Hollywood Lexicon Needs You!
Randy Bechtel
Hollywood Lexicon Needs You!

God only knows—because no one else so far seems to---the origin of some cinematic terms submitted unsolicited to HollywoodLexicon.com by various readers after the website was launched five years ago. People around the world defined terms they are convinced are Hollywood-insider lingo despite the terms having escaped the notice of all reputable sources of cinematic vocabulary and, for that matter, the English language. Which begged the question: How does the most inside of Hollywood-insider lingo find its way to Muncie, Indiana or Manchester, England or Birdsville, Australia?

Thinking the answer was obvious, I adopted a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy as well as removed contactus@HollywoodLexicon.com from the website. Snobbery, I admit, influenced my decision. Since then, however, this and that have made me wonder, such as when I learned Cary Grant died in Davenport, Iowa. In the spirit of open-mindedness, I present here the most promising of the submissions to see if readers can supply information attesting to the authenticity of any.  

nickpic

Definition: A film in which a lead or supporting actor is seriously miscast.

Background: Supposedly named for Nick Adams, an actor popular in the 1950s and 1960s.  Adams was the son of a Pennsylvania coal miner, pal of Elvis Presley, and star of the television western “The Rebel,” which promoted his cNickpicharacter as a “Reconstruction beatnik.” Off-screen, Adams was known for wearing a T-shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled in one sleeve.  He died of a drug overdose in 1968.

Adams’ miscasting came in movie roles such as a Harvard valedictorian in “Pillow Talk” (1959), a medical doctor in “The Interns” (1962), a Ph.D. in radiology in “Frankenstein Conquers the World” (1965), a nuclear scientist in “Die Monster, Die!” (1965) and a Japanese astronaut in “Invasion of the Astro-Monster (1970).”

In “Die Monster, Die!,” Nick walks unannounced into an English manor wearing a trench coat and no hat, his slicked back blonde sidewalls glistening with Brylcream. The lord of the manor, played by Boris Karloff, confronts him demanding to know who he is. Karloff’s daughter rushes in exclaiming she and Nick “studied together at the University.” Karloff’s pained look of disbelief is the film’s most realistic moment. 

18-wheelered

18-wheeleredDefinition: The killing of a character by a semi-truck.

History: Nothing says “OUCH!” to audiences like a character being erased from the screen by an eighteen-wheel Peterbilt. Or so Hollywood must think given that trucks in such scenes, whether they be 10 or 1,000 feet from their victims, blast their horns but never brake.

One rare exception is the truck in “North by Northwest” (1959) that stops just as it knocks Cary Grant on his back. Director Alfred Hitchcock makes up for this emotional gyp by having a crop duster crash into the truck’s side.

A case of Mr. O

Definition: Being the subject of a scandal reported by a tabloid.

hollywood lexiconHistory: Post-war Hollywood’s most notorious private eye wasn’t fictional, but a 4-pack-a-day-puffing, scotch-swilling gumshoe named Fred Otash. No one dug lower to stay on top than Mr. O and his operatives, who in the words of Frank Sinatra “shoveled the shit” that made Confidential Magazine America’s number one scandal sheet during the 1950s and 1960s. (Mr. O would be the model for Danny DeVito’s character Sid Hudgens in the 1997 film “L.A. Confidential.”). Suppressing scandals about stars was usually no problem for studio publicity departments dealing with Tinsel Town police and mainstream media, but all bets were off when the star became “a case of Mr. O.”

However, not every Mr. O case was splashed on Confidential Magazine’s pages, e.g., Mr. O’s snooping bamkrolled by Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana. That caper involved bugging Peter Lawford’s Malibu beach house, Marilyn Monroe’s Brentwood home and other L.A. lovemaking nests of Jack and Bobby Kennedy. After Marilyn’s suspicious death, however, even Mr. O believed there is such a thing as bad publicity.

shower curtains role

Definition: A role in which a major actor is shockingly killed midway if not earlier through a film.

History: The term arose from the Alfred Hitchcock film “Psycho” (1960) in which leading lady Janet Leigh is slashed to death in a shower. However, Hitchcock’s plot twist may have been inspired by gossip surrounding the casting of “Five Came Back,” an RKO film released in 1939, the same year Hitchcock arrived in Hollywood from England.  

shower curtainsThe RKO film’s plot begins with a storm causing an airplane to crash in the Amazon rainforest. It’s said that to bolster profits, executive Artie Mars suggested that the first characters to die should be played by the studio’s three biggest stars. First, Ginger Rogers would fall out of a plane hatch flung open by lightning and suffer a 16,000-foot plunge into the night. After surviving the crash, Cary Grant would soon be shot in the neck by a savage’s poison dart. Finally, Fred Astaire would wander off alone into the jungle and be caught and eaten by cannibals.  

