Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wednesday Writers: Stephen Schochet

As an aspiring author, it’s always good to hear stories of other people’s success. They inspire us to not procrastinate, and reassure us that there is a light at the end of that proverbial tunnel.

This week, we hear from Stephen Schochet, who divulges Hollywood's secrets in his book Hollywood Stories.

Name: Stephen Schochet
Location and one thing you love about living there: I live in Palms, a district in Los Angeles right by Sony Studios and love that I live in a neighbourhood where I have a lot of great things to walk to.
Author of: Hollywood Stories
Book available: Barnes & Noble, Amazon or wherever books are sold. (Isbn 9780963897275)

Tell us a bit about yourself: I'm a tour guide in Hollywood and years ago I started collecting little stories to tell the customers and had the idea that the tales could be told anywhere. I had always been interested in the movies and history so it was kind of a natural fit for me. When I first started I had a study buddy named Ivan. During our breaks we would research information about old Hollywood and share it with each other. I remember one time we met on Hollywood Boulevard and said to me in a low, conspiratorial tone," Steve, man, you what I found out today? That Thomas Edison owned the rights to the movie camera and the early moguls like Mayer, Warner, and Zukor they had to pay him tributes. They why they left the East Coast and came west -- they were outlaws, baby!" The more information we found out, the more fun it was to give the tour. And I've got a good memory for stories so having different material kept it fresh, I think for the customers as well. Anyway, eventually I had the idea that these very short anecdotes could be told anywhere and that's what led, after a few other projects, to the idea for the book.
Tell us about your latest book: Hollywood Stories features over a thousand anecdotes about stars, movies, producers, directors, and television Shows. While the primary focus is on the legends such as John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Depp, Walt Disney, Shirley Temple, and Marlon Brando the book and also talks about so many people who had a less direct involvement from Doctor Seuss to Albert Einstein; the cast of characters included in the anecdotes ranges from Jessie James to Mozart. The two things I am proudest of in the book is that there is nothing salacious in it, it is more of a tribute than a tell-all, and that readers can go to almost any page and find more than one complete and entertaining tale packed with content.

What sparked your passion for books and the art of a good story? I really think my Mom more than anything sparked my interest in reading and stories.

Is there a particular book that changed or affected your life in a big way? I’d say Roots by Alex Hailey; it was a book my Mom, my brother and I were actually sort of fighting over; I can’t remember ever reading anything that long before and being totally enthralled by it. Non-fiction it was a book called A Call For Revolution by Martin Gross; my politics took a right turn after that which is kind of regretted by my family, lol.

What was the seed of inspiration for Hollywood Stories? As I said it was the idea that stories I told to tourists could be told anywhere. One thing that really inspired me was a story told by Chuck Jones because when one begins to write I think there is a certain intimidation factor in thinking that my book is going to be in the same stores with Stephen King and Michael Crichton; this story helped me put that in perspective and I think can help writers:
Be All You Can Be!
Legendary animator Chuck Jones identified more with his less-than-perfect characters. Bugs Bunny was such an invincible force that he had to be minding his own business before he was provoked. Only then could the rabbit be justified in raining down complete destruction on his enemies. Chuck Jones felt more kinship with the perennial loser Daffy Duck. Likewise, the ever-hungry Coyote was made more sympathetic than the invulnerable Roadrunner. The helpless carnivore, that was totally responsible for his own destruction, represented Jones’ personal ineptness with tools. How could someone with such an inferiority complex be a success in his own career? Chuck often told the story how when he was a kid in art school, he wanted to quit because the other students were so much more talented than he was. He changed his mind when the teacher advised him, “Just be the best Chuck Jones you can be.”

Why the fascination with Hollywood? Well I was always a movie fan but you really start to learn about the background about these movies and famous figures the exploration of material is endless and you can’t know it all so finding out new things never gets old. I mean when you think about it any time a really interesting story happens there is usually someone who says “Wow, that could be a movie.” I have gotten to the point where I just can’t watch something, I have to know more about it, for example I just watched The Hatfields and the McCoys; I just needed to read up on the history and I don’t think I’m unique. Back in 1954 when Walt Disney produced the Davy Crockett episodes on TV kids poured into the library to read about their new hero and Walt got a ton of letters begging him not to kill Davy at The Alamo. I do radio interviews where the hosts say, "Stephen knows everything about Hollywood" and while it is very flattering it really is not possible, there is always more to find out than I know; it is like swimming in the ocean and trying to find all the pearls. I’d like to give an example though of a story that fascinates me; about a real life figure that sort of morphs into an iconic character: Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry (1921-1991) served as a Los Angeles Police Sergeant under Chief William Parker (1902-1966). Parker had taken over what was perceived to be a very corrupt force in 1950 and restored public confidence. William instructed his underlings to cooperate with the makers of the TV program Dragnet (1951-1959). Based on factual cases, the show put the hard-working Los Angeles officers in a heroic light. Parker also assigned his men the use of more patrol cars. He reasoned that not walking a beat would expose the troops to less temptation. It was William Parker who coined the phrase, “Thin Blue Line,” meaning only that law enforcement stood in between civilization and anarchy. Respect for the LAPD greatly improved due to William’s leadership, but some critics pointed out that there were incidents of police brutality under his watch. The taciturn head cop lamented that as long he was only able to hire human beings, there would be problems.
Ten years after Sergeant Roddenberry left the force in 1956, the writer partially modeled the very logical, half-alien Mr. Spock on his quiet, efficient former boss.

