Gene Palma: The Street Musician of Taxi Driver

gene-palma-street-musician-1971-CW-001Anyone who has seen Martin Scorsese’s 1976 neo-noir classic, Taxi Driver, will remember the short scene with Street Musician Gene Palma. It’s one of those little bits that remain with you long after the film ends. Palma’s slickly combed shellac like black hair and red makeup made him a unique figure on the streets of New York back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Palma would flip his drumsticks banging out his music on drums, vending machines or anything else that was available in the Times Square area. Palma’s big dream in life was not only to play like Gene Krupa, he wanted to be Gene Krupa.

Some years back I posted on my Twenty Four Frames Blog, a photograph I took of Palma one afternoon while photo hunting on the streets of New York. Though with only one photo and a couple of written lines from me, the post has become one of my most popular, engaging and informative with many people posting their own memories of Gene. The comments by various contributors were most informative and told part of the drummer’s story of which little is known. I felt the comments deserved more exposure, so I  thought I would incorporate some of them here, giving credit where credit is due.

Palma’s film career was short. After Taxi Driver he appeared in the John Ritter starring Hero at Large for which he was paid $30. He received  $172.50 for Taxi Driver. According to IMDB he had a small part as himself in the documentary  Not a Love Story: A Film about Pornography.

 In a February 1981 article from the Lakeland Ledger, Palma said, he plays in the street five days a week and could make a living do that. In the winter, he needed to find other work. It was too cold for him to do his tricks with the sticks.  I have posted the Lakeland article here so you can read it direct instead of me rehashing it. My thank to Shawntok for providing the original link to the article.

Gene DePalma (1 of 1)Below are some of the many interesting comments that were left on my original post. They fill in a few holes in the life.

Again with the memories. I feel like Forest Gump when I read your New York based posts. I used to see Gene in Times Square often back in the ’80s. During that same period, I worked at a coffee shop on 6th Avenue and 57th Street called Miss Brooks and Gene came there often; really nice guy, but that hair smelled like hell. – Michael A. Gonzales – Writer

I moved to NYC in June of 1970 and began working in a small ad agency on the top of 580 5th Aveune (47th street). I was previously an amateur drummer and played some R&R in college, etc, and was the biggest Gene Krupa freak on earth (saw him perform live twice before his young death at 64 in 1973). The ad agencies in those days had dozens of deliveries back and forth from “stat” houses (long before computers). Stats were hi quality b&w copies of existing artwork needed to make new ads. Our office was on the top floor of the building and shortly after I began the job, several times a week I found myself riding the elevator with a curious delivery man from one of the stat houses. He would hold those large flat rigid stat envelopes in two hands, and endlessly play the most astounding cadences with his finger tips, right there in the elevator on the backs of those envelopes. Over and over again I was blown away, crippled by what I heard, since I actually recognized dozens of his riffs. Krupa, Belson, Hampton, Rich, you name the drummer, he was right there keeping up with them. In the two years I had that job (1970-72), I must have ridden in the elevator 40-50 times with this mystical man who never said one word to anyone, never made any eye contact and was totally oblivious to the effect he was having on the people who stood with him in those elevator cabs. Imagine how astounded I was four years later when completely out of nowhere, that wonderful guy miraculously appeared on screen as I sat idly watching Scorsese’s epic Taxi Driver! So yes, I can testify that for at least a couple years, Gene Palma delivered stats to New York ad agencies, but all the while his entire being was simultaneously consumed with breathtaking drum cadences. Bravo to Scorsese for bringing this wonderful personality a little immortality on the big screen. – Michael Adams

I remember seeing gene back in the early 80s when I use to cut out of school and go to TS . When I first saw gene he scared the daylights out of me. I found an article on Gene Palma in the LEDGER dating back to February 12th 1981. A reporter spotted gene in Atlantic City and interviewed him. I don’t have the link but if you google ” Gene Palma wants to be Gene Krupa ” I guarantee you will find it – Gary

