Remembering Mike Nichols: From Comic to Director

vintage typewriter on sepia.jpg

Today is Mike Nichol's birthday. He would have been 86 years old. What a mega-talent and inspiration he was to writers, actors, directors, and others.

He directed some wonderful films, including The GraduateSilkwoodWorking GirlWho's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Heartburn. And he directed plays, from what I believe was his final one, Betrayal (which sold out for all performances before the play even opened), to years ago directing a young unknown named Whoopi Goldberg in her one-act play that took her from obscurity to being a star.

He Grew Up a Loner...

Later in life he said that growing up a loner gifted him with the ability to know what people were thinking. I think he likely meant that he could easily, and often correctly, interpret people's emotions and motivations, which makes me think of "truth wizards." This is a term coined by research psychologists about people who have an uncanny way of detecting liars, as well as other emotions/motivations within a person. Truth wizards have typically grown up in difficult environments where, as children, they learned to carefully observe people as a means of survival, really. I know about truth wizards from researching them years ago for an article, and later a murder-mystery novel featuring a character who was a truth wizard (Mistletoe and Murder in Las Vegas).

From Loner to Famous Comic

Elaine May and Mike Nichols, 1960 (image is in public domain)

Elaine May and Mike Nichols, 1960 (image is in public domain)

After Mike Nichols started college, he said he was a loner no more. His first success as an artist was as part of the two-person comedy team with Elaine May. After that came directing plays, then film. He won every award as a director: the Emmy, Oscar, Tony...I may have missed one in that line-up.

What I like about reading his quotes on directing film and plays is that his words apply to writing, too.

A Few Favorite Nichols' Quotes

Here's a few of my favorite Mike Nichols' quotes. As I mentioned above, he was talking about film-making, but his thoughts on technique and process apply to crafting stories and characters as well.

"There are only three kinds of scenes: a fight, a seduction or a negotiation." 

"A movie is like a person. You either trust it or you don't."

"I've always been impressed by the fact that upon entering a room full of people, you find them saying one thing, doing another, and wishing they were doing a third. The words are secondary and the secrets are primary. That's what interests me the most." 

"I think the audience asks the question, 'Why are you telling me this?'...there must be a specific answer."

Do Ghost Hunters Really Find Ghosts?

Tomorrow is Halloween. For the last month, several older hotels here in Colorado have been hosting ghost-hunting parties and spooky tours. Silly fun...or are these hotels truly haunted?

Over the years we've had a few people call our agency, asking if we could investigate ghosts they believe are haunting their homes. We will decline, explaining that we are not paranormal investigators, and we try to steer them to paranormal investigation sources that sincerely want to help people and not take advantage of their fears.

What Is a Paranormal Investigator?

Most paranormal investigators are people who are certified in parapsychology or who have studied paranormal investigations. Their goal is to help people in need, and often paranormal investigators do not accept money for their services (although they may accept donations for travel, lodging and expenses). Some paranormal investigators make money through writing books, conducting “ghost tours,” giving workshops, or even starring in TV reality shows about ghost hunters.

Tips for Hiring a Paranormal Investigator

We used to recommend people contact the National and International ParaHaunt Paranormal Family Network that gave referrals to paranormal investigators throughout the U.S.and the world, but it appears the organization no longer exists.  

However, you can check the background of the paranormal organization or investigator before you retain their services. Contact the Better Business Bureau, research the organization/person on the Internet for news stories and client referrals, review their website and contact any former clients for recommendations, or hire a private investigator to double-check the paranormal investigator’s background (especially if you’re inviting this person into your home).

Photograph of floating spirit & spirit "orb" by William Hope, early 1900s

Photograph of floating spirit & spirit "orb" by William Hope, early 1900s

Ghost Hunting at Three Colorado Haunted Hotels

More than once I have visited the Stanley Hotel and taken its Ghost Tour. The “Stanley” is known for its Room #217, where Stephen King first began writing The Shining, later made into a movie starring Jack Nicholson.

My Digital Photos Caught “Orbs”

I took photos during these ghost tours with my digital camera, and others in the group (including the tour guide) would tell me I had captured orbs, which supposedly indicated the presence of spirits. The Paranormal Encyclopedia says that “both skeptics, and many ghost hunters, agree that photographic orbs are most often, if not always, caused by natural elements such as dust, pollen, or water vapor.” I don’t know what caused the orbs, but if I’d seen, oh, a spectral figure hovering in the photo…well, then I’d believe I’d captured evidence of a ghost.

