HDTGM: The Sketchiest Movie Ever (Kinda) Made: A Tale Of Mobsters, Money-Laundering & Movie-Making

Have you ever wondered what the Mafioso version of The Producers would look like? Neither had I, until screenwriter Dan Gordon (Passenger 57, The Hurricane) said this:

Phil said, "I'm giving you the opportunity of a lifetime and you're giving me bulls***...you wanna be a director? Come get the ticket and come to New York. If you don't, I'll find someone else." So I pack my duffel bag and I flew to New York that night. And I wound up making this independent film called Potluck. But what I didn't know was it was a money-laundering operation for a crew—it was a mixed crew of the Gambino and Genovese crime families—and they were looking for the youngest, stupidest kid they could find and I was the jackpot.

And from there, Dan Gordon proceeded to tell me an epic, unforgettable truth-really-is- stranger-than-fiction story about the sketchiest movie ever (kinda) made...

For the past two years, I've been working with Paul Scheer's How Did This Get Made? podcast to interview the filmmakers responsible for making some of the oddest, campiest and most awful movies ever made. Over that time, I've heard incredible stories about on-set calamity and behind-the-scenes drama. But I've never heard anything like the tale that screenwriter Dan Gordon told me. Which makes our epic, three-hour-long conversation the perfect piece to launch HDTGM's new spin-off podcast: Origin Stories.

Logo for HDTGM: Origin Stories

How Did This Get Made: Origin Stories will be exclusively available on Howl (discount code "Bonkers" gets one month free), starting with these six Surf-Ninja-themed episodes launching today:

  • Dan Gordon: Surf Ninjas scribe Dan Gordon talks about breaking into the business, getting blackballed by Hollywood and the unique horror of slowly discovering that his directorial debut was actually a meant-to-fail, money-laundering scheme for the mob.
  • Dan Gordon II: In Part II, Dan talks about how Passenger 57 taught him to always bet on black, how Wyatt Earp spawned a vengeful copycat and how after years of struggle, all it took to get The Hurricane made was a three-word realization.
  • Dan Gordon III: In Part III, Dan reveals what his misadventures with the mob taught him about who really killed JFK.
  • Yoni Gordon: Dan's son Yoni who laughs his way to an all-star cameo in Surf Ninjas, shares behind-the-scenes scoops and talks about the endearing quirks of Rob Schneider.
  • Nic Cowan: Actor Nic Cowan, who plays little brother Adam in Surf Ninjas, talks about the odd life of being a child actor, his strange bond with Tone Loc and whether or not he'd be willing to pick up the proverbial surfboard if he were called upon to reprise his role for a Surf Ninjassequel role.
  • Ernie Reyes, Jr.: Actor Ernie Reyes Jr., who stars as Johnny in Surf Ninjas, talks about his background in martial arts, scoring a breakout role in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II and the strangely powerful legacy of a little film called Surf Ninjas...

For those familiar with this column, where we routinely speak with some of the biggest names responsible for some of the worst movies, How Did This Get Made: Origin Stories is essentially a podcast-version of the types of conversations you find here. Except now we'll be able to dig even deeper into the underworld of duds, schlock and flops.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to share best, oddest and most memorable of my conversations here. Starting with this uncanny tale from the wonderful Mr. Dan Gordon...

Dan Gordon

Blake J. Harris: Hey, Dan?

Dan Gordon: How are ya?

Blake J. Harris: I'm good. Are you in California?

Dan Gordon: No, I live in Sedona, Arizona. Anyway, very nice to meet you over the phone.

Blake J. Harris: Yeah. So I spoke with your son [Yoni] yesterday, which was fantastic. We spoke for like a half an hour. And as with the links I sent you and any of the pieces in this series I'm as interested in you and your background as I am about Surf Ninjas. So I'd love to start off by talking about how you got into the film industry. Whether it was a lifelong passion or something that arose?

Dan Gordon: I mean, I started out acting when I was a kid. Then I went to UCLA. I had gone to high school abroad, I had gone to high school in Israel on a kibitz then came back and went to...I couldn't get into UCLA right away because they wouldn't accept my credits. Did a year at East LA Junior College, which turned out to be spectacular. I think it was one of the most creative years of my life. I think we did close to 30 plays in one year.

Blake J. Harris: Wow, that's wild.

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Dan Gordon: Yeah, then I transferred into UCLA. I was around 20 years old. And I saw the guy who had I studied acting with—a guy named Corey Allen—on campus. I said, you know, "What are you doing on campus?" And he said he had just been signed by Universal for what they called then the "New Talent Program." Easy Rider had just come out, The Graduate had just come out, and Universal thought there was something to youth films so he said, "I'm on campus looking for a youth film." And I said, "Corey, this is just the luckiest day of your life, man. Because I happen to have the movie." It was obviously total bulls***. I had nothing.

Blake J. Harris: That's amazing.

Dan Gordon: But I did have a one-act play that I had written for a directing exercise. Because, literally, I was sort of regarded as a pariah in the department. I couldn't get anyone to star in it. So I made it a one-actor play because I knew one guy who would star in it for me. Which meant it was a half-hour monologue and I knew it because I'd written it. So I just performed the half-hour monologue. And Corey said, "Jeez, this is great. Let's go right now to Ned Tanen's office." Ned Tanen was the Vice President in charge of production at Universal. And he was on the 14th floor over in the Wasserman building. And I went there and pitched him.