Tell us something we don’t know about Walt Disney... Walt Disney’s two daughters, Sharon and Diane, grew up sheltered from the limelight. The children had no images of Mickey Mouse around their home. Their father didn’t go to many parties, preferring to stay in after a long day of work. Sometimes he would playfully chase the youngsters upstairs, cackling like the evil peddler woman in Snow White. When they behaved badly, Walt would admonish them with a raised eyebrow; his stern demeanor inspired the character of the wise old owl, in the 1942 animated feature Bambi. As toddlers, the brainy Diane and beautiful Sharon stayed blissfully unaware that their parents worried about them being kidnapped and allowed no pictures of the sisters to be publicly circulated. Once in 1939, a curious classmate questioned six-year-old Diane about her family. She went home and said, “Daddy, you never told me you were that Walt Disney,” and asked him for an autograph.

Have you met any of the famous people you talk about in your book? Jimmy Stewart, George Burns, and Lucille Ball were always friendly and waved. Fred Hayman's boutique on Rodeo Drive was a great store (now defunct) where I used to be able get my customers cappuccinos spiked with Kailua and brandy -- I'll tell you the more people drank the more they enjoyed the tour. A bunch of stars came in there, like Cybil Shepard, Suzanne Pleshette, Vanna White, the one who I really enjoyed meeting was Zsa Zsa Gabor who took pictures with all my customers. The bartender was a beautiful girl named Laura, she looked like Cindy Crawford. Zsa Zsa walked to the bar, complimented Laura and asked how she kept her skin so nice. Before Laura could answer Zsa Zsa suggested that Laura stay away from booze -- then asked her to put some extra brandy in the cappuccino. Then she laughed so she had a good sense of humor.

Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp? I started each chapter with two quotations that related to the stories in that section. My two favourites came from Calvin Coolidge and Mary Pickford:
“Supposing you have tried and failed again and again.
You may have a fresh start any moment you choose,
For this thing we call “failure” is not the falling down,
but the staying down.”
— Mary Pickford

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
Nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.”
— Calvin Coolidge

What challenges have you faced in your writing career? I think the biggest thing is the realization that the work doesn’t stop after your book is done you need to publicize it. I actually enjoy the whole process; it is wonderful to have technology that allows you to get the whole thing down where you can tweak, tweak and tweak some more. I now have a greater appreciation for people like Dickens and Twain who had only pen and paper, no spell-check, how did they do it? :>)

What has been your best moment as a writer? I gave a talk to the Alhambra Rotary Club and the mayor purchased five books from me to give away as gifts. I was asked to give another talk there a few months later and the mayor told me that every one of the recipients really enjoyed them and said so.

Who is your author idol? I’d say either Pat Conroy or the late Michael Crichton.

Do you see yourself in any of the Hollywood stars you write about? I can’t say that but I’d like to come up with ideas and follow through on them like Walt Disney did.

Do you feel like your dream has come true or is there much more to do? Much more, but I am relieved that I got this book done and out there.

What is your personal cure for procrastination? Still working on it.

What does your workspace look like? All sorts of different places. It’s great that writers can be mobile these days. I love being at the library and having access to the Internet at the same time so you can double check things.

Are there any occupational hazards to being a writer? I am single and I have been told by some writers that their projects caused some strain between them and their spouses; for most of us it seems to be a solitary experience.

Have you ever had a day when you just wanted to quit? No.

What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer? Life is challenging for everybody.

What do you do when you’re not writing? I like walking, swimming, watching my Los Angeles sports teams, conversations with friends when you can hear yourself talk, reading, British TV shows especially Sherlock on the BBC. I still like giving tours but I think speaking engagements where I just tell the stories without the bus are a real joy. I also like doing radio interviews.


If you are an author and would like to be featured on You May Say I'm a Dreamer, email me at: sarah.hardie[at] and I'll get back to you quick smart.


  1. Great interview, Sarah. Interesting book -I'm curious now and want to know more. There's nothing better than inside info on the stars. Loved Jimmy Stuart and John Wayne -seem to appreciate the latter now I'm older (going through a Western phase). Thanks. Best of luck with the book to Stephen Schochet.
    Best Wishes

  2. What a fun post. I love the story about Thomas Edison and Walt Disney. This is a great interview and the book sounds like a blast!
    Great interview Sarah!
    M.C.V. Egan