Last time I saw Gene was in 2002-2003. He was living in a special adult home on 8th ave in Chelsea next to a Burito place called Blue Moon Cafe. I had numerous conversations with Gene over a period of 8 years. Nice man. Good drummer. Liked pastrami. Ate the middle out of pastries. Carried a small suitcase with a pressed suit and shoes inside along with coloring books given to him by Jehova’s witnesses. – Paul Corrigan

I met Gene in the Early 90’s while living in Chelsea. I would see him walking around the neighborhood with his leather jacket and briefcase, head tilted down. I always wanted to photograph him and would say hello when I could. One day he invited me up to his apartment in ’95…I have a half of a contact sheet in the archives somewhere. He was always a kind fellow and a charismatic guy. We took a few photos that day.

btw Mr/ Fisher ‘s photo is exceptional, thank you for sharing that. I am so happy this post exists as well, I was too thinking about Gene and wondering is he is still around. – Robert Adam Mayer – Photographer

Used to work in orange Julius while attending BMCC in 1972 or 73, the one on 7th ave. and 47th, later on 42nd street, that was some experience in gritty Times Square, lemme tell ya. I saw Gene several times around that area, I was a young immigrant, utterly fascinated by this character playing the drums on anything. I was floored when I saw him in taxi driver, then I would see him on the streets, more people around him after the movie came out. That hair, jet black, tinted, seemingly, by a gallon of dye. To me, he is the background music while I remember the TS of that time. – Joe

Does anyone remember a short film involving Gene that ran on Public Access channels in the mid to late 1980s? It chronicled a couple of young people who took an interest of Gene and tried to get him off the streets and into some assisted living program (unsuccessfully I might add.)    – Michael

Saw Gene in June ’77, after having watched Taxi Driver six times (in the theater). Was really thrilled to see the featured drummer on a Manhattan street corner during my first visit to NYC! He had a hand-written sign saying, “as featured in the movie, Taxi Driver. My traveling companion, Ray, and I wondered about his life so we actually followed him one night during our seven day stay. – jrh1254

There are more comments and a few more links on the original post which you can find here.

My thanks to all those who commented and shared their experiences with Gene.

 

Note: If you liked this post please hit the follow button to receive all the latest.

 

 

 

Coming Soon to TCM

golddiggers-of-1933Two films featured in my book, Lessons in the Dark, will be coming soon to TCM. Tonight at 10:15PM (Eastern) the superb Great Depression era musical Gold Diggers on 1933. The film stars Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell along with an excellent supporting cast that includes Aline McMahon, Ned Sparks, Guy Kibbee and Billy Barty.

grapes-of-wrath-3On Friday (Feb. 10th) at 8PM (Eastern) don’t miss John Ford’s masterful production of John Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Henry Fonda stars as Tom Joad. The cast includes Academy Award winner Jane Darwell and John Carradine. Look for a very young Darryl Hickman (Dobie Gillis) in a small role.

You can read more about both of these films plus others in Lessons in the Dark. Below I have reprinted the Introduction to the book.

Introduction – Lessons in the Dark

Why these films, why this book and why this collection you ask? It’s simple enough to answer. A few years ago I did a series of articles for Halo-17, a now defunct Australian music and arts website. One of the editors discovered my blog, I assume liked it, and asked if I would be interested in writing a column about classic films. The only caveat was that I had to make the films I wrote about connect to what was happening in today’s world. I needed to show readers how these old black and white films were still relevant. Illustrate how history repeats itself and there are lessons to be learned even from a film that is seventy years old.

