Evolution of a Novel: How Death at the Savoy Came to Be

Susan Walker, former editor of Quill and Quire, who also served as the Toronto Star’s book editor, and no slouch when it comes to all things literary, has written a wonderful piece about how my new novel (with Prudence Emery), Death at the Savoy, evolved to the point where it has now been published. Here is what Susan wrote…

Priscilla Tempest. Remember that name: you are going to be hearing more from this 20-something publicist for The Savoy hotel, given her tendency to be on the scene when dead bodies are found on the premises.

Priscilla is the protagonist of Death at the Savoy, a murder mystery co-authored by Ron Base and Prudence Emery. It is out this month from Douglas & McIntyre and readers are bound to be hooked. The second Priscilla Tempest mystery, Scandal at the Savoy, is already written and a third is underway.

An intrepid Canadian who lands herself a job as press liaison at London’s famous Savoy hotel in the 1960s, Priscilla was born out of Prudence Emery’s memoir Nanaimo Girl, published by Cormorant Books in 2020.

“Ron called me after he’d read Nanaimo Girl and said he thought the Savoy section could be the makings of a good mystery,” says Emery, sitting in her Victoria BC living-room. Base was a young freelance writer in the 1970s when Prudence used to call him up from various movie sets and offer him interviews with big stars. Later, he became the Toronto Star’s movie critic, took a turn in LA as a scriptwriter and began writing novels, publishing Magic Man with St. Martin’s Press in 2006.

Base, now author of a 13-book series featuring The Sanibel Sunset Detective (West-End Books), recalls how Nanaimo Girl’s adventures at the Savoy inspired him. “I had no idea Prudence led such a glamorous life during those five years [1968 to 1973] at the Savoy. I thought, plucky heroine working in the press office, celebrities, dead bodies in the hotel — that could really work.”

So he called and said, “How would you like to collaborate on a mystery novel with me?” On the other end of the line, Prudence wasn’t so sure. “My first instinct was to say no, because a murder mystery is not like a memoir where you have all the material; it takes a lot of imagination and cleverness to plot. But then I thought, well why not?”

And so Priscilla took shape (Prudence came up with the first name and Ron came up with Tempest), Ron imagining and plotting and Prudence verifying or suggesting details and plot twists. And so, with a little help from Zoom, two old pals have been co-writing a book while living 3,000 kilometres apart.

“Prudence and I always had a great rapport,” says Ron. “She dragged me all over the place: a snowbank in Barkerville with Rod Steiger (Klondike Fever); to Israel for the filming of It Rained All Night the Day I Left with Tony Curtis; and she got me kissed by Ann-Margret (Middle Age Crazy).

Collaboration, new to both authors, was a matter of rekindling their long-time rapport, says Base. “Prudence was the guardian of all things Savoy. Anything we couldn’t get squared away, Prudence had people who could help us. When it came to the Colonel Mustard-candlestick-in-the-library stuff, I knew what to do. But the original plot, and the idea of poisoning was hers.

“This became a great collaboration. I would send her pages and she would send them back. Basically it was a lot of fun and I never think of writing novels as fun.” No surprise that the Ponti company has optioned film and TV rights for Death at the Savoy and the authors’ agent has secured a two-book audiobook deal.

Most fun for the reader are the celebrity characters in Death at the Savoy, all of the real personages now dead. Noël Coward, who befriends Priscilla, plays a crucial role in the plot. Richard Burton makes drunken advances to Priscilla in the back of a Rolls Royce, in between drunken arguments with Elizabeth Taylor. Princess Margaret doesn’t actually make an appearance, but her assignations at the Savoy are crucial to the murder plot.

But, hey, no spoilers here. You’ll just have to buy the book.

Death at the Savoy; A Priscilla Tempest Mystery

By Ron Base and Prudence Emery

Douglas & McIntyre, $18.95

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DEATH AT THE SAVOY COMES TO THE MOVIES

Prudence Emery and I are delighted that Los Angeles-based The Ponti Company has acquired movie and TV rights to Death at the Savoy, even before its publication May 28. Here’s what producers Sasha Alexander-Ponti and Edoardo Ponti had to say about the acquisition:

“The moment we read ‘Death at the Savoy‘ we were immediately charmed and inspired by the humor, style and page turning quality of the storytelling but also completely smitten with an amazing ensemble cast of fascinating and hilarious characters led by the colorful and charismatic young female protagonist.