Blake J. Harris: And what was it, the monologue? What was it about?

Dan Gordon: It was a one-act play called Once I Was. It was sort of your typical first love gone wrong kind of thing. And my best friend was a folk rock musician named Tim Buckley (who was Jeff Buckley's dad). In fact, Jeff Buckley is my godson, he was sort of conceived on my apartment floor.

Blake J. Harris: [laughs]

Dan Gordon: So Tim had written a song called "Once I Was." And that was sort of symbiotic, I thought that could be the theme song for the movie, and anyway I pitched it and Tanen liked it. And he said, "How old are you?" And I said, "20." And he said, "Get your mother in here, you're too young to sign a contract." And I called my mother and said, "Can you come down to Universal and sign a contract."

Blake J. Harris: Nice.

Dan Gordon: And, you know, never thinking it might be wise to get an attorney or an agent or any of those things, so I was paid the princely sum of $1,875.62, which was scale minimum. And which made me the richest Jew in LA in those days because my rent was $50 a month; I lived on the beach and it was $50 a month. [laughing] I didn't have an indoor bathroom, which made it very cheap.

Blake J. Harris: Yeah, that's almost 2 years of rent. That's great.

Dan Gordon: It was, it was. And I had no intention of paying taxes so, you know... I literally was home free for the next two years. And tuition at that time was $400 a year. And so I quit my job at the fish market, where I had been working on the Santa Monica Pier, and kicked back to live the life of a man of leisure. I was under contract to Universal; had an office and everything; and then abruptly got by Lew Wasserman himself when I stole all the office supplies. I was very naïve about it. They were all in my office. I figured: if this s***'s in my office, it's mine. Tons of yellow legal pads, white out... It was enough to see me through my next two years of college. And also enough for my friends; you know, if you needed office supplies, I can hook you up.

Blake J. Harris: [cracks up]

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Dan Gordon: So I literally was naïve enough to ask the guard—who's a legendary guard there named Scotty, who's been there since the era of silent pictures—I said, "Scotty, look at all this neat s*** they give you when you work here. Help me load it in the car, would you? And he actually did. Then the next day the phone rang and this female voice said, "Please hold for Mr. Wasserman." And I knew it wasn't Lew Wasserman, because Lew Wasserman was chairman of the board of MCA Universal. He didn't know I was alive. It had to be one of my friends who I had called the night before to tell them I'd gotten the office supplies.

Blake J. Harris: Uh-oh...

Dan Gordon: So I knew someone was playing a joke on me. And this guy gets on the phone and says, [angry muttering] "Blah blah blah office supplies!" You know, he's just going off. So I know this cannot possibly be Lew Wasserman.

Blake J. Harris: Ha.

Dan Gordon: It's gotta just be one of my friends dicking around with me. So I said, "You know what, Lew? Go f*** yourself" and I hung up. Now, no one had ever said that to Lew Wasserman in his life. Lew, you know, was mobbed up; you didn't talk to him that way. And no one ever called him "Lew." I mean, his mother even called him, "Mr. Wasserman."

Blake J. Harris: [laughing]

Dan Gordon: The phone rings again and [imagining] the cord wraps three times around my neck and starts strangling me. "F*** me? F*** you!" He was really going off and literally says, "You'll never work in this town again." And it dawned on me this was Lew Wasserman! [laughing] I said, "Forgive me, Mr. Wasserman. I'm a huge fan of your work. I thought it was a friend playing a joke. I would never say anything. But you gotta admit it's a little bizarre that the Chairman of the Board of Universal is calling me up about office supplies! Anyway, I'm writing this great screenplay. I know you're gonna love it. And you're a busy guy, I'm a busy guy, I'm gonna get back to work and I'll talk to you later." And I hung up and thought: alright, I handled that. That worked.

Blake J. Harris: Yup.

Dan Gordon: That was on a Friday, then I came in on Monday and all my stuff was piled up in front of the door. My name was off the door. The locks had changed...and they had revoked my lot pass, so I had to pay to get out. Which is how they fired you in those days. You just disappeared. Nobody ever said you were fired, you just ceased to exist. It was very Kafkaesque.

Blake J. Harris: Jeez...

Dan Gordon: So cut to 20 years later...I'm doing a picture called Gotcha and I've got it in turnaround at Paramount, setting it up at Universal. We've got Linda Fiorentino, Anthony Edwards. And we're on the 14th floor with Frank Price, who was head of production; we're coming out of his office and Lew Wasserman steps out of the elevator. And I had never met Mr. Wasserman. I had only had two telephone conversations with him...

Blake J. Harris: [laughs]

Dan Gordon: And Frank Price said, "This is Dan Gordon, we just picked up his picture from Paramount in turnaround. We've got Linda Fiorentino and Anthony Edwards. We think the kid is gonna be a breakout star..." And Wasserman's looking at me the whole time. And I can see he's trying to place where he knows my name from. And I'm pushing the elevator button like crazy. Come on, baby, get me out of here now! And the doors open and I'm inches from a clean getaway and Lew was a very tall old guy, and he had a surprisingly old guy's kind of grip, and got me between the bicep and the bone of my arm—and he doesn't look at me, he just looks at Frank—and he says, "Just make sure he doesn't steal the office supplies this time." And I thought: this is the great man who's ever lived. [cracking up]

Blake J. Harris: That's amazing!

Dan Gordon: Yeah, yeah. They don't make 'em like that any more. And it wasn't friendly. I can't say that he even cracked the slightest smile when he said that. He really meant it: [laughing] don't let this guy steal the office supplies! Yeah, so I got into the business just because my former acting teacher was on campus.

Blake J. Harris: That's amazing. [laughs] Well, so, going back in time: you hopefully learned a lesson. Not to steal (or sell off) office supplies...

Dan Gordon: I have never ever absconded with office supplies since then.

Blake J. Harris: [laughs] So with that lesson under your belt...what was your next foray into the business?

Dan Gordon: Well, I do believe that Lew put out the word not to hire me. Because I couldn't get arrested anywhere. I couldn't get a meeting, I couldn't get a pitch meeting anywhere. My name was poison at every studio. And the indie business wasn't really there, to the extent that it would become later.

Blake J. Harris: Right.

Dan Gordon: And I really was in kind of the golden age. I was living in Santa Monica, Venice. And, you know, my contemporaries were Spielberg and George Lucas. And Coppola had graduated, what, 3-4 years ahead of me? So he wasn't that far out of reach. And I didn't need the money, you know, because I had close to two grand! So I thought, well, I'm gonna write serious literature and I wrote a couple of novels. Then I met a guy, quite bizarrely, by chance.

Blake J. Harris: How so?

Dan Gordon: There was a girl who lived upstairs that I was having an affair with. She had a boyfriend who was rumored to be mobbed up, or at least have mob connections. And I was in the rack with her during the daytime when I knew her boyfriend was at work and we were going at it pretty hot and heavy. And I hear footsteps coming up towards her apartment. And I literally...because I lived at the beach, I had only come up there with a bathing suit, so I literally grabbed my bathing suit (because that was all I had) and jumped stark naked out the window and landed in my neighbor's courtyard.

Blake J. Harris: Ha!

James Gandolfin

Dan Gordon: Then I opened my window, got back into my apartment, made sure the door was locked and then got out a butcher knife. I thought: I'm going to die shortly. And shortly after that there are footsteps coming to my apartment and someone knocks on the door. And the guy had a New York accent and it's like: oh s***, this is it. James Gandolfini is right outside my door! And he's going [thick NY accent] "I wanna talk to Dan Gordon." And I said [in a Spanish accent] "He no live here. He in Argentina right now." The guys says, "Quit f***ing around, I want to talk to Dan Gordon." And I said, "Well, who are you?" He said, "What the f*** do you care?" "Well, whatever problems we have [laughing] we can work it out with the door closed." And he said, "I don't know what the f*** you're talking about. I'm here to offer you a job."

Blake J. Harris: What was the job?

Dan Gordon: The boyfriend was a DP who worked, like, in soft-core porn. I think he probably did hardcore porn too, but anyway his dream was to make a legitimate movie. And he thought he had the backers and he had an idea for a movie—which I thought was actually a pretty good idea for a movie—and he was willing to offer me five-hundred bucks under the table to write the screenplay. And I said, "I'll only do that if I get to direct." And he said, "Yeah, sure, what the f***, yeah."

Blake J. Harris: What was the movie?

Dan Gordon: It was really a fun movie. It was like a heist movie about a guy who was a low life dope dealer (which is what this guy sort of was) and he's saving up money to buy a fast food restaurant but then he gets ripped off. You know, he wants to go legit but he gets ripped off and now he's left without anything...he's just in a world of hurt and he goes to this place called the Belmont Baths. Which was a real place in Brooklyn, that was really interesting because it's where these old Jewish gangsters from Murder Incorporated used to go; they'd go there for the steam baths. And I got to know all these guys; I met them, we used them as extras in the film.

Blake J. Harris: Interesting...

Dan Gordon: Yeah, the guy who handed out the towels was named "Scorchy" Miroff. And the reason he was called "Scorchy" is because he was an arsonist. It was all these guys, these 70-year-old gangsters from Murder Incorporated, from the 1920s. And they'd go [in a crackly voice] "Remember that guy? I was trying to stick him with an ice pick, but I couldn't find his f***ing brain. His brain was so small I couldn't f***ing find it. I finally stuck it through his f***ing ear. He died." And I'm sitting there...these were interesting guys.

Blake J. Harris: Yeah!

Dan Gordon: So the scene that took place: the character Oliver stumbles in there, taking a steam bath and he meets this guy who is the general manager of EJ Korvettes department store in New York. EJ Korvettes was, you know, one of Macy's competitors. And he tells Oliver that there's a Brinks strike and no one has been picking up the money. They can't transfer the money to the bank, so the department store has all this money on hand. There's all this cash in there! So Oliver says, "You're kidding me, there's gotta be a way we can steal that f***ing money." And there is; there's an air vent that goes to the money from the woman's bathroom. So Oliver gets his gang of miscreants—this group of oddballs, like a garment cutter, who have also been ripped off—and on Christmas Eve, they're all dressed up in drag, and they go to hit up the department store.

Blake J. Harris: That's a great visual.

Dan Gordon: It was kind of an action heist comedy, it was a fun movie. I wrote it and forgot about it—went on to write other more serious things, trying to be an "artiste"—but then a little while later I get a phone call from Phil [the low-level mobster] and he says, "Pack your f***ing bags, you're going to New York. There's a ticket at the airport waiting for you in your name." And I asked for what? What are you talking about? And he said, "I found some guys. We're making the movie!" He had gotten it fully financed and was ready to make the movie. I said, "But Phil, I can't come to New York." They wanted me to go there for 6 months. I had a lease, I had a life in LA, I couldn't just go out there right away. But what I didn't know was he had stolen a guy's credit card and bought the ticket, so it was like: get here now before they catch up!

Blake J. Harris: [laughing]

Dan Gordon: Phil said, "I'm giving you the opportunity of a lifetime and you're giving me bulls***...you wanna be a director? Come get the ticket and come to New York. If you don't, I'll find someone else." So I pack my duffel bag and I flew to New York that night. And I wound up making this independent film called Potluck. But what I didn't know was it was a money-laundering operation for a crew—it was a mixed crew of the Gambino and Genovese crime families—and they were looking for the youngest, stupidest kid they could find and I was the jackpot.

Blake J. Harris: [cracking up]

Dan Gordon: They gave me a hundred grand to make the movie. They told me that was the budget. But they had another budget, which they would submit to the IRS, saying that the budget of the movie was a million dollars. Then they were gonna tell the IRS they had made a mistake, hired this kid who didn't know what the hell he was doing and they were out a million bucks.

Blake J. Harris: And they found the perfect sucker: a true artiste.

Dan Gordon: Yeah, and this was in 1972—in the middle of the Colombo/Gallo War—and people were getting whacked in New York like crazy. So I get to New York and Johnny, who was the head of this crew said to me, "I wanna introduce you to your best friend." "But Johnny," I said, "I already know my best friend. Why would you need to introduce me?" "No," Johnny says, "this is your new best friend." Okay...and he introduced me to a guy who was known as "Muff the Button Man."

Blake J. Harris: Muff the Button Man?

Dan Gordon: Yeah, and Muff the Button Man was about 6'4" bald-headed, weighed about 240 and carried three guns on him at all times.  And Johnny said, "He's gonna be with you, he's gonna protect you." I asked why do I need someone to protect me. "Eh, it's this f***ing Crazy Joey Gallo. They don't call him Crazy Joey Gallo because he's not crazy. He's f***ing crazy. He's f***ing killing everybody."

Blake J. Harris: Wow.

Dan Gordon: He said, "We're not involved, it's a Colombo/Gallo War, it's not us, but what happens if he wants to send us a message? He's gonna hit one of us...he's gonna hit an investment of ours to send a message. You're an investment, I want you protected." And I went: WHAT. THE F***. HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO? And then I lived with Muff the Button Man for nine months...

Blake J. Harris: How was he? Was he a good roommate?

Dan Gordon: Yeah, he was a great guy. Actually, he wanted to get out of the killing business and he wanted to be a hairdresser; he wanted to do hair and makeup in movies.

Blake J. Harris: No way. Really?

Copacabana from goodfellas

Dan Gordon: Yeah. And he was actually pretty good! He'd gone to barber's college and ended up doing hair and makeup in the film. And he was a very nice guy, very funny guy. All these guys were really funny. And we did live...it was straight out of Goodfellas. It was exactly at that time and I knew a lot of those guys. We went into the Copacabana exactly like in that shot. We went in through the kitchen, we never went in through the front door. And if there wasn't a table, a table appeared. Just like in the Scorsese tracking shot.

Blake J. Harris: Right, right, right.

Dan Gordon: Our crew hung out at a place called The Pyrenees, which was a really nice restaurant next to Mark Hellinger Theatre. And we were hooked up, it was extraordinarily exciting. But it was also scary and s***.

Blake J. Harris: Yeah.

Dan Gordon: Once I said to Muff, "I don't mean any disrespect, but I grew in in Bell Gardens, California and in the valley of Israel. I've never been to New York in my life. So I don't know a lot...you're a "Button Man." What is that? What does that mean exactly." And there used to be a guy, I won't say his last name, but they used to call him Johnny Spic because he was so dark that he looked Puerto Rican. And Muff said [in a mumbled, Lenny-from-Mice-and-Men-like voice], "Let's say Johnny Spic wants to push the button on somebody. I'm the guy who pushes the button." And I said, "Oh, okay. Okay. Okay. Now you and I, Muff, we are friends, right?" And he said, "What the f*** are you talking about friends? We're f***ing brovers." He couldn't say "th," he always made it a "v." So he said, "We're f***ing brovers."

Blake J. Harris: Amazing.

Dan Gordon: So I said again, "I don't meant any disrespect, but I just don't know this world. If Johnny told you to push the button on me—and we are, f***ing brovers—you'd do it, right?" And he looked at me and said, "Jesus f***ing Christ. Talk about posing a moral f***ing dilemma."

