and add the explanation of the skipped grade, which I had somehow forgotten when I first wrote the post.
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1st Communion Photo

Posted on 2nd October 2014 in Personal photos
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Robin Johnson - First Communion Photo
Here she is, about 8 years old, in or around 1972. The original photo was owned by Robin’s paternal grandmother, and is now owned by Robin’s Aunt Justina.

6.69 in (height) x 4.84 (width) (work); 800 px (H) x 559 px (W), 96 dpi, 249 KB (image)
scanned 19-10-2009; edited 01-05-2011
Watermarked along bottom edge, © J. Johnson www.robinjohnson.net (image)

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