“Prudence and Ron have written a book that speaks to the global audiences’ desire to immerse themselves in a world with glamour and history as they take you through the twists and turns of an irresistible murder mystery.  We are so thrilled to partner with them both in bringing this series to life.”

As we’ve always said, “Good girls go to heaven. Bad girls go to the movies.”

Want to see what the excitement is all about. You can pre-order the novel at Amazon.ca.

Death at the Savoy: A Priscilla Tempest Mystery, Book 1: Base, Ron, Emery, Prudence: 9781771623216: Books – Amazon.ca

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FINALLY, A BOOK!

Death at the Savoy arrived on my doorstep early this morning. It’s been a long but mostly delightful journey getting here, in close company with my old friend and collaborator, Prudence Emery.

For an author there is nothing quite like the momentary high that you experience when you first hold the book in your hands that after nearly two years of sweat and toil has become a reality. Prudence and I had so much help and support getting to this moment. Many thanks to everyone at our publisher, Douglas & McIntyre, to the platoon of editors at West-End Books and at D&M who tirelessly saved us from ourselves, and to Glenn Brucker who designed the unique, attention-grabbing cover. There cannot be enough thanks when it comes to our indefatigable agent, Bill Hanna—the whirling dervish!

Now the hard part begins—selling Death at the Savoy! So far so good. Hollywood has optioned the book. There is an audio book deal for the first two novels. Even the early reviews have been laudatory. Death is being officially launched virtually May 30 and, of course, everyone is invited.

For now, the authors are struggling into fishnet stockings, smearing on the red lipstick and preparing to get out there and promote the book. You, dear reader, can help by pre-ordering Death at the Savoy online at Chapters or Amazon or at your favorite independent bookstore (the official pub date is May 28).

Meanwhile, time to stop feeling warm and fuzzy and return to earth.  We have book two in the series to get out!

To pre-order your copy of Death at the Savoy please click on the link below…

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/death-at-the-savoy-a/9781771623216-item.html?ikwid=death+at+the+savoy&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=0#algoliaQueryId=b8a8358e09184f27079adce25dd565f3

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DEATH AT THE SAVOY BECOMES A (VIRTUAL) REALITY…

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DIRTY BOOKS: WHEN NOVELS COULD SHOCK

Irving Wallace (left), Grace Metalious, Mickey Spillane, Harold Robbins

The lengthy process that is publishing a new novel, started my mind drifting back to the past, where it all-too-often drifts lately, to a lost era when popular novels actually influenced the culture and stirred controversy in ways unheard of today.

When I was growing up, popular fiction was often popular because it occupied forbidden territory that I was sternly ordered not to enter. On that dark terrain lay…sex! Naturally, I couldn’t wait to get to where I wasn’t supposed to go. Reading wasn’t so much reading as it was an act of rebellion—and exploration into the unknown.

The novelists who shocked readers and drove me to their books late at night, by flashlight, under covers—Grace Metalious (Peyton Place), Irving Wallace (The Chapman Report), Mickey Spillane (the Mike Hammer mysteries), and, most blatantly, and therefore most successfully, Harold Robbins (The Carpetbaggers).

Those writers are all-but-forgotten, and no one gets too concerned about sex in literature (unless you are the Texas or Florida school boards and legislatures), but in the late fifties and early sixties they were breaking new ground with explicit sexuality that previously had been banned (you couldn’t for a long time read either Henry Miller or D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, published, for heaven’s sake, in 1928).

In those days, if an inquisitive young person like myself wanted information about sex, novels provided it. Sizzling was the word often used. And steamy, too. Critically, they were dismissed as potboilers but they were outrageously popular, the subjects for endless debate and raging denunciations from local governments and the church, labelled “dirty books.”

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them.

Years later, as a journalist, I talked to some of the writers who had created those, ahem, dirty books. Irving Wallace, a screenwriter who began writing novels after he became disillusioned with Hollywood, turned out to be an amiable, mild-mannered guy still slightly taken aback by the controversy over The Chapman Report, his runaway bestseller, whose plot was inspired by the publication of the Kinsey Report (talk about controversy!).

By the time I met up with Mickey Spillane, his days of churning out lurid, bestselling mystery paperbacks such as I, The Jury (the novel that made him) and Kiss Me Deadly were behind him (after selling 225 million copies). In their 1950s heyday those novels, full of violence and lots of implied sex, had helped fuel the exploding paperback book industry.

I went down to Mickey’s home in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina to talk to him, a gruff, entirely likable guy who had held onto his trademark brush cut, proud of the fact that, remarkably, he typed a single draft of a Mike Hammer mystery, never going back or editing what he had written, before sending it off to his publisher (he swore he wrote I, The Jury in nine days).

