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Right Stuff

The Right Stuff

  Photo Credits: Mary and Me
The front of the Egyptian Theater
The plaza of the Egyptian Theater
Entrance to the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood The plaza of the Egyptian Theater
The Right Stuff screening announced at the Egyptian
Mercury Space Suit prop from the filming of The Right Stuff
The Right Stuff listed for 6/9/2003 at the Egyptian Mercury space suit prop used in the film
X1 prop used in the filming of The Right Stuff
X1-A prop used in the filiming of The Right Stuff
X1 rocket plane prop used in the film
An X1-A prop used in filming The Right Stuff
Yeager and Hershey stop for questions on the red carpet
General Yeager and Barbara Hershey stop for questions and photos on the red carpet
Mary wtih the lifesize Mercury capsule prop
Mary and I with the Freedom 7 prop
Mary with the life size Mercury capsule prop
Mary and I attend the 20th anniversary screening
General Yeager tells the photographers how it will be done
Actor Scott Paulin poses with Mary
Yeager tells the photographers how it will be done
Actor Scott Paulin poses for a photo with Mary
General Yeager poses for a photo with me
Gordon Cooper gives a thumbs up in the theater
General Yeager poses for a photo with me Gordon Cooper is introduced in the theater
Gordon Cooper, Mary, and Jerry after the 20th anniversary screening of The Right Stuff
Gordon Cooper, Mary, and me after the 20th anniversary screening of The Right Stuff at the Egyptian

The Right Stuff

2003 was the 20th anniversary of the release of the movie “The Right Stuff”.  To honor that anniversary, Warner Home Video re-released the movie as a deluxe two disk DVD special edition.

On June 9th, 2003, Warner Home Video and the American Cinematique celebrated the re-release with a reception and viewing of the movie at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, California. 

Through the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, my wife Mary and I were guests of Astronaut Gordon Cooper for this special screening and reception for “The Right Stuff.” This is my story of our  Hollywood experience.

Mary and I were scheduled to fly out to Los Angelus on an America West flight at 6:25 AM on Saturday, June 7th, 2003.  Our travel experience was anything but smooth.

We got to the airport about 5:30 AM to check in for our flight. We did not think it would any good to get there earlier since the airport would not be open before that.  We were shocked to see that already at 5:30 there was a line of about 200 people waiting to check in at the America West counter.  I asked an America West employee if they had electronic check-in and thankfully they did.  Within 5 minutes Mary and I were checked in and avoided that terrible queue of 200 people.

We boarded the Airbus 320 and after some time we were greeted by the voice of the pilot over the load speaker.  The pilot informed us that there was a problem with the computer that controls the flight control surfaces of the airplane.  That sounded like a very important computer to me.

The pilot told us that it was nothing to worry about.  They would power the computer down and reboot it just like our home PC.  I prayed that the flight control computer did not run Microsoft Windows.

After a while the pilot told us the bad news.  The computer did not reboot.  We were already an hour behind schedule and it would take longer. A technician was called to look at the issue.  So we waited.

One hour later, the pilot informed us that the technician arrived and was able to reboot the computer with some effort.  He assured us that the computer was fine for flight.  I wasn't convinced. 

We took off from the runway at about 2 hours behind the scheduled departure. Thankfully the computer did not act up in flight.  With our two hour delay, we missed our connecting flight in Phoenix.

The good news in Phoenix was that the America West representative had boarding passes already waiting for us on a different flight with new seat assignments.  Mary and I found that we were bumped up to first class.  I thought that was pretty good fortune for us since not everyone on our flight was bumped to first class.

We were excited.  Sadly that excitement was misplaced.  When we boarded the airplane we found that it was only a small commuter plane.  First class seating on this flight really bought you no extra service on that plane.  They couldn't even serve alcohol before take off.

We finally arrived at Los Angelus International Airport about 2.5 hours behind schedule.  Our luggage wasn't so lucky; it missed the connection in Phoenix.  At least the airline representative handling the luggage claim was very nice.  They told us they would send it to our hotel when it arrived. It was amazing but I really wasn't stressed at all. As long as my luggage arrived before Monday night's premier I really didn't care.

