George Christy Talks About Troop Beverly Hills, Ava Ostern Fries, Beverly Hills Film Festival And More!
“Exactly how many shoes do you have, Mrs. Marcos?”
The question’s asked of footwear fetishist, Imelda Marcos, the dictator’s wife and grand dame of the Philippines, in the 1989 Troop Beverly Hills spoof starring Shelley Long. A peppy cast of famous faces appears in cameos, and many will be on hand for this free al fresco screening during the Beverly Hills Film Festival.
Imelda’s 3,000-plus pairs of shoes drew were gossip-driven headlines 25 years ago, and, lately, London newspapers report hundreds have been damaged by “floods, termites and neglect.”
Created and produced by Ava Ostern Fries, the Troop Beverly Hills screening on July 11 at La Cienega Park celebrates the City of Beverly Hills’ 100th anniversary, with Sony Pictures Entertainment joining the supporters. Chuck Fries executive-produced, and predicts a “monster” fun night.
Among the Who and the Who in the film: Shelley’s the about-to-be divorcee from Craig T. Nelson. Anxious to make something of her life, she takes over her daughter’s Wilderness Troop (not unlike our Girl Scouts), and the barmy surprises ensue.
The cameos appear non-stop with Frankie Avalon, Cheech Marin, Carla Gugino, Jenny Lewis (today’s indie rock star), Annette Funicello, Edd Byrnes, Stephanie Beacham, Audra Linley, Kellie Martin, Tori Spelling, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Ted McGinley, Joyce Brothers, and the infamous Pia Zadora (anyone in their 40s’ may remember her Hollywood Foreign Press “scandalo”).
Among the familiar locations is the now-gone, classy Giorgio’s on Rodeo Drive, with its couturier women and menswear, high-end billiard table, saloon bar with exclusive Scotches and alcohol. It is now the Louis Vuitton store.
“Ava’s true-to-life anecdotes remain irresistible,” recalls Chuck in a memoir, noting the screenplay is based on Ava’s experiences “when her seven-year-old daughter Cami joined the Beverly Hills Brownie Troop at the Hawthorne School in Beverly Hills.
“Ava found herself the Brownie leader. And subsequently the troop leader of the Girl Scouts. She would tell me all the funny things that happened that no other troop ever experienced.
“On their first camping trip, it rained. What to do? Ava shuttles the young schoolgirls to the Beverly Hills Hotel, where they order room service from their bungalow. Roasting weenies and marshmallows in front of a roaring fire at the bungalow’s fireplaces.
“While camping at Coldwater Park to cook hobo stew, a smart-ass Big Daddy, fancying himself a gourmet, arrived with a bottle of vintage wine to spice up the dish and make it more ‘interesting.’ Scandal- izing the National Scouting Representative who secretly stopped by to check out the cookout.
“Merit Badges? Once the Brownies became Girl Scouts, they discovered they’d get a Beauty Parlor Badge by going to the posh Cristophe Salon on Beverly Drive, and a Jewelry Appraisal Badge by evaluating the jewelry at Cartier on Rodeo Drive.
“Ava recounted these experiences at dinner parties. The listeners laughed and loved them, and we decided Ava should write them down. She knocked off 20 pages overnight. They were so good that I commissioned a $100,000 screenplay.
“An agent circulated it to the studios. Returning from a lunch with Disney, Ava sighed that she turned them down. Why? ‘They want Bette Midler for the lead, and I just don’t think she’s right.’
“That spring, we caught up with Jerry Weintraub at the Hotel du Cap during the Cannes Film Festival. He loved the script, and, luck was with us, since he had Shelley Long under contract. Ava wanted Shelley to play her from the get-go. We signed a contract for a film budgeted at $12.5 million that Jerry put up, with Jeff Kanew directing.
“Hal Kanter once quipped: ‘I hope the director reads the script before he rewrites it.’ A joke, yes, but directors not always involved in the development process, arrive to direct, but often insist on changing the material. Without regard for all the thought that went into the process up to the time they come on board.
“For weeks, midnight phone calls suggesting changes followed, with our line producer, Peter McGregor Scott, a great politician, standing by everyone’s side.
“Creating a movie is like a dance in a small closet. Everyone stepping on each other’s toes. A little half-truth here. A small change or correction there. Backing off. Manipulating. All of us trying to keep the production on track and on schedule, without losing that creative flair. Such is the creative process in Hollywood.
“Since its theatrical release in 1989, Troop has gone on to become a smash hit on video for Columbia. The syndication and, later, the Disney Channel exhibition have been phenomenal. Ava and Shelley taped interviews for the 20th Anniversary DVD version of the film.
“We’ve been approached by Broadway to consider developing a musical comedy based on Troop. Ava hesitated, but we finally optioned the share of her life’s story held by Columbia Pictures. We are looking forward to Troop The Musical taking off like a rocket.”
For details and admission tickets go to oscars.org or the ticket office of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills. The evening is being produced by The Academy’s Randy Habercamp. Phone number is 310-247-8000.