No one adopted the role of playboy author more overtly than Harold Robbins. He lived the most glamorous life of all the writers from that era, cheerfully insisting that he drew the sex scenes in such novels as The Carpetbaggers and The Adventurers from personal experience. In Detroit to promote one of his later books, small and foul-mouthed, he insisted on being surrounded by models hired for the evening, and had no qualms about grabbing at his groin when discussing the sex in his books. Not a nice guy.

Although they don’t sell anything like they once did, and now seem almost old-fashioned, most of the scandalous titles from my past are still in print—and you no longer have to read them by flashlight under bedcovers.

Amazingly, however, Peyton Place, Grace Metalious’s novel of murder, incest, and abortion in a New Hampshire town which sold 30 million copies when it was published in 1956, had been turned into two movies, and a hit TV series, and whose name had become synonymous for elicit goings-on in small town America, was out of print for years.

It was rescued by author Ardis Cameron who persuaded a small New England press to republish it. I once attended a lecture Ms. Cameron gave in Camden, Maine (where the Lana Turner movie was filmed) in which she argued effectively that Peyton Place was much more than a hugely popular “dirty novel”, that it had done much to break down the barriers surrounding conservative North American cultural thinking.

I suspect you could make the same argument about Wallace, Spillane, Robbins et al who so gleefully poked at the rigid boundaries of the time in ways that no author can today, if only because those boundaries have been long since breached.

Today’s fiction hardly causes a ripple let alone a tsunami of controversy the way it once did. You would be hard-pressed to even come across a sex scene in a contemporary novel. The dirty book, for good or ill, is a thing of the distant past.

And in keeping with the mores of the time, I like to think of the novel I have co-authored with Prudence Emery, Death at the Savoy, as a sexy mystery. A dirty book? Heaven forbid!

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HEAVENLY BODIES AND THE DANE: Remembering Actor Lawrence Dane

Larry Dane, or Lawrence of the Dane, as I dubbed him, was always a bit of a renegade in the Canadian film industry.

Over the years I knew him, I often thought Larry (actually, Lawrence Zahab) never got the credit he deserved for his contributions to the business.

Not only was he a fine, hard-working character actor who appeared in some of Canadian television’s earliest productions (RCMP, Wayne and Shuster’s comedy specials), kick-started John Candy’s film career (co-starring with him in the comedy, It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time) and produced Gordon Pinsent’s groundbreaking and much loved, The Rowdyman.

Although I doubt he realized it at the time, and it’s largely forgotten now, Larry was also responsible for one of the country’s most improbable international movie successes, Heavenly Bodies. I played a small part in what became one of the most unusual stories in the history of Canadian film. Certainly it’s a story that has not been repeated.

I thought about Heavenly Bodies this week, in shock as I heard the news of Larry’s death from pancreatic cancer.

In those days, I was a freelance magazine writer yearning to write for the movies. My friend Larry Dane was an actor with aspirations to be – what else? – a director.

Over lunch we decided to collaborate on an idea Larry had about a ruthless paparazzi photographer who gets mixed up with celebrity and murder. To my surprise, we almost immediately optioned the resulting screenplay to a young producer named Robert Lantos, recently relocated from Montreal to Toronto.

We no sooner optioned that script, than Larry had another idea: a movie about three young women trying to start up their own workout club, and fighting the big corporate club down the street out to destroy them.

Flashdance, concerning a young woman determined to be a dancer, had become a huge box office hit that was originally written by another Toronto writer, Tom Hedley, a guy we both knew. I thought Larry was nuts– a Flashdance rip-off? Who in the world would be interested in that?

I should have known better.

Despite my best efforts to deter him, Larry pitched the idea to Robert Lantos. Since then, I have sat through countless meetings and lunches with many producers, but to this day I have never seen a producer react to a pitch the way Robert reacted to that one. It was the only time in my life I almost literally saw the light bulb go on over someone’s head.

Soon enough, Larry and I were writing his workout movie together. He had named it Heavenly Bodies, and, for better or worse, that title never changed. What’s more, he convinced Robert to allow him to direct. I could hardly believe what was happening. Every time I turned around, Robert seemed to bring in more co-producers. We met a German who demanded the young women in the film work out with hula hoops. We managed to avoid the hula hoops.