Blake J. Harris: [cracking up]

Dan Gordon: He said, "I'll tell you the truth. If I had anything to say about it, whatsof***ingever at all, you wouldn't feel a thing. It'd be so f***ing quick man." And, you know, that was the best deal he could cut me.

Blake J. Harris: Yup.

Dan Gordon: And after a while he wasn't there to protect. He was there to keep me from running. Because everybody knew I was getting really squirrelly.

Blake J. Harris: Well, at what point, and in what way, did you find out the scheme that was going on? That this was not...the movie that you had signed up for.

Dan Gordon: It started with "these are mob guys." [laughing] That was the first penny that dropped. But took a while.

Blake J. Harris: Sure.

Dan Gordon: Our offices were on 11th and 48th. I don't know if you know that neighborhood, but it's Hell's Kitchen, it's right near the docks and everything. And they had ostensibly—well, no, they did really have it—a film services company. In those days, you used to have messenger services to take your dailies from the set to the lab so they had a business that would do that. They had a negative-cutting business there. And once again they did a lot of porn, making a pretty good living; it was 1972 and the mob was heavy into porn in New York...

Blake J. Harris: Okay.

Dan Gordon: So that's where we would have our production meetings. And there would be these guys, rolling dollies with electronic goods or clothes through the office. Uh, what does that have to do with the film production business?

Blake J. Harris: Right.

Dan Gordon: So it dawns on me: these guys are stealing s*** from the docks. Actually, they're not stealing, they had a deal worked out. But still: I'm involved with a criminal enterprise!

Blake J. Harris: Yup.

Dan Gordon: In fact, they were pushing a rack of coats and...they used to call me the "Orange" because I was from California. So that became my nickname, the Orange. And I remember Johnny said to me, "Hey, Orange, you don't have a good winter coat. Give the Orange that leather jacket, he'd look good in it. It's yours. From now on, it's yours." So it's like: okay, I'm dealing with mobsters.

Blake J. Harris: [laughs]

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Dan Gordon: And The Godfather had not yet come out. In fact, The Godfather was shooting while we were shooting there and some of our guys were extras in it. So that was the first penny that dropped. And then the second penny that dropped was they pulled the plug on the picture. They pulled the plug not just because I was bringing it in on time and on budget, but actually under time and under budget, which in retrospect was the worst thing that I could do! Because that threw their whole scheme off. Their scheme hinged on them saying to the IRS, "We hired this putz director and the kid couldn't complete it and we lost all our money."

Blake J. Harris: Right.

Dan Gordon: So they came and pulled the plug on the picture. And I'm saying, "Johnny? Why? The performances are great and the dailies look great." He said, "I didn't ask for any f***ing dialogue. It's done, that's it. I'm pulling the plug on the picture." And we were all distraught. Phil, the producer, this was his dream. And Muff The Button Man, he was doing hair and makeup and all this s***.

Blake J. Harris: [laughs]

Dan Gordon: We thought they had just run out of money. It never dawned on me that it was a money-laundering operation. So we were looking for ways to hustle up the money. So Phil and I started hustling doctors.

Blake J. Harris: Hustling doctors?

Dan Gordon: We said, "Hey, we'll put your wife in this movie—she'll have a part in this movie!—if you invest $10,000." So I would write up a fake scene. And sometimes we wouldn't have film in the camera. We'd shoot the scene and take the doctor down for ten grand.

Blake J. Harris: [cracking up]

Dan Gordon: And there was a company that hired me, DTI (Drivers Training Institute), and I was directing the commercial and acting in it. And the only way I got the gig was I told them I'd do it for, like, a hundred bucks. They were like: oh sure, that's so cheap, this kid's an idiot! Well, I did it because the commercial was supposed to take place in a diner, and we had a scene in the movie that took place in a diner. So we knocked out the commercial in about four minutes, and then we shot three hours of our movie.

Blake J. Harris: So funny.

Jennifer Grey

Dan Gordon: Yeah, so that was how we kept the thing going. Anyway, so Phil and Muff hit upon a scheme with a doctor (whose name I won't mention because he might still be alive) who was a very homely man. And a very horny man. And Phil kept saying that "if you invest fifty grand in the movie...I'll hook you up with Jennifer Grey." And of course he didn't know Jennifer Grey and the doctor wasn't about to invest fifty grand. But the doctor said, "I do however have a jar of pharmaceutical cocaine because I'm a doctor. It's pure pharmaceutical cocaine. Now, if you guys know some girls and you want to come up here and party, you know, I'll put that up."

Blake J. Harris: Ha!

Dan Gordon: So Phil was Sammy Davis Jr.'s cocaine connection. And he said [to Muff and I], "I can sell Sammy that f***ing jar for fifty grand. We're gonna rob the doctor." I said no, man, I can't do that. He said, "No, no, it's gonna be simple. By law, he needs to have that in a safe in his office. He's broken the law by having at in his apartment. So he'll never go to the cops because if he goes to the cops he'd be admitting that he stole the coke himself. From his own office. It's the perfect f***ing crime!"

Blake J. Harris: [laughing]

Dan Gordon: I said, "Phil, no. NO. F***ING. WAY." And he said, "Fine, f*** you, you chickens***. Muff and I will do it on our own and finish the movie."

Blake J. Harris: Okay.

Dan Gordon: So he says to the doctor that there's gorgeous Puerto Rican hooker named Camille. She's gonna come up here [to the doctor's apartment] and we're gonna gang bang her. But you gotta have the hors devours out...And the doctor says, "Yeah, I got pills, I got dope, I got coke, it's gonna be great."

Blake J. Harris: Alright, so they've set up the scam...

Dan Gordon: Yeah and [before they go up] Phil said to Muff, "When I say the word 'Camille' you pull out your f***ing gun on the doctor. And we'll tie him up and we'll take the cocaine.  Then we'll ship it to California. I'll get on a plane for LA, you get on a plane for Florida and then everything will blow over and we'll come back to finish the f***ing movie."

Blake J. Harris: Okay.

Dan Gordon: So Phil had everything figured out but...Muff was not the brightest bulb in the land. Not by a long stretch. And so they show up at the doctor's apartment. It's a rather lavish apartment and the doctor was dressed in a red dressing gown. Like f***ing Hugh Hefner. And he's naked underneath.

Blake J. Harris: Nice.

Dan Gordon: And he's got a f***ing Polaroid camera because he's so excited. He wants to take Polaroids of the whole thing. Phil says, "I think it's time to get the hors devours out on the table." The doctor says, "Absolutely!" The doc is just all atwitter with excitement. He opens his wall case and he brings out a whole jar of f***ing pharmaceutical cocaine, pills up the ass, everything you can think of. And he brings it out on a silver platter, like it's f***ing Thanksgiving dinner, you know? He's so ready for this party.

Blake J. Harris: Yup.

Dan Gordon: So Phil turns to Muff and he says, "I think Camille ought to be here any second." And Muff says, "Yeah, I can't wait!" [laughs] But there is no Camille! Phil made her up. Muff knows that! So Phil says, "Muff, Camille is gonna be here any second. Camille!" And Muff goes, "Yeah! I can't f***ing wait, man! We're gonna f*** her in every f***ing hole she's got."

Blake J. Harris: [laughing]

Dan Gordon: So then Phi says, "Muff, I'll put it to you a different way: will you please pull your gun out and rob the doctor?" And Muff goes, "Ah f***, Philly. I'm so f***ing sorry I forgot." Muff pulls out his gun and the doctor screams. They tie him up—I swear to god, everything I'm telling you is true—they tied the doctor up in the bed. And the doctor's saying, "Come on guys, we're all friends. This is bulls***." And Phil says, "Doc, we're stealing your f***ing coke. And don't go to the cops because you'll get arrested. Don't be an asshole."

Blake J. Harris: Wow.

Dan Gordon: So they're getting ready to leave and all of the sudden Muff starts laughing. Phil says, "What are you laughing about?" Muff says, "Look at the doc, he's a f***ing freak." Well, the doc getting off on being tied up. And he had—as they say in the parlance of our times—"sprouted wood." And it was poking out of his red silk dressing grown. The doctor was a little embarrassed and laughing and Muff says [to Phil], "Get on the bed and put your arm around the doctor. Nobody would believe this s***. I want to take a picture." So Phil does and Muff takes a picture with the Polaroid camera. Then Phil tells Muff to do the same thing and he takes a picture of Muff with the doctor...eventually, they leave the doc all tied up. Phil goes to ship the drugs and then him and Muff agree to meet up at JFK to catch their flights. That turned out to be a big mistake because it gave Muff time to kill in between. And Muff really liked the doctor a lot. He felt bad that they had tied him up. He thought: what if he can't get out of his bonds and he dies of starvation?

Blake J. Harris: Okay.

Dan Gordon: So he called the doc's apartment to make sure he was okay. Well, unbeknownst to him the doc was an asshole and had called the cops. The cops were listening in on the extension as Muff calls up apologizing for having stolen the drugs. Anyway, they call up the airport police and have Muff arrested while he's still on the phone. And Phil...Phil is arrested as he gets off the plane in LA.

Blake J. Harris: And what about you?

Dan Gordon: I, by this time, had gone...well, I knew a lot of s*** that these guys did. I knew way too much. I knew things about the Kennedy assassination, I just knew a lot of s***.

Blake J. Harris: Okay...

Dan Gordon: I thought: I gotta get the f*** out of this country. I can't be here. I'm gonna get killed. So I took what money I had left and went back to Israel and I joined the Israeli army. If they're gonna send guys after me, I want guys with guns on my side. And I stayed in Israel for the next ten years.

Blake J. Harris: Wow.

Dan Gordon: At any rate, I later found out what happened. They get arrested, Phil gets extradited to New York. Their lawyer says, "if you guys cop a plea, I can get you off in two years." Phil says, "I'm not copping a plea. Get me a meeting with the judge." A meeting with the judge? You're really barking up the wrong tree. I'm offering you a good deal here...Now, they never busted Phil with the coke, because he had shipped it, but they did have him on kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon and all that kind of s***. But Phil says, "Just get me a meeting in the chambers with the judge and I'll have this thing taken care of in three minutes." And the lawyer thinks alright, it's your funeral.

Blake J. Harris: Okay.