Mary and I then went to Hertz to get our rental car.  The rental car was supposed to be there waiting with my name on it and the keys in it. That is the standard practice for a Hertz Gold Club member.  We were shocked to learn that our car was not there.  I learned that Hertz cancels any reservation if you are over two hours late.  A little more delay but they came up with a car for us.

We took a circuitous route to our hotel to check out some of the local scenery.  This was Mary's first trip to California and I wanted to show her around.  Our first stop was Venice Beach.  I had been there 21 years ago and found it to be a pretty strange place with weird patrons.  This time is seemed much more sedate and touristy.

There were still remnants of odd behavior though. We noticed a large crowd gathered and looking at a stage. We stopped to see what was going on and found it was “The Sexiest Woman in LA” contest.  Madam Heidi Fleiss was one of the judges. The contestants paraded around in thongs displaying their assets. There are reasons why the public display of thongs should be banned in most states and I think we saw a few of those reasons in that contest.

From Venice we drove up to Santa Monica to the pier.  At the Santa Monica Pier, they have restaurants, shops, and a small amusement park. At the end of the pier was a Mexican restaurant and we ate there.  I chose seafood burritos from the menu.  I just had to try them, since seafood burritos are not a common menu item.

After our meal we strolled through the amusement park on the pier. I was able to coax Mary into riding the Ferris wheel.  Mary doesn't like heights, so it was no small feat in getting her to agree to this.  If you couple that with the fact that this Ferris wheel overhung the water and it was truly a thrill ride.  Fortunately Mary did fine and we really enjoyed the spectacular view.

I wanted to take Mary back to Hollywood via Mulholland Highway and Mulholland Drive. I had been on these roads many years ago and remembered them to be very scenic.  The road follows the ridge line of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Hollywood Hills.

This time I discovered that it was really pretty hard to find Mulholland Highway from the coast.  There was a lot of construction going on and at one point we even found ourselves dead ended into a private gated estate.  No doubt we were being watched with security cameras.

After a few stops and starts we found our way back to Hollywood.  We were getting pretty tired at this point and we looked forward to relaxing in our hotel.

I wanted our hotel to be special for this trip so I selected a boutique hotel called the Le Parc Suites Hotel.  This hotel is nestled in a residential neighborhood in West Hollywood. It is located near the intersection of Melrose and La Cienga. If you are looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Los Angelus, you can certainly get lost at Le Parc Suites.

The suites include a kitchen/dining room area, a living area with a gas fireplace, and an elevated bedroom area.  Each suite has a private balcony.  They have a CD player, a DVD player and Nintendo on the television.   There was even a doorbell.

Probably the best feature of this hotel though, was its rooftop swimming pool.  Around the pool there are ample seating areas which are either covered or shielded from the sun by umbrellas.  A fabulous view of the Hollywood hills is available is available from this vista.

One thing that was visible in the hills was a huge lighted skull and cross bones with a red pirate bandana. This display was a harbinger for the movie, “Pirates of the Caribbean.”  That ominous and illuminated pirate symbol added a sense of mysticism to our twilight view of the Hollywood hills.

Mary and I chose to dine at a candlelit table by the pool that night.  For most of our dinner we were the only patrons at our rooftop location.  It is difficult for me to conceive of a more romantic setting.

The next morning was Sunday, June 8th.  We had a nice leisurely breakfast in the restaurant of the hotel.  This dining experience was also very intimate.  There were no crowds.  We dined in peaceful serenity.  The food was outstanding.

In an advertisement, back at the room, we noticed that the musical “The Producers” was playing at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood.  This musical production was starring Martin Short and Jason Alexander.

The Pantages Theater is a Hollywood landmark.  It originally opened on June 4th, 1930 and has a long and colorful history.  We thought it would be nice to see a production at such a historical venue.  There was one catch. We didn't have tickets!

Over all of our travels there has been only one time when a concierge has actually helped us.  That time was during our stay at Le Parc Suites.  The concierge was able to obtain tickets for us to that afternoon's show.  The tickets were in the center of the theater 4 rows back from the stage.  They were the best seats in the house.  It's good to be king.

Mary and I really enjoyed the musical.  Short and Alexander did a great job. The architecture and glitz of the theater was something to behold.   It was  worth  the price of admission  just to admire the architecture.

On Monday, Mary and I had a tour of Warner Brothers Studio.   It was a great tour.  A highlight of that tour was a stop where props were displayed from the history of Warner Brothers pictures.   A special treat for me was  Professor Fate's submarine from "The Great Race."

One floor was dedicated to the recent and very popular Harry Potter movie.  We wished our granddaughter had been with us to see those props since she was a big Harry Potter fan.

This was also the day of our “Right Stuff” gala at the Egyptian theater.  The excitement was building for us as the time drew near.  The reception was supposed to start at 5:30 with the screening at 7:00 PM.

Mary and I got to the area around the Egyptian Theater a little early for the reception.  Robert Perlman was supposed to meet us there and he was supposed to escort us into the reception.  He had not yet arrived.

To pass the time, we decided to get a glass of wine at the Pig ‘N Whistle restaurant which adjoins the plaza for the Egyptian theater.  The restaurant has been renovated back to appear as it did in its glorious past. It was a nice place for us to relax before our Right Stuff event.

Patrons from days gone by of the Pig ‘N Whistle included the likes of Spencer Tracy, Shirley Temple, Loretta Young, Howard Hughes, Barbara Stanwyck, and Judy Garland just to name a few.

The Pig ‘N Whistle served food for movie patrons at a time before concession stands came into vogue.  A side door out of the restaurant onto the Egyptian Theater plaza facilitated ease of movement for movie patrons. The renovated restaurant is truly a Hollywood icon.

About midway through our drink, Robert called my cell phone to let me know that he had arrived at the theater with his sister.  They met us in the Pig ‘N Whistle and sat with us while we finished our drinks.

We got a flavor of a glitzy Hollywood premier when we stepped out from the Pig ‘N Whistle.  A throng of autograph hounds and photographers had assembled on the sidewalk hoping to get a glimpse at an arriving star.  The voyeurs were kept nice and orderly behind a velvet rope to avoid chaos.  Security guards maintained the order.

Robert whisked us past the voyeurs and through security into the plaza for the Egyptian.  A red carpet had been put down for the impending arrival of the stars.  Spot lights illuminated the plaza like they do for the walkway to the Academy Awards.  This was Hollywood baby and we were part of it!

Near the entrance of the theater were some actual props from the filming of “The Right Stuff.”  There was a life size Mercury capsule, a large model of the X1 rocket plane and a large model of the X1-A rocket plane.  Electricity was in the air and it just wasn't from the cords powering the spot lights.

A barrage of camera flashes signaled the arrival of a star.  This star happened to be Barbara Hershey.  Close behind her was a man who was not an actor.  He was truly one of the right stuff brethren.  It was legendary General Chuck Yeager.

Yeager exuded his presence.  He was not dressed up in some monkey suit.  Yeager was adorned with a simple white baseball hat and a sleeveless dark green vest over a navy blue short sleeved shirt.  He looked more like he was outfitted for a hunting trip than he did for a walk down a Hollywood red carpet. 

There was a certain attitude that Yeager projected.  He had nothing to prove and no one to impress.  He had come face to face with the demon in the sky and he triumphed.  How could anything after that battle intimidate such a man.

Yeager stopped with Barbara Hershey for a few questions by the press.  He then moved over towards the rocket plane props from the movie.  Photographers hovered around Yeager like a school of sharks sensing blood.  I was one of those sharks.  It was a rush to be one of the paparazzi.

Everyone was trying to get Yeager’s attention for their photo.  Not fazed by their pleads, Yeager told the photographers exactly how it was going to be.  A few quick shutter releases and Yeager slipped away from the cameras into the relative solitude of the reception in the theater lobby.