Mars argued the stars’ names would drive box office while the stars themselves could quickly move on to other projects. However, his idea was nixed by RKO production chief Pandro Berman, who thought the gruesome whacking of RKO’s biggest names would undermine their glamorous personas.  Not to mention moviegoers who bought tickets to see Rogers, Grant and Astaire would be left after one reel with Chester Morris, ingénue Lucille Ball, Wendy Barrie and John Carradine.

Hitchcock, on the other hand, famously compared actors to cattle and probably had no compunctions about butchering Janet Leigh’s persona. In any case, he had no studio interests to be concerned with; he financed “Psycho” himself for $806,000 when no studio would. And the biggest name on a “Psycho” marquee was Hitchcock’s own.

Shower curtains roles have been many since. Examples include the knifing of Angie Dickinson in an elevator in “Dressed to Kill” (1980), the ejection of Steven Seagal into the wild blue yonder in “Executive Decision” (1996), the slicing of Drew Barrymore in “Scream” (1996), a slug to the gut of Kevin Spacey in “LA Confidential” (1997), a lethal hypodermic to the toe of Tom Wilkinson in “Michael Clayton” (2007), a bullet to the face of Brad Pitt in “Burn Before Reading” (2008), drifting off into space by George Clooney in “Gravity” (2013).

The Salazar Lines

Definition: Lines of dialogue that signal plot points of ghost and horror films.

History: The term's namesake is Abel Salazar, star of several Mexican films dubbed for American audiences, e.g., “El Ataud del Vampiro,” (1957), “El Espejo de la Bruja” (1960), “La Maldicion de la Llorona" (1961), “The Brainiac” (1961), “El Vampiro” (1968), etc. Salazar became legendary for voicing the same lines of dialogue that signaled standard horror genre plot points. To wit:

Salazar Lines“Must be the wind!”  Our heroes hear something spooky which Abel blames on the wind.  

“Must be your imagination!” One character sees a ghost, demon, vampire or monster, but when others look, they see nothing.

“What can it be?”  Our heroes realize they are legitimately spooked and consult books, microfilmed newspapers, diaries, letters, local historians, hieroglyphs, priests and/or monks for an explanation.

“What can we do?” Our heroes recruit a medium, exorcist and/or ghostbuster, or stock up on holy water, crosses, rosaries, silver bullets, stakes, and/or neck braces, etc.

“Who would believe it?” Evil is defeated but leaves our heroes with nothing to show for their victory.

Be aware that when watching a Salazar film, Abel's lines come at you like fastballs because those who dubbed them had to race against Abel’s nimble Espanol lips.

zit

Definition: A flaw in the production design that spoils a scene or shot.

History: The term may have come from William Cameron Menzies like many terms associated with production design. With his work on "Gone with the Wind" (1939), Menzies not only coined the term production designer, but invented the position as he met the new and many challenges of filmmaking in color. Still, Menzies' link to zit is questionable beginning with whether zit, which is slang for pimple, existed circa 1940s.

zit

Production designers usually blame zits on low budgets and certainly they appear most in low budget productions. For instance, a common zit in ghost and vampire movies is the cheesy portrait of a duke, duchess, count, countess or whatever blue blood is supposed to be the movie’s spook or bloodsucker. Budget, however, was no excuse for the portrait of Hugh Crane in the $80,000,000 remake of “The Haunting” (1999). Crane’s portrait evokes the observation by portrait painter John Singer Sargent that people want to be painted the way they see themselves, Apparently Hugh Crane proudly saw himself as the cheesy image of butt ugly.

Production designer Eugenio Zanetti claimed that to make Hugh Crane any better looking would have confused the audience. Such narrative judgments—in Zanetti’s case, that moviegoers equate beauty with good and ugly with evil—are often responsible for big budget zits. In the 1996 film “Independence Day,” for instance, Martians incinerate Los Angeles except for a palm tree that remains pristine above the ashes and rubble. Patrick Tatopoulos, the film’s production designer, maintained the palm tree was needed to remind the audience that it was looking at L.A. Insulting as this might be to some intelligences, we must remember that the ages of most blockbuster moviegoers range from 12 to 22.

Copyright © 2021 by Randy Bechtel

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