Claims of Ghosts, But When I Visited…

I’ve visited other reported haunted hotels and buildings around Denver, Colorado, starting with the “Brown.”

Brown Palace Hotel, Denver Colorado, 1898

Brown Palace Hotel, Denver Colorado, 1898

The Brown Palace Hotel

I’ve taken the ghost tour three times at the Brown Palace Hotel, built in 1892. Each time, the guide told us fantastic stories about ghosts and ghouls who haunt the hotel, from a long-dead string quartet that still practices their music to a ghost-like train conductor who walks through walls. I would have loved to have seen or heard one of these apparitions, but I never did. Neither did anyone else on those tours.

Although one of the tour guides swore that late one night she saw a “black mass” of vapor swirl up to the ceiling and disappear. Hmmm. Shame no one got a picture of that.

House of Mirrors

Seven or so years ago, I was writing a novel that featured a ghost character who'd lived during the late nineteenth-century silver-boom days of Colorado. During this era, there was a famous madam, Mattie Silks, whom people claim still haunts her old living quarters in Denver (which was called the House of Mirrors).

Mattie Silks, Denver madam, 1845-1929 

Mattie Silks, Denver madam, 1845-1929 

One spring afternoon, I visited the House of Mirrors, which had morphed into a bar/restaurant. The business was closed, but a friendly bartender let me in to walk around and look at spots where the madam’s ghost had been seen and heard (several people claimed to have even heard her whispering on a certain staircase). Did I see or hear any ghostly goings-on? Unfortunately, no.

But the bartender claimed there had been spooky goings-on in the old building. He said late at night, when he's alone cleaning up, sometimes the elevator will suddenly start working, its doors opening…and no one is inside. And then there was the night when an entire shelf suddenly crashed to the floor.

I couldn't help but wonder if both the shelf and elevator had perhaps been in need of repair. But if while I was there I’d seen a spectral form materialize, or better yet if it had spoken to me, I might have added “paranormal investigations” to our agency services.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Any use of the content requires specific, written authority from the author.

The Day I Met Elvis Presley

Today, August 16, 2017, marks the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. I had met him accidentally in 1967, along with a dozen or so others, as he was trying to enter his dentist's office in Palm Springs, California. Despite being besieged by people out of the blue, he was gracious and funny...and a bit flirtatious.

Ten years later, on August 16, 1977, I was working for Dick Clark in Hollywood when the phones began ringing and ringing—reporters calling with the news that Elvis had died, and could they get a quote from Dick Clark?

As I fielded those calls, I recalled the day ten years earlier when...

I Met The King of Rock 'n Roll

I accidentally met Elvis in 1967 in Palm Springs, California. I was 15 years old, and had just finished marching in a parade with the high school drill team and band. It was terribly hot that late spring day, and my girlfriends and I were hanging out after the parade, walking down a shady median. All of a sudden, one of my pals shrieked, "There's Elvis Presley!"

I looked across the street and there he was, with two beefy bodyguards, trying to walk into a dentist's office. I say "trying" because a small crowd had gathered around him. My girlfriends and I ran across four lanes of traffic to join that crowd. I don't think we even looked for oncoming traffic—we just ran across the street, a gaggle of squealing teenage girls—to see The King of Rock 'n Roll.

Right Before His 1968 Comeback

This was right before his comeback in 1968—dang, he looked good. Tan, healthy, trim. He was very cordial, charming even, to the people in the crowd, signing things they handed to him, saying you're welcome and thank you very much.

After several minutes, he thanked everyone and said he needed to go inside to see his dentist, I, being an overly excitable 15-year-old, yelled from the outskirts of the crowd, "Please, Elvis, just one more signature!"

He looked over the heads in the crowd, smiled at me, and said, "Okay, just one more."

The Crowd Parted...

And let me through and I stood there, looking up at Elvis Presley. My God, Elvis Presley. Gobsmacked doesn't even begin to describe how I felt. He asked me what I wanted him to sign and...I realized I had nothing. So I turned around and said, "Sign my back."

I meant the back of my shirt, but he lifted my hair and placed the pen on the back of my neck and started writing...

Elvis's Memorable Words to Me

"You're too sweaty for me to sign your back," he teased.

Yep. I'll always remember how Elvis Presley told me I was too sweaty.