Dan Gordon: They go in there to meet the judge...and the judge isn't happy about this, he says "This better be good." So Phil says, "Judge, first I want to thank you for meeting because this is really embarrassing. I didn't want to have to go into court and say what I'm about to say here. And I know you're a judge; it's like talking to a priest or a f***ing doctor, it's confidential, right?

Blake J. Harris: Ha.

Dan Gordon: The judge says, "Just say what you gotta say." So Phil says, "Well, I'm embarrassed but...I'm a homosexual. And...Muff's a homosexual. And, uh, the doc's a homosexual. We're three homosexuals. And we were having a menage a trois. And that doc got a little bent out of shape. I wasn't paying enough attention to him. But, you know, this was a lover's spat. And we tied him because, you know, that's how we get off. It was a lover's spat. That's all it was. There was no drugs."

Blake J. Harris: [laughing] And he's got the Polaroids to prove it!

Dan Gordon: Yeah, the judge says, "You expect me to believe this s***?" And then Phil pulls out the Polaroids. And the judge went, "case dismissed!" [laughs] Yeah, so they walked. And Phil sold the jar, sold it for fifty grand and went to finish the film himself. He finished the last scenes that we had and then was in LA to edit the film. And in walks Johnny Spic and he says, "What the f*** are you doing?" And Phil says, "Johnny, I'm completing the film. But I'm not gonna screw you guys. You guys are vested and I'm gonna—" "No, what the f*** are you are you talking about you f***ing nut? Don't understand what this was about?" And then that's when Johnny said, "This was never about making a movie. This was about laundering money. Give us the f***ing negative. This movie can never be completed. It can never be released. And if you breathe a word of this you're f***ing dead. And by the way, where's your f***ing little friend, the Orange?"

Blake J. Harris: Wow.

Dan Gordon: Anyway, I'm happy to report—well, not happy—that none of the people I have now described are still living. They have long since departed. Some in violent fashions, others due to natural causes. But yeah, I stayed away for ten years and then came back in the early 80s.

Blake J. Harris: What brought you back? And how scared, if at all, were you upon returning?

Dan Gordon: By that time I had been in the Yom Kippur War, which was in 1973. I had known a morning where I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would be killed. Without going into any details, our unit...there was no question that we were cannon fodder and our job, we were literally told "take as long dying as possible." Because we needed to hold the position until reserves could reach us. But happily, Anwar Sadat at 4:30 AM had agreed to a ceasefire...otherwise this conversation wouldn't be taking place.

Blake J. Harris: Wow.

Dan Gordon: I lost a lot of friends in that war. Everybody did. I mean, we lost 3,000 guys in 3 weeks in a country of 3 million people. We lost 1% of our population. It was literally a generation that was wiped out...every family was affected. Everyone knew someone. It got the point where we didn't want to go home on leave because we knew we'd be going to funerals...it just was too depressing.

Blake J. Harris: Yeah.

Dan Gordon: It was, I remember, it was 500 guys that they hadn't yet informed their families and they released all 500 names at once. And they couldn't put them in the newspaper because there were too many names to print. The country was so f***ing depressed. And everybody of my generation, it was like a biological response of the species. If you weren't married, you were gonna get married and have kids. And that's what I was gonna do. Didn't know who I was gonna marry, didn't care.

Blake J. Harris: So what happened?

Dan Gordon: I made a list of every woman I'd ever known. And I began writing to this girl who was in the United and convinced her to come to Israel. I was still in the army, but I got a leave and we see each other. Blah blah blah we got married and my three boys were born when we were in Israel...and the whole time I had friends in LA who were still making films. They were successful young, producers. They said, "Dan, Jesus Christ. Come back. We love your writing and can help you find work."

Blake J. Harris: And so why didn't you take them up on that offer?

Dan Gordon: I did. I came back in the early 80s because, you know, I had kids now to support. And there was no film industry in Israel to speak of, at the time, and I was working three full-time jobs to make ends meet...so we came back and I got work immediately. And my career took off and it just never stopped...and I was one of the few guys willing to work in television as well as features at that time.

Blake J. Harris: Okay.

Highway to Heaven

Dan Gordon: I had met Michael Landon, I liked him a lot. We wanted to do a miniseries together, which we had sold to NBC. And then he got the idea to do Highway to Heaven and asked if I'd come to work for him. I said, "Well, what will you pay?" He said, "I'll pay you six times more than any television writer makes in this town." And I said, "Really?" And he said, "Do you wanna know why? Because I'm gonna work you ten times as hard as any television writer in this town. So I'll make out okay."

Blake J. Harris: Ha.

Dan Gordon: He didn't want to hire a staff, he just wanted to hire one guy. And that worked for me because I can write very quickly, I had a reputation for being a fast writer...

Blake J. Harris: Was it hard to continue your film career while doing that?

Dan Gordon: Well my agent said not to do it. That once you go into TV, your features career is over. I said, "I think that's bulls***. And he's offering me way too much money." And I wanted to have a leg in both parts of the industry because I knew there would come a time when my feature career would cool off and I'd want to work in TV; and a time when my TV career would cool off and I'd want to work in features...you put money in front of my face, I'm not passing that up. I've got three kids growing up that I'll need to put through college. F*** yes! So I worked with Mike and did Highway to Heaven for three years. Wrote, I think, 47 of the first 100 episodes...

Blake J. Harris: Wow.

ZZ04C7CEAA

Dan Gordon: Had a great time. I loved working with Michael, he was like a brother to me. He also insisted that I direct, which I wanted to do. But I remember asking, "Why do you want me to direct?" And he said, "Because I want you to see how much the stupid s*** you write costs me on the set."

Blake J. Harris: [laughs]

Dan Gordon: He wanted to teach me how not to do it that way. And he taught me how to do television. He was the smartest guy in TV...he was a neat guy. And it was fun, working with him and for him. And I learned a huge amount from him. And somewhere along that time, as the kids got older...you know, [my son] Yoni used to read the trades. Starting when he was six or seven. And my oldest boy Zaki, who's now deceased, he was a genius. I mean, he sold his first script when he was 12.

Blake J. Harris: Really? How?

Dan Gordon: Well, it helped that his father was the head writer. But he sold an episode. And Mike wasn't running a charity, so that meant it was good.

Blake J. Harris: Sure.

Dan Gordon: Anyway, I wanted to do a picture for the boys. And Yoni, who was I think 14 at that time, wanted to act. And Zaki, who would have been 17 at the time, he would have loved to do, like, a "making of" or worked as a PA. And my youngest son, Adam, just thought a movie for them would be cool. So what interested them? Well, their favorite movie was Indiana Jones, so I thought: okay, this is really simple. Let's just do Indiana Jones, Except with Kids. And so it was supposed to be a straight movie and it was going to be called Surf Ninjas of the South China Seas. Sort of like Goonies, but we're gonna play the drama straight. I thought it would be a great action franchise.

Blake J. Harris: I can see that.

Brandon Tartikoff

Dan Gordon: Brandon Tartikoff, who was the head of NBC, once said a really smart thing to me. He said a lot of really smart things to me. He said, "if you are doing anything for which there is a market and there's no one else doing that thing, you will get 100% of that market." Now, that seems axiomatic and very simple, [laughs] but that was profound for Hollywood. And since no one else was doing, you know, action-adventure movies for kids, I thought: this is really easy. This is fun. We'll just do a action thing and call it Surf Ninjas of the South China Seas and play it straight. And I thought to maintain control I need to direct this.

Blake J. Harris: Makes sense.

Dan Gordon: I'd never directed a feature before because I never wanted to go off and leave my family, but I thought we could film it over a summer. That way my kids could be there and it would all work. Anyway, I had written a screenplay and it was green lit and the contract said I had to direct and we did a screen test of the kid who was supposed to play Yoni's part. Originally I had thought of it for Yoni, but I got carried away in the writing and they said no, we need a real professional actor. So Yoni became the "Laughing Boy" and he had some dialogue that later got cut out.

Blake J. Harris: Gotcha.

Dan Gordon: So I don't remember the name of the actor that I brought in for the screen test, but he was really good. The character was based on Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High; you know, he was a dumb surfer. Anyway, we show this scene to the head of the studio and he says, "That's the dumbest f***ing kid I ever saw in my life. How could you cast him?" And I looked at him and I said, "Bob, have you read the script?" And he obviously hadn't read the script, but he turned to me and said, "You know what? F*** you. You're fired." [laughing] And that was it, I was fired.

Blake J. Harris: Wow.

Rob Schneider surf ninjas

Dan Gordon: And they brought on Neal Israel, who had done some comedies. And Neal was close to Rob Schneider, so they brought on Rob Schneider. And I think even Rob probably chipped in, did a re-write, and turned it into this very schlocky, bizarre thing. [laughing] And when they got Leslie Nielsen cast as Colonel Chi; and he always had one of those fart bags, you know, that you put under your arm and make it sound like somebody had just...

Blake J. Harris: Yeah.

Dan Gordon: And he would do that constantly. I had worked with Leslie on Highway to Heaven and he was a good dramatic actor. I mean, he started out as a dramatic actor. Until he did airplane. And, you know, he was always pulling this dumbass joke of the fart bag. And that was Leslie; I mean, he thought that was the "A" material. And so when he was cast as Colonel Chi I thought: okay, [laughing] that movies in the toilet!

Blake J. Harris: [laughs]

Dan Gordon: And they wound up making this odd movie that for some reason is like a seminal point in the lives of boys who were 14 at the time. I can't tell you how many times I had had people come up...I was just in LA and I had a pitch meeting at HBO, on what I believe is a really cool series.

Blake J. Harris: Okay.

Dan Gordon: So I'm sitting there with the Head of Dramatic Programming at HBO, and he says, "Dan, I can't tell you how happy I am to meet you." And he is just all atwitter, I mean he is just glowing. And I said, "This isn't about Hurricane, is it? You're not like a big Denzel fan, are you?" He said, "No." I said, "It's not Murder in the First, is it? It's not Kevin Bacon's best work that you're excited about, that I later turned into a play in New York?" He said, "No, no." And I said, "It's Surf Ninjas, right?" And he went, "Yes! KWANTSU DUDE!!" [cracking up]

Blake J. Harris: That's amazing.

Dan Gordon: It just became this bizarre thing that had a life of its own...