Taking the photos was fun, but Mary and I had passes to go into the reception.  Why should we mill about with the common photographers, when we could rub elbows and chat with the famous?   We were, after all,  guests of the legendary Gordon Cooper.

We entered the theater and saw tables offering delectable hors d’oeuvres.  Bartenders were keen to serve whatever libation was desired.  People milled about in small clusters.

I had brought with me an Easton Press leather bound copy of Tom Wolfe’s book, “The Right Stuff.”  It seemed like a good keepsake to have autographed at this event and everyone seemed happy to oblige our request.

The first actor that we met was Scott Paulin who played Astronaut Deke Slayton in the movie.  Paulin was very friendly to us and was more than happy to pose for a photo with Mary.

General Yeager was off to the side of the room by himself.  We introduced ourselves and inquired about the possibility of posing for a photo and a signature.  He was less guarded in this environment than he was out on the red carpet.  General Yeager was gracious and accommodated our request.  However, it was apparent to me that he would rather be out fishing for trout or shooting elk.

Gordon Cooper arrived and we introduced ourselves to him.  We thanked him for inviting us to be his guests at this Hollywood event.  Cooper was very friendly.  His voice, although weak. still pointed back to his Oklahoma origins.  He sounded more like a cowboy than a rocket pilot.  Cooper graciously signed our leather copy of “The Right Stuff”.

We continued to mill about when suddenly Robert approached us with a great deal of concern on his face.  The original plan called for us to sit right next to the Coopers in the theater.  Cooper’s agent changed that plan and said that Cooper would be sitting on the aisle. Robert assured me that he would get the situation resolved before the movie started. 

I told Robert not to worry about it.  Even if we didn't get to sit right next to Cooper, that was Okay.  We were still his guests and a few seats over really wasn't going to matter in the grand scheme of life.

The time came for people to take their seats.  Robert escorted Mary and me to our seats.  Here, once again, two decades later, "The Right Stuff" was being shown on the silver screen.  Just in front of our row of seats were seats reserved for the guests of Chuck Yeager.

The lights went down and we were back in those historical days pursuing the speed of sound.  There is one part in the movie where the scene portrays Astronaut Gordon cooper falling asleep in his Mercury capsule while waiting for launch. Ironically, in this darkened theater, I fell asleep watching “The Right Stuff” in the midst of all this excitement.

I felt somewhat embarrassed at having fallen asleep during the movie, but I don't think I was alone.  It was late and I was exhausted from traveling.

After the movie the actors, producers, and of course General Yeager and Astronaut Cooper were introduced.  There was a question and answer session where the audience could ask questions of the parties involved.

Many of the questions seemed to fall to General Yeager and the producer.  At one point, someone asked a question to Gordon Cooper. It was difficult for Cooper to respond to a question in a public forum.  Suffering from Parkinsonism, it just was not easy for Cooper to answer.  General Yeager intervened and said, “Let me field that one Gordo.”  It was a kind gesture on the part of Yeager.

After the question and answer session, Mary and I thanked Astronaut Cooper for the experience.  I mentioned to Cooper that like he did in his capsule I had fallen asleep in the movie.  Cooper smiled and responded, “That was a really long movie.”

We had our photo taken with astronaut Cooper.  Somehow a finger print had gotten smeared on my camera lens.  The result was that our photo with Cooper was somewhat clouded.  The effect was fitting as we felt like we were on cloud nine.

After the Coopers and their agent left, we headed down to the stage where some of the actors and producers stilled milled about.  More autographs were added to our “Right Stuff” book.

Jeff Goldblum came by to talk with another of the actors.  I had always admired Goldblum as an actor and wanted to talk to him.  Unfortunately, I could not really think of anything appropriate to say.  At last minute I reached out my hand and told him “Hello, my name is Jerry, it is a pleasure to meet you.”  Stoically, Goldblum responded, “It is a pleasure to meet you, Sir!”

Sadly, our Hollywood experience and our brush with the right stuff had come to a close.  One thing was certain. It was a trip that exceeded our wildest dreams.

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UPDATED : January 31, 2007
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