"I meant my shirt," I rasped, my heart pounding so hard I thought I'd pass out. "Sign the back of my shirt."

I could feel the pressure of his pen on my back...as he wrote he spelled out, "T-h-e b-a-c-k o-f m-y s-h-i-r-t" as though he were signing my exact words.

I turned around and said, "Is that what you wrote?"

And he gave me that curled-lip grin and said, "No, honey, I wrote my name."

And he went inside the dentist's office.

The Shirt Tale

I kept that shirt for years...sometimes I'd take it out of my closet and look at his signature. I moved so many times over the years (I moved three times that first year in Hollywood alone), and somewhere in the midst of all the moves, I lost that shirt. I've sometimes wondered if anyone ever found it and wondered why "Elvis Presley" was scrawled on the back in large cursive letters. They probably thought it was a joke—well, unless they compared a sample of his real signature against it.

August 16, 1977

In my early twenties, I moved to Los Angeles with the dream of working in film production. Within two years, I was working for Dick Clark who at the time was producing a TV show for ABC. Another TV show, Barney Miller, filmed on a nearby stage, and the actors would often stroll over on their breaks and chat with us. I didn't own a television so I wasn't all that sure who these actors were. Probably a good thing because I would have been gobsmacked all over again. (I know, what kind of Hollywood film production employee doesn't own a TV? Well, I didn't have one for years and never missed it, although I enjoyed watching TV at other people's homes. Years later, a boyfriend decided enough was enough and surprised me with a TV for my birthday.)

Back to working for Dick Clark. On August 16, 1977, our phones started ringing and ringing...Elvis had died. As I fielded calls, I looked back on that spring day when I'd accidentally met Elvis, amazed and saddened that here I was ten years later, juggling calls from reporters about his death.

Dick Clark's Significance to Elvis Presley

On the day Elvis died, reporters and others wanted to talk to Dick Clark because of his reputation for promoting, and making careers for, many musicians, especially on his former TV show American Bandstand (1956-1987) that brought rock 'n roll into millions of families' homes. 

Interestingly enough, Elvis never appeared on American Bandstand, but that's because he was overseas in the Army when the show became a mega-hit. Clark, however, is credited with keeping Elvis's name burning bright in front of America's teenagers during those years via a series of telephone interviews with Elvis that were broadcast on American Bandstand. Fans, especially girl-fans, couldn't wait for their Elvis to come back to the States. You can read more about it here: How Dick Clark Helped Keep Private Presley Popular.

Forty Years Later

Now it's been 40 years since the day The King of Rock 'n Roll died. Cast members of Barney Miller have passed on, as has Dick Clark. I look back at that job and oddly enough, I can't recall much about my day-to-day job tasks that year for Dick Clark, but I vividly recall the day Elvis died.

The image is one thing and the human being is another. It’s very hard to live up to an image, put it that way.
— Elvis Presley

"The Day I Met Elvis Presley" - All Rights Reserved by Colleen Collins. Do not copy, distribute, or otherwise use the content of this article without written permission by the author.

In Honor of Book Lovers Day: Keith Richards, Rock-n-Roll Librarian

Keith Richards, Rolling Stones Voodoo Loungue World Tour, Rio de Janeiro, 1995 (photo is in public domain, courtesy of Machocarioca)

Keith Richards, Rolling Stones Voodoo Loungue World Tour, Rio de Janeiro, 1995 (photo is in public domain, courtesy of Machocarioca)

When you are growing up there are two institutional places that affect you most powerfully: the church, which belongs to God, and the public library, which belongs to you. The public library is a great equalizer.
— Keith Richards

The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards: Rocker outlaw...guitar god...book lover

This will either surprise you or make you jealous: Keith Richards has extensive personal libraries in both of his Sussex and Connecticut homes. In fact, he has so many books that he once considered "professional training" to better manage his vast collection. Yes, dear reader, rock-n-roll bad-boy Keith Richards dreamed of becoming a librarian.

Keith and the Dewey Decimal System

Once upon a time, Keith was painstakingly arranging copies of rare books about the history of early American rock and World WarII. He was applying the standard Dewey Decimal classification system (possibly fortified with a glass of vino or a little ganja -- although he no longer does "the hard stuff" Keith is quoted as saying he's still fond of wine and weed). Whatever he might have been imbibing, he nevertheless felt overwhelmed with his massive book classification project, at which point he seriously considered becoming a librarian.

Can you imagine being shushed by Keith Richards? Or what it would be like going to the reference desk...and there's Keith Richards?

He'd probably be very cool about books turned in late; after all he once owed libraries 50 years worth of fines.

The Saga of Keith and the Overdue Library Books

Keith Richards Owes '50 Years' of Library Fines (Huffington Post)

Library offers to waive Keith Richards' £3000 fine if he drops in for visit (Mirror)

 

Rock on. Read on.

Misdemeanors to Murder: Nothing but the Truth from a Criminal Lawyer and Private Eye

Below are categories of slides from our April 27 2017 presentation "Misdemeanors to Murder: Nothing but the Truth from a Criminal Lawyer and Private Eye" at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference.

All slides are copyrighted by the author. Do not copy, distribute, or otherwise use, thank you.

To move forward through a slide show, click on slide image. At end of slides is a PI resource list for writers and others interested in the world of private investigations. There are also a few links to sites dedicated to the mystery & private eye fiction genres.

PI Resources for Writers

Cold Case Squad: A blog by Joseph L. Giacalone, retired NYPD Detective Sergeant, former Commanding Officer of the Bronx Cold Case Homicide Squad, and author of The Criminal Investigative Function. His blog covers such topics as forensics, law enforcement’s use of social media, police body cams, and more. 

Defrosting Cold Cases: A resource blog about cold cases, authored by former human rights lawyer, cold case blogger, and crime fiction author Alice de Sturler. Defrosting Cold Cases has placed #1, category criminal justice, in the American Bar Association’s Top 100 Blawgs for 2013, 2014, and 2015.

Diligentia: A blog by New York private investigator Brian Willingham, CFE – President, who specializes in background investigations, due diligence, and legal investigations.  

eInvestigator: A resource website for private investigators, police officers, crime scene investigators, security specialists, legal professionals, and those researching the internet for people and information. This site has it all: PI specializations (including ghost hunting services for haunted facilities), spy gear, research books and tools, even a “List of Lists” page with lists such as US airports and their official codes, all US Presidents, criminal competencies and corresponding court cases, list of US insurance companies, and more.

Kevin’s Security Scrapbook: Spy News from New York: A blog by Kevin D. Murray, an independent security consultant who specializes in surveillance detection, security, and privacy problems.

PIBuzz: A blog by California private investigator Tamara Thompson, well known for her expertise in internet data gathering, genealogical and adoption research, witness background development, and locating people. 

PI Magazine: A trade magazine for professional private investigators. You can read articles via a subscription or by ordering an individual issue. The website also provides links to podcasts by professional PIs, US PI organizations and conferences, a bookstore, and spygear shop.

PINow: An online directory of pre-screened, professional private investigators. Click on Investigator Center at top of screen to read articles written by PIs on a variety of investigative topics.

Private Eye Confidential: A blog by California private investigator Mike Spencer of Spencer Elrod Services, Inc.  Mike has been a private investigator for nearly two decades, in the course of which he worked with legendary Hollywood private eye John Nazarian. Mike's book, Private Eye Confidential, is being released this summer (great resource for writers!).

Pursuit Magazine: An online community of professional sleuths that “opens a door to a world of mystery and intrigue, a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the lives of real spies and PIs.” This site is a rich source of research with dozens of articles by experts in the fields of private investigations, security, bail enforcement, skip tracing, and more. No subscription fees—all articles available for public viewing.

The Rap Sheet: A blog by J. Kingston Pierce, author,  senior editor of January Magazine, and the lead crime fiction blogger for Kirkus Reviews. The Rap Sheet dishes the news in the world of crime fiction, both recent and vintage, and lists links to several hundred (at least) crime fiction blogs and author sites.

The Thrilling Detective: Everything you ever wanted to know about private eyes in books, radio, movies, television, even the real world. Founded by author/editor Kevin Burton Smith.


Unfortunately, comments have been closed due to spammers.

 

National Library Week: Photos of US Libraries by Carol Highsmith

Renowned photographer Carol Highsmith donated her entire collection of photographs (approximately 150,000, and that number is still growing) to the Library of Congress. One subset of this collection are her extraordinary photographs of libraries across the US.

Ms. Highsmith has gifted these photos, copyright-free, to the American people. An index of these libraries is below the slideshow.