I’m not sure how I felt about any of this other than to feel like an outsider staring in wonder at these strange scenes unfolding before me, certain of one thing – this was never going to get made into a movie. Hula hoops or no hula hoops. We were, after all, a couple of guys who barely had been inside a workout club trying to make a movie about young women running a workout club.

I should have known better.

The next thing I knew, I was inside a converted warehouse full of Spandex-clad women in leg-warmers, Larry behind the camera yelling “Action!” Not only was Heavenly Bodies in production but the tiny TV movie soon began to take on big-budget trappings.

Playboy became involved, and then Hollywood über producers Peter Guber and Jon Peters. Giorgio Moroder, who had done the score for Flashdance, oversaw creation of the music. Fabled MGM, home to the likes of Clark Gable, Elizabeth Taylor, and Judy Garland, decided to release the picture at over one thousand movie theatres in North America.

Music scenes were reshot to provide more production value (Larry swore only one additional sequence was actually filmed). Robert spoke of Heavenly Bodies as a “Cinderella story.” There were predictions the movie would do twelve million dollars on its opening weekend–a huge figure at the time.

There was only one problem with all these high-powered producers and big studios and growing expectations–at the end of it all there was still only this minuscule TV movie shot on a shoestring budget (Robert said it was $900,000). All the talk in the world could not transform the sow’s ear into a silk purse.

That became evident when Heavenly Bodies, starring a then-unknown Cynthia Dale (the best thing about the movie, a star in the making who went on to much better things), opened in the midst of a howling blizzard in February, 1984.

And bombed.

Robert, who had so artfully created something out of not much of anything, and pushed the movie higher than anyone ever expected it could go, could not in the end convince an audience to see the movie in a theatre. But then a sort of minor miracle occurred. In the fledgling days of VHS video tapes, with everyone desperate for product, Heavenly Bodies became the hit movie at the Cannes Film Festival market. Vindication of sorts.

I’m not sure about Larry, but I’ve never been quite able to shake off Heavenly Bodies. It seems every time I try to escape it, someone somewhere is showing the darned thing. Larry probably deserved another shot at directing but he never got it. He continued life as a fine actor, married wonderful Laurel, and settled down in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This week, after a 17-month fight with cancer, decided enough was enough and slipped away.

We had a tempestuous relationship to say the least back in the day, but thankfully we ended up where we started—as friends. Thinking about Larry with great fondness, I can only imagine that wherever he is, not far away they’re showing Heavenly Bodies.

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PETERTHE GREAT: REMEMBERING PETER GODDARD

Not only was Peter Goddard for many years Canada’s pre-eminent music critic, he was also a dear friend who I admired tremendously.

Peter had been fighting cancer for the past year or so. True to his contrary nature, he refused to go when he was supposed to. But last night he slipped quietly away in Toronto with his wife Carol Ann and his daughter, Kate, by his side.

I called him a couple of weeks before he died. We talked about books we were both writing, we talked about days long gone by working together at the Toronto Star, and we promised to keep in touch.

When I got a call from Carol Ann that the end was near, I recorded a letter to let him know how I felt about him. I’m not sure if he heard me or not, but here is what I had to say…

Peter, it’s me, your old desk-mate, that guy who sat across from you for the better part of a decade, the guy you traded so many mystified headshakes and eyerolls with, the guy you kept more or less sane. The guy who is writing you a love letter today. I know what you’re thinking: Base? A love letter? Good god. But, hey, that’s what this is, so settle in for some loving.

I’m down here in Florida at the moment, so so sad I can’t be there to visit, but full of fond memories of our friendship, and years together at the Star. I was never certain whether we were in the trenches or a couple of weary travelers who had stumbled into an insane asylum. Maybe a bit of both.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you were my sometimes frazzled but always good-natured rock back in those days. Although I never said anything, I had been a huge admirer of yours since I was in high school reading you in the Toronto Telegram, a newspaper I adored. Getting to know you, becoming friends with one of my journalism heroes, what a delight!

While I am quite sure the powers-that-be at the Star would gladly have sent the rest of us packing, I do believe they regarded you as the one jewel in an otherwise tarnished crown. They tended to regard entertainment as something to fill the spaces between the Famous Players movie ads, but you were their knowledgeable rock ‘n roll and pop music guru, the one guy whose work could keep them abreast of what was happening in a musical world they had at least a passing interest in.

You don’t know it, but you also had more than a little to do with setting me on a path to which I’ve managed to cling ever since. I have something like a career today in no small thanks to you.

