Posted on 4 Comments

Untold Tales of Hollywood #10

Kathleen Kennedy needed a favor. She asked if I would design two 1941 T-shirts — one featuring John Belushi, the other sporting the image of Dan Aykroyd. They should look like 1941-style cartoonish bomber nose art. She needed them pretty quickly to both promote the film and to make some ancillary money. I had actually been working on a 1941 movie poster on the side for my best and most often movie poster employer, art director Tony Seiniger (it never got past the pencil stage), so I had plenty of Aykroyd and Belushi photo reference.

I dropped everything I was doing after-Conan-hours and came up with two designs.

They were sent over to Aykroyd and Belushi for their approval.

The designs came back with loads of notes. From the nature of the notes, it looked like they had been written by Aykroyd.

I fulfilled all of the requested changes. What began as a quick favor, though, was suddenly turning into a real pain-in-the-ass tar baby job. My shirt subjects (or at least one of them) were acting like real dicks.

We went back and forth a few times, each pass resulting in more changes — even though I had fulfilled the requested changes, each time doing exactly what had been requested.

(Picture this with the lettering from the first Belushi design added)

Under Aykroyd’s instructions, the caricatures got more and more realistic. I guess he didn’t get the WWII cartoon nose art part of the concept.

I finally decided to cut to the chase — I wrote to Aykroyd directly.

You’d have thought I’d shot the Pope. The shit storm caused by my directly contacting Dan was unbelievable. I had broken one of the Unwritten Rules of Hollywood: violating the Chain of Command. Hollywood can be so full of itself at times. One of the honest questions I had asked Dan was, “Do you even want a 1941 T-shirt with your image? If not, please — just tell me and I’ll happily drop this whole thing.”

It turned out, of course, that the two Saturday Night Live comics indeed never wanted themselves on 1941 T-shirts. All that work on my part was for nothing; another job chalked up to the adage “No good deed goes unpunished”.

This (and a few other things, like the nasty way he treated Robin Williams in front of me) so soured me on Aykroyd that I have turned down all offers since then to work with him. I realize that Dan didn’t actually have it in for me — he wanted to stick it to Spielberg and Steven’s close 1941 circle. I was just the Spielberg representative. But still…

For my efforts on her behalf, Kathy presented me with a big bottle of Dom Perignon champagne. My new wife, family, minister and I consumed it following my wedding in Maui in 1982.

4 thoughts on “Untold Tales of Hollywood #10

  1. Gee, William, just when I think you are living the dream, Spielberg across the hall; working with Ron Cobb; Christopher Lee dropping by, you show us the stick-up-the-butt, childish, selfish side of the biz. Why would Aykroyd have it in for the Spielberg crew? Seems like biting the hand that feeds him. All three of these look great but the top two are definitely more like bomber nose art. I hope you let us see some more of that Conan story board (looks more like finished comic pages) art. If not here then in the book. Tales of Hollywood would make a great title along with a cover of some of your art that gives a nod to the E. C. Tales. Maybe resist the urge to draw Aykroyd as a zombie though.

  2. I’m just guessing, but I think John and Dan (especially Dan) disliked having their images being exploited on behalf of the film and its merchandising. It seemed kind of like a “You can’t tell us we have to go along with your merchandising ideas” situation or attitude.

    This all may have been intensified because it seemed like the 1941 shoot was never going to end. Although the producers considered the footage in the can and over, Steven kept coming up with new ideas for the film that he wanted to shoot — and who’s going to tell Spielberg “No!”? He had just come off some astoundingly successful films — but it felt like 1941 was hemorrhaging money with no end in sight.

    His previous budgets escalated, but it didn’t matter as they ended up being huge hits. Despite that, Steven had already established a track record for going over budget. He decided he would knuckle down on 1941 and watch every penny. He even had T-shirts made for the 1941 crew emblazoned with the Spielberg quote: “I will not make this movie if it costs a penny over $12 million.” (the final budget was almost triple that at $35 million).

    The crew had their own shirts made up that read “1941 Forever…and ever…and ever.”

    These “Untold Tales of Hollywood” posts will eventually end up being pretty much the text for my book on all of my film design.

  3. These ‘Untold Tales’ are addictive reading, William! Your recollections are enlightening, hilarious and eyebrow raising. PLEASE keep them coming and let us know when your book collecting these stories will be available!

  4. 1941. I like the alternate version where Slim Pickens is captured by Japanese dressed as Xmas trees. Steve Bissette was one of the artists on the Heavy Metal 1941 magazine (one of his first professional jobs) and he tells the story that the HM editors didn’t give a damn about the 1941 magazine and told the artists to do whatever they wanted to, so they went nuts with it. The magazine has an intro by Spielberg but he didn’t see the magazine until it was published and he blew a fuse because the magazine looked like 1941 as interpreted by someone on acid. Greg Jein worked on 1941 (building miniatures, such as downtown Los Angeles) but he knew a lot about what was happening on the film and he told me that one of the many things shot for the film which was eliminated when cooler heads prevailed was a recurring bit where the female characters would fall or get turned upside down to reveal their underwear. None of that has ever been seen and would certainly be far less funny now than it would have been 40 years ago.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *