I just heard that Zalman King passed Friday. My condolences to his wife and daughters and all his family and friends and fans. Zalman was mostly known for writing (with his wife Pat and others) and producing the film 9 1/2 WEEKS. And for the cable series RED SHOE DIARIES.
So he's generally characterized as a maker of erotic films and shows. Understandably. But as someone who has often been mischaracterized for something that seems obvious while the rest of the picture gets lost, it's important to remember that most of us have a lot more angles and corners and stories (in both senses of the word since I'm obviously caught up in some kind of architectural metaphor) and rooms and the rest than we may be recognized or noticed for.
Zalman King was a friend. He's in a lot of my stories, some of them in print but without my using his name. Like in the piece "Venice CA (1980s)" in IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE. I met him after I moved to L.A. (or actually Santa Monica where he lived). I went in to see him about a movie he had written and wanted to direct which at the time was being called BAKERSFIELD BLUES.
When I sat down and we started to get to know each other he unexpectedly asked me about a poem in ROCKY DIES YELLOW (a book I was surprised and gratified to discover several people in L.A. knew and liked). The poem is called "You Remember Belmar NJ 1956" (and reprinted in IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE).
The poem refers to a few things from my early teens down the Jersey shore including once mistakenly being dragged along in a car with some local thugs who drove to what was considered in those days a "Jewish" beach town (richer than the Jewish families in Belmar who were our friends, or at least mine) to jump out (not me, I refused but that's not in the poem as it wasn't the point of it) and whack with baseball bats a few teenage boys hanging out in front of a hotel. When I expressed surprise he would know the poem, he said he was one of the boys who got whacked.
We were friends from then on, though his being a directors and producer made for some uncomfortable professional encounters. He wanted me and my then wife, a movie actress, and a woman it seemed all Hollywood knew I was having an affair with, to star in this movie of his BAKERSFIELD BLUES. My character was a rough working-class carnie. But when he showed me his script for 9 1/2 WEEKS I told him i preferred playing the lead male role in that, which at that point was a suave wealthy well groomed gentleman. They obviously changed it when they got Micky Rourke to play it.
The film I was supposed to be in came close but ended up not being made. Then about ten years later, it did, with the characters made ten or more years younger than originally intended because the whole "brat pack" young Hollywood actors thing was happening. The title was changed to TWO MOON JUNCTION.
Anyway, this is to say that in all my encounters with Zalman, and his incredibly talented artist wife and bright and lovely daughters, was always a treat. he was a great host, I loved his and Pat's parties, and he was a discreet and thoughtful friend. But the thing that impressed me most and no one will probably write about in the regular media, was his wonderful combination of self confidence and humility.
To me he was a star. My stars are people whose art or craft I've experienced who I remember for the impact their work had on me (like the people I mostly write about on this blog). Zalman had acted in several TV shows back when I was still in the service and we were both in our early twenties. And then when I was a starving poet he acted and even starred in movies (THE PASSOVER PLOT is the most outrageous and shows his unique screen presence whether the movie worked or not, and he certainly looks more authentic as Jesus than any other movie actor ever has).
When I told him how impressed I was by all that, he took it humbly. He was very modest, or maybe realistic, about how important that part of his history was in Hollywood. But when he showed me a script he'd written or told me an idea he had for one (we worked on trying to get one of my ideas, a story set when we were Jersey teens made but it wasn't to be) he would always introduce it by telling me how great it was. And it usually was in one way or another.
Later on he also made documentaries and music videos and helped a lot of people get their gifts out to a wider audience. He always appreciated anyone's talent or unique contribution to the party or movie or conversation.
He was an extraordinary man, literally. His physical presence was always distinctive and not just because of his unique looks and compelling eyes that seemed at once startled at how amazing what he was looking at was, even if it was just you, and at the same time world weary. He was generous with his time, his successes, his experience, his family, his friends, his home, his help.
The man was a great pleasure to experience in person, always. And I will not only miss him, but regret that after I moved back to Jersey I wasn't better at staying in touch. But he joins the pantheon in my heart.