So take care my wonderful friend as I remember us together in Paris, magical, doing those CBC radio pilots with mad Gina, and the sheer pleasure of looking across my desk most days and seeing you there, the two of us coming through the storm together.

I will be so pleased and honored to continue this love letter when the time comes. Carol Ann reminds me that years ago she was with you at the rather raucous celebration of our friend Paul King’s life.

She tells me that we will celebrate you in a quieter manner. I’m not quite sure if that was a warning or not. But I promise to behave when the time comes. Well, more or less behave… Lots of love, kid…lots and lots of love…

There will be a celebration of Peter’s long and productive life. An announcement will be made soon.

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COMES THE BOOGEYMAN: Russia and a Lifetime of Nightmares

Berlin Wall today.

I’ve spent a lifetime worrying about Russia.

When I was a kid, it was Communism (out to take over the world!), Sputnik (they were in space first!), the constant threat of nuclear war (in case of nuclear attack huddle under your desk!), the Berlin Wall (Germany divided!), the Cuban Missile Crisis (Russian missiles 90 miles from Miami!), Nikita Khrushchev (remember him?) pounding his shoe on a desk at the United Nations, threatening to bury us.

The Russians were going to bury me in a small Ontario town, before I’d had a chance to see the world? No wonder I couldn’t sleep at night.

I pressured my parents into helping me stock canned goods in the basement. As close as I could get to a nuclear bomb shelter. At least I would be buried clutching a can of Spam.

Everywhere you looked at the time, Russia was giving the world problems. The popular literature of the day was consumed with Russian villains. James Bond took on the Russians (From Russia with Love), John le Carré’s Alec Leamas outwitted Russians (The Spy Who came in from the Cold—actually East Germans but it amounted to the same thing). When it came to necessary villains in books, movies and real life, the Russians were right up there with the Nazis.

I grew up scared of Russia.

Twice now, I have attempted to get to Russia to get some idea firsthand what all the fuss was about. The first time, in 1985, my father died and the trip was cancelled at the last minute; the second time, two years ago, Covid, thwarted a Russia trip. Never mind. Most of us have never been near the place. Yet it continues to haunt our lives.

There has always been a Russian boogeyman. This time he’s an autocrat named Vladimir Putin (Vlad the Impaler!) invading the Ukraine. Vlad fits his evil role perfectly. He’s camera-ready for the megalomaniac out to destroy the world in a Bond movie. Except what’s happening in Ukraine is no Bond movie.

Everyone is worried, frightened. It’s like the bad old days of the Cold War and my childhood all over again. Maybe worse because back then I felt like I was one of the few people my age who read the newspaper (the beloved Toronto Telegram) or watched television news (Walter Cronkite, the last word in authoritative reporting).

Nowadays, no one escapes the constant drumbeat of the twenty-four-hour news cycle. Even if you wanted to, you can’t shut out the horror of what is happening in Ukraine. Everyone feels helpless in the face of this barrage, everyone wonders what is to be done—what they can do. What can anyone do? Huddling under a desk and hoarding cans of Spam no longer seem like options.

My friend Eric Hansen, an American author (aka Grumpy Old Writer), living and working in Berlin, has suggested that writers concerned about what Putin is doing to Ukraine should write about it. Darned good suggestion. He inspired me.

 I met Eric a few years ago when I finally visited Berlin, the epicenter of all my childhood fascinations and fears. By then, post Iraq, I may have thought that the Americans always seem to need an enemy to fight and for many years Russia was the convenient bad guy.

But you have only to experience the remnants of Berlin’s dark history, view the shards of the Berlin Wall that have been left standing or visit the Stalinist block that was headquarters for the Stasi, East Germany’s notorious secret police, to bring home the reality of the terrible hardship and repression that the USSR visited upon the world.

Standing in the blandly utilitarian offices of the former head of the Stasi, I remember thinking, thank goodness those terrible days are over. Russia can no longer scare us. The boogeymen who shaped the fears that haunted my childhood, were long gone.

This past week, we have learned how wrong was that assumption. After all these years, the boogeyman rises again in the East.

But in my lifetime the boogeyman has always been there, unsettling and scary. He has come again and again under many different guises but however he comes, his name is always Russia.

Always bloody Russia.

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The Ghostbuster: Ivan Reitman Remembered

When I first met Ivan Reitman, the most successful commercial filmmaker Canada ever produced who has died at the age of 75, it was back in the dark days when he was producing low-budget exploitation movies.

I have this memory of going up a narrow flight of stairs into a rabbit warren of rooms above a Yonge Street storefront where Ivan occupied an office.