   Well, the requirement set forth by the folks at Halo-17 turned out to be simpler than I thought. As I began to look at films from this perspective I realized many films whether twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years old or more remain relevant. They had something to say about us today as well as years ago. Life and art repeat themselves. As the poet, novelist and philosopher, George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.” Classic films help us remember the past, both the good and the bad. Sometimes they even predict the future as it did in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957) and Sidney Lumet’s Network (1976), both which forecast the reality TV and political circus we are forced to endure today. A film like Black Legion (1937) teaches us about hating someone who’s different, how people get sucked into hatred or blaming immigrants for taking jobs from “real Americans.” Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of Will (1935) presented Adolph Hitler as Germany’s savior, a leader who would bring glory back to Germany by once again making it a great power! This Nazi rhetoric, the fear mongering, is awfully familiar to what we hear today from plastic gods with simplistic solutions promising to make America great again as they feed on the hate.

This collection of essays is divided into various sections focusing on specific themes. Each contains essays on films. Though “old” they speak about or reflect on the times we are living in today. Every one of these films remains pertinent to our current lives. Not all are great cinematically, yet there are lessons or messages to be learned. Some films are more direct in their ideas, others are more understated. There are even a few films that put forth a message or point of view for most of the film and then reverse course in the final moments. Why? Censorship sometimes exposes its ugly head or maybe the filmmakers or the studios got cold feet. Whatever the reason, it’s all part of what makes these films fascinating and worth watching and discussing.

    Part One looks at films from or about the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  As we continue to come out of our recent Great Recession that has been hanging over us since 2008, one can read into many of these films the similarities, the hard times and uncertainty we have all recently endured. In Part Two there are films exploring the absurdities of war and its effects on the men and women on the front line and back at home. Part Three contains a couple of films that reveal the influences of the news media on our lives. Part Four takes a look at social injustice. In Part Five we look at films about discrimination. In Part Six we see how the pre-code era gave us a look at tough, strong, independent and progressive women. Finally, in Part Seven, a section that is a catch all. It contains a variety of topics that we still deal with and affect our lives today.

   “Old” films are not just nostalgic. They entertain, or at least attempt to, however, they are also avenues for learning and a passageway to take a look at ourselves as we were then and are now. Movies hold up a mirror to both our past, our lives today and our future. We can see how far we have come; the mistakes that we made, the choices we made, both the good and the bad. Hopefully we are able to learn, realize the bad and not repeat them.

   The majority of these essays first appeared on my blog, Twenty Four Frames. I began the blog almost eight years ago, like many others, as a place to share my love of movies. The blog has evolved over time as I believe I have myself. During a lifetime of watching movies I have discovered new roads to travel and lessons learned. I hope you, the reader, will too.

Gold Diggers of 1933 0n TCM

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Set your DVR’s!

The great Depression era musical, Gold Diggers of 1933, is on TCM tomorrow at 6:30 AM eastern time with a repeat showing on February 9th at 10:15PM.

Hugely successful at the time of its release, Gold Diggers of 1933 is filled with tough streetwise characters, and wise cracking dialogue, ready to face the Great Depression head on. Like many of Warner Brothers films of the day, Gold Diggers of 1933 is not just escapism entertainment. Audiences of the day looking for a couple of hours to get away from their woes found themselves watching  a film filled with cynicism and grit.

You can read more about Gold Diggers of 1933 in my book. Available from Amazon. Just click on the link below.

Jules Dassin’s Brute Force on TCM Tonight!

brute_force-33Burt Lancaster stars in the brutally powerful prison drama, Brute Force, showing on TCM tonight at 10:15PM (Eastern time). The Jules Dassin directed film is a strong indictment of the prison system for its corruptness and failures to rehabilitate.

Along with Lancaster, the cast includes Hume Cronyn, Charles Bickford, Sam Levene, Ann Blyth, Howard Duff  and Yvonne DeCarlo. Set your DVR, you won’t be disappointed.

Read about Brute Force and other films including, The Grapes of Wrath, I Am a Fugitive on a Chain Gang, Ace in the Hole, The Americanization of Emily, A Face in the Crowd, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and more in my e-book, LESSONS IN THE DARK. Available on Amazon. Just click on the link below.

https://www.amazon.com/Lessons-Dark-John-Greco-ebook/dp/B01CC0TWLS/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Lessons in the Dark Cover-Small-003

 

 

 

Thoughts on Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

debbieThe twin deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds within twenty four hours of each other brings 2016 to a devastating finish  for multiple generations of film lovers. Reynolds bursted on to the screen in what many consider the greatest musical film ever made, Singin’ in the Rain. Her career survived one of the most famous scandals in Hollywood. She did it all with grace and style.

