Stephen King was in the living room. Well, kind of.
That was the observation of a scary lady seated next to me in a small theatre off of Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. I was seated right up by the stage for the evening’s “Dialogue with Stephen King” and the little old lady next to me was quite pleased with our seats. “It’s like he’s sitting across from us in the living room.” She said.
In fairness, he was very close. I could have reached forward and grabbed his large winter boot if such a flight of fancy had entered my mind. While it isn’t usually much fun to go to events alone, sometimes the single gawker can score great seats.
The evening’s event was put on by a local Los Angeles writer’s organization. They managed to fill out the entire theatre, with two to three hundred people. Mr. King strode onto the stage dressed in jeans and a blue denim shirt. He was taller than expected and quite lanky. Given his much-publicized jogging accident – whereby a reckless driver ran him over – it was good to see that he moved quite well.
Once on stage, he was initially interviewed by the editor of the L.A. Times book review section. Their dialogue was a mix of King history and discussion of his newest book “Lisey’s Story.” Much of the initial banter focused on talk of King’s shift over the past ten years more so into the mainstream of American literature. As he’s aged, his writing has improved and he’s been more accepted by a sometimes snobby literary community. Of course, he still has many detractors and they were mentioned as well.
Rather than being the creepy, scary person that many expect of King, he almost seemed to mock that stereotype. Conversely though, he had a backwoods nature about him that was kind of a surprise. He had a notable blue collar, east coast accent that came out at times. King was also very comfortable dropping the proverbial ‘f-bomb’ without hesitation. And given that elections were only a few days away, it probably wasn’t a surprise that his ultra-liberal political views would creep out at times.
When the questioning was opened to the audience, those given the microphone asked great questions. One of note: It has been well known that Stephen King never liked the early 1980s adaptation of “The Shining” that director Stanley Kubrick did with Jack Nicholson. King had passed on the opportunity to write the screenplay due to Kubrick’s obsessive-compulsive reputation and prior to filming was called only once. That one call happened at 7am while shaving. King took the phone from his wife and Kubrick immediately launched into a question that started “Don’t you think that all horror stories are positive since the world always continues on in the end?”
King was stunned that Kubrick was trying to have a bizarre philosophical discussion and simply said back “What about hell?” This question threw Kubrick for a loop. Finally he replied “I don’t believe in hell.”
Another Kubrick story involved King’s only visit to the set of “The Shining.” Kubrick smoked a cigarette down to the filter and then proceeded to roll the filter up into a tiny ball. The balled filter was then placed in a small tin box that Kubrick had in his pocket. Watching action from Kubrick, King was immediately convinced that he was in the presence of a deranged man.
The funniest story of the night was the last one told and it involved King’s recollection of a recent shopping trip in Florida. He had acquired a vacation home in that state and was at the grocery store with is wife. Apparently a little old lady came strolling down an isle and stopped when she saw him.
“I know who you are, I know who you are. You’re the guy who writes all those horrible, scary stories.” The little old lady said to King. “Why don’t you write something positive like that ‘Shawshank Redemption’ movie?”
The great irony was that Stephen King had written the novella that was later adapted into the movie “The Shawshank Redemption.”
“Actually, I did write the story for that movie.” King simply replied.
The lady stood skeptical for a moment and then declared “No you didn’t.” She then walked away.
On a logistics note, parking for the theatre was at the Flynt Publications building. Flynt Publications refers to the publishing empire of Larry Flynt. His story was covered in detail with the Woody Harrelson/Courtney Love movie “The People vs. Larry Flynt” and the building harkens back to some past glory. It also has an odd tinge of classy sleaze to it, perhaps typified by a billboard at the end of the block that points passersby to the nearby “Hustler Casino.” Have no fear, I did escape the parking garage with my dignity. Hopefully I can say as much for my car.