He had produced David Cronenberg’s first movie, Shivers, which had infamously brought on the wrath of columnist Robert Fulford (“a disgrace to everyone involved with it!”) and howls of outrage in Canada’s parliament.

Perhaps because of all the criticism, he already seemed deeply suspicious of the press. That suspicion (distaste?) was always present whenever I encountered him over the years. Cool and remote, careful not to give too much away, it was hard to warm up to him. But then again you got the impression he couldn’t be bothered warming up. He could have cared less.

I was somewhat surprised when he directed a low-budget comedy called Meatballs which introduced the movie world to Bill Murray. The low budget didn’t surprise me. The fact that it was a comedy, did. Ivan never came across as a laugh-a-minute kind of guy. Just the opposite in fact.

But then the next film he produced, Animal House, built on Meatballs’ outrageousness and changed the course of movie comedy history, not to mention making a movie star out of John Belushi. Ivan had discovered that not only could you get away with raucous, below-the-belt, anything-goes youth comedy, but you could also make a fortune doing it.

But nothing Ivan ever did had quite the cultural impact or the box office success of Ghostbusters. Hardly a raucous teen comedy but when Ivan was finished with the rewrites of Dan Aykroyd’s original script, it became a very smart and funny piece of commercial filmmaking, the best thing he ever produced and directed.

Even before the movie was released, there was a sense that Ivan had a huge hit on his hands. At the end of the Ghostbusters New York press junket, I spotted him standing alone and walked over to shake his hand and tell him how much I enjoyed the movie.

As he had over the years of our encounters, he gave me that thousand-yard stare and offered a distracted thankyou. Cool and remote as always.

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CALL ME MEAT

We were on our way to a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game, having a bite to eat in a Hollywood diner before heading out.

“Now listen,” said Craig Modderno, a freelance journalist who, I had learned from sometimes head-shaking experience, could get me into the craziest situations at the most unexpected times. “We’ve got to wait a few more minutes.”

“Why?” I demanded, suspicious of what Modderno might be up to.

“We may have a guest coming to the game with us,” Modderno replied. “I don’t know if he’s gonna show up. But let’s wait a few more minutes and see.”

Greg Henry, the blond-haired, square-jawed actor who was a favorite of director Brian DePalma (Body Double, Scarface, Casualties of War) and I grumbled a bit but we agreed to wait.

A few minutes later in walked Modderno’s guest, Marvin Lee Aday, better known to the world and the fourteen million people who had bought his iconic Bat out of Hell album, as Meat Loaf.

Meat Loaf, in town for a movie, turned out to be a huge baseball fan. He couldn’t resist an evening at Dodger Stadium even if it was with three strangers. He sat down with us for a few minutes, very much at ease considering he had just met us (Modderno had interviewed him in the afternoon).

He wanted to take his car out to Elysium Fields in South Central Los Angeles. It was agreed that I would ride along with him. He was behind the wheel of a big rental sedan as we headed south, chatting away about some awful film experience he had recently endured while I’m thinking to myself, What do I call a guy named Meat Loaf? Meat? Loaf? So I asked him.

“Call me Meat,” he said with a grin.

And Meat it was, although I still fumbled self-consciously every time I said it.

Driving to the stadium, I prattled on about the irony of meeting him. I told him I’d just driven across the country from Toronto. On the way, I’d cranked up Bat Out of Hell, squinting hard, hoping to see paradise by the dashboard light, fighting off the demons I thought I’d left behind but soon realized had snuck into my Mustang and were travelling with me.

Bat Out of Hell, I told him, had helped keep them at bay.

To his credit, Meat took my babble in stride and did a great job pretending he hadn’t heard variations on this a few thousand times since the release of the album.

For a singer and actor often described as larger than life, Meat was surprisingly lowkey. He was big, no question, but certainly not overwhelming, and when we got to the stadium, he went largely unrecognized. Only the stadium manager, when Modderno introduced us, seemed to know who he was.

The four of us sat in the bleachers, doing what you do at a baseball game, drinking beer, eating hot dogs, shooting the breeze, and, oh yeah, occasionally watching the game. I don’t recall much of what we talked about, but hearing of Meat Loaf’s death at the far-too-young age of 74, I remembered the ease and the laughter, four guys together on a warm Los Angeles evening, enjoying the simple pleasure of each other’s company.

Three die-hard baseball fans and a Canadian, sitting beside the guy who had kept away the demons chasing him across the country, working to get his head around calling him Meat.

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