I’m the youngest of seven, so my brothers and sisters gave me a consistent Beatles diet at a young age. The Beatles first came to America in 1964 when I was four years old. It’s remarkable how much these skinny tie guys changed the world when they launched Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967.
I loved the political aspects of John Lennon, the intrigue and impact of Yoko Ono and if she was really responsible for the breakup of the band. His “Beds for peace” the sit-in was so provocative. Every Christmas they still put up a billboard in Times Square that says, “The war is over! If you want it. “The important part of that statement is: if you want to. I’ve always felt that human beings have such a terrible love for war that they don’t seem to want to find peaceful solutions. When you think about it, almost every song by Beatles are about peace and love.
Midnight cowboy in the drive-in next door
I was born in Loma Linda, California. My father was a drive-in movie director, so we moved around a lot. We moved to Imperial Beach and then to Utah when he became the general manager of half a dozen drive-ins. Utah has all the influences of the Mormon church. Listening to the Beatles in Utah would have been equivalent to listening to devilish music.
The houses we lived in were adjacent to the drive-in, so I could watch movies from the porch. During the summer, I was in the drive-in all the time. Cars were parked between two speakers on a pole and I just watched the movie sitting on the ground between the speakers.
If Midnight Cowboy came out today, it would probably be a PG13. It is not surprising. In 1969, it was rated X. Normally, a movie rated X would be shown in a small, low-rent theater in some seedy part of town. In my father’s drive-in, people could accidentally see something bawdy or obscene as they passed, making the church very angry.
In those days, movie companies would send these 16mm movie trailers to drive-in managers to try and sell their movies. They would also send these creation movies. I remember seeing Oliver’s creation! with Mark Lester. It was the first time I saw children acting like a profession; They could be seen taking singing and dancing lessons. Then I thought, “Well, that’s what I want to do.”
We lived in Orem, Utah, and there was a tap school in Provo, down the street. My father bought me this beautiful pair of patent leather tap shoes, but he couldn’t afford to send me every week with his service salary, so I got a book and a record and learned to tap dance: step, heel, toe, ball, step, change, turn. Maybe once a month, I would go to class to try to keep up with the other kids. Then I joined the Glee club in high school and joined theater and amateur productions until high school.
The man who wanted to be king
He had seen Sean Connery singing and dancing in Darby O’Gill and the Little People. Then of course I saw it in James Bond. But it wasn’t until I saw him in The Man Who Could Be King and Outland that I began to understand that Sean Connery was not really a spy or an astronaut; and that acting was a profession and this was a profession that I wanted to pursue.
I met Sean Connery in New York City. Connery co-founded the Friends of Scotland charity in 2002 and every year they host this charity fashion dinner called Dressed to Kilt. Over dinner, I told him about seeing him in all these different movies and how special it was to meet my childhood icon now that he was an adult. He was a gentleman; he was so kind. He told me that after doing Birdy in 1984 with Nicolas Cage, he had called [Bugsy Malone and Birdy director] Sir Alan Parker and said he wished he could act like Modine. You could never imagine Sean Connery playing a character like Birdy, but he had enough appreciation for the sensitivity of the role that he wished he could play a character like that.
The old man and the sea
Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea had a tremendous impact on me because it is about this individual, the old man who throws himself into the sea. He loved the ocean when he was a kid. I was a surfer and the language Hemingway uses is very evocative. It is so sensual that you can almost taste the sardines and flying fish. You can imagine the old man’s struggle to catch the giant marlin while holding it to the end of his fishing line for two days. When the shark devours the marlin, you can sympathize with the old man that he will not be able to bring it home to feed so many people.
Like it or not, we all have to go through things like this in life. We go through life with the assistance and help of others, but we go to sleep and wake up alone. The Old Man and the Sea is a great book on self-reliance and is very well told. It’s like Billy Joel says in You’re Only Human: “You are allowed to make your share of mistakes / You better believe that there will be times in your life when you will feel like a fool stumbling”.
The Cold War
We were taught the American Civil War in school, but we skipped the First World War. When we got to World War II, we skipped European history and were taught that it was the great hero America who saved the world from the Nazis with the atomic bomb.
When I did Mrs Soffel with Diane Keaton and Mel Gibson in 1984, I was invited to the Berlin film festival. I said, “I can’t go to East Berlin, I’m an American.” They said, “No you can go to East Berlin because you are American “.
Checkpoint Charlie was the opposite of The Wizard of Oz; it seemed to go from color to black and white. There were still chunks of broken concrete; it seemed that the buildings were still on fire. They took me to the Soviet war memorial of 80,000 Soviet soldiers who had lost their lives taking Berlin. I met these Russian soldiers and gave them American cigarettes and they gave me their uniform pins. Back in Reagan’s America, it was still the cold war, and Russia was the chosen enemy for every movie and TV show, and I didn’t want to be a part of perpetuating that lie. That’s why I turned down the role of Tom Cruise in Top Gun. I did Full Metal Jacket, which was so much better!
• Wrong Turn is now available on digital platforms
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism