The television set in our home is rarely used to watch television programs. Even though we have cable, our Sylvania has become an appliance for watching movies. We enjoy the movies even more because we’ve always kept a copy of Leonard Maltin’s encyclopedia of capsule reviews nearby. We recently added a second book containing the obituaries of the stars, Fade to Black. Now we’ve added a new book to the Etier Movie Library, Hollywood Stories by Stephen Schochet. If you enjoy a movie and want to know more about the actors and get some of the “behind-the-scenes” stories, you’ll be interested in this book, too. I interviewed Schochet recently by phone and we talked about his work, his passion of collecting anecdotes and his knowledge of the stars. His personality fits his profession very well — he’s friendly, talkative, and knows his stuff about Hollywood. Would I be able to stump the tour guide with questions about Fred MacMurray, Quentin Tarantino, Bettie Page, George C. Scott, George Carlin, Katharine Hepburn and Soupy Sales?
Tell us about your business — company name and how you got into the tour business.
I’m a tour guide in Hollywood. It’s not my business. I work for a company called VIP Tours and Charters. The way I got into it originally was that I was a limousine driver and a writer. I’d write while I was waiting for people to come get into the limousine. Then I was asked to give tours of Hollywood. I’d always been interested in this and told a few anecdotes and got a really good response. So I decided to become a tour guide. We were given the freedom to do whatever we wanted to do unless the people complained.
Anecdotes were the way to go! I just kept researching and researching them and it grew over time. After a while, I got the idea that I don’t have to just tell them on the bus, I can tell them anywhere. So I did a bunch of projects and this book, Hollywood Stories, is the biggest project I’ve ever done.
When did you actually get into the tours — how long have you been doing this?
One of your projects was audio.
The first one (project) was an audio book, “Tales of Hollywood” and it was about the early days of Hollywood. I have a lot of really fun stories in it. Like Samuel Goldwyn’s name was really Samuel Goldfish and he was partners with a man named Edgar Selwyn. He cheated Selwyn out of all his money and he decided to combine the two names, but he didn’t want it to be “Selfish”. There’s music and sound effects and wind shots and whistles go off and things like that. It was a collaboration between me and a gentleman named, Igor Frances, who got really great sounding music for it. Every time the story changed, the music changed. Being a tour guide, I’m really comfortable with an audio project. I’m used to telling the stories, and of course they hadn’t been scripted. It was really a fun thing to do.
How much does your script change from day to day, tour to tour?
It always changes. There are some things — well, you have to tell what a place is. There’s always stuff going on. The route changes and things change. I try to keep it as current as possible by looking at blogs and entertainment news, things like that. I try to keep that freshness. It’s gotten to the point where I have so many stories that I can pick. And I try not to be redundant. One thing that makes me self-conscious, is that we actually have repeat business, which I didn’t expect. People would get on the bus and say, “Yeah, I went on the tour four years ago.” I’m like, “That’s impossible!” So I’m thinking, “What can I tell you so that I don’t repeat myself?” [laughing] I want to give them a different perspective. There’s enough material that you can do different things. If you go to an area like Venice Beach for example, you can talk about the founder, you can talk about Chaplin making his first movie there, you can talk about recent movies made there like I Love You Man. Or you can go to Muscle Beach and talk about Schwarzenegger, there’s a big variety of choices.
What’s the most significant difference in tours and writing a book?
The one thing about a tour, which of course is different from writing a book, is that you have to make split second decisions on what to talk about. There’s a site, well, you better talk about it cause a new site’s gonna come along.