(Click on photo to slide to the next one—some computers might require a double-click to move to next photo)

  • Interior of the William H. Welch Medical Library Baltimore MD (photo with long rectangular table, glass cabinets filled with books on either side)
  • The John Work Garrett Library, part of the Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries. Baltimore, MD (red-upholstered chairs and couch, fireplace in room)
  • Welwood Murray Memorial Library: Once the main branch of the Palm Springs, California, public library system, the 1940 Welwood Murray building became a private, non-profit library run by volunteers
  • Library on the Go and Read Rover, part of the mobile library service for the Public Library System in Baltimore County, MD
  • The Carnegie Public Library in Bryan, the oldest existing Carnegie Library in Texas
  • George Peabody Library, formerly the Library of the Peabody Institute of the City of Baltimore (interior of library, looking at several floors of walkways and books)
  • San Francisco Library, San Francisco, California (woman sitting outside, looking at library building)

Have a great week, Colleen

 

Six Research Tips for Writing a Private Detective Character

Online resources, books & conferences can aid a writer's understanding of real-life P.I.s

Online resources, books & conferences can aid a writer's understanding of real-life P.I.s

I recently wrote a series of romantic-mysteries—The Next Right Thing, Sleepless in Las Vegas, and Hearts in Vegaswhich featured private eye heroes and heroines. Because I am also a private investigator in real life, I didn’t have to research their investigative careers all that much. But even if I weren't a P.I. there are ways I could have learned some basic techniques and tools of the trade to help me write a realistic private eye or sleuth character.

Six Research Tips For Learning about PIs
(New Resources & Links Added March 2017)

Tip #1: Read books on investigations. There are hundreds of books on topics, from background investigations to identity theft to personal injury investigations. One resource for investigative books is PIstore.com. My husband and I, when we ran a private investigations agency for a decade, also wrote a nonfiction book for writers, How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths, which includes presentations we gave at writers' conferences, Q&As with writers, a gumshoe glossary and much more. The newest addition to this list will be released in June 2017: Private Eye Confidential by California PI Mike Spencer. Check out Mike's blog to learn more about the book and buy links when it's available.

Tip #2: Review online magazines. There are free, online magazines that outline investigative techniques, resources and tools, such as Pursuit Magazine (my personal favorite), Fraud Magazineand Evidence Technology Magazine.

Tip #3: Research investigation websites and blogs. Numerous private detectives write about investigative practices and case studies on their websites and blogs. For example, my private investigator-attorney husband and I co-author Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, which has articles geared to writers as well as researchers and investigators. Other PI blogs include PI BuzzPrivate Eye Confidential, and Diligentia Group. Also, check out The Art of Manliness site interview with a P.I. as part of its ongoing series "So You Want My Job" -- read it here: "So You Want My Job: Private Investigator"


Tip #4: Attend a PI conference. Some professional PI organizations sponsor conferences that are open to the public. Here you can network with other PIs, attend seminars, visit vendor booths that sell surveillance and other types of investigative equipment as well as manuals (I still use a telephone-book-thick manual on investigating personal injury cases that cost me $125.00 and is worth every penny -- other manuals are typically much less). PI Magazine lists upcoming conferences on its online site.

Tip #5: Register for a PI course. There are numerous online classes and local workshops geared to those interested in becoming private investigators. These classes are typically open to the public and cover such topics as basic investigative tools and techniques, how to research public records, and the legalities of the profession. For example, Colorado private investigator Rick Johnson teaches a classroom course at The Private Investigators Academy of the Rockies. Topics include interview techniques, process services, as well as field exercises in surveillance. Contact your state professional private investigator association for additional recommendations to courses that offer training in private investigations (PI Magazine lists all U.S. organizations by state.)


Tip #6: Take a PI to Lunch. Many private investigators would be happy to answer a few questions about your private eye character or story over the phone, but if you’d like a longer question-and-answer session, consider inviting a P.I. to lunch. In the past, I've sometimes invited an expert, such as a fire fighter or a bailbonds person, to lunch to pick his/her brain on a specialization that I needed for a story. It’s a pleasant way to conduct an interview, it gives you an hour or more to ask questions, plus who doesn’t like a free lunch? If you need a referral to a local PI, contact your local state professional private investigator association.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Any use of the content requires specific, written authority. All images in this article are either licensed by the author, who does not have the authority to forward to others, or they are copyrighted by the author.