Reynolds most memorable roles, for me, along with Singin’ in the Rain were in the underrated drama, The Rat Race and comedies like The Gazebo, Goodbye Charlie, Divorce – American Style and Albert Brooks wonderful film, Mother. On TV, she was a perfect fit as Grace’s mother, Bobbie Alder in Will and Grace.

Three decades later her daughter, Carrie Fisher, became the first liberated sci-fi screen heroine. As princess Leia, Fisher inspired many young girls to break barriers here on earth just like her legendary character did in a galaxy far, far away. While I saw the first four Star War films, I was never a big fan of the series. For me, Fisher’s most memorable roles were in Shampoo, The Blues Brothers and When Harry Met Sally.

I always admired Fisher for her soul baring acerbic wit. As someone said, a few days ago, I don’t remember who, Carrie was the  Dorothy Parker of our day. She was a great interview, never holding back, coming across as both cutting and vulnerable in discussing her addictions, relationships and mental illness. Her books were just as open. Postcards From the Edge, her first novel was to some extent based on her own life, as were her other written works.

HBO has been working on a documentary that takes a look at the mother/daughter relationship. Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds airs in March 2017.

A Christmas Carol – Five Favorites

 

charles_dickens_1858When asked to donate to help the poor for the holidays the greediest, grumpiest Grinch of all time, Ebenezer Scrooge, replies “Are there no prisons? Are there no union workhouses?”

One of the greatest characters in Charles Dicken’s brilliant library of creations  is Ebenezer Scrooge. He’s the epitome of meanness, a tower of cold unmoving steel,  dismissing Christmas with the wave of a hand and his own personal mantra, “Bah Humbug!” It’s a phrase that has become part of our everyday  language.

It was Dicken’s ability as a writer to take a wretched old geezer, full of nastiness and miserliness, and convincingly have him find redemption.

This time of the year I always try to watch at least one film version of A Christmas Carol. This year, it was the 1938 film with Reginald Owen as Scrooge. I didn’t think Owen made for a great Ebenezer, but the film is entertaining and certainly worth watching.

With all that said, below is a list of my the top five A Christmas Carol movies.

5) Scrooge (1970) with Albert Finney if for no other reason that than for the show stopping, Thank You, Very Much number.

scrooge

4) Scrooged (1988)  with Bill Murray. Enough said!

scrooged-1988

3) Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) just because Scrooge McDuck rules!

mcduck1

2) A Christmas Carol  (1984) George C. Scott’s gruff voice and demeanor are pure perfection.scott-christmas-carol-1984-george-scott-5601) A Christmas Carol (1951) Nobody does it better than Alastair Sim. The film itself is a holiday masterpiece.

ebenezer-scrooge

Please feel free to share your own favorite.

Kirk Douglas at 100

img_1235Today is Kirk Douglas’ 100th birthday. One of the last survivor’s of Hollywood’s classic era, Douglas gave us a series of roles ranging from the cynical (Ace in the Hole) to the heroic (Paths of Glory). Douglas, like his five time co-star, Burt Lancaster, were bigger than life on screen. They were stars, the type that no longer exist.

Below is a link to my new post over at my film blog (Twenty Four Frames),  Gunfight at the OK Corral, that is part of Shadow and Statin’s Kirk Douglas 100th Birthday Blogathon.

https://twentyfourframes.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/gunfight-at-the-ok-corral-1957-john-sturges/

 

I also added a link to an earlier post I did on one of my favorite films, Ace in the Hole.

https://twentyfourframes.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/ace-in-the-hole-1951